Prison rehabilitation is hard to define. Having spent nearly half my life going in and out of prison, I still cannot tell you what prison rehabilitation is. Perhaps the prison feels their programs are adequate but having been on the receiving end I remember the classrooms where program teachers come hastily in to hand us a packet of papers doing their best to avoid engaging any of us. As fast as they handed out our “rehabilitation in a packet,” they were exiting the room leaving all the inmates shuffling through the papers and throwing them to the side.
I spent a lot of time in prison wondering, how do we truly break the cycle?
The statistics show that 83% of prisoners return within 9 years, and 82% of those prisoners are returning within the first three years. Scary stuff. I love asking prisoners what they feel about their impending release, and no matter who I ask, from the gang members, drug addicts, tutors, Muslims, Christians, or drug dealers, the answer is the same. They all feel they are rehabilitated and will never come back to prison.
So, if all prisoners believe they will never return, yet 83% are returning, something is very off.
If the prison is not going to help prisoners with rehabilitation, what do you think prisoners are going to do? They are going to take rehabilitation into their own hands. I have gone to many prisons from state prisons all the way to federal maximum securities, and the solution for self-rehabilitation seems to be the same. Prisoners feel that education, religion, studying business, and staying away from trouble will ensure their success upon their release. How do I know this? Well, because I was that prisoner. In my sentence, I did my best to stay out of trouble and studied every business book I could. I wrote many business plans, became devout in my religion, and even at one point copied the entire dictionary front to back.
But, even having done all that “work,” I bet you can guess what happened when I was released…
To everyone’s disappointment, including my own, I was even more violent, sold even more drugs, and was ultimately worse than when I went in – but hey, I had a good understanding of real estate and an impressive vocabulary, right?
Now don’t get me wrong, education, religion, business, and staying out of trouble are beautiful things and can greatly enhance someone’s life. But if the majority of prisoners are turning towards these things alone for change, and they are the “answer,” why are the recidivism numbers steadily rising?
All these experts who claim to have the answers, with their assessments and studies and tests. But the numbers of people returning to prison over and over are still going up. So clearly these “experts” don’t actually know what they’re talking about.
Look, I have been on the other side, and I can tell you firsthand what the problem is. Prisoners believe that the problem is in the violence, the gangs, selling drugs, etc. but all of those are actually symptoms of a deeper issue that prisoners face, and that prison rehabilitation doesn’t even come close to addressing.
You see, crime is only a by-product of the problem; the true problem is sourced from something much deeper.
The problem that drives people to commit crimes is so deep it can only be found within the prisoner’s foundational core. The true question the prisoner should be asking is: what is fueling me to sell drugs? What is making me so drawn to be around gang members? What is fueling me to act violently?
When a person first enters prison, they have all of the negative beliefs, habits, emotional patterns, and traumas that brought them to prison in the first place. If that person then spends another 6 years in prison, without doing anything to rebuild and restructure their foundation, they will actually come out of prison worse off than they were when they went in. NO matter how many college courses they take, no matter how devout they become, if they don’t get to the deep root of their issues and begin to rebuild and heal from the foundation up, none of that other stuff will matter.
Trying to place education and religion over a broken foundation is the same as trying to build a castle on shifting sand. When the storms of life rage, that castle is not going to be able to withstand the wind and rains. And this is the problem all of our prisoners are facing; they are stacking some very beautiful things upon a very broken foundation, believing with all their hearts that this is the answer and that they will never return to prison once they’re released.
My heart goes out to all of these people. I know the struggle because I was that same young boy who told my family and loved-ones that once I came home, I would never go back, only to return with much more serious cases.
True prison rehabilitation must be focused on the core structural foundation of the prisoner.
Once the foundation is solidified, then it is possible for them to act on life in the way that they want to, instead of reacting with imprinted subconscious patterns. My life changed drastically when I learned how to restructure and rebuild my core foundation, and now when I decide to stack great things in my life such as education, business, spirituality, they hold because the foundation is strong.
Freedom is not a release date, but a state of mind that can be achieved long before a prisoner ever gets to go home.
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