With over 2 million citizens of this country locked in cages, one can’t help but feel as though our lives are dispensable. One can’t help but feel as though our society deems us not worthy of correction that would send us back to our communities as assets rather than liabilities. If the trend has been to lock up, throw away the key, and provide very few mechanisms for rehabilitation, how can anyone reach an alternative conclusion to what I just outlined?
For myriad reasons, many of us chose a wayward path during our youth that involved crime, drugs, and more. It’s also important to note that this behavior took root before our brains were able to develop into a mature, rationally-minded person. Not to make excuses, but our immature brains that hadn’t undergone the process of strengthening our neocortex — responsible for rational thought, projection of consequences, goal-setting, and more (studies show the adult brain reaches full development around 26) — were in full swing in our decision-making processes. Many parents with teenagers and young adult children will readily attest to the frustration they endure over the many mindless decisions their impulsive children make; the good thing is most of these decisions are not costly, certainly not in terms of leading to violations of state laws that can result in long prison sentences. And then there are the rest of us.
Those of us who came to prison at a young age (prior to 26), are forced to navigate a new world of criminality, manipulation, violence, brutality, and inhumane conditions of many proportions. We are left with our self-preservation skills, will to survive, and, if we are lucky, an environment that supports our developmental process that will likely include a desire to change, learn, and grow. This is what I found early in my sentence and thank God I was able to take full advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves, eventually leading to a graduate degree and a state certification in the substance addictions field. I now have an insatiable drive to deliver these services to the community that I took so much from when I am released in a few short years. Today, my life has value, purpose, and meaning.
When human lives are trafficked through our penal system like product on a conveyor belt, dumped into large trash bins (prisons) with no way to climb out for countless years, our society sends us a powerful message of what our worth is — or is not. Yet, I have had the privilege (yes, that’s not a misprint) of knowing some of the most incredibly talented, altruistic, intelligent people I have ever known right here in these “trash bins.” I believe this is because while here they dug deep within themselves to discover who they really are without the influence of substances, negative environs, and, oh yes, the opportunity for their immature brains to develop. That’s the good news. The bad news is many of them will never see the light of day in the free world again. Many will be over 100 — if they’re so lucky — before their release date comes. Their talents, gifts, and value are limited to being realized only within these walls. What a shame.
We are encouraged to recycle many products after using them because we know, once sent through a process of being broken down and restored to new form, these products will once again have value; they will go on to serve another purpose. In the same way this is an expected outcome, human lives are also of value and purpose after coming through this rigorous process. Of course, we could do far better as a society with what we offer those in prison to restore themselves, but that aside, many undergo a life-changing maturation process while here based on their sheer determination and self-will. So please, in the same way you refuse to throw away your plastic milk cartons, do not throw us away — recycle us. Allow us to show you our value.