Prison Policies Ought to Encourage Positive Leadership

By · Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Brittny left a comment in response to the article I wrote about Walt Jones.

Since writing the first article about Walt, I wrote an update about his inspiration. I expect him to continue his final months with a positive adjustment and for him to make real contributions to society upon his release.

Leaders in prison can have a huge influence on the prisoners around them. Unfortunately, the oppressive policies in the institutions where I have served time extinguish hope. They leave many prisoners with the mistaken believe that regardless of what positive adjustments they make, nothing will make a difference in their individual predicaments. As a consequence of these infrastructures that I believe are fundamentally flawed, most of the men who achieve leadership status in prison do so through negative adjustments. They become gang leaders or engage in adjustment patters that are at odds with the values of law abiding society.

Prison administrators could work wonders in lowering recidivism rates by openly supporting and encouraging the positive role models within a prison community. Prisoners like Tommy X may face the burden of a life sentence. Yet his leadership within the prison community has changed Walt’s life, and I’m confident he has brought a positive influence to the lives of others as well.

I am a huge proponent of the power that comes with incentives. Administrators could influence more people in prison by offering them mechanisms through which they could work toward earning freedom. By extinguishing hope, they create us-versus-them communities. That leads to high recidivism rates, higher operating costs, and unsafe societies. The strategy does serve the interests of lobbyists who support businesses and organizations that want a bigger prison system, but not the interests of society.

I have served my entire adult life in prison, more than 21 years already. Unfortunately, prison has become like home for me. I’ve spent every day working to reconcile with society and to prepare for the law-abiding life that I will live upon release. Yet I expect to serve my sentence in its entirety. That means I will serve between three and four more years in prison.

Despite the growth I’ve made, I’ve felt discouraged rather than encouraged by the system of corrections. To this system, my academic credentials, contributions to society, and building a strong network of support has made no difference. I am a prisoner, without distinction from the prisoner who narcotizes himself in prison with television, table games, and recreational activities. My motivation comes from within, and my rewards come from interactions with citizens who attribute a value to my work, not from the system of so-called corrections.

That is a reason so few prisoners adjust in ways to prepare for release. Walt, however, was an exception.

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