Prisoners Are Stores of Human Potential: Humanism may be the key to unlocking it.

Author:Todd, L.
Position:INSIDE THE WALLS - Column

In 2011, two months before my fortieth birthday, my world was obliterated when I became incarcerated and began serving an eight-and-a-half-year prison term. Nothing in my life had prepared me for what I would experience in this alien environment. Prisons, in addition to being wretched, overpopulated warehouses of human suffering, are also environments designed to subjugate and stifle individuality, creativity, and ideas. Prisoners are conditioned to believe that they lack any real potential, and those prisoners who refuse to accept this are discouraged by nearly insurmountable obstacles placed between them and their dreams by prison officials, probation and parole officers, outdated laws that strip them of their civil rights, and a public that is not always ready to accept them back into their communities because they have bought into the rhetoric from proponents of the prison-industrial complex and tough-on-crime initiatives.

First of all, who are prisoners? Maybe you have an image of the most horrible crime stories ever reported; Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, the DC Sniper. Maybe you have a caricature image of someone in a striped jumpsuit with a ball and chain. Or maybe a Hollywood role from Cool Hand Luke or The Shawshank Redemption. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Prisoners are your sons and daughters. They are the kid next door. Your best friends husband. They're college students, mothers, fathers, and business owners. They're members of your clubs and organizations, childhood friends, and coworkers. They're the fabric of our society. You see them in the street every day. They say hello and you smile. They hold the door for you and say thank you. They serve you at your favorite restaurant and you tip them and compliment them on the service. Their children go to school with your children. They live in your neighborhood. They are YOU!

There are 2.5 million human beings languishing in US prisons. The vast majority of them will be returning to their communities--your community--as second-class citizens, ineligible for many employment opportunities, unable to vote, without a voice or representation. But let us not ignore why or how prisoners became incarcerated to begin with. Some prisoners are troubled and have led a life of crime, usually the result of a tough upbringing in a poor neighborhood barren of meaningful opportunities to unlock their fullest potential. Others may have made a bad, one-time choice. Then, there is the growing number of the...

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