low expectations

Prison is the one place where the question, “What is wrong with you?” should be asked sincerely and with the intent of receiving an answer rather than an exclamation of exasperation.  From my experience, prison is short on introspection and long on intransigence.

Prisoners are crowded together so tightly that the background noise of daily living is loud enough that you can’t hear yourself think.  Low expectations of how you serve your time result in high recidivism rates.  I read that the goal of the MDOC is to reduce free time to 5%, which is a far cry from the current reality of 95%.  A porter detail to clean in the housing unit may be listed for 8 hours, but only 15 minutes of work may be performed and that only by a conscientious worker.  GED students may be expected to attend class for 1½ hours, 5 days a week, but except for a very few, don’t count on any textbooks being opened or any learning occurring.

For the vast majority of inmates, prison is like school recess all day instead of classroom instruction.  Gym callouts, weight pit, yard time for softball, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes, handball, floor hockey and soccer; television and poker tables in the housing units. Few are those who can read and even fewer still practice the art.

Programs that once lasted six months are now completed in six weeks, because the graduation rates were too low.  Lowered expectations have resulted in lower achievement.  Inmates are smart, they will keep doing anything they can get away with and avoid doing anything they are told they have to do for as long as they can, and then only do a halfhearted job.  If they put as much effort into their work as they put into trying to get out of working, they might actually accomplish something.

For many in the GED program it is simply a matter of outlasting the government’s law that they go to school in prison.  They may spend years or even decades in school and not make any progress in getting an education, because they know that getting a parole is not contingent upon getting their GED.  I’d bet that they would find the motivation to study and earn their GED if their parole depended upon it.

Many people in prison are “happy” with the way they are.  They don’t see the need to change and so they don’t.  As a result, they leave prison much the same as when they came in.  Prison should be about providing alternatives and creating the conditions under which constructive change can occur.  Maintaining the status quo is neither cost effective or socially responsible.  Somethings got to change.  Coming back to prison should be considered a failure of the system, not just the individual, and certainly not the norm.

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