Why I Don’t Succumb to Prison Influences

By · Thursday, November 13th, 2008

I have never embraced the values that prison environments perpetuate. I recognize prisons as exquisite designs to condition offenders for further failure. My interest has never been in cultivating a reputation within prison boundaries. Rather, I have always thought about the life I wanted to lead upon release.

While I was beginning my term inside of a jail cell, contemplating the decades my sentence would require me to serve in prison, I thought about steps I could take to redeem the bad decisions of my youth. Despite my having served more than 21 years in prisons of every security level, I have never engaged in an act of violence or rebellion. It has not been a fear of being taken to the Special Housing Unit that has kept me focused on goals. My discipline has come from a solid commitment to reconciling with society and preparing for the obstacles that I expect to face upon release.

Other prisoners struggle to see how their behavior in prison relates to the life they will lead once the sentence ends. The prison system itself supports an infrastructure that decimates hope. Whereas there are numerous prohibited acts an inmate may commit to raise his security level, extend his release date, and expose him to more onerous prison conditions, he has no path to distinguish himself in a positive way. An inmate who strives to educate himself, build a strong network of support, contribute to society, and create resources that will help him succeed upon release will not receive any recognition within the prison system. That individual will face interference from prison administrators who prefer to warehouse prisoners that waste their time watching television and playing table games.

By engaging in criminal acts, I had humiliated my parents and sisters. They stood beside me throughout my criminal proceedings. Yet when I saw the sadness and anxiety my imprisonment had caused them, I felt this deep desire to prove myself worthy of the support they had extended. Somehow, I felt that I had to make things right.

Naturally, I wanted to advance my release date.

The one factor I could control, however, was preparing a contributing citizen. The goal of educating myself was clearly defined. The effort I invested would determine whether I succeeded or failed. Prison administrators would not recognize my efforts, but I felt certain that academic credentials would enhance my standing with taxpayers and bring my family members pride. Those values added meaning to my life. They provided the motivation I needed to avoid the toxic influences of the penitentiary.

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