What I have written below is more a reflection of my conversation with the inmates at the Lino Lakes facility during OAP “Bridging the Gap Workshop”.
Here is a link to Vina Kays blog for further information
What does the word “inmate” mean to you? Does it make you cringe? Do the words, prisoner, convict, felon, bad man, or not me, come to mind. Maybe, but it also means a person, father, son, daughter, youth to others. Going to the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility on October 1st reminded me of that fact. Through the OAP workshop I was able to hear the voices of the forgotten and neglected in our society.
Prisons should not be the end all be all for those who through their shortcomings and bad decisions ended up there. The people I met that day, could be artist, writers, and public speakers if given the right support. They did not plead the “ I am innocent” routine to me and to the others present instead they acknowledge their faults and wish to be reintegrated into our society as productive members. But are we as a community letting that happen? Unfortunately the statistics are proving otherwise. What some call the “revolving door” effect is common place in our prisons. Our prison system is the largest in the world. Those two indicators should be evidence enough that our current system is proving ineffective. People like Ezekiel Calguiri who aspires to be a writer and take care of his family upon release has a hard road ahead of him .
Life post-prison is bleaker than when you first got in: depending on your charge you lose your right to vote, companies are 40% least likely to consider you for a job, your education is far behind your competition, and in general your a ill-prepared for what the new world in store for you. Unfortunately these are problems that our society as a whole decides to neglect. There is a disconnect from society and those we consider to be criminally unfit to walk our streets. These individuals want to change but our prison system is not a form of rehabilitation like originally intended , instead it imposes on a limitation for any possibility to change. As community should increase its effort on re-introducing inmates to the outside world by forms of programs and increase communication between inmates and family. We as a society take simple communication for granted, in mates sole medium to communicate is telephone or letters, as one of the inmates described it “that phone is my heartbeat”. Currently Lino Lakes provides classes for prisoners that have not violated discipline to earn their GED and possibly an A.A. Degree. But as we are a well aware that level of education does not really account for much in the current job market. Currently there are programs in place to help inmates for transition into civilian life upon release. But as I talked with the prisoners I learned that re-entry to the outside world is the very difficult and the programs are not as helpful as they could be. Most of the inmates knew little if anything about how the internet worked. Some of these inmates have been prison for decades due to prison reforms of the 80’s and 90’s.
The culture has changed between has changed dramatically from what it was 2, 10 and 20 years . Social skills are difficult for released inmates to adjust to, how do you begin to relearn the skills to function in our day to day life when you have been locked up for so long. According to prisoner conversations between them and released inmates they have learned that most inmates released take about the same time they served to get adjusted to life outside example 4 years in = 4 years of adjustment in the outside. The OAP is beginning to unravel the possibilities for further improvement of these problems but its up to us as a community to step in. These individuals need our help more than ever, for them to succeed in our world it will require some effort form us to let them in.