Catching the Disease

The amount of germs and diseases at the pen is rampant enough to cause germaphobes everywhere to have nightmares.  I use hand sanitizer like it is my job.  But the worst diseases at the pen cannot be prevented with any hand sanitizer, nor can it be cured with any medications.  Alarming right?  I think so, and what is just as alarming is how quickly the inmates catch this disease, and even more so how long this disease stays with them.  Institutionalization is like a slow poison that seeps into their blood, changing the way inmate’s think.

There are inmates that do not want to get out, because they have nothing to get out for.  They don’t have a job, they don’t have a home, some don’t have an education, most don’t have a family that would care for them, and their friends are normally the reason they ended up in prison in the first place.  So why would they want to leave?  The pen has become their home.  Here they have people who care for them, a warm place to sleep, food, medical care, and the friends that they have made.  If you have seen Shawshank Redemption, think of the old man Brooks after he got released. Many inmates find themselves in Brook’s shoes.

Today I had the chance to listen to an inmate talk about his view of prison.  He has been in prison since he was 18, and he often takes it upon himself to take the younger inmates under his wing and mentor them.  He started telling me about some of the things he had learned about the pen after mentoring younger inmates.  Here is what he had to say, “People think when they come in, that institutionalization happens a long period like 20 years.  The truth is that it happens much faster than that, it can happen in a year.  Before you know it, you become use to the idea of prison, you start thinking that it isn’t so bad.  Then once you get out, you start thinking that what does it matter if you get caught again.  You have survived prison once, you can survive it again.  It is like a diseases you catch that keeps you coming back inside the walls to do more time.  Sometimes the disease runs in the family.  Young men will see their fathers, older brothers, and uncles spend time behind the walls and think they have to do the same.  The family thinking then becomes that you are not a man until you have served your time.”

To me, this seems like a very big problem without a cure.  To be honest I do not really know what can be done about this.  Once again I am not expert on this, I am just going off of my experience so far, but I think the problem with rehabilitating criminals, is the notion that every inmates will respond to the rehabilitation the same.  One inmate is as different from another inmate in the same way that one person is different from another person.  There is a very diverse array of personalities and ambitions among inmates.  Some of them are dead set against change, some of them have plain given up all hope for change, and some of them so desperately want a fresh start but never get the chance for one.  So if the inmate’s are so diverse, then why do we give them a one size fits all rehabilitation plan.  Is it in the name of “fairness” so that each inmate gets an equal chance?  But is it fair that the inmates who will try to change do not always get the opportunity to do so?    The national recidivism rate is 43%.  This means that almost half of the inmates released from prison will end up back in prison.  Like I said, this diseases is running rampant in our prisons.

I do not want you to get the impression that nothing is being done about this.  There are people far more experienced than I who are trying to find a solution to our nation’s recidivism rate.  However, this people have never been in prison, and they have never had to be rehabilitated.  I think that if we truly want to help inmates get to where they need to be to, then we first have to understand where they are and where they have come from.   We cannot help someone if we first do not understand them.  But where does that leave us?  How do we come to understand what they have been through?  I by no means have the answer for this, but if institutionalization happens not long after an inmate steps behind the walls, then maybe it is time we find a cure.


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