Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A small thing

Recently, someone close to me went to prison.

Of course there's a part of me that realizes he deserves some kind of punishment for his crime, but because I care about him, I wish it didn't have to be this way.

It's so easy for probably most of us to think "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to prisoners. I mean, certainly, if they have wronged another human being or broken a law, there is a price to pay.

Still, we're talking about a human being, locked away in confinement with very few rights if any, day after day after day. Despite it being justified in many ways, I still feel so very sorry for him. It's painful and sad to imagine what his days must be like, being away from his family with nothing to do but think about what he did wrong.

I would hope that because of this time, it would make him think twice about every decision he makes in the future after he gets out. But will it really? Will it "cure" the disease that took him down this path in the first place? Probably not. And that for me is where prison feels like it fails. It seems most of the time it's just a matter of alienating criminals from society, but doesn't often take steps to help guide those people in the right direction after they're released so they don't end up back there again.

I don't think every person in prison is an evil person. I bet a lot are people who are dealing with a lot more issues and ended up making bad decisions based on feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and despair. Feelings we've all felt, but have been better equipped to deal with than these individuals, for whatever combination of reasons and circumstances.

So why am I writing this? Without sounding like I in any way defend criminal behavior, I simply care about this person and think about him a lot. What can I do to help him? Probably not much. But I decided today to write him a letter as often as I can. I haven't decided yet what to write about. Without judging, giving advice or making him feel worse by telling him things he's missing out on, I just want to reach out to him so he knows that even though he may feel alone in there, there are people out here besides his mom, sister and brother who want him to have a good life.

Until he gets his freedom back, I hope I can remind him of that and help him through this in this small way.


  1. As you might remember my brother went to prison for a crime he wasn't completely guilty of, nonetheless he served 3 years. The things we take for granted every day are things they miss. I hope you can help him. I know standing by my brother seemed wrong to the person who felt wronged by him but he is my brother and I'll stand by him always. He is appreciative and so far ... so good. I'll keep your friend in my prayers

  2. I don't think there's anything wrong with caring about someone in prison. As for what to talk about in your letters, just tell him what's going on in the outside world and with you. And ask how he's doing.


  3. the problem is that many people in jail (not necessarily the person youre talking about) that commit (serial, not one-time) crimes are the type of people that doesn't care about other people (antisocial) and doesn't care about the consequences of their actions. In most cases, no amount of therapy or medication can fix that. Very few truly antisocial people ever get better. They also usually have dual diagnosis (drug addiction, alcohol addiction, bipolar etc) that compounds the problem.

    Jail is in most cases the best some of these people can do. And while I'd wish jail on no one I know, it is cushy here compared to many other countries. Its not a good place, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.

    Thanks for talking about this topic though. Its not something people really think about much. I deal with some of the prison population in my line of work; the ones I've seen most definitely belong behind bars, even though mental illness is the main issue.

  4. I think that for a lot of the people who end up in jail, the reasons they made bad choices were out of lack of resources in the first place. Not all of them, obviously, but for especially the more minor crimes, definitely. Jail then ends up becoming a safe place where they can learn the hierarchy, have a guaranteed meal and shelter, and you're right, it doesn't teach them a damn thing about functioning in the real world. In fact, many times it teaches them that a structured world where they can survive is only available through crime. So frustrating.

  5. I am sorry to hear about this. I think most people would never write about this sort of an issue because it is so far removed from their everyday lives. But when it hits so close it does make you think about why our system is like it is and what we can do to prevent crimes and send less people to jail, especially in times of economic hardship.

  6. I think going to prison has to be one of the scariest things a person could go through, especially if they are innocent or if their act was just one out of helplessness or hopelessness (in other words, not a serial offender). I agree with you that the prison system fails when it comes to educating and helping prisoners cope with the real world. Some of them stay in for so long that they don't remember what to do in the real world, so they commit more crimes just to get sent back to that security. It's sad.

    I hope you are able to help your friend with his time in prison. I get what you mean about not wanting to make him feel bad about what he's missing out on. Maybe you could ask him what he wants from you? How long will he be in for, or would you rather not say?