Posts Tagged ‘Prison’

Today a guy asked me if we could talk about something that was bothering him. He is about to go home and has to be released to a shelter. What he wanted was advice on how to approach that situation and deal with the transition. There are questions that when I am asked I have to actually take time out before answering them. I mean after 20 plus years incarcerated it is hard to give unbiased advice about going home. The last of my worries would be going home to a shelter.

Anyway it got me to thinking about this question, “Where do you start?” Everything that he spoke to me about was how things “used to be”. I know that it is easy to get caught up in the thoughts of the past and the “good” times. Yet, those are the times that caused most of us this punishment.

I asked him a few simple yet direct questions. How do you view this current situation? Do you think that prison is a step down from a shelter, where you are free, or a step up. I mean in order to see being free in a shelter as a dooming thought he has to see prison, some how, as a better place to be than free. So, that is where the conversation began.

This guy was not seeing the bigger picture. All he could see is the images that were circulating in his head about shelters. He was so caught up in this thought that he forgot to look around him and evaluate his current living situation and condition.

So, where do I begin. Here they have cells, like the one that I live in currently, where there are 3 guys living in a cell the size of a bathroom. This is how they have dealt with the overcrowding of prisons for years. They put another bunk in a 8 by 10 cell. It is hard enough for 2 men to live in there, let alone 3.

There is a toilet that we all have to share. That means if someone has to defecate late in the night the other two guys have to endure the stench that comes from his bowel movement. There are no windows to air the smell out and the ventilation is not the best.

There is no room in the cells and alone time is impossible to get. Tempers flare and arguments ensue all the time due to the stress of living in this type of setting. I get frustrated when I need to get in the shower and can not get in at the time that I want to get in because the cell is being occupied by one of my cellmates.

The food here is not that great. It is carb induced and veggies are hard to come by. The meats that they serve are processed and most red. Literally, one will eat red hamburger meat for all three meals. For breakfast it will be cream and beef, lunch will be hamburgers and fries, and for dinner chili mac. Only to come back the next day and have red meat served again.

The showers are out in the common area and guys cooking at the microwaves can look right in and see you showering. There are 12 showers and all of them are located where one can look right inside of them when they are being used.

The mail and other stuff is always monitored, that goes without saying.

And in a nutshell you can not leave and move around the way that you want to. You are not free. So with this being said I think a shelter is an upgrade to this. But he has to be able to see this for what it is. He has to be able to see the here and now and compare it to what he wants.

Unfortunately, this is the mindset of many guys here. We often only look at where we come from and to where we want to be. This is often done to escape the reality of where we are at. But here and now is where it begins. This is what the focus need to be on.

What is going on in your life now that will not allow you to see what you want in the future. As I asked a friend the other day, “what are you holding on to that will not allow you to let go?” This is the question that I posed to him. There has to be something else going on that will not allow you to see what is really happening in his life.

I hate to say this but as long as he sees nothing wrong/bad about this situation he is bound to come back. That was the part I forget. This is his 4th time back in the system. Every time before he minimized, chalked it up as something small. He see himself as the victim. This is the attitude that will cause him to leave and create more “real” victims. That is the tragedy of this system. When certain attitudes, beliefs and thought patterns are left unchecked the greater public suffers the most.

For many guys the worst, “prison” has already happened. For many of you it is hard to even phantom the idea of coming to prison once. Let alone 2, 3 or 4 times. For many guys once the shock of it all wears off the become immune to the side effects of prison. The younger guys are the worst. I have heard many guys in their early 20’s say they have another run in them. They think that they can out live the time due to their young ages. This is the way they see their current situation, as a time to play and meet friends and to get tatted up, as they say.

So, back to my friend. After talking to him and putting things like this to him he had a chance to think about the way he was thinking. I don’t know if he still feel the same way but at least he has another way to think about the situation.

When it comes to change one has to start with NOW. What is going on NOW. Not what I want, where I came from but what am I going through NOW. If one truthfully begin now it will allow him to be objective about the past and what he wants the future to be. It is this objectivity that is needed to begin the process of change. It is easy to be blinded by the glitter and glam but what is the truth?

When I think about where I am at now and what I am going through I know that this can never happen again. I can never put myself in this situation EVER again. There is not a fast buck that could entice me to fall into this trap ever again. The guys that I know that think the way I do go out and never return. They understand what it takes to get out and stay out. That is having a strong dislike for the way things are now.

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.

VII Photo is debuting a new documentary that takes a look at recently returned citizens and their journey of reentry.  Struggling with the stigma of incarceration, we take a glimpse into people’s struggles to secure housing, jobs, and other resources.  The effects of incarceration ripple through long after a person returns home and effects every aspect of their lives, to where they are allowed to live, restrictions in employment, and social judgement, the struggle to vote again, and so on.

The debut of the video is airing on Think Outside the Cell Foundation’s website.  Click  the link to watch the 10 minute video & hear the stories of some folks’ long journey home.  Check out more of their website to see their other projects & initiatives!