23 November 2017

I'm Not In Prison... A Thanksgiving Meditation

Image result for alternatives to violence projectI spent last weekend at the pen, doing another Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop.  This time we were training inside facilitators, which we do every two years or so.  These are inmates who have done basic and advanced workshops, and have shown themselves to be really good at walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  These are guys who have gone a long time without being written up or put in the SHU, who know how to and do defuse situations on the ground, and want to be a part of spreading the word to others.  Without them, we couldn't do AVP.  (NOTE:  Check us out on Facebook!)  We outside facilitators need their help in all sorts of ways, and I can't say enough good stuff about them or give enough thanks for their help.

Meanwhile, I'm so glad I'm not in prison.  It's one of the things for which I am truly thankful.  And I don't take it for granted.  There's a long, long, long list of things which will send you to prison and I know very few people who have done none of them.  And it can happen so fast...  I've seen guys in the pen who are absolutely shell-shocked because suddenly they are there, and they almost don't know what's happened.  (Some, who are mentally disabled, really don't know what's happened.)

Image result for prison v. nursing homeMeanwhile, this meme - the one on the right - has been going around the internet for a long, long time, comparing prison (favorably) to nursing homes.  And I've refuted it every time I see it, and will continue to do so.  One version of it starts "Let's put Grandma in prison", to which I always respond, you must really hate your Grandma.  And then I explain why this meme is absolutely, one hundred percent false.  Not to mention pretty damn hateful...

So, let's compare apples to oranges, prisons to nursing homes:

Yes, prisoners get a shower every day - it's to prevent lice, mites, and scabies.  It's a health measure, not for their pleasure.  Believe me, a lot of prisoners would just as soon not take showers, because they don't want to be in a large group of naked men, some of whom are hostile, and - what with steam, slippery tile, soap, etc. - it's a place where rape and other assaults can happen.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  In a nursing home, they do get a bath or shower every day, but in private.)

Image result for prison cell usa toilet in front
Prison cell
Yes, there is 24/7 video surveillance.  That's for security.  Yes, the lights don't go off at 7 PM in the pen - they don't go off at all.  That's for security.  The average prison cell is 6 x 8 feet, and (except for lifers) it's shared by two inmates, and the toilet is open, right in the front, by the door, so that literally everyone can see them doing their business.  That's for security, too.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  The average nursing home room is at least six times that size, and the toilet is in a private bathroom with a door.  And no, the lights are NOT turned off in a nursing home at 7:00 PM.)

Yes, there are three meals a day.  They're awful.  I know, I've eaten a lot of them.  (We don't go out for meals during a weekend workshop.)  They get no fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, or red meat.  (The exceptions:  once a day they get canned corn or canned green beans or lettuce or raw carrots.)  There are a lot of carbs, which is why, even if you don't have diabetes before you go into the pen, there's a good chance you'll develop it before you go.  (Nationally, 21% of inmates have diabetes.)  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  I've eaten many a meal in assisted living centers, while visiting my parents, God rest their souls, and they weren't cold, except the salads, and they were pretty good.)

Yes, prisoners are allowed to have a TV - if they can afford it.  (No, they're not free.)  This is also a security measure, believe it or not.  Unless they have a job (and as many as half the prisoners don't), they're locked down, in their 6x8 cell 23/24.  Lately, they're also being given tablets (provided for free by private corporations, and not on the taxpayers' dime), which allow them to make telephone calls from their cells (using earbuds), listen to music, and access the digital law library.
(NOTE:  The digital law library has caused some prisons to quit having a paralegal on staff to explain the law to the inmates, which is sort of like providing a medical library and firing the doctors.)  Working or not, inmates are only allowed 1 hour for recreation (rec).  Depending on staffing levels, or climate, even rec is cancelled.  Inside rec is in the gym, which does come equipped with basketball hoops and weight equipment.  (Personally, I want them to burn off their energy somewhere....)

Prison tiers, SDSP
When the weather is nice and staffing levels are good, rec is outside, where inmates can play baseball and walk / jog around the track.  But, as soon as the temperature goes below 50, all rec is indoors, because the inmates - for security reasons - aren't given coats unless they have a specific job outside.  So, here in South Dakota, that generally means that for six months out of the year, inmates don't get to go outside, at all.  And because of the configuration of cell blocks, most cells don't have windows; and where there are windows, they're covered with iron mesh, which means that inmates don't even get to see the sun for six months out of the year.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Now let's talk about medication.  Most prisoners are now given Vitamin B and D supplements, because of the lack of sunlight, the food, and the constant fluorescent lighting.  Yes, there's generally a paramedic and a nurse on duty 24/7 at a prison.  Yes, there is free prescription medication, and if you really want people with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses to go without medication in an over-crowded environment of people who are stuck there for years for criminal behavior, well...  that one's beyond me...

But notice I said prescribed medication.  You have to get that prescription, and getting it can take a while.  First you have to get an appointment to see the doctor, which takes a while.  Diagnosis takes a while.  And the medications are given out on the prison time schedule, not the prisoners.  Diabetics don't get to check their blood sugar and medicate accordingly.  They get their insulin at the scheduled time.  Period.  Inmates on chemo get to ride out the side effects in their 6x8 cell, without any special diet or help.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Image result for elderly in prisonA lot of prisoners are elderly.  You get 20, 30, 40, 50 years or life, you're going to grow old in prison.  Eventually, elderly and disabled prisoners are allowed knee braces, walkers, and eventually even wheelchairs.  Those who are in wheelchairs are often assigned a pusher, which in this case is an inmate who will push them to where they want to go.  But they're not given any special help in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, up and down the stairs, to and from the chow hall, the medication line, etc., until they're actually at the hospice stage.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

All I can say, is that if your elderly loved ones are in a nursing home that does what the meme says, you have put them in the wrong nursing home.  (That or you really do hate them.)  Get them out.  Immediately.  Here are the official Nursing Home Care Standards:  find some place that follows them!

Meanwhile, I hope that reading this has made us all truly thankful for the things we have:  a home, with a private bathroom, a soft bed with comforters and pillows, weather-appropriate clothing, the ability to go outside whenever we want, do what we want, eat whatever we want.  The simple fact that I can actually turn the lights on and off is wonderful.  The fact that I can have a Thanksgiving Dinner with friends, loaded with good food...  it's fantastic.  I am truly, truly, truly, thankful.


  1. A timely reminder, especially now, and good information about the AVP- I did check the website. We do all have much to be thankful for; one needs only turn on the TV.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thank you Eve. I'm very grateful for what I have. Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours.

  3. Wow. Definitely thankful I'm not in prison. And happy Thanksgiving to you.

  4. Excellent refutation, Eve, especially on Thanksgiving Day.

    I met the Chief Prison Librarian for Central Florida. Florida's punitive legislature had cut back library content to the point that it was little more than could be found in elementary schools. The Florida Legislature had determined the corporate prison rĂ´le was to punish, not to rehabilitate. Committees went to great lengths to ban mention or depictions of sex and even romance. The vast majority of skill training books were banned. Why? Woodworking books were banned because escaped prisoners might use that skill to survive on the outside. Gardening was banned for the same reason. Cookery banned, same reason. Tailoring banned, leather-working banned, engine repair banned, computer skills banned… etc, etc, etc. Freed Florida prisoners often find they have no legitimate skills to make a living.

    The Orange County Jail's rooftop exercise square and basketball court was visible from Interstate 4. Outraged politicians complained jailbirds were being given fun and recreation. They successfully demanded the basketball goals and exercise facility be torn down. Now, prisoners, the majority who haven't been convicted of anything, can merely peer through chain-link fencing. Funny thing… court employees have their own health club and we pay for it.

    As for food… Some small Southern counties got the brilliant idea of paying the local sheriff or jail administrator a bonus for for operating a facility under budget. It didn't take long for sheriffs to figure out they could line their pockets at the expense of the incarcerated. The most common savings came in the form of discarded foods… bread with mildew, vegetables with mold, rotting potatoes, long out of date foodstuff. Many of those jails make 'prison loaf' (grind everything including Kool-Aid together), to disguise it. The public attitude: those in lockup deserve it.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Eve.

  5. Thanks, Janice, Elizabeth, Barb, Leigh.
    Leigh, the idea of punishment not rehabilitation has caught on big time all around the country. And the amazing ability of the public to buy into it is frightening, considering that (1) 90% of prisoners are going to get out, and be part of society again, so maybe training and treatment would be a good thing and (2) the fact 1 out of every 200 people in this country is or has been in jail or prison, which should be a not-so-gentle reminder that it could be their turn next. Or that this may not be how they want their son or grandson or grandfather to be treated. Instead, when I speak somewhere about AVP and other prison programs, the first question I often get is, "Well, don't you think that if their parents had only disciplined them better they wouldn't be there?" No. Most inmates have been "disciplined" almost to death by abusive parents. More discipline isn't the answer. Treating them like human beings is.

  6. Eve, I've been in the South Dakota State pen up on the hill, Leavenworth, Lansing (Kansas State Pen), a couple in Florence & Denver, CO, and even the federal medical pen in Springfield, MO. Even with all the lights on, they are dim and dreary. I was glad I was only there to interview those who were incarcerated, and not to stay myself. To some extent, those who work in those institutions are in prisons themselves for five days a week. Don't know how they do it.

    After my dad retired and took up part time preaching, he taught electrical engineering classes in the Huntsville Texas prison in a program similar to yours. Somehow, I never did get around to asking him if he'd met any of my previous defendants.

    Keep up the good work.


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