Recent talks have been centered around legal changes and other initiatives for inmates to be released earlier. While all of this is cool, as in most cases an act of injustice was committed, there is still another part, often forgotten, part of re-entry. That would be the rights and respect of the victims of these crimes.
There are several legislations that protect the rights of the victims of crime. Unfortunately, as time goes on the victims are left behind in the process. After the final court proceeding everyone is left deal with there issues the best way they can. The perpetrator goes to jail and begins their sentence. The victims are left with the scrape pieces of their lives; they try their best to put those pieces back so that life has some sort of the prior normalcy it once had. The hardest part of that journey is healing.
How does one answer the WHY? How does this relate to re-entry and the high rate of recidivism?
Let me be clear. Crime is a choice. A choice that has consequences. Consequences that one has to be held accountable for. With that being said there are many factors that contribute to the choices that we make. While it is not a sufficient excuse to fault each and every bad thing that has happened to us, as a means to evade accountability for our actions, some of these bad things play a role in the decisions we make.
In the case of a person who has been marginalized, under-served, and under-educated for most of their lives they may not share the same principles or morals as others who have not suffered those experiences. In most cases these environments and conditions create, within a person, a sense of hopelessness. There is a lack of disregard for life, their lives and the lives of others. Many from these community have been neglected and abused in many ways. It is a no brainer that most of the habitants from these communities over populate the prison system. The penal system has become the dumping ground for these people with these problems.
Re-entry, as it is called today, has to be more than job skill training, record finding, federal bonding, part-time jobs and halfway house placement. There is a strong need for emotional intelligence enhancement, restorative justice work, and community development work. It is a shame that a person is told to do time in the name of paying back a depth to society while they are release with no commitment to society. There has to be some accountability on the part of those entering into society, and it has to be positive. Those willing to give back in a genuine, wholesome and productive way are telling society they want to earn their place back among them; they are willing to work hard to earn the trust needed from those around them. Those who are not willing to be held accountable, at the community level because penitence does not stop at the prison gate, are making it clear they do not wish to engage in pro-social activities. Making them easier to identify from those that are putting forth the effort needed to change.
What I want to focus on is what I call the WHY, and how it relates to recidivism. We are whole beings. People I mean. We are not just our emotions, or out actions, or our imperfections and perfections. We are not our ethnic background and nationalities. We are more than just flesh and bone. We are whole people and all of the above adjectives, and more, make us who we are. As it concerns penal reform and successful reintegration into society we must look at and address the whole person. It is better that a person returns to society whole than bitter and broken.
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” (Nietzsche) Offenders returning to society have to have a why. A why should I do the right thing. A why should I not care about others when others have not cared about me. A person who has not answered his/her question of why will more than likely fail upon their return to society. They simply don’t see their place there.
“Whenever there is an opportunity for it one has to help them understand this why for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He is soon lost.” Viktor Frankl
How does one get to the why? By first learning to accept things for the way they are. By learning to forgive those who may have harmed them. By letting go, not forgetting, of the things that bind us emotionally. By re-training the way one thinks and behaves.
These are the cues that one should look for as they work with those who have victimized others. Are they willing to address and answer the question of why.
I look around me and I and saddened by the state of affairs of the penal system. It has become a warehouse for bodies. When I read the demographic stats of whites, blacks and Latinos incarcerated, and see where there are disparaging numbers between the groups. I have to laugh. In here we just don’t see it that way. We see each other for who we are, who we say were were, or what we say we are going to do, for many the next time “I go home.” We talk about what is different now than before. We talk about our age now, the ages of or siblings and kids. We talk about the death of our loved ones. We talk about Allah, God, Buddha, and Yoga. We talk about the Quran, the Bible and any other self help books we can get our hands one. We talk about law and the changes of law. We talk about everything but the truth.
When we talk about victims we always talk about ourselves. We have done a fine job of making victims out of ourselves. What we don’t talk about is the true change needed to get out and stay out. What we don’t talk about is the why. We are good at talking about the how. We just somehow conviently leave the why out.
Why is that? At the source of our issues is the why. The why that is left unanswered. Why did I have to be born to a poor family? Why did dad leave us? Why did money date all those men? Why am I hungry? Why do I have to listen to others when others don’t listen to me? Why do I have to get a job when I can make faster money? Why do I have to obey the rules when others break them? Why do I have to be sober when others don’t. Do you see the progression here? At the end of every Why there lies the truth about oneself. The truth that many run from. It is much easier to talk about How we are going to do something. The how is often us lying to ourselves and dreaming about life. Answering the Why requires deep reflection, honest work and most importantly confrontation with the truth. As they say the truth will set you free. In the case of incarceration and offending it is the truth that is going to help on get out and stay out.
This does not only apply to those incarcerated. I ask that those that read these posts think about that why in your own life. Understanding the why helps clarify purpose. Life lived with a purpose is one not wasted. It is a life lived with very few regrets. It is a life live that one can be proud of. It is a life that serves others just as well as it serves us. It a life worth living.