Out of Sight – Out of Mind

Out of Sight – Out of Mind

Photo by Boudewijn Huysmans on Unsplash

There are many ideas of what it is like to be incarcerated. I have often heard people say they would not be able to cope if they were ever “Put Away,” and to be honest, I, too, thought as much before my lock up. But come to find out “adjusting” to confinement IS NOT the biggest dread of prison life. To me, the greatest worry is not anything physical at all. The idea of being beaten, stabbed, raped, or even just living out the slow, tedious, ho-hum days, that seem to drag on forever, is somehow tolerated after a period of time.

Rather, for me, the biggest fear of prison is being forgotten by the ones I love.

 

Thad in LA

Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

Literature behind bars and reading between the lines

The prison system has always had its flaws, and its also had its fair share of celebrities. No, we’re not talking about the doom and gloom of high profile cases, we’re talking about literary legends; the kind of convict we all want to meet.

But this post isn’t just about who did time (with or without a crime), it’s about reading between the lines of why these geniuses were actually arrested. Spoiler alert, there was no justice about the justice system.

And who first? It’s over to the classics. None other than Oscar Wilde.

Many know Wilde for being the author of (my favorite book) Dorian Gray. He was flamboyant and fabulous is ways that would be celebrated today. Despite literal brilliance, he was severely cautioned by publishers to tame down the naughty narrative he was portraying. Shockingly, the books we see in print (which gives 50 Shades a run for its money) are the edited and softened versions. One thing he refused to stay quiet about though was his homosexuality which landed him 18 months in prison. Thankfully, we don’t arrest people for their sexuality now, but there are still cases where a private sex life is used to taint a jury, and we think that’s downright disgusting. Things aren’t always kept to the case details, especially if you’re one of 36 in 100 Americans who are into the BDSM scene*.

Next up is a political prisoner from not that long ago — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wad arrested for speaking out against Stalin, but his excruciating stint wasn’t just in a jail. He actually spent 7 full years in a labor camp. In 1970 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature but nothing can account for lost time.

He wasn’t the only prisoner of politics though, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was arrested for sharing unfavorable opinions on government regimes too. Rumor has it that he was a real man of the people though and that instead of being pelted with rotten fruit as was customary at the time, they tossed flowers to him in the stocks.

But sexuality and politics aren’t the only things to get a person in trouble in the history books. Playwright Christopher Marlowe was imprisoned for the crime of being an atheist! Some argue that when you read between the lines, religion can get you into trouble with the law more than other things. Keep an eye on the news and ask yourself if there’s an unfair representation there. You might be shocked when you look at the statistics.

So far we’ve looked at criminals who wouldn’t have been considered such today, but there’s room for a quick bit of trivia from some who arguably deserved their stint in prison.

So, what do Chester Himes, Joan Henry and Frank Elli have in common? They’re all writers who used their experience to write award winning novels. That might not say anything about the innocent but it does show that the guilty can become worthy members of society after time behind bars. Everyone has a fresh chapter worth writing.

* https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/americans-are-more-bdsm-rest-world-180949703/

The Obstacle Is The Way

The Obstacle Is The Way

I recently read a book by Ryan Holiday titled The Obstacle is the Way, where he really digs into stoicism and how to bravely face adversity, a struggle, and use it to create something more. One chapter that struck me talked about “love everything.” I really had to sit on that. Love everything. Don’t bear with it, certainly don’t hide it or from it, just love it, whatever “it” is. How do I love the things chipping away at me currently? Of course I love the friends I have and the successes I find. I love my connections to the free world. I love that how I lead my personal life means so much more to me now than it probably has at any other point in my history. I work hard and I feel like I flourish in the hard work. I deeply love that. But prison? How do I love the obstacle of prison? Well, I can love knowing that, as pompous as it sounds and I don’t like that part of it, I’m not like the people who flourish in criminality (like, I get it… I’m IN a prison for reasons other than being saintly). But, I love the rebirth of my values, personal standards, and the emotional healing that emerged in prison. I love being able to foster extraordinary relationships with like minded people and I know I AM the company I keep, especially in a place like this. I can also love that I’m far closer to the end this sentence than the beginning. In the home stretch! I can love that! I love that someone gave me a voice to tell an audience these things from behind walls and I love the book-worthy situations I’ve found myself in, all while being sequestered from society. I love how I’ve grown and into whom here. And I love that throughout this prison time, I’m ok with being flawed, because it made me better. I’m human and I have setbacks from time to time, but it’s in those obstacles that I find things to love…

Of course, this is just one small aspect of this book. Leaning forward into the obstacles is the theme. Make them count. Make them memorable. Let them lead the way to success. From Thomas Edison, to Ulysses Grant, to Marcus Aurelius… all leaders of historical measure who knew how to use adversities as guideposts. But importantly, for me, the idea of love is what resonates the most. That’s something I can truly get behind…

A Darker Side of Disability: Prisons are the new Asylum

A Darker Side of Disability: Prisons are the new Asylum

When we think of asylums it brings to mind images of poor medical care, unfair treatment and abuse. Asylums were the very real horror story of the 1800s and beyond. Now, they still exist, and prison is the asylum by another name.

Each year in the United States 2.12 million prisoners are housed, out of these, 1 in 5 have a disability. Not to mention, “32 percent of federal prisoners and 40 percent of jail inmates report at least one disability” according to idaamerica. This is a hugely disproportionate number, and why is that? Because they’re asylums, that’s why.

Reverby finds that the “deinstitutionalization of patients in the state mental hospitals that had begun in the 1950s affected incarceration by the 1970s” and that “the mentally ill were swept out of hospitals, into the streets, and then into jails and prisons” as a type of social cleaning.

Many, like Becky Crow, author of Orange is the New Asylum: Incarceration of Individuals with Disabilities, believe it is a way to remove the disabled from society. Her research goes as far as to demonstrate a “school-to-prison pipeline” shunting these people out of societies way, just as the wardens of the past did. This corroborates Reverby and many others.

Why else could the prison numbers be so high? And things are just the same as they were back in the day. Maybe they don’t force people into boiling baths anymore, but slotting them in a dark hole, limiting contact and electric shock treatment are still very real practices. Humans are suffering, not just any humans but those already at a disadvantage.

When it comes to learning difficulties Gormley, author of The Hidden Harms of Prison Life for People with Learning Disabilities, finds that there are “multi-faceted and nested forms of harm that people with learning disabilities encounter while in prison as a result of direct and indirect discrimination.” This is completely out of order.

Prison is hard enough at the best of times, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics finding that “30% of jail inmates reported symptoms of major depression”, so imagine the strain this puts on those with disabilities. Incarceration is a catalyst for decaying mental and physical health at the best of times, to place the mentally disabled here is dangerous. Perhaps even devastating since suicides are up by 22% according to prisonpolicy.org.

They need specialist care and although legislation states reasonable adjustments will be made, the term is ambiguous and poorly executed – if at all.

The point is that “modernization in the provision of health care had eluded prisons and jails” (Reverby PhD, 2018) which has led to a halt in progression of society, especially for those with disabilities. All “incarcerated people were perceived as prisoners, not patients” and so disability, both physical or mental, is not accounted for. There is a very toxic view that prisoners deserve what they get, but often people forget that their time is their punishment and that these are human beings – just as we did in the bygone eras. It is no wonder that Brecher and Della Penna said prisons were stuck in the “horse-and-buggy” era.

And let us not forget how so many disabled people are coming into the prisons – why? A lack of support in the courts and the problems only get worse in the next stages.

So, if you’re the sort of person who gets a thrill from watching movies about asylums, remember that for the disabled, the asylum exists. Those horrors are more real and closer to home than you thought.

References

Becky Crowe & Christine Drew, school-to-prison pipeline,

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40617-020-00533-9 (Springer, Behavior Analysis in Practice 14, pages 387–395: 2021)

Brecher EM, Della Penna RD. Health Care in Correctional Institutions. (Washington,

DC: US Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice; 1975)

Caitlin Gormley, The Hidden Harms of Prison Life for People with Learning

Susan M. Reverby, PhD, Can There Be Acceptable Prison Health Care? Looking Back

https://ldaamerica.org/lda_today/disability-and-criminal-justice-reform/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/262962/countries-with-the-most-prisonersper-100-000-inhabitants/

https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2021/06/08/prison_mortality/

Prison Party Politics

Prison Party Politics

If you are the type of person who doesn’t dwell on dreary details, you rarely consider prison unless it is to wish that an infamous cretin be sent there. Until I came to prison, I hardly thought anything of it. Bad people are stored in prisons until they achieve the correct amount of … something … ripeness? Penance? Correction?

No, prison isn’t a place the average person thinks about. That kind of subject is what experts are for; criminologists, lawyers, lawmakers, crime victims, people who say they are advocates for crime victims, police union representatives, police admimistrators, law enforcement technology providers, corrections officials, lobbyists representing private prison operators, subcommittees, party wonks; anyone but common citizens.

This lack of consideration is, I believe, why our country is the global leader in lock ‘em up and forget ‘em.

The prison system in the United States became the world’s largest because it was founded upon those age-old policy nuggets: demagoguery and political correctness. Conditions have improved in the last few decades. We have finally decided that prison rape and murder are slightly more distasteful than education and healthcare for inmates, but just barely.

I bet you didn’t know that political discourse among inmates resembles your Facebook page. Or that even before Drake shocked white democrats, there were more than a few black Trump supporters behind bars. Or that there were less fistfights in prison sparked by political differences than there were at political rallies, believe it or not. Racists are tolerated with far more grace in prison because survival in here often relies on racism – another of prison’s unfortunate features.

I was disappointed in similarities of opinion between inmates and free citizens. I imagined that the oppression would result in a healthy distrust of the powers that be. I was wrong. For instance, many inmates of all backgrounds parrot the president’s immigration stance even though it is obvious Trump Hotels couldn’t be constructed or operated without an army of immigrants.

An old Mexican-American man on my unit was offered parole if he would renounce his U.S. citizenship and move to Mexico. England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries called this practice ‘transportation.’ The old man agreed. I might too, if I were fluent in Spanish. Instead, I’ll parole into a population full of people meaner than many inmates I’ve known, without a say-so in politics.

I look forward to greater freedom but wonder how my country, if my country, is going to come to its senses. Right now the people are at war and want to punish anyone who doesn’t think like them. The irony is that the warring factions do think alike. Both sides hate each other. It isn’t a way to improve anything. The hatred guarantees that the country will plot punishment’s pendulumn swing every two, four, six, or eight years, to the benefit of the winners alone.

What other result can a two-party-entrenched system bring? Another generation locked up and forgotten.