The most destructive part of being in prison

Don’t know where this came from but yesterday I was giving two classes in the women’s prison in Lowell CI. At some point in the afternoon when I was riding back to Gainesville on the Dragon Princess, the thought of why is the class structure in the two prisons so different.

About an hour later it hit me. My class in the annex draws heavily on new inmates into the system from the Reception and Orientation group where as the the group that comes from the main have been down for a perioed of time and are totally attuned to prison life.

However, in all fairness it should be pointed out that those inmates that have any degree of respensibility are punished for it by having limited access to programs. They tend to end up in work camps that are located outside of the prison compounds. Because they are gone during the week, they don’t have access to a host of classes offered on the main compound. In theory, they are supposed to have access to week-end religious services and etc but this in practice seldom happens.

Then there are those inmates who staff the sections that are critical to the the functioning of the prison. These are the laundry, mess hall, teachers aids and etc. They don’t get released for programs and because of shifts are either working or sleeping. Those who find themselves in trouble, uncooperative and etc are regulated to positions where it is easy to participate in programs.

The end result is that those who came to prison with a work ethic of any type end up being punished by responsible jobs that hinder their access to programs. However, that is only the tip of the ice berg. The single biggest and most destructive mechanism to developing or maintaining a work ethic is the count which is normally about five times a day.

I have had programs in over 25 state and federal prisons. Never have I been in a prison were the counts were a 30 minutes or less affair on a regular basis. Bear in mind that counts are held with the inmate on their assigned bed till everyone is accounted for. If you are to have a program then it is best to have it in the morning. Nobody is moving after the midnight master count and the day almost always gets off to a scheduled start.

However, to hold a program in the afternoon is sure death. Seldom have I ever seen work call go as scheduled which means that all programs end up cooling their heels till the noon count clears and then they must feed chow which at best is an hour long affair with two lines for a thousand or so inmates.

The subterfuge here is that programs and work only counts how many and not how many for how long they were in class or at work. My experience is that more often than not the afternoon programs that should run two to three hours only get an hour. Now think in terms of how many staff in a prison cool their heels with nothing to do for maybe ten hours a week.

Then think in terms of lost time for medical attention, schooling, addiction recovery training and actual work that does not get done. We are not talking of thousands of hours but hundreds of thousands of hours of lost time.

Worst is the patterns of behavior and sense of responsibility that is learned on the part of the inmates that come to prison as youths and then enter the work force. Yes, the superficial emphasis is on work and education but in reality they learn that neither is important and spend a lot of potentially productive time cooling their heels and warming their butts in bed while the security staff is trying to figure out what is screwing the count up.

My sense is that the average prison as maybe 3.5 to 4 hours of productive education, work and program hours a day. All those staff and functions that rotate around inmates such as medical, testing and processing pay their staff for an 8 hour day. That leaves tons of hours for smoken and joken.

Florida Tax not all that long ago evaluated the effectiveness of the education efforts of Florida prisons and issued a report that about 90 percent of the inmates that enroled or were enroled in educational programs did not finish them. We are talking of a prison population with an average of the 6th grade level and you can not even participate in GED programs till you reach an educational level of the 9th grade. We are talking of recidivism rates that can be tied to levels of education on release.

Now, think in terms of doubling the productive hours of staff in general and education along with programs in general to between a 6 and 8 hour day.

My experience in working with the inmates at the front end of a sentence is that they are eager to learn and pay attention when being taught. For the most part, when teaching a group of inmates that have been in the system for any period of time like a year or more they have become jaded and are now focused on being drama queens. Their willingness and ability to learn is reduced by at least 40% (subjectively based on 15 years teaching in prison).

There are two exceptions to the above paragraph. The first is those doing 20 or more years at some point become focused on getting a life even if it is under adverse conditions and they become very astute students that are willing and able to learn. The other group is thos that hit the three or so months period prior to being at the end of their sentence. However, this is often very late in the game as most of the preparation needs to start on the day then come to prison.

This is a sad situation because I have meet men and women that are truely and deeply dedicated to teaching these men and women and they just don’t get the time they need to make the inroads they could.

A great first step would be instead of using attendance as the bench mark of a program, it would be to use the actual hours the class is in session with 95 percent of the students seated and then match it against the number of seats in a classroom times an 8 hour day. It can take as long as 30 minutes from the time work call is sounded for doors to be opened, inmates to be released and then move to the sites they need to be at.

We are not only talking of a wast of tax payer dollars but also of lives that could be turned into productive citizens as opposed to a return to prison for an average sentence of five years at a cost of about $144,000 per woman.

After thought on the next day:

I know of inmates that have flipped this count system to work for them by using count periods as practice time for meditation. The start a count not knowing how long they will be down and just stay with it till it is over. Over a period of months there is a distinctive change in the demeanor and personality. They are calmer, poised and tend to become assertive rather than passive or aggressive. They also have an improved ability to work through difficult situations and absorb information. Then again they become more focused and develop a clear sense of direction as to what there life is about.

| The Gateless Gate Zen Center is funded solely by generous donation |

This entry was posted in Education, Politics, Prison and Jails, The Problem, Women and Children. Bookmark the permalink.

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