Prison is a punishment.
However, what is deemed an effective punishment for some, may not be an effective punishment for all.
Someone may have been incarcerated for longer than they have been alive and continue down the same criminal path. While another may only have been in long enough to find a constructive passion they never knew they had, and learn to apply it professionally.
What we must stop doing however is making the generalization that all people incarcerated are one and the same. That all criminal offenders are created equal and none are truly ever redeemable. This illogical perspective denies the fact that every human being, in spite of their past, has an individual psyche shaped through a number of factors from within and outside of themselves. Victims included.
Those who have ever been victimized by crime may find temporary peace and satisfaction through the detention of the person or persons who commit a criminal act against them. They may even get the temporary peace and satisfaction in their perpetrator(s) going away for an extended period of time.
But what happens if that person gets out a hardened criminal instead of a reformed one?
Yeah, not necessarily what one desires in their community, but the fact remains that over 95% of those imprisoned in the United States will be released at some point or another. And a more somber fact is if you take a look at the recidivism statistics across the nation many of those released will return to prison sometime in the future, making more victims. A system in crisis.
So whose responsibility is it to change this negative culture? Those that create this negative culture and the conditions revolving around it.
While some, both inside and outside of prison, are content with these failing conditions, I’m not. Nor are many of the many men I collaborate with in my efforts for change.
The de facto voices of our varied generations. We are active with groups and programs on the inside aimed at changing the same negative culture of prison which we live in that too often overflows back into our communities.
Our efforts often go without recognition but we seek no accolades. Our hands are often cuffed behind our backs- both figuratively and literally- but we stay persistent in our efforts. Many of these programs are created by us (the inmates) with the support of few staff and is funded primarily by us and other outside contributions, not the D.O.C budget. (Although D.O.C has of recent been taking notice and has been making a push for more offender change programs. Kudos to that!)
However, unless an environment that nurtures growth and positive change is prevalent, the chances that a sincere and lasting change will occur while engulfed by this culture, and its conditions, is greatly reduced.
The culture bred within the confines of prison tends to be one that promotes and instigates violence, hate (for self and others), greed, self-doubt, distrust, insecurity, and dependence. While these are not the only cultivated characteristics, these along with others aid in the creation of the hardened criminal and the institutionalized convict mentality.
Most men in prison do not come into the system already hardened but become calous over time to survive this harsh reality. These men struggle to adapt to this convict system and when they finally do they then struggle with readapting and transitioning back to life as a civilian. Similar to those in the military who return home and struggle with PTSD.
So what happens is the hardened criminal gets out and doesn’t know anything but the “convict code”, commits new crimes because of the lack of marketable job skills and the inability to find gainful employment. They hurt more people often unaware of the ramifications of their criminal behavior on society because after years of isolation, after years of excommunication, and after years of being treated subhuman in prison, they return “home”.
Home to a place they hardly recognize, home to place where they only feel ostracized, alienated, or like a pariah in a society they too are a part of that is reluctant to accept them back.
This leads to confusion because their second chance wasn’t supposed to end this way. They thought release from prison was the end of their sentence and the beginning of a new day. NOT QUITE!
Oblivious to the fact that even after doing their time. After abiding by all of the terms and guidelines of their Judgement and Sentence. After paying their debt to society. They are condemned to a life of having to continuously pay for their past mistakes, even the mistakes of their youth, because their criminal record is now an indefinite dark cloud looming over their life and openly inviting systematic discrimination.
Now they get locked back up, get more time, and are back on their same old cell block. With their same old homies, playing the same old card games and gambling, once again.
This is what recidivism looks like. This is what insanity looks like.
Let’s truly ask ourselves the honest question of what is the culture of this country that allows us to waste our own people through mass incarceration, yet we are willing to aid and assist another country for political leverage or gain and even exploit them for their environmental resources?
So where do our priorities lie? Are they domestic or abroad?
Did you know that the U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population, but somehow we also make up about 25% of the world’s prison population? So if you pick four people incarcerated anywhere in the world chances are one will be an American.
Now, we talk about shutting down Guantanemo Bay, but what about Pelican Bay? How about shutting down, for good, some of these homeland prisons and start building new and functioning academic institutions to keep people out of prison? Maybe because education cuts into the bottom line of this lucrative business called “corrections”.
Statistics show the more education one has the less likely they are to come to prison in the first place, let alone return. Surprisingly education is one of the hardest hit by cuts in down economic times.
But to me it is as simple as this, “Be empowered by education or imprisoned by ignorance.”
We have new prisons being constructed while schools and school districts are being shut down and demolished. We have 1st rate, top of the line, prisons for our adults but 2nd rate, ran down, schools for our children. So again I ask where do our priorities really lie?
Not only does the U.S. have the world’s largest prison population, but the U.S. also has the world’s highest recidivism rates. What’s sad is that we are willing to throw blood or red paint on someone for wearing fur, while we sit back and watch as our young people are being skinned alive by the day on the streets of Chicago and in other urban communities across the country. We sit back as our young are being slain by vigilantes, by fellow classmates, even by the hand of law enforcement.
With all due respect to our nations heroes. To the troops and our veterans who have fought and died for this great country of ours, so that we can be free- freedoms I especially took for granted and didn’t entirely appreciate in my youth. I recognize that their exodus from war torn areas of the world is returning “home” to the U.S. But what happens when the communities you are returning to are themselves a warzone?
This is the reality facing many people upon release from their captivity. They get out to communities caught in this perpetual cycle which keeps this revolving door spinning, and prisons overcrowded.
A young man recently told me that “the reality of prison is a better option than death in the streets”. His statement signifies the tale of two fates, as many overlooked in society today see these as their only viable options. Either die a prisoner of your conditions or die in a cage as a prisoner of the state. Where is the justice in that?
How could one ever expect to receive adequate assistance and resources to aid them transitioning out of prison, if our country can’t even provide these things to our troops when they return home from duty. We can’t help our nations heroes heal from their trauma, help them reintegrate back into civilian life, or even help them find respectable and gainful employment. So why would someone in prison or just out of prison ever be so disillusioned to believe that these things will be afforded to them?
For there to be true justice our tax payers deserve better. Anyone who has ever been victimized is deserving of better.
Restitution is not merely enough if it is solely a monetary act.
Restitution is an act of restoration, an act of restoring to someone what is rightfully theirs. This may simply just be restoring a sense of community, restoring to someone the peace of mind of knowing that their pain and suffering was not in vain. And, that through true justice future victimization may be prevented.