Providing Light In A Dark Place
The United States is the world leader in incarceration, with 2.3 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails; that’s a 500% increase over the past 40 years. There are few systems more broken than our correctional environment. The societal and economic obstacles ex-offenders face are never-ending.
To simply say that incarceration in the U.S. is a problem would be a gross understatement of the realities of our incarcerated citizens. For fifteen years I worked in the correctional environment from a health services perspective and have seen, first-hand, the devastation that incarceration has on men, women, and children.
If I hadn’t worked in the correctional setting and all I knew about offenders was from popular images of offenders such as those depicted in Oz and Orange is the New Black I too would think that all offenders were opportunist, uneducated, unfeeling, manipulative and low-income “crooks”, as they are so commonly referred to by some correctional staff. I too would think that they were incapable of being productive members of society. However, I am not jaded by the reoccurring offender narrative that is being told.
I have seen the goodness in many of them and understand the complexities of their stories and their lives. In an environment as harsh as the world of Corrections I was able to still see the human being behind the crime and chose to advocate for that human being, not to ignore their cries to matter and simply not be invisible. Our limited exposure to their stories has been used to dispossess and malign them instead of move us to treat them like people.
I was not the only one. Many civilian employees in Corrections are doing their best from day-to-day to meet the ever-demanding needs of the offender population. In addition to providing their service they are tasked with learning to navigate layers of politics that oftentimes makes doing their jobs so much more challenging all while maintaining awareness of safety and security. Unfortunately their unique training needs go unmet.