I have spent quite some time, lately, reflecting on life. My life and the life of those around me, near and dear. A guy told me something quite profound today. He said that the price that we pay for some things makes us more appreciative when we reach what we are seeking. Looking at my situation this way it makes sense. I guess that is the price that I am paying, bittersweet, but it if this is the price to appreciate life I am willing to pay it.
I look at others that come in and out of prison and often wonder why. It may be that they don’t see that they are paying off their life in installments. That life does not have that much value to appreciate having certain liberties. Freedom is priceless yet so many people willingly give it up for next to nothing.
I don’t wish prison on anyone but if you could just see the conditions of the men/women here you would weep. The American public is not getting the real when it comes to the penal setting. There is no structure in place. From the top down. There is no real concern for the public. The order of the day is not helping inmates change but to just enforce more rules and regulations. Rules and regulations that have nothing to do with survival on the outside. The only concern is that I have my bed made before I leave the unit in the AM. That I have my shirt tucked in while outside the unit. That I talk with respect to those in authority while it is of no concern what I do to those around me (inmates). It is a game and the losers are those that have to accept many of us back to the community.
I am once again teaching in the school, ESL and GED in Spanish, and this is by far the saddest learning setting that I have been in. Upon my introduction to the department I was greeted with this. ” These guys don’t want to learn. Are you sure you want this job? You have to have the hard convict exterior to deal with these guys.” All of this was said to me by those that have been entrusted with providing educational structure and information to these men. My response was, almost sarcastically but honestly, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” That is a statement that refers to human beings. Humans are humans no matter where they are. Here in prison we are often referred to as other than humans. Many of us are simply known for the crimes that we have committed. Circumstance of those events do not matter. Only that we are guilty of committing them.
The assumption is that we don’t have the capacity to be other than these crimes. It is sad that in order to be taken seriously for a job that requires patience, care and dedication, I had to explain my prison resume. What is that? That is me telling them, in so many words, that I have been in 20 plus years. That I have been in almost all the serious and dangerous penitentiaries that the BOP has.
This is a medium prison so the age group is younger. The crimes are not as dangerous and the guys are generally serving shorter sentences. Those here that have been in a lengthy amount of time come down from the USP (United States Penitentiary) which is where most of the lifers are at. The climate in the USP is very hostile and violent. It is in the USP that most of your prison deaths occur. I have been to 6 in the time that I have been in the BOP. It was not until I explained all of this to them that I was taken seriously. I still look young for my age so it is easy to look at me and misjudge my age, time spent in prison and experience. I rather prefer it to be and stay that way.
I thought by coming to this place things would be better, in terms of education. Sad to say that is far from the case. But every sad story has a happy point.
After the first week of working there has been a drastic change in “my” students. They want to work, they want to learn, and they want (even if they will not admit it) someone to care. Someone who is going to dedicate time and put forth the effort to help them. “No one cares what you know until they know how much you care.”
Often people ask me why do I do what I do. How do I do it? I tell tell them that what I do and how I do it has more to do with me than them. That I care that much, if not more about myself, that I can care about others. See part of paying the price with this incarceration is learning to appreciate life. Mine and those around me.
I think a lot of times people who have been convicted of murder are often written off as psychopathic, cruel, heartless and careless. Yes, there are convicted killers that are like that. Just as there are people out in the world that are as equally cruel, heartless and careless. People who have no regard for human life. How often do the “responsible” people find themselves behind the wheel of a vehicle after a night of drinking? How often do people text and drive? Eat while driving etc. How many people have died at the hands of these people? These acts may make them careless but not necessarily evil and bad.
So, when I show care and concern for others it surprise many. It is hard to see the human side of someone if all you know about this person is what a piece of paper says about them.
Imagine spending 20 plus years without having your human side catered to. Where you are dehumanized and looked down on. It is a hard task to endure. What helps me is caring for others. When I care and show concern for others it allows me to gauge how much I really care about myself. It opens the door to getting that validation from those around me. Those who acknowledge my intelligence and strengths. It helps keep the fire inside of me burning; It keeps me hungry for more. That is one of the benefits of helping others. When you see others succeeding due to your help it just does something internally for you.
If this is part of the price that I have to pay I know that when I am, one day, free from prison, that I will look back at this as a priceless experience. I will enjoy the moments that I have left. I will have the capacity to connect with my human side and the human side of others. There is so much in life to be grateful for. I am grateful that I have not lost my way. Rather, I have found my way. My faith in the Creator is strong, I have the love and support of my family and friends. I am in a rather good place. The least I can do is help someone else get to that place in their life.