Most people are shocked to hear I went to prison when I was younger; other people are shocked to hear that people are shocked to hear I went to prison when I was younger. It all depends on what part of time you met me in my life. I guess there are others who knew me when I was in high school would have probably voted me most likely to go to prison if that wasn’t a political correctness faux pas.
Whichever end of the spectrum you are on, when I was nineteen I got into a brawl that would eventually wind me up in the big house. I was sentenced to three years for words, believe it or not. It wasn’t the face that I had broken, but the final threat I screamed as I was being hauled away…. “If I ever see you again… I’ll kill you.” That was the stroke that forced the gears of so-called “justice” to start her grinding. A little over a year later, I was off the grid and in the system.
Jail and prison are two different things, and I don’t think that people really understand that unless they have been there. Jail is for mostly misdemeanors and people who are waiting to go to court or to be shipped off to prison, usually with joy. See, jail is very slow; there really isn’t much to do but watch Jerry Springer and Maury, play spades or poker, and exercise and shower.
When you finally make it to prison, there is a slave labor job to go to, some prisons offer sub-par education and advancement classes, and in general there are more things to do. Oh yeah, there are also tattoos to get, cigarettes to smoke, and all the drugs that your family back home can afford. If I was to be honest, I’d say that is the number one reason people are so excited to leave county and go to state.
I had been in the Bartow County Jail for fourteen total months when I was finally shipped off on the “Blue Bird,” the name of the bus that takes you shackled and chained off to the Diagnostic Center. Its at this point that you no longer have a name, not really. You are your number only from that day forward.
From the moment you get off the bus, the dehumanizing and degradation begins. They form you in lines and force you to work to gain access. Think of that: they have people working a game of yelling and repeating and sir-yes-sir’ing with the prize to be won in some cases being a literal lifetime of imprisonment.
After you finally gain access into the brick and wire castle you are stripped, prodded, washed, counted, shaved, deliced, led around, interrogated, invaded, and IQ tested for the next two weeks until you feel you can’t take it anymore. Why the government needs to know your IQ and blood type is still confusing to me but I think that is for another post.
Georgia’s major diagnostic center for male prisoners is in Jackson, Georgia right off Interstate 75. Just past the beautiful pond stocked with fish, lies a Thunderdome of viscous mayhem that the general public probably wouldn’t believe. I honestly don’t like to talk a lot about what happened there. And no, it probably isn’t what you think. To be honest, rape was a big worry of mine before actually going. While there though, I never even heard of it taking place. The “Sissys” are plenty and everyone is terrified of AIDS.
I will tell you this: I was robbed by six Blood gang members, with the assistance of a prison guard; Following the brutal beating I was given for not surrendering, I was in Spalding Medical for days. It was awful, and I honestly still have dreams about them kicking my face repeatedly into the concrete. I lay there and wondered if someone would stop them or if all of their anger was going to be transferred into me until I went limp. I remember thinking I had no children to remember me, that my family line would end right then and there.
Prison was horrible, and no one cared about my comfort or well being. I truly was a number, and that is the real point of this post. There is a lot of money to be made with people, and I know for sure that they are doing everything they can to maximize their profits. Stacking us three high, to increase profits immediately by 33% probably seemed like a great idea to them. Buying cheaper food probably sounded wise, as did taking out those costly class that they couldn’t want to take anyway.
Because we were only prisoners.
And that is the secret. They call people prisoners instead of people. If they came out and said people it would be different. People deserve pay: Prisoner, not so much. Instead I was forced to sew 500 pairs of boxers a day in my prison sewing camp and my only payment was not being written up and thrown into a cell by myself. They use the mental torture of isolation as a weapon to force you to do things they don’t want to pay for.
I tried to stand up, to say hey this isn’t right. But I quickly found out, there is no justice. There is no fair and balanced punishment. I lasted longer than some, but I soon found I had no voice or rights. Eventually, I kept my head down and they moved me as a favor I guess to a prison with less murders per week. Ah, what a blessing.
I’m only lucky that I was there for three years and not longer. My friend Josh has two lives without the possibility of parole. He told me one time: “What good is fighting. I don’t want to fight uphill my whole time here. I’d rather ride low and never risk strife.” His spirit was broken by the system: they had won, and they usually do.
We have to stop the stigma against felons, against prisoners. We have to start realizing that people wanting to be treated as humans isn’t a bunch of criminals whining because they have to be punished; they are asking for more when they re-enter society to grow off of than thirty-five dollars and a cheap pair of khakis. An education is proven to lower recidivism and that is one of the first things to go in any prison system looking to cut corners.
We can’t sit and complain about prison overpopulation if we aren’t giving them anything to go on and not come back. We can’t ridicule felons if we aren’t going to give those with a drive to do better an opportunity to do so. We can’t fault a man for not working a real job, when laws allow for employers to discriminate and not hire someone before even seeing their qualifications simply because of a charge they got in a split second mistake.
It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.
HOWARD ZINN, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train