Volume 97 Issue 9 Campus Spin

JC Flashback: A look at prison life

by Hannah Prestage

Sirens are the only reminder of having a prison so close to our campus. The Huntingdon prison is far from our minds as we drift through our daily activities, unaware of the people locked inside. We might sometimes think of college as a prison, but we have the freedom and power to experience the outside world.

Nowadays, we as a modern society are terrified—terrified to the point that in the near future we may not even leave the house in fear of what might happen to us. Recently, in March, there was the Brussels attack. We never know when these disasters are going to strike. However, they should not stop us from living! They should, if anything, make us more determined to make the most of our lives and show that we are not afraid.

The beauty of the human race is how we come back from these attacks or natural disasters. We come together to help others in peril.

Although we are continually bouncing back from these catastrophes, we do not seem to be learning from them. Surely we should now be experts in restricting these problems from reoccurring. Realistically, we cannot stop everything; Mother Nature is unpredictable, but we can solve problems such as the Syrian refugee crisis. There have been previous cases of refugees, so why do we find protecting the Syrians so hard now?

As much as we judge prisoners for their wrongdoings, they repeatedly show their commitment to learning new things while incarcerated. These poems, for example, were a result of a writing program. It shows a dedication to changing and hoping for a better life for themselves, but it also shows hope for our society overall.

We are typically introduced to prison life through films and TV, though these poems produced by a Huntingdon inmate emphasize what prison life was really like in 1974 and is still like today. No doubt you have curled up in the comfort of your own bed with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and binge watched the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” Unfortunately, the prison environment depicted therein is not a realistic representation.

Many times I have seen images online of prison cells in European countries that often look better than a lot of university accommodations which we pay a lot of money for. Some of the cells even have access to the latest game consoles. Unfair as it may seem to us students, I believe that giving prisoners better accommodations and programs allows them to reflect on the opportunity to change and get back on the right path. Don’t you think a healthy, clean environment would make a difference to an inmate’s willpower, compared to a dark, dingy closet for a cell?

Another Netflix show that took us by storm was “Making a Murderer.” The series unveils the story of Steven Avery, who was falsely convicted of sexual assault. He was then released from prison, only to be arrested for a second offense of sexual assault, mutilation and murder. This series shows a side to the legal system that we don’t very often see—the police wrongfully imprisoning citizens who are not guilty. Avery’s cases started in 1985 and ended in 2007. He is still imprisoned now, and some people agree on the verdict. However, multiple petitions have been signed pushing to release Steven Avery after the 10-episode series depicting lawful misconduct, evidence tampering and coerced witnesses.

Unfortunately, cases like Avery’s are increasingly prevalent, predominately in the United States. Police brutality is occurring more frequently. Legislation often differs greatly from state to state, which I think causes more problems than it solves. If a country doesn’t work together in providing concrete rules, there can be multiple people unintentionally breaking laws, which may be legal in the state they are from. Ultimately, I would suggest cooperation between all states so there is no confusion or misunderstanding. It would create an equilibrium, a just country with fewer mistakes, by both the law enforcement and the citizenry.

These poems identify to us that everyone is human and that people make mistakes. However, one mistake should not hold anyone back if they choose to change and become a better person. The second of the two poems describes the harsh reality of prison life and how it is not a place for the weak. You are no longer recognized as a human being; you no longer have a name, but you are a single number in a system.  

Conditions in prison can cause the belief that you don’t belong in the outside world. It is a place where you are grouped together with hundreds of other inmates as one being; your individual needs are rarely met. The author encourages us to understand that prison life is hard. It explains the reality but also implies that you need to make your prison experience worthwhile, rather than dedicating your time to feeling sorry for yourself. The time should be spent proving yourself, the officers and the outside world wrong.

Proving that prisoners can change should encourage us not to label them solely for their mistakes. We should transfer this idea to our own experiences; we should not be subject to others’ opinions and stereotypes. We should be ourselves, take risks, be who we want to be and, most of all, enjoy life.

14th February 1974

Juniatian Vol. XLVII No. 13

Huntingdon Inmate Writes of Like as He Sees It

Editor’s note:

These poems were written by a man at the Huntingdon Prison who is currently taking the writing program. They were submitted to me by a student doing Soc. Fieldwork at the prison.

Don’t Be Fooled By Me

Don’t be fooled by me,

Don’t be fooled by the face I wear.

For I wear a thousand masks, masks, that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them are me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me, but don’t be fooled.

I give the impression that I’m secure.

That all is sunny and unruffled with me,

Within as well as without,

that confidence is my name and coolness my game;

and that I need no one.

But please don’t believe me. Please.

My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask.

Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear and aloneness.

But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.

I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear of being exposed.

That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,

a nonchalant, sophisticated façade, to help pretend, to shield me from the glance that may know.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation. My only salvation and I know it.

That is if this is followed by acceptance, if this is followed by love.

It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure me of.

What I can’t assure myself that I am worth something.

But I don’t tell you this, I don’t dare. I’m afraid to,

I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance and love.

I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh at me, and your laugh would kill me.

I’m afraid that deep down I’m nothing, that I’m no good and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate game with a façade of assurance without, and a trembling child within

And so begins the parade of masks. And my life become a front.

Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying. What I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can’t say.

I dislike hiding, honestly.

I dislike the superficial game I’m playing, the phony fame.

I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous, and me, but you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.


Prison Life

Prison is a place where all social ties are suspended and scrutinized, you compose fantastic letters and receive no answers;

Prison is a place where you experience the scorn teaching of society and that society doesn’t need you;

Prison is a routine designed to dehumanize and strip the sacred principles of human integrity, human self respect, human dignity and spirit;

Prison is a robolized hypnotic mechanical environment in which you’re programed to respond to a number instead of a name, the cracking sound of the iron bar being released to unlock the doors;

Prison is a place where you dread to being lost under the complete anonymity of cannibalism; where no one really cares nor hopes; where prison officials’ callous attitudes and mechanical answers to questions lead to the anxiety that no one will see, hear, care or understand, where thoughts of catastrophe becomes the conditional response to the monotonous platitude: “We’re doing what’s best for you;”

Prison is a place where prison officials invidious grouping and preferential treatment takes precedence over any real concern for the needs of prisoners;

Prison is a place where one seeks to convince his self that he will live a better and meaningful life once released

Sometimes you do, but then we all don’t.

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