Today was a catch-up day It seems as if there was a lot of undone stuff from days and months gone by. At the top of the list is trying to capture the lessons learned over the last 15 years while volunteering in prisons. In life, the last thing I ever conceived for a way to close it out was becoming a prison volunteer and most certainly at any point in the past, I never would have made that as a conscious decision. It sort of creeped up and then all of a sudden it became an all consuming factor in my life.
Tonight, I found myself scheduled with a two hour talk. Over the last five or so months, i have been totally focused on reducing it to one hour and then 40 or so minutes so that there would be time for a question and answer period. Coupled with that problem was the absence of a projector. We were lucky in that one of those in attendance lived close by and volunteered to get it. However, it was going to take him 20 or so minutes to get it.
I was asked to fill the space and that I did. Tried to give some background material and inject some humor but make it meaningful and contribute to the presentation that would follow. Bear in mind that this is the capital of Florida and the event was well advertised in the local media. However, as I talked to the group it was like preaching to the choir in that everyone was already involved in the subject in some fashion.
I have notified both the Department of Corrections in a formal as well as informal way and the governors office. Your would think that on some level they would have been interested to see what this ‘nut job’ that had been walking in and out of their prisons for about 15 years was going to say to the nation.
What to say in 40 minutes is a ‘nut roll’ in itself. As I look back over the years, both my experiential and intellectual knowledge base on the subject is big. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing i can do is to motivate people to become interested in the subject and then provide them provide enough back-up material on the blog to allow them the luxury of exploring whatever aspect of the subject that may interest them at a pace they are comfortable with.
Motivation is a tricky but issues because it involves touching feelings and emotions and in so touching the question is how to reach people that are incredibly diverse. To do this and maintain true faith and allegiance to the topiIc at hand is almost mission impossible.
There is another aspect of this situation that almost haunts me. Over the years and as a teacher, I have gotten close and maybe too close to a lot of people. In part, this closeness allowed me to see trends, patterns and themes emerge that were common not only to the inmate side of the equation but the security and administration as well. Then again as a citizen who had a friend that was raped and murdered from a victim, if somewhat distant, side of the equation.
The parallels between prisons and the military are enormous. Having been a non-rated marine for four years then gone up through the ranks to staff sergeant prior to switching over to the army and becoming an infantry/special forces officer exposed to a set of dynamics not at all unlike I found in the prisons.
Make no mistake, the story line is oh so different but look below the storyline and the action is not so different. Take the act of murder or more gently put the taking of a life. Do it under the sanction of the government or political powers and it is not only legal but often lauded. Do it without the sanction of the state and the state will all to often consider it a violation of the social order or worse a threat to the good order of the established political power and execute the perpetrator. However, be it sanctioned or not, the impact on the person commuting the act is similar.
The single most horrifying event I have ever witnessed in my life of almost 7 decades of life was the surgical execution of a human being by the state. Taking a life is taking a life. The story line is the only difference. Walk through the halls of any VA hospital or better yet, go into the mental health section where the PTSD clinic and listen to the story lines. Then read the accounts of execution squads and tell me the difference.
Yes, we are talking of life at the extreme end of the spectrum but in looking at the extreme we get clues to what is happening in the middle. What we have in the prisons of the nation is hundreds of thousands men, women and children caught up in vortex of human misery that hundreds of thousands other men and women are dependent on for their financial well being.
This is a cultural problem and one that will not be exposed or properly addressed in a 40 minute talk. I have focused on what i think is the most critical or inhuman part of the equation which is mothers and children. For the most part, adults have choices and doing time is a consequence of bad decisions. However, the children of inmates are born into a world where they are destined never to get the starting blocks of life. Not because they are bad, dumb or stupid but because of the situation they are born into that leads to a life of abuse, addictions and incarceration.
To speak to such a limited and narrow issue in 40 minutes is challenging without bringing so many peripheral issues into play or focus is not only challenging but does not put it all into perspective much less do it justice.