Archive for the ‘Inside Out Class’ Category

“It was once said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering in to its prisons.”

When it come to corrections there are four major goals that are primarily used to achieve a reduction in crime and recidivism, these goals consist of:

1.Rehabilitation-which stresses the re-socialization or reformation of the offender through institutional or community programs.
2.Incapacitation-which seeks to reduce crime through the actual physical restraints of the convicted offender.
3. Deterrence- which refers to the notion that the punishment of the offender serves as an example to the rest of the society.
4. Retribution-which refers to the correctional policies that are predicated on two principals:
(a)individual responsibility
(b) proportionality, meaning a convicted offender deserves to be punished because they are responsible for committing a specific criminal violation, and that the punishment must be proportional to the severity of the offense committed.

If these are the goals of incarceration there are certain elements that must be considered, in order for these goals to be met.

1 If rehabilitation is the goal of incarceration sentencing polices must involve flexibility and the goal has to reflect the characteristics and needs of the “individual”offender.
2 If incapacitation is the goal of incarceration it is expected that the goal to reduce crime and recidivism is met but using a system of sentencing based on legislative’s or the courts desire to keep of the streets those offenders who might otherwise engage in criminal behavior off the streets.
3. If deterrence is the goal of incarceration it may cater more to the side of the public and society, as they seek means to inhibit criminal behavior through these exemplary sanctions, therefore making the needs of society precedent over the needs of the individual offender.
4. If retribution is the goal of incarceration it would require a relatively inflexible sentencing system and little discretion would be permitted at the sentencing stage.

Often times what is overlooked is that there are very few direct links to crime and incarceration. Other than the one who commits crime eventually is incarcerated. Crime is a result of, and depends on, social conditions such as poverty, underemployment and urbanization, Currently incarceration polices respond not to crime but to political climates and legislative intent. The get tough on crime model has not worked and has been proven to be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Actually, there has been an increase in crime, violence and homelessness each year since the war on drugs began, or what is commonly now called “the get tough on crime”, policies have been used to address this issue.

Statistics show:

Between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase.
1. Assaults, which account for 86% of all violent victimizations increased by 22 %
2. Total domestic violence increased from 1.1 million to 1.4 million in 2011.
3. Domestic violence increased from 4.4 million in 2010 to 5.3 million in 2011, a 19% increase.
4. Intimate violence increased from 3.0 million in 2010 to 3.3 million in 2011, a 9 % increase.

Crime is equated with social disruption and its perpetrators are a threat to the dominant culture. The role of the criminal justice system and especially prisons, is to protect societies lawful and the values of society. So the mindset is that if rehabilitation doesn’t work there is a primarily reliance of incapacitation, deterrence and retribution, which has become a cause to the overcrowdedness that exists in prisons today. It has been proved that incapatictaion, deterrence and retribution has not reduced criminality or recidivism, often most prisoners will leave prison in a worsened condition than when they entered.

What is recidivism and how is it defined?
*Recidivism is defined, by some, as the relapse of an individual into criminal activity based on re-arrest for new offenses that lead to incarceration.
What is Re-entry and how is it defined?
*Re-entry (often associated with recidivism) is the process of releasing prisoners into society , where plans for inmate’s transition, into society, are addressed. To help them develop the skills needed to live free of crime, to help them maximize the time they spend during incarceration and what its expected upon release.
So, if recidivism is associated with re-entry and it has been proven that incarceration doesn’t reduce recidivism nor protect the public, the question becomes, why is there an increasing flow of tax dollars in building more prisons when it could be used to developed more effective programs geared towards re-entry? one of the current strategies to reduce recidivism includes building more prisons and imposing harsher sentences, even though these methods have been proven to be ineffective. The sad reality is that tax payers are paying lager amounts of money to build more prisons rather than trying to find more effective and efficient ways to address this issue.

According to the Justice Mapping Center, www.justiceatlas.org.  “In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend over $40 million dollars to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single zip code in Philadelphia, where %36 of the households have incomes under $25, 000.”   In an article that is posted on my blog, called the Million Dollar Block.   It speaks about places that spend more than a million dollars each year to incarcerate residents of a single block.  You can visit my site to read these articles.

The agencies that have changed the trend some and have seen bits of results in the area of reducing recidivism are the agencies that utilize what is called re-entry courts, which are working well and have had much success in reducing recidivism. Reentry courts consist of a system where the courts collaborate with probations and parole to accommodate some of the needs of the ex-offender.

A recidivism rate of two-third ( as of now the rate is 70%) clearly shows that something is amiss and some of the offenders are not being adequately prepared to return to society. This is often due the the lack of funding that is needed to develop the appropriate programs needed to better prepare and equip the offender.

10’s of thousands of Americans are released into the community from prison and jail every year and very few of them have the basic resources needed to stay out of prison. Sadly, often prison conditions make it easy for offenders to reoffend, as the basic necessities that most of them do not have out society they are provided in prison.

There is a need for access to services, including education, job training and job placement. There is also a need for substance and alcohol abuse treatment before and after release. Half of state prisoners and one-third of federal prisoners in 1997 reported committing their offenses while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, among those who had used alcohol or drugs in the month before their crime, only %14 had received treatment since their admission into prison.
Many offenders have limited employment history and/or no experience needed to perform certain jobs. Some of these limitation are related to illiteracy as well as the lack of work training skills need to achieve self-sufficiency. Yet, few receive these services while in prison. Not necessary because they are not offered these skills but sometimes it is due to lack of enthusiasm.

How can this be addressed?

1. By redesigning the methods which are currently being used to address these issues.
2. Implementing and redesigning programs, as well as building facilities that specialize in the needs that are that are closely associated with crime and recidivism reduction.

The BOP has been looking for more ways to address some of these needs.  Here at this institution some of these steps include, but are not limited to:

1. Mock job fairs where one of the requirements is that the inmates learn how to write resumes and cover letters.

2. Partnerships with the local halfway houses and probation departments to speak to the guys about the realities of what to expect upon release.

3. The BOP also has an Inmate Employment Information Handbook that contains a list of the agencies and information that will be needed upon release.  This handbook is free and accessible to every BOP inmate.  Here at this institution we keep that information on hand and available to whoever wants it.  

4. A Career Resource Center where the inmates can gather information needed to obtain birth certificates, social security cards and other identification related information.  Information which is critical in gaining employment.  

One of the most important points that I want to make is how education is connected to the problem of recidivism. At least 70% of all people incarcerated have not completed high school. Out of this group %16 have not high school education at all. %40 are functionally illiterate, meaning that they read below or at the 5th grade level., %19 are completely illiterate. In the population of adults in America %21 are functionally illiterate and %4 are completely illiterate.

Studies show that education and recidivism are related because inmates with at lest two years of college education have a %10 re-arrest rate, while the national re-arrest is about %66. Despite the conclusive evidence the education has a direct link to crime, poverty, incarceration and recidivism education as a means of solution is often overlooked.

Education provides for employment, important to successful re-entry. There are two main systems in our society, Penal and Educational. When one fails the other takes its place. Those that adjust and do well in the educational system almost never find themselves in prison. Those that learn the importance of education while in prison almost never re-offend. Which is why furthering my education is so important to me, as well as advocating the importance of education on all levels, as a means to address these social issues that exist within our society.

Also attached to education is self worth and value, It is through education that one learns life skills, social and other proactive skills needed to stay connected to society. One also learns essential skills that will be essential to avoiding prison in the future. Lack of employment is one of the major reasons for committing crime. Lack of employment is often due to lack of education, in the communities that are more commonly associated with crime and low income.

It is through education that one learns their role in society. Many offender often return to communities that breed fragmentation and negative influences. Poverty  crime and ethnic disparity can create an imbalance in these communities therefore the community can no longer positively influence those that reside within it. The order of the day becomes survival. One begins to not only think this way but act out these roles as a means to survive. They begin to believe this is the role that they are supposed to play in life, as crime has now become a way of life for them. it is through education that this cycle is disrupted, and one learns to understand their roles in the greater society, and not just in one small destitute community.

(Would it be safe to say that what people learn in this community they practice in prison, and what they learn in prison they practice in the community?)

So that I am clear here let me go on the record as saying that it is important for those who have committed crimes to be punished, accordingly.  Therefore if incarceration is a reality of our society lets deal with the issue so that there becomes less of a need to use it in areas where it may not benefit and becomes more of a financial burden.

Along with the four goals of incarceration that are used today education has to be included as one of these goals. Not only does it have to be a component but the process of education has to start at an early age.

1. These components have to place a serious expectation, which members of the above communities can learn and benefit from education.

2. There has to be an upgrade tin the educational system at the early stages of development. Many people from these communities have been deemed unteachable and unlikely to learn. This is why of the when they enter into prisons they do not understand the value of education nor can they make the connections as to why it is important to have and education in order to remain free.

3. There has to be a broadening of opportunities and possibilities that are achieved through education. It is not enough to tell them, but to show that and continue to show them amd continue to reinforce the ideas, concepts and beliefs.

Although for some members of these communities going to prison is a given, and often considered normal, it is never too late to change. So as this stage the focus had to be on developing needs based programs, for the offender, specialized for their needs. These steps have to be taken earlier and also be workable and realistic. This plan has to focus on accountability, responsibility and be designed to set goals that will aid in the re-entry concerns that the offender must meet in order to remain free.

*The BOP has what is called an ISDS (Inmate System Development System) yet one of the concerns that I have with it is that the process of developing the plan can often come too late.  What do I mean?  The process in developing that plan needs to start at admission, at the very first jail that the inmate lands in.  It is often the case that this plan doesn’t start to develop until the inmate is sentenced and sent to their designated institution and often they have been exposed to other outside influences that may steer them away from starting the process of re-entry at an earlier point of their incarceration.  The earlier the better.

I strongly believe that investing in therapeutic learning communities and institutions, are a better investment of tax dollars, and would aid in addressing the needs that must be met to reintegrate into society. The intent and focus of these communities and program would be the acceptance of responsibility, restorative justice and meeting the educational and rehabilitation needs.

Without these programs and living conditions there is a higher chance that many offenders will fall victim to a certain type of prison socialization. The subculture that we call prison politics. It is a way of life that one has to adapt to in order to survive within the prison system. The subculture often breeds hostility, anger and resentment. Inmates often suffer extremes bouts of depression and anxiety. In some case there is a need to confine them to special housing units where they are locked down 23 hours a day depending on the time of year it could be for 24 hours at a time. I have experienced this type of solitary confinement many times during my incarceration. The SHU is used as a mechanism to modify inmates behavior. There are some of us who can withstand being locked down at lengths at a time, but there are more that can not withstand the hole. The longest time that I have done in the SHU at one time is 16 months.

These conditions and this subculture can deaden the emotions that are needed to be empathetic to the experiences of those who are harmed as a result of crime. Empathy is an important aspect in the process of change and transformation.

One of the programs that I helped to develop and facilitate here is a a program called “The New Beginnings Program”. It is a program that focus on many of the pre-incarceration issues which often lead to prison m as well as many of the post incarceration issues which often leads one back to prison. There are several components to The New Beginning Program some of them being:

1. Crime prevention – where the realities of crime and its roots are addressed. We discuss the importance of living a productive and responsible lifestyle, free of crime. Thorough increasing awareness of certain social behaviors and conditions that contribute to crime and violence.

2. we discuss thinking barriers and tactic use that complements the criminal personality. so it is here that we work on correcting think patterns.

3. we focus on substance and alcohol abuse awareness, as well as lifestyles that are equally addictive and dangerous.
4. we also have a mentoring and coaching component.

The New Beginnings Program is based on the concept that, if a person is willing to make the choice to change there are three concepts that can be applied to their lives for what we call transformation to work.  Those three concepts being:

1. Relationships – the developing of positive and productive relationships that nurture growth and development.  This is where coaching has been very effective.

2. Reframing – changing the way that one views life on a whole.

3. Repetition – getting into the practice of doing these things over and over again

The most important and critical component of this program is relationships, and the goal of this program is to stress the importance of building, mending and fostering healthy positive and productive relationships.

Another and very important program that is in the developmental stages is a program geared and focused towards preparing guys for the transition back into the family.  One of the most critical components in reducing recidivism is support, family in particular.  This is an area that is often overlooked.  How is the person going to be received back into the home?  What transitions and changes does the family have to make to accommodate the person back into their lives?  I know that there are many accommodations needed upon my release; the question now becomes is my family ready to meet the man who left a boy?

Another project that I am currently involved with is a project that I have going on with a Dr. Patrick Williams, founder of The Institute for Life Coach Training and co-author of the book Becoming a Professional Life Coach. What we are doing is finding ways to incorporate Life Coaching as a means of intervention in the area of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency. We are looking for organizations to network with and work with to achieve this goal.  This is something that is most important to me.  This is where I focus most of my attention and why I designed the RECONSTRUCT PROGRAM.  My focus is in the area of Juvenile Justice.  Please visit Coaching The Global Village to read more about this project.

I came to prison as a juvenile and I will tell you that they system has it all wrong when it comes to that area. I am not talking about juveniles being charged as adults but the treatment of juvenile and the expectations for them to act and think as adults once in the system.  So, my goal is to get involved with others that need first hand education on this issue.

One of the projects that I wanted to do was a project called the first 365. It is a documentary that recounts the first year after my release. How does a guy that came to prison a child and leaves a man after 20 plus years adjust to a new world. I can not imagine a world with computers while you can not imagine a world with out one!! So how is the re-entry process for a person such as this. This is something that I have, unsuccessfully, been trying to get others involved in, making and filming this documentary. If push come to shove I will do it on a I PHONE, because the message needs to get out there and people need to see it.

One of my future plans is to use my experiences, expertise and skills to work with wayward youth, which to me is the ultimate recidivism reducer.  Get them before they get here.  I really want to focus on the concept of relationships and Life Coaching.  I also intend to work in the field of re-entry and with ex-offenders.

In closing, I want to say that this is a societal issue that concerns us all and that to fix any of it requires that those who share the common goal of changing what exists today collaborate and work together to get the job done. These partnerships are essential in more ways than one.

As I get closer to coming home I ask myself, What makes me so different from the statistics that I just mentioned?  I ask myself who is really invested in, no only, my transition back into society, but also the transition of the other men that will be released from prison, who may have the same potentials that I have if not more.  I am fully confident that I have the tools to succeed, but what concerns me is not my capabilities but the willingness of others in extending the hand of opportunity needed in order to use the skills that I have to make a difference in a problem that will be just as much mine one day as it is yours now.  My goal and the question of what I am going to do becomes clear.  That is get out and become a citizen regardless if others are willing to help me along the way.  I am going to ask myself, Have I left something behind that is worthwhile, something productive?  Did I leave prison, making a difference and what have I done to become part of the solution?  The question now becomes what are you going to do?

This 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 do ask, however, that dialogue is maintained respectfully and on topic.  Personal attacks do not benefit anyone and limit our ability to discuss things wisely.

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.

One of the biggest challenges that we face on the inside is establishing a relationship between us and the powers that be. I think that there is a lot of reluctance when it comes to that. I have seen a shift in the prison system in the last 20 years. I have seen it shift from being more rehabilitative to punitive to now back to rehabilitative, and that is only because of financial strains. What I find to be the most effective is when there is a collaboration of outside supporters and the prisoners. It creates a sense of value and worth amongst the men. I will relate to you my inside-out experience so that you will have a better idea as to what i mean by that.
As a participant of a program called Inside-Out, where 15 inmates spent a semester together and discussed the Criminal Justice System, I can say that lives where transformed.  What was ironic and hard to believe was that the 15 men that were involved came from all types of backgrounds, as well as the students. This place is located in rural northeast PA. and many of these students had never had any direct interaction with African Americans and Hispanics and they couldn’t really relate to the White guys in the class because of class differences. So it was a unique bunch. No one had faith that the inmates would really excel and as a result they set the bar low for us. Well I can say that not only did the inmates exceed those expectation they created a culture that opened the door for other programs to develop. This was the first time ever that this program was done in a Federal Institution so it was a trial run.
The way that the classes were set up it allowed other staff members and guards to see the guys in a different light, as intelligent and enlightened human beings. We shattered many myths that are associated with being an inmate. Everyone of us, with the exception of 2 guys, finished ahead of the outside students and that was not what was expected.
We, the inmates, gathered twice a week and discussed issues such as race, religion and politics and were able to come up with rational ideas and solutions to some of the problems that surround these issues. Now this may seem like something that students do on a normal basis. This is not something that you find in prison. This was a very diverse group of inmates. There were Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Atheists, and even guys that have some very strong racial views. Yet education was able to bring them together. Now this is the tripped out part. We used the book by Michelle Alexander “The New Jim Crow” as the course book.
It was interesting to see that all the guys were more concerned about education and trying to really take all that they could from that experience. In that class there were guys that had sentences that ranged from natural life to a year, one guy has 213 years. It was the idea of being educated that allowed them/us to escape the reality of being incarcerated, it allowed us to actually feel that we were part of the greater society. I believe that education is the equalizer and that if many of the guys, with that knowledge and understanding, could do it over again that is the area that they would focus more on.
As we discuss ways to fill in the gaps to see this goal and vision through, I would say that there has to be a way to make the outcome which we desire visible to others.  Incarceration is one of those ” I believe it when I see it” deals.  Because the society has been made to feel threatened and afraid of those that have fallen to the penal system, the only way to combat that is to change that view. One of the hardest things to do, as most think, is complete a college education. This is something that most people are intimated by, yet something that most inmates want. I hate to use these terms but you have to involve those that have been here and have made it so that they can become more involved and active in addressing these needs.
In regards to networking and infrastructure i suggest that something is established that will allow inmates to obtain a higher education upon release if they are committed to change and advocating the need for better communications and resources. This is one way that outside organizations, philanthropist, and policy makers can get involved. Sure there are going to be risks, which is why this would have to be a well thought out process and something would have to be in place to accept these participants. I am sure that there are a number of methods that can be used to determine who fits the criteria.
One of the sad things about this idea is that some universities don’t allow ex felons to attend their schools.  So this can be a thing that dampers and hinders ex felons from furthering their education and actually feeling as if they are part of “the system.” If I have been made to feel as an outcast for the most of my life and come to a point where I want an education but I am told no because I am an ex felon what do you think will happen to this person’s self esteem?  They no longer will feel as if they are part of “the system” and society aside from a penal number.
These are some of the challenges that one face from this side, myself included. This is a big concern of mine. How am I going to be able to get a college education so that I can further my career and life without the stuff that comes with being an ex felon as I do so.  How can this be addressed?  So there has to be something in place that will allow for those who have proven themselves dedicated to the cause, for a lack of better words.
I think that a discussion on this topic is a good and a big step in the right direction.   The discussion must involve people (felons, and I hate that word, so I will say incarcerated people) who can articulate and share the vision  as it concerns them and the greater society.
This is something that I have dedicated and committed myself to and I want to be the best example possible to show that with a little faith and trust the very things that you envision can come to pass.

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.  

When it comes to the label of being an ex-offender, I have mixed emotions about that word. I am aware that everybody will have his or her own interpretation of that word, and that interpretation will be the criteria that is used to judge the ex-offender. Yet that label is actually less harsh than having to be described by the nature of ones offense. To me, having to wear that label would be harsh and burdensome. Why is that? It goes back to the double consciousness that was spoken about in class awhile ago. It is easier to say that I have been to prison that it is to say what I have been to prison for. It is always that double consciousness that no matter what there is still that sense of guilt of knowing that someone has been harmed by your actions. As Michelle Alexander speaks about the Cruel Hand and what it means to be an ex-offender is society today, it is equally important to note what it means to have to live with the memories of one’s actions and behaviors.

I have many friends that have left prison and have never returned as they were determined to succeed and not let the “ex-offender” label hold them back. In fact none of my close friends have come back to prison. One thing that we had in common was we understood the importance of education. We had dreams, plans to succeed and were determined to not let the experience of prison dictate what we had planned for our futures.

They have managed to overcome the things that Michelle Alexander attributes to the cause of recidivism. Yet there is something deeper that people who have committed crimes suffer from and that is the guilt that they carry with them day in and day out as the try and come to terms with the things that they have done in life. There are certain realities expected when it comes to what one has to deal with after leaving prison. Unfortunately, there are very few programs in place to prepare the ex-offender for the mental effects that they have and will suffer from as they continue their journey through life. Not dealing with these issues can be the fuse, that if it is never extinguished, can lead one back to prison. As one talks about recidivism, one has to wonder about the mental state of some of the individuals that return to prison.

It has to be assumed that there may be a sense of hopelessness out in the free world, which in turn gives a person a sense of belonging in these institutions. If one does not learn to deal with the guilt and shame that he or she may carry, it could lead to low self esteem, which can lead to carelessness and reckless behavior.  If the general opinion is that, once a person has been incarcerated, there is little hope for him or her, and this person constantly hears this at some point they begin to believe it, what else is expected from them other than to live a life where they are accepted, regardless of the acts, no matter how heinous they may be?

There are many people in prison because they feel this is where they belong. They have status, friends, and are accepted the way that they are. There is no pressure to be anything other that what they think they are. For the person that suffers from this, and there are many, it proves the point that there is some mental defects in the way that this person thinks. This idea has always stuck with me after a conversation that I had with another inmate years ago.  One day he tells me, “Talib I never have to go home again and I am cool. I can rob guys here (that was his criminal profession), I can get high, and they have punks (homosexuals) here that look like chicks.  So for real I am cool. ”  He led a life in prison that reflected this mindset and was murdered the first week that he was home, because of his actions in prison.  He never made it out of the halfway house.

The guy that I just spoke about had a history of recidivism and the day that he told me how he felt about prison it became clear that he was crazy.  Therefore, I have to ask myself how many other people suffer from this mindset.  What Michelle Alexander mentions concerning the stigma that the ex-offender has to deal with is so true, but there are other deeply embedded psychological issues that most convicted felons suffer from that contributes to the steadily increasing rate of recidivism.

To me, it is frightening to know there are some people who think that they belong behind bars, and that they are not even willing to break the cycle of recidivism. What is more frightening is someone close to them planted this idea/seed in their head to make them believe this to be true. That someone may have made them feel that prison was and is the place that they belong. As solutions are sought to address this issue of recidivism, one must not rule out addressing mental health issues. More often than not, a mental issue is contributing to the steady rise of incarceration and not outright criminality.

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.