After Four Walls or Learning to Walk
Mr. James Henry Cowan
PO Box 97
McAlester, OK 74501
Are you doing something which may result in your being imprisoned? Are you considering doing something which may result in your being imprisoned? If your answer is “yes” to either of those questions, here is a bit of information which should be given some thought. First, the rhetoric of rehabilitating prisoners is a myth. Second, one cannot be more oppressed, exploited or dehumanized than in prison. Third, one’s needs consist of food, clothing, and shelter. Fourth, Greed cannot be satisfied.
One’s engaging in criminal activities is the result of imitation and expectation and the same person who decides to do so is the same one who can decide to do so no longer. The various correction departments of the state and national governments may advance information as to its attempts at rehabilitating those who are confined in the institutions, but it is merely rhetoric designed for the purpose of securing additional monies from the tax-payers and votes (or appointments) from the voters. Penal institutions throughout the nation may be recognized so as to provide each convict with the best knowledge of the most important technologies, but it does not guarantee that they will engage in work-without-crime. In fact, the ex-convict may not feel that it is necessary to work in order to satisfy his/her needs and desires; he/she has been trained, and; he/she may consider working to be a support of capitalist exploitation.
While the inclusion of technical training in penal institutions cannot be ignored nor diminished , when related to its value to the students and the occupational aspirations, there is one fact which is in need of tremendous expansion and that is the students’ ability to obtain employment after their release. While the issue is now being raised to a degree, its affects upon the total job-market is very minimal. In fact, before it can be expanded there is a need for socio-penal interaction between potential employers and students and the actual inclusion of on-the-job training (penal or social) as a feedback mechanism for employer-awareness of the applicants’ ability to perform. Alas, prison rules and state (Oklahoma for one) statutes impede the inclusions of that.
Regardless of the identity of the individual or the amount of technical awareness which he/she may obtain, alterations in behavior depends upon the desire of the individual. At the same time, it must be realized and accepted that one cannot be changed (excluding psychological and neurological tamper with the brain). Living, in and of itself, is a process of acquiring knowledge and one learns throughout one’s life. At no time may one experience a change in one’s acquired knowledge. One may act differently at various points of one’s life (sane to insanity, immaturity to maturity, etc.) but it is the results of one’s analysis of factual or conceived circumstances in direct relation to one’s knowledge and application of it to the situation. With that in mind, one may conclude that one’s behavior is subject to changes, but even that is fully dependent upon the individual.
During these times the facts of capitalism are being brought more and more into comparison with the facts of socialism and one of the results of this comparison maybe be viewed in rising complaints of oppression and exploitation. Since oppression involves being “kept down” by the cruel or unjust use of authority, one should inquire as to how much more may authority be found to be used in keeping one down than it is in this nation’s penal institutions. While the “rights” of the various constitutions are professed to be retained by convicts, what of the right to vote “after” release; to learn of existing within a capitalist system through active participation during imprisonment, and; other rights that are an integral part of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?” How may one be more exploited than being forced to work at enabling prisons to realize profits in the millions during a year when the total prison population’s earnings from this work is lucky to reach $60,000? (Facts are derived from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary’s pre-July, 1973, population of 2,500 with the average monthly income of $2.00.) Convicts in Federal Institutions have a much better income. In fact, it averages about $50 a month.
With such facts as these available for any interested person to examine, one cannot ignore the fact that the world inside prisons is a world where exploitation is a second to second practice which is enforced by and through the legalized authorities of this nation. What that means is: whenever a convict refuse to be exploited, he/she refuse to serve his/her time outside of the various “no-rights” facilities (Administrative Segregation, Disciplinary Unit, etc.) where he/she receives three meals a day, exercise time totaling 2-hours a week, loss of good-time, no parole and a lot of other “privileges”. So as to retain these privileges, the convict is compelled to discard or repress his/her individuality to such a degree as to maintain an existence in perpetual animosity, short-temperedness, and an increasing desire to strike back at the forces doing the dehumanizing and other in equal positions. Are there any doubts as to the causes of the riots which has swept through Attica, Leavenworth, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and many others?
Regardless of how one may look upon such facts, there is one which no one should ignore, and that is the fact that 99% of all crimes are committed willingly. (Committed in a sense, refers only to those cases where an actual desire was manifested and not to those cases resulting from “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” having no believable alibi, conspiracy, force or mental imbalancies.) Let us not “try” to fool ourselves. Everything that is done is done with consideration and results from decisions arrived at in proportion to “chances”.
Believe it or not, most crimes are the result of personal greed, laziness, anti-establishmentarianism and a general disregard and disrespect for others. Everyone has needs, but those needs are for food, clothing, and shelter while any extension is into the rhelm of desires and conveniences. Although education, transportation, occupation and medication are loosely described as acquisition of comfort and prestige in a capitalist society, life is not dependent upon them. Education is always taking place and is free for the interested in grade schools and public libraries. Walking was common place before the advent of the automobile and surviving is the first occupation. Can it be denied that the satisfaction of one’s needs plays a major role in one’s health?
It is not the satisfaction of needs which cause one to commit a crime, but the laziness which argues against working, the greed which accents one’s desire, and the ego-drive which dissolves one’s considerations of others. No matter how one may examine it, there is one fact concerning greed which is both, obvious and provable, and that is the fact that greed feeds upon itself with ascending continuity. The more it causes one to obtain, the more one desires. One does not have to work with an established business to obtain adequate employment… cleaning yards may be a year-round occupation and as a self-employed individual, one is able to receive full-payments for services rendered without concern of being exploited. Of equal importance is the need to deflate the ego somewhat. Keeping up with the Joneses is one of the psychological tools of any capitalist system and it should be obvious that no one can have everything that anyone may have unless one owns the world.
Yet, there is a solution! In realizing that greed is the primary drive in causing one to commit crimes which result in imprisonment, where exploitation, oppression, and dehumanization are magnified with the support of the legal system, one should utilize a few facts to one’s advantage. Fact; inside prisons one is forced to live in cells of steel whose dimensions are (basically) five-by-nine feet, and which must serve as toilet, closet, den and gymnasium and dining room at times. Fact; convicts are provided with three sets of clothes, one pair of shoes and one coat and, in many instances, are one’s year round wardrobe. Fact; one has little choice of one’s diet and that choice is whether one will eat it or not.
Exploitation within a capitalist society is inescapable, but the degree to which is may be lesser outside prisons is tremendous. Excluding the foregone facts of imprisonment, one may examine it in terms of money and find that a job paying $400 a month is 200 times the amount paid to prisoners in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and 8 times the amount earned in Federal Prisons. Added to that is the freedom of mobility which those who are not confined possess and there are no rules which proclaim that one must “earn the privilege” to advance vocationally.
Webster defines value as “that quality of a thing which makes it more or less desirable, useful, and beneficial.” What is one’s value to oneself? Does one enjoy being exploited, oppressed and dehumanized? Would one rather work to make penal institutions wealthier or oneself? Without a doubt, the best and logical alternative to volunteering for penal incarceration is a 40-hour a week occupation which satisfies one’s needs and provides one with a savings with which to satisfy some of the desires. The least that one can do is be of value to oneself.