Posts Tagged ‘Recidivism’

I am having a hard at answering this question because it appears to me that there is little faith and hope that I can redeem myself.  The funny thing about redemption is that it often takes someone else  to set the stage for it to take place.  Meaning there has to be a willingness on the behalf of others to trust you enough to allow you the opportunity to redeem yourself.  Almost like a champion boxer, as long as he has the belt he can pick and choose who he wants to fight.  So ones chance at a shot at the title depends on his willingness to let you fight him.  So nothing else matters without his consent.

I feel like that underdog fighter begging for a shot at the title, at a chance to redeem myself.  The one that is often overlooked and never taken serious.  Have you ever seen that person?  Often when that person gets the chance to show off their skills they leave a heck of an impression.

I guess freedom is like that and society is that ring.  I liken it to that in some many aspects. There are a lot of men and women that have been in here training for that big fight and redemption.  The fight that no one thinks they can win.  The fight of their lives.  All odds are against them and all bets are on!  These men and women are begging for the chance to show that they can succeed if given the chance.  The sad reality is that some of us are never going to get that chance and the never have that opportunity to show the world what we really are made of.  We will never get a chance to leave our mark on the world.

Everyone that comes to prison is not bad, even though prison is where they send bad people.  I think that the society is starting to realize this, that all people in prison are not bad.  There are some fighters in here, waiting to get out and show the world that they are not bad people.  They are training for redemption!

I thought that the training that I have been going through for the past 20 years would have made me a good contender for a shot at the title, the world.  But, it is obvious that there are still some doubters out there that do not think that I deserve that title shot.  That I do not deserve redemption.  The only way that I can get out and redeem myself is that they have to let me out and give me a shot at that title.  I know that I will leave my mark and a heck of an impression on the world!  All I need is that shot at the title!

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!

“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?

I just read an interesting article by the New York Times, posted by Fairness Works, titled “Halfway Houses don’t Reduce Recidivism. I find this to be a very interesting article and insightful as well. What I would have liked to have seen or read is the perspective of the people that have to go to them.

The halfway house, from the perspective of inmates, is a bargaining tool that is used to manage behavior while in prison. One of the things that all federal prisoners look forward to is at least 6 months in the halfway house. Why? Because this is the closest that they are going to get to early release. So although halfway houses may not reduce recidivism it does a hell of a job in managing institutional behavior. I use the word manage and not change as the order of the day in prison has everything to do with management and control and nothing to do with change and transformation.

The tool is very effective while the inmates are still incarcerated but what gets lost in translation and explanation is that the halfway house is not the same as being released. There are different levels of security within the federal system, as within other state systems, with ADX (the supermax in Colorado) being the highest and the halfway house being the lowest. The levels in the federal system range from ADX which is underground, USP ( United States Penitentiaries) which are behind walls, FCI (Federal Correctional Institutions) which are your medium security institutions behind two fences, Low security (where there is one fence), and Camp facilities that have no fences. The halfway houses are community correction facilities and are just outside extensions of the other institutions.

What is unique about these halfway houses is that no matter what your in-house custody is, when it is time for one to go to the halfway house they leave from whatever institution that they were in. What makes this ironic is that in order to go from one security level to the next, within the institutions, there are certain steps, guidelines and procedures that one has to go through. So in contrast it is not foreign to have within a halfway house guys that have done time at various levels of institutions where the mentality to exist is different in every way you can imagine.

I have a friend that did 5 years in ADX, where he spent 24 hours a day locked in a cell and slept on a concrete bed, who when he finally was able to leave ADX came to a USP that I was in and for one week I literally didn’t recognize him. This is someone who I knew and grew up with on the outside. So imagine a person leaving this institution and going to a halfway house.  So out of touch with reality.

There have been reports of guys that have said that, for whatever reasons, they don’t want to go to the halfway house and when they refuse they are written up for refusing programs. With this write up they lose good days and half to spend more time in prison. Every time that they refuse they lose good days. So guys are forced to go to places that they don’t want to go or be at. One of the things that most guys get confused is that the halfway house is another extension of the other institutions and therefore they are not on parole. So when they do commit any infractions they are dealt with as if they are still incarcerated. Which often means being sent back to prison to serve out the penalty for that infraction and not for a new case. So with that being said it seems that the halfway houses don’t work.

Another thing about the halfway houses is that if an inmate wants to release to another state, to have a fresh start over, often they can’t do that. So now the inmate is sent back to a community that he no longer wants to be a part of where there is a greater chance for recidivism.  But what is outrageous is that there is nothing that says that an inmate can not relocate but they just cannot go to the halfway house in the desired state. At the time that is most needed for a new start inmates are often denied that. So what can be expected if the inmate goes back to a place they don’t want to return to and have to confront issues, friends and often family that can be problematic. Issues that can contribute to recidivism.

Another thing that makes it hard for these places to be effective is that there are not enough halfway houses to serve the amount of inmates that are being released from prison. For instance in my home town, DC, there is only one halfway house. If there is no room in that halfway house I could be sent to another halfway house as far as Baltimore, which is 45 minutes driving from DC. While in the halfway house I am required to get a job. What is the incentive in getting a job that I can’t keep? I live in DC, a job in Baltimore, MD without transportation is a burden. But if I don’t get a job I am sent back to prison, not for a new offence but for not being able to do what most of the American population, who has never been to prison, choose not to do, work in a place that is not convenient to the proximity of where they live. If I get a job in DC, which is possible, I must be able to travel back and forth between DC and MD. I cannot drive while in the halfway house so I have to take the train which costs $20 one way. So that is $40 a day and roughly $200 a week. This doesn’t include the cost of %25 of my check to cover for halfway house fees. Even if I am released from the halfway house early I still have to pay that co fee of 25% of my check until I am officially released from the halfway house. So in essence I am paying for a bed that someone else is using and if he leaves early there are now two guys paying for the same bed that neither one of them is even occupying.

There are so many other flaws that can be discussed about the halfway house.  My point is that while some play politics others’ lives are at stake and public safety is being jeopardized, on many levels. Inmates are being set up to fail and many don’t even know it. I suggest that we take a good look at this issue and get the facts as to why some of these failures occur. There are so many different factors and they need to be looked at and hopefully one day soon addressed.

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 Prison Enquirer

From the article: “Are the various re-entry efforts in Wisconsin working? According to a new Department of Corrections report , the answer is yes. It shows the rate at which prisoners are committing new crimes after their release from prison is on a downward trend.” Read the article here.

Taking a look at the DOC report, recidivism decreased by 28.5% in 14 years: in 1993, the recidivism rate was the highest at 45.3%, to 2007, when it was 32.4%.  Access the report here.

View original post

today i had an interesting discussion about what it meant to be an ex-offender. the discussion came about from something that Michelle Alexander mentioned in her book The New Jim Crow. she made reference to the different ways that people find themselves back in prison. she mentions things such as being late for appointments to see parole officers, not being able to find employment in a timely manner, and other things that can lead one back to prison. she makes good points, but being incarcerated i have to say that all of this depends on the individual and how badly they want to stay out of prison.

one of the things that seems to get in the way of guys getting out and staying out is that they are not transparent with the people that are involved in the transition process. what do i mean by that? in order to gain the trust of someone you have to be trustworthy and in order to build the trust that is needed to have a healthy and working relationship it means that one has to be willing to be vulnerable. the recently released person has to know that the other people involved are going to be a part of his/her life for a determined amount of time and that it is in that persons best interest to develop trustworthy relationships with others.

i have seen so many guys go home from prison and i have heard many stories and excuses as to why they are back. but do you want to know what i have yet to hear??  that is the truth!! yes i hear a lot of excuses but never the truth. getting out and staying out is two parts and the sooner that people understand that the more successful they become.

although these are things that are true there are other issues that i think about when a person is released from prison. these are issues that i also believe play a big part in the high recidivism rate, and that is mental health issues that i don’t think are taken into consideration when dealing with ex offenders.

the memories of the actions that they have committed in the past is something that people have to live with every day as they try and readjust into society.  i think that this is a issue that needs to be addressed at some point by the individual. the guilt and the suffering that they carry with them day in and day out, as they try to come to terms with the things that they have done in life, along with the pressures and the stress that come with going back into society, can have negative mental repercussions.

unfortunately there are not that many programs that deal with this issue of mental health for ex offenders. not dealing with these issues can be the fuse that leads one to commit often more violent crimes. as one talk about re-entry one has to wonder about the mental state of some of these people coming home.

i use myself as an example. i know that to some extent i may have some issues, in terms of the mental states that i have had to put myself in over the years. to be able to sit in a 8 by 12 room with the lights on 24 hours a day for a year straight, being let out that cell for 1 hour and not being able to go outside and get sunlight during that year takes some mental manipulation to get through. the worse part of that is having to go through that with out a time line of when this is going to end. to just have to sit there and wait. or to be shackled, belly chained and handcuffed, not being able to use the bathroom, defecate, eating cheese sandwiches for 8 days while being transported across country to another prison. or to be on a time table where an experiment similar to the experiment of Pavlov and his dog taking place everyday. where they ring a bell and you are expected to respond. to have to fight that and stay strong mentally takes a lot. if a person such as myself can say that yes i am messed up in that regard, to a certain degree, what about the person less mentally strong than i consider myself to be.

also there is a sense of hopelessness for some people that are getting out, as some of them think that they belong here in prison. this shame often leads to low self esteem, which lead to carelessness and reckless behavior. if the general opinion is that when one has been incarcerated, there is little hope for this person, and the reentering person constantly hears this, he/she begins to believe this.  The reentering person begins to expect this when they are released. it is as if every one convicted of a crime has a life sentence because the collateral punishment never ends.

it is frightening to think that there are some people that think that they belong in prison and that they function better in here. what is worse and more frightening is that some don’t even want to break the cycle. as solutions are sought to fix this problem i hope that some one looks into the area of mental health. because there are more mental health patients here than criminals!!

Related Post: My First Night in Lorton