Posts Tagged ‘Dystopia’

People in our society often talk about a positive self-image. They say this is most important for mental health. In prison, however, everything militates against a positive self-identity, and I mean everything. Twice a year I dedicated a portion of every class to read  this essay out loud. Sadly, I’m no longer allowed in prison to do that. The essay:

You are Somebody

Let’s get something straight: You are somebody.

Everything in your present life militates against you believing that you are somebody. From the moment of your arrest to the moment of your final release, the system tells you that you are less than a human being.

You hands are cuffed and you are put in a cage to ride to the police station. You will overhear officers referring to you as ‘scum bag,’ ‘ass hole’ and worse. Your possessions and your clothes will be taken from you and you will be given a number. From now on the passive voice will be used to refer to you. You will no longer initiate action on your own. “He was arrested, he was sentenced, he was moved, he was given prison clothes.”

You are given an institutional personage and clothing to match. You are told the rules. You must comply. You must fit in. You must become an institutional man. Your daily schedule will be determined by the authorities, when you eat, when you sleep, even when you piss.

Slowly you lose your identity, the things that make you an individual. You become a case, someone to be treated by prison social workers and shrinks. You will be defined as a sociopath. You’re sick. You will be told to be caring in an institution that doesn’t care for you. You will be taught alternatives to violence by people who have used high levels of violence to keep you there. You will learn a new rule, that your keepers are always right and you are always wrong. You will be expected to bottle up all your normal sexual desires. Most likely your wife will divorce you and your kids will disown you. The quicker you lose your identity and become a slave of the state, the sooner you will get out of prison.

Whenever I go into prison to teach my class, I hear the public address system call for Inmate Jones to go to the infirmary, or Inmate Smith to report to the social worker. In what other institution are people referred to like that? Do we say Student Jones or Patient Jones?

You read the report the caseworker does on you. You don’t even recognize the person on the paper. He’s some evil dude. He’s not you. But the report stays there and the same old tired things keep being said about you, as if there were no hope for change.

Study the walls around you. Put your hand on them. What do they tell you about who you are? You are an animal that must be caged.

No doubt you will be raped. Many inmates are. You will lose this last bit of control over your body.

Study your function in society. You exist so I will feel better about me. Let’s say I have a real nothing of a job. My boss yells at me, my wife and my kids don’t respect me, but one thing I can say – I’m better than those bums in prison.

And you are entertainment. We get to hear the racy details of your crime every night on the TV and then we see you pleading with the judge and then – what a show – you are dragged off to prison. We feel safe knowing that you’re locked up. Alleluia. Evil is in jail.

Television programs like Oz contribute to the negative image of prisoners. You are portrayed as animals who have no morals. These programs like to say ‘they tell it like it is.’ But that’s exactly what they don’t do. They show only the evil side of people and seldom the good.

Prison, which is supposed to make you into a new and better person, has destroyed you. Perhaps Oscar Wilde says it best:

The vilest deeds like poison weeds

Bloom well in prison air:

It is only what is good in man

That wastes and withers there[1]

I call for a revolution and this revolution starts in the human heart. Make no mistake, all change starts in the human heart. Don’t say, “They should do this or they should do that to reform the system.” Don’t say, “It’s the system or the warden or the guards.” It’s you. You have to re-educate yourself.

You are somebody, to quote Jesse Jackson. Let’s look at it from several angles. Who are you? It sounds corny, but maybe you should sit down and write one affirming sentence about yourself every day, e.g. I am somebody.

From an evolutionary point of view, you are another example of the greatest thing going. You are a human being. You are the results of thousands of years of evolution. You have a fantastically complex brain. Given half a chance, you can master complex sciences or paint a new Mona Lisa or write a great novel.

Say it to yourself: I am somebody. Write it on a piece of paper: I am somebody.

People love you. You are an object of love. People care what happens to you. You ARE lovable. You have certain characteristics that are great, things we all strive for. Make a list of those characteristics. Really. Sit down and write out your good points. Your list should have at least 25 items on it. While some may laugh at this technique as self-help inanity, I believe it is necessary, because the prison system has so thoroughly brainwashed convicts the other way.

I am able to think my way through problems

I have a good sense of humor. People laugh at my jokes.

I have loved a woman. Love is always a good thing.

I am interested in …. Being interested in something is great.

And so forth

Read the universal declaration of human rights from the UN. Read each article carefully and then rewrite the article putting your own name in the article. Here are a few of the articles:

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Write: I am a human being. I was born free. I am equal to all others in dignity and rights. I have been endowed with reason and conscience. I should act towards others in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Write: I have the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Write: I should not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Article 20.

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Write: I have a right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Every organized system of belief teaches that you are special. Christianity says that God sent his only son to save you, you the filthy criminal that people said should rot in hell. Jesus said that what people did to the least of the brethren, they did to him. In the view of our society there is nobody more least than you.

Protestants, Catholics and Jews believe that human beings are children of God. God is our loving father/mother. All people are brothers and sisters. My own discipline, the Catholic Church, says that insults to human dignity “… poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.”[2]

Respect for human dignity is at the core of Christianity. Read the Gospel and the Epistles of John.

You were made in the image and likeness of God. Stand up and stand up tall. Did you get that? The image and likeness of God? You, prisoner number 108392.

Of course our society doesn’t believe this. If we did, we wouldn’t treat prisoners the way we do. But as they say, Christianity is a great religion, except that it’s never really been tried.

Islam says that Allah created all that is on Earth and in the Heavens for man. Man sits high above all. For his sake Allah sent prophets and messengers, preachers, carriers of glad tidings to lead people to the truth. Allah says: “Indeed, We have honored the children of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our Creation.” (Al-Isra’ 17:70)

Eastern religions talk about the spark of divinity in all of us. Do you really believe that there is a spark of divinity in you? Call God the Great Spirit or Yahweh or Allah or God, there is a spark of him/her in each of us.

Those who construct systems of philosophy all respect human dignity, from Aristotle to Teilhard de Chardin. Just one example would be Wilhelm von Humboldt who had the deepest respect for human nature and who believed that freedom was the proper environment for this human dignity.

Michel Foucault, the French social critic, has interesting observations on the nature of those in prison. He begins his ideas on prison by wondering why prisons are still around, since they are clearly so unsuccessful at preventing crime. “But perhaps one should reverse the problem and ask oneself what is served by the failure of the prison.”[3]

Foucault claims that the ruling class uses criminality as a way of preventing revolution. His theory is that the dynamic groups of the lower social class are the ones who commit crimes. The establishment fears these people – they are willing to break the rules. The power elites then brand these people and continue to brand them even after they have finished their sentences. The law-breakers become outcasts and therefore powerless. “..prison has succeeded extremely well…in producing delinquents, in an apparently marginal, but in fact centrally supervised milieu. (Prison has succeeded extremely well)… in producing the delinquent as a pathologized subject.[4]

Up close a particular prisoner might seem to be anything but a dynamic member of society, but stepping back, one sees the point of Foucault’s observations.

Victim talk must cease. You are not a victim. You are a proud man, competent, together. You’re in control of your life. You can do things. In the past things beyond your control may have happened to you, but that’s all over. You’re in charge now.

When you realize that you are somebody, that your life is important, that you have work to do while you are in prison, then drugs become less of a problem. Drugs are a way to pass time in prison. Drugs are a response to a terrible existence. Yes, addiction is one hell of a thing to get over, but you can do it. You are somebody.

With the realization that you are somebody, comes the responsibility of being somebody. Prison officials talk about responsibility only in terms of what you have done in the past. Yes, we are all responsible for our past and we have to do what we can to make amends. But often we are very limited in what we can actually do.

It seems to me that the big responsibility is to yourself and to those around you. As to yourself, use your time in prison to develop yourself, your education, your artistic ability, your ability to earn a living. (Here prisons fail you miserably. They won’t pay for good education for you and they train you for jobs that are already out of date.)

We are all responsible for those around us. No one exists in a vacuum. We influence the men around us and they influence us. You are responsible, like it or not, for men you may consider scum-bags. And even harder news is that you are responsible for the guards and the administration. Like it or not, you are where you are and you are part of the system you are in. Make no mistake – you will be no different when you are free. You don’t give a damn now about those around you – you won’t in the future either. So don’t get mad when the report on you uses the word, anti-social.

Prison is a horror movie. Zombies walk from morning work to count and then to lunch and from lunch to afternoon work and then to count. A human being walks the cement corridors. His head is down, his back bent, his spirit lifeless. He moves not with purpose, but to fill time. He’s doing time. He’s being stored in a human-being warehouse. No, it’s worse than that, his soul is being ripped out of him. He’s in dystopia, the opposite of utopia. He’s a modern day Frankenstein, awaiting the jolting message that he is someone.

You are someone. You are someone. You are someone.

[1] Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, pt 5, st 5

[2] Vatican II, The Church and the Modern World, #27

[3] Discipline and Punish, The Birth of the Prison, Foucault, Michel, New York: Random House, 1979, page 272.

[4] Ibid, page 277

Two important notes for today

  1. Inmate Mike Oulton and I wrote a book about prison, called Dystopia. This coming week it will be priced at 99 cents from July 21 to July 25.

The dictionary says that ‘dystopia’is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

 

The book trailer is here: http://youtu.be/crDx4v7jJEU

 

2 Arrest records and Mary Bentley have brought us this information: http://blog.arrestrecords.com/15-surprising-ex-convicts-who-made-it-big/.

15 Surprising Ex-Convicts (Who Made it Big)

This list of former convicts proves that no matter the circumstances, anyone can overcome hurdles to change their lives around and become a success and an influence.

1. Daniel Manville

http://www.legalnews.com/detroit/1283324

Daniel Manville served three years and four months in jail for manslaughter. While he was in jail he studied the legal profession, earning two college degrees. After he got out he went to law school. He passed the bar, representing both prison guards and inmates in civil court cases. He currently teaches law at Michigan State University.

2. Uchendi Nwani

http://www.scoop.it/t/itsyourbiz/p/4007976123/2013/09/20/the-millionaire-ex-convict-uchendi-nwani-on-sunday-show Uchendi Nwani served six and a half months of labor at a federal boot camp for drug dealing, interrupting his college studies. After his stint, he lived in a halfway house and cut hair at the university salon where he resumed studies. He opened his own barber shop and later school after graduation. He shares his success by traveling nationwide, motivating others to follow their dreams even in the midst of adversity.

3. Eugene Brown

http://educationtownhall.org/2014/01/13/chess-and-life/

Eugene Brown served time in a New Jersey prison after a robbery attempt. During his prison stay he met his future mentor, a man named Massey, who taught him how to play chess. Brown realized that chess was a metaphor for life, and later established a chess club that also taught life lessons. Brown became a successful businessman, and in 2014 Cuba Gooding, Jr. will play the starring role in a movie based on his life.

4. Jeff Henderson

http://www.foodnetwork.com/chefs/jeff-henderson.html

Jeff Henderson served ten years for dealing and manufacturing cocaine as a youth. During his time in prison he discovered he liked to cook and spent his days honing this talent. Released for good behavior, he worked as a chef in LA before moving to Las Vegas. He is currently working at Caesar’s Palace, earning top recognition and rewards.

5. Mark “Chopper” Read

http://www.news.com.au/national/what-happened-during-mark-8216chopper8217-read8217s-early-years/story-fncynjr2-1226736503189

Australian Mark Read robbed drug dealers during his earlier years, and was recognizable by his many tattoos and cut-off ears. He served multiple stints in jail for crimes such as attempted abduction of a judge and armed robbery. During his time behind bars he wrote several best-selling crime novels. Eric Bana starred in a movie about his life in 2000.

6. Robert Downey, Jr

http://marvel-movies.wikia.com/wiki/Robert_Downey_Jr.

Robert Downey, Jr has served jail time for multiple drug-related charges (involving heroin, marijuana and cocaine). He also attempted multiple rehabilitation and drug treatment programs. Although he has been candid about his battle with addiction, he has since enjoyed a comeback and starred in several blockbuster films.

7. Tim Allen

http://hollywood.improv.com/event.cfm?id=303620

Before Tim Allen became a famous celebrity, he served two years and four months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minnesota for cocaine possession and drug trafficking. After his stint in prison he turned his life around and became a famous Hollywood actor.

8. Christian Slater

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000225/

Actor Christian Slater suffered some setbacks when he served 59 days in jail after assault on his girlfriend and a police officer. He had been arrested prior to that for drunk driving, boarding a plane with a gun and another episode of assault. After jail and rehab, he was able to successfully turn his career around and enjoy a comeback.

9. 50 Cent

http://thatsenuff.com/index.php/2014/03/50-cent-deads-all-rumors-of-a-realtionship-with-vixen-sally-ferreria-calling-her-a-thirsty-video-b-details/

Before he became a famous rapper, Curtis Jackson III (aka 50 Cent) served a six-month boot camp sentence (instead of his original three-to-nine years) for drug-related charges. While in prison, he earned his GED and was determined to make it as a rapper. His first album was a hit, and he continues to make music along with other business aspirations.

10. Danny Trejo

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001803/

Danny Trejo was in and out of prisons for charges relating to both robbery and drugs. He finally turned his life around and broke free of his addictions. He now plays the tough guy onscreen in many television shows and action films.

11. Frank William Abagnale

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Abagnale

When Frank William Abagnale was only 16 years old he began his career as a conman (pretending to be a doctor, college professor, lawyer and airline pilot), eventually writing $2.5 million in fradulent checks. He went to prison for five years. Since his release, he has cooperated with the government and runs a consulting firm that helps agencies debunk fraud. A movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks was made based on his life story.

12. Junior Johnson

http://espn.go.com/racing/blog/_/name/hinton_ed/id/4913741/daytona-500-grand-marshal-junior-johnson-discovered-draft-accident

Junior Johnson served jail time for smuggling illegal alcohol in North Carolina, back before he became a NASCAR driver. He credits his early transports as training for his later career, where he has won 50 races. A highway in his hometown bears his name.

13. Malcolm X

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X

And remember: Dystopia is on sale for 99 cents July 21 until July 25

http://www.amazon.com/Dystopia-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B005LE97E0/

Once in a while, a man in prison excels at writing. Such a man was Mike. I gave him a few principles of writing and off he went. Soon his talent was as good as mine – no, he was better than me.

Mike and I decided to write a book together. We would call it Inside/Out. He, the insider, would say that prison did do some good for guys, even though there were problems. He would not write boring treatises, rather he would tell the stories of individuals. As for me, the outsider, I would stand against the whole prison system and tell stories of how it had ruined the lives of several people.

I wrote my part of the book and Mike wrote his. We were both finished and ready to put together a book. But something happened. Mike came up for parole, but he was rejected because his roommate had a cellphone. That sounds crazy and impossible, but that’s exactly what happened. The cellphone was on Mike’s side of his two man cell, but everyone knew that it belonged not to Mike, but to the roommate.

Mike got a year and a half more in prison. More programs to take even though he’d already taken them. We taxpayers spent $50,000 keeping him there. He was the poster-person for the fact that prison exists mostly for the sake of the staff and the guards.

Mike decided that he no longer liked what he had written for our book. In effect, he said I was right, that prison helped no one. He scrapped his section and started over and, in my opinion, he did a much better job this time.

As with any book that’s written by more than one person, there’s usually conflict. And so it was with Mike and I. Mike felt bad that his section was longer than mine, much longer. But I argued that I was comfortable with my section. I told my story with as many words as I wanted. If I were to make my section longer, it would clearly go against the rule to ‘cut the fat.’

So we published Dystopia and it’s done well on the market. It’s my story of going to prison and it’s Mike’s. He was arrested in Mexico for smuggling drugs and served two years in a Mexican prison and then eight years in a Canadian prison. Mike’s out now and has been for four years. He’s got a little entertainment business and works as an MC on occasion.

Even the word Dystopia I learned from an inmate, a man who called himself the only Jewish inmate in the whole prison.

Dystopia is a society of human misery, squalor, disease, terror and overcrowding. It is the opposite of Utopia.

FreeThis week, on Wednesday and Thursday, I’m giving away E-book copies of Dystopia. This is a book about prison, about my journey into prison to teach creative writing, and about Mike Oulton’s journey thru prison starting from his arrest in Mexico for smuggling drugs. Mike spent two years in Mexican prisons and eight years in Canadian prisons. You will be surprised to find out which system he liked better.

This book is not a treatise on prison reform – it’s full of stories of the people both of us met in prison. You will see clearly what an American maximum-security prison is like, what happens in a poverty-stricken Mexican prison, and how staff treat inmates in Canadian prisons.Dystopia

A few quotes from Ed and Mike:

“Let no one say I’m soft on crime. I call for a system that demands of criminals real change. Right now convicts don’t have to alter their behavior, they just have to do their time. Boring, but easy. I call for wardens to devise correctional facilities that really correct, that demand socially acceptable behavior and the personality structure to support it.” Ed Griffin

“There’s no such thing as a halfway crook.” Mike Oulton

“I came to prison to cause a revolution and what I found was a friend.”  Ed Griffin

“Writing changed my life and melted the bars around my soul.” Mike Oulton

Even if you don’t have an E-book, you can download this book to your computer and read it there. Here’s the link:

Kindle for PC: Read eBooks on Your Computer – No Kindle Device Required

The Kindle for PC app lets you read eBooks and e-textbooks on your PC. Download the app today to start reading.

P.S.  I had a very enjoyable weekend at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. There was a time in my life when I figured I could stop going to conferences, stop reading books about writing and stop listening to experts talk about writing. I guess I figured I knew it all. How foolish. We all have a lot to learn and learning never stops.

 

Free E-Books

Posted: March 3, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

freeFree for a week. A special promotion. All my E-books are free from one minute after midnight on Sunday, March 4 (Pacific time) to 11:59 PM on Saturday, March 10. Take advantage of this one week (only) offer.

Dystopia and Prisoners of the Williwaw have special meaning for prison reform.

 

 

Once A PriestOnce A Priest, Non-fiction

When Ed wrote about his life, he found a theme. He might have left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1968, but it didn’t leave him. Follow his strange life:

  • from super Catholic
  • to freedom marcher in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King
  • to being removed from a parish
  • to leaving the priesthood
  • to being a 32 year old virgin starting to date
  • to marrying
  • to winning election to city council
  • to marrying and family
  • to owning a business
  • to moving to Canada
  • to teaching writing
  • to teaching in prison
  • to getting cancer
  • to reaching for the beyond

To download this book for free, go to

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/62132

Proceed to click the format you prefer. Then when it asks you for a coupon code, enter RE100

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DystopiaDystopia, the Story of Prison  Non-fiction

By Mike Oulton and Ed Griffin

Today Mike Oulton owns a business and has been out of prison for four years. But this crime-free life was not always so. He was arrested in Mexico for importing drugs and spent two years in Mexican prisons and eight years in Canadian prisons. Which do you think he liked better? You’ll be surprised.

Ed Griffin entered prison to cause a revolution. He figured that if he taught men how to write, they would tell the story of prison and the walls would come tumbling down. That’s not what happened.

To download this book for free, go to

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/69918

Proceed to click the format you prefer. Then when it asks you for a coupon code, enter RE100

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Veto   Novel

VetoWhat would happen if a woman became Secretary General of the United Nations and tried to turn this worn-out, feeble organization into a player on the world scene?

To download this book for free, go to

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/99279

Proceed to click the format you prefer. Then when it asks you for a coupon code, enter RE100

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Prisoners of the Williwaw   Novel

Prisoners of the WilliwawWhat would happen if three hundred hardened convicts petitioned the United States Government for an abandoned island where they would be set free to earn their own way?

Overwhelmed by prison budgets and prison riots, the government agrees and sets the prisoners free on windswept, treeless Adak in the Aleutians, the site of a former ‘hard duty’ Navy station.  They let their families accompany them.

To download this book for free, go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/99279

Proceed to click the format you prefer. Then when it asks you for a coupon code, enter RE100free

 

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