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My Interest in Prison Reform by Davin Douma

Why in the world would a prisoner write a treatment about fixing the correctional system in this country? Why not let it continue to ferment in its own juices? There are actually several reasons. First, the system is broken and no one I know is doing anything about it. Politicians, wardens, sociologists, criminologists, and psychologists all seem to talk about the problems we face.  But very few solutions come to the surface and fewer still get implemented.  Second, I have a perspective and expertise that is hard to get and provides a view of prisons  that conventional administrators don’t have. A person can work in a prison for decades and never understand what it means to live in a prison. When dealing with correctional issues you literally have to be able to think outside the box, but that is neither encouraged nor rewarded in the current political climate. Lastly, I live in a prison and am subject to all its human failures. I have to live with the predators, the mentally unstable, and the sadistic personalities. In short, the system malfunctions are inflicted on me, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of living with prisoners who actually want to be in prison. I’m tired of pundits on television complaining about a system they don’t want to fund but have co-created. I’m tired of seeing taxpayers victimized by the system over and over and just taking it like sheep.

A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a new program offered by Oklahoma’s own East Central University. The program was created by Professor Jaime L. Burns, PhD, as part of a criminal justice curriculum. The course involves bringing men and women who are interested in criminal justice careers into prison to interact with actual prisoners in a classroom setting. The prisoners and students are required to read criminal justice textbooks, write papers, and participate in discussion groups on a variety of subjects. The outside students, men and women ranging in age from the low twenties to late fifties, were interested in a variety of careers ranging from the FBI to correctional officers.

During the class Professor Burns offered me a challenge.  Being something of a smartass, I was pretty good at poking holes into other people’s ideas. I was good at tearing down the existing system and pointing out its multitude of flaws. But pointing fingers and calling names doesn’t get anything accomplished. It was time to put up or shut up.  The challenge was that if I had a better idea I should put it on paper. If I thought I could design a better prison, a better system, and hence a better correctional paradigm, than not to do so would be irresponsible. If you find a man on the street with a hole in his chest and you don’t stop to help, what does that say about you as a person/ I consider myself a reformed man despite the system. It’s time I acted that way.

Copyright 2010. Davin Douma

The next post will feature Davin’s proposal for prison reform and creating a new model.

Tribute to Davin Douma

Tribute to Davin Douma

By Raymond Gerson

It is not the hand that we are dealt that determines if we win at the game of life, but how we play our hand. Davin, my step-son was dealt a tough hand, but he played it well.

 Davin was sentenced to life in prison when he was 16 years old for killing a man which he deeply regretted throughout his life. While in the county jail awaiting trial, Davin’s appendix burst. He laid on a cold cell floor in severe pain for days unattended. Then, when it was almost too late, he was in a hospital where he was fed intravenously for five months. Weighing only 90 pounds after being in the hospital, he was sent to a dangerous maximum security prison with adult prisoners. Only one out of a hundred juveniles with life sentences ever come out of this type of prison. Many die and others are never released in Oklahoma where Davin was imprisoned.  He used his intelligence and people skills to survive.

 While in prison Davin changed and he dedicated himself to intensive personal development. Prison, in a way, became like his monastery. He read over 4,000 books on every subject imaginable, took courses, became a highly skilled martial artist, practiced Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation. He practiced Tai Chi for at least 2 hours a day for over 20 years and became a Tai Chi master.  Davin also became a skilled writer and speaker and worked on his character development. He became a teacher on a variety of subjects for other prisoners and helped young newcomers adjust to prison and to rehabilitate themselves. For over 25 years he spoke to schools and to kids to steer them away from a life of crime.

 Davin never bragged about his martial arts skills and rarely spoke about it. I had to drag it out of him. I asked Davin, “When was the last time you had to use your martial art skills in a fight?” He replied that 13 years ago he was jumped by four gang members. He quickly hurt two or three of them and one ran. He could have done serious damage, but he was only trying to avoid being hurt. Davin only hurt them enough so that they would stop fighting. In all of the years he spent in prison after this incident Davin avoided fights by using his people skills even though he could have won the battles. This is why I think of him as a peaceful warrior.

 In October 2011 Davin was finally released from prison after 27 years. Davin, now 44 years old, came to live with my wife Bonnie and me. He had never even had a driver’s license and he needed time to get on his feet financially. His plan was to start a part-time martial arts business and to write both fiction and non-fiction books. He also had ideas for prison reform.

 Two months after Davin came to live with us he became ill and started losing a lot of weight. He rarely complained and it took a while for us to realize that he was seriously ill. We took him to doctors and then to the hospital. Davin had cancer throughout his body and he died three months after his release from prison.

 Davin never had a chance as a free man to fulfill his many dreams and great potential. But he taught those who knew him many wonderful lessons by his example. His life story and example affected many people who barely knew him. Even his Oncologist spent over an hour listening to Davin’s life story and was blown away. He said, “this is a unique individual and his life story is like a Greek tragedy.”

 During his illness Davin rarely complained, showed unusual patience and never seemed angry or even irritated. He was polite and gracious to others. Even at his sickest he was concerned about others and would often ask family and medical staff, “are you doing all right?” He was kind and treated everyone, whether in a low or high position, with respect and civility.

 Davin showed great courage during his illness and throughout his life. He had equanimity and peace of mind at the end of his life and seemed unafraid of dying. His mother, Bonnie, said “He taught us how to die with dignity.”

 I admired Davin for the way he developed himself into a fine human being with many noble qualities.

 It was a privilege to know this peaceful, courageous and gracious warrior.

 

 

Introduction to Mothers for Prison Reform

Please read the “About ” segment of this website for an introduction to it’s purpose.

I believe that major change comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. All over the world women are giving voice to and taking charge of major problems in their societies. Now is the time for women to work together to find a solution to the problem of our children going to prison.

First, we need to prevent our kids from ever going to prison. Second, if they are convicted, we want them to live in a healthy, productive and humanizing environment where they can be educated and rehabilitated. People in prison are people not labels. They are not as they are portrayed in the media.

My son Davin, who was in prison for 27 years, helped me to understand the dehumanizing effect on all prisoners. The following words come from Davin’s  years of experience in several different prisons: “Because of the upside-down and backwards world of prison culture, prisoners either become better or worse people, there is no staying the same.”

On this website I will be sharing Davin’s experiences and writings about his life and his work on prison reform, along with my own thoughts on the subject. I will also be sharing links to articles written by others. I  look forward to hearing your comments, ideas and your stories.

My warmest regards,

Bonnie

mothersforprisonreform@gmail.com