Current Events Commentary · Messages from Heath · Prison life

To change or not to change?

I am sure that most of you have seen the recent media coverage of the ADC and its Director focusing on the violence and assaults. It would appear from the outside looking in that there is no control, the system is failing, and we only need to fix it by pointing to the one over it.

 

Sadly, this will not fix the problems that the prison system now has and, truthfully has always had, wrong with it. The systems in place in our country now, represent a mindset of retribution, not reform or rehabilitation, and in that rejection and punishment for breaking the law there are no means of healing. Men and women, from all walks of life, are sentenced to prison and then expected to be punished there while growing out of the problematic thinking that leads them there. Magically they are expected to become more than what they were, without compassionate and individually focused correction, and what we have is thousands of men forced to focus on being rejected from all that once held meaning.

Director Kelley cannot be expected to completely reform a system, overnight, things that have always existed even if the public didn’t know of them. In the past, the public simply didn’t care about those in prison, most had no family there or reason to think about society’s rejects, yet today our culture is seeing what ignoring those broken men is costing them.

One of the biggest problems with the system is those that have been a part of it for decades, and they don’t want to give up the godlike power they have cultivated and used to define who

 

they are. It is the same danger that caused those that are elected to office to serve terms that are limited, because if not then they become stagnant and no longer evolve to reflect the soul of the people. Director Kelley has to lead a system that hordes secrets like a pirate does treasure, and one that has allowed so much to go on unseen that much becomes ignored. Many of those that keep are as corrupt or misguided as those that are kept and, because of the lack of oversight or suppressive control that wardens have at individual units, it is hard to accurately gauge their effectiveness.

Often, those in power at the individual units can do what they will promote those that reflect their ideas and, until lawsuits or paperwork is filed, no one outside that prison is aware. Imagine that kind of freedom, over a population most in society have expressed a disgust over caring for, and it affords some that have no reserve, absolute power.  I heard an official once call it “plausible deniability,” or the ability to deny something is happening simply because you don’t know it is or hasn’t been told.

After 20 years in prison, I have done time under many who had been in the system so long that they no longer conducted themselves in a professional manner. Director Kelley has been

 

a force of change in a system that has forbidden such for decades and, in the years under her rule, much has been done to reform so that it forces change. Sadly, she is limited in how she can speak to the public and, like most ADC employees no doubt long ago signed something that forbade her from sharing what she sees and hears. She was asked to do a thankless job, someone that had the education and desire to see change happen, and in the last few years has done much more than the prior directors combined. You simply never heard of the things that happened under their leadership, because they wielded the power to silence any that sought to expose those the corruption and unprofessional conduct. She is only one woman, bound by the restrictive minds beneath her, and it is unfair to judge her harshly for much that she had no idea was happening. It is the way that the system is set up, wardens having the power to run their prisons like mayors without any law enforcement to monitor their actions. Imagine what those in elected office would do in the free world without the FBI or other agencies to expose them when greed or corruption seduced them? Now, imagine for a moment, complete cities where the outcasts are banished, sent to be forgotten, and what freedom those over them have to do what they will. The only thing that stopped the torture and beatings of decades past was the threat of lawsuit and exposure. I know that it is troubling that you see inmates with cell phones taking videos of officers beating inmates, but is it any different than citizens catching law enforcement doing the same? Do you not remember a time when the public couldn’t do such things, the technology wasn’t available for use by the average person while it served those that used it for their own use?

Imagine what those in elected office would do in the free world without the FBI or other agencies to expose them when greed or corruption seduced them? Now, imagine for a moment, complete cities where the outcasts are banished, sent to be forgotten, and what freedom those over them have to do what they will. The only thing that stopped the torture and beatings of decades past was the threat of lawsuit and exposure. I know that it is troubling that you see inmates with cell phones taking videos of officers beating inmates, but is it any different than citizens catching law enforcement doing the same? Do you not remember a time when the public couldn’t do such things, the technology wasn’t available for use by the average person while it served those that used it for their own use?

 

All that I am saying is that I am extremely thankful for what Mrs. Kelley has done, and she has done it with what she had to work with. She would have had to fire half the system to remove the cancerous growth of corruption that festers here, but who would she have used to fill up the ranks? The job must be done, after all, but what if the only choices available where those that put the system into the state that it is now in?

How many times have we seen on the news countries where corruption has undermined the governments of foreign countries? How long did it take the people, with elected officials that represented their will, to cut away the rot so that healing could begin? The first step that the government can take in fixing the system is seeing who runs the prisons, accurately look into their pasts and what they have done in the system, and then force them out so that new generations can help evolve the system. Allowing officials to stay in the system, unchecked and all-powerful for 30 or 40 years, only sets it up for manipulation and mismanagement by those that see the potential for personal gain and bias promotion. Wardens have the power to promote those that they wish to, and it allows them to surround themselves with loyal supporters that often end up hiding the truth so that lies promote.

 

Director Kelley has introduced, in the short time under her leadership, more technological advances than I ever hoped to see here. When I came to prison in 1997, the phone system had just been added, and calls ranged from $5 for 15 minutes in-state t $25 for 15 minutes out of state. FM radios had been allowed after decades of only allowing AM, but after that things simply slowed and stopped. Under Director Kelley, we have been allowed to use MP4 players to send and receive secure emails, get as many pictures as we want on those players after being limited to 5 pictures for years, and purchase music that we enjoy.

 

Last week, we were introduced to the Securus tablet, which works like the old cordless phones we used before cell phones. These tablets simply allow me to remotely use the existing secure system to make phone calls and, for the first time in 20 years, I can make a call from a place of privacy. No longer bound to go stand by the phone, distracted by all that is going on around me, ignoring the officer’s radios, I can relax and make a quality call in my cell. Yes, it is still limited to those on my call list, approved and screened beforehand by the ADC, but oh the pleasure of being afforded that small measure of privacy. I actually cried after making that first call, feeling as if I was doing something wrong because it had been so long since I had felt worthy of such things. Not only am I able to make calls, there are 10 internet radio stations, an application for me to do legal research, games, FM radio, e-book reader, and free library, and lastly podcasts. Oh, the wonder of such things, from sports talks to therapy and advice to comedy and music. The opportunity to learn and grow very real, even to someone doing life, and all for $15 a month lease.

 

My friends invested in one for me, one of the first at my prison to get one and, in the days afterward, it allowed me to show others the potential for such things. Men can not only send out emails, use the phone in private, but now can also learn and grow at their own pace and individually. What was huge for me is the ability to listen to guided meditations, therapy sessions on addictions and trauma, relationship advice, and simply listening to others work through their problems, informs my healing and change. It is the kind of therapy that we don’t get, individualized and focused, so I can now seek out help and assistance any time I need it. Many of the guys may not see the application of it in those ways, but for those of us hungry and driven to learn, it is a miracle.

 

I know that the public has concern over the violence in prison, those hurt, and the lack of structure, but simply being the Director doesn’t make Mrs. Kelley responsible for all those under her. She has no way of knowing all that everyone does at all the different units, because much of that information is processed and sifted through by others. Many of those holdovers from previous administrations, and all the baggage and bias that comes forward with them. It is why every elected official picks their own people to head things, because if forced to use what is there do you ever get to fully realize your vision?

 

The system does need to change, no doubt or question about it, but it can’t do that without the legislature figuring out how to change the law to enable those changes. They need professionals from outside advising those changes, offering tools that have been ignored, and a focus geared toward rehabilitation, not retribution. Being in prison IS the punishment, cut off from all that gives life meaning, and we need help to find a purpose beyond the mistakes that put us here.

The system needs to change, all prison systems in America do, so let’s offer some praise for what Mrs. Kelley has done and is doing. Her compassionate and empathetic acts have been a sunrise to a man damned for so long to darkness. Call on your legislature to pass laws that empower the changes they see the system needs and give those that wish to help use those tools.

All my best,

Heath

 

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