The public thinks that offering educational programs for criminals is, in effect, creating smarter criminals. This is a very tough argument to debate. What makes this argument so tough to oppose is exactly what will undo the argument?
The developing mind of a criminal is just that – the developing of a criminal mind. But where do we find data to support that argument? It is not as though the assumed criminal lifestyle is charted and monitored. We are left to our assumptions; why would we assume otherwise? To assume that a criminal’s developing mind is a developing criminal mind, we must assume that the very nature of every criminal is crime, and that the only possible change in a criminal’s behaviors can be new criminal behaviors. Logic says that the only possible way to assume such a conclusion about a person is to already harbor a universal conclusion about the idea of such a person. “A tiger cannot change its stripes.” Who among us has not deceived someone, kept something that did not belong to them, or engaged in any number of such common activities?
If we are arguing that such behaviors can only develop, then what are we saying about ourselves? We have concluded that crime is not a nature, it is a choice, and any choice is influenced by our experiences and our circumstances. The only thing that really separates the criminal from us is the different experiences and circumstances. Why do we assume that educating a criminal is merely helping him commit more sophisticated crimes? Why can’t we assume that an education can give this person the tools to make more acceptable choices?
Why should we do good things for those who have done bad things? The answer is because, “anything else would be bad.” If we are not doing good for bad people, then we are doing bad for bad people. We should not be working on ways to do bad for isolated populations of people; rather, we should work on developing good no matter who is on the receiving end. That is our obligation to society. The statistical evidence speaks for itself in favor of education for prisoners, but let me share with you my own experience. I have made terrible mistakes in my life, and one terrible mistake cost me my liberty. The farthest I made it in school was 10th grade. I have been locked away from society now for close to 15 years. As a person of the world, I was pushed over by a good wind. My behavior was driven by what others expected of me and what was left for me as an example. Obviously, the world you are exposed to is critical to how you end up. The good news is that since that is true, such a person is really susceptible to positive influence by the change of the world around him.
Education is indeed a powerful tool for positive change. Education will give you a new confidence in making decisions for yourself, along with more understanding and many more options. It will develop more critical thinking skills, and make it possible to better weigh behaviors and consequences. It will give you a new direction in life. We cannot risk not helping. The vast majority of prisoners are going to return home. They are going to be our neighbors and they are going to be around our loved ones. So the question really comes down to: what kind of prisoner do you want living next to you? No matter how you feel about the subject, the reality is that these prisoners are indeed coming home, and you do have the power to help shape what kind of neighbor they will be. So why educate? Because it is the one science that overwhelmingly works. Providing prisoners with the opportunity to obtain and education could give them hope, help make themselves feel worthy and knowledgeable, and most importantly help them become a better person with a vision in life.
This same education should apply to those who have life without parole. There are a lot of men with this kind of sentence, who given a chance of an education along with an opportunity to go back out into society, would be some of the best neighbors most of us have ever had. They just need a chance. Life without parole can have detrimental psychological effects on the prisoner that can foster resentment and hopelessness and hostility that inspire further criminal activity. Or it can offer an unprecedented opportunity for intellectual activity, introspective reflection, and personal growth. Such positive outcomes could be further enhanced by the use of workbooks along with well-trained teachers who care.
This is how most prisoners with life without parole feel. They see themselves as not worth anything. The prisoner eventually loses himself as well and becomes nothing but a figure. Everyone treats him as a monster, until he eventually accepts that he is a monster. But underneath is still the innate human desire to be normal. Prisoners need to understand that they are not their deeds!! They are not the roles that they are playing on a daily basis. They do not need to be defined by others’ perceptions. The best of men and kings and even presidents share the same human qualities with us.
Education is the launching pad that brings prisoners back to normalcy.
Then we break the curse that they are defined by their deeds. After that, we build in them the potential for greatness. We teach them to keep that potential grounded in realistic options and we show then that it is essential that they follow their intrinsic motivations. We do not live in fantasy worlds, and adversity will always exist, especially when one has a history such as a prisoner, but when we are intrinsically driven, the adversities do not have breaking power!
When you tell a man he is nothing for long enough, he will become nothing. I was told all my life that I would end up in prison, and sure enough, I did not disappoint. As of now I have not given in to the suggestion that I am less than I want to be, but we all have breaking points.
Prisoners are not monsters, and they are not saints, and yet they are both. Prisoners have to find a balance between satisfying our selfish impulses and considering the footprints we leave in other peoples’ lives. The world does not belong to us, we have to figure out how to conform to society’s way of life. Prisoners need to get sick of the “Same Ol’ Thing”. Education is that chance!!
Obstacles are a part of this beast, and one should always anticipate a climb. But as long as I stay strong on what I do, time will take care of the rest. I am just unwilling to justify my stay here by obnoxious behavior. I just do not have it in me anymore. L
Believe me, I feel every bit of the pain, but you would never be able to tell it by watching me. I still conduct myself with respect – very dignified. No officer here will have a bad thing to say about me. I really am a different creature, even in my life away from my family. I feel lit all, and probably express the desperation, but it is not reflected in my conduct.