January 13th, 2020
I am slowly starting to understand some of the difficulties involved with the transition from prison to the outside world. I have not been to prison myself, but somebody close to me has. She is out now, and things are really interesting.
The girl and I were talking one day, and I mentioned that I didn’t want her to stay holed up in her room all the time.
She gave me a cold stare and said, “I’m not planning on isolating myself. You know, I haven’t had any “alone time” for the last nine months. I was never by myself.”
I hadn’t thought about that. She’s right. The young woman was totally without any privacy for most of a year. How did that affect her? How would that affect me?
I have been thinking back on my time at West Point, forty years ago. Both prison and the military academy share some unfortunate similarities. When I was at West Point, “alone time” was scarce. I was almost always with somebody else. Privacy was an alien concept. I was being observed by somebody (classmates, instructors, tactical officers, etc.) constantly. I remember how weird it felt once I graduated and became an officer. Suddenly, I had a place of my own, and it took me a while to adapt to being by myself.
The young woman has told me more than once that being “on the outside” is stressful for her. She has been in an environment where she has not been able to make any decisions on her own. Once again, this much like being in the military. Every day somebody told her what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what work to do, and when to sleep. In short, she really had no need to think. Now she does needs to do that. She has to take control of her life, and her skills for do that have atrophied during the last several months.
I really don’t understand the logic behind throwing people into prison. I am aware that some people (e.g. ax murderers and the like) need to be locked up for the safety of the general public. However, persons who have committed nonviolent crimes (many of whom have mental health issues) are also in prison, and that might not be the best place for them. Think of it this way: Why put a group of felons together in the same place for an extended period of time? What will they actually learn from each other? The odds are good that they will all trade notes and become more competent criminals. If the goal of prison is rehabilitation ( and it isn’t), then it would make more sense to put offenders in an environment filled with law-abiding people. That means placing offenders with people on the “outside”. We usually refuse to do that. We want to punish them.
This particular situation will require me to learn patience. I have never been good at that. This young woman needs time to get a grip on the next chapter in her life, and I need to give her enough time. I don’t know what is all going on in her head. I’m not sure that I even want to know. I do know that some things cannot be forced. The girl’s new identity as a free person will emerge in due time. I don’t know how long that will take. I can’t know. I don’t need to know.
I am supposed to learn a lesson from all of this. Once again, God is trying to teach me something. I wish He/She would stop do that.
Oh well, today was a good day. Maybe I have learned something from that.