There are countless men I am doing time with that will NEVER see the streets again. Men who will never be released back into society. Many men who will die not in the arms of loved ones but in the prison infirmary, alone, as their soul transitions into the hereafter.
Now, I would never wish this fate upon any human being, no matter the situation, but the truth of the matter is that there are some people in prison that still pose a grave risk to society. There are those sadistic monsters such as Ariel Castro that would pick right back up where they left off if given a second chance.
Although Ariel Castro is the embodiment of what society envisions prison and its prisoners as. He is actually the exception to the rule.
His story and other stories like his are the primary images depicted on T.V., in the news, and in the movies of those incarcerated. These sensationalized portrayals make for good ratings but also skew the facts of reality.
Rather than humanize the fact that ALL American lives have been impacted by prison and the criminal justice system. Those in prison are demonized to keep the subject taboo.
By showing images of violence in prison, and thus promoting mostly the negative aspects of incarceration, one can easily attempt to justify some of the outrageous sentencing practices of the criminal justice system.
Little does the public know that to document some of their favorite “raw” prison shows it takes almost a year, sometimes more, to record an hour’s worth of material.
So to help, they chronicle the daily lives of some of the most ignorant, self-seeking, and troublesome characters. Then, tell the viewers this is the norm. They grab one individual from within the system and make him the poster child for the system.
What the cameras never seem to catch are the images of the father sitting at his desk writing letters to his child every single day. At a desk covered with that child’s pictures, the only contact that connects the two. Pictures of that child growing up before his eyes and without him. Despite the fact that the mother of that child has all but excommunicated and expelled him from that child’s life. So he sleeps with journals of these letters under his pillow until the day he can present them to that child.
What about the images of a grown man crying? Crying at the news that his only child has been murdered in the same street violence he once propagated but has since been trying to put an end to. Only to be informed of the news by a cold, nonchalant counselor yer consoled by another so called “monster” also within the system.
For the excommunicated father if this is his child, the mother of that child may resent him even more for not being there. While those journals may be his only saving grace to help him cope with the pain.
Or, what about the miraculous images of two lifetime enemies hugging and pleading for forgiveness over past wrongful acts with tears streaming down their stoic yet remorseful faces.
Yeah, that is probably too cheesy for T.V.! Who would want to watch this type of show anyways, that sounds boring? But the fact is I see these things on a regular basis.
In reality, most men are grieved by the destruction they caused. Most men want more for their lives and their children’s lives but fear stepping out on faith, only to have their faith crushed. Most men yearn for a love that has repeatedly eluded them, while others sabotage any hopes of love due to their feelings of being inadequate or unworthy of something so majestic, pure, and beautiful.
Most men I know actually want to be good husbands and fathers but are conditioned to deny themselves the opportunity because of their lack of true examples of what it means to be a man through their misguided definition of masculinity and manhood.
Most men want better but don’t know how to do better. They want to put away their childish things but fear losing themselves in the process.
These are not excuses but a picture into the conditioned mind of “most” incarcerated males.
For those in prison the fact of the matter is that many of the early life skills one should have learned, they are still in need of learning. But, unfortunately they were not afforded the chance in society and sparingly are they afforded the chance while in prison.
Across the country, women and men are being imprisoned not with the intention of “correcting” deviant or even defiant behaviors, as the Department of Corrections title would suggest, but rather to maintain a quota or possibly as it seems to feed an addiction.
The problem doesn’t solely rest on the people being incarcerated, much of whom suffer from mental illness, but on the system in place to incarcerate these people.
It is a system in crisis.
A system which is addicted to incarcerating people in the name of Justice only to dispose of them in the name of Humanity. That doesn’t sound like something America would do, does it?
Sentences are not being handed out to serve justice but to satisfy ones craving for political gain.
A higher conviction rate, lengthier sentence (often disproportionately handed out due to race and socio-economical status) means a higher likelihood that one can sway public opinion their way when election time comes around.
What people don’t see is that there has been a quiet epidemic sweeping through our nation and destroying our communities. Some may think their community is immune but the collateral damage is that society as a whole suffers and feels the ripple effects. What affects the minority also has direct and indirect affects on the majority.
This epidemic is one that is creating a new generational chasm by perpetuating new forms of racism and gerrymandering, and as a result this practice welcomes segregation back into our lives.
So much for Dr. King’s dream.
I admittedly get upset when I look upon the dayroom from an elevated vantage point to see it full of Peter Pan’s. Men the chronological age of adults but behaving as emotional and intellectual adolescents. Sitting around tables playing games as if life is a game. Gambling as if we haven’t already gambled enough with our own lives. I too, have been in that state of mind in years past.
In a general sense there is nothing wrong with playing or gambling in one’s leisure time and in moderation. However, in terms of incarceration these are things often used to pacify the individual and distract them from deeper levels of introspection and self-examination.
Because of this, I see men unintentionally pick up bad habits, instead of intentionally picking up an occupational trade or vocational skills that can set their lives on a new trajectory.
However I am convinced that “a mind convinced against its will is of the same opinion still” or in other words, forced change cannot be genuine or lasting change.
I don’t say this to discourage or even to discredit anyone’s efforts.
As I bare witness of the many men who work endlessly to improve their conditions both inside and outside of prison while trying to make amends for the wrongful acts they committed.
I am blessed and fortunate to collaborate with these brilliant minds on a daily basis as they have charged me with the task and responsibility to lead my generation from darkness into light. To speak up for those whose voices have been silenced. To fight on behalf of those who have been fighting the good fight for so long that they have no fight left.
These men, my respected elders in chains, passed the torch to me and other young men because they realized they may never see the fruits of their own labor yet that labor must not die with them.
These men are the men caught in the hamster wheel of incarceration with sentences telling them there is no hope for tomorrow.
This endowment of trust is humbling. Although the facts surrounding them leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I can’t wrap my mind around a system that tells someone they have no hope for the future and no matter what they may do going forward they will always be seen as they were not for who they are.
To me this constitutes as cruel and unusual punishment, to me this motivates me to defy the odds all the more.
And to think as I write this a new D.O.C. number is being issued and a record is permanently smeared.
To be continued…