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
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.
Provided by Surviving
We dare to desire change. . .