Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 3 – Battling the Social Stigmas

*** In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2 check them out by clicking the links. 

He was thrashing and screaming, throwing himself at the bars.  It reminded me of a caged animal.  Watching it made a knot form deep in my gut.  I could barely choke the sight down.  All I could think was what did a human have to go through to end up here?  What had he lost?  What had he given up?  What had to be taken from him in order for his very humanness to slip through his fingers?

I spent a week working in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU pronounced shoe) and that was more than enough for me.  The SHU is were those who have lost everything go.  It is where we put the inmates we want to forget.

The philosophy behind segregated housing is that you take everything from the inmates and then slowly reward those thing back as they behave.  Only you start taking things and pretty soon you take their dignity, then their humanity, and what are you left with?  A ghost of a human thrashing around in a cage like an animal.  Let me tell you – it isn’t pretty. 

There are some who think that prison is too soft.  There are also some who think that it is too harsh. To be honest I don’t know where I stand on the spectrum, but I do know what I saw.  Prison should help rehabilitate one’s humanness, not rob them of it.

In my last post, I talked about the day that I finally stood up for myself.  Ever since that day, the inmates started to take me more seriously, and dare I say even respect me.  A couple months later I would have a surgery to remove a cyst from my jaw.  I came back in pain, barely able to talk.  But I also came back to find lots of get well notes waiting for me in my box.  No matter what kind of trouble they got themselves into, I never once believed they were bad people.  These notes proved to me that I was right.

The hardest thing for me about working in the prison was actually not the inmates themselves, but rather the way that everyone on the outside talked about them to me (hold on let me climb onto my soap box).  I was told over and over again by so many well meaning people that the inmates I worked with deserved to be there.

The sociologist in me was screaming.  It is easy to judge and stigmatize inmates when they are a collective group.  It is a lot harder when you know them as individuals who come from backgrounds that would turn even the best person into a criminal.

Sometimes we have to fight like hell to combat the things that don’t sit well with our soul.  Sometimes we have to speak up for those that can’t talk.  

I want to shake those people and tell them to open their eyes to their life free of hardship and then ask them again if they want to point their judgmental finger.  Maybe I should, but I don’t.  Mostly because I use to have similar thinking, and I don’t know how to explain everything that I have experienced while working in a prison.

I don’t know how to explain to them that there is a difference between doing bad things and being bad people.  I am allowed to believe this – to be this naive, because I am not naive. I have seen the worst and still believe in the best.

If you have your health, if you have your family, if you have safety and have the luxury of enjoying a semblance of freedom, then you owe it to those that don’t to make sure that they know that there are people in the world that give a damn about them. Not a group or country that pretends to care about them simply to gain something for themselves, but by people who realize that beyond governments, religions, ideologies, and agendas, there is a commonality that cannot be exploited. Not by greed, nor tyranny, nor terror, nor the propaganda of powerful nations. That people simply give a damn about those that, were the world spinning differently the day they were born, might have been them.” – Matthew Good (Originally post on Of Whiskey and Words)

Inmate

Photo Credit: Sean Kernan

**** I was talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

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9 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 3 – Battling the Social Stigmas

  1. I’ve appreciated these memoirs and enjoyed them immensely. It’s a struggle for me while reading this one. I mean all this in a genuinely friendly discourse and not at all to argue. It’s just that from being inside you only get to see the regret. But being outside? I wonder if it would change how you feel. I once was involved in an arrest with a seemingly loving woman who was sobbing and regretful. But having to walk her six year old through an apartment that looked like a slaughterhouse because mommy just stabbed daddy thirteen times with a butcher knife… it was hard to think it was just circumstances pushed that woman. Yes they do, but ultimately we all have a choice. And there are some of us that had a horrific background and still grew up to be successful or at least not criminals. I’ve met some nice guys in jail too, complimented me on my tattoos and even talked like dudes hanging out. But the night before they had gotten their guns and mugged people to buy drugs. There’s so much involved here. And once you experience more of the victims, it does become harder to feel for the criminal. Maybe not with the CO’s but with my fellow PO’s that’s why most would say “they belong there.” Great thought provoking blog though, Lori. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion, I really do value you it! I can’t imagine some of the scenes that you have seen during arrests. In times like that it would be easy to say that person “deserved it”. I should maybe clarify a little bit. I am not trying to say that they don’t deserve incarceration. You commit a crime you have to be held accountable for that even if it means prison time. Instead I am trying to say that they don’t deserve the social stigmas that can follow long after they are released from prison (think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables). It is a complicated issue no matter which way you looked at it. I also spent some time working in a parole office, and say guys who would get countless opportunities for a fresh start and would abuse them, ending back up in prison. I also knew inmates who were great guys and did a complete 180 but never got a second chance because they had been sentenced to life without parole. So long story short I don’t know if there is a right answer. I am just hoping to open people’s eyes to the idea that this issues are a lot more complicated then they seem, and that inmates are people too. It is true that some people can overcome their horrific childhoods and I think that is amazing. In college I wrote a paper on the psychology behind schemas (the different patterns of thinking our brains form in relation to different life experiences) and the way schemas can get altered due to certain childhood traumas. It is a very extensive topic and I only touched the tip of the ice berg. It doesn’t excuse someone’s actions. We are ultimately in control of the decisions we make. But it does show that there is more than meets the eye. Like I said, it is a complicated issue and I would never dream to claim I know the answers. As always thank you for your thoughts I really value your insight.

      • I value your side of things. It’s nice to actually have a good conversation with at first seemingly different perspectives only to see that we are really not that different in our views at all. If only some of the heated debates going on in our society today could have clear heads such as ours to discuss things 😉

  2. Pingback: My Article Read (8-17-2015) | My Daily Musing

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