The first time I saw photos from inside an Alabama prison, I remember thinking, ‘that can’t be here’. I would have thought it was a third world country. If animals were housed in those conditions, rescue organizations would be lining up to get them into better homes.
The visual left me thinking it was like a warehouse for humans. People piled in with very little space, swatting at flies and passing one more hot day in a sad, overcrowded, incredibly lonely place. Just like dirty laundry shoved in a closet and the door pushed shut, human beings are being hidden out of site in deplorable conditions, watched over by skeleton staffs, that often commit crimes of their own. Unfortunately, a good number of C.O.’s receive tax funded salaries and benefits to spend their days at the same place, while blackmailing, smuggling in contraband, and trading items for sex, just to name a few of the things that go on.
Disregard for common decency behind the fences and cinderblock walls is a way of life. Staff protect their own. They police themselves. They don’t answer to secret shoppers. There is no accountability system in place that is going to bring about change. There are honest, decent people who work in corrections, but not enough of them to change the system.
People in prison have told me that they don’t play sports because a simple injury can be a death sentence. Treatment, if given at all, is often given late and not up to the standard of care that a person should receive. People that don’t have to, die from easily treatable conditions that are ignored. People suffer.
It get’s hot in the south. Prison wasn’t meant to be a vacation. It wasn’t meant to be hell either. In Alabama, prisons are operating at nearly 200 percent over what they were intended to. It’s scorching, and there is no air conditioning. People are piled in on top of each other in overheated conditions.
The staff is too shorthanded to maintain adequate security, leaving prisoners in fear. It isn’t safe for anyone. If a prisoner goes in a nonviolent offender, it’s very possible he learns violence while incarcerated. He surely learns about isolation and suffering.
I would call the Alabama prison system a tremendous failure and a disgrace to humanity. The jailers, in too many cases, abuse their power and only exasperate the growing resentment that is building behind the walls. Resentment isn’t the only thing growing in there. If people could see through the walls, they would see loneliness, desperation, fear, discomfort, ailing health, lack of nutrition, and a breeding ground for future crime.
When people think of prison, they don’t always think of the big picture. I was recently talking to a young man who was incarcerated as a teenager for a nonviolent crime. He has been in for nearly ten years and has over thirty to go. I asked him why he was living in a level four security prison. He told me it was because of the length of his sentence. So, essentially, a nonviolent child grew up in a level four security environment, because of the heartless length of his sentence, not because of his behavior. That’s not justice.
All prisons are not created equal. Sentences vary based on economic resources, connections, and even race. The prison system in our country is in crisis, and the system in Alabama is deplorable.
Cstephens@al.com, Challen Stephens |. “Averting Its Eyes, Alabama Lets Prisons Sink into Despair.” AL.com. N.p., 22 June 2014. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
Snell, Rashad. “More Prisoners Across Alabama Join Prison Strike – Alabama News.” Alabama News. N.p., 11 May 2016. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.