It’s said we play with the cards that were dealt us . . .
There will be a new Prison in a few years and it matters little to me, except that I once spent 4 or 5 years down there, as a teacher, not inmate. and in a way, a bond remains. Once a week I led a class in ‘Change Your Thinking and You’ll Change Your Life”. I have no idea if they learned anything new, but I did.
One was an idea I learned quickly, for it was constantly voiced, and came from men in every class I held. I actually came to expect it and the thought was that if ever they were put out (they didn’t say released) from the prison, they would commit some crime the very next day so they could be back as soon as possible.
The idea startled me, but as I came to see their life in prison, and hear of their lives before prison, I began to understand their thinking and began wondering how our penal system could be altered to meet that need of so many.
Over and over I heard the words, “This is the first time in my life that I know I’ll have three meals a day, a place to sleep, clean clothes, rest rooms, and a place to bathe. I had never been to a doctor or a dentist until I came here.”
I served in the Men’s Medium Security, no women, and their ages were from as young as allowed, and on up. The attitudes differed with their ages.
Under about 40, I heard anger and resentment that they knew ‘dozens’ who had done worse than they had who never were sent ‘up’. ‘So-and-so’ was in on the same arrest where I was taken, and he got off Scott free.
It was never their fault, but depended upon which Judge they got, and, no fooling, ‘if the judge had a fight with his wife that morning he took his anger out on us’. Their basic feeling (it seemed to me) was, when they became free, they’d ‘get even’ with someone.
But over age 45, there was none of that. For the older men, it seemed to me, they had finally found a ‘home’. A warm bed at night. Clean clothing. A rest room, place to bathe, even a place just to sit, read or rest. Oh, and haircuts, yeah, a real haircut.
One man told that for years he had searched through garbage cans behind Restaurants or Cafes for food. Begging at back doors of bakeries, fast food places, or any place that handled food. Just to ease his constant hunger. And there were agreeing nods from heads all around the room.
And I felt their anger to hear that some restaurants, became tired of people going through their garbage, and would pour or sprinkle something in the ‘cans’ to make the food inedible.
For almost all of the older ones, prison gave them, for the first in their whole life, medical, eye and dentist care, and when some long-time physical problem was finally made right. Clean clothing was mentioned often. A luxury.
They mentioned books, freely loaned from the prison library. magazines, and very important, also, was the athletic programs where they could play soccer, football, basket ball, outside or inside where or when they wanted.
In plain, simple, but truthful words, they said, “They had never in their whole life had it so good.” Sounded horrible to me, but I often drove home thanking The Source for the life that was mine, and wondering just what might have been my life if I had been born into the same circumstances they had been.
It’s said we play with the Cards that were dealt us, and a lot of them had really been dealt losing hands.