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Davin’s Three Day Journal

 

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Count clears around nine and all the doors rack.  The sounds of steal latches popping open, and pieces of conversations, wake me up.  My Sundays always start late.  It is the one day of the week I get to sleep-in a little.  That means getting up at nine, showering, and doing my morning meditation.  My meditation consists of a basic approach called breath counting.  It’s about me learning to focus my mind and eliminate the internal dialogue generated by the ego.  For me it is about reaching that quiet point, my center, and just sitting there for a while.  It is the calm place in the middle of a hurricane.  Meditation gives me a break from my usual dosage of turmoil and distress.

After meditation I spend time writing my weekly letter to my Father.  My Father is the only person I write regularly.  Of all my family, it is with him I have the closest relationship.  He has stuck with me all these years and supported me even when it was not to his advantage.  My immediate family is there as well, but my Father has made the greatest sacrifices.  Plus, I think that of all the people I have known, he understands me the best.

            My letter writing is done in an hour and I move on to my next project of the day.  I spend a couple of hours writing.  I’m working on a new novel.  A smaller project thatwill utilize some of my ideas on structure and length.  Ideas that I think will make the work more marketable, and more accessible to a larger audience.  But the writing itself is the deal work.  Even though I have been writing for over twenty years I’m still exploring my voice and style.  I’m still learning the basics and am still surprised by the results.  I believe that to be a good thing.  When you stop learning you begin to die.

            Lunch is a great part of the day.  Today I’m making a simple bean and corn-tortilla meal.  I’ve been on a reduced calorie, low carb/high protein diet for several months.  Thus far I’ve lost about eighteen pounds and am happy with the results.  Like a lot of men in prison I have some issues.  Being in good shape helps me to address some of them in a very superficial way.  I think we all have a little of that in ourselves.  I tried to lose weight for a couple of years after I quit smoking.  I would work out like a dog and achieve nothing.  My metabolism was getting lower as I grew older, and it fought me every step of the way.  You’d think that a man with a fitness and nutrition degree would know how to lose weight, but it took a while for me to find the right combination.  It’s eighty percent diet, twenty percent exercise.  You can work out constantly to burn calories, but it’s a lot easier if you don’t ingest the calories in the first place.  It takes discipline for me to change my eating habits.  But once I did it, and stuck to it, it became easier with each passing day.

After lunch I do some cell cleaning.  I’m frequently amazed how dirty a room only eight by ten can get.  I sweep and mop the floor.  Dust the flat surfaces.  Clean the sink and toilet.  By the time I’m done everything smells clean and fresh.  It’s too bad I have a cell partner or it would be easier to keep everything clean.  A cell is such a strange excuse for a home.  Four cinder block walls, a steel door, and a window with two inch thick ballistic glass.

The 12:20 count is not long today.  It clears at 1:15 and I’m ready to get started on my exercise routine.  Rabbit and I do an hour of Tai Chi. We focus toward the end on reversing the first section of the classical form.  It takes a little getting used to, but Rabbit is picking it up well.  We then spend another hour doing calisthenics.  By 3:00pm we’re ready for a break.  We sit and talk for a while about things that are going on.  Work, family on the outside, legal challenges.  We also talk a little about global warming and global dimming.  We talk about what that is going to mean to us and to the coming generations.  We agree that future generations are going to be in serious trouble.

A little after three, after we have had a chance to cool down and relax, we make a meal.  Our Sunday meal is corn chips, beans, salsa, peppers, and cheese.  Basically it is a good healthy meal.  It has a tendency to leave me feeling full all night, and only gives me about four hundred and fifty calories.  During the meal we talk some more.  Not about anything in particular.  We talk about what each of us is doing for our homework for the ECU course.  He tells me, generally, what he is writing in his journal and I tell him a little about mine.  Before we know it the 4:20 count is upon us.

After count clears I grab a good hot shower, shave, and put on some shorts and an old sleeveless t-shirt.  The rest of the evening I have planned, like almost every day of my life.  The schedule on the inside is monotonous.  It doesn’t change very often, and when it does it is almost always for the bad.  The rumor mill is alive this evening.  There is a story going around that the warden is leaving.  This rumor goes around every couple of weeks.  This one is spurred on by the leaving of the security chief last Friday.  One has nothing to do with the other.

I spend the next hour, from six to seven, writing.  I’m fleshing out the next scene and putting some notes down on the one after that.  My writing goes well.  The hour flows by with me barely noticing.  Before I know it I have to get back to the cell and lock down for the next count.

After count I go back to writing.  I write from seven thirty to nine.  After nine I head back to the cell, make a little popcorn, and think about my day.  What did I accomplish and what should I have done.  I also think about what I have to do the next day.  More writing of course.  I try and write at least fifteen-hundred words a day but frequently do more than two-thousand.  I used to have a more relaxed approach to my writing, but that has passed.  Now I feel a real drive to produce.  My life is passing me by in here and I want to create things.  Things that will survive me.  I want my life to mean more than a prison term and destroyed life.

I watch the news a little on CNN.  The world is no better today than yesterday.  Politicians squabble and nothing gets done.  It’s a little depressing to watch the news.  At ten-thirty I get my evening meditation in.  I feel better when it’s done.  I feel relaxed and calm.  The cell is dark.  My cell partner is snoring.  Time to end the day.

 

Monday, October 8, 2007

Waking up in prison, day after day, is no fun at all.  It is all about waking up depressed.  Depression is a good term for incarceration.  They are one and the same.  Meditation in the morning is helpful.  It gets one’s focus on a different thing tract.

Breakfast is simple.  A granola bar and some oatmeal.  Nothing like keeping the body regular.  Actually I like my daily breakfast.  It’s simple, to the point, and gets the job done.

At work early in the morning.  I get the computer up and running, think about cable work for the day, and find that I have no work-orders.  Not a surprise.  It’s Columbus Day, which doesn’t mean much here in Oklahoma, but back east it is a big deal I guess.

I spend the majority of the morning writing.  I’m working on the first draft.  It will be short and to the point as far as novels go.  My writing style is a process of expansion.  I start with a page.  Rewrite the page and it becomes ten.  The ten become a hundred.  The hundred grows into three hundred.  I’ve always written that way.  I guess we all do whatever works.  Maybe that should be my mantra.  In the five general categories of personality designation, I’m a pragmatist.  A pragmatist, by definition, does whatever works.

Only recently did I start to write about prison life.  I have resisted it for my whole incarceration.  I think that I have not wanted to become known as a prison writer.  But, since I am a writer, and I write in prison, that label is probably unavoidable.  Anyway, prison topics are now becoming interesting to me.  I think there is much to be said.  I think that stories, fiction based on fact, could be very useful.  There are things which go on here that people on the outside should hear about.  So I’m beginning to write them.  We’ll see where it goes.

Lunch time.  Today I make a bowl of mixed vegetables with a little cheese sauce.  It’s good and low in calories.  The only problem with a vegetable lunch, with no protein, is I’ll be hungry again in a few hours.  Dinner will have to be a good one.

After lunch it’s back to writing.  I spend some time working through a couple of plot strings.  Nothing like creating a plot line that doesn’t go anywhere.  It’s a junior mistake that I have made in the past.  Not anymore.

Count time at twelve-twenty.  I really get tired of the daily counts.  There hasn’t been an escape from the medium security yard her since Donny Fox in 1992.  I think most of these guys wouldn’t run if you opened the front gate and gave them an invitation.  Just think of all the trouble they went through to get in here.  The biggest down side to the counts is the productivity you lose every day.  We spend about five hours a day locked in our cells doing nothing every day.  Five hours.  I could do a lot with those five hours.

After count I have to go to Unit 4 and work on the cable.  Bad reception is almost always the cable connections from the wall to the TV.  I check the connections and they appear to be okay.  When I wiggle the cable though his picture jumps.  I replace the cable and the picture is fine and steady.  Just for the hell of it I meter the cable in the utility room to make sure it is consistent with the main output at the head-in rack.  Everything is copasetic.

Back to the cage and more writing.  I do a quick rewrite on my class paper.  It is a short one this week, a little over two pages.  I wrote it Friday morning but always wait a few days to do a rewrite.  It’s done now and I will print it Thursday morning for class.

A little after four and I head out to mail call.  I stand around for ten minutes before I realize there is no mail today, it’s a federal holiday.  One day just sort of bleeds into another here.  If it wasn’t for the weekends I’d never know what day it is.  Count at four-twenty.  Another hour wasted.

After count its work-out time.  More martial arts plus walking today.  I try and walk at leas thirty minutes every day.  Every other day I make it an hour.  I love to walk.  I would walk across the state if given the chance.  Can you think of any activity more natural than walking?  It’s beautiful stuff.

After six, its time to shower and make some supper.  Tonight it is beans, cornbread, and jalapeno peppers.  One of my favorite meals.

At seven its count again.  My cell partner just sits and watches television all day and all evening.  He is a vegetable.  No ambition or direction.  Perhaps a carrot.

At seven-thirty count clears and I head back to work.  I do a little writing.  Mostly I spend time working on my idea for an alternative to the cage in prisons.  All the studies suggest the same thing, rehabilitation can work, but not in a prison setting.  That means if you want to change lives in here you first have to change the environment.  That is a serious up-hill battle.  But, I have an idea that I think is workable.  Inexpensive, secure, effective.  The big question is would a politician accept it?  They have the classic ‘get tough’ attitude.  My design is not ‘get tough’, its ‘get right’.         As I get more of it worked out I’ll talk to Burns about it.

It’s after nine, time for a little popcorn and television.  I don’t watch much TV but I try and catch the news each evening.

A little after ten and my cell partner is going to bed, time for me to do some meditation, then crash.  See you tomorrow.

 

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Another day another dollar.  In my case it’s about thirty cents.  Morning shower is first.  Man I really like the shower.  It’s a little cold this morning.  I slept well under a single blanket and sheet.  I hated to push off my warmth and get out of my bunk. Goose-bumps while I grab my towel, soap, and toothbrush.  The warm water wakes me up and embraces my in another warm cocoon.  If it weren’t for me having things to do I’d likely stay in the shower a good long time.

After my shower I make my bed, grab my zafu (meditation cushion), and hit the position for about thirty minutes.  I count my breaths, lose the outside world, and feel a sense of peace that even sleep doesn’t give me.  Then it’s up again, get dressed.  What will I wear today?  Gray or Gray?  I guess I’ll choose gray.  Then it’s off to work to write on my journal.

Count time at eight-thirty.  Another wasted hour.  I usually spend my count times reading.  I finish a book this morning. It is one of Philip K. Dick’s classics called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Later the book was developed into a screenplay called Blade Runner and stared Harrison Ford.  Great film.  Over the past two years I’ve been studying various writers.  I started out with Ernest Hemingway.  Then Frank Herbert.  Then Jack London.  Then Richard Back.  Then Cormac McCarthy.  Now Philip K. Dick.  I study their style, structure, and personal approach.  The best I have ever read is easily Cormac McCarthy.  But not all of his work is good.  The Road was a true masterpiece.  Frank Herbert was no slouch either.

Time for me to head out and work on some cable.  I’m doing preventive maintenance today.  Just metering the line at a variety of locations.  Making sure that balance is in order.

Noon.  I get a break to make some lunch.  Today its corn tortillas, beans, peppers, and cheese.  I can live on this stuff.  I think a reader my find my diet bland and repetitive.  I find it repetitive, but it’s healthy.  These days I’m happy with healthy.  Count time after lunch.  More reading.  Today I’m reading Lian Hern’s latest book.  It is the fourth in the Otori series.  It’s a novel taking place in medieval Japan.  I have always had a thing for Japanese culture.  They are a people in love with the simple, the austere and the elegant.  I can relate.

No cable work for the afternoon.  I get to spend it writing and working on my own projects.  Nothing I haven’t written about already.

Three o’clock.  Time to do some walking and take a break from writing.  That is my secret to getting a lot done.  Work hard, but take frequent breaks.

Five-twenty.  Time to get my exercise on.  Do you see a pattern here.  My days don’t change much for the most part.  I follow the same schedule day in and day out.  Even the weekends have little variation for me.  Prison is ‘more of the same’.  But, and I don’t know this from first-hand experience, but I think most people live lives that are based of patterns, schedules, and predictability.  The problem you run into in prison is that the patterns, schedules, and predictability is combined with a type of loneliness that can sometime be debilitating.

Seven-thirty.  Time for more writing.  I have to finish up my reading assignments this evening.  I’ll break from writing around eight.  Read, then crash around ten-thirty after meditation.  Welcome to my life.

 

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A Prisoner’s Misery Status

A Prisoner’s Misery Status:

Early death from any cause happens most often to people at the bottom of society’s heap. Studies since the 1960s have found those at the top of the pecking order have the least stressful and most healthy lives. Now science sheds additional light on the subject. There is a biochemical response to low status. There are a class of hormones that regulate the immune system and respond to stress. The response causes chronic inflammation which leads to disease in the body.

My son was a prisoner. He talked about the stress of life behind bars. After years of high blood pressure, severe anxiety and pain from old injuries, he had to take medication for anxiety caused by stress. He could not take strong pain meds because of the inflammation in his bowels. He couldn’t show any weakness because that would make him more vulnerable to the gangs running the prison. By the time Davin was paroled it was too late for him to enjoy his freedom. At least he got to come home to die. Many of his friends died in the infirmary of cancer or heart disease at young ages without the loving touch and care of a family.

By Bonnie Hall

Transformational Living

Transformational Living

By Davin J. Douma

            The goal is the creation of a multi-faceted approach to personal transformation involving multiple agencies and resources.  The perfect model is one that addresses the needs of both violent and non-violent prisoners, serving both short and long-term sentences.  We are talking about behavior modification, substance abuse therapy, reintegration, education & vocational skills training, victim mediation, and restitution.  Part of the effort will also be focused on sentencing reform and focusing attention on alternatives to the modern correctional system.

The following individual programs can be blended into a single, on-going approach to personal transformation.

Behavior Modification Program        A program which addresses the way prisoners see themselves and the world around them.  An encounter group approach with a coordinator who uses the Socratic Method of enabling participants to reach their own conclusions about their behavior.  Their recognition that a problem exists is the springboard to changing the way they think.

Victim Identification Program           Who are the people who are injured by criminal acts?  What are their stories and what is the impact of crime in their lives?  This program would bring small groups of victims into the institution to educate prisoners on the effects of their actions.  In comparison to Victim Mediation, no specific victim/perpetrator meetings are sought.  Instead the prisoner is encouraged to see the effects of crime generally, and then transpose those stories to their own personal situation, imagining their impacts on victims.  This program would sensitize prisoners to the personal effects of their actions.

Scholarship Program                          Education is the one statistically proved rehabilitation program.  Soliciting support and funding for higher education from schools, organizations, and civic minded individuals.  If the federal and state government will not assist prisoners in attaining funding for college educations, private groups will.  The purpose of the program is to generate scholarship programs for inmates.

Social Restitution Program                Individuals would participate in speak-out type programs focusing on youth and crime prevention.  Specifically focusing on behaviors, attitudes, and cultural ideas which enable youth to become enmeshed in criminal life styles.  Prisoners would be confronting the ideas, myths, and romantic ideals of criminal behavior.

Vocational Training                           Vo-Tech skills focused on professions and fields open to ex-offenders.  Including entrepreneurial skills and small business development.

Volunteer/Reintegration Program     The underlying premise is to create a program by which long-term offenders do volunteer work in the local community.  For example, prisoners who possess certain skills (such as a plumber) would do work for the poor, elderly, or disenfranchised.   The prisoners in the program would be men and women who have served at least ten years on their sentence, have at least five years clear conduct, and no sex offenders.

Each program would be initiated independently but as an element of a larger whole.  The focus of Transformational Living is on the individual and a self-actualized approach.  Only those who request to participate will be allowed to do so.  No prisoner would be forced into the program.  No good time would be awarded.  The rewards of the Transformational Living program would be manifested in the prisoner’s life.

Assistance would be sought from the following groups and entities.

Politicians:

Legislative

Executive

                                    Department of Corrections

                                                Wardens

                                                Reintegration Specialists

                                    Department of Education

                                                General Equivalency Diploma

                                                Vocational Skills

                                                Higher Education

                                    Law Enforcement

                                                Drug Enforcement

                                                Gang Specialists

                                    Prosecutors

                                    Judicial

Judges

                                                Drug Courts

                                    Department of Human Services

                                                Reintegration

                                    Department of Mental Health

Probation and Parole

                                                Parole Board

                                                Parole Officers

                                                Probation Officers

Copyright 2010. Davin J. Douma

Snapshot of A Solution

Snapshot of A Solution

 By Davin Douma

What if I could show you a way to reduce the costs of incarceration by half?  What if I could show you a way to get prisoners to change the way they view themselves and the world they live in?  What if I could show you a way to reduce the growth of criminal activity in the one place (prison) it seems to flourish the most?  What if you could get prisoners to be responsible citizens?  What if we could change the whole dynamic of incarceration in this country?  Would it be worth your time to listen?

Do you know why rehabilitation programs in prison don’t work?  It’s simple really.  The amount of time and energy expended in a rehabilitation program is miniscule compared to the negative influence of the prison environment.  Please let me explain that statement.  Let us say a prisoner, for whatever reason, signs up to take a prison program like Thinking For A Change.  The program is basically sound and provides good information and advice to prisoners.  The man who takes the course spends about two hours a week for six months in the course.  That means he gets a positive influence from the program for a total of fifty-two hours.

Fifty-two hours of good influence looks good in a vacuum, but prison programs don’t operate in vacuums, they operate in prisons.  In the same six month time period the prisoner takes the program, he has to face the reality of the world he lives in.  The threat of being killed, or assaulted, or robbed, or raped, or abused by a guard.  He lives in a world of stress and drugs and gangs.  In the same six month time frame he receives 2,860 hours of negative influence.  In other words, for every hour of positive influence he gets from a program, he gets fifty-five hours of negative influence.  The program simply can not compete with the environment.

The solution to changing the high cost of incarceration and reducing the number of victims and making rehabilitation more effective is the same for each.  You have to change the classical model that has proven to be a failure for the past two-hundred and twenty years.  It isn’t 1790 anymore.  Nor is it 1890.  So why are we still building and operating prisons the same way?  Haven’t we learned anything in the past two centuries?  Are we so entrenched in the way things are that we blind ourselves to the ladder leading out of the hole we are in?

In 1790, and in 1890, and in 1990, and now in 2010 we are still building prisons the same way.  Steel and concrete cages.  The physical structure of a prison may not sound very important, but it is actually the cause of most of our problems.  Early prisons, like the Walnut Street Jail, were built like fortresses so that criminals could be kept inside.  Those were the most effective security measures of the time.  The walls were stone and brick and the doors were steel and bars.  In essence, we built cages for humans like we would for exotic animals in zoos.  And as time passed and populations grew we just shoved more and more men into the same small spaces.

The prisons built in 1890 and 1990 are remarkably similar to the ones in 1790.  They generate the same kinds of feelings in both prisoners and guards.  They generate the same high costs.  They generate the same victims.  They generate the same violent criminals.  When our prisons failed, instead of looking at what we had built, we looked at what we were producing.  We thought that since men and women coming out of prisons were worse people, they obviously needed to stay in longer to fix them.  We went from giving out five year sentences for robbery to fifty year sentences.  We went from giving out six months in jail for a DUI to fifteen years.  We went from sending pot-head kids to group homes to incarcerating them in adult prisons for life.  Each time the system failed us, we punished the criminals even more.  It is similar to the idea that if you just hit your kid harder he will stop misbehaving.  That doesn’t work either.  It actually makes the kid worse.

 Copyright  2010. Davin Douma

A Pertinent Question amid U.S. justice system’s revolving door

Here is a link to an excellent article by award winning journalist, Leonard Pitts JR. He clearly points out the insanity of our current punitive judicial system.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/05/08/2789863/a-pertinent-question-amid-us-justice.html

Big Fish in Little Ponds

Big Fish In Little Ponds

By Davin Douma

             Not long ago I was enjoying a little road time.  It was early September and the sky was gray and the day was that pleasant cool we all notice after the heat of summer has run its course.  In Oklahoma we call it Indian Summer, but everywhere you go they have a name for it.  Road time to a prisoner means you are being transported someplace.  Sometimes a prisoner is going for a day and sometimes for a lifetime.  In this instance I was manacled and shackled and boxed.  Boxed means I had a black box on my cuffs that was attached to a chain around my waist that prevents the picking of locks and keeps the hands in a relatively fixed position.  If you wear the box for an hour it is merely uncomfortable.  That day I would were it for twelve hours, and feel the pain of it for days.  Papillon is never far from my thoughts.

            The purpose of the trip for me and the other three guys in the white corrections van was a hospital run.  I was getting an ultrasound of my abdominal organs to help determine if I had cancer.  Two of the guys with me were going for chemo treatments and the other was getting a check up after his disease had gone into remission.  We were all sick or post sick, and all enjoyed the ride and the chance to see the outside world again.  For me, the drive through Oklahoma City was the first time I had been outside the prison fences in five years.  Five years might not sound like a long time to most people, but it was longer than world war two and I felt every day of it.

            Because so much time passes between trips for a lifer, the changes in the outside world are hugely noticeable.  All the cars had changed, the speeds were faster, and everywhere I looked there was a driver with a cell-phone stuck to their ear.  Many of the business had changed and most of the big billboards on the side of the road had new advertisements.  Off all the differences the one I noticed the most was the addition of Indian Casinos.  Five years earlier there wasn’t a one, now there were dozens with neon lights, packed parking lots, and posters of curvy women in evening gowns with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  The signs were a stark contrast to the blue-haired women and retired men who made up the bulk of the casino’s clientele.  Knowing that and understanding the deception just made me want to go there even more.

            The drive to the hospital was made in the early morning hours while the sky was still dark and the pull of sleep still strong.  It was the ride back after a full day in restraints that showed me the world through the barred windows of the van.  Seeing the outside world was like the experience of a five year old in a confectionary store.  Everything looked so good and yet you knew you couldn’t get a taste of any of it.  There was the hope tinged with desire, but also the loneliness of memory.  I thought about what it would be like to walk through the parking lot of the mall we just passed.  I thought about what it would be like to be sitting in the car next to the van.  The one with the pretty girl on the phone and the yellow skirt that showed me some thigh.  The things I missed weighed heavily upon me.  The trip was turning out to be an experience of minor torture.  There I was stuck behind a glass window and forced to watch a world go by that I could only gaze upon.  A world so vast it was beyond my ability to comprehend.  In such moments I often think of how much I gave away in that instant of violence over twenty-five years earlier.  I thought of what I had given up and what it would have meant to me.

            Prison is such a different kind of place and small in comparison.  A place where lots of men with no skills or ambitions can rise to the top of the heap through vulgar behavior.  A place where the lowest common denominator is the greatest.  A place were one is limited in almost every way.  But is it really all those things or is that our perception.

It is true that in prison the worst behavior is regarded as the best.  It is true that men with no education or training usually end up running the place.  It is true that the distance between the fences is tiny compared to the distance between horizons.  But do people on the streets really live in all that space?  Do men in prison really live between the fences?

            As we drove down I-35 and passed the stores and restaurants and casinos I thought about the scale of the world I lived in compared to the free world.  The place I live is not actually inside the fences.  The place you live is not actually between the horizons.  We live in our heads and in our hearts.  We live in our memories and in our contrived histories.  We live in that place we create for ourselves, be it big or small, gutter or mansion.  The outside world, the one beyond the confines of our minds, plays only a small role in the lives we actually live on the inside.

            How many people know a successful man or woman who lives in misery?  How many lonely couples are there driving on the highway in separate cars?  How many poor people do you know that have great sex lives?  Since when is the world beyond ourselves the creator of success and happiness?  Those things are mined and forged within the cauldron of our consciousness.  Who says a man in prison can not find contentment?  Who says a woman in jail can not find peace within herself?  When we stop allowing the outside world to be a dictator, we find the freedom of choice within.

            In prison there is a saying used by those people who are successful in prison and failures on the streets.  These are the people who come back, time and again, to the only place they know and understand.  “It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.”  The reality is that we are all small fish living in small ponds.

Copyright 2010. Davin Douma

Lowered Expectations

 Lowered Expectations

by Davin Douma

         We’re all a bunch of lazy bastards.  We don’t want to take out the trash.  We don’t want to mow the lawn.  We don’t want to expend any more energy than we absolutely have to.  Is that a human trait, something endemic to the species?  Or is it a symptom of the modern era, a byproduct of 21st century thinking?  In the end it doesn’t mater where it comes from or its evolutionary purpose.  It is what it is and we have to deal with it.  The consequences show up in all parts of our lives.  The part I’m most concerned with is how it relates to prisons.  Prisons are a pet project of mine.

            What do we expect from prisoners?  I’m being rather general here when I ask the question.  What do we as a society expect from the men and women we incarcerate?  Do we want them to make better decisions in their lives?  Do we want them to behave and stop being criminals and drug addicts and malcontents?  Do we have any goal or destination in mind when it comes to the people who break our laws and live in our correctional facilities?  Or are we just playing catch with ourselves in the dark?

            The same question can be asked of the men and women who run our prisons.  What do we expect from a prison guard or a warden?  What do we expect from a case manager or a correctional counselor?  Do we have any idea what we want these people to do on our behalf and in our names?  We pay their salaries and yet most of them do jobs that are as mysterious to us as the depths of the sea.  What do they do and what do we think they should be doing?

            We could easily extend this most basic of questions to our judges and politicians.  What do we expect of them?  Do we expect anything at all?  The bar is so low in our society that anyone can be a politician or a judge.  As long as they have a pithy slogan and promise to hammer the law breakers, we seem to be happy.  Life without parole for pot heads.  Jay walkers should be shot on site.  Anyone who disagrees with the basic premise that criminals should be severely punished, drawn and quartered if necessary, is un-American and a supporter of the Taliban.  Doesn’t everyone know that Osama Bin Laden is a criminal too.  They’re all in on it together.

            If we (society) don’t set the standard then there isn’t one.  How is a former criminal in prison supposed to put his life back together if he doesn’t know what is expected of him.  Dogs chase balls because they think its fun and they are rewarded for it.  When the ball is thrown we expect the dog to get the ball and bring it back.  Simple expectation.  Pat him on the head and throw it again.  He’ll chase the ball all day as long if you pat him on head each time.  He has a purpose and a place and role to play.  Is there anything more basic than that?  In human terms we call this purpose and meaning.  It is fundamental to who we are and the contentment we can achieve in our daily lives.  Purpose and meaning.

            Public employees, like prison guards and wardens and correctional counselors, have to be told what we expect of them.  They produce a product.  If a car manufacturer sold you a lemon there would be consequences.  Why would you accept lemons from the correctional system?  Are the recidivists acceptable?  When a car thief becomes a burglar or a robber becomes a murderer is it just accepted?  Do we even care so long as it doesn’t happen to us?

            When judges don’t do their jobs we end up with people on Oprah who were wrongly convicted thirty years ago.  Do you know how many people have been released from death rows because of DNA?  Do you know how many poor bastards don’t have DNA in their cases to prove their innocence?  Do you have any idea how many people we have put to death in this country before DNA evidence existed?  Getting arrested and convicted is easy in this country.  Getting a wrongful conviction overturned is almost impossible.  Who’s job is it to make sure that things like this don’t happen?  Why are there no consequences for the men and women of the bench when they screw up?  If you do something stupid in your job, you get fired.  Ever hear of a judge being fired?  When no one is held accountable there are no standards and expectations are irrelevant.

            When a politician proposes an outrageous sentence for a minor crime there are no naysayers.  The next politician just tries to come up with something even more outrageous.  He or she wants to prove they are tuff on crime too.  Look what I can do.  What does that sentence cost us?  Instead of expecting people to think, to use their minds and explore viable solutions, they do stupid things and get rewarded for it.  The dog in this game isn’t returning the ball.  He picks it up and runs away and buries it in a hole some place.  How many balls are you going to throw before you realize the dog is playing a different game?

          I can ask the same lame questions all day long but the answers aren’t coming.  People first have to care.  I think people just don’t want to be bothered.  We don’t want to know what goes on in interrogation rooms.  We don’t want to know what goes on in prisons.  We don’t want to participate in the process of justice or rehabilitation.  Don’t talk to me.  Leave me alone and let me be.  Isn’t Dancing With The Stars on tonight?

Copyright 2010. Davin Douma