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.
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.