I was surprised by how many guys I met in prison paid no attention to what was going on out in the world aside from popular culture. News programming was never on the in the day room. The only current events discussed were the rumors regarding issues pertaining to the MDOC. The only politicians that were talked about was the sitting governor and attorney general, usually in connection to a 4-1etter expletive. In the classroom I encouraged guys to read newspapers and would cut out articles on various topics. About the only ones I got them to read were the articles about crime or pop culture. The reality is that the typical inmate was already disconnected from the greater society and only focused on their subculture.
When you are in prison you don’t get much say into who your cell, cube or bunk mates are. If you don’t get along your option is to lock up. In an ideal world people can work through the vast majority of their differences, however prison is not ideal. The divide between an old white guy who never had a run in with the law before coming to prison and a young black man who started on a life of crime at age 12 when he caught his first juvenile case is vast.
There is no love lost between these two, the only thing they have in common is that they were convicted in the state of Michigan. More than likely they look down on the other and their crime with contempt. Without knowledge, exposure to others different from ourselves, and acceptance of the differences there will be continued strife. Not a good thing is a place where might makes right, and violence is the first and, in some cases, the only alternative considered.
Inmates are a captive audience. So what better place to provide diversity and civics training? Education is the proven solution to bridging the gap that divided us. More over by proactively front loading the training the inmates could be held responsible for their behavior in relation to the material. Outbursts and incidents could be used as teachable moments and remedial training to reinforce the importance of applying the material. The parole board would have more information to evaluate in regards to the expectations set out for inmate behavior. Raising expectations for behavior sets the bar higher. Well behaved inmates make for better behaved returning citizens.
In Michigan while on parole, parolees have the right to vote, but most don’t. They didn’t participate in the electoral process before, failing to engage in the basic rights and responsibility of the democratic process as the center of our society.
Programming in prison currently tries to educate inmates why committing crime is wrong. What is clearly lacking is teaching inmates about doing the right thing. They hold you responsible but don’t teach you responsibility. They say “ignorance is bliss,” but in this case we should make an exception.