#140 The Hierarchy of Inmate needs (retro)

April 12, 2010 at 2:31 am Leave a comment

The Hierarchy of Inmate Needs

I wanted to touch on this subject because this could be of a great importance to many of you with loved ones in prison. It may also allow me to blog some personal thoughts too.

Before I get started, be sure to email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask me about my books or how to support my writings or to ask me about certain issues. I promise NOTHING since I am not claiming to know it all, but I can at least try to help.

This subject could very well be something I could have left off the blogs, and wrote a 20 page document on. This morning I thought about how I was going to address this, and whether I will share this anywhere else. I didn’t want to rush the subject, which means I may have to break this up into sections.

The reason for this is that it would give me more time to talk about each step. Let me back up a moment…

What I want to do is discuss the levels of human needs, as defined by Abraham Maslow, who defined a certain hierarchy of human needs. I remember reading about it when I was in college, and some of my classes studied this idea. I remember reading more about it while I was in prison, and even wrote a journal on it and how it possibly identifies inmates.

Today I want to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and adapt it to the inmate, or a guy who is either in prison, or soon to be released. I want to blog out some ideas on what this means, or can mean to some of you with a loved one in prison.

To do that, I wanted to take it in sections. Now since you are reading this online, you can easily google Maslow’s Hierarchy to find more about it. But in general terms of this blog, there are 5 levels of needs that humans need to feel fulfilled in their lives. There seems to be a certain order in the levels, to the point that if the lower levels are not met, it is nearly impossible to reach the next goal. The ultimate goal is to achieve “true happiness” in life… however you define that.

Now I know a lot of you religious folks are gonna try to counter with scriptures, but since we are talking about humanistic qualities, let’s just agree to keep it carnal, not spiritual…although that does play a part, but that is later.

So, let’s begin. How does this hierarchy apply to inmates, or your loved one in prison? To begin, we are talking about helping a fallen individual get his life back. But the problem in this to start is that there is no plan to help him or her excel… only to get back in life.

You see the flaw? Prisons and society never make plans to help an inmate become better, they ASSUME that he will have “learned his lesson” and then expect him to work for some minimum wage job to continue to pay for his debts to society. But this is not how it works, or how it should work. For an inmate or ex inmate (which includes me) to find happiness and fulfillment in life, there is a working pyramid of needs that has to be fulfilled before he can move up.

If these are not met, then he cannot advance, and thus will not be happy in life. The lowest levels of needs MUST be met before the inmate can move to the next level. So, what is the first level of inmate needs?

Physiological needs

Or to put it another way, the extreme basics of life. Now, some of you might think that this is a no-brainer, since we all know we need the basics, especially inmates or ex felons. But there is some gaping holes in what we think we know.

In order for your loved one in prison or ex felon to get his life back and to excel in it, the very basics MUST be met. If they are not met, there is almost NO chance he can get his life together. When we talk about the most basic needs, they generally break down into a small handful of things: Food, water, and sleep. The most fundamental points of life must be met by the inmate before he can advance to another plane of purpose.

Now, there are a couple of other needs on this level too, some say sex is part of it too, and I guess I cannot argue it, but I kinda wanted to keep it on the main three. You simply MUST have food, water and you MUST sleep.

Now, consider the inmate. In prison, these are taken care of. Inmates eat, they have access to water and they have a place to sleep….

(no jokes about sex, please)

So we can see that the very basics of human needs is met while the inmate is in prison. Now, consider a man who has done, say 10 years, and is due to be released in a few months. Consider the problems that could be presenting itself to that person.

Lots of people can never understand why inmates get out of prison only to go back in. There are many reasons, some are just that they refuse to respect the law, but often times it is because the needs were not met on the outside of prison as they were on the inside. I mean, you tell me what a man who has no family and spent a decade in prison is supposed to do when he is given a $45 gate check and release into society… on parole?

In prison, the most fundamentals of life were provided, but once he was released, he lost the very basics. Where will he sleep? How will he eat? Many times society never think about those things because they don’t care. There are many homeless people all around our country that struggle every day to just make the very basics of life. Inmates have those basics while they are incarcerated, but when released, many find themselves being homeless, with a record. It makes it very hard to try to pick up their lives when they have technically “lost” their basics needs of life by their freedom (ironic isn’t it).

This is not every inmate, because as you well know, many return to their families and loved ones, but the basic needs are still there. It’s not enough to HAVE food, it is also the need to be able to PROVIDE food, if not for someone else, at least yourself. But before you can provide, you must first have that very basic element… I mean, we all MUST eat.

One of the best points I can make about the basic elements when it comes to inmates or ex felons is “sleep”. On the most general meaning, we all know that if the body does not rest, it breaks down. The human body MUST have rest in order to get strength. But this also applies to the location of rest. We’re not bats where we can hang upside down on a tree anywhere…we need a place to rest. We need a place to sleep. We need a place.

You can release an inmate today and can get him back in jail inside of 24 hours if that inmate believes that his basic needs cannot be met. Few people ever think of this, but what do you think a man who has done 10 years is going to do if he is released in the middle of winter, with no money, no family and no security? Where is he supposed to go to start his life? The homeless shelter? Sadly, many do.

But what if he can’t find one, or what if the shelters are full? Where is a man supposed to sleep in the middle of winter? It’s easy for us to blindly forget about that because we have a place to sleep, but if you are going to understand the very basics of inmate needs, and how it plays a critical role in him or getting their lives back, we have to see it though their eyes.

If it was me, and I had nowhere to go, and needed the basics of life…I would sadly have to break the law to get put in jail. It might just be vandalizing a store, anything to get me picked up and taken to jail…where I can sleep under a roof. Wrong to do , absolutely, but in the eyes of a person needing to survive, it was the only thing he could do.

One person I know lived in abandoned homes because he had no place to go. It probably explains why he was arrested so many times for trespassing, but to him he did what he had to do. His basic needs were not being met, so it turned into survival. I knew a guy while in prison that wasn’t out but a few months and came back. He told me that he had no family, and released in NC under parole, even though he lives in Texas. He could not go back to Texas because of his parole, but with absolutely nothing but the clothes on his back, he believed there was no chance for him to have a life and it was eventual that he would fail parole, so he violated the parole and came back to prison.

It was about survival, about staying alive. And sometimes that means coming back to prison. When society fails to understand the very basics of human needs, we ignore humanity. Many guys in prison are afraid of freedom, or get very stressed about it because they now have to worry about how they are going to eat, where they are going to sleep, and the very essentials of life. Lots of times we just assume that they’ll find their way, which is the same as saying, “sink or swim”.

For me, I was stressed about coming out of prison, but it wasn’t for the essentials. I will get to those as we go along on future segments of this discussion, but I wanted to just focus only on the essentials, the most basic level of human needs. I knew when I got out that I would be staying with my mom, so I had a place to sleep. I also knew I would have food to eat as well, so I knew that the most basic needs would be met. If you can provide that, or help provide that to an inmate, then you have already started helping him get his life together.

“But that’s too simplistic”

Yeah, it is, but only because it is the least of the needs. And yet, as I said before, society often ignores that when a person gets released. We always assume that somebody else will help them. A person does time, pays his debt to society and is released. Many people want to act like it is ok, but deep down they don’t want to help him… after all, he is a criminal!

So often times we ignore chances to help someone and change their life, until that person fails in establishing his basic needs and reverts to survival mode. And if that mode results in him going back to jail or prison, the very same people that refused to help will be the first to say, “once a con, always a con”.

You know, when I got out of prison, I had to do 100 hours of community service in addition to restitution and probation officer visits. I spent my hours at a local food shelter, and I gotta tell you, I was humbled in the effort it takes to feed the hungry and homeless. I did not go there with an attitude, I went there knowing that whatever I was told to do, I did it. But after awhile the owner of the food shelter started trusting me with the work. It also helped that she actually knew my grandfather, and I actually went to school with one of her sons.

I always knew there were hungry people in my town, but until you actually get involved, you never really understand the level of compassion it takes to feed the hungry. I felt so… undeserving when I served them. Heck many of them probably never been arrested in their lives, but were hungry, and here I am , some college grad who did time in prison. At times I felt very humble and had so much compassion for those people. It didn’t matter who they were, where they come from or what they looked like, they came because they were hungry and needed a basic need met.

I walked across town several times a week to fulfill my duties, but I did it with a compassionate heart. Yeah, it was part of my probation, but there was some joy in being able to help. I helped prepare the food, serve to the people and cleaned up afterwards. Sadly, the food shelter closed down not long after I fulfilled my commitment, and I can’t help but feel saddened for that. People will go hungry without that place, and their basic needs won’t be met.

Most of you reading this may not be able to relate to the very basics for inmates, because most of you have a place to live, and whatever job you have, can buy groceries. This means that if you have a loved one in prison, he may have the same thing in what you give him. But if an inmate is NOT sure of that, it can easily cause some stress. Lots of guys don’t have a place to live, so some are counting on a friend to let them live with them. This then can cause some heavy burdens of the loved one on the outside is not sure about that kinda relationship.

If you really think about it, you may be able to sum up the lowest level of human needs by inmates by something else…fear of poverty.

If you are going to be a help to an inmate or an ex felon, the first obstacle to overcome is poverty. It cannot be ignored if he is to have a chance to better himself and survive after prison.

In my case, this was never an issue since my very basics were met. But that does not mean I was happy to be out of prison, and it certainly didn’t mean my life got better once I got out. So what is the next step, what is the next level of inmate needs that, if ignored, can discourage an ex felon from having a better life?

Safety, the ability to have reasonable control over one’s life and property.

We’ll talk about that next time. Email me at derf4000 (at) embarqmail (dot) com to ask about my books, support and other stuff. If I get enough emails or comments on this subject, I will continue the discussion. Remember, this is not etched in stone, it is just my blogs on this issue, since I am no Dr. Phil on prison issues. Enjoy the 4th of July.


Entry filed under: girlfriends with boyfriends in prison, God and prison, inmates, jail, LostVault, mothers with sons in prison, prison, prison abuse, prison blogs, prison books, prison cards, prison food, prison jobs, prison mail, prison pen pals, prison support sites, Prison Talk Online, Prisonbid, rehabilitation, son in prison.

#139 Middle ground (retro) #142 Where is God (new)

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