Why Prisons Will Always Be Full

By · Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Prison Journal: Day 8,227

 It’s 3:30 on Wednesday morning as I write this entry. I’m in the room where I begin every day, watching as Dave walks on the concrete pathway that leads to the Control Center of Taft Camp. Dave is being released from prison, and in a few hours the guards will finish processing him, allowing him to walk out of prison. I wonder whether he will succeed with his re-entry to society.

Last week Dave told me about his case. He was my age and he graduated with a degree in marketing from UCLA. For the past 20 years he had a career in advertising. But Dave developed the habit of using methamphetamine when he was in college, and despite his successful career as a corporate executive, he never stopped using meth.

Dave said that he would buy meth in small quantities a few times every month. He had been using the drug consistently, but insisted that he was a social user, not an addict because he was able to function. Dave’s problem with the law began when he made an introduction between two meth users. Although Dave did not profit from the introduction, he knew the two users he introduced would conduct drug deals. That knowledge made him part of a drug conspiracy, and after he was convicted, a judge sentenced Dave to serve two years on prison.

Dave’s problem with the criminal justice system had roots in his drug use. As a consequence of his conviction he lost his career, his home, his car, and everything he owned. Dave said that when he walked out of prison he wouldn’t have any money, any job prospects, or any idea where he would live. He said the corporate world would be closed to him forever because of his felony conviction, and Dave had no idea how he would establish himself when he returned to his Southern California community.

The most troubling aspect of Dave’s return to society was his reluctance to renounce drugs. He said that as a social user, he was capable of controlling his meth habit. I told him about all the people I’ve met in prison who made the same statement, but Dave insisted that he had been controlling his habit for 20 years.

When I hear stories like Dave’s I gain further clarity on why our prisons will always be full. The two years that Dave served in prison were likely the first step. I expect that he will face extreme difficulties in finding stability. Those challenges will lead to severe blows to his self esteem, and emotional disturbances will lead to increased drug use. The cycle of failure has just begun for Dave, and although he walks out of prison this morning, I expect he will return.

Later this morning, when the guards open the dormitory doors, I’ll go outside to exercise—a 10-mile run. I’m scheduled to speak at a high school with TOAD (our youth outreach program) later so I won’t include any strength training today.

[consecutive running log: 3,840 miles over the past 432 days]

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

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