We live in a world where a husband could pick up his wife from a dentist appointment on his lunch break, drop her off at home, and get pulled over speeding back to work. While being written a ticket by the police officer, the cop notices the wife’s prescription of Percocet left in the center console.
“Is that your prescription?” The officer asks.
“No, it’s my wife’s. I just brought her home from the dentist. Man, she’s gonna be pissed when she notices she forgot that. I should call her.”
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” the officer orders. “Step out of the car –– hands behind your back. You have the right to remain silent…”
It could happen that easily –– just another addition to the statistics of ordinary people who shouldn’t go to jail or prison, but end up there nonetheless. Even for just the handful of people that truly shouldn’t be in prison, shouldn’t we be a little bit more concerned about how these seemingly innocent people are being treated?
Many people consider prison and jail to be places to lock away society’s human garbage when, in fact, they are supposed to be facilities of rehabilitation. It’s true, stop to think about it –– most of the people that are locked up are not serving natural life sentences. That means that eventually they will be released and given the chance to weave themselves back into the fabric of society. So while many people may consider incarceration a way of removing people from their society, they are missing the larger picture: that most of these inmates will return to society. What people should be wondering is, “What’s going on in the prisons?” and “What measures are being taken to show these misguided souls the errors of their ways?”
Is there a better way to satisfy those questions than to hear it directly from the source? Even though we are in prison, shouldn’t we be able to comment on what we perceive is going on and voice our opinions? Most of us that are locked up are still citizens of the United States, and though we are still locked away, we still represent a percentage of this country’s population and future society.
Regular citizens of the U.S. have the ability to enforce change by contacting the politicians who represent them. Those politicians are enticed and inclined to make the majority of the public happy and push the envelope that brings about change in order to be reflected in their political posts. In prison, we have nothing approaching democracy. It’s a dictatorship, and there are no checks and balances that allow us inmates to bring about change from the inside. If we inmates feel that there needs to be a change within the prison system, we are told we need to write an inmate letter to “Officer So-and-so,” or possibly contact “Deputy Warden Who-Ever.” The problem is that this is all internal, and none of the Department of Correction’s staff has any incentive to take our requests or observations seriously because we have no say-so in who holds their position in office–––they are not voted in by us, or by anyone for that matter–––they are hired on as state or federal employees. We inmates have no media to go to “tell it how it really is” or expose some of the broken down workings of the correctional system to the light of day.
Let me say this: I can’t speak for other states, but Arizona does a fine job of going through the motions of making it look like they are attempting to rehabilitate us with 12-18 week classes titled Thinking for a Change, Cultural Diversity, and Substance Abuse. I’m sure that all sounds good on paper, but ask any inmate who’s taken one of these classes about the teachers who teach them and I think you’ll be hitting closer to home regarding their overall effectiveness.
Enter PrisonWriters.com. Here we have an organization that is going out of its way to make sure that our voices and stores are escaping this black hole we call prison to be published and posted on the internet for everyone in the world to see. Furthermore, each article written by each prisoner is labeled with the inmate’s name and Doc #. This makes an effective tool for the public, politicians, or media to write back and make contact with a prisoner that has already shown his/her willingness to talk about what’s really going on. Some of the things that we inmates have to say would otherwise be covered up by the Department of Corrections to avoid embarrassment and keep the ball in their court. Thanks to Loen Kelley and PrisonWriters.com, the game has changed: We have possession of the ball–––it’s our serve. We are ready to play a fair game.
Paul Gardner has served his time and is now a free man, working and living the good life in Arizona. He is also Assistant Editor at Prison Writers!
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org