Nothing human is alien to anyone of us, someone said. As human beings, we all walk one foot in darkness, and one foot in light. Some people incarcerated strive for a balance of shadow and sun, and sublimate the thoughts or actions of darkness into transformation, awareness, and light—something positive.
When I came to the California Department of Corrections in the late 1970’s, there were actually good trades, self-help and educational programs. There was no point system, and transfers and programs you were involved in were based on your in-prison behavior. Your residence was determined by your choices. One was not as much punished over and over again, just because you were a prisoner. There were programs open to choices and change. Incarceration is inherently revenge and punishment—if you don’t believe it, spend some hours or a night in a prison or jail.
As punishment increased and became more politically attractive, most politicians abandoned the efforts, and the cause of restorative justice. They piled onto the penal system of punishment and inmate economics to win elections and line their pockets. They wanted a prison in every county when they should have been abolishing penal systems.
Politicians tightened the noose of taking away any working programs in prisons throughout the 80’s, 90’s and most of the 2000’s. They paused in 2006 and brought the word “rehabilitation” into the picture— California Department of Corrections and “rehabilitation.” But, they have barely started to live up to that word. Politicians feasted on the emotions and money of the public, victims on all sides, and treated prisoners like prunes. No programs of change for decades. In 2006, when the state brought the word “rehabilitation” back, I had an op/ed piece on self-rehabilitation published in the San Francisco Chronicle alongside a text by the current Honorable State Attorney General Kamala Harris. Both essays focused on rehabilitation.
When I came into California prison system, there were only 12 prisons. In 1980 the state brought in a point system based on some illusionary facts. A point system used to enhance the punishment of all prisoners and particularly LWOPs and other lifers. Although prisoners may not have broken any rules for years, their punishment were enhanced.
I was in Soledad prison at the time and they took me to classification committee and told me that based on their point system, I can go only to Folsom or San Quentin. Back then, both prisons were the last-stop prisons, before hell. I was under 21 years old, first time in prison and away from the heart of the high desert.
However, I wanted to create or make amends for the social contract I had broken in this land. I continuously strived to do and be the best, despite the lack of programs or incentives. Not because I owed the state or penal system anything, but because of love, truth, transformations inside myself that inspired me, and because it was the realness thing to do.
I took full advantage of any self-rehabilitative and educational programs available. It was a tragedy that led to my incarceration—tragic on all levels. I wanted to make amends, because my heart, soul and spirit were wounded by my actions, and had wounded others. Only forgiveness, growth, restoration and love could heal the tear I caused in the universe.
Tragedies sometimes opens and blows out one’s heart and soul to do and be better. It awakens you…why? I don’t know. I hope we all can continue to come together, instead of looking at prisoners as the enemies, but as brothers and sisters in society who have lost their way, humans who need to be restored and welcomed home. Restorative justice and prison reform and sentencing reforms need to happen. It has worked for the better in many countries, why not here? We all are human, and of the same species, as long as we come from Mother Earth or this planet. We are one collectively and we must embrace the endless pool of love inside all of us.
I support the efforts of Geri Silva, Fair Chance Project, Anti Recidivism Coalition and Barbara Brooks, Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy. It’s about restorative justice, forgiveness, love, peace and realness. We all are human, and as such we must share our journeys.
First published in The Advocate, Volume 8 issue 3, Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy