|The Myth That Prisoners Have It Easy|
|By John Dewar Gleissner, Esq|
The public expects life in prison to be worse than life for the lowest class of free individuals, for otherwise prison is not fully considered punishment. Any amenities enjoyed by prisoners are swiftly condemned by free people who disdain prisoners or do not have those same advantages.
Federal prisons have historically been more pleasant than state prisons. Some street people intentionally commit federal crimes to obtain the easier conditions in the federal prison system. The Zimmer Amendment was passed in 1996 after disclosure of a federal penitentiary with an all-channel cable TV, movies seven days a week, pool tables, handball, tennis and miniature golf; a federal prison camp providing a movie theater, musical instruments, a softball field, and game rooms; a federal Correctional Institution with "dormitories" with cathedral ceilings, carpeting, skylights, built-in checker and chess tables, and handball courts; and a federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. offering HBO and Cinemax to its resident drug dealers and killers. The Zimmer Amendment made sure federal inmates were not allowed things like weight-lifting equipment, R-rated movies or musical instruments. This was in accordance with the punitive model and accurately reflects the public's views. But federal institutions hold a small minority of America's prisoners. In state prisons and local jails, conditions are rougher than in the federal system.
Many Americans want prison to be a miserable experience for inmates, even if it conflicts with rehabilitation efforts. They think prison life is not all bad, that prisoners have it too easy. This is based largely upon the old public perception of a few federal prisons. The public does not view the insides of state penitentiaries much. Many bad things happen in state prisons and local jails that are never reported to the outside world. Out of sight, out of mind. Television coverage of crime skews the public's perception. Crime is decreasing nationwide, yet a large percent of the public believe it is on the increase. Probation and parole are considered slaps on the wrist. Public anger rises when a probationer or parolee commits a serious crime.
Reality differs from public perception. Most members of the public will never visit a prison or talk to anyone who has experienced life behind bars. Prison takes offenders away from their families, marriages, jobs, friends, communities and churches and puts them in an extremely bad moral environment for years at a time. Social organization in prison revolves around vicious prison gangs, motivated by racism, hate, satanic influences and violence. Life among these mostly uneducated felons, including opposing gang members, the insane and the diseased, is generally unpleasant. Overcrowding makes it all worse in most prisons today. Many prisoners are beaten, raped, brutalized or live in fear. Deviant and forced sex increases because members of the opposite sex are unavailable. Guards can be unpleasant and brutal. Annoying noises and bad odors are everywhere; sunlight and fresh air are limited. In most prisons today, overcrowding makes everything worse. Bland and unappealing food, clothing and extremely confining shelter are the norm. Freedom is gone. Some 16% of prisoners are mentally ill, and high percentages suffer from communicable diseases, including HIV-AIDS, hepatitis C, staph infections and tuberculosis. Families and friends often stop communicating with incarcerated family members. Boredom and inactivity take their toll. Depression is common. Suicide is 5 to 15 times greater than in the U.S. generally.
Offenders take on sick institutional values, procedures and thoughts. Prisonization or institutionalization often makes prisoners worse. While people on the outside are making money, having fun and learning things, the social contacts and skills, sanity, vocational prospects and remaining wealth of convicts decline. When released, many are branded for life as "felons." Yes, their food, clothing, shelter and most healthcare needs are met, but most everything that makes life enjoyable disappears while they rot in prison. It's pure myth that prisoners have it easy.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author John Dewar Gleissner, Esq. graduated from Auburn University (B.A. with Honor, 1973) and Vanderbilt University School of Law (1977), where he won the Editor's Award and participated in the Men's Penitentiary Project. In addition to practicing law in Alabama for the last 33 years, Mr. Gleissner is the author of the new book "Prison and Slavery - A Surprising Comparison"
Reprinted with permission from ezinearticles.com.
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