Is Prison Too Ugly For Some People To Look At?

One of my children has ‘service’ as a requirement in her high school program.  She has to ‘serve’ the world in some way.  Make a contribution.  I can’t think of a better requirement and think it should be a part of every school program.

I understood when the school contacted me, informing me that they didn’t think her submitted idea of becoming a penpal to a prisoner was a safe idea.  I could understand their concern and agreed, we could probably find a better way to fulfill her desire to touch the lives of this huge portion of our population.

My daughter then came up with ‘Plan B’.  She would contribute articles to my blog about individuals that were incarcerated who she felt were being denied basic human rights or in some way suffering.  She would do the research on-line, with no individual communication and simply write four articles, about four different people or situations.  In doing so, she would inform the world, and maybe her class, of some of the injustice that is taking place right here in America.   No different than trying to inform them about animals that might be suffering in dog fighting rings or breeding farms.  No different than trying to shed a light on an older woman’s struggle with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home where she is being abused and neglected but no one knows because she has no family.   My daughter found a desire in herself to speak up for those who have no voice.  And that is a service.

She has not yet convinced the school though.  The last I heard, she was still being persuaded to categorize her project as a ‘creative’ endeavor.  It’s disheartening to me to be faced with this struggle.   My daughter won’t have any difficulty finding stories to put a spotlight on.   It could be the woman taken from her cell by two officers, with her hands and legs restrained, sprayed in the face, and covered with a mask.  She wasn’t fighting.  Just screaming and crying for mercy.  Or it could be the woman who cut herself and got more time added to her sentence because her blood got on a corrections officer.  There is an endless list of true stories.

I doubt there would be any question as to whether this was a ‘service’ if it were a cute little old lady in a nursing home being abused by one of her nurses, or a dog scarred and bloodied after being used for breeding purposes in someone’s backyard.  Nobody is naïve, prison has a place.  A human corrections system has a place.  That is not what we have in this country.  And it isn’t going to change until a good number of people see that.  Change is scary, but this country needs to make some changes, and it is going to take some courageous people to go down new paths.  I am so proud of the child of mine who is fearless enough to want to blaze one of those trails, and it’s people like her who have ‘served’ and made this country what it is now.   Education is a service.

She’s not the only one though.  I read the article below, written by Anthony Williams, and I asked him if I could share it here.  Anthony spent a good portion of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  Anyone can make a difference, and so many are trying.  Please consider becoming a Penpal to a prisoner.  It doesn’t only improve the lives of others, it gives you back so much more than you could imagine when you find the right person to correspond with.   You can contact Missouri PAC through my Friends and Resources page for more information on finding a PenPal through them.

Why Write To A Prisoner? – by Anthony Williams

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  – Hebrew 13:3 (New International Version)

This is a very popular Bible verse among prisoners for obvious reasons but I assure those of you who have not had the misfortune of being in jail or prison that you would relate to Hebrew 13:3 if you were incarcerated or simply in an adverse situation.

I understand now that the most important thing God has given us is our Freedom.   Many of you who are now free and living prosperous lives have committed crimes at some point in your lives or another,  just haven’t been caught!  Moreover, in the climate of our criminal justice system, the reality is any citizen could find him or herself ensnared in the system.   I believe we do our society a disservice by jailing people without any consideration of what happens to or with their lives inside of our jails and prisons.

Being locked up away from your family, friends and society can be devastating for anyone.  For the person who doesn’t receive any support and/or love from his love ones the incarceration is worse.  These individuals, the ones who are de-socialized from society and cut-off from family, they often become hardened in our system.

Write a Friend
Write a Friend!

We don’t waterboard prisoners inside our jails and prisons, but we torture them by holding them incommunicado.  Prisoners are often shipped hundreds of miles away from their home towns to be housed hours away from family and friends.  Many prisoners believe this is done to discourage familial and social relationships particularly visitation.  Many inmates simply cannot receive visits from family or friends because their family members cannot afford transportation to the prison.

 

You should consider writing a prisoner not only because the Bible says so.  The Missouri Department of

Letters Anthony wrote to his Pen Pal Tracy Rodriquez while in prison
Letters wrote by Anthony to his Pen Pal Tracy Rodriquez

Corrections (MDOC) highlight in their Friends’ & Family Packet that maintaining familial relationships and friendships is tantamount to the rehabilitative process as well.   I can’t emphasize strongly enough the impact having healthy friendships and familial relationships had on inmates in the system.  Simply put, those prisoners whose family and friends keep in touch and support them, fair better while incarcerated.

For those men and women in prison abandoned by their family and friends, their only hope to surviving incarceration and reentry may be in finding a pen friend.

Men who get support from outside handle incarceration differently.  They feel less vulnerable and needy, which does help prevent problems.  But, more importantly, they are more optimistic and hopeful.  These prisoners often are more susceptible to changing from the familial pressures and encouragement.  They still feel “connected” to something, and in fact, still feel loved.

Lonely prisoner needing a Pen Pal
Make a prisoners day with a letter!

The reality is that rehabilitative programming along is not sufficient to reform an individual.  The reality is that when we abandon people inside of jails and prisons they often develop defeatist and fatalistic attitudes.  Many of these individuals become bitter and mad at the world!  They curse their family’s, and they often act out inside of these prisons like “they have nothing to come home to.”

When a person becomes de-socialized inside of our prison system and isolated from family and society at large, the rehabilitative processes do not stand any chance of working.

 

Click here to view MOPAC Pen Pal Profiles and consider writing a prisoner!

Nonviolent Addict Sentenced To Life Without Parole

Drug addiction isn’t pretty. It’s easier for people to deny its existence than to try and wrap their heads around it. I’ve given it a little thought today.   I tried to imagine the struggle. I think it may feel something like being in dark hole with no walls in sight to climb your way out. What makes seemingly young, healthy people keep falling deeper into the hole? Is it a cycle of self-loathing? Unhappiness with one’s own life has someone looking to something for happiness, but once the chemicals take hold, do they hate themselves a little more each time they succumb, because they are faced with their own weakness? Over and over, digging deeper and deeper, and the deeper they go, the further they find themselves from their ability to find happiness within themselves?

I don’t think I’ll figure it out. I’m grateful I’ve never fought the battle. I’ve seen loved ones go through it though. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone fully conquer it. My father was an alcoholic, and he never conquered his addiction. I’ve loved and known others, with their various poisons. I’ve seen what they do in their darkness.   They’ve stolen from loved ones in moments of weakness, only to realize it when clarity returns. The result only makes them feel further isolated and alone, having betrayed the ones they love.

Addiction is pain, plain and simple. In its simplest explanation, that’s what it is. I read about Rayvell Finch today. He was an addict, the same as those I have known and loved. He hadn’t been in trouble for a while. Just a victim of his own disease. Hurting himself, but not violent with anybody else. He was with a friend one day in Louisiana, while visiting his aunt and grandmother. The two were sitting on the steps of an abandoned house right next door.

There was a police officer and DEA agent patrolling the area to target violent crime that day. They saw Rayvell and his friend, and arrested him for trespassing. Rayvell was a heroin addict. The officers found eight aluminum foil packets in his sock. They tested positive for the drug.

At the age of 23, Rayvell Finch had no record of any violence. A few years earlier he had been convicted of possession of stolen property worth over $500, followed a year later by being charged with possession with intent to distribute 24 rocks of crack cocaine. This was Rayvell’s third strike.

That was in 1997, nearly twenty years ago. Rayvell was sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. In other words, the door was shut, the key thrown away, and no one ever has to see him again. No possibility of parole. That’s one way to deal with addiction.

Are we so shallow that we have become a society that locks away the weak and damaged till they die, so we don’t have to see them? Rayvell paid for his previous crimes. Because he was an addict, and had his drugs in his sock that day, Rayvell was sentenced to spend the rest of his days on earth in prison, without love or family around him, until he dies alone. I don’t know the law, and I don’t know the words they used to justify it, but that is the reality of the outcome.

RESOURCES:

Wishon, Jennifer. “Nation of Criminals: Three Strikes on the Way Out.” N.p., n.d. Web.