I know I said the tour was weird and it was. Other things since yesterday have begun to creep up in my mind though. Like the fact that prisoners in the craft shop make nearly every piece of furniture in the prison. From the amazing desk in the warden’s office to the shelves and wooden carvings on the walls- all made by prisoners. The guard’s uniforms and the prisoner’s uniforms are all made there as well. They make them all, wash them all, prep them all and they don’t get a dime for it. It’s slave labor and I’m disturbed by it.
It disturbs me that many of these guys work an “honest days labor” and we, as a society, don’t deem that worthy of pay. I get it. They’re there because they themselves were not honest, they themselves have broken the social contract, because they themselves were assholes but that doesn’t mean we have to be. It just doesn’t. Two wrongs don’t make a right. How can we as a society expect them to “get better” or be better if we don’t treat them better?
I have a tendency to focus on things when I’m feeling a lot. Those things I focus on are usually connected to what’s going on but not really the main issue. That’s the case here as well. What’s really irking me has nothing to do with what’s really going on. I’m frustrated that the prisoners aren’t treated as worthy of what I consider basic human dignity. I’m annoyed that they don’t have more options. That being said, they do have some options. They do have some opportunities.
That’s what makes me the maddest though. That’s what I left today feeling most angry about. Is that the offender I spoke with today has a few options but he hasn’t taken any of them. It makes me mad because I want prison to MEAN something. I want prison and justice to have a fucking point. If it doesn’t then it just ends up becoming societal revenge instead of rehabilitation. It’s bad enough that they have shit options, they don’t get paid, they get shitty teachers and often have to survive prison itself. That’s bad enough.
Before I ended the conversation today I told him I wanted him to do something. I wanted prison to mean something. I told him I realized I couldn’t make him go to school, get an education or even show up to his prison job- and that I didn’t want to but I wanted him to know that I expected him to change. I expected him to do something uncomfortable so that he could ensure to me that he deserved to get out one day. I told him I didn’t want to be his friend but I hoped that one day, when he gets out, I could trust that he would not be capable of doing something like that again. I told him I didn’t want to be his friend but I hoped that if I ever saw him on the street I wouldn’t be afraid. I told him he had something to prove. I told him he had sixteen years to be lazy and do nothing but watch tv and sleep… now it was time to change.
I hope that it matters. I hope that it creates change. He has shit for options but he does have some. I realize now, hours later, that justice is a two way street. I can want justice and change and hope for better all day long but if he doesn’t want the same things then… then what? Then I’m left with the reality that I am not in control even now with him behind bars. He is human and I can’t make him do anything. I can’t make him participate in my sense of justice.
He was surprised. He said as much. I could tell. I think what I said mattered. I realize that he cannot participate in my sense of justice if he doesn’t know what that is or what it looks like. Now he knows. Now I wait, watch, check in occasionally and know that he is just a guy with real feelings, emotions and he is not a monster. I know now that what I gained is a reality that I don’t want revenge. What I gained was a day of mourning in a way that was healthy and calm and consistent. What I gained today was the ability to acknowledge that I am glad he is still in prison because he still has a lot of work to do. What I gained today is the freedom in knowing that I might have encouraged that work to finally take place.