Don't be fooled... Cinderella stories from prison aren't what they seem. They exist, but the rate lottery Powerball winners exist. Most of the "Cinderella's" that are held in such high esteem by officials might just be scratch ticket winning stepsisters, at best. Time and again, I've seen such bad actors infiltrate great programs and steal the hearts of prison administrators to grind on an agenda full of ill-will and personal manipulation. Desistance exists and needs to be qualified. However, I've experienced some inmates who have elevated themselves into key positions, just to use it to replace the power grab they had on the streets (or even worse, the power they had in a larger criminal underworld). You can't continue to sell drugs, tattoo, or extort people and still be sought out by the powers-that-be to exemplify "how to change a life" into one of desistance. Worse yet, other inmates see it.
I've been in programs that centered around substance abuse as one of the facilitators was getting high. I've been in programs that focus on influencing pro social norms in other people, led by guys running tattoo parlors out of their cells. "Tattooing is legal," one might say... it's not in here. It's not because it's a health hazard for HIV and hepatitis. More than that, it's a rule that you have to follow and when it's not, it's a big deal... So how is this bad actor that's breaking it, going to tell anyone how to "reclaim" their life? If someone who's lived a life drunk on power and control is allowed to be in positions of influence and control over something, anything, shouldn't he have shown signs of true desistance? True commitment to change? Humility and redemption? The position shouldn't be an excuse to manipulate more. Nothing worse than watching a collective of "Ex" gang members do exactly what they were doing when they were "everyday" gang members. But it doesn't have to be like this. True desistance can be manufactured for the masses by using those who have truly desisted. Peer based examples can be a great tool, if used right... if even recognized by officials... to develop real Cinderella's at a much higher rate.
The optics matter when it comes to the serious issues of saving a life. More over, how about the powers-that-be start vetting their Cinderella stories to ensure they aren't promoting the bad-acting step sisters? If they need help, ask the other inmates. We can spot them...
by Rory Andes
If prisons are so blind, ask the prisoners that can see....
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