Monday, October 20, 2014
A high school student contacted me with a request for information about prison. He is doing a school project, hoping to bring awareness to the great social injustice of mass incarceration. I will respond to his four questions in blogs over the next four days. Brian’s first question follows:
What key issues do you see with our prison system as a whole today and is enough being done to reform certain areas?
The 26 years that I served as a federal prisoner provides me with a unique perspective. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from personal experience, from extensive studies, and from information I gathered through ethnographic research I completed with hundreds of people in prison. The primary problem with our nation’s federal prison system, as I see it, is that the system is designed in such a way that it extinguishes hope. The system provides countless opportunities for an individual to exacerbate conditions of confinement, or to extend the length of time in prison.
For example, a federal inmate may call his mother on the telephone. During that telephone conversation, the inmate’s mother may connect him on a conference call with his grandmother. It’s the closest the group can come to a family conversation. Yet prison officials forbid such conversations. They would issue the individual an incident report for abuse of telephone privileges. That consequence of that disciplinary infraction would be severe, including loss of telephone privileges and visiting for six months, and loss of good-time credit. Such sanctions extend the length of time that the inmate would serve in prison.
Policies that condone such Draconian punishments extinguish hope. Countless policies exist within the disciplinary code. Yet there are no corresponding policies that allow an individual to work toward earning increasing levels of liberty, or to lessen his exposure to confinement. As a consequence, few people in prison work toward preparing in meaningful ways for a law-abiding, contributing life upon release. And the system fails to incentivize those who do prepare. The flaws in our nation’s criminal justice system are extensive, by design. We’ve designed a system to receive, not to prepare individuals for success. With costs that exceed $75 billion per year, the prison system is ripe for reform.
Days since my release from prison: 434
Miles that I ran today: 0
Miles that I ran so far this week: 12.1
Miles that I’ve run during the month of October: 114.49
Miles that I ran so far in 2014: 1,978.51
Miles that I need to run in order to reach my annual goal of 2,400 miles: 421.49
Miles I’m ahead of schedule to reach my 2,400-mile goal by the end of 2014: 46.93
My weight for today: 168