13th~ It’s Not Always That Clear Cut (Changing The Way We Think About Our Prison System)

I may take some heat for opening this can of worms. That being said, I will anyway. Why do I feel the right to? I have been arrested and through the court system. I have spent more evenings than I would like to admit in a local jail cell. But most of all I spent a large portion of my youth surrounded by white male ex cons. Men who had spent up to anywhere from 2 years to 10 years in prison. Some of these men spent their incarceration in different states from where they lived. I heard their stories from everywhere. I also heard what they never wanted anyone else to know.

13th is a documentary on Netflix. It takes an in depth look at the prison system in the U.S. and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality. (I took this mostly from IMDB)

The problem is we have to stop looking at the appalling shape of our prison system and seeing it as a race matter or an us against them matter. Everyone loses.

Let’s start with an explanation of the difference between jail and prison. You might be surprised at what you don’t know.

JAIL

Jails are local, used for people recently arrested or awaiting trial. There are over 3,000 local jails across the U.S. and together can hold around 500,000 awaiting trial.

PRISON

Prisons are state and Federal run institutions. They are for people who have already been convicted.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Each day there are about 500,000 people in jails who are still presumed innocent and awaiting trial just because they can’t afford bail.

Over 60% of people arrested are forced to post a financial bond to be released pending trial.

A recent study showed that in New York courts over 50% of people held in jail awaiting trial for misdemeanors or felony charges were unable to pay bail amounts of $2,500 or less.

The poorest people, those who had to remain in jail since their arrest were 4 times more likely to receive a prison sentence.

Over 95% of criminal cases are finished by plea bargains due to poor legal counsel or money.

Privately owned prisons are a $5 Billion a year industry and are paid a per diem or a monthly rate for each prisoner in it’s facility. A researcher from The University of California Berkeley accused the #1 Company with privatized prisons of insisting on provisions in it’s contracts with governments. This would insure that they only received the youngest, healthiest, and cheapest prisoners.

Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates. Their private prisons handed out twice as many strikes against inmates lengthening their sentences by an average of 3 months. This adds up to an increase of  $3,000 per inmate.

MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION

Nationwide, people with Mental Health conditions constitute 64% of the jail population. This is according to the Federal Bureau of Prison Statistics.

40% of Riker’s Island inmates were found to be suffering from a mental illness in a recent study yet there is no treatment to be found.

70% of inmates need medical treatment for Addiction only 17% receive it.

Those who are too poor, too mentally ill, or too chemically dependent, even though presumed innocent until proven guilty, are kept in cages until their trial dates.

CONSEQUENCES

There are tens of thousands of rapes inside jails and prisons each year. Those are the ones that are reported. There are over 4,000 inmates murdered while incarcerated each year.

I’m going to hypothesize a little here. There may or may not be some truthful elements.

An Alcoholic, undiagnosed Bipolar person is stopped for driving under the influence. They are brought to their local jail. Mug shots taken, fingerprints taken, the whole nine yards. They can’t afford a lawyer or bail and are forced to stay in jail. The people they are surrounded by probably have been there before, they know the ropes. The Alcoholic with the undiagnosed Mental Illness is detoxing and having symptoms of a Depressive Episode. No one notices, no one cares. This person feels isolated and ostracized. They become a victim of violence by other inmates. The longer they have to wait for their trial the worse it gets. Day after day until the moment their fragile brain can’t take it anymore. They either commit suicide or take action against the person tormenting them. If that doesn’t happen and they actually make it back out to the “real” world things are different. The environment they had to adapt to in jail stays with them on the outside. Most likely they will be incarcerated again in the future.

WHAT I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE

I have personally spent time in some jail cells. I’m not proud of it. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I wasn’t aware of before. I am a Caucasian Female with blond hair and blue eyes at the time. (I have red hair now)  Depending on the area you were arrested in it could be scary. Some of them were known for how they treated any females that were brought in. I witnessed this done to others and there were things I would question when it came to me. I don’t know if they had to take my Blazer and shirt leaving me with only a see through camisole for the entire night. I don’t know why they had to take the little pillow, toilet paper, or my shoes and socks out of the cell. I’m pretty sure it didn’t take 5 officers to make sure I urinated without hurting myself or passing any drugs. The toilet was in the cell. I was young, scared, and I had acted irrationally. I just wanted to go home.

I watched some of the guys I knew as they went in and out of jail. I watched as they became meaner or shells of their old selves. I heard things I never wanted to hear.

Ricky was a sweet, charming, attractive, con artist. If given the chance I believe life could’ve been different for him. He had a lot of grief in his life that he hid with charm and humor. He came from a large family with little money. I know it was only the mother raising them. He had 1 brother who had overdosed, 1 brother who committed suicide, and another who died in a motorcycle accident. He not only hid behind his looks and humor he also numbed it with alcohol and drugs. It didn’t stop when he went to prison. Alcohol and drugs were easy to obtain where he was. Almost easier than on the outside. Every time he went in he came out worse. There were no addiction programs for him. He went from a muscular attractive guy to a skeleton.

He wasn’t the only one. There were several more. None came out better than when they went in. It was always worse. The stories always progressed, the violence done inside escalated until it stuck to them when they were released.

None of them had money for bail or lawyers. You know who did? Me. I was lucky. I personally witnessed how incarceration changes you. It’s never for the better.

This isn’t about anything other than changing the system so it recognizes they have a problem with the poor, the mentally ill, and addicted.

Poverty, Mental Illness, and Addiction have no color. bound-with-chains-of-the-spirit-and-of-men11