Sunday, April 26, 2009

'Imprisoned by Stereotypes'

From Doc Berman:

Inside Out, the online magazine of the Prison Fellowship, has this interesting cover story with the same title as the title of this post. Here is how it gets started:

When the average person conjures an image of a prisoner, what is pictured? Does the mind’s eye see a lone shadow with defiance and anger on his face and evil and ill-intent in his heart, prowling for trouble and poised to wreak violence? And who or what provides this image? Movies? The news media? Fear?

When three people from Texas look into the faces of prisoners, they see an opportunity for repentance, a prospect for a second chance, a vessel of potential. Their perception of prisoners is not based on sensationalized images from any screen, or on what they think it means to be a prisoner. Among them, they have more than three decades of experience in prison ministry. And while they, too, acknowledge that there are prisoners who live up to society’s stereotypes, there are also those who reduce such notions into myth.

Here's a brief description of the three Texas prison ministry volunteers profiled:
With 15 years of prison ministry experience, Lloyd Knapp points out that people inside prison and people outside of prison have at least one major similarity: the capability of making poor choices. The difference between prisoners and nonprisoners most often lies within circumstance. “There are those of us who commit crimes, and there are those of us who don’t get caught. Obviously most of us haven’t committed murder or done drugs, but we’ve done things that we regret or wish we hadn’t. Prisoners make mistakes, too, but they habitually make those mistakes. They’re not evil at heart; they’ve just been down that road so long, it’s difficult for them to change.”

Judy Indermuehle, a prison volunteer for more than nine years, agrees with Lloyd. In fact, she says that looking inside a prison is like looking into a large cultural mirror. “The prison population is a large mix of society,” says Judy, “same as we have outside. Prisoners are bad and evil, just like we are. We are capable of what they’ve done, and unless we are able to view ourselves that way, it would seem we are full of arrogance.”

Adelaide Biggs, a volunteer with more than nine years of experience inside prisons, echoes Judy’s tenacious sentiment. “We need to remember that we’re all sinners,” she says. “Jesus changes us. Most of the people I see have lived a horrible life and made terrible choices, but they know they can be different people through Christ. And isn’t that the Christian faith?”

All three volunteers agree: Prisoners are neither more nor less evil than those outside of prison. The main difference between the majority of the incarcerated and the majority of the free is not something inherent, so much as it is something acquired.


plsdeacon said...

I've been involved in prison ministry (through Kairos) for almost 14 years.

The men I meet (normally at Coffield) are no more evil than the people I meet at work. Some of them have done evil things. Some of them claimed to be satan worshippers. All of them need love and respect - but, then, so do we all.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful article and so full of truth. I particularly like the portion that states people are people and everyone commits sins against our Lord and the community. The fact is some who make bad choices get caught and some do not. Those who get caught are treated in an unfair way and when sent to prison to pay for their mistakes should not lose the fact they are human and a child of God and deserve to be treated like a human and are not sent to prison to be dehumanized, that is not part of their punishment, the fact they are locked up should be the only punishment they receive;not to be stripped of the fact they are human and treated worst than many animals.

The prison system in Texas is in dire straits and needs a complete remake, maybe the Feds need to come back in and show them how to treat people, it not be belittling them and mistreating them, but with the act of kindness and the very fact they are human should be the first topic. There are many COs who are good people then there are those who are not good people and more than likely been mistreated at a point in their lives and tend to treat others that way; those are the ones TDCJ does not need and some of them are actually Wardens.

I ask the Legislature, to look into some of the complaints they receive and take them at face value, generally there is truth to what is stated. God loves all of us and would not mistreat any of us;therefore, COs do not have the right to mistreat anyone.

Charlie O said...

I'll say right away that I'm an avowed atheist. I do appreciate the comments and/or study by the Prison Ministry. They are spot on. However, it never ceases to amaze how Texas, a state that so overwhelmingly claims to be a "christian" place, has absolutely no capacity or belief in forgiveness or redemption of those they incarcerate. Parole is regularly rejected "due to nature of the crime." Felons are denied employments in hundreds of occupations, etc. etc. My wife is on her 11th year of a 14 year sentence for a crime she committed when she was 17 years old. Her last parole was rejected due to the "nature of her crime." Absolutely nothing was taken into account for who she is today (or even two years ago). It's time for her to come home (to PA, no way does she want anything to do with Texas).

Anonymous said...

It’s funny to think Texas is a Christian state. The prison systems for its children and its adults are run by devil fronting off as Christians. Look at the nut case from Burleson that is appointed to the pardons a parole board, nice Christian lady there, popular for her dildo crusades. I see the Bible talks about people like our legislators who are dehumanizing others in the pursuit of there on ways. This roles down to the wardens and co/jco. It is sad, but thank God there are people who do care, who can peddle some glimmer of home in such a dehumanizing world.

Anonymous said...

I give up! What about the felons and other employees with records who were terminated from TYC? I guess they were the only ones, who being truly evil, deserved to be terminated? None of you al will accept that TYC welcomed prison ministry groups and all other church and community groups willing to come in and show the kids that they had a chance. Why Do you think they were willing to hire people with records?(and no, I don't mean sex offenders, I mean the kind of folks you all are talking about). You know, I don't know any of you and so I accept that you all are sincere. I cannot judge whether you are christians or not either. You don't have to be christian to be kind. Most of you seem very kind, understanding and forgiving, accept when it comes to TYC. What makes any of you uniquely qualified to declare TYC and all of it's employees as evil? I cannot understand that kind of hypocracy. I have no doubt that there are evil people everywhere, as there are people who screwed up and made mistakes as there are people out there working hard doing the best that they can, TYC included.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, there are many folks out there imprisoned by stereotypes. Those who protest the loudest are often the worst offenders. These are the folks who are very understanding and forgiving as long as people agree with their elitist view.

Anonymous said...

At the current rate of exonerations in Texas, there is an excellent chance that thousands of prisoners are not guilty. It is time for the people of Texas to realize that this insanity-driven prison craze that this state has been on is not working.

Anonymous said...

We need to stop picking on all of these special groups and let them do what they want. The heck with students who are actually trying to listen and learn. They just need to lighten up and go with the flow. If we just learn to let everyone do what they want we wouldn't have any need for prisons and jails. We just make their problems worse when have expectations of them,, it's just too much pressure.