There are many factors that determine how we turn out as adults. Some of those factors include our upbringing, the people we interact with, the quality of our environment, and so forth. We all know someone who has lived a privileged life in all of these areas and have turned down the wrong road somehow. Why is that? Because life can just be flat out hard.
We live through moments that can be so hard to endure, that some don’t think they have the strength to unless they turn to drugs, theft, or harming someone else for their own benefit. I won’t lie, when my grandfather passed, it was during a very stressful time in my life and had thoughts of finding ways to numb the pain. But I didn’t, because I had support and care, the most healing and beneficial medicine there is. Not everyone has that luxury, and that is the most disheartening.
While it may be wrong to do criminal acts to escape reality or an effort to make a living, locking those individuals up from the world for months or years at a time will more likely keep them in a dark place to repeat their actions – because most likely, most of these human beings (I say that, because it is often forgotten that they are human) do not have someone who will listen and effectively help them.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, studies have found high rates of recidivism, meaning the repetition of criminal behavior, among released prisoners. There were 404,638 prisoners in 30 states whom were tracked in a 2005 study that revealed within three years of release, over 67 percent were rearrested.
Over 67 percent were rearrested among those thousands of prisoners. That should alarm us. What does that say? Something is not working to help these human beings engage in a positive life style, and I don’t believe that is by choice; I believe it’s because they don’t know what a life like that is like and how to obtain that lifestyle without help.
In the Netflix television series “Orange is the New Black,” based off the book by author Piper Kerman, who experienced life in a women’s prison, the character, Taystee, finally served her time in prison and was released. Later in the show, she returns to the prison once again. She quotes, “Everyone I know is poor, in jail, or gone.”
In one of the episodes that shows Taystee going back home, her family lives in a broken-down, one-floor apartment where she was told that she could only stay for a short period of time then had to leave with the clothes on her back. Her backstory reveals that she was orphaned, then adopted by a drug dealer, who you find in the prison later in the show as well.
Taystee also quoted in the show that being in prison hasn’t benefitted her at all: “Learned? I ain’t learned nothing. I came in this (prison) innocent, and I’m still innocent.” And her perspective on life seems to be mostly negative, she quotes, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean place.”
Although Taystee is not a known real person outside of the show, her story does not seem to be uncommon, which suggests that prison is not effectively changing the lifestyle of these unwanted lives; it is not a solution. Even for those who left a happy life and been convicted of a crime not thoroughly investigated enough, like my cousin, serve their time in prison just waiting until their time is up to be back home, missing out on major happenings. My cousin did not get to go to my grandfather’s funeral, whom he was very close to.
If prisoners were respected and seen as the human beings that they are and given positive opportunities to change, we could see less people being locked up. A non-profit manufacturing organization by the name of Sun Cedar in Lawrence, Kan. is doing just that.
Sun Cedar only hires members of the community who are at risk of finding employment; being the homeless, felons, and recovering addicts, to list a few. Their goal is to provide these people with “a sense of purpose and restore their fundamental human dignity by offering them meaningful paid employment (sun-cedar.com).”
Not only does this bring meaning back into the lives of Sun Cedar employees, but it will help them obtain another job and perhaps give them the confidence to build a career for themselves. All because people value them and knew the benefits of giving them a chance at life.
A quote from Piper Kerman from her book Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison I believe reveals a lot of truth to crime and being human:
“Every human being makes mistakes and does things they’re not proud of. They can be everyday, or they can be catastrophic. And the unfortunate truth of being human is that we all have moments of indifference to other people’s suffering. To me, that’s the central thing that allows crime to happen: indifference to other people’s suffering.
“If you’re stealing from someone, if you’re hurting them physically, if you’re selling them a product that you know will hurt them—the thing that allows a person to do that is that they somehow convince themselves that that’s not relevant to them. We all do things that we’re not proud of, even though they might not have as terrible consequences.”
It is time that we drop the fictitious fact that we are all perfect or better than one another; we simply are not. We deserve the love and compassion of each other to grow together, not apart. We can always do more to understand where each of us is coming from and we must not let fear of one another be a barrier to understand and love.