Prison life, geez, where to begin

White, Don

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[NO TITLE] Prison life, geez, where to begin. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s dehumanizing and it’s a very lonely experience despite being crammed together such that you are rarely more than 8 feet away from someone. The questionnaire mentioned psychological survival. I found it amazing the shift someone like me has to make from the real world, where I was a respected professional, to here, where I’m clearly not. I had to figure out what and who I was again. Letting go of the past life was really hard. Looking around me, I felt sure I didn’t want to become like a lot of the guys that were around me. I got to know so many. The stories were so close to the same. Usually it went drugs leads to crime which leads to prison, repeat, repeat, repeat. After awhile, I came to get it that I was going to be separated from my wife, kids and life for a long time. 12 ½ years the judge said and “you’ll serve every day of it”. So I asked myself what I wanted to make of it. I could do very little or I could try to affect a little tiny bit of change for the better. I didn’t know if it would do any good but let’s try I thought. I got involved with education programs as a teacher’s aide and have been doing that for about 7 years now in one capacity or another. It been good for me and has given me something positive to do with my time away. My best thing to report is that I’ve had some really positive feedback from the guys who told me I was instrumental in changing their lives for the better. One said on the outset “Just forget about me. Lots of people have tried to help me get it (GED) but it never works”. Four months later, he did it. Wow, was he happy! That felt good. Naturally as a result, I’d say education, both GED or high school, as well as trades and college work, are what works for those who choose it. It keeps brains engaged in positive directions, rather than just getting to be a better criminal. As a guy or gal starts to find some success, there is a uptick in self-esteem. That’s important because low self esteem tends to be a common factor among criminals. More education gives guys choices too. Instead of feeling forced to return to crime because of a record and no skills, at least having skills gives the guys a fighting chance of finding a job. The problem is education is low priority for DOC. They talk a good line to the public but behind the scenes, it gets minimal support. Part of that is funding so legislators really need to step up and ask themselves what result do they really want. It’s a nice sound bite to say they want to be tough on crime and not coddle those prisoners when the average American family has to scrimp and save for college. The truth is that a lot of prisoners have a screwed up past in a lot of ways and the time in custody is the only shot main stream society has to influence them to get right. If the prison system strictly punishes without the rehabilitation aggressively addressed, the offender will get released (9 out of 10 do) and go back to what they know. Break that cycle. Fund education. These are you neighbors and family too. Turn them around and get them on track. Make GED’s or high school equivalencies free and mandatory for all but the learning disabled. Pell grants got cut off for people in prison some years ago. Bring that back. According to one study, less than 4% of all pell grants went to people in prison at the time. That isn’t very much. The impact on those who used their time away was said to be dramatic, a 10% recidivism rate compared to a 50-70% for others. Speaking from my perspective, AZ has a scholarship program that allows inmates to take two courses per year for free. The guys who are serious about it try hard and stay out of trouble. It’s worth it. Education is one thing but beyond that, people in prison should be kept busy with meaningful activity. There is little to look forward to each day. Those not in school might have a job but really, what does anyone really benefit from raking sand and gravel for a couple hours? The prison leadership needs to step up work programs. As it is now, if you go through the dorms at 10:30 in the morning, almost everyone is sleeping, watching t.v. or reading. Why can’t they be out doing something significant? A small number of companies partner with prisons to do production work or telemarketing. Those are great ideas. Let’s expand that so at least 50% of inmates are employed like that. At one time, this state had a work-release program that let people work in the real world during the day and return to prison at night. It only applied to those in their last year of their sentence. Why not bring that back in limited numbers at first? Screen the inmates to allow only the best behaved to participate and revoke it if they screw up. Remember, these people would be getting out in a matter of a few months anyway. You aren’t saving the public from some vicious criminal. You’re talking about guys and gals who just will melt back into society as half (or so) ex-inmates generally do. This work release program saves D.O.C. money, gets the inmate paying taxes and contributing to the community again and makes the transition more gradual. Besides, if it persuades a percentage of inmates to quit drugs and crime while they are locked up, those traits become new positive habits. Finally, let’s ban the death penalty. It wastes millions of dollars in legal costs. It hasn’t deterred much. Murders still happen all the time. Speaking first hand, criminals don’t ponder the penalty for their crimes. They simply count on not getting caught. As far as closure for victims’ families is concerned, I doubt there is any such thing. Their loved one is gone and that’s devastating. Life sentences or death penalties won’t mend that. On the other hand, the people who are doing life instead of a death sentence are often useful and productive behind bars and are good influences on others. Let that be their purpose. One last thing; what if the court gets it wrong? Over 200 people have been exonerated by project Innocence on DNA cases. How about those cases that are not DNA based? How many of those are wrongful convictions? Just a few? What if it were you or your loved one? Let’s just do away with it and spend the resources where they do some actual good. Ok, that’s probably enough from me. I hope those of you in authority out there will be moved enough to affect change for the better. Be brave. It isn’t about being soft on crime. People should be held accountable for their actions. No doubt about that. But let’s be smart about how we do that and what we are perpetuating in our prisons. Remember, most of these guys and gals are getting out sooner or later. What do you want to turn out to your community? Those of you who are like me before all this legal mess came up, an average, hard-working taxpayer, you probably don’t give these matters much thought. I never did either. Please take some time to ponder these points though. All these 2.2 million people incarcerated on a rotating basis come from every neighborhood in every state. It could even be you or yours at some point, so this affects you. Contact your state legislators and ask them to make positive changes. Let’s make this world a better place. Thank you for reading.

Author: White, Don

Author Location: Arizona

Date: April 14, 2015

Genre: Essay

Extent: 5 pages

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