The need for equality

Downs, Robert L.

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The Need for Equality by Robert Downs Equal adj. of the same measure, value, quality, degree, or status as another. My entire world- my beliefs, perception of this realm, expectations, and one of the values passed down to me as a child: equality - was flipped upside down when I came to prison. It's been three years and I'm still picking up the dismantled pieces, still trying to glue them back together. I'm not having much luck. Growing up my parents drilled manners, politeness, kindness, a strong work ethic, and a whole list of values, in which equality among everyone (regardless of sex, color, creed, or lot in life) is number one, into my brain. These things slowly became a part of me, like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, and I formed the belief that everyone acted this way, that everyone lived this way. Man was I wrong. As soon as I stepped into Central Prison (the prison I processed at) I could sense something was different but I was still a tyro (in many way I'll forever be a tyro,) still new to this system of hate, fear, racism, ignorance, and oppression. It's like I left my individuality at the door and became [prison ID], nothing but a number, nothing but a statistic. Within an hour I was processed into the collective: new clothes, shoes, and identity. I don't think I'll ever get used to being looked at like I'm something to be scraped off the bottom of one's boot. to be thought of as worthless pond scum eats at me nonstop. I want to scream at these guards: "I'm still a man, I'm still alive! I still have hopes, wishes, and dreams." But I don't think it would change their opinion of us. They always call me by my last name and no matter where I go - medical, case manager's office, etc. - I'm always asked for my OPUS number, never my name. I am more than just a number. I understand the need for order and structure in prison (I really do) but they way we're regarded as nothing but trash, worthless, and forsaken is unnecessary. Do you think it would help if I told them I replay all of my failures, mistakes, shortcomings, and words left unsaid at least once a day or that I'm my own punisher, my own mind turning on me? What about the fact that I've shamed not only myself, but my entire family? Yeah I didn't think so. I don't expect to be considered a guards equal but I'll settle for a human being, a broken man trying to mend, a man who is GOING to rise from the ashes of his wasted life a new man. Walking into the 16 man "block" at C.P. for the first time is something I'll never forget. I could sense something archaic and bigoted, something small minded and primitive in the air around me. It was like the block had be segregated: the black guys were playing dominoes, cards, or watching TV at the two tables closest to me, the white guys were at the back two tables playing chess, cards, or watching TV, and the handful of Hispanic guys were upstairs by the window. There were two empty tables between the two groups that I thought of as No Man's Land and while each group was aware of each other and there was a soupcon of socializing between groups, most of them acted as if the other weren't there. Standing by my door I couldn't believe what I was seeing; I was utterly astonished at how these guys were acting like birds in a flock. I couldn't believe (and still can't) the racism that was thriving before my jade irises, couldn't understand how racism was running rampant in 2015. you could say that before that day I had my blinders on. Had because my eyes have been opened completely to the lack of equality around me. As if these two cumbersome layers weren't bad enough, another has been thrust upon me, like a thick wool blanket on a sweltering July afternoon. Because I refuse to walk, talk, think, and act like the mindless drones (my name for 98.5% of these guys) and because I'm quiet, kind, polite, and a loner (just your run-of-the-mill well-mannered introvert), I'm automatically considered for the third time as unequal. And since I've decided to use this "free time" in prison to grow and learn by improving my vocabulary, becoming the best writer possible, learning Spanish (and if all goes well, French) and learning as much as I can about myself and the man I need/want to be. I'm looked at like an alien. To be completely honest: I do feel like an alien. If every prisoner stood together - equal in each other's eyes- we could being fighting for the rehabilitation programs - cognitive therapy, anger management, parenting classes, meditation classes (which has been scientifically proven to reduce stress), classes that teach us how to think and feel about ourselves, and classes that teach us how to think, feel, and act towards other people (education and trade courses are great but if we don't change our way of thinking, if our mind's bad habits are left unchecked it'll all be for nothing) that we really need so we can emerge from behind this carnassial fence as useful, productive, and stable members of society; members who, through their hard work and new way of thinking, might one day be forgiven, might one day be considered equal with society. Just imagine the possibilities, imagine what we could achieve if we were all equal, if we were standing on level ground, our heads held high. The list is endless, nothing would stand in our way, no hurdles to jump or obstacles to climb. From the many castes if India to the 16 man block at C.P. we would all be brothers and sisters in equality. I use the word equality because I believe it to be a living, breathing, sentient being. It's very elusive, and as hard to catch as a humming bird mid-flight, but I have seen it; I've lived with it and sensed its power. I don't think I'll ever see it in the prison system. this is what I think of when I see the word equality.

Author: Downs, Robert L.

Author Location: North Carolina

Date: September 14, 2018

Genre: Essay

Extent: 4 pages

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