The Next Thirty Years
My next act in life will not be one of retirement or retreat. The purpose of my memoir, ‘’30 Years Behind Bars,” is to offer a different perspective of prisons from that of an inmate or custody officer. I want the reader to experience the prison thru the compassionate eyes of a physician. One who is oriented and trained to ask questions in order to understand complex problems, and then help prevent and treat them.
My mission in the next thirty years is to act as a catalyst to help change the current paradigm of ‘corrections’ from one of punishment to one of prevention, healing and re-integration. Prisons were designed to keep individuals behind bars until they had finished their sentence. They were never designed as a system to address the complex societal problems that put individuals there in the first place nor help them re-integrate into society when they left.
The ‘correctional world’ and the ‘medical world’ suffer from the same problem. They both spend an inordinate amount of money, energy and time on the symptoms vs. the causes of the problem. What would it look like, if we as a society decided to shift that paradigm and try to identify the causes behind the problems and work together as an integrated system to fix them?
You might think that I’m crazy to ask that question, but I have a vision of what our society and world could look like if we became pro-active vs. reactive. As an example – When an individual commits a crime we react and punish them and put them behind bars. What does it look like, if one is pro-active instead of reactive?
We would try to understand what put that person at risk for doing the criminal activity and focus our attention and resources on that issue. Then we would analyze what we do in that area and what actually works in reducing criminality.
I am not alone in the correctional world for having that vision. I recently had a conversation with someone who had worked in corrections for thirty-seven years as a guard, an associate warden, a chief classification officer and a hearing officer for the parole board. He shared with me that he had listened to over 10,000 cases on the parole board and said, “You know with female offenders, I’ve come to realize that over 95% of the cases never had a chance. They were ‘screwed’ as children.
They were either physically or sexually abused. Neglected or malnourished. Raised in dysfunctional families or dropped on their heads once too often.”
I know there are individuals who have similar backgrounds that don’t end up in prison, but my question to you is this. “Do you think that taking someone from that type of back ground and shaming and punishing them will actually change their behavior in a positive way?”
After decades observing and treating individuals like that, I can tell you the answer is, “No.”
The greatest ability to affect human behavior is in childhood. If changing behavior is the goal, then that is where the energy and resources should be concentrated. The second greatest ability to affect human behavior is when an individual truly wants to change and they have access to the support and resources that enables them to make that change. That is where prisons and parole programs could play a part.
With age one hopes that one’s experiences and insights can help the next generation. It is my hope that I can inspire people (especially my generation- the Baby Boomers) not to retreat and complain about the problems they see. I want to remind people that they can become a piece of the solution. Their life will be richer and more interesting when they are not sitting on the sidelines complaining.
If you consider yourself a compassionate person who wants to be proactive in life and is interested in doing something positive in your life, read on. I will use the example of ‘corrections’ in the United States which should come as no surprise too you by now. We have one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of any country in the world and that will only change if we approach it in a holistic, systematic way with a clear goal in mind. The goal is to reduce the amount of people we put behind bars by focusing on what society can do to prevent them from entering or re-entering prisons.
As an example the ‘War on Drugs’ dramatically increased prison populations, violence and the power of drug cartels. As a policy it has not decreased drug use nor made society safer. At the time of this writing, 2017, the United States is facing an ‘opioid epidemic’. Instead of blaming the drug user and punishing them by putting them behind bars for years, society at least now is asking, “How and why did this happen and what are we going to do to help these people?” That is the same question I want society to ask about our high rate of incarceration.
I know it is a tough sell, but what if you align your interests and passions with a prison program that is a win-win. For example: If you love dogs there are programs where inmates train and socialize dogs in order to give them a second chance for adoption which the SPCA supports. The inmate learns a skill, responsibility and patience. They also have a sense of purpose which tends to reduce mental health problems and violence. That’s a win-win for the people who love dogs and the people affected by incarceration.
What is your interest or passion? Is it children, mentoring, cats, dogs, mustangs, education, business, entrepreneurship, public speaking, art, music, religion, meditation, planned parenthood, law, justice, housing, jobs, addiction, etc? I guarantee you that you can find programs in all of those areas that can help prevent children at highest risk for becoming incarcerated — as well as healing and re-integrating the incarcerated back into society so they have less risk of returning to prison.
My question for you is this, “What will your legacy be?” Mine will be acting as the catalyst to change the prison paradigm from one of punishment to one of prevention, healing and re-integration. I want society to be more just and safe.
“What do you want?”