Provided by Surviving the System (No longer exists)
"We dare to desire change."
and Christopher "Preacher" Gable (See and read his art and writing.)
At some point who we are, what we have done, all the abuses, the uncaring attitude, the evils, the greed, the jerk that we were catches up to us and the world becomes chains, solitude, social exile in bleak rooms, the world becomes the prison. Millions of Men and women are imprisoned, or touched by the prison system in America today; sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers. The family, usually already in disrepair is shattered, the loved one on the outside is subject to even more suffering and worry at the fate of the prisoner in their life, and the prisoner transitions rather abruptly from the victimizer or the wrong doer, to the victim.
Imprisonment, at least in theory is a time of correction and reflection and of learning about one's self, so that through development, betterment, and learning can the prisoner became a decent and productive member of society. That's the theory any way, but, the practice and fulfillment, the ideal and the truth are all too often no where near each other in the real world.
In prison people die. That is the first lesson the prisoner will learn, the first step in his correction. Prisoner on prisoner violence is a staple of the community. Racism, homosexual predatory practices, theft, and drug abuse; these are the norm, the driving forces of the correctional community.
Prison is an alien world, it has its own dialects, value system, its own rhythm and rules. Very often these are not optional rules, this is an old and established culture, closed and set in its way. The new prisoner will have to learn and adapt quickly, failure to do so could, and many times does lead to a life of solitary confinement, or even death. The attitudes and customs of the prison culture, must, and will demand recognition from the new prisoner.
This is a practical manual for understanding and communicating with the prisoner in your life. To understand the prisoner you must first understand the prison environment. The image-of the prison on television and in popular media is not true, but of course what the non-criminal world knows and understands about the system of justice more often the not will come from these sources. Also the image that legislators and the power structure offers the public at large, an image of coddled men with color T.V.s and living an idle "Life of Riley" is certainly not true, the very name Department of Corrections is misleading and does you, the citizen a disservice in employing a kind of double speak. You would benefit greatly from exploring the writings of prisoners and sociologists, of penologists and others that are committed to portraying the true face of this obscure and relatively secret world.
Understanding and communicating with the prisoner in your life is very simple, and it is the most important thing you can do to help save the prisoner from becoming lost in this alien landscape. You must remember that the rules have changed. This is not the person who broke laws, who told lies, or who used excessive drugs. This is a human being, lost in a perpetual state of trauma. This is your child, your spouse, your family; full of anxiety and fear and loneliness. This is a person most in need of contact and love, and it is a very real possibility, that the role that you play, your concern, or your demonstrated lack of concern, will either redeem or damn, that person, your prisoner, to a system that has been designed to eat him alive.
It may be very difficult for many to grasp the scope of this world, this prison culture. It may be hard to understand the concept, that the thief, the brutal victimizer, the hell raiser that had to be committed to life behind prison walls for the good of society, could all of the sudden be a sheep lost among wolves. Perhaps only mothers are equipped with the built in compassion and fear for their children to get it, but let me assure you that I am not embellishing here, and further let me suggest that recidivism rates demonstrate that the learning and environment of the "correctional institution" are not working, and are certainly not positive.
You have the power to profoundly affect the life and heart of your prisoner. You have the power to forgive your prisoner, and convey that forgiveness to him or her so that they do not have to tackle the animal of prison life on their own. You have the power to set up a support system, encouraging interaction and participation in the process of family, as the first community, with the benefit and simple gift of giving the prisoner in your life an actual place in the world, rather then just the confinement of an 8x10 and a bleak existence in routine and negative influences.
The new prisoner will typically go through many stages of guilt and shame and regret about the decisions they have made in their lives. Many will want to make amends, to change. This is not encouraged in the prison system. Not by the administration and certainly not by the prison population. Prisoners seem to learn an aversion to apologizing for their actions, and the longer the prisoner in your life stays under the influence of this broken system, unchecked, or unbalanced, the more likely it is the prisoner will adopt the calloused and angry philosophy of his peers.
Prison is a huge and daunting pressure, but the individual prisoner does-have the ability to abstain from activities that might rob them of their humanity. This is not encouraged by the peer group or even very actively by the administration. Surviving these influences will be much easier and likely if the prisoner has a firm and unshakable support system beyond the walls and into the family and the community.
The support system, to be most effective should have five real basic areas of concern. These areas are:
These areas I will explain next, but before I do, can I share just a bit of our philosophy with you?
Can I suggest to you that in taking a more active and interested position in the life of the prisoner that you love, you not only do them a service, but ultimately you could be doing all of society a favor. The Ex-convict is re-entering the world from a violent culture that actively teaches hate and racism and disregard for life, in fact the prisoner often already considers himself dead to the world, the world has thrown him away, and condemned him to the worst sort of hell and fearful conditions. The Ex-convict returns to a world that he feels hates him, or at the very least doesn't consider him Only through changing the way we helping the prisoner to retain his expect men to gain or retain the human race. Prison has the opportunity to change the prisoner's life for the better, the prisoner can learn much about himself, about subjects of interest, he can become useful to himself and to others, and set a trend that can extend into his free world time beyond the walls.
I can only hope that we are interested in change, in working toward the root of the problems that affect our society and affect our lives in such a negative way. No one but us can repair the damage that we do to our world, the fact is no one is working seriously or effectively to do this, I suggest that only the fix resides within our hearts, and in how much we are willing to give of ourselves for the ultimate betterment of us all.
Receiving letters is one of the most important things in the prisoner's life. The family should write as often as possible. Inane letters about working and community goings on, as well as notes on family development and just plain old heart felt conversation. A card that says simply, "hey, I was thinking of you." could have the unbelievable power of making the whole day better and brighter. Pictures of the family are also very important, especially pictures of the children in the prisoner's life. Little things can mean so much, take for example school work from the prisoner's children's classes. A prisoner will often develop his own "Refrigerator collection" of their child's accomplishments.
The prisoner will also need to utilize the phone, there is such a need for the occasional voice or conversation time with a loved one. Expect and accept these calls as they mean so much.
Prison, as I have said, is an unstable and confrontational world, and on some levels the family should commit itself to a watch dog to actually protect the prisoner. On the yard the family will have no power, this you just have to accept and understand. The relationships that the prisoner develops is a process that he must be left to be alone in.
But, the family, or the outside concerned party does have the ability to see that their loved one has proper health care, and proper treatment, as well as legal protection if this can be afforded. . If a prisoner is left to suffer pain or is neglected by the health care administration, which is too often inadequate, under-funded, or incompetent, then you can call. You can call on behalf of your prisoner, State or National interests and question them about their failure to care for their charges. This is almost a fail-safe way to produce results, as sadly, the administration needs a good poke, sometimes, and a reminder that there are people in the world who are watching before they will act.
It is a sad break down in the system that even though the prisoner is told that they have the right to voice their concerns, the concern of the prisoner is rarely enough to raise eyebrows. But an outside concern, a person from the legitimate tax payer world who is willing to pick up the phone and raise hell, to ruin the day of some bureaucrat some place up the food chain in the prison hierarchy can have a big effect in getting the prisoner the attention, the resolution, and the action that he might need.
Comfort can be provided very easily to the prisoner, This is as easy as mailing books, novels and other diverting reading material, and a regular, relatively small sum of money. Even $50.00 a month is enough to get the prisoner many small items that will make his life more tolerable. Small food items, shoes, phone time, stamps, art and writing material, all of these things cost money, and while some prisons do provide Jobs, an extra small allowance every so often will mean a lot.
Books, paperbacks, can be picked up cheap and by the handful from used bookstores. And one good book a week can provide sanity and, healthy escapism for hours. Many prisoners come from poor families, and this is not to impose burden, but if money needs are not provided, the prisoner may feel the need to try and "Hustle" a living. Hustling is done in a variety of ways, but mostly in ways that violate rules or policy. This can result in added charges or loss of goodtime.
Prisoners often need information. Local news papers, periodicals, perhaps legal information that can easily be accessed from the internet- This is the companion of communication, and a prisoner with so limited an access to research material, should be encouraged and aided in the studies and learning that he chases to peruse. This is as easy as purchasing a few books or downloading a few pages from the Internet. This validates the prisoner and encourages him to continue learning. His studies are a small, healthy reaction to having such an idled mind, The "downtime" of prison life offers much time for personal development and intellectual pursuits. These activities provide an alternative to the negativity and destructive behavior that is offered so freely in the community. These activities, by all means should be helped, shared in, and supported.
I suppose that inclusion is one of the most important aspects of family support. This is a process that should be fully utilized by the families and the loved ones. You should never treat the prisoner as if he has forfeited his place in the family structure. Seek their advice on things, on happenings in the family, and most importantly on issues and the problems of growing up as their children continue to develop. Being included will mean so much, and it is a connection and responsibility that the prisoner will retain with the larger world.
Coming to prison should never be equated with the loss of humanity. Men and women everywhere err, and make mistakes. We all suffer, to some degree, from the power of fear and loneliness. Love your imprisoned person, and allow them to keep a measure of dignity as they relearn how to live.
The Injusice System – Future Book