Teaching Morals Not Respect

In the MDOC there were nearly 1500 assaults in 2015 including over 100 resulting in serious injury or death.  This is down from the previous year and breaks a trend of increasing violence.  This is roughly 3.5% of the prison population, and certainly many assaults were not reported.  I myself was assaulted twice in 2014 at the hands of gang members carrying out ‘hits’ at the direction of their leaders for things I didn’t even have a part in, just collateral damage due to paranoid delusions.

Much of this violence is the result of perceived disrespect.  In prison, respect and the demands to receive it from the others around them is a major focus for some. I observed this mainly from those who grew up on the streets under the influence of gangs rather than in homes under the influence of parents, especially fathers; or from those in broken homes who spent time in the foster care system.

The main difference I believe is that in a properly functioning family the parents teach their children morals, as opposed to the gang subculture that focuses on respect only. Morals are defined as rules and habits of conduct.  In addition to the family, moral education is also carried out by schools and churches.  There are four main aspects to Moral Education according to the World Book Encyclopedia: Inculcation, Values clarification, Moral development and Values analysis.  The goal of moral education is to develop values -the standards by which people judge what is important, worthwhile and good.  Moral values include hard work, honesty, fairness, cooperation, tolerance and respect.

For those that have grown up on the streets having dropped out of school and never attended church their education was a distorted, unbalanced interpretation of those values held by a civil society.  Hard work is to be avoided, easy money is the game.  They dream of getting rich so that they can live the lifestyle, however they don’t see hard work or education as the means to achieve that goal.

To survive on the streets honesty and fairness have been replaced with lying, cheating and stealing.  Every transaction is an attempt to get over on someone else.  A good hustler always makes a little something on every deal.  They will say anything to anyone to get what they want.  They will take what is not theirs without hesitation in order to either have it for themselves or to turn it into quick money.

Cooperation only goes so far.  Gangs use a strict hierarchy of rank and authority that is achieved and maintained by ruthless violence and manipulation.  Disputes are often settled with a gun.  Gangs are at war with each other for territory and economic control of things like drug distribution.  There is no tolerance for anyone outside of the gang. People of other ethnicities, cultures or socio-economic classes are denigrated, derided and targeted for violence and/or exploitation.

Respect is the most highly esteemed value.  In an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ subculture respect is demanded and any perceived slight can result in violence against the individual that “disrespected” them.  Respect is based on how strong, brutal, vicious, cunning, and ruthless you are; in other words, how ‘bad’ you are.  For those in the gang subculture this is what they look up to.

How different this is from the form of respect that the greater society relies on. Respect means having regard for, to avoid violation, to have concern for an individual.  It is this basis for a civil society as opposed to the gang mentality which harkens back to the Wild West where life was cheap and people were regularly gunned down in cold blood.  They believe the myth that an armed society is a civil society, however guns don’t make peace only war.

In prison what was formerly called a knife, shive, or shank is now called a banger. And to ‘bang’ someone out is to cut them up.  There is evidence in every prison bathroom I’ve ever used of knife sharpening in the showers between the tiles or in the toilet stalls between the bricks.  To ‘buck fifty’ someone is to cut their cheek, usually in an attempt to brand them a snitch, so that everyone else that encounters that person in prison will know what they are.

In eight years in prison I have never witnessed a knife fight.  Knives are used to sneak up on somebody and severely injure or kill them.  You seek to catch your victim unaware and attack before they can defend themselves.  Often the tactic involves a group of 2-4 ganging up on a lone individual in an isolated location in a hit and run attack.  There is no intention of giving someone a “fair” fight.

Prison is full of people who committed a violent crime or came from a violent subculture and are predisposed to violence as the primary method of addressing their problems. The Parole Board may require classes such as Thinking for A Change or VPP (Violence Prevention Programming) which are cognitive behavioral therapy groups where students are asked to work through a book and participate in discussions in order to identify the underlying reasons for violence and to provide techniques to manage/control violent outbursts.

The programs taught by the MDOC do not teach morals in an attempt to re-educate offenders, rather they provide tools to manage antisocial behavior.  This is consistent with the philosophy that government does not teach morality, it only legislates it.  This is the reason why punishment is not a deterrent to crime.  Many violent crimes involve passion-unchecked emotions coupled with a complete lack of conscience, while the states solution is to apply logic and reason.  The recidivism rate speaks clearly to the failure of this approach.  Contrast this with the recidivism rate for those who actively participate in Christian faith-based programming which does teach morals. The government doesn’t teach morality, this only comes from the family, church, and schools. Unfortunately, in recent years moral teaching has been removed from schools due to the push for separation of church and state.  So, in an increasingly secular society where church attendance is decreasing and over 50% of marriages end in divorce strong morals are not being taught.

What better place than in prison to teach those who never learned proper morals in the first place? In a controlled environment you should be able to get the inmates undivided attention and yet this is not the case. Too much unproductive free time and distractions coupled with the lack of enforcement of discipline have resulted in an environment that is not conducive to learning.  Just look at the GED completion rates to see the evidence for this.

Punishment fails as a method of correcting bad behavior when the person being punished does not perceive their behavior as bad, rather as normal.  Instead it results in a loss of respect for authority and tends to further entrench the behavior.  It is a bit like when a parent tells a child, “Because I said so.”  No explanation just a command not to do it again.

Our society had become a moral quagmire because it no longer believes in absolutes. Truth is whatever you want it to be.  Morals and societal norms no longer serve as the restraints they once did to rein in aberrant behavior through peer pressure and societal expectations.  Entertainers have pushed the envelope until it has become a garbage bag. They preach a message of unrestrained hedonism.  These modern-day evangelists have millions of disciples living their lives following the philosophy of moral relativism.  So, does it make sense to use television as a baby sitter in prison? Or flood inmate’s ears with violent and sexually explicit song lyrics through MP3 players?

Instead of warehousing people in prisons with lots of free time and no direction, the MDOC needs to find a better way to manage the prison population in order to effect change.  Ex-offenders may never be model citizens after they are released, however they should no longer be the poster-children for a failed system whose faces appear on wanted posters.  Use the time given to each prisoner to instill in them a better understanding of the expectations of a civil society through the application of a moral education.

Satanic Psalms

In prison, rap lyrics are the only style of music that you hear being recited endlessly without the aid of a radio or MP3 player.  People don’t just sing along, they have memorized the words and meditate on them: “get money”; “bitches” and “ho’,”: “nigga”this and “nigga” that; Steal, Kill, and Destroy.  Rap lyrics are satanic psalms.

A friend once said that he didn’t think he’d be able to go to the bathroom out in the world because there wouldn’t be some guy in the next stall rapping.  There are wanna be rappers in the housing units, the chow hall, the school, waiting in lines-everywhere, not just on the yard.  They speak out loud into the air, but mostly to themselves.  Some original pieces, but most what they have learned from commercial artists.

Like your home town or gang affiliation, there are certain artists that are liked and others that are disliked.  Most have studied intently the biographies of their favorite artists and follow them on TV, radio, and in print.  When the next song comes out they gotta have it and discuss it among themselves like theologians or philosophers seeking to get all of the nuanced meaning out of the lyrics.

When a person spends their time, hour upon hour, meditating on, thinking about, internalizing and identifying with the ideas, lifestyle and morality expressed in music, it penetrates down deep into the bones and psyche. The old adage is true “you are what you eat.”  By saturating yourself in rap music you become enamored with violence, sex, drugs, gangs, selfish and self-gratifying behavior.  It is all you know, destroying any desire to learn about anything else.

By allowing rap music into prisons by way of TV, MP3 downloads and television, the MDOC allows the perpetuation of these errors in thinking: the dysfunctional and dystopian world view, the depraved and denigrating view of women, the glorification of violence and drugs as a way of life that brought so many to prison in the first place and keeps returning them in through a revolving door.

By living in an isolated sub-culture that has no redeeming value, no positive contribution to the greater society, fails to provide for itself through legal means, fails to utilize government programs as they are intended but rather uses the resources to perpetuate the lifestyle from generation to generation. The result is that 25% of the American population which identifies itself as African-American represents 50% of the incarcerated in the U.S.

Proverbs 23: 7 says, “For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”  Prison is intended to take a person out of a society in which they committed the offense and be rehabilitated so that they can be released without exposing the society to further risk.  As long as rap music is allowed to remain in prison, with its sub-culture, then it is undermining attempts at rehabilitation by singing its siren song.

Psalms 1:1-5 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law, he meditates day and night.  He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither and whatever he does shall prosper.”

Psalms 1 makes it clear that if you do the right things and think about the right things, you will be successful in life.  Prison needs to be about training those who have broken the law, not only to do the right thing next time, but to think in positive, constructive ways.  Education, both vocational and moral must be taught to those who do not have socially acceptable job skills or behavior. Raise the expectations for those in prison to change their behavior, to acquire the knowledge and skills required to make a legal living.  In some cases, it may need to be looked at like trying to deprogram someone who has spent time in a cult.  You have to remove them from the environment and then present compelling reasons to change, coupled with new information to overwrite the old.  Intensive programming like that must occur not only in the classroom or therapy group, but in the housing unit as well.

It doesn’t do to give the kids a bath when they are muddy and then let them go out and roll around in the muddy backyard.  You need to plant grass and provide other activities for them to participate in if you want them to stay clean.  The MDOC is only just beginning to understand this concept. Vocational students are being placed in housing units together with the intent of fostering a living environment that will make the learning process more effective.  If you don’t create an environment where you go to bed at a reasonable time and get up ready to work in the morning, the vocational training will not be placed within the context of developing good work habits or work ethics.

Sex offender programming is being conducted in sex offender housing units. This is a step in the right direction, however, if you don’t remove pornography and sexually explicit materials from the unit or block overtly sexual images from TV you are not going to help the person with a sexual addiction.  The same is true of violence and drugs.  Violent people need to be removed from conflict and drugs and alcohol need to be removed from the grasp of the addict.

If the MDOC can’t control the environment in prison then they aren’t really in control, the inmates are.  Very few people will successfully be able to change with help, let alone on their own in a negative environment.  It is the exception, not the rule, for a person to rise from poverty to wealth from illiteracy and ignorance to knowledge and comprehension, or from addiction to health.  You have to take the person out of the place where the problems allowed to flourish or fix the place before you can begin to address the problem effectively.

A simple place to start with is rap music.  It is not an attack on any specific ethnic group or race, but a necessary step to take control of undesirable sub-cultural influences that have a negative effect on the prison environment and is contrary to the departments goals for rehabilitation and correction.



  1.  A place where persons convicted or accused of crimes are confined; a penitentiary or a jail.
  2. A place or condition of confinement or forcible restraint.
  3. A state of imprisonment or captivity.

While prison is a physical place made up of buildings with barred windows, locked doors, and surrounded by fences intended to keep people securely and safely away from society; it is also a state of mind that imprisons the spirit in ways that no parole can ever free them from.


  1. Action, process, practice.
  2. Characteristic behavior or quality.
  3. State, condition, quality.
  4. Distinctive or characteristic trait.
  5. Doctrine, theory, system of principles.
  6. An attitude of prejudice against a given group.

ism is a suffix added to the end of a word which transforms the root word.

breakfreechainPrisonisms are the shackles that bind the mind and spirit that can only be unlocked from the inside.  They are the prisons of our own making that we have confined ourselves within, often for a life sentence.  Only God has the power to commute your sentence.  No amount of education or re-education, counseling, or religious programming can set you free.  A popular Bible in prison is the “Free on The Inside” Bible published by Biblica explains in simple English how God can set you free, but it all starts with you.  You have to take the first step.  For many people fear is what keeps them bound.  Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of being ridiculed or ostracized by their associates, fear of being alone.  Prisonisms are often the root cause of recidivism.  Errors in thinking that cause an individual to slip back into a pattern of criminal behavior, if they ever left it.

Alcoholism: Psychophysiological dependence on alcoholic beverages.

Substance abuse is a major underlying factor in crime.  Studies report up to 90% of crime is related to or committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  This continues to be a problem for those who are incarcerated. “Spud juice” prison home brew is readily available and consumed in amounts sufficient to get drunk, as often as a prisoner can afford to. Brewing alcohol in prison is big business and an organized crime.  Teams coordinate the theft of ingredients from the chow hall and individuals steal from other initiates to pay their bar tabs.  Half-hearted attempts by custody staff to prevent theft from the kitchen and lax security in the housing units makes this possible.

AA/NA groups are held in every prison, but too many attend these groups for the wrong reasons.  They want to look good for the Parole Board rather than change their ways.  For those individuals, coming to prison wasn’t hitting rock bottom and they are not prepared to admit that they are powerless over their addictions.  They are dying for a drink.

Barbarism: An act, trait, or custom characterized by ignorance or crudity.

The corrections officer’s union advertises that their job is the most dangerous job in the state, which propagates the stereotype.  Violence in prison is accepted by far too many as being part of the sentence.  The price you pay for committing a crime against society is to serve time in the “Thunderdome”.  Some prisons have the reputation of being gladiator schools.

Coming to prison is a rite of passage for being a gang member and a fertile ground for recruiting new members. “There is safety in numbers” is the recruiters mantra. “Us” versus “Them”, predators versus prey, CO’s versus inmates, black versus white, gang versus gang, strong versus weak, young versus old.  The old wild, wild west idea of an armed society is a polite society is propagated from one generation to the next.  Defy authority; rules are made to be broken; stupid is as stupid does; ignorance is bliss; life imitates art imitates life.  A vicious cycle of depravity.  Life is cheap.  Only the strong survive.

Some people say that capital punishment is barbaric.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s not the only thing barbaric about the criminal justice system.

Dogmatism: Arrogant, stubborn assertion of opinion or belief.

In prison there is no mutual cooperation because everyone believes that they’re right and everybody else is ignorant. “I’ll see it when I believe it” describes the state of unreality many prisoners live in “LaLa Land”. Students arguing with teachers over school rules and policy.  Everyone is convinced that they have the best, most accurate insight into human behavior.  They know the best way to get things done whether it be cooking, cleaning, or jailing.  Life could be so much better if everyone else did it their way.  They deny your reality and substitute their own.  They rearrange and reinterpret the facts to fit their own conclusions.  “I’m right and you’re wrong.”  When something doesn’t work out or they get caught it must be somebody else’s fault.  There must be a snitch, “I’m too slick to get caught.” Conspiracy theories; slavery; white power; “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll”; reality television is real; sports and hip hop will make you a millionaire; easy money; every woman wants what I’ve got; Orange is the new black; Next time I won’t get caught; I’m a bad man; A tough guy; A gangster; A fighter and a lover.  “I’m never gonna change, but I’m never coming back to prison.”

Until attitudes change, lifestyles will not change.  Dogma blocks any attempts to enlighten through the willful disregard of truth.

Hedonism: Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure.

“If it feels good, do it.”  Impulse control is an issue for many people in prison.  Their daily pursuit is pleasure: food, TV, alcohol, sex and not necessarily in that order.  They don’t worry about others, they are the most selfish people on earth, only concerned about themselves.  They look for ways to “get over” on people.  Their idea of work is doing nothing for something.  They always look for the easy way out, getting someone else to do it for them.

They trade the main course for an extra dessert.  Up all night, sleep all day; Party animal; Eating machine; Rap star; Pop culture trivia expert.  They have multiple baby’s mamas, none of which is their current wife or girlfriend.

They have never worked a day in their lives (legitimately).  They never have a dime in their trust accounts because they owe restitution, but always go to the store.  They live on coffee and honey buns (the breakfast of champions) and nacho do’s.  They deny themselves nothing today and put no thought towards tomorrow or how their actions impact others.  “Eat, sleep and be merry for tomorrow die” is their mantra.

Fatalism: The doctrine that all events are predetermined and unalterable.

For some, coming to prison was inevitable.  They see themselves as the product of their environment.  The child of poverty, growing up in a broken home, raised by their grandmothers because their addicted mothers were unfit, never knowing their fathers. Running wild on the streets; never having anything of their own except a record; state raised.

Entitlement mentality: Bridge Cards; Welfare; Cash Assistance; Unemployment; No education, can’t get a job, but why bother?  They take no responsibility for anything.  The system is broken, the cards are stacked against me.  The cops are out to get me.  A felon can’t get a job, so I’ll keep selling dope on the corner and see how long I can stay out of prison before I get caught or killed. Dropped out of school to hustle, doesn’t see any value in earning a GED.  Book learning can’t prepare you for a life on the streets. Life is hard so I have to be hard too.  Life is painful so I take drugs to dull the pain.  Life is a bitch and then you die.  There isn’t anything else, no after life – no god would be so cruel as to make us live this way.

Without the good news of the gospel of Christ the people parish.  Fatalistic people need a compelling reason to live life as if life – both theirs and others – really matter.

Institutionalism: Use of public institutions for the care of those who are mentally disabled or who are criminally delinquent, or incapable of independent living.

In the 1980s two things happened to cause an explosion in prison populations: Mental hospitals closed leaving the mentally impaired no place to go except the streets which in turn lead them to prison.  The second was the imposition of longer prison sentences. Prison became a maze with no way out for many people.

Prison is a highly structured place: set times to eat, work, study, and play. This is something that many in prison couldn’t change on their own.  The state provides three meals a day, shelter and clothing.  No responsibility to do anything for yourself.  For those who lived on the streets, it doesn’t get much better than that.  Also, for those with mental issues, they are getting some mental health care such as counseling and medication to help regulate their mood or to help them sleep.

For some spending long periods of time behind bars leaves them behind. Family and friends move on or die, technology advances put them at a disadvantage and leave them so lost that the world they return to is foreign to them.  They simply seek to return to the security of the simple life that they’ve come to an accommodation with in a love/hate relationship.

Puerilism: Childish behavior in an adult.

Many men in prison are literally and figuratively in a state of arrested development. Grown men who are very immature.  They throw temper tantrums, act out to get attention, and have no self-discipline.  Gray hairs acting like teenagers: following youth culture, music, and dress styles.  They insist on having their way and will make a scene to get what they want, when they want it.  Many have the attention span of a humming bird. Afflicted with ADHD or other mental disorders, they are unable to focus long enough to learn anything from their required programming.  Forced to sit through classes without the benefit of medication that would allow them to concentrate, they are disruptive to others and have disciplinary problems.  They run the yard like they ran the streets and are unable to lay down when they receive tickets and have to serve LOP (loss of privilege) which only compounds the problem.  Unable or unwilling to follow directions or obey rules, they can’t complete a program or a parole.  Self-medicating to try and regain a “normal” feeling only compounds the issue. They are more like the pirates than the Lost Boys living in Neverland.

Diabolism: Devilish conduct or behavior.

While the barbarians are sociopaths, the truly diabolic are psychopaths. They have no conscience.  You can see the predatory look in their eyes, like the big cats eyeing the wildebeest.  They test the fences always looking for weaknesses to exploit.  They know exactly where all the security cameras are.  They are loners who are never alone.  They surround themselves with minions that aspire to be like them.

They hate the world they live in and anyone who is not like them.  They judge everything and condemn what they determine to be soft.  They despise those who have prosperity and happiness, just like the Grinch. They are distrustful of any authority.  They live life by their own rules. They demand respect but rarely give it.  They value no life but their own.

When given a choice between a legal or illegal opportunity, they always choose the illegal one. They see themselves not just as living on the fringe of society, but outside it as true outlaws.  They are rebels without a clue.  They are truly a menace to society.  They are pathological liars who believe their own lies.  The truly unrepentant and unremorseful. The only thing they regret is getting caught.

These are the ones that Christ died for because nobody else would.  They are filled with legions of demons that only Christ can excise.

Defeatism: Acceptance of or resignation to the prospect of defeat.

Many people who come to prison proclaim their innocence and mount a boisterous and rigorous appeal.  There are others, however, who arrive beaten up and broken down by the criminal justice system.  These people have resigned themselves to the end of their lives as they know it. Whether they are actually guilty or not doesn’t matter at this point. They have lost everything: family, friends, jobs, assets and just want to get their prison sentence over with.  Emotionally and spiritually drained, they have lost faith in society and the government bureaucracy that they thought once cared for them and have now given up hope of a happy ending.

These people are more or less law-abiding citizens who ended up in prison after their first encounter with the criminal justice system and never imagined that they’d be on the inside looking out.  Facing long prison sentences, they are ill prepared for life behind bars.  They are not hardened criminals, but someone who made a mistake, a lapse in judgment and will pay for it with the rest of their lives even after they are released.  They have gone through a life altering experience and it has broken them.  They have no energy, the has gone out of their eyes.  They don’t feel like they have anything left to life for.  They feel abandoned by God and their prayers go unanswered.

These are the least of these that Jesus said we should give a cup of water to. They need to know that Jesus hasn’t left them or forsaken them.

Parasitism: The characteristic behavior or mode of existence of a parasite.

There are two types of parasites in prison.  Those who live life vicariously through others and those who are a financial drag on society.

Social parasites are busy bodies, gossips, rumor mongers, ear hustlers, nosey neighbors. They don’t have a life of their own so they are in everyone else’s business.  They can’t keep a secret and don’t really try.  They are information brokers.  They butt in where they don’t belong, join in conversations uninvited.  By focusing on everyone else around them they never address their own issues.  God is the only one they should be listening to and he would gladly use their talents to spread His gospel among all men.

Financial parasites live off the largess of others.  They borrow from family and friends, bunkies, cubies, and the “store man.”  They may be either too lazy to work or enjoy living far beyond their means.  They have an entitlement mentality and believe that someone will take care of them: parents, spouse, significant other, or the government.  They don’t adequately monitor their spending habits or cash flow and have frequent confrontations with their debt holders.  Their solution to their financial problems in prison is to lock up and ride out, then start over someplace else.

In the world foreclosure, repossession, calls from collection agents and bankruptcy are familiar events.  Payday lenders, pawnshop brokers, welfare, cash assistance and SSID are their way of life. They won’t do anything to jeopardize these by getting a GED or job training.  The only debt they don’t have is a debt of gratitude.

Parasites need to learn that the only one we should be dependent upon is God.  He wants to provide all they need if they would only agree in return to be generous to others.

Here are a few more –isms that can be used to describe some facet of prison and the prison experience. If you aren’t familiar with the word look it up in a good dictionary:

  1. Absurdism
  2. Activism
  3. Adventurism
  4. Antagonism
  5. Aphorism
  6. Chauvinism
  7. Classism
  8. Criticism
  9. Cronyism
  10. Despotism
  11. Determinism
  12. Egotism
  13. Elitism
  14. Empiricism
  15. Escapism
  16. Euphemism
  17. Exhibitionism
  18. Existentialism
  19. Externalism
  20. Favoritism
  21. Idealism
  22. Indeterminism
  23. Individualism
  24. Inerrantism
  25. Infantilism
  26. Instrumentalism
  27. Intellectualism
  28. Intuitionism
  29. Irrationalism
  30. Legalism
  31. Mannerism
  32. Materialism
  33. Narcissism
  34. Nepotism
  35. Obscurantism
  36. Obstructionism
  37. Opportunism
  38. Optimism
  39. Paralogism
  40. Particularism
  41. Passivism
  42. Paternalism
  43. Patriotism
  44. Pauperism
  45. Perfectionism
  46. Pessimism
  47. Pragmatism
  48. Privatism
  49. Professionalism
  50. Prohibitionism
  51. Racism
  52. Recidivism
  53. Relativism
  54. Sadism
  55. Sexism
  56. Skepticism
  57. Solecism
  58. Stoicism
  59. Terrorism
  60. Vandalism
  61. Vulgarism