Strong Community Ties Can Motivate Prisoners to Adjust Positively

By · Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Strong Community Ties Can Motivate Prisoners to Adjust Positively

LaRita left a comment asking some questions about another prisoner with whom I served time. His name was Jeff, and the article I wrote about him described the obstacles prison administrators erected in obstructing Jeff’s efforts to marry the mother of his children. LaRita wanted to know my thoughts on what type of adjustment Jeff would have pursued had I not helped him overcome administrative obstacles.

Jeff had been incarcerated for several years before I met him. He was from a disadvantaged background, and he lacked basic education skills that other Americans take for granted. Those challenges prohibited him from contemplating strategies for coping with confinement successfully. He had more than a decade to serve, and he didn’t have much hope.

Since we were able to prevail in obtaining authorization for Jeff to marry, his adjustment has changed. He married during the summer of 2008. Since then, he completed his GED and he has enrolled in the community college program available to prisoners at Taft Camp. He was doing well.

I work with Jeff regularly, and I feel a sense of meaning in helping him adjust. Serving more than 21 years in prison, and the growth I’ve made, gives me a degree of currency with other prisoners. I can help them believe that through hard work and discipline, they can make a difference in their lives. They also can make contributions to both their families and to society. Such adjustments both empower them and imbue them with confidence to succeed upon release.

I cannot take credit for Jeff’s positive adjustment, as he is the young man who is doing the work. What I strive to do is live as a role model for him. Had he lived without hope, I know that positive adjustment decisions would have been more difficult. He may have continued with table games, television, and recreational activities to pass through the time. Yet now he must prepare himself to provide for his family. Additional incentives would serve him well.

LaRita also asked why I thought administrators under the Bush administration reduced prisoner telephone access to fewer than 10 minutes per day. Those changes came under Bush’s first Attorney General, John Ashcroft. Leadership changes come from the top down. Under Bush, administrators operated under the conservative premise that punishment and severe consequences should accompany criminal sanctions. It was a policy that resembled the foreign policy. No diplomacy, just bombs. Such policies made it more difficult for prisoners to develop and maintain family and community ties. They therefore contributed directly to higher recidivism rates. But they punished, and that was what Bush policies were all about.

I appreciate the encouragement LaRita communicated in her message, and I hope my work was helpful in her understanding of the prison system.

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