I know that everyone has been concerned with the events that have gone on at the Max, but please let me assure you all that I am fine and safe. The two events both happened in the same area of the prison, Isolation, and it is where people are sent to serve punitive time. What that means is when an inmate gets into trouble, they get written up, taken to Disciplinary Court, and the judge there can impose a wide range of punishments; loss of commissary, phone, visitation, class, and for the serious charges up to 30 days punitive isolation time. There is no air condition in that portion of the prison, so it is often a place that reeks of human waste and odors on the best of days.
The Maximum Security unit has 60 isolation cells, 30 cells in East Isolation and 30 cells in West Isolation. The cells are one man, have an inner and outer door, and when coming and going you are put into shackles and cuffs. Many do their time and get out, assigned to hoe squad for up to a year to regain their class and a job, and then they can get their contact visits back.
Many chose to avoid hoe squad, the heat and hard work beyond their ability to manage, and do things that get them further disciplinaries in the hole. Some of those inmates have serious mental health issues, flooding by stopping up their toilet then flushing continuously, and throwing urine/feces onto others. Some of these guys are so far out there, the isolation having broken their minds down further, that they offer to dash officers or other inmates for pay. They call it putting a hit on someone, and that hit is to dash them with a cup or bag of water with feces in it. Often they allow it to sit for days, rotting even further, and then they dash it or squirt it onto those feeding or walking by. It is a hazard that inmates and officers have to deal with, especially with more and more mental health inmates in the system, and their acts are often the product of months or years of mistreatment by others. They often make easy targets or prey for the bully or predators, and those that hurt or take advantage of them aren’t forgotten.
The times I have been in isolation, these are the inmates that act out in ways for attention because negative attention is better than none at all. At the back of each cell, near the toilet, there are slats that open into a pipe chase, and when the fan is turned on air will pull through there. It allows for some air flow, not much, and a place for everyone to talk to or at others. It helps some people pass the time, reaching out to others, seeking to share in their isolation and pain, and there are always those that have been there awhile.
The mental health patients that can’t function around others, because it was those disorders that lead to them making decisions that put them in prison, to begin with. In the hole, ignored and yearning for interaction, they begin interrupting others and when rebuked start disrespecting everyone. They talk about the different gangs, family, friends, and even a guy’s butt if they really want to get them worked up. Arguments, rage, threats are made, and in their cells, they smile having forced others to include them. Inspiring anger is an easy way to force people to interact with you, even if it is a reaction that offers no real emotional fulfillment, and these guys aren’t logical or reasonable.
When guys go on yard call, often separated only by a piece of chain-link between their cage and the next, word wars can be followed with spit or even a bag of crap water to squirt as a weapon. I have seen guys pull out their penis’s, jerking off on one another, all in an effort to disrespect and dishonor while they lack the freedom to truly do damage.
Since the guys are locked down 23 hours a day, they get their chance to get back at only a few times. Shower call, yard call, and both times they are to be fully restrained to and from the cell. Problem is that inmates over time learn how to make homemade cuff keys or a slip key that gives them the chance to escape restraint and make a play on another person equally restrained. It makes for an easier target that way, attacking a person when they can’t defend themselves, and then the officers have to rescue the one and defend against the other.
Prisons are filled with men often sent to prison for life that have no hope of release and no longer any normal means of filling human needs. The further they get away from meeting those human needs in normal ways, they begin using abnormal ways to get what they can as they can.
Imagine a man sentenced to an indefinite sentence, never to know a woman or have children and, no matter what, he is deemed beyond redemption. Isolated from all that once had value and meaning, he begins to search for new ways to be someone and something of value. Many seek to make a name for themselves, acting out violently or doing what others won’t, in an effort to recreate themselves into someone new and respected. They work hard to cultivate and build that persona, and then have to live up to it for anyone to respect it.
Many of the violent events in prison are by broken men, trying to find meaning and purpose, and not having the tools to seek those in a place that offers hope of finding them. Yet, it is the life they knew in the world, seeking to meet basic human needs in abnormal environments, and there finding someone to lead them to someplace offering something. Better to have a destination than to be no one and going nowhere, right? So, they come to prison, having used a warped perception to guide their decisions until then and encountering masses of others with similar distorted and misguided thinking.
What do you do when that crazy dude throws crap on you, jerks off looking at you in the shower, steals from you, calls you a name no one ever should? A wise man might see a disturbed man, acting out in confusion and loss, but how many have that kind of restraint when restraint was never a tool they learned to have?
In both situations at the Max, guys were sought out and hurt for what they had said and/or done to those that broke out. Did they deserve it? No, violence is never the answer or leads to anyplace productive, but we aren’t talking about men that are reasonable or logical. We are talking of the discarded of society, the rejects, who have always thought on some level that they were less than others. No matter how hard they tried, what they did, they never seemed to escape the reality that they didn’t have what it took. They are fragile men; scared and broken boys that never healed, and they react with an intensity and anger to match the pit of despair that consumes them.
Why would men escape cages to attack officers, take keys, run around acting out? They acted as animals they have been led to believe they are, without hope of ever being more of what is to inspire more than the base animal instincts Miserable men, desperate to be heard, searching for someone to listen, and unable to even form a message to share.
The events that happened play out in prisons across the nation and the world every day, because they are filled with those that for many reasons broke the law. Once they break it, they are seen as less than animal-like, lacking restraint and control, like said wild animals.
I remember reading an article not long ago about animals in cages, what it does to their minds and, ultimately, their desire to live and function. Laws are passed against the inhumane treatment of animals to protect them from the mental and emotional impact of indefinite confinement, lack of basic needs, violent treatment from keepers because we all know morally that it simply isn’t right. The animals aren’t wanted, no one loves them, they depend on their keepers for everything, and the only affection most know is the embrace of a cold floor or the brush of metal bars. Many of them have done nothing wrong, no violent acts, but someone often gives them a second chance. When they get training to learn how to respond and act right, get their physical and emotional needs met, then they become productive pets that are of value.
Someone has to first believe that animal is redeemable, having value, and can be helped to a place where they can be more. I know that was about dogs and cats, not human beings, but if the confinement for days, weeks, months does that to animals what might years, decades, or life do to humans?
I am reminded of going to the zoo as a boy, seeing the wild animals in captivity, and how they acted compared to what I saw on Nature. These animals had lost something in captivity, the will and hope that made them alive and my dad said it was a shame to see such majestic creatures so reduced. They had a dullness to their eyes that my family later said matched my own; the years of child sexual abuse, an emotional prison, that made my soul retreat, and today it reminds me of my confinement for the last two decades. I was driven to learn and understand my past, what my experiences did to shape me, and the struggle of overcoming a lifetime of abuse. I wanted to prove that I was more than an event, no matter how horrible it might be, and believed in my heart that if I tried hard enough it would someday earn me a chance to prove who I am, what I have to offer, what wisdom I have gathered, and how I can use my past to pave the way for others
I have been driven to learn and understand my past, what my experiences did to shape me, and the struggle of overcoming a lifetime of abuse. I wanted to prove that I was more than an event, no matter how horrible it might be, and believed in my heart that if I tried hard enough it would someday earn me a chance to prove who I am, what I have to offer, what wisdom I have gathered, and how I can use my past to pave the way for others to a future less distorted by the impact of abuse. I had people that loved me, a family that supported me, and a purpose that I had faith in grasping. Not everyone has that, any of that, and officers must manage as best they can. Often they are lacking the education and background to deal with and support these struggling men, and it can be draining to try and help men without hope to see a reason to change.
It is my belief that the only way we can fix the problems in prison is the way society will gain victory over violence. Rehabilitation is not punishment, and punishment isn’t rehabilitation. Rehab is restoring. Restoration is to restore to a former capacity; to restore to good repute; reestablish the good name of, to restore or bring to a condition of health or useful and constructive activity.
Each prison system is a department of correction, and a correction system implies the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders through a program involving penal custody, parole, and probation. Correction is a process of change, teaching one to grow, and enabling them to overcome the attitudes and thoughts that lead to prison. Punishment is a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure or suffering, pain, and loss that serves as retribution. We have a choice as a society to reform through rehabilitation so that men and women can overcome their pasts, or damn them to severe, rough, and disastrous treatment.
In 20 years, I have witnessed many changes that made doing time more humane, I’ve participated in programs to educate and empower, but many of those programs are bound to serve those of short sentences. The mindset seems to be that if you have life, you have no life, and investing in an indefinite sentence is a waste of money and effort. What might happen if there was a uniform push to teach everyone in prison a trade, pay them a small sum to take care of themselves, and gain valuable work experience for successful re-entry? It gives men a purpose they can invest in, a means of legally obtaining their needs and wants in normal ways, and their time is corrective in that it offers them something instead of taking away from what is already so lacking.
Many times the combination of a lack of hope, mental and emotional disorders, problems with staffing, or surviving in a hostile environment, leave both inmate and officer at a disadvantage. Many officers see how limited the inmates are in their ability to connect with the world, the costs of those connections, so they emotionally bond with the inmates. They resent the treatment of administrators demanding they conduct themselves in ways that lead to a confrontation with prisoners. Many quit resulting in fewer staff which leads to more threats to security, and things begin happening to inmates that officers can no longer prevent.
There are many of us that would never seek to cause harm to another inmate or officer, because we have grown up, healed, and progressed to a place of understanding. Those who resort to violence are usually the least educated, most troubled, and unable or unwilling to communicate. I have met and admired many ADC employees over the years, and some of whom protected me from situations where I might have had to violently react to survive or to avoid sexual assault.
Officers lack the training to manage needy and damaged men, and one bad or corrupt administrator can undermine a whole prison. Great leaders surround themselves with able individuals that have the skills to aid them in their goals. Prisons need men and women, both educated and empathetic to deal with the small cities they must manage. Sadly, I wouldn’t want anyone that I love and care about to work here, knowing what it would expose them to, and how does the system attract people that can reform and enable men to become ex-offenders and able men?
There are no easy answers, but we do know from the mistakes made, that we need people that can help us find solutions not create more problems. You can’t reform broken men that are violent and reactionary with violence any more than a parent can hope to punish a child for doing what they do themselves. Doing what you condemn others of makes you a hypocrite, and no one respects or will listen to anyone that demands you do what they say, not as they do.
Many will question the Director’s actions, the motives behind doing what they did, yet it is important to remember that 6 inmates did this not a whole prison or system. If we begin to sow fear based on the actions of a few, then reactions in fear will create more problems than answers. Director Kelley did what she felt must be done to safely end the situation and she decided that the petty demands were worth the well being of her officers.
In other states, whole prisons riot for better treatment and to gain access to things the average person assumes are available and administrators agree because it is the easiest solution to the situation. It is always easier to judge the actions of those that make decisions when you have never had to make those decisions yourself. Maybe the actions of the Director saved the lives of officers and inmates and, as the director, is it not her duty to care for both?
Judgments are often made with the smallest amounts of information and I, for one, am glad the situation was confined to a small area involving only 6. Not even all those in that area chose to join in, and that says something about those that did what they did. When you look at the situation over the days and weeks ahead, ask yourself what you would have done to achieve better results?
Let me end by saying that the resolving of a minor uprising, by meeting demands to end it peacefully, is not anything like negotiating with terrorists. Prisoners are not terrorists, unless they are prisoners that are imprisoned for acts of terror. Anyone that labels prisoners acting out in violent ways as terrorists doesn’t know what a terrorist is in the first place. They are religious individuals, driven by their beliefs, to achieve certain goals, with the purpose of causing terror to exert power and control.
When you begin labeling people acting out to get attention for different reasons, you in fact create an identity they then try to live up to. Men in prison that probably had no support system, no personal goals, no life in general, that only wanted a transfer and to not get beaten up for acting out. You might think that their actions are those of a terrorist, but to one that lives with emotionally and mentally immature men, it resembles the actions of a bunch of disturbed kids.
What does it say about these men, their mental and emotional maturity, that they would do all that just to get away? If they were willing to do all that just to relocate to a different facility, then what was going on that inspired them to such ends? People are always motivated to act as they do for specific reasons, and only those that carry out those acts know why they do what they do. Sometimes even they don’t know or have plans beyond the spontaneous event, and, once done, all they can do is ride it out to whatever conclusion.
Once committed to action, no matter how you might later regret it, some men and boys can’t accept that they are wrong. In the last year or so, I have seen the people of Arkansas support prison reform and recognize the need to find a solution to prisons and those housed in them. While I was not part of the actions of those that did what they did, for their own reasons, I am sorry for the impact those acts will have.
Please do not judge us all for the acts of a few, or believe that everyone in prison wishes to cause harm. It has been my intent to share a message that asks you to consider all sides of the situation and, at the end of the day, I pray we can learn valuable lessons from this. Let those that know and understand all the different aspects, work toward policy or administrative leaders who can manage and inspire.
Join me in praying that God grant us all the wisdom to make positive decisions, and be slow to judge anyone without having walked in their shoes. Ask for reform, education, therapy, and peace. Heath