Thursday, December 24, 2020

Changes I Would Like To See Happen In Incarceration by Ruth Utnage

I am a proponent of taking responsibility for your actions. You do something wrong, illegal or otherwise hurtful you should take responsibility. In the words of Albert Camus "...I note everyday that integrity has no need of rules." (The Myth of Sisyphus, pg. 49). This is why prisons are here. While I would like to see a world where prisons do not exist I would rather see a world where prisons have no need.

I read somewhere once that experts are experts because they can communicate the complexity of an issue they deal with simplicity. Prison is a complex issue because it involves multiple, often opposing stakeholder viewpoints. To communicate the complex nature of prison in terms that most stakeholders agree with I will say, people need to stop committing crime. It is that simple. But prison itself is a structure that does not promote that view point.

Prisons in the U.S. were built on the Quaker ideology that isolating a human being in a panoptic (Google it...) setting and making them work, follow a strict regiment, read the bible and talk not would "cure" their errant ways. Said simply, people commit crimes because they don't follow God, talk to much, and are lazy. Obviously the belief was to lock them up long enough to instill those values (for more on this subject see "Discipline and Punish" by Michel Foucault or "American Prison" by Shane Bauer). Today these values are not only outdated but, ineffective. If they were effective than it would have taken only a generation or two of this "corrective" action to "cure" the problem. If God and work was the answer it would have worked long ago.

The problem, in my opinion, is education and the unwillingness to adapt to emerging culture. I could rattle off a million little problems but I am going to assert that these two categories, being properly addressed, would change the entirety of incarceration to such a degree it would render the system nearly unnecessary for recidivism. We have uneducated and narrow-minded individuals exiting prison into the community with beliefs that don't hold water in modern civilization. It immediately misplaces them in the community as an odd-man-out and thus produces dereliction of mind forcing them to seek like-minded derelicts. Bad company corrupts good behavior.

Leaving prison with the mindset that you don't have to respect someone else's view of themselves creates a sense of superiority that few find palatable. Calling a transwoman he and him is a plain language example. When someone calls or refers to me as he/him I respect their right to spew that disgusting filth known as bigotry, hatred, or discrimination but that also means I have the right to not answer to it. After all, I am not a he/him, I am a woman and I honestly don't care who disagrees with it. I will say this though, if a hiring manager of any respectable company hears someone spewing such intolerance the hiring manager must first protect the company, which means the bigot and their intolerance will unlikely work their way into decent company, professionally or otherwise. It is but one example of the flat out refusal to adapt.

Have we not learned from nature that failure to adapt equates to death. As your environment changes so you must adapt. Prisoners adapt to prison life. That is the problem, the environment of prison, which is (sadly) created by humans using concepts designed hundreds of years ago. Recreate the environment to be adapted to, provide the intellectual and social structure to adapt to and the majority of incarcerated individuals will step inline with community held values. But when they are shown bigotry, literally watch it unfold as a community truth, then are released and practice such indecency publicly (as they were taught and allowed in prison) they find themselves isolated and around a narrow-minded social base, namely, those that will affirm their intolerant views. I shouldn't have to spell out for the reader that when you have a limited group of people to socialize with so to are your options. With limited options come narrower margins of success. With narrower margins for success come a higher likelihood of failure to comply with pro-social concepts. Because, after all, their "world" agrees with their intolerance, it is others who impede on them.

Now by this point it is likely I have made some people angry and have lost others in this narrative. But understand, I care not what they think and do not value their misguided and uneducated approach to social acceptance, as if the world should digress for them. Yet, I am the entitled one (this I say sarcastically!). I will not convey my points too simplistically, yet I am not naive to the dullness of semi-academic writing. Thus I will provide a summation for the reader.

To change the prisoner, which is a product of the environment of prison (remember, adaptation), change the environment the prisoner must adapt to. Make education the cornerstone of rehabilitation instead of the privilege so that when prisoners read basic text, as written here, they can comprehend what they are reading and are better prepared to interact with an increasingly educated society. Lastly, if prisoners are to adapt to prisons expectations than perhaps those expectations should align with the communities, after all DOC is a governmental agency that is built by the community for the community. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT impervious to criticism or fault. As so many prisoners and government workers have been forced to believe.

But then again, what do I know? I'm just a prison tranny, right? A he who feels entitled to be a she and wants the world to bend to me, right?

With Love
Ruth Utnage



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