Prison Culture Doesn’t Want Prisoners Writing About Prison

By · Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Nick wrote a comment in response to my article entitled They’re Prison Guards, Not Correctional Officers. He inquired as to my thoughts on why the prison system would discourage prisoners from writing about the culture of corrections. My perspective, of course, was shaped from having been locked inside prisons for the past 21-plus years.

During the time that I have served, I have witnessed the disconnect between what the system publishes about “corrections” with the policies that govern the lives of those who live within the system. In the prison where I am held currently, for example, administrators have posted banners that proclaim an emphasis on preparing offenders for re-entry. As a prisoner, I have perceived a different emphasis. The emphasis, to me, seems to be on managing an efficient institution, not preparing offenders for re-entry.

In The Second Chance Act of 2007, Congress made specific findings. Those findings indicated that inmates who nurtured strong family and community ties were the least likely to recidivate upon release. Yet in that Act, Congress also found that prison administrators did not facilitate prisoners who sought to build such ties to society. My experience suggested worse. Not only did administrators fail to facilitate offenders who worked to prepare for law-abiding lives upon release. They enacted policies that obstructed prisoner efforts to connect with society. The prison system has grown more punitive, with a much greater emphasis on isolation over the more than two decades that I have served. Let me provide some specific examples.

Although Congress found that nurturing community ties helps lower recidivism rates, prison administrators block inmates from society. The current regulations, for example, restrict federal prisoners to an average of fewer than 10 minutes of phone access per day. When I began serving my term, such limits did not exist. Prisoners struggle to stay connected with family under such tight limitations. Children do not understand why they cannot talk with fathers; wives lose connections with their husbands; prisoners cannot nurture relationships with friends or prospective employers. The policies block prisoners from society and embed them into the prison culture.

Visiting policies have the same types of restrictions. Rather than encouraging prisoners to visit frequently, the prison administrators implement schedules that limit the number of visitors a prisoner may have, and restrict the frequency of visits a prisoner may receive. Such policies are inconsistent with encouraging prisoners to prepare for re-entry.

Administrators at the prison where I am confined have implemented policies that interfere with an individual’s ability to correspond. We are now prohibited from using typewriters for anything other than correspondence with courts. That policy means prisoners may not use typewriters to correspond with family, to complete school work, or to open relationships with prospective employers. This policy is also inconsistent with platitudes about preparing offenders for re-entry. If it were not for First Amendment protection, I would not be allowed to use my pen for all the writing I do to apprise citizens about the prison system through which I have lived since 1987.

The prison culture objects to prisoner efforts to write about the system because those who control the culture want to influence public opinion. Those who lobby for the corrections industry want citizens to believe that more tax dollars should go to fund these institutions. Those tax dollars that come from education and healthcare budgets can fund corrections unions, suppliers who provide goods and services that are worth billions to the system. They do not want prisoners writing about the ways that prison policies perpetuate failure and high recidivism rates. Instead, they want to mislead taxpayers into believing that prison administrators are doing everything within their power to prepare offenders for re-entry, yet they need more money constantly. Such propaganda continues the growth of the system, regardless of the costs to society in terms of wasted tax dollars, high recidivism rates, diminished funding for education, health care, and other social programs.

The prison system does not want prisoners writing about the system. At least that is my perspective, based on experience.

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