#198 The FEAR of inmates (retro)

May 21, 2010 at 4:56 am Leave a comment

The FEAR of inmates

Well, an excellent Superbowl, as the Steelers win over the Cardinals in a great game. I enjoyed every bit of it, but I also enjoyed the PuppyBowl on Animal Planet. In fact, I will pause for a moment to catch the first part of it again, because of the singing parrot. I laughed so hard that I was crying, and I have already seen it 3 times. The Puppy Bowl is shown all during Superbowl Sunday, and is a 2 hour program, so it comes on again at 11pm. I saw the singing parrot at 5pm and was determined to let my friends and family get a load of that. At 7pm we were all laughing on the floor, at 9pm more friends came by and we fell out laughing again.

I think I broke a rib….

Anyway, today I was thinking on a subject to write after the Superbowl, and the subject that came to mind actually was one based off a previous blog. There was a comment I made about how many inmates have a fear of the future, which a couple of people thought was absurd.

Why is that so hard to believe? What makes anyone think inmates don’t have something they are afraid of? Sometimes we are too busy looking at the physical sides of fear and intimidation that we completely forget that every inmate, no matter how big or strong they are, has a fear.

I made mention awhile back that an inmate that talks about violence may well have a fear about his future. Now you might laugh at that, because you think that is stupid, and to be sure, no inmate is going to tell you what they are afraid of.

I will use myself as an example, then I will extend that explanation.

When I was about to get out in 2001, I was afraid of my future. I was nervous and anxious about getting out. That was because for me, I had to do a 3 year probation after I was released. I hated the idea of being free with a chain around my neck, and I remember telling my mom that I would rather stay in prison another 3 years than risk it by being free.

Did that mean I had every intention to do wrong? Of course not. But when you are given freedom with restrictions, people think that all you have to do is do right. Life was never that easy to anybody, and with a person on probation, it would be even harder. I knew that because part of my probation was that I had to pay back nearly $10,000. How in the world was I going to be able to manage that working for a cheap minister who paid me below minimum wage, or working at a grocery store?

Lots of times guys coming out on parole or probation are under such restrictions that it is nearly a lost cause the moment they get out. Sometimes the bar is set too high for an ex felon to meet, and many end up violating parole or probation, and wind up back in prison. I did not want that. I would have rather stayed in prison, because I feared the future.

It actually amazes me that people think that inmates don’t have fears while in prison. Sure we know about fearing somebody taking something from them, or bodily harm, but their ability to get back into society has fears as well. The ability for an ex felon to adapt to society, or their refusal to do so, is tied in to a deep fear that the inmate has.

I mean, think about it. If that fear wasn’t there, then the ability to change from a violent mentality to a more subtle and gentle one would not be a problem. A man sitting in prison has to be able to look at himself and know that he messed up for him to be sitting in prison, meaning he must also change. But pride is a very dangerous thing; it convinces us that we don’t need to change…everybody else does.

If the idea is to get inmates to change, then you must first understand why some don’t change. It could be that they just don’t know how, or it could be that they don’t WANT to change.

In either case, I believe fear is a strong factor.

Fear of change, fear of failing, fear of making their parents or loved ones worry about them again, fear of offending their friends.

And I challenge anyone to think fear in inmates is silly, because some of their very reasons is based on fear. Think about it. An inmate tells you how they have to defend their property because if somebody takes something from them, then others will do the same, and then you won’t have anything. That folks, is fear of losing your property, and losing your respect. In both cases…FEAR.

Let’s not fool ourselves to think these inmates are just monsters. They are human beings who have feelings, and have emotions. They are just as likely to fear things as anybody else, and often times that same fear drives them to believe and do the things they do. The guys that live off that fear will develop a certain belief that will be different from one who is trying to develop faith.

If you have been reading my blogs, you know that faith and fear are complete opposites. If you have faith in something, you don’t have fear. If you have fear in something, you don’t have faith. So we can possibly say that some inmates that show a fear in prison issues don’t have faith in themselves or in their future.

How do we curb this?

We first take a look at why some guys say what they do, and then we try to find a solution to it. See, it’s not enough to just identify it, if we are going to be of help, we also need to create solutions to help bring a person from fear to faith.

But something I must share, that I have learned awhile back…you cannot go into this thinking you can save everybody, or even that your hand will be the one that saves them. What I mean by that is sometimes we put humanistic expectations on ourselves, to think that if WE do this or that, then WE will see them change. Folks, sometimes a person does not change when YOU want them to, it takes time.

I say that to you to say this: don’t ever give up on a loved one, even when things don’t look like they are changing. Often times we may not see a person change before our eyes, but if we have faith that they will change, that should be enough. That is a message for a few people, because not everybody can receive that now.

Now, about that fear…

Why do some inmates resist change? Why do some inmates talk about being so tough, and how they don’t see why they should change? Why would an inmate embrace a life that is not nearly as profitable as living a better life and not going to prison? By choice, well, ultimately, yes. But what motivates that person?

In inmate in prison that embraces the idea of defending his property, and worried about how other inmates see him is living his life based on the need for respect, and the need to protect…the need for either is defendable because of the fear of losing it.

In prison, this is practical. But you know, I rarely took much thought about somebody stealing my stuff. I mean, the thought was always there, but it was not at the front of my mind. I had a locker, I had a lock. The only things they could steal from me was my pillow and sheets, and if they did, I would get another one. As far as anyone stealing my canteen, or my personal property, I rarely worried about that…you could almost say I really didn’t have a fear for that.

Respect might be a little different. I went in prison believing that inmates might have something against a college grad….I might be seen as “too smart for my own good”. And when I went to prison, it was indeed a fear. Fear that I would be disrespected. But I learned that a person with a positive attitude, and a willing to help IF he can, will be respected by most inmates. Not all, because there are always dudes in there that will try to steal your last piece of paper if they can get it. But as I went through my incarceration, I realized that respect didn’t just come from inmates, it also came from the prison itself.

Prisons must learn to respect inmates like human beings if they expect inmates to act like human beings. I learned through many trials that often times the problem wasn’t respect from inmates…it was from the prison. And when I realized that, I had a choice of whether to fear the prison, or not.

And the perfect example on this is something inmates go through daily…the inmate grievance procedure.

The Inmate Grievance Procedure is common to likely every prison, where it gives an inmate the ability to voice his displeasure in a prison rule, action or policy in an attempt to get some resolution. I am quite versed in this part of prison because in my time in prison, I probably wrote more than most guys…and I still have my copies here at home to prove it.

But the problem with the grievance procedure was that many inmates felt that it didn’t work. An inmate writes a grievance, and it gets defeated by the prison. You write another grievance, and it gets defeated. After time, inmates start to believe that there is no reason to write a grievance, because the inmate can never win.

Or, inmates are afraid to write a grievance because they fear rejection.

The prisons have done a terrible job actually listening to what inmates have to say, and they are skilled in keeping all the prison troubles (under the roof). I have learned that most times, the prison will do what it can to defend itself, even if the accusation against them is true. But sometimes inmates are at fault because they write either a foolish grievance, or don’t prepare themselves to write a correct one.

For example, if you went to chow hall and was upset that you didn’t get seconds, writing a grievance is foolish…why? Because there is no rule in prison that guarantees you a second helping. I actually knew a guy that wanted to write a grievance on Thanksgiving because he felt we should have gotten more food….yeah, right.

But these causes, either the inmate not properly doing the grievance, or the prison neglecting it, are causes for inmates in general to think that there is no real validity to writing a grievance. As many inmates say, “the prison is going to do whatever they want”. But understand folks, this is the result of fear. Fear of rejection and failure, even if you have a legit cause to stand on. So most inmates never file one.

When I was in prison, I wrote many, many grievances that fell short. I wrote to the Inmate Grievance Resolution Board asking why so many grievances fail, and they give me the old runaround about having to fill out a grievance if I wanted an answer on that. I have been run in circles by the prisons, and I know what it is like to be rejected. I have also been retaliated against many times, being kicked out of prisons because I was writing too much. But in each time, I was resolved in myself that I was not going to give up. I had a voice, and I LOVED writing. If something was wrong, I was not going to curl up on the bunk and whine. I was going to let the prison know how I felt about it.

When you build yourself up to step forward, even when the odds may be against you, that is faith. I am not saying I never worried that they might do something against me, I am sure there was a speck of that idea there. But the greater part of me refused to take this lying down, as most inmates do. I wrote a blog a couple of years ago about the inmates prisons fear the most. It’s not the violent ones, because all they have to do is lock them in a cell. It’s the guys that use their heads, because it forces the prison to either respect that person, or retaliate against them.

When I was in medium custody, I remember on the yard talking with a friend about why there are so many problems in prison. An older guy over heard us talking, and told us “you know why there are so many problems? Because most inmates are too scared to say something”. He was right.

But when you decide to make a change for the better, even in prison, that gives you a reason to fight against that fear. Lots of inmates don’t get that, because they are too busy looking at the physical sides of fear. Fear of losing their canteen or having their locker broken into. And I don’t make light of that because that IS a concern. But it’s not the only concern.

The irony is that when inmates talk about having no fear, they are ignoring the faith they should have in themselves to at least TRY to do better. It starts while you are in prison. If just 10 guys on any prison was to make legit grievances, it would either change the camp, or get them all kicked out. But it takes faith to think you can make things better. It takes fear to refuse to do it.

So how do you get that inmate to find faith, instead of embracing fear? That can be very tricky, because remember, an inmate will not admit a weakness to you. I mean, come on, do you really expect an inmate to open up his heart while in prison? That is a very difficult thing to do, because prison actually encourages inmates to guard their true feelings, rather than open up. So one way for you to help them is not to get them to open up, but to simply encourage them.

Lots of moms or girlfriends or wives get frustrated because their loved one won’t show their “sensitive” side…but what you are asking a man to do is to show weakness while in prison. And while you don’t see the harm in that, it is hard to let your feelings go, and put them back in. Sure, YOU can do that, but try doing that while you are in prison.

One strong way to help a guy embrace faith instead of fear is to give them purpose. Lift their spirits up by finding and building a relationship of positive and encouraging words, rather than the doom and gloom of how sad it is and how much you miss them and how much sleep you lost and all that. Yeah, I know you will worry, but visits and phone calls and letters should be about building a person up, not staring at the crumbled wall.

Many inmates fear failure, as any person, so counter that by giving him a purpose. What does he want to do…I mean, what does he REALLY want to do? Go to school? Get a great job? Own a business? Start a ministry? What does he want to do? When you identify what that person wants, you are also looking at the deepest parts of his heart, the most sincere parts of a man. We all have lifelong goals, but often times inmates feel that their incarceration disqualifies them from enjoying that. Why not bring it back to them?

When you can identify and support that in an inmate, you give him a future, you give him hope and something to believe in. And if that is greater than the current life he has now, he will want to focus more on the future, and have faith in it, than stare at his past, and fear what may be ahead.

In a way, lots of inmates fear that their lives won’t get any better, so they might as well develop a “tough” mentality, to prepare themselves for the worst. Folks, this ought not be. I say this as a guy that has been on the extreme end of that, and it is not fun at all. When you fear the future, when you fear that things cannot get any better, only worse, you lose any faith that things can get better, and you actually can reject them when opportunities come. But if you can place just a little faith in the idea that even as an ex felon, things can get better, then it changes how you see life.

Now, I say that as a work in progress, but I did not write several thousand pages on prison issues in fear. I write this in faith, not knowing what tomorrow brings for me, as an ex felon. I write these things because I have lived through it, and know how tough it can be, but also knowing that my faith in God gives me a reason to write as much as I have. I don’t fear the future nearly as much as I have faith in it. I’d like to say maybe I am 90% faith, 10% fear…meaning I still have work to do, but I am up to it. When I get emails from readers, or positive comments, or when I receive gifts from loyal readers, or when people ask me about my books, cards and prison encouragement certificates, I know I am on the right path.

There are indeed fears that inmates will have while in prison, I was no different, but I say to you, if that inmate hopes to see a better future, he cannot embrace that fear. The only thing you will get out of fear is torment, and that won’t help you change at all. But if you can just get a little faith in you, just enough to see that there is a chance things can get better, well, it just might get better.

And that gets your future off to a great start.

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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.

#197 Finding Thanksgiving in prison (retro) #200 Fear of Retaliation (retro)

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