A Prisoners Tale of Prison
A Prisoners Tale of Prison
A prison is a penal institution administered by the state or federal government. It is a place for the confinement of persons convicted of criminal offenses and is therefore part of a larger penal system, which includes other aspects of criminal justice such as courts, law enforcement, and crime labs. Nevertheless, many people are critical of the US’s prison system the idea of locking up those who commit crimes against a society simply to keep them from doing harm.
Many say that more rehabilitation is necessary to improve these individuals and, therefore, society as a whole. Although there are many aspects in regards to prison life, I plan to discuss what it is like to be an inmate in the California prison system. There are many prisons in the state of California. The most popular prison in California is San Quentin State Prison. San Quentin is a maximum level prison; with a current population of 5967 inmates. San Quentin holds a wide variety of inmates. These inmates are repeated criminals, murders, or gangs members. There are numerous gangs in San Quentin.
The list of gangs are Black Guerrilla Family, Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia (La Eme), Texas Syndicate, La Nuestra Familia, Asian Tong, Mongols, Varrio Sureno Locos, Hells Angels, 18th Street, Nazi Low Riders, Two Two Boys, Crips (Westside 18 GIB). Those are just to name a few gangs that are in San Quentin. San Quentin is a state prison that has a Death Row. They have two options for death row personnel lethal injection or lethal gas. San Quentin is famous for housing some of the most ruthless, dangerous criminals, such as Robert Walter Scully, Stanley "Tookie" Williams (San Quentin Prison, 2006).
Prison life is not a normal life. You are always incarcerated with other inmates. Once you are brought to prison you are processed and screened. You are checked for any weapons, narcotics and any other dangerous materials. Once you are “stripped searched”, you are then screened according to your history of violence, in other words whether or not you were a gang member you will be housed in accordance to your background (criminal offenses). A prime example is if you have gang-affiliated background you will be placed in a gang section.
Another example is that of San Quentin, all new inmates are processed and placed in their section and headed to what is called West Block. It is the area where new inmates go and are housed in their cells. The blocks so to speak are five tier buildings that can house up to two or three inmates at one time. In prison you are being watched every minute. While in prison you have recreation time, which is time outside to walk, lift weights, and exercise. When it dinner time you are brought one tier at a time.
San Quentin has solitary confinement, which is no communication with outside or other inmates. They call this the “hole”. San Quentin is an old prison that is still active today. The difference between San Quentin and modern day prisons is San Quentin is one of the oldest prisons today. They have very minimal technology for this prison (Inside San Quentin, 2005). All cells are to be unlocked one by one and opened simultaneously by a handle. Each prison has programs to rehabilitate an inmate that is trying to change. Such rehab programs are workshop related, on job training.
Some programs give prisoners a job working with the prison staff doing minor upgrades and fixing minor repairs. These programs are to help an inmate get back on their feet and adjust to society. For example, San Quentin has The San Quentin Drama Workshop (Berton, 2008); San Quentin SQUIRES (San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies) program, which is a program that began in 1964; it is reported to be the oldest juvenile awareness program in the United States. It involves inmates at the prison interacting with troubled youths for the purpose of deterring them from crime.
Another great rehabilitation method is the on-site college degree-granting program. It’s a program to help inmate attain a degree. Currently San Quentin is the only prison in the State of California who is authorized for this program; The California Reentry Program at San Quentin, begun in 2003, helps inmates re-enter society after they serve their sentences (Moody, 2007). Although there are many perceptions as to what life is like in prison; I conducted an interview with an ex-convict who served time for Manufacturing of Methamphetamine.
He explained to me what his experience was like in prison, which gave me a better understanding of prisoners life behind bars as well as the opportunities that are offered to them. He further more explained, that while in prison it’s a completely different environment, you are always being watched. You are in your cell 23 hours a day. You will shower when you are told to shower, eat when you are told to eat and have yard time when you are told to. He also stated that being in prison is a constant fight for respect. In prison there are rules, these rules are “prison rules”.
Once you are waiting to be processed, someone is assigned to you to induct you into the prison world. Mainly the dos and don’ts of prison life and the rules that is associated with prison. The person that inducts you is of your own race. Some of the rules that are forced up on you are that you must only associate with your own race, eat with your own race, and communicate with your own race. You can still say hello to another race, but you can hold a conversation with any other race but your own. Even though these rules are hard to understand in society, that is the only way you can stay alive and have no problems in prison.
While in prison there is a steady routine that is to be followed at all times. Every day at 530am all prisoners are awaken and are to be ready for breakfast. When it is breakfast, lunch or dinner each tier rotates on a weekly basis, meaning one week it will be tier 1, next, tier 2, and so on. After breakfast you are allowed to have “yard time” during your yard time you will be able to have time to walk around the yard, work out, tend to your job and or attend school. During yard time you will see every race segregated. Each race will have a section of yard to themselves.
In that area you are always being watched. There are lookouts in every race, and or gang that is looking out for everyone’s back. Do not be fooled even though there are guards watching everyone, each race/gang has weapons readily available. No matter where you are you always have someone watching you back. When you are in prison, you are always to have your back to wall, always be aware of your surroundings, and always keep your head up. You will never know when you will be victim of foul play or just collateral damage.
What I found interesting while conducting this interview, I found that there is a point system for every inmate. For example, the point system is based on what crime you committed, and if you have any history with the criminals justice system. This what is called processing. Once you’re are processed you are giving so many points. These points put you at a certain criteria, meaning when its yard time you will be given so many hours for yard time. Most inmates have an average of 25 points, which allows them to have open yard privileges, and longer hours.
When you cause trouble in prison your points go up and you will loose privileges such as yard time, and the ability to hold a job and or special privileges. During the interview, he also stated that jobs and rehab programs are not given to you upon your request. It all comes down to waiting. You have to wait for your time to come to either get a job and or join a rehabilitation program. Keep in mind when your time comes up you will have the opportunity to work and join rehabilitation programs, but if you deny that opportunity you will have lost that opportunity and you will have to wait until your time again.
When you have the opportunity in getting a job you are very little options, such jobs are furniture making, laundry, kitchen duties, and porters. When you have a job you work so many hours a day. The pay is minimum for example back in the day when this person was in prison he was getting paying 17-20 cents an hour. You may think all those years and money adds up , which means you may have a lot of money. That is not the case, when an inmate gets paid they have deductions that come out of that pay. All in all an inmate will only receive 20 percent pay from their jobs.
Their deductions are as follows, 20 percent going to victims of violent crimes; 20 percent goes to room and board; 20 percent restitution; 20 percent they make you save. Overall, you only receive 20 percent, which in total is about $200. 00 dollars once you are released. My last part of the interview was in regards to after completion of time severed; what happens to you then? This question was crucial in my interview because I wanted to see what answers this person provided. Articles state that we send prisoners to jobs and they start their life over from there.
He stated that once he was released from prison he was given 200 dollars and sent on his way. Luckily for him since he had a charge dealing with drugs, he was ordered to attend substance abuse program. After completion of substance abuse program, he was also ordered to stay in a half way house. While in that half way house he was on parole for 3 years. While there he had to find himself a job, help clean the house, and attend his parole meetings and he was subject to random inspections, and random urinalysis exams. While being on parole for 3 years, it was his responsibility to find himself a job.
While my interviewee was explaining his struggles in finding a job, it was brought to my attention that even though we have prisoners in prison for crimes they committed that it is very difficult for them to find a job even if they went to treatment and was on parole and showed progress that they can be trusted. These programs that we have implemented for prisoners to rehabilitate themselves really doesn’t work in my eyes because we are sending criminals out with very little money and no guidance for them to find a job or to get back on their feet.
The question that lies on my mind is, do these programs really work? Me honestly they do not, because these programs are not holding their part in helping a person find a job. We (society) is sending out criminals who have done their time and displayed themselves to society that they can be trusted and what do we give them a pat on the back and say goodbye. What kind of message are we sending for future criminals especially juveniles that are seeking advice to better themselves?
I feel that if they are bettering themselves, display remorse, and paid all debts to society then we should help them find a job and be part of society. It took my interviewee about 2 years to find a job and get stable again. Even with his criminal record he was able to find a job. Granted with his criminal record he was not able to get certain jobs, but he was able to find one. Even with his rehabilitation programs, classes, and good parole standings he was denied jobs even the most less paying jobs all because of his criminal record.
Granted a criminal record does hinder your options for job but he still did his time and parole and paid his debts at least the programs could have lead him the direction to find a job and provide referrals on his behalf stating that he was an upstanding citizen and was able to hold a steady job. I personally feel that we need to revamp our programs and be not judgmental on criminals who are released from prison. To conclude, there are many aspects in regards to prison life. As a whole life in prison bring forth negativity and anger and helps reinforce criminal mindsets instead of rehabilitating them.
Therefore, I think the use of alternative sentencing would be effective in seeing which offenders are repeaters before being exposed to prison. I furthermore believe that the existence of a prison is based on the need to remove so-called menaces to society from the public. To keep them in the care of the state and under a restrained environment for a certain amount of time, which varies depending upon the circumstances of their confinement? To quote my interviewee, “Once was enough”. References Insideprison (2006). San Quentin Prison, Retrieved June 7, 2010 from http://www. insideprison. com/San-Quentin-State-Prison. sp MSNBC Special (2006), Inside San Quentin, Retrieved on June 7, 2010 from http://www. msnbc. msn. com/id/6890776 Berton, J. , (2008), When ‘Waiting for Godot’ played San Quentin, retrieved on June 07, 2010, from http://www. sfgate. com/cgi-bin/article. cgi? f=/c/a/2008/12/22/DDME14SN4R. DTL City Youth Now (2010), S. Q. U. I. R. E. S, retrieved June 07, 2010, from http://www. cityyouthnow. org/programs/squires Moody, S. , (2007) California Reentry Program gives ex-cons a second chance, retrieved June 07. 2010 from http://www. sfgate. com/cgi-bin/article. cgi? f=/c/a/2007/12/09/LV92TOP61. DTL