August 9, 2017
A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in the education unit. A fight broke out, a staff was assaulted, the unit got locked down. They shake us down (locked in, full cell search, etc.) every six months, at least they’re supposed to, every six months anyway. So they hit those guys with their routine lockdown while they had them in already. Almost two full weeks. This past weekend those guys got into it again. This time, around seventy guys just kicked it off, right on flag.
Don’t gasp too harshly. When squad showed up most of those guys switched in quick. The riot gear wasn’t even off the shelf before the whole thing was over and done with. They locked down the whole prison for the weekend. I hear we even made the news.
Incarceration creates a subculture. We are a permanent underclass in American society. Most of you see us as a monolith. Even recent efforts in our favor to address the prison population by culling nonviolent drug and property offenders as the faceplate for a reduction in prison population misidentifies the nature of which societal problems prisons represent, house, or are meant to remedy.
It is commonplace in our culture to bemoan feeling trapped by a dead-end job, an abusive relationship, a loveless marriage, a mortgage, or an economic class. We say these things because our default psychological condition is the presumption of our freedom. This is so ingrained that even the perception of our freedom being infringed upon raises our hackles to rally and cry out.
To be imprisoned, at all, is the punishment. Incarceration is itself the lash, exile, and excommunication.
The matter is what you do with a person post-expulsion. Especially when you know this person will return. The education unit is secretly a dead end for many. There are economic, psychological, and cultural reasons a man reaches eighteen without finishing high school. Dumping them in a GED program behind bars without treating these reasons is setting many of them up to fail. To be clear, this is not an indictment of the education staff, or the GED. I want you to be able to understand what is happening in prison, why it’s wrong, and how it’s going to cost you if we can’t fix it.
You come in with nothing, assume you don’t have a rich family to support you financially. In Education you make a fixed wage. It isn’t even enough to pay for your hygiene on canteen, but it does mean that you no longer qualify for Indigent status. You won’t starve for the meals are provided, but you can’t afford to brush or bathe properly.
Most everyone in the unit faces the same plight, trying to work a hustle to get by, except the takers in the world are takers in here too. Violence is part and parcel to getting by, keeping what you have, to say nothing of your dignity. You would love to leave this unit and get a job elsewhere in the prison, but you need your GED before DOC will let you move. This seems like a logical stick to motivate offenders, but it amounts to a revolving door within the prison. The riff raff know no matter what they do, they’ll be back in this unit eventually, same pay, same racket.
If you’re young this all becomes a game to you. Why do you think they call it The Game, after all? Run in on the vulnerable because they have what I want? – part of the game. Set up an arbitrary clique to motivate territorial violence for the reward of tens of dollars? -part of the game. Send it up on flag with seventy other cats because there are no real consequences for wild’n out? -part of the game. Ignore my education because nobody gives a fuck about me so why should I? -part of the game.
The plight of young men who committed crimes and are being largely ignored for their financial distress, lack of social skills, learning impairments, and myriad mental health issues (see: reasons for committing crimes in the first place), may not immediately trigger your sense of compassion. That’s okay. Many of you have been conditioned to believe that whatever a person gets when they come to prison, they deserve. Okay. That can be your default setting. You may also be forgiven for your disregard for the millions of taxpayer dollars it costs to house these guys just to bang their heads against the wall (and each other). Accountability of government spending may not be your concern. But…
These guys are all getting out. There are a handful of brand new life sentences, literally, less than five in a unit of almost three hundred; the rest are all coming right back into your community. That revolving door of justice is kicking these guys out with the benefit of the above instruction in how to live and operate in this world. In your world. In our world.
I don’t write this to scare you. These are true things that happen to be scary. People see a riot or a lockdown on TV and think it happened in here, but that’s not entirely accurate. My house is your house too. All of these guys are coming home to live in your streets.
I happened to arrive in a place where I believe these lives have value for the sake of themselves. Not everyone believes what I believe, but then my beliefs do not require them to. At the very least I hope to encourage the skeptical minds to embrace the reality that improving conditions for the worst off actually improves the probability of success for everyone. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.