Institutionalized Failure Does Not Lead to Corrections
Ryan Thomas asked whether I thought “the institutionalized lifestyle of a prisoner is in itself a way of correcting.” He also wanted to know what I attributed the growth I have made over 21 years of imprisonment if not correctional officers. I appreciate this opportunity to respond to Ryan’s question, and I hope readers find some value in my perspective.
When I think of correcting, I think of making something right. To me, when discussing the context of the prison environment, an emphasis on corrections would imply an emphasis on preparing offenders to emerge as law-abiding, contributing citizens. The irony is that statistics show that the longer society exposes an individual to corrections, the less likely that individual is to function successfully upon release.
Since statistics show that 70 percent of the people who serve time in prison return to confinement after their release, and independent researchers like those who produced The Pew Report show that prison expenditures divert tens of billions each year from social programs like education and health care, it would seem to me that the “institutionalized lifestyle” does not function so well as a tool for correcting. On the other hand, prisons perform brilliantly as a system for warehousing human beings. They are extremely effective at facilitating cultures where gangs and antisocial values proliferate. They encourage us-versus-them attitudes. Perhaps one of the greatest successes of the prison system is that, thanks to prison lobbyists, they have generated billions in profits for the businesses and organizations that provide the goods and services to keep the industry growing. Those accomplishments have come at the cost of losses in funding for programs that actually reduce crime, especially educational funding, but prisons have been booming for longer than two decades.
As a long-term prisoner, I have considered it my responsibility to overcome the challenges that confinement presents. I began serving my term at 23, and I felt a deep sense of remorse for the shame and disappointment my criminal convictions had brought to my family. That remorse motivated my prison adjustment. I wanted to adjust in a way that would help me redeem the bad decisions I had made as a younger man. By educating myself, I hoped to prepare for release and for reconciliations with society.
I’ve served more than 21 years in prisons across the United States, and I’ve lived through the pernicious influences of the penitentiary system. I feel as if I have a duty to help Americans understand more about the failure this system breeds. It is not because I expect changes will advance my release date. I’ve served my time and expect to continue until my sentence expires. Yet as a citizen of this country that I love, I feel as if I must debunk the myths that prison propaganda perpetuates.
Our country incarcerates far too many people and prisoners serve sentences that are far too long, as Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court expressed. We need prison reforms that will serve the interests of American citizens, not the interests of those who profit from warehousing humanity.