Posts Tagged ‘long term effects of incarceration’

Hello all.

I have been transferred from one prison to another. This is the reason why I have been out of touch. The transition has been somewhat of an eye opening experience. I had been in the last place for over 4 years and did not have any intentions on leaving. When I was up for parole I transitioned out mentally. One of the things that I was looking forward to, had I made parole, was never putting on another pair of shackles or handcuffs. This was in my head and I would tell myself this everyday. To me those handcuffs and shackles symbolize everything that I want to be free of.

Being in transit is one of the worst experiences that one can suffer while incarcerated. You are stripped of all of your property. You are given paper pants, a t shirt and those karate shoes to wear. In the winter, as in my case, it is the worse. We were given 10 packs of crackers, the kind that has two crackers in them, to eat. That was to last us for a 6 hour ride. We were not given breakfast.

Luckily, I was transferred from general population and knew the routine so I ate a piece of fruit before I went to R&D. I knew not to eat heavy or drink a lot of fluids, because it is almost impossible to use the toilet in chains and shackles, the also belly chain us.

One of the most humiliating aspects of this is to use the toilet and splash urine all over yourself, due to the motion of the bus. There is no water to wash/rinse your hands, so you have to ride with urine on your hands. Bear in mind that you have to also eat those crackers with those same hands. The best thing to do is not eat. That leaves you feeling sick and tired but it beats the other alternative.

If you are lucky you will get a good guy to ride with. Usually, I am not in my best mood and want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk or chat. I just sit, endure the pain of tight handcuffs and watch the scenery.

One of the things that I noticed was all off of the paths that were cut into the mountains. I like to ski so when I see something that resembles a slope I try to see if people are skiing it. As we were riding I kept seeing these paths that looked like ski slopes. I kept asking myself,” why are people skiing one trail mountains.” What I came to realize was that they were not slopes but paths that were cut in order to put up telephone towers. It was the towers and the wires that made it look like a ski lift and a slope. It made me think how much people, even in mountain rural areas, depend on cell phones.

I also noticed that all of the cars looked the same. I had a hard time distinguishing between some of the newer model cars. They all looked boxed and bulky. Not like the cars of the early 90’s, the cars that I remember. Another interesting thing is that as we rode and passed other vehicles nobody even noticed the prison bus. It was as if we did not exist in the minds and worlds of other people. When you see a prison bus you know that it is a prison bus, but people seemed to not even care.

Depending on where you are going you may have to pass through a transit center. I had to pass through USP Canaan. An officer was recently killed there so they run that place real tight. They treated us as if we had something to do with it. The operation hours were so that we were out from 6 to 3.  After 3 we were locked in the cells for the rest of the night. On the weekends were were locked in all day. I was fortunate that I got in on a Thursday and left that Monday. I spent the weekend locked down. I read four 400 page novels in that time. I was alone so I read. One of the things that I noticed was that I did not utter one word while I was in that cell alone. Not one word. I read and slept. I had no concept of time or anything else.

Funny how humans can adapt and adjust to almost anything. I had spent time in the hole before and being there resembled that time spent in the hole. The thing is that I have not been in the hole in years so to be able to just accept the situation and adapt to it without thought was somewhat scary. It is scary to be able to accept that time of segregation as something that is normal.

When we left there we had to go to the airport. There are some prisoners that have to fly to other destinations, while others get on a bus at the airfield. I took a bus but had to get on it at the airport.

They had two planes there. One was a federal plane and the other was a deportation plane. The deportation plane was the saddest thing that I have ever saw. I counted about 400 men and women that were being deported back to their respected countries. Most here of Hispanic origin. They had them with all of their worlds possessions in one bag. They were shackled and handcuffed as they were lead onto the plane.

I felt the sorriest for the women. I know that many of them were leaving behind young kids and families that they may never see again. The journey to this country is not an easy one. It is easier for the men but quite dangerous for the women. They stand to be raped and held against their will. So to see them leaving behind this place that has been home to them broke my heart. Another broken family. I can think of many alternatives to what is being used now. Alternatives to deal with this issue. This issue is one of the issues that drives my love for the Spanish language. It is my intent to work with that community when I am released.

Well after sitting on the bus for 6 hours waiting. We left and 3 hours later we arrived at the new place that I am in. It is not that bad here. To me it is another prison. After so many years they all look the same. The biggest thing here is that I am 2 hours from DC, home, and it is easier for my family to come see me. I in fact got a visit this weekend from them.

Being able to see my family was worth the trouble that it took to get here. Hopefully something gives with my case and I get out sooner than later. If not this is where I will be until my next parole hearing, 2018.

I hope that some good things happen here. We will see and I will keep you all posted!

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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!

In keeping to the name of this site A Voice From the Inside I want to afford the viewers and followers of the site a glimpse of what life is like on the inside. There for I thought that it would be a good idea to take you all through a 10 week Victim Impact Course as it is going on.

One of the biggest classes that I facilitate is the victim impact course that is headed by a well respected Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. It is a class that comes around once a year and due to the popularity it is often filled to capacity. This year we have 102 participants.

What I wish to do is open up the class to the viewers and followers of this site; to allow them to see what goes on during a class of this intensity, to add comments and insights and most importantly share stories and experiences that I can take back to the men. Stories of how crime and violence may have impacted your life or the life of a loved one. There is journey that has to take place for the cycle to be broken; that is the cycle of empathy. One has to be able to express empathy in order to begin to see his/her errors in life.

All names will be confidential and changed to respect that. It is important that all feel that there is a sense of respect and dignity as this process takes place. I encourage you all to pass this information on to others that you think may be interested in following this event. I know that all will not share the same views and ideas of the various issues that will come up.

Therefore, it must be made clear that these views and ideas are not to be confused as being the views and ideas of A Voice From the Inside. We do not promote or encourage anti-social, violent acts nor criminality. It is merely the intent of this site to give you a true and uncut glimpse of some of the discussion that takes place on the inside.

With that being said today is 10/3/2013 and week 1. I will try to keep it simple by logging the days of class and the weeks as the come and go. The posts may not show up until the weekend of, due to time constraints of the editor. But, it is expected that we will have the discussion up prior to the next class so that all content will be up to date and relevant. A of your comments will be address to the class at the class that comes after I receive the comment.

The name of the course is From Humiliation to Humility. There are 4 co-facilitators, along with the Professor. The names of the other facilitator are: Adam, Shane, Arturo and of course me, Talib. They have no issue about being named during the process so if there are any specific questions that you have for them, as they present, you can addressed them by name.

Some background information on what is going to be covered.

We cover all sorts of issues in this class. Issues such as what makes a victim and who are the real victims of crimes. Issues such as race, that is one issue that we don’t hide from. Also we talk about personal journeys and stories about what lead us to this place and what it takes to get out and stay out.

Some of the more specific topics and question covered are:
Are you ready to go home?
Everyone has a story of truths…good and bad. Do you understand what lead you to where you are today?
One of the models that is used by the professor is based on 5 concepts:
1. start with the truth.
2. understand your history
3. processing the criminal justice system
4. knowing the victims and
5. making tough choices

Other areas cover fatherhood, family and community etc. The course is extensive and live. The ultimate goal is to get guys to understand the need to redeem themselves by changing those anti-social behaviors that lead to destruction and chaos. As the weeks go on I will mention the core topic of the session. If there are any topics that you think should be covered you can send them to me to add.

October 3, 2013 week 1
So today we did an introduction to the course and what is expected in the class. Every time we do this class it is a different experience. This class was different in that there were more gang members in the class. There were some older guys there that were with the younger guys that are part of their organization. This is good in that the older guys are being supportive in the younger guys process of change. There was also a larger White crowd than usual, as well as Hispanics. This shows that guys are starting to come out of their shells to hear a different message.

We, the facilitators, talked about events that got get us here. This class has to be one that is based on credibility and that means that it has to be truthful about ourselves. That is the hardest part to do. Prison is a very private place and to open up to 100 guys that you don’t know can be difficult.

The Dr. talked about his life prior to coming to the be a professor. He was a drug agent for years in Fl. It is interesting to hear how he came full circle from locking guys up for a living to being a college professor. When he tell guys that they jump on him and become critical. That is normal because most guys are looking for someone to blame. But he has a thing that he does, that is very effective.

The feds have a 95% conviction rate due to the rate of what is called “snitching”, where guys turn over on there friends, family members and accomplices. They use the mandatory minimum statue to bait guys into working for them. Once they sell themselves to the the feds they are hooked for life. So, what he does is calls out the guys that have worked with the feds. He says things such as, “Don’t be mad at me because I got paid to lock people up. You did it for free.” This sets the tone of, ‘there is not going to be any bullshitting in this class. The tough man act is up.”

I usually come back with something similar. Today I gave the analogy of what a “rat” is. I was once told, “when you meet a selfish nigga look for a rat.” Meaning the only people that tell in the world of crime are those that only think about themselves. Most guys jump at the bait and say that they don’t fit that bill. I ask them about all the times that someone they loved told them that they were selfish for coming to prison. If they were asked about these questions by the ones that love them and they didn’t pay them any mind than they had to potential to be “rats”. Why do I use the word “rats” when I talk about this issue? I use it because this is the title that guys run from as it means something bad. But, when you tell people that when faced with coming to prison there are two realities; that being coming to jail and doing your time and being ok with that or being faced with the decision to become a rat or snitch etc. That is the reality of this question. Everyone knows that we are going to die, so to tell some one that the road to crime leads to death is a lie. The road to crime leads to prison and when faced with prison you have to chose to go or send someone else.

This is who I set the tone. I don’t do it to put guys on the spot but to wake them up to what it is that they all say they stand on, principal. A man of principal is not selfish and will not chose crime and its lifestyle over his family. A man of principal would rather be there to protect his family and be poor than leave them alone and unprotected, and still poor.

So, this is how the tone was set today. The other guys talked about their lives and how they ended up here. One guy comes from a family of drug dealers and was exposed to that at a young age. He had a family and left them there to be in the “game”, as it is called. He as a result of that choice he has not spoken to his kids in over 9 years. His ex-wife refuses to allow him to communicate with them.

You would think that this was enough to stop him. Well it was not enough. He ultimately got more time, caught another case while in prison, for selling drugs. The addiction to that life was so strong that prison did not quell the desire. This is a good example of how the prison system is failing. It is not about the state of the art security that they have etc. It all revolves around the will of the people that are here to change. Without that will to change nothing will work.

Shane talked about his up bringing and the death of his son since he has been in prison. He had the things growing up that a lot of guys wanted but did not have. Yet, he wanted that “hood” status and spent a lot of time with his cousins in the “projects” trying to be like them. He began to sell drugs and got caught and ended up with a 120 month sentence.

Since his incarceration his son was murdered and his ex-wife, who was also shot that night with him, was left with a bullet lodged in her head. If this bullet moves the wrong way she is at risk of dying. So he spoke about the ripple effect of his actions and these events.

Adam spoke about his up bringing and family life in the mid west. He grew up in a single parent home and was the only child. At a young age he and his mother moved to New Jersey. He lived a life that was pretty much that of a loner without much accountability. As a result he lead a very daring life that ended up with him being sentenced to 213 years in federal prison.

There were not a lot of questions because this was the first day. As the class progresses I will include those questions that sparked, created or killed discussions. I truly do hope that you all chime in and add your thoughts and feelings. It would be an honor to share with you all the experience of how a class like this is held in prison.

Well I am off for now. It is my hope that this forum creates some discussion that will open the door for education. I also hope that it may be an avenue for someone to vent their frustrations about how some of the actions of us in here has impacted their lives. It is meant to be open for all. Well I am out for now. Until next time. Peace!

 

Recently, I was asked what could I do to help with being in the process of healing and grief from the recent event that has taken place in my life.  I responded that I could look for ways to find faith.  At that time I can say that I was feeling real low in the faith department.

I was given several books, out the blue, that related to someone’s experience about faith.  None of the books that I read really hit home for me.  One of the books that I read was a story of a girl that escaped the Rwanda Genocide called, “Led by Faith”.  It was a very impactful book, but didn’t t speak to my story and what I was looking for.  I have received emails where others mentioned Nelson Mandela and his plight.  A good story but I have read several books by him and it didn’t t seem to be what I was looking for in terms of finding a little more faith.

One day out of the blue I get an email from someone very dear and important to me asking me if I had ever read the book Mans Search for Meaning by Dr. Victor Frankl.  I replied that I had, and that it was a very good book that I wouldn’t mind reading again.  This person had no idea that I was looking for ways to find more faith so I will say that this is an example of the Law of Attraction. The person responds that someone had bought me the book and that I would be getting it in the mail. I was actually excited to get the book again while actually looking for a message.

When I got the book the forward to the book, it is a recent edition, was profound in discussing Dr. Frankl’s purpose for this book. I want to write a little bit of what caught my attention, inspired me and gave me more hope and faith than I have had in a long time.

First, it is important to know that Dr. Frankl’s doctrine of logo therapy is “curing the soul by leading it to find meaning in life.”
Dr. Frankl believed that life is not primarily a quest for pleasure or power, but a quest for meaning.

In the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” This seems to be his theme as he goes on to describe the prisoners that gave up on life.  Of those that gave up on live are those who had lost all hopes for a future, they were inevitably the first to die.  They died less from the lack of food or medicine rather than from the lack of hope, lack of something to live for.  By contrast Dr. Frankl kept himself alive and kept hope alive by summoning the thoughts of his wife and the prospect of seeing her again, and by dreaming of lecturing after the war about the psychological lessons to be learned from the Auschwitz experience.

Dr. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning:  in work, in love, and in courage during difficult times.  Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.  Dr. Frankl writes that a person,” may remain brave, dignified and unselfish in the bitter fight for self preservation, or he may forget his human dignity he becomes no more that an animal.” He says that only a few prisoners of the Nazis were able to to the former “but even one such example is sufficient proof that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”

Profound words spoken by a man that was beaten and tortured. It is further mention that “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you respond to the situation.  You cannot control what happens in life, but you can always control what you will feel and to about what happens to you.”

Upon reading these few pages of the opening of the book it became clear to me that in the end it is I who have the control over what ultimately happens to me.  I can be bitter and resentful or I can continually look for ways to find hope, faith and gratitude. I have always known this and have even applied it in certain cases but I have never had to apply this concept of logo therapy at this level.  Looking for ways to cure my soul while in a bitter battle to maintain sanity.  All of this is a journey, a quest if you like, to find that place where I can summon that inner strength at any given time and during any given situation in a dignified, respectable and healthy manner.

I can not tell you what it is like to be in a concentration camp similar to the ones that Dr. Frankl was held captive in, but I can tell you how it feels to be treated in a less than dignified and respectable manner.  I can tell you that in here I am not referred to as Talib but as 11030007, at the end of the day that is who I am and everything about my existence in here is referred to by that number.  It is labeled on my clothes and all the other property that I own here.

I can tell you about the modern Capos and about the struggle to stay alive amongst a group of men that are all for self.  I can tell you about the mental torture that exists here and how many men succumb to it.  How many men have I seen give up hope in the midst of their struggle.  I have had friends literally hang up and kill themselves.  As they reached the point where life had no meaning.  Without meaning there is no reason to live.  “He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW”.  This is where I was stuck at and life started to look meaningless.  The big WHY is what I wrestled with and as a result of not knowing WHY I lost sight on HOW.

What I have realized in my quest for more meaning, faith and hope is that sometimes the WHY is not important, as the WHY may be outside of ones control.  If that is the case do you let that stop you from forward progress? No because the WHY has to be what you have inside of you and not what others do or don’t do, we will never understand that question.  My goal is to create and live my own WHY so that I can control the HOW. The HOW I respond and feel.

This is how I gained a little more faith!

Where does hope come from in a time and place of adversity? That is the question that I have been asked a few times in the last week since finding out that that I was denied parole and given another 5 years.  It is hard to explain that when you come to find out that you are and have been that beacon of hope for so many people for so long. I have heard quite a few times in passing and directly that if a person like me, who has conformed to the rules and regulations and has exceed the expectations of almost everyone, can not make parole and be given another chance at society, how can I even think about it?  This is the mindset of a lot of the men here at this moment.  Some of them have vowed to give up attending programs that were once thought of as programs that would be looked at favorably. They have vowed to not make the effort to spend too much time involved in programs that would be perceived as making the prison look good.  To these men at the end of the day it does not matter and therefore they have lost hope.

What message does this send to our society? That the system does not believe in its own system of rehabilitation. That is the message that everyone is getting here. So it has all been a lie. The masses have been lied to and made to believe that there is a system set up that will make them safer as a society.

One of the statements that come out is that if I can’t make parole, or if I am not deemed parolable, who is? Like that is the question of the day, no of the century.  If a person who had the full support of the Executive Staff, and had one of them speak on his behalf and say that I was ready to go back out and that once I arrived there I would be productive, is not deemed appropriate for release the question is (1) who is appropriate and (2) who are they letting out?  Aren’t those the people that know the best?  Those that are around you and monitor you? They are the ones that can say if and when a person has done all that can be done to become better.  The message that is being given here is that they don’t really trust the system that is in place to gauge when an offender has taken the steps to change.

The other day a bus arrived here and on that bus of 40 inmates 10 were violators of parole.  Some of them never even made it out the halfway house.  Two weeks ago a bus arrived and on the bus of 40 inmates 22 were violators.  Now I know that there are quite a few obstacles out there in the world but look at the numbers of guys that are coming back to prison.  Now that was just the count of the past month.  A bus arrives here every other week and out of every bus there are at least 5 violators on a bus.  So who is being let out of prison?

When I went to the parole board I had all of the requirements that are needed for one to get out and stay out.  (1) I had a job (2) I had family support (3) i had a savings of money to start out with (4) i had community support (5) I had a stable crime/drug free residence to go home to (6) I had all the proper paper work that is needed to obtain proper ID.  So I had all the things that were needed to get out and stay out.  So a person who knows this, and most of the inmates here did, is not deemed appropriate for parole it kills the hopes of those who don’t have half of that.

One of the things that I have been telling guys is that when things happen we have to find ways to overcome them.  A lot of guys here have had their hopes dashed and have become pessimistic in the possibilities that they have in their lives.  I tell them that they must push on because the road to success and personal development is uphill and will be a struggle. Personal development does not stop because someone denies you something.  When one is one a journey to be become a whole person it takes trials in different areas to reach that wholeness.  So, this is a time for me to practice what I preach.  It i hard but it can be done.  Nothing is going to deter me from reaching the goals that I have set for myself.  I must continue on and work harder.

Where does hope come from?  It has to come from within, anything else may create some entitlement and false expectations.  When one understands hope they find themselves aligned with faith.  Faith is not this esoteric concept or solely a concept of religion.  It is a drive and determination that resides in all of us.  When hope and faith are aligned together people achieve great things.  Obstacles that seemed impossible at one point become possible and achievable. That is the message that I want to sent to others. That there is hope I just need to keep the faith!

I just read an article yesterday that really blew me away. One of the things that I always hear, as most people, is how the various generations in this country are very different. I never understood this and why it is so important for people to hold strongly to those concepts that they identify the most with, within their generations. As apposed to seeking out the things that work and have been successful within all of these generations to make a better society. Well, yesterday I had one of those “aha” moments. One of those moments that spoke to my spirit and soul.

There is an article in The Sun magazine (July 2013) written by Katti Gray called, The Run-One Sentence, that spoke of the story of Eddie Ellis and his journey through a 25 year sentence and what he did with that time and how he lives now. I have never read anything about the prison experience and felt that I shared so much with the writer.

One of the things that really stuck out to me was the generational differences yet at the same time the similarities. It is almost like feeling stuck in a time capsule while doing this time, and to hear the story of an 86 year old man that did 25 years and went home shortly after I came to prison, i felt that it was me speaking in this article. The same frustrations, fears, apprehensions, concerns, zeal, motivation, insight, and desire to make things right were all the thing that we shared and had in common, similarities, yet we are generations apart.

So it leads me to believe that it is the experience that we have that provokes the way that we live out our values. It doesn’t matter what generation you come from it is the experiences that you have that define the way that you see the world and those in it. When I think about the state of low income neighborhoods and the conditions of these neighborhoods and its members it makes me think about how no matter the age or the era if the experience doesn’t change the people will not change. There are guys in my old neighborhood that are doing the same thing that they were doing 20 years ago when I cam to prison. The state of the people and the conditions are the same.

When I read of how Eddie felt when he had to check the young guy about the phone I understood what he meant and felt. I have had that happen to me before and it is always a battle between looking and being. In here it is not about being but looking the part. It is a fine line to walk.

When I am asked what makes me sad about this system I have to say that the lack of people that understand this system and what it takes to change to be a better person. There are so many lost souls behind these walls. Because we have been taught to shy away from those of other generations the youth are missing out on a lot. The answer to the experience lies with those that came before us. They are the ones that have experienced it and have the wisdom to deal with it.

One of the most important points that he made was the point about education being one of the main determining factors of reducing recidivism. I think that this is something that needs to be looked at and given consideration. One would be surprised by the outcry within the prison systems for programs that will make one productive upon ones return to society. For instance I was talking to a guy today who was sent back to prison from the halfway house. He was declared to have had escaped at a time he was at a government subsidized program taking an apprentice course test. So he was sent back to prison as a result of being late returning to the halfway house.

There are so many factors that weigh in on whether guys stay out once they are out. There are a lot things that are not working that need to be readdressed in order for guys to succeed. One of those things is education. There has to be an emphasis on education and an incentive for guys that succeed in that area. Not punishment.

I am at that place that Eddie was prior to his release and I could not be more thankful to read his story and find that I am not alone in what I see and have gone through. It is as if those of my generation can not understand me. I mean not may of them can say that they have 20 years of doing time under their belt. Not that it is something to be proud of but who can relate expect those that have done it.

I think that this is one of the most up-close and personal accounts that the civilian can get as it concerns the penal system and the dynamics that lead to mass incarceration and the social issues that cater to the perpetuation of recidivism. Also the challenges that men and women go through in order to obtain the things that they need to make them successful, education and realistic programs. I give this article two thumbs up and encourage all of my followers to find it, read it and build discussions around it. I am definitely interested to hear the opinions and questions of others.

“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?