That square of sunlight is the only thing that reminds John Doe of that different world. Compared to the steel toilet, steel door, and his plain bed, the window brings him happiness. He walks in a circle around the beam of sunlight that lands on the ground. He hasn’t talked to someone from the outside world since he entered this place. John Doe’s only contact to the outside world is covered by steel bars. Prisoners are then released. Coming out of that box and back into the community, the criminals realize their mistakes and how they will avoid committing a crime again. The isolation helps them to merge back into the community perfectly as soon as they get out.
Americans tend to believe that this is how the system works. Those inmates that go back to prison never changed from who they were when they entered prison, when in reality, this being one of the bigger problems as recently released prisoners only have those past relationships to fall back on. These are the negative relationships that caused them to get into trouble in the first place.
One prisoner emphasizes that this same thing can happen to prisoners in the system. He is an anonymous writer for Voices from Solitary, an organization that tries to get the public to see what is happening behind locked and closed doors. He states, from his personal experience, that “most men will spend years in a cage alone and be released back into society filled with hate and rage” (Voices from Solitary). He writes a story very similar to the one that introduced this piece. This anonymous writer argues that “loneliness is a destroyer of humanity.” As he sits alone in his cell, he is slowing losing his ability to act human (Voices from Solitary).
Those that are cut off from society are not few in number. Many inmates leave prison with anger and a limited set of social skills and support (Voices from Solitary). Chris Hoke has been a part of some sort of Prison Ministry his whole life. He saw this in his work. He acknowledges that “almost two and a half million human beings are locked away in mass social tombs… cut off from loved ones” and others in their life that could offer positive encouragement (Hoke 26).
Being cut off from loved ones and locked in a box can leave negative impressions and habits on the people that are coming back into society. The idea of locking of someone in an isolated box and limiting their interaction with others will somehow make them know how to function in society with others is erational.
By being thrown out into the world of light with no sunglasses or safety net, inmates are more likely to end up back in prison. In the United States, the recidivism rate exists above 70 percent (Hoke 26). The Prison Fellowship, an organization which wants to assist recently released prisoners, believes that 2 out of 3 recently released criminals will reoffend (Why Help Prisoners?). Although their studies’ conclude with different numbers, what may not be ignored is the fact that the rate exists over 50 percent.
Without support, prisoners are left to fend for themselves in a new world: A world that can be harsh and disheartening to those who have been kept out of society’s flow.
When prisoners come out of prison and lack support, they tend to go back to the people and relationships that they had before they were put away (Hoke 28). This can leave recently released prisoners heading back to a negative boyfriend or girlfriend or the friend that got them into crime in the first place. They go back to the things they are familiar and comfortable with before they entered prison. The prisoners are so desperate for a relationship with another human that they will go back to the ones that hurt them before (Hoke 28).
With this conclusion, one may ask “how do prisoners not have support? Where are their loved ones that they have been cut off from for years? Why can’t they support themselves?”
People tend to assume that prisoners are not getting visits or letters written to them because they have done something so wrong that their loved ones disowned them when in reality, it could be multiple issues. The loved one “outside” feels the need to step up now that they are potentially a single parent with very little free time. The prisoners might not have any family members left. Or the prisoners could be transported to another prison and in turn, lose contact with their loved ones. Or the letters are denied by the warden who sets the rules of correspondence for their prisoners (“Program Statement: Correspondence”).
With communication cut off from loved ones and being locked away for several years and then emerging with no support and hoping that they will come out as helpful citizen remains a fool’s idea.
Even though there is one man in prison for every 250 men out, this huge number remains forgotten (Cory 486). It seems that most of the public forgets about the criminals as soon as they are locked away. Out of sight, out of mind sort of thinking.
This can be seen by the lack of visits and letters received from the “outside” world. Only 30 percent of visitors, out of an already small number, visit a family member or friends (Grinstead, et. al. 63). This low number could be caused by the long visiting signup process. A person thinking about visiting a prisoner must receive a background check, fill out an application, and then get approval from the warden (Boudin, Stutz, and Littman 23). Without all of these things, a visitor will be denied the right to see the prisoner before they schedule the visit. If a visit is scheduled but the visitor arrives without the proper identification or the allowed clothing, they will not be allowed to see the prisoner (“How to visit a federal inmate”).
Prisoners also retain restrictions on their correspondence. They can write to whoever they want, but they only get a certain amount of stamps and paper (“Program Statement: Correspondence”). Prisoners may write to anyone, including the mayor, or family member (Hewitt, Bill, and Bane 94).
Not only does the American people tend to forget prisoners, but the system itself forgets them it seems as well. The prisoners fail to feel like people anymore with their limited contact with other people, their small cage, and being called by a number not a name (Schammert).
No one should be forgotten, not a newborn or the elderly, and especially not those who committed a crime. Criminals and prisoners need someone to show them they care enough about them to be disappointed if they commit another crime.
This feeling of loneliness and isolation needs to be changed so prisoners can enter back into the community. Prisoners will only be able to merge back into society successful if they know how to interact with others. They will only be positive contributing citizens if they retain the support of someone. They will be able to succeed if they rely on someone who shows they care.
With these conclusions, one may ask “how do random strangers creates relationship with prisoners? Is there a certain script to follow as to not offend the prisoners? What are the rules one must learn to guide their correspondence?”
First off, the prisoners deserve to feel like they are a person. They must feel like they are important and not just a forgotten name. This could be achieved by multiple approaches.
One of those options would be individuals visiting a prisoner. A study was done by law students and correctional administrators on prison visitation policies. They found out that “prisoners who received visits were 13% less likely to be reconvicted of a felony after release and 25% less likely to have their probation or parole revoked” (Grinstead, et. al. 63). This may be intimidating to some people but visiting an inmate can help them realize they are more than a number (Schammert).
One way to increase visits would be to lower the cost. At present, it costs a “mean total $292 for a monthly visit” (Grinstead, et. al. 64). This cost can fluctuate based on a person’s specific needs. This cost also includes the price of phone calls between inmates and loved ones and the packages sent to prisoners. A person who visits may also spend money on vending machines or childcare, which can add up (Grinstead, et. al. 66).
A visit may take too much beforehand work and can be complicated for many people. Also the planning of a visit can be complex with the whole application process and a visitor may still be rejected. The prisoners needs something to hang on to; something permanent that they can look forward to. Mail time offers this to them. That time will become what sometimes pushes them through some rough days (Hewitt, Bill and Bane 93). Letters will stay with them even after a person leaves when visitation hours are over or revoked.
The hardest part about writing a letter to a prisoner is connecting with an inmate to start writing letters to. One can write when they attain free time and send the letter whenever they are done. There are some guidelines that need to be followed though. One might only write to one inmate being held in that prison (“Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners”). This will make sure that one inmate will not feel jealous of the relationship that has been created between their pen pal and another prisoner. Also, one may not permit themselves to include personal information or pictures of themselves or family members (“Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners”). If someone with the wrong intentions finds that information, it could spell out trouble for the writer. Also sending money to an inmate remains discouraged. If a prisoner keeps asking for money, the writer or visitor may want to ask themselves the recipients intentions (“Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners”).
Whichever option fits best for the individual, one thing they must not do, no matter how busy they get, is cut off communication altogether after they establish a relationship. This can leave the prisoners in an even worse place than when they started (“Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners”). This cut off of communication will cause the prisoner to think they did something wrong or leave them wondering if something dwells inside of them that turned the person against them. Or perhaps believe the person that was visiting or writing only wanted a new “toy” (the prisoner) and got bored soon after they started playing with it. The inmate may assume that they never meant anything to the visitor or writer, therefore dropping them right where they started before they received communication from the outside world.
With letters or visits, a prisoner cannot convince themselves that they fail to matter to people. The evidence will be right in their face that they are loved. Loneliness will not be their only companion.
The written words bring John Doe outside of this small cage. Just by reading the symbols on the page, he can forget where he is and he can know what exists outside of the concrete walls. There lives someone out there that has never met him in person, but takes time out of their day to write a note to a criminal. This outside person rarely know how much they influence John Doe’s life. He hopes that they will be changed just as much as he has been changed. Those letters will never leave his pocket. Even when the window stays dark, the letters offer light to him.
With these changes, this show of support, prisoners who walk out of prison will not be as likely to be burdens on society. They will be able to join back into the community while avoiding the “social underground” that contributed to their actions that put them in prison in the first place.
Boudin published in Prison Legal News May, 2013, page 1-30. “Prison Legal News.” Prison
Visitation: A Fifty State Survey | Prison Legal News. N.p., 13 May 2013. Web. 15 Mar.
Cort, David. “The Prisoners: A Self-Portrait.” Nation, vol. 189, no. 22, 26 Dec. 1959, p. 486-488.
Grinstead, Olga, et al. “The financial cost of maintaining relationships with incarcerated African
American men: A survey of women prison visitors.” Journal of African American Men
6.1 (2001): 59-70.
“Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners.” Guidelines for Letters to Prisoners. Letters to Prisoners
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Hewitt, Bill and Vickie Bane. “Lives behind Bars.” People, vol. 67, no. 13, 02 Apr. 2007, p.
Hoke, Chris. “A Church for Every Prisoner.” Christian Century, vol. 133, no. 22, 26 Oct. 2016, p.
“How to visit a federal inmate.” BOP: How to visit a federal inmate. Federal Bureau of Prisons,
n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. “Our Approach to Prison Ministry.” Prison Fellowship. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
Schammert, Bill. KOLNKGIN – Content – News. 1011 News, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
“U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Prisons”. Program Statement: Correspondence.
April 5, 2011
“Voices from Solitary: “Loneliness Is a Destroyer of Humanity”.” Solitary Watch. Ed. Voices
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