The following is a reflection paper from the Inside-Out Course titled The Offender and Re-entry.  Inside-Out classes are college courses taught at nearby federal prisons.  The classes offer college students and inmates a chance to learn together and from each other in a shared learning environment.  

(abstract)
This paper is an overview of the different stages that one may go through as they transcend the confines of slavery, mental and physical, as it exists today. Points will be taken from the book by Demico Boothe “Getting out and staying out”.  This paper will challenge some of the myths that are associated with the offender and the ex offender, as it will show the parallels between the idea and forms of slavery that existed in the past through the Jim Crow era up until the way that the criminal justice system works with regards to mass incarceration.

In the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” the author gives some advice that i have to say is not practical as it concerns doing time with the right mind. I must say that I am very disappointed in the vague and unrealistic advice that he gives to those who are to be released from prison, with the hopes of never returning. In his book, he does not touch on one single issue that a person has to deal with as they journey through these wall and gates of the penal system.

In his book ‘ Getting out and staying out” the author poorly writes about what one needs to do to get out and stay out. He makes it seem as it is as simple as go to jail, mind your business, read a book, and obey the rules. I must say that i am very disappointed at the author’s attempt to educate the masses on what it takes to get out of prison once and for all and never return. His advice is not practical nor realistic. There are other factors, which are so far reaching into the psyche of a person who is incarcerated, that the advice that he gives does not apply to but about 10% of the federal population, let alone those in the state penal system.

As it concerns the federal system, it is safe to say that most prisoners that have been convicted of selling these drugs were also drug users, and if surveyed they will tell you that more often than not they sold drugs to support a habit. That alone presents another set of problems that cannot be easily resolved by the laid back and easy advice that the author mentions in his book. So the very idea of reading and obeying the rules of a system that is governed and predicated on hate and anger is not going to solve the issue of what needs to be done. Some of these people come from dysfunctional backgrounds where there was no importance given to education in the homes, and most of them seldom went to school. Inside the home or place of residence there was an element of lawlessness and disobedience, so to expect one to come to prison and change that behavior is farfetched.

“Don’t move! You have the right to remain silent an anything that you say can and will be used against you in the court of law” These are the infamous words that every one that has every passed through the criminal justice system has heard and cannot forget. It is a looming voice that sits in one’s head that serves as a reminder of what is was first like to have someone tell you that you had no more rights and that from this day forward you will be held to a different standard from the rest of society as to everything that you say or do. That you are going to be faced with choices that are going to make or break you as a human being. See, if you are a minority in this country, you may have already felt this way as one time or another. Felt that you are not free to choose and direct your life the way that you want to, but the day that these words are recited to you it marks the first day of your new awakening. What is this new awakening? It is the moment that you realize that you have given up all of the rights that you thought that you had, only to be treated like the third class citizens that you have just become.

The Judge: “I am sorry for this, Mr. Shakir. I really am because I feel you are quite an intelligent person and I do believe that you have a sense of what is good and what it bad, and Itruly think that you do have a lot to contribute. You have to yourself, to a family the you might ultimately have one day and to society, However, there is something in you that you need to face which has caused you to take the life of another person and that is quite an extreme thing to say about oneself. And certainly, I think that’s something you need to address for yourself when you go through life in prison. The sentence of the court is…it is the intent of the court that the defendant serves a minimum of twenty years in this case”

These were the last words that I heard when i got this sentence and words that i can never forget as long as I live. Upon hearing these words, I was not fully aware of what had happened other than i was sentenced to serve twenty years in prison and at the age of seventeen the last thing on my mind was reading a book or any of the other stuff that Boothe mentions in his book. How do I survive a sentence that was longer than i had been alive, at that time. However, the question here is not how to survive prison but how the journey began. For me it was when i i was give a glimmer of hope by the judge when he mentioned that he felt that I was quite intelligent. Hearing those words stuck out the most in the midst of the other stuff that was going on at the time. It was like a smack in the face with a velvet glove! You are intelligent but I am going to let you figure that out on your own as you do this twenty years. That is what i heard.

To hear the judge say this gave me a little bit of hope that all was not lost, but can you imagine the start of this journey if i was told I was a menace to society and that I deserve to be in prison and that if it was up to him that he would give me more time? Now how do you start the journey of change when the last words that you hear from the judge is that you are worthless? Unfortunately, there are many who start this journey this way and because of that, they find themselves feeling that the situation is hopeless and that there is no need to change. Why change when it feels that my very existence is geared towards prison? The very make up of this system is designed to destroy and demolish hope and lives and if the very one who has you life in his or her hands tells you that your life is worthless, then there is a greater chance that you may fall further down the ladder of demise.

So that is one thing that the author failed to mention and point out, that although you have been removed from society physically doesn’t mean that you mentally and morally have to leave. Deciding this is the most important thing to consider as one travels through these walls. How dignified is one going to be with this new reality? How does one deal with the pressures of gangs drugs/alcohol, depression, rejection, abandonment, remorse and regret? These are jus some of the important issues that one has to face and overcome before the stuff that the author speaks about can be adhered to.

The unfortunate difference between blacks and whites in regards to the penal system is that often blacks feel that they belong here. This is often due to those final words from the judge, words that can make the difference in the way that one views incarceration and life from that moment on. So, in order to overcome prison on has to know that they do not belong in prison. What do I mean by that ? I do not say that to undermine the fact that one has to pay for his or her choices what I am saying that the idea is to change and become a better and more productive person along the way. One can not achieve that goal if they reduce their being to a cage. One can not think that prison is aright nor ok. If one thinks that it is alright or okay to be incarcerated what is to stop him or her from repeating the same negative choices? After the first few weeks when everything sets in, one can fall into the behaviors of the “joint” as the begin to think that, “is it is not as bad as I thought.” Once a person reached this level of comfort, it is harder to pull oneself out from the illusion that prison is not that bad.

Once people come to terms with himself , it becomes easier to identify the particular need of this person. The author suggest reading while the overwhelming majority of the prison population is illiterate. How realistic is that for advice? Therefore, there has to be an individualized program and agenda for that person. These are a few thoughts that i had concerning the book and what the author presents. I know that it is going to take more than his suggestions for a person to reach that level of self-level.

Although I am critical of his advice, I must say that I agree with him when he mentions that one has to find a way to become educated. This may not be an easy task but there has to be an effort made, as the reasons for ones incarceration usually begins with the lack of education. Therefore, it is imperative that one is educated about the system and has knowledge of oneself. The beautiful thing about education is that it transcends all bounds and barriers. With the right information, a person can travel to the moon. So, just imagine what a person can do with their lives with the right information. This is what made the war on black and the poor, via the war on drugs, so successful to achieve: lack of education.

So what Boothe should have focused on was the importance of education and some of the social issues that can aide in one making poor choices. One has to face the truth and accept the truth and be willing to be held accountable for his or her behavior. When one gets to this point in life that person is then able to do what he or she needs to be successful in all areas of his or life.

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Comments
  1. Alicia says:

    This review really made no sense to me. None. You criticize the book for encouraging brothas to read in jail, but then later say you agree with the author that someone in prison who is uneducated “has to find a way to become educated”; what better way to start than by reading as a habit??? Isn’t that why our enslaved ancestors were denied the right to read; to keep them IGNORANT???? Man, there are so many ridiculous things about this review that I could point out, but I will not even waste my time. Half baked review that’s really ridiculous.

    • Yes, you are right in your assessment of the right to read and being denied the right. If you read the book Getting Out and Staying Out and have any experience with incarcerated people you will see that there are many flaws in the concepts that he presents as the methods that one should use to change his/her life for the better, that was his idea for writing the book. He wrote this book to be a guideline for men who are incarcerated to use as a stepping stone to get to where he is at today.

      Unfortunately, although that is part of the solution, at some point, that is not the starting point for many of the men that I know that are incarcerated. See it is easy to make the assumptions you make if you are not involved or have never experienced what is inside these prison walls. So let me give you a up-close view of what it is so that you will have a better understanding of what you may think that you know.

      Even though I am incarcerated I teach quite a few classes here. One class that I tutor is GED. I teach the GED in Spanish and tutor the GED in English. In a classroom of 20 men after the role is called that number dwindles down to 8 everyday. This is not something made up. There are some guys that bring walkmans and magazines to read and there are others that go to sleep. So if simply reading a book is going to change a mans life for the best, an incarcerated person, you tell my why do most of the men in the class not only abandon books but leave off something as important as a GED. It has been proven that a person’s chances of coming back to prison reduces with education. If that was enough to keep people out of prison I am sure that everyone here would take full advantage of the educational opportunities that are offered in every prison that has an educational dept. The difference here is that our enslaved ancestors wanted that freedom that many take for granted today, education being one of them. That is the mere fact that I comment on.

      With the exception of the times that the men here are required to be in school, the library is the quietest and most vacant place in the prison. When the numbers increase it is due to in climate weather. When it is sunny and nice outside, the library is empty. There are plenty books here to read, everything from fact, fiction, world history, African history, American history, and so on. Let me tell you that out of all the books that are read, African American books are the least read!! So with that being said you tell me if this is the starting point for change in the lives of men who have been conditioned to not care about anyone nor anything.

      Last week in another class, Victim Impact to be exact, the question was asked how many guys in the room dropped out of high school prior to coming to prison and the vast majority of the men raised their hands, shamelessly! Let me tell you about the book that Mr. Booth wrote. This book was written during a second trip to prison. So guess what. I am sure that the first time he could have gotten it right, but why didn’t he? Was it that simple? Or were there other issues in his life that he had to confront before coming to terms that maybe there is power in education. See he observed all of this stuff while in prison and wrote from a perspective that was complimented by his point of view, what worked and works for him. But oddly that came after more than one trip to prison.

      If you have any experience with the penal system tell me if what I am about to mention to you from his book which oddly enough is titled “Getting out and Staying out,” with regards to the rules of the halfway house makes sense. The halfway house is where inmates are sent for a duration of 6 months or less as a means to gradually reintegrate them back into society. There are rules and regulations that have to be maintained or else one is in violation and sent back to prison. Mr. Booth gives accounts of how he opened his own business while in the halfway house and emphatically says that he knows that he was not supposed to do it and that if one wanted to do it he has to do it on the sly. So take one of your male loved ones who has spent the last 5 years in prison and is in the halfway house. Is this the advice that you want to be given to that person? To take the chance and circumvent the rules, something that he may have been doing most of his life which is why he might have been sent to prison to begin with, and take the chance of going back to prison. To just be crafty and do it your way! Is this the advice that you want to be given to your “brothas” that are incarcerated? See I know and understand the dangers and the end result of this advice. It is called another trip back to the pen. You can not even have a cell phone in the halfway house let alone your own business.

      If you have read the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” you will have read where she speaks about the stigma of being an ex felon. She says, “For those released on probation or parole, the risks are especially high…Probationers and parolees are at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else.” You can find the whole quote on page 93. What is the point in mentioning this? That this book that you say that I criticized is filled with misguided and misrepresented information that can do more harm and damage to these communities and homes of these men, that is remove them from the family structure that is needed to break the chains of ignorance and change the cycle of what is happening in these communities. Now these are the issues that I have with the book.

      Furthermore what I wrote was not meant to be a book review of the book “Getting Out and Staying Out,” rather it was a college paper that I had to write concerning this issue. It was a required reading for a Criminal Justice course through the University of Pittsburgh called the “Offender and Reentry.”

      I don’t criticized the book for encouraging men to read I comment on the lack of attention given to the other aspects that are not mentioned. I meet with a guy that is 38 years old once a week that cannot read. I tutor guys and teach in classes every day full of men that cannot read and refuse to learn how. What I comment on is the sad reality of the state of our “brothas” behind bars. I appreciate and respect your views on what I wrote but I ask you to think of the realities of what I see everyday and to consider that as you think of the issue that is being discussed here. Thank you for your comment and if there is anything else that you disagree with let me know. Maybe I am missing something here.

  2. […] post was written in response to a comment left under the post Journey Through Bondage.  We encourage and invite dialogue and discussion on the various topics posted on this site.  We […]

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