Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Thursday, April 26, 2007

5 Days

I've been here 5 days now and have finally settled in. The only thing I'm missing is tennis shoes and sweat pants/shorts/shirts which you can only buy at the commissary on Monday nights 7-8p CST. This just happens to coincide with the final episode of Prison Break for season 2. I chose Prison Break. Therefore, no shoes or sweats.

I'm a little wiser already after 5 days then I was after the first two days. While I still think I can learn a lot from these guys, I'm having to be more selective with whom I interact. Some of these guys are not just "in" prison, they are "of" prison; they have become institutionalized. I try to understand them, but there's nothing about them that invites communication. They've given up, checked out; their souls seem to have died.

On the other hand, I met a guy today who is 19 years into a 27 year sentence. He is 51 and with "good time" will be out in 2 years. I don't know what he did but I'm sure it was drug-related and for the sentence to be that high, he must have received additional enhancements for volume or firearms or conspiracy, or something like that. He cannot have had a record of violence or he would not be allowed to finish his time in this camp. I just don't get these kind of sentences.

He is intelligent and humble. We connected. I asked him who he blamed, and he said, "I blame me." Of course, in a sense, he is correct and that is also the politically correct answer but it's hard to understand how it justifies the punishment he received.

I asked him how he deals with the bitterness and he said he prays. He converted to Islam in prison. He also shared personal details about the effect on his relationship to his family that I will not repeat here, but it was excruciating to hear.

To add insult to injury he was originally sentenced 1 year after the US Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) went into effect. Had he been sentenced a year earlier, he believes he would have received probation. Try doing 27 years with that on your mind.


Phil R. said...
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Anonymous said...

I felt compelled to just say, the first part of change is acknowledgement. Critical to anyone's personal growth is ACCOUNTABLITY. Very few people agree with the sentencing guidelines, (besides the government)but that is no reason to feel one is not responsible for their actions!