Archive for June 28th, 2013


throw away the key

cell door 1

A couple days ago, much to my surprise, I learned from another advocate that a young man who has become a cause celebre for the unfair imprisonment of youth is, in fact, a person who preys on other weaker prisoners, presumably sexually. His parents are in denial and this knowledge has bothered me more than I expected.

Has this young man, sentenced to an incredibly long term, simply accepted the dismal trajectory of his life and decided to play by the predator-or-prey rules of prison life and let it turn him to the “dark side?” No one will ever know if he entered prison an innocent, but now he is truly lost.

Throw away the key. He has made his decision. He is a predator now.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • During 2007, a total of 1,180,469 persons on parole were at-risk of reincarceration.  This includes persons under parole supervision on January 1 or those entering parole during the year. Of these parolees, about 16% were returned to incarceration in 2007.
  • Among nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years. A study of prisoners released in 1983 estimated 62.5%.
  • Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 states in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime.
  • These offenders had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.
  • Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).
  • Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.

prison key 3Our prisons are clearly a failure of both reform and deterrence. While reform of the prisons themselves and a return to a philosophy of reform, not punishment, are desirable goals, this is clearly outside our mission. Instead, we must concern ourselves with the more limited goal of ensuring that juvenile parricides, if convicted, are not transformed into criminals by the very system that is supposed to make our society better.

As always, I rely on the juvenile parricides themselves as my most trusted guides. They have been there and know. This is Derek King’s advice to any person who is unfortunate enough to find himself (or herself) in prison:

First, place all your faith and trust in God. There is no protection for you inside a prison except God. You are surrounded by “evil, cruel, and twisted” people, both inmates and guards. Trust no one. Pray and read the Bible. Trust in God and never forget He is your only reliable protection.

Second, depend on who you are and who is in your life and use everything you have—material, intellectual, spiritual—to get by and survive. You must be insightful, calculating, and clever. You can never afford to waste or squander any resources—services and favors performed or owed, money in your canteen account, books and pens and paper and postage stamps, food items, even contraband (but don’t get caught!), etc.—for these are the currency with which you will barter for your survival.

Third, always stand up for yourself and fight. Avoid conflict whenever and however you can, but never lay down, quit, or run. Even if you are smaller and sure to be beaten, it is better to take a beating than ever to fold. If you lay down once, you will always be seen as weak and will always be victimized. Even if you fight and lose, you can earn respect. Might, not right, is all that matters in prison. In prison, especially, life is not fair.

Fourth, you must avoid the evils of prison from ever rubbing off on you. You must learn to detach and make your own private internal world. Read books. Write letters. Create projects with goals for yourself. In this internal world you can be free, even in prison. In this internal world, you can be sane even if you are surrounded by crazy people. In this internal world you can find peace, even if events around you are flying apart.

Be strong. Never let down your guard. Rely on only yourself and your own judgments, and trust no one else but God.

Here is how I would summarize what Derek had to say as a Survival Strategy: every prisoner must become a “Teflon Boy.” If he goes running to the guards for protection (or worse yet, if he becomes a snitch), he will be hated by his fellow inmates and they will try to harm him any way they can. If he goes running to his fellow inmates for protection (or worse yet, aligns himself with a prison gang), he will run afoul of the prison staff. He must learn to walk a middle path, remaining self-contained and independent, always complying with what the guards tell him to do and always getting along with the inmates, but never creating friction with either camp or getting into conflict with anybody. He can never allow any of the “ick” of prison to rub off on him—no tattoos, no dealing in contraband, no aggression or violence, nothing ever hateful or hurtful to others.

This is the message we share with every kid we serve. It has worked so far.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Riley Baugus performing “Old Bunch of Keys”