Where do we go from here?

Essary, Jeramy L.

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Where Do We Go From Here? By Jeramy Essary 1/5/2021 Over my 20+ years of incarceration I have witnessed and experienced the worst of humanity when I should have been learning not only how to be a better person but have the ability to be a more productive member of society. My initiation into the great American mass incarceration experiment began in the mid 1990’s in the state of Iowa, I was a runaway from an abusive home environment since the age of 15 living with my first real love and a first time teenage father without a high school education trying to make a living at car washes and junking. I did not turn to crime as much as crime turned towards me. Yet, at 17 I was arrested and sent to jail for a first time offense, I was released but I had no support network so I stayed at flophouses and some family took me in for a couple of weeks but locked me out after I started smoking weed again so it was back to flophouses and hanging out with people who did not have my best interest at heart. Before it was too long I was arrested for burglary and was quickly ran through a court system that I had no clue about and it had no clue about me either. After some small stints in the county jail at the age of 17 and some not so pleasant experiences in the adult pods I eventually went to prison at the age of 18. I was able to get my GED and a High School Diploma, a 4 credits plus program that suggested that a HS diploma was somehow more valuable of an education then a GED, Iowa! But no college opportunities were open for me vocational or otherwise, what programs/treatments that were offered to me were only available in a different prison once the parole board recommended treatment for me and what was available was laughable as a form of treatment, a 30 minute video once a week followed by a questionnaire and a counselor who was never present for follow up or questions, we barely had a psychologist and when he or she was at the institution they had such a massive workload that you were only ever seen when you were close to release as an evaluation for the parole board. Being ignorant of what treatment should consist of or what programs I should seek out I trusted the system to lead me in the right direction this obviously did not happen. Another aspect is maintaining outside support networks. Trying to stay in touch with family or strengthening bonds was nearly impossible $13+ phone calls, long drives for visits, letter writing and artwork was sent and I tried so hard from my end but it had seemed I had burned my bridges and I was left with isolation and rejection from those I loved the most that eventually turned to unresolved issues and would be a thorn in my relationships and one of my excuses to use again. I was released 2 times throughout a 6.5 year sentence to work releases, each time I initiated college myself and got work I did really well then I would hit some roadblock or rejection and an echo of my father’s teachings would come to bear its lasting mark I would start my own internal dialogue of being a failure and a reject so I would start using and I knew they would send me back to that isolation and departure from my family so I would abscond out of state with my wife and children. The extra stress from being on the run ended up creating static between me and my spouse and our codependency would be in full effect then violence to those I loved it made no sense and it was enough to drive one mad with guilt and regret. The wasted potential the complete failure the idea was ingrained in me by that point and only reinforced by the criminal justice system. No one ever attempted to address the childhood trauma I had experienced the guilt and regret I felt for failing my family and myself, nothing. I discharged the sentence and I got out free of the state for the first time in my adult life though I could hardly be called a man of 26 years old at that point the maturation that is acquired through real-life responsibility and not a survival situation is entirely different the PTSD I had developed was a real living thing and I ended up relapsing and slowly falling in to my old behaviors and my marriage quickly devolved to its normal state of disgust for each other’s actions/coactions, I began to use again along with my wife and eventually the tragedy of our life occurred. Awake for days and coming down from a binge on meth I was left to care for our 16 month old son and he died as a result of my poor parenting skills, sleep deprived, drug addled, mentally ill mind. This accident resulted in a life imprisonment without the possibility of parole plus 75 years ran consecutive sentence. After 18 years I still do not have a reason to forgive myself, I feel it is my ex-wife and my 2 daughter’s determination not mine, but that also makes it their burden and that is not fair to them. I do know they have not had closure or come to a meaningful resolution and that is due in part to a psychological time dilation that occurs, where time has stopped for me, forever held in a moment of terror and disbelief, life went on-and time-has-moved-much more rapidly for them, so-as the — weeks, years, and decades slipped by, somewhat seamlessly for them, I have sat by idly in a prison of my own making within an American prison system that does not encourage rehabilitation or any sort of family reconciliation outside of one’s own individual efforts to obtain it themselves and a stagnation develops. Within this time warp I have studied sociology, psychology, and criminal science. I have also become more aware of the extended history of the corruption within the criminal justice system and its long standing systemic deficiencies that aided in mine and others return to prison. I was in denial of the situation for years my mind just could not reconcile the tragedy that had struck our family and that it was my actions that caused it. In the end it was my fault plain and simple and I sought answers to the, why did my mind break like it did? What was the cause of my poor actions? I needed answers to reconcile the unconscionability of it all because with a sober and somewhat sane mind I look to my past behavior in horror, and ask myself how could you have done such things? After multiple suicide attempts and a long journey to a deeper understanding of who I am and what defined my criminal behavior I have realized many factors including poverty and how I was treated within the CJS played a role in my actions. Through xenophobic ideologies people of poverty and lower income are viewed as lesser even from within their own socioeconomic sector. Coming from poverty I can attest to the conditions and widespread attitudes held towards me and my ilk. Opportunities that were and are available to many of the affluent are not open to many of us. This disadvantage only aided in my life of abuses. A life of criminal behavior is accepted and at times expected by the community I came from, we feel disenfranchised and on the periphery of society, underrepresented in the government unless as a statistic to point towards at election time to make claims of reform for the lower class of our nation or as proof of the failing inner city. The support network that was available to me aided and abetted my faulty reasoning which inevitably led me to distrust a system designed to benefit the upper crust of society. This ended with an unconscionable tragedy. It was never my intent for my son to die not in the very least but the courts were more interested in using me as an example to others who may commit these very same crimes not me and my family’s individual case. The trial and the lead up to it was a sensationalized bit of morbid drama. My family and I were in pain and mourning I was awash with guilt and was swept away with the very ideas perpetuated to the rest of the public that I must be punished and the amount of punishment must be equal to the pain and loss I had imposed. This carried me to a very dark abyss of failed suicide attempts and a general attitude of ‘why try’. Therefore, satisfying the victims’ metric of justice, without taking in to account the amount of self-inflicted pain and my great remorse for something I did not even intend to happen. The most frustrating part of this is that I was in prison on lesser charges prior to this incident. I stated my fears of my impulsivity and my anger to staff and I was told I would grow out of it. That was the solution: just leave it alone and it will eventually go away. If that is not a pure case of faulty reasoning within the system I do not know what else is. I should have been given the opportunity to attend parenting, anger management, stress management, drug treatment, higher learning, etc. Yet, I was ignored treated as if I was the ailment not that I was acting upon learned behavior, my circumstances, and socio-economic limitations. It was as if they were saying if we just remove you from the equation everything will be better, yet my 2 eldest children were thrown in to foster care, their mother was left to deal with the loss of her son, husband, and left to the whims of the very system that had failed us to begin with. With little to no concern for her mental health she battled through her own dilemmas and self made crisis’s. There was never an attempt on the part of the state to aid our family in grieving and possibly reconciling or airing grievances, essentially aiding us in letting go and moving forward. I do take full responsibility for my actions and I am accepting of being held accountable for those actions I just wish as a part of that accountability there were educational, vocational, and effective treatment opportunities for me, but things have hardly changed since the 1990’s some things are better yet for the most part it is still a warehouse mentality amongst prison authorities. And with mandatory minimums even after 18 years of incarceration and the improvements I have made to my behavior along with my age I am still destined to die, likely alone, in the CJS that failed my family and again will rob those who love me the experience of me. Unfortunately, there is plenty of data available from other recidivist within the walls of prisons dotted across the nation. Please do not misunderstand; these are not excuses for my poor behavior it is merely an overview of the environment that me and my actions were bred within. What I have done since is to educate myself on my Own dime and of my own initiative upon a variety of topics; physics, statistics, sociology, the PIC and the network of lies that supports its continuing prevalence within the US. I have found the most interest where the field of sociology intersects with these issues and elaborates upon these issues with greater depth than I can provide here. However, in my studies and contemplative efforts I began to see that society is mired in the idea that criminals are not whole human beings until corrective, rehabilitative, or treatment objectives have been met. That hubris is evident in the fact that the CJS has converted those objectives into euphemistic terms to deceive outsiders into believing the CJS is applying effective methods towards rehabilitative efforts. Limited oversight and administrative resistance to transparency has aided in this deception. And poverty always comes into play. By taking advantage of the fact that lower income individuals cannot meet basic financial needs penal institutions have indirectly denied access to many of the services required while incarcerated, i.e. phone, medical care, basic necessities, etc., by assessing heightened costs for these services and products. This in turn creates volatile living conditions within these institutions and unwittingly we alienate ourselves from our families and friends when we cannot simply maintain communications, especially in an age where everyone is used to getting or sending 2 to 3 texts a day from those in their social circles. Through this all I have been in contact with a number of organizations that support CJR from the area of law enforcement (overcharging phase), to the judicial courts (over sentencing, mandatory/minimums), to the aspect of prisons as punishment rather than opportunities for education. It all begins with educating the public and public figures of the reality of the epic failure of the U.S. penal system. Pressure must be maintained upon our public figures and to maintain the conversation in the public sphere otherwise we will make no more progress in this retaliation over rehabilitation atmosphere that has held reign for too long. The sad truth is Americans have become complicit and/or complacent with the function of prisons as punishment. Unfortunately, the status quo of long-term sentences has become normalized in the American conscience through propaganda and the lie of tough on crime politics, many Americans are under the impression that prisons are upholding their mission statements to provide treatment and corrective services for prisoners, which just is not the reality. But until the conversation changes, the dysfunction of the criminal justice system (CJS), and the socio-economic imbalance at the core of this issue is acknowledged most are willing to ignore the growing epidemic affecting over 2.2 million Americans. Through multiple studies and research into the American prison system many experts have concluded that creating change within the prison industrial complex requires critical analysis and implementation of meaningful educational/treatment programs including parenting classes, job seeking skills, higher learning and vocational opportunities. People change when they are confronted with the irrationality of their actions and their skewed worldview is contrasted with the rest of the world. An educated perspective naturally aligns with normative society. There are many studies that have proven this statement. The community that surrounds an individual plays an important role in the continued good or bad behavior of the prisoner upon his release. Supplying an individual with a list of transitional housing, a bus ticket, and a $100 is standard practice in Iowa; many are released directly from solitary confinement to the streets. There are many programs available to newly released prisoners, normally the institution doesn’t inform those being released of the many programs available to them upon their release, this little bit of effort would assist a successful reentry however; one who is ignorant of the opportunities will not know to take advantage of these programs and this is unacceptable. I and others who share my line of thought have provided what information we can locate in an effort to point our community of wayward minds in the right direction. It would be logical to be given the opportunity to begin college or vocational training before one is released with the intent to complete or further our learning upon release. It seems obvious to me and others I have held this discussion with that an education is like no other rehabilitative effort, whether it is in the field of science or one of the other bodies of knowledge, it expands ones understanding of the world through reason and analytical thought rather than imaginary models of perfection, allowing one to see how they fit into the world through reason. There are multiple areas of the CJS that require reform, from minor tweaks to major overhauls. We all must begin somewhere. This is what I can do: I volunteer my experience and time, I do my best to get resource information to the administration and more importantly to the prisoner population, I do no violence and I behave in accordance to the rules set forth, yet being an outspoken activist for reform I do have clashes with staff at times, nothing more than verbal exchanges and usually in a healthy conversational tone. However, many dislike their world view to be challenged and they lash out in an immature manner because they are afraid of what they do not understand. I do not become complacent or accept my situation, yet I do know I must be held accountable for my actions and I take full responsibility for the actions that have placed me in this predicament I keep in mind that I am not an inmate, or resident, even though a semantic argument can be made for the term home, the truth is I do not reside here voluntarily. I haven’t been an offender since the charging phase of my crime; these PC terms desensitize the reality of the terms prisoner, prison, etc. to give the public softer speech to digest and to accept as their reality. All of us would do better by asking poignant questions of ourselves and the system we are ingrained with. It is as much our responsibility as it is administrations and the public to realize that education and critical thinking skills are integral to leading a more socially responsible life and will lead to a reduction of recidivism rates. I strongly believe had I been given an opportunity to utilize my previous prison sentence to expand my field of knowledge I would have matured intellectually as well as emotionally. At the pre sentencing stage ones individual needs need to be identified and then addressed immediately upon reception, not identified a couple years before a prisoners release then implemented a few months before their release as a necessary requirement for release rather than a form of treatment/education. Unfortunately, prisons have become incubators for antisocial ideals reinforced by antiquated behavioral modification techniques such as enforcement of trivial demands to create habits of compliance or as a way to control many prisoners with limited staff; a method adapted from penal coercion techniques developed in W. Germany after WW2. The conversation on the use of prolonged solitary confinement and the false justifications for it must be exposed to the public for what it really is; mass denigration and dehumanization of a perceived subculture of society. Statistics show an abnormally high percentage of minorities as its primary population, even in states with a relatively low minority population. Another disturbing result of the PIC is the increasing number of those suffering with mental illness and substance abuse issues being incarcerated, many do not receive the appropriate care for their ailments instead it is more than likely to be exacerbated due to the barbaric and inhumane treatment of U.S. prisoners causing or exacerbating prisoners existing PTSD symptoms. This treatment has been condemned by the UN Committee on Torture citing supermax prisons and the use of torture devices. In May of 2006 the same committee concluded that the US should “... review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermaximum prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.” Yet the U.S. has not made any progress in this area, barring a few states making reforms on a prison by prison basis. Many are placed in a segregation status for months to years at a time for rule infractions as simple as impudent, insolent, or argumentative replies to c/o’s. A disproportionate amount of prisoners are mentally ill and are susceptible to antagonism from staff which gets them placed in a suicide self-injury prevention SSIP room, it has become standard practice here to use SSIP as a form of punitive retaliation against “unruly/problematic prisoners” and it garners the prisoner with extra time in isolation as well. The general attitude that all prisoners are a lost cause and a complete detriment to society rather than an individual who made one or more wrong choices with their life has bled into all aspects of society. Instead prisoners should be seen as humans with the capability to learn and expand their possibilities through the use of long term thought processes rather than quick instinctual thought, critical thinking. I can only conclude that my situation is no different than the majority of prisoners across this nation of the lost. Not just those of us without an out-date in sight, especially for those who have another opportunity right around the corner, the question is will the very system that placed them in this predicament encourage these people to better themselves or continue to perpetuate a failing system of pure punishment at the cost of taxpayers’ dollars? Sincerely, Jeramy L. Essary

Author: Essary, Jeramy L.

Author Location: Iowa

Date: January 5, 2021

Genre: Essay

Extent: 3 pages

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