By CHRIS THE CONSCIENCE
This series features writing from inmates at the El Paso County Jail. The articles stem from weekly programming facilitated by the Colorado College Prison Project. Through contact between the CC community and Colorado Springs, this series aims to simultaneously broaden the CC perception of incarceration issues and provide a platform for incarcerated writers. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office requires approval of written material prior to publication and the removal of authors’ last names.
No one can argue that going to prison in Colorado is not a life-changing experience. That experience is either going to be for the better or for the worse.
A big factor in which path one chooses once released back into society is the facility an inmate ends up at for the duration of their incarceration. Some facilities have programs that focus on reintegration, some have college classes, some have trades where you come out of prison making lots of money with licenses and certifications. Some facilities focus on therapeutic community. In Colorado, there are two categories of prisons: state prisons and private prisons. When a person is handed down a prison sentence for however many years, the Department of Corrections somehow determines to send a prisoner to a private prison. It’s something we in the world of DOC know as “being warehoused.”
Being warehoused at a private prison means working with the bare minimum. There are no programs, no education classes, no trades to learn, and minimal jobs-except for the kitchen. There is absolutely no room for growth! In these facilities, you are not seen as a person, but rather as a DOC number, which means you are a paycheck to many private investors.
I am not saying that the people should feel sorry for these inmates. Most people who are in prison are in there for a reason. Whether the time fits the crime is a different story. At the same time, let’s be real about this; one day a good portion of prisoners will be released back into society. If we are about rehabilitation and becoming uplifting members of the community, there needs to be an abundance of programs provided by private prisons to help former convicts build a positive foundation to stand on once released. The uncomfortable truth is that private prison facilities are being shut down all over the country due to the fact that they would rather make profits off of society’s tragedy and miseries than spend portions of their profits on programs to help inmates reintegrate back into their communities.
I was released from a private prison facility in February 2017 after serving four years of a four and a half year sentence. I had nowhere to go, and I was given a hotel voucher for two weeks to put my life back together. Great odds for success, huh?
I have conversed with parolees who have been given directions by their parole officer to go stay at the shelter. If they cannot get into the shelter, they should sleep somewhere in the vicinity of the shelter outside. Another parolee showed me paperwork where his parole officer has in writing that this parolee was to stay in the back of a Walmart from a certain time of night until a certain time early morning because the parolee was homeless. I have witnessed a homeless parolee catch an escape charge for not standing on a city street corner for 11 hours until his curfew was up and he could leave that street corner to start his day.
Most men and women that come out of prison have no stability with their living situation. That seems to be the number one issue with their reintegration into society. The lack of government funding, private funding, family help, and minimal patience from authorities (parole officers, probation officers, etc.) give these second chancers little hope.
Prisons call themselves “correctional facilities.” What exactly are they correcting? Most men and women go to prison for minor crimes, learn to become better criminals while incarcerated, and come out committing bigger crimes because they lack support from the system and their family. These former prisoners being released know they don’t have a leg to stand on once back in the community. Society wants nothing to do with them, and in a lot of cases, neither does their family.
I understand that the United States as a whole is apprehensive to help men and women incarcerated or being released from incarceration. I’ve done my time in prison and a lot of these men and women should be there, and rightly deserve the time they were given. There is also a huge portion of us that are striving to be better people, and want to become uplifting members of our communities. We are still human; we are still somebody’s mother, father, daughter, or son. Most of us have a family member incarcerated now or at some time in our life. When is the last time you sent a letter or went to visit? Does it always have to be “out of sight, out of mind?” I had an elder who had been in prison for 29 years tell me, “Look at these cells. You’ve got two choices: you can let these cells be a womb or a tomb. Which one are you gonna choose?” That question changed my whole thought process toward life and myself.
If one of our duties as a nation is to uplift fallen humanity, then that process would have to start at home within our own communities. Just food for thought.