Academia inside Prison Walls

As criminal justice students, we often have few opportunities to read work by prisoners or ever hear what prisoners have to say about prison. What we are exposed to, however, are scholarly articles, written by academics, maybe with a little input from prisoners themselves but information gathered mostly from statistics and other quantitative research. I guess I speak for my fellow Criminal Justice students when I say that it is refreshing to hear what inmates themselves have to say, and not graduate students who have never experienced prison themselves, either through reading Stateville Speaks articles or perusing the work of Joe Dole, a current inmate who has conducted very in-depth research on the topic of recidivism.

When Joe’s research was handed to me last week in class, I (ashamedly) did not expect a high quality of work from an inmate. I was astounded. Joe’s work is very well written, cited properly, and uses reliable sources. Like a scholarly work, Joe utilized statistical information and existing qualitative research to support his argument. I am ashamed that I held certain presumptions before really looking at his work. I was under the assumption that I should not expect too much quality from his work as, from learning in my CJ courses, many inmates come from low-income areas, and often did not have access to good education. Not only does Dole make an argument to increase lifers’ access to parole, but he provides solutions to the problems of recidivism, and uses the information he compiled to create profiles of recidivists.

Though the research is quality work, I doubt that his paper will make its way into the classrooms and be regarded as “scholarly work.” I even wonder if correctional experts or sentencing panels would consult the research of a prisoner in their decision making. Nevertheless, I find it unfortunate that the work of Joe Dole and others like him goes unheard, despite the value in their first-hand experience of life behind bars.

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Reaction to Tamms Letters

Regarding the letters from the prisoners, I was extremely surprised as to how well some of them could write. Specifically, the way they formatted, structured, and used intelligent vocabulary to express their feelings and concerns. Like many people, initially stereotyping criminals as uneducated and simpleminded, I enjoyed reading the letters because it was truly the complete opposite of what I had originally thought Continue reading

I had never cut myself

Since I arrived at Tamms things have changed dramatically for me. Before I came to Tamms I had never cut myself but after coming to Tamms I started cutting on myself was placed in restraints numerous times was placed on psychotropic medication both voluntary and involuntary which I had never taken before coming to Tamms, as for relations with my family they were okay until my mother passed away in January of 2002 and my communication with others in my family went non-existent after that. I have stopped looking forward to positive things because it’s like nothing positive ever happens to me. I no longer look forward to leaving Tamms until my release even though I no longer get into trouble.
—name withheld for fear of retaliation, in Tamms supermax prison since 2000

tired boxer’s head

Since being at Tamms, I suffer symptoms of depression, frustration, paranoia, mental anguish, sleep disorder, deterioration of my physical health, general mental torture… These symptoms are made worse when the administration uses mentally ill prisoners as tools, or as torture device to either drive otherwise normal prisoners over the edge…the mentally ill prisoners drive the normal prisoners crazy by screaming, crying, yelling into the pod at all hours of the day and night for days non-stop, by banging on toilets, doors, walls, and/or by shaking or kicking the doors so hard that it sounds like rumbling thunder, flooding the wing with toilet water, and by throwing feces at other prisoners or inserting feces into the air vents so that the whole wing receives a dose of the smell for months. The actions of the mentally ill prisoners gives the guards an excuse to enter the pods and use tear gas….The constant bombardment of unrelenting stress takes its toll like flurry of well-placed punches on a tired boxer’s head… How long can I be expected to maintain my own mental health, when I am forced to live in an insane environment, surrounded by unbalanced people, in inhumane conditions?
—Anibal Santiago (in Tamms supermax prison since 1998)

this knowledge overwhelms us

This facility functions more as a mental institution than a prison of rehabilitation and it serves no penalogical purpose other than to warehouse prisoners. As the duration of our isolation drags on and the degree of our conditions of confinement deteriorate you begin to see the psychological effect that this place has on us. We know that we will spend all day in these cells with absolutely nothing constructive to do with our time and we do not know if we will ever leave here. This knowledge overwhelms many of us and it leads many of us to insanity, causing attempted suicide, suicide, body mutilation, hanging, eating and throwing feces, and other extreme acts.
—Joe Louis Young (in Tamms supermax since 2004)

Essay #1

Essay #1 (posted 3/5/2008)
I begin in reflecting back to when I was a child, captivated by the lifestyle of the glamorous older guys before me, who held down the corners. Their lifestyle of selling drugs, having the cars, money, nice clothes and the respect of both men and women grasp my attention, creating within me the desire to have it. Therefore, I told myself, I want that, I must go after it. Thus, taking the necessary actions to become the reflection of my surroundings. Lost, without identity of self, I sought to reflect their identity, having no knowledge of the value of my own life, I took risks. Caught in becoming a reflection of those before me to the point, I lost being me, only to settle for becoming a copy. Groomed to honor the Code of the Streets, and yet dishonor; my parents, which led me down the pathway of learning the hard way. Selling drugs, banging, being what was defined as cool and Continue reading