I’m obsessed with a new show on ABC called “For Life.” It follows a man wrongfully convicted of being a drug kingpin who receives life in prison on his first conviction. It’s based loosely on a true story and is easily one of my favorite dramas on tv.
My favorite part of the show is the female warden of the prison, because she is determined to completely change the way the prison is run. She allows longer visitations, more contact between inmates, and gives them a place to work out and play sports outside.
Basically, she treats them like humans.
I’ve only been inside a prison as a visitor twice and both times were within the last year. So, I will be the first to admit my experience is very limited. However, I noticed something the first time I visited. The mood in the visitation room was extremely subdued. The officer on duty was very stoic and had no visible personality. Now, I should be clear about something. The women in this facility are not on death row with shanks hidden in their pants pocket. Felons yes, but mostly due to a lifelong struggle with addiction.
Anyway, I was immediately told this guard wouldn’t let many things fly. The women were visibly nervous when I started letting Henry roam around the room. He started going towards the American flag and I could tell this was not okay. The guard was giving us the eye and Henry’s biological mom told me I should probably grab him. She told me she was nervous this guard would give her a strike and she was working so hard for no strikes. I just chalked it up to prison life and tried my best to keep Henry from running rampant. At one point, she asked the guard if we could take Henry in the play room and the answer was no. There seemed to be no apparent reason for this answer other than the fact that she could.
However, the next time I visited I noticed something different. There was a different guard on duty and the room was visibly more relaxed. Women were smiling and talking a bit louder and the guard even made an effort to engage in a bit of small talk. The play room was utilized and Henry was able to make his way over to the coveted flag. It was a better experience completely, but the reason didn’t hit me until one night when I was watching my beloved show.
The second guard treated these women like humans. She celebrated their families, smiled at their children, and allowed them to play together in the playroom. She still followed every single rule they had, but did it while remembering these were actual people. With real families. And real lives outside of these four walls.
We wonder why people are so often released from jail just to find themselves right back in. Have you ever been around a child who can do nothing right with their parents? Seriously. They wake up and screw up from the second their feet hit the floor. They are too loud, too rowdy, too rude, too messy, etc. etc. And after a while they just quit caring. They are going to stay in trouble no matter what so they might as well have fun while doing it.
Now, before you come at me with, “but kids are not hardened criminals” or “these people are terrible people.” Let me tell you something. I’ve heard about some kids doing some pretty sad things. Starting fires, offending against a younger child, and so forth. But make no mistake….if we tried to rehabilitate them by putting them in a metal cell in our closet, we would be the ones arrested. We don’t do that because it wouldn’t work. And because it’s extremely cruel. As parents, we may send our child somewhere for help, but it would look more like a therapeutic center and less like shackles and chains.
I’m not asking for a debate on whether adult criminals should be incarcerated. Of course someone who kills another person should be put away. Or someone who sex traffics young girls. And so on and so on. The day sin entered the world, there became a need for rules and regulations.
But I am saying this. As a society, we have to quit treating humans like caged animals and being shocked when they bite.