Inside the mind of a “hardened” criminal

Pirkel, Daniel



Inside the Mind of a "Hardened" Criminal Born in Valparaiso, Indiana and raised in a broken home, I spent my formative years on the move. With my Dad living in Indiana and my Mom moving from place to place in southwest Michigan every couple of years, I never found a place where I felt accepted. Neither of my parents were abusive, but many of those memories ere tinged with emotional turbulence: fighting with half brothers, Mom’s boyfriend, and step Mom. Even so, my parents were both hard working, and my father always kept up with child support and visitation. My Dad shared his hobbies with me (cars, motorcycles, camping, etc.), and my Mom was very lazefaire as long as I did my homework. However, neither parent taught me how to be an adult. They did not encourage me to go to college or talk about the possibilities that existed after school. Instead, viewing their chaotic lives taught me to never get married or have kids, and that a regular job would only make me poor and miserable. It was not until I had spent years in prison before I realized my parent’s lives were largely dysfunctional because of mistakes they made when they were younger, and that I could enjoy a normal life if I simply did not make the same ones. Therefore, I made even worse ones. When it came to school work, I obstinately dragged my feet on everything from 4th to 7th grade. This corresponded directly with peer rejection. Although I was viewed as the class clown in 3rd grade, I became the target of ridicule thereafter. Kids perceived that I was stupid, so they attacked me physically and psychologically. Now, I realize that I struggled with school because I was socially awkward, and I answered every question at a snail's pace (I over-thought the most basic question, challenging everything people taught me). However, at the time, I didn't recognize why I was not picking up the material, and simply internalized the idea that I was stupid, ugly, etc. resulting in anger and self-rejection. Herein were the seeds of my destruction sown. Peer rejection led to suicidal ideation as early as 10 years old. Despite these emotional issues, I started playing football and wrestling in the 7th grade, eventually achieving some success. In high school, I started Varsity as a Sophmore for the Michigan City wolves, earning two defensive MVPs, as well as a full-ride college scholarship through St. Francis of Fort Wayne. Success on the football field did not help me much in the real world though, as I still felt rejected by peers--an outsider that may be respected for my strength but otherwise derided. Perhaps this was more imagined than real, as I chose to be more of a loner. I liked to joke and. be silly, but I was sensitive, so I did not react well when people poked back. Therefore, I presented myself very seriously and. walked around angry for months at a time, prepared to respond to the slightest provocation. I did this because my normal disposition was ta act passively, but once I thought about how brazenly disrespectful the verbal assault was, I would become angry with myself for not reacting more aggressively. ... Sports did help me focus on academics, as I went from special ed classes in 6th grade to averaging B's thereafter, simply because I had a reason to try. (i.e. academic eligibility). I could have done better, but I hated school because it was tinged with the negativity of peer rejection, and I did not realize how valuable it was until much later. From an early age, I believed that I needed to engage in criminal behavior in order to attain the "good life" (though I didn't recognize that I had this belief until prison). I began stealing, mostly from stores, at around 12 years old after seeing one of my friends do so. Since I only had a couple of friends, I sought to impress them by doing more and more daring feats, usually drinking, smoking, and stealing. I was kind of living a double life, wherein I would go to school, play sports, and work hard at my Dad's house, and then go to my Mom's on the weekends to party and break the law. I experienced an inner battle of identity. These seeds of destruction culminated, when I was 19, shortly after I dropped out of college. The reasons I quit varied, but suffice it to say that I didn’t understand how important college is. Besides, my girlfriend at the time asked me to come home (to my Mom's house), and we fell in love. After a few short, passionate months, my girlfriend broke my heart, and one of my closest friends betrayed me. I was so distraught that I still have not recovered 14 years later. After dealing with suicidal ideation on and off since I was 12, I became obsessed after these issues in 2007. However, the toxic masculinity that I had embraced taught me not to show weakness and not to allow any disrespect to go unpunished, no matter how slight. Therefore, I sought out my previous friend for revenge (though I did not even consider harming my x-girl friend, as I vowed never to hit a woman). However, the police found me first, so I tried to commit suicide by cop. My natural trepidation against killing a stranger made me either close my eyes (or I black out) just before firing my weapon. The next thing I remember, I was running from the police and bullets were flying all over the place, one of which hit me in the ass (something I now find ironic, since I needed some rough discipline at the time). Although I tried to force them to kill me again a few hours later, they demonstrated significant restraint,by arresting me with tasers and mace instead. After being incarcerated, I felt a deep shame for the crimes I committed and spent literally months under suicide watch, beating my head against the wall. At this point, I began to rethink everything I previously believed, vowing never to harm others or dishonor my family again. Although I previously despised the idea of shackling myself to a religion, I became a Christian. I asked God that if He was there, give me a sign; He responded by dropping "The Case for Christ," a book by Lee Strobel, into my cell (a guard accidently left it). Since then, I've spent the lest 14 years reading various educational, religious and fantasy books, exercising. and doing. legal work. I previously despised reading; now, it consumes most of my day. T completed my Bachelor's degree in Faith and Community Leadership with a minor in social work through Calvin University in 2021, earning a 3.87 GPA. Now, I am focused on forwarding criminal justice reform by writing letters, articles, etc. You can see some of my work at httos:// My typical day in prison: wake up at 5:30 AM, read until breakfast is called, then read some more until the small yard opens at 8:00 AM, where I. walk, run, or do calisthetics for about an hour. After a shower, I play the guitar for an hour (mostly classic-rock) and then read during count time for an hour. Lunch is served’ around 12:15; afterward, I typically work on my latest writing project (grievance, criminal justice reform proposal, etc.), using a 1980's style typewriter; until yard opens at 2:15 PM, where I walk with some friends until 3:30 PM. Then the prison holds another count (I read some more) and then I go to dinner at 5:15 PM. I work on the project some more until 7 PM yard, where I walk with the same friends for an hour. For the rest of the night, I read while my TV mostly watches me. Although many days go. smoothly like this, other days are living nightmares. Sometimes prison staff lock us in our cells for 9 hours with one bathroom break. Other days they simply refuse to open the yard, the primary. way I cope with my present circumstances. It's a difficult thing to live with one's own self, knowing the harm I've caused, both for others as well as myself. A t 19 years old, I was sentenced to 22-52 years in prison for attempted murder (even though I have no prior record and the national average for such a crime is about half this number). I also have little hope of reducing this time, as Michigan has not offered "good time" since the early 2000's. So, I try to distract myself with activities. Otherwise, soul crushing regret threatens to swallow me whole. Despite my best efforts to endure, the prison environment. and culture has destroyed much of my hope and drive. The prison culture infects both staff and inmates, creating hostility, violence, and recidivism. Many prisoners feel rejected by society, and some therefore adopt rules that are very antisocial. Prisoners enforce them through the only power they have: violence and intimidation. At the same time, America's retributive mentality has taught C/Os that it is their job to punish prisoners, even when prisoners are behaving themselves. This can take many forms, from snide comments and complete indifference to serious needs and even blatant. corruption. This day in and day out hostility angers prisoners, the same way unfair treatment affects most people. Although some inmates mutter vengeful oaths, the far majority never retaliate, something that the public might expect from "hardened criminals." Similarly, the stereotypes about an ex-offender's chances of reoffending: are misleading, as those who committed the most serious crimes before being incarcerated are the least likely to recidivate. According to Safe and Just. Michigan, people convicted of murder and sex offenses have a 1% and 2% recidivism rate, respectively. Such people often learn their lesson; being thoroughly ashamed of their actions. It's harder for them to justify their behavior to themselves, and they have had more time to reflect (or beat their heads against the wall) and transform their minds. However, these individuals are the most: likely to be denied parole, while people serving "meatballs" (2-5 year bits) go home, even if they continued to engage in: criminal behavior behind bars. While institutional behavior should be the #1 factor for potentially releasing a prisoner (as it indicates what kind of person they are today), prisoners are released based on simple politics: low level offenders are less likely to result in someone getting fired when parolees recidivate. In other words, parole boards protect themselves and the people who appoint them (i.e. the governor) more than they consider the public's safety. Combining my long mandatory sentence with the reduced chances of parole, lack of good time, and otherwise depressing environment, prison hammers on my mental health and hinders my ability to be a productive member of society. Still, my writing allows me to reach outside of these bars and help others learn from the mistakes that I have made. I offer a unique perspective on the world. As a prisoner, I argue for sound policy that holds | both prisoner!! and staff accountable. As a libertarian, I believe government can help solve many of society's woes. As a Christian, I think our government has no business to tell people how to live their lives other than preventing people from harming others. Understanding that I can make a difference in the world helps me keep. moving forward. Despite prison's toxic environment, toxic masculinity no longer has much Hold over me. It cost me everything, and I simply no longer care to prove how tough I am. During the 14 years I have been incarcerated, I have never been in a fight, even though many people have threatened me over the years. I have avoided this by associating with older people and minding my own business. Still, I've had some close calls. Assuming I survive prison, I dream of being an author, having a wife and kids, as well as helping my Dad around the house. I no longer care about getting rich: I just want a quiet, peaceful life. Does this sound like the dreams of a hardened criminal?

Author: Pirkel, Daniel

Author Location: Michigan

Date: June 23, 2022

Genre: Essay

Extent: 5 pages

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