Posts Tagged ‘death’

At a prison I taught at, there was an old man, call him Mr. Carter. Every morning as I came into the prison he pushed a broom along the walkway. The way he walked I knew he was older – I should know, I’m a month short of 77.

One day I got talking with him. He told me he was nearing the end of a ten year bit, and they transferred him to a minimum prison. His only daughter called him and told him she was about to have a very serious operation the next day. Mr. Carter walked out of the prison the next morning and walked to the nearest city where he could catch a bus. But as he walked, he realized he’d made a mistake, so he turned around and walked back to the prison.

Did they thank him for returning? Did they take him to the hospital to see his daughter? Did they warn him not to do it again? None of those things. They added time to his sentence for escaping.

I think Mr. Carter could have made a case that he was worried and confused and should receive no punishment.

aging in prison    I’m wandering off the subject I want to talk about – the aging in prison. I think about myself – dependent on my family doctor and on prostate cancer specialists. Old people need doctors, but medical care in prisons is very second rate. Another inmate I know has to wait months to see a specialist. This is health care build on cost and on the availability of guards to take an inmate to a doctor.

I received an excellent website from a group in the States. It’s called Aging Behind Aging in PrisonBars. I wanted to bring some of their data over to my website, but my technology failed me. Please take a look at their website. If clicking it doesn’t work, paste it into your browser.


I don’t know what I can do about this problem. Any suggestions?

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Judge gavelThere is some fine print when someone is sentenced to prison. The judge may say, “I sentence you to X number of years, but the fine print says:

You are also sentenced to:

  • The real possibility of death. That’s not what the judge said, but the odds are high.
  • Homosexual rape
  • Poor medical care – prison officials choose the least expensive medical care
  • High odds to be knifed, to be the accidental victim of violence.
  • Of losing your self-esteem
  • Of divorce
  • Of becoming institutionalized.scream
  • If you need to get your high school diploma, be prepared for low pay teachers. Some are excellent, despite this, but many are incompetent.
  • You are also sentenced to being wrong in every situation. The guards and the staff are ALWAYS right and you are ALWAYS wrong.
  • You leave democracy when you leave the courtroom. There is no democracy in prison. It’s a dictatorship.
  • You are sentenced to miss family events, even the death of a parent.
  • You are not even able to practice the principles of restorative justice. How can you repay money to someone on $6.00 a day? How can you restore the community to health when you’re locked up?
  • You are sentenced to do time. Not to change yourself. Not to repair the harm done. Just to do time. How stupid.

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A few years ago two creative men stirred my creative writing class in prison with idea after idea. They came up with creative writing projects, with proposals to the prison administration, and even with ideas for TV shows.Creative People

They were good friends not only in the classroom but in the gym and in sports. Jack was the boxer and the storyteller, while Andrew was the humorist. Andrew didn’t have the physique Jack had, but he tried hard. (not their real names)

One night Jack heard a disturbance in the cell next to his. He got up and saw three men beating up Andrew. Jack broke up the fight.

Prison officials followed usual procedure and put everyone in segregation until they could figure out what had happened. It turned out that Andrew had made enemies in the prison, reason unknown, but some suspected that his success in criminal ventures had stirred jealousy.

Jack was released from segregation the next day. Andrew was moved to the federal prison set aside for those who needed protective custody.

Officials scheduled release for the two men at roughly the same time, but Andrew got out first. I met him for coffee and we talked. I knew he was headed back into crime and I argued and pleaded with him. A few weeks later we were to meet again for coffee. He stood me up and I knew my influence was over.

Jack got out almost a year later. He was a changed man, but he said it was the writing that had helped him, more than the prison. That, and our friendship, for he and I had become good friends. While he was in prison, we wrote a book together.

We met for coffee when he was released. He told me that Andrew had set aside a gift for him in the tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, I opposed him accepting it, but Jack already had reservations about it. He knew the money came from crime and accepting it meant he would join his old friend in new criminal ventures.

Jack turned the money down. He struggled for a few years, but has now built a little entertainment company. He works hard, but he’s happy.

Andrew did well in crime. He made a lot of money in drugs and in financial crimes. He had a child with a young woman Engagement Partyand he’d planned an invitation-only engagement party in a downtown restaurant. Guests started arriving for the evening event. A friend drove Andrew and his fiancé there, but as they neared the restaurant, a volley of bullets slammed into the car, killing Andrew, but sparing his partner.

I planned to attend the funeral and I asked Jack if he’d like to come with me.

“I’m so bleeping mad at Andrew. A creative guy, gunned down and it’s his own bleeping fault. No, Ed, I can’t go. It will be a gang event and I want no part of it.”

He was right. The pallbearers looked like the muscle from a gang and the usual undercover police stood outside the Pall bearerscemetery taking pictures of who was there.

Every time I drive by the cemetery, my heart aches for Andrew. I guess I should be mad at the prison system for failing to change him over his seven-year sentence, but I’m just sad. Creativity is buried there, innovative ideas in business or the arts, dead in a gangland shooting. How sad.


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judgeA judge renders a sentence… “You will serve ten years…etc.  or a longer or a lesser sentence. In many cases, the judge will set parole conditions.

But there are many things the judge does NOT sentence the person to:

 Getting Hepatitis A, B, or C from the dirt and lack of good sanitation in many prisons.

 Getting stabbed or beat up for being the wrong race or religion or sexuality. Getting raped.

 The inmate’s wife or husband suffers as well and the judge never mentions them. There’s an old saying that suffering womanthe man gets the sentence and the woman lives it.

 The judge also never mentions the effect on the inmate’s children. Or the very real divoricepossibility that the inmate will be divorced.

 Let’s say a man gets ten years. The judge doesn’t give the man the death sentence, but prisons often see that happen. Recently prison officials put a deranged killer in with an ordinary inmate. The inmate begged the officials to get him a different roommate. No luck. The result? The inmate was killed.

 The judge does not say, “Learn more crime.” But that’s exactly what happens.

 The judge wants the person to change, to become a good member of society. Prison staff want that, the guards want that. But it doesn’t happen. Half of the inmates will return to prison with new charges. Half. And many men and women end up believing what prison has taught them without meaning to – that they are worthless, dangerous, bad people. People live up to our expectations. Assume they are bad people, and they will be.

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