As I review my 2017 posts, I cannot help but notice that my subject matter is influenced by current events filtered through the lens of prison reform issues. Reform affects all socioeconomic classes, both genders, most ages, and all races. This reality makes prison reform a far-reaching governmental arch over human conduct. The issues are packaged in complex legal, social, safety, and human rights topics that incorporate current social and political trends.
Examples of the current events posts include
- Ex-Cons Can’t Vote, Can They? The issue here is the voting rights of formerly incarcerated persons.
Most people have no idea whether offenders (ex-cons) have the right to vote. My barber, who knows a lot of things about a lot of stuff, made the wrong assumption about me. “How can an ex-con,” she said in her caring tone, “vote? Didn’t you lose your right to vote and to run for president?”
While she was correct, in part, she was not completely correct. Read about the complexity of voting rights for this population and see how politics gets involved.
- Climate Change Impacts Prison Health Conditions. In this post, I reflect on my time in Ironwood State Prison in California’s Sonoran Desert. I spent two summers there in blistering heat without air conditioning in an overcrowded dorm filled with overheated bodies. I reference a 2015 study that addressed
two important and largely ignored questions: “How will increased temperatures and heat waves caused by climate change affect prisons, jails, and their staff and inmate populations? And what can correctional departments do to prepare for greater heat and minimize the dangers it poses?”
- Ban the Box. The subject matter here is the unfairness of having to state on a preliminary job application whether an applicant is a convicted felon. Studies have shown that by screening in this manner, there’s not an even job market out there.
Imagine this: You’ve served your prison sentence. You have little or no money. You’re looking for steady work. You know your record follows you, but you take a deep breath and dive into the job market hoping for a fresh start—a fair chance. One of the first questions on the job application inquires if you have ever been convicted of a felony—check the box yes or no.
Mental Health Issues
Here are some posts on mental health issues:
- Mental Health Courts. This post highlights three important findings about serious mental illness, major crimes, and community treatment, and how they impact reentry. I express my opinion about expanding the number of mental health courts that will focus on understanding mental health issues before and during serving incarceration time.
This study underscores the scope of the mental health problems posed by formerly incarcerated people upon reentry into the community. When the criminal justice system steps into the problems of this population, it seems to me to be too little too late. Natural questions flow from the identified problems: What mental health care did these individuals receive during incarceration? What mental health care did these individuals have before being directed into the prison system?
- Sexualized Conduct Toward Females Can Lead to Their Incarceration. The focus here is the contemporary explosion of sexual harassment, with a look at the heartbreaking topic of how girls and women can be put on the track to jail or prison because of the effects of physical and sexual abuse.
The media is inundated with stories about sexual harassment involving public figures. These stories are not new news; sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of females are sorry chapters within the patchwork history of the human condition. Sexualization of girls and women can have unexpected long-term results that derail lives: it can result in victims’ being incarcerated in a system of blind justice.
- Childhood Abuse as a Precursor to Prison: The Ripple Effect. Just as sexualized conduct toward females can result in riding the prison train, the same is true for childhood sexual abuse. Abuse is a horrible wrong that ruins children’s lives.
Statistics from The National Center for Victims of Crime website reveal that one in five girls and one in twenty boys is a victim of child sexual abuse (CSA). A 2009 study by The National Child Trauma Stress Network finds that “as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18.” There are different schools of thought about defining CSA, and the victims’ failure to report incidents tends to skew the statistics. Suffice it to say, the numbers are substantial.
On the Lighter Side
Part of surviving the noose of a prison sentence is keeping a sense of humor. A good deal of the humor plays off the irony of administrative goof-ups—reminiscent of the TV show M*A*S*H. Prisons mirror circuses: class acts are being performed all the time just to create laughter for a moment’s relief from the inherent stress.
Some of the lighter posts include
- What’s Your Favorite Color? There’s no color in prison; the color of cement block is the color of prison. I had a thirst for color and asked people to send colorful postcards for me to hang by my bunk. This post helped me understand my color thirst, and it simply makes a lot of sense. It’s a fun read about colors and their underlying psychology.
There’s scientific evidence that may support this pink phenomenon and its effect on incarcerated people. However, a study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine by psychologists James Gilliam and David Unruh, at the University of Texas, Austin, Department of Special Education, found the influence of Baker-Miller pink on people inconclusive. Although they did not test the effect on incarcerated people, they used a population of fifty-four adults in a carefully constructed scientific environment.
- Confessions of a Prison Reform Blogger. This was my fiftieth prison reform post. It’s an introspective ride into the complexity of prison reform that considers the counteracting systems of psychology, sociology, criminology.
My training as a lawyer sometimes puts a different perspective on my approach. Lawyers are taught to focus on a finite set of facts. They’re trained to then advocate within the web of facts that becomes the Holy Grail of a case. Prison reform does not fit squarely into a formula for one single case; it’s a social movement with multiple parts within other countervailing systems: psychology, sociology, criminology—pick your favorite ology.
- Haven’t Been There, Haven’t Done That. Here I try to fill the gap between experience and conjecture about prison with references from the daily journal I kept in prison that are intended to illustrate what prison life is like. I recount worries and concerns that come with the territory of living in prison. You’ll learn why there’s a picture of a zebra in the post.
The next time you’re exposed to the broad topic of prison reform, in any of its contexts, I hope that your short trek through my experiences will have made the issues more easily accessible to you. I do not wish anyone firsthand experience of the cruel nature of incarceration. I hope you’ll step back with elevated objectivity and see the stripes on the zebra.
To Wrap Up
There are currently sixty-nine posts on my website. Some cover raw prison reform issues, and some dig deeper into the constitution of prison culture. Others include my thoughts and perspectives on prison life and how to survive. Some are about pending legislative bills and court cases. And then there’s the important topic of reentry. Reentry is an integral part of the incarceration-release equation; one that managed poorly will lead to higher rates of recidivism and reoffending.
I appreciate your input and comments as well as suggestions for topics you’d like to see discussed. See you in 2018!
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