I strongly believe the misconceptions held about prison, and its prisoners, are preventing us from progressing as a society. Several people who have no idea about prison, or even the justice system for that matter, try to claim that prison is doing our country good. This is a very blind statement. Just this way of thinking can severely stunt the growth of our country. With no close friends or family members who have ever been to prison, how are you able to convince yourselves that our current system is working? Even if you do know someone close to you that has been to prison, do you think that they are able to give you the entire story? The average person usually lacks the ability to effectively explain, in detail, the real prison experience. Whether from an ex-con or some media outlet, you will only get part of the story, and from a certain perspective. The perspective is where the damage is done. Instead of the stories spreading, it is the perspective that tends to spread, poisoning the minds of our communities.
I read a quote in a book once. “If you only equip a man with a hammer, then eventually everything will start to look like a nail.” You are told that prisons are medieval madhouses, full of evil predators who live only to terrorize your streets, so you will most likely be reluctant to offer any support to prisoners. With the exception of some. Not all of us are that bad. Not all prisons are as violent and chaotic as many would like to believe. These beliefs happen to spread quickly, because people seem to enjoy spooky and dramatic horror stories. The spreading of these stories affects too many people. Unfortunately for prisoners, these stories are instilled in most of the staff coming to work at these prisons. Most correctional officers set themselves up with this preconceived idea that we are all as bad as the stories depict. The staff are the ones on the inside. They can see the truth firsthand. For some reason they ignore the fact that prison isn’t what everyone wants to think it is. Our only hope on the inside has a blindfold on.
One fact is that the penal system is not designed to solve our crime problem. It is only a building designed to hold people convicted of a crime. At best, prisons are good at keeping people inside. On the surface this appears to be a great thing. Sure, keep the bad people away from the not so bad people. Just one little problem though. This only looks good on paper. In reality this turns out to be very counter intuitive. Most crimes are committed by lower-class minorities who usually lack proper moral standards. This alone doesn’t make us bad people. This only means that we weren’t quite guided in the right directions as children. Lucky for all of us, the government doesn’t want to actually deal with this issue. They would rather sweep us under the rug. The problem with that is eventually the mess under the rug will start to overflow and get out of control. This evasion of responsibility is what can get us “criminals” more time in a federal case. Though, the government can just ignore it with no repercussions.
A good analogy for some to gain an understanding for what prison could be like is to take a bunch of stray dogs and place them all in a cage for an extended period of time. Then deprive them of everything that makes them feel like dogs. Only give them pacifiers to keep them occupied. What is the end result? Sadly, the system is doing this to us. We are all shoved in a cage and then deprived of almost everything that makes us human. We are provided with the bare minimum of food and hygiene. Commissary is just a bunch of junk food. They allow us to read books and magazines and newspapers. They offer some vocational and ACE classes. They have few apprenticeships as well. There are ACE classes, like the Planet Earth series. Or a series on the history of the world wars. Some vocational courses that teach outdated engine technician skills or home maintenance. Apprenticeships that you have to wait years to get into. The classes and commissary items may vary depending on prison and custody levels. Regardless, there is still a major problem that needs lots of attention.
Ultimately you have equipped society with hammers, and deprived prisoners of a realistic opportunity to reenter the “free-world”. This just creates an environment where everyone involved is essentially being dehumanized. The correctional staff constantly treats inmates as if they are lesser than human. This is subconsciously or sometimes consciously picked up by the inmates, eliciting a negative reaction. Pretty much turning everything into an endless cycle of digression. Prisoners being stuffed into a cage with other unstable prisoners and blindfolded officers just forces us into a type of survival mode. The hostile prisons were basically created by the belief, from our communities, that prisoners were bad people who need absolute punishment instead of help. You can’t stick us in a box and treat us like garbage and hope that we will sit back and think about what we’ve done. It makes no logical sense to expect something better to emerge from this treatment. Very few will. Too many will not. You need to develop a system that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to crime.
Just understand that the solution to prison comes from a collective effort by society to force the government to address the actual problem and not sweep it under the rug. Prisoners need help. Prison reform bills won’t necessarily do much by themselves. Without a reason to stay out, some prisoners will re-offend.
— Amos N.