Culture     by    Ruth Utnage

I have become convinced that the way to bring about serious change in prisoners across America is to have a better understanding of inmate culture.

From an anthropological standpoint, which is traditionally the study of nonliterate societies like chimpanzees, modern sociological research has done the equivalent of only watching the alpha male in the group and saying that all chimps behave such as the alpha male. Which, we know is fallacious. However, at least they are promoting a robust conversation surrounding prisons.

I believe that unless we have a firm grasp on prison culture, an understanding based on fact and data versus assumption and myth, we will never see prison function as a place that rehabilitates. Some say to abolish prisons, but in order to abolish prison we must have an acceptable societal replacement, one that we know produces fruit that we, as a community, want. Prison abolition is not practical, currently. But I say, as an inmate, not to abolish prison, but to slowly transform prison into an effective space. This can be done by thoroughly investigating what is happening in this micro-society. I intend to report on just that.

The current culture of any given prison is a direct influence on whether or not an individual legitimately engages in behavioral change and adopts new behaviors as a result.

I am not one to wait for others anymore, so, I got a few Sociology textbooks and I am working on my Sociological research skills and I aim to publish information on what the culture of this prison actually is and then point out how each element impacts recidivism and inmate behavior.

I enjoy this immensely and hope to eventually work directly for, or with, the Department of Corrections, based on my research pre- and post-incarceration, to be more effective. I have a dream that Washington State becomes cutting edge, leading America into the number one spot for the lowest long-term recidivism rates ever published, then become the model for the World.

I believe that if culture is thoroughly understood, we could lower our 9 year national recidivism rate of 80% plus to 15%. Furthermore, I posit that the reason we have not produced better results thus far is because we have neglected to account for culture among inmates, culture among staff, and how those two cultures impact one another.

I aim to make this my career. I don’t know how but it aligns with my personal missions statement:

As an self-developed and perseverant person, I create healthier communities by educating leadership to recognize, embrace and empower those who have chosen to positively rehabilitate in spite of all forms of incarceration.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

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“A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, then by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” (“Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire )

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