Week 5 Victim Impact October 31, 2013

This week I began with a quote: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” (Fyodor DostoevskyThe House of the Dead (1862))

We began the class discussing the mindsets that are bought to the prison environment and how they shape our visions for the future.

We also talked about the collateral damage that is a result of incarceration.

“Conviction for a crime, still more a sentence of imprisonment, may itself undermine family cohesion ad security, destroy the offenders prospects, result in loss of employment and assets, all quite apart from any legal measures…Those who commit crimes as youths may outgrow criminality as the get older but they may never be able to outgrow their criminal records.”
I talked about who really suffers from the acts which we have committed, the ripple effects. It is the family that suffer the most often.  That the suffering and penalty for incarceration does not stop when we are released.  But, that for the men there is a certain amount of degradation and loss of respect within the family. That the mere fact of having gone to prison for 1 day can, and is often set up to, destroy a lifetime of credibility.

The criminal justice system is a machine that is designed to do just that, destroy. What has to be understood is that there are no direct links to crime and incarceration. Crime is a result of poverty, under-education and urbanization. Incarceration policies do not respond to crime but to political agendas and climates. Underemployment , drugs and violence help create that climate due to the subculture that exists in these communities. That is what this system is designed to do. So it is no surprise that many men return to prison as the communities that they come from, and go back to, are still plagued with the very same issues that were there before they went to prison. So, there is a serious need to educate others to how to come up out of these conditions. To understand the collateral damage and find ways to work around it.

I also talked stats. In 1982 the cost for incarceration was 9 million a year. In 2001 the cost was 44 million a year. Today the cost of incarceration is 80 billion a year. Yes!! 80 billion a year!! Yet, crime has not been reduced. In fact between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase. More money is being spent on a concept that is not working. Prisons are not reducing crime and violence yet more prisons are being built; more money is being spent than ever before.

Many of the men were receptive to the idea that they contributed to the conditions of their communities. That they are the ones that have to go back and make the effort to get it right.

In these classes, although they are not typically coaching forums, I use the skills that I have learn to get the guys to see what it would look like. What would it look like to live in a safe neighborhood? What would it look like to come home from work and be a father to ones kids? What would it look like to be respected and really loved? Many of the men, from the hardest to the meekest, all had something to say. That it would feel good to live in a community where people were not be shot and killed. Were their kids were safe from drugs and alcohol. Where they could send their kids to school i safety. So the next question was simple. If this is the community we want imagine how many other people want the same thing. Now imagine how many dreams we have destroyed, by not acting in the community that we come in a manner to be like the one that we want for ourselves. The way that others want it to be for themselves.

Surely no one wants to live in fear under the constant threat of violence and abuse. In fact many of the guys in this situation are here because we had to be a certain way so that we could survive, day to day. It is up to those that know to teach those who do not.

I challenged the men to pick up a book. There is no way that some of us have seen everything and done everything under the sun but a book! I mean it when I say that most of these men have not read a book in years. I asked them what is there to fear in a book? Maybe it is that the truth is to be found, the truth about who you really are. If that is the case than there may be reason to be afraid to open one up. When you look at the reality of most of us we have been shot, stabbed, mugged, drugged from home and imprisoned, put in cells days on top of days with out running water. We have been made to endure long trips across the country chained and shackle, eating stale and old cheese sandwiches. Yet, the thought of opening up a book scares most of us to death.

After class I had a conversation with a guy that is starting to get it. Time will tell, is what i told him. See it is easy to do the right thing when there is someone constantly watching your every move. This is not change. This is getting by, playing by the rules. What happens when the ex offender stigma will not allow you to get the job that you want and you have to settle. Are you going to remember this? Are you going to have the same resolve to do the right thing?

To be incarcerated is easy. There is nothing to do but breath. Yes there is danger. But, there is danger everywhere in the world. The only thing that most guys are dying from here is boredom and stupidity. I often feel the same way. There is no more lesson to be learned for me. Me being incarcerated at this point in my life serves NO purpose. So what am I doing here? Nothing too exciting, other than being bored have the time. They say that an idle mind is the workshop for the devil. Hence the stupidity that guys are getting caught up in. Due to the boredom that exists.

The real punishment is when one is released and have to fend for himself out there. Are you ready for this, is what I asked the young man. Are you ready to make choices? That is what freedom and liberty means. It means that you have to make choices and you have to be responsible for the choices that you make. He said that he was. I truly hope so.

Until next week Peace!

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