Do Prison Staff Members Encourage and Promote a Postive Lifestyle For Prisoners?

By · Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Lauren is a university student studying criminal justice who asked a question about the challenges I faced when I was pursuing my university degrees.

I want to respond to Lauren’s questions by describing an interaction I recently had in a group meeting at the Taft Prison Camp. A prison counselor was present, overseeing our group of 12 prisoners. The purpose of our group was to communicate positive messages to at-risk adolescents. The other eleven men all came from urban backgrounds. They spoke in the language of the streets, using all the current slang terminology. My diction, on the other hand, has become a bit more formal as a consequence of all the hours I spend communicating with a pen and paper.

In order to make a more persuasive case to the audience we were going to address, I suggested that someone other than me should deliver the message. My thoughts were that the inner-city, at-risk adolescents would feel more receptive to listening to one of my fellow group members.

“It doesn’t matter which one of you delivers the message,” the staff member said. “You’re all criminals.”

The staff member’s message was one that the culture of imprisonment pounded into the heads of every prisoner. It was the same message day after day, month after month, year after year, and in my case, decade after decade. Regardless of the efforts an individual makes to reconcile with society, to earn freedom, the predisposition of those who work in corrections is to maintain us-versus-them cultures. As a prisoner, the system will always classify me as a criminal. Regardless of what efforts I make to redeem the bad decisions of my early 20s, or what contributions I have made to reconcile with society, the system of corrections provides no mechanisms through which any offenders can fully redeem himself and become one with the fabric of society.

From my perspective, biased though it may be, this is a flawed system. It contributes to the high recidivism rates that plague our society. I feel convinced that prison administrators could reduce recidivism, lower prison operating expenses, make prisons safer for both staff and inmates, and contribute to safer societies by transforming the culture of confinement into on that encourages those in prison to work toward redemption and reconciliation. Rather than erecting obstacles that separate, prison administrators ought to offer bridges that every prisoner can work toward crossing in order to rejoin the community of law-abiding society.

Although my record shows that I have worked consistently for more than 21 years to reconcile with society and earn freedom, I feel as if I’ve received more resistance than support or encouragement from the system of corrections. On an individual basis, some staff members express support for my work on a personal level. As representatives of “the system,” however, they enforce the systemic obstacles that block my progress. It is the U.S. Constitution that allows me to contribute to society through my writings, as the prison system uses its power to hinder my efforts to publish. If the Supreme Court did not affirm the First Amendment rights of prisoners, I feel certain that the prison system would prohibit my writing about the prison experience.

With regard to earning my academic credentials, nurturing my family, building my network of support, and every other preparation I’ve made for release, I have felt the system of corrections blocking me. The system of corrections wants to keep me as a prisoner, a convicted criminal.

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2 Responses to “Do Prison Staff Members Encourage and Promote a Postive Lifestyle For Prisoners?”

  1. Ashlee Raubach says:

    I just came across your site, in an effort to learn and familiarize myself with taft prison camp, in order to help soften my fear and the saddness that I feel as my father will be soon entering this facility. I have to praise you for your efforts and your knowledge that you are offering to so many people in this country who have overwhelming fear of what’s to come. I know my father is a good person, who made a mistake and broke the law, I know there are good people who are inmates in facilities like this, who I believe should be recognized for who they are today, and the progress they have made in their lives. By you writing this blog, you are helping so many people; you are contributing to society in a positive way…I appreciate this!

  2. Mark Whitney says:

    “It doesn’t matter which one of you delivers the message,” the staff member said. “You’re all criminals.”
    Sure she wasn’t addressing the Senate Banking Committee?