I recently watched the season finale of 30 Days – the Morgan Spurlock (creator and star of the documentary Supersize Me) series where someone is placed outside of their comfort zone in an effort to expand people’s thinking, including the viewers’. For example, this season placed an atheist in the home of a fundamentalist Christian family for 30 days, and a corporate, stressed man spent 30 days attempting to find inner peace through New Age means. It’s quite a brilliant show.
The finale put Morgan Spurlock himself in a county jail in Richmond, VA for 30 days to give us a glimpse of life behind those walls. What was so interesting is the lack of structure in the first jail he was in (the West jail). All day long the inmates are free to roam around the Day Room with not much to do except talk, sleep, push-ups, etc. At first this may sound like a pretty easygoing sentence. However, what you realize watching is that the boredom can be maddening. The prisoners are completely dehumanized from the get go and then left to their own devices all day, with nowhere to go, no professional guidance to seek.
Later in the show, Morgan is transfered to the East jail where there is a drug rehab program and other rehabilitative services. The rehab wing has quite a different energy – the inmates are much more interactive, engaging, courteous, welcoming, and positive. They have structure in their day – up at 6 AM, eat breakfast, off to a group therapy session, etc. You can see it in their faces – they feel like they matter; that someone actually cares enough to try to help them head down the right path in life. And the rehab doesn’t cost tax payers a dime because most of the workshops and sessions are run by inmates who have been through the program and succeeded.
It’s like a child whose parents put no restrictions or boundaries on their behavior – the lack of rules makes the child feel like they don’t matter enough to be guided and taught the ways of the world. Expectations give a child a sense of direction; a sense of comfort. Like a newborn baby who takes comfort in being swaddled, that need doesn’t disappear as we get older. It just takes a different form.
The recidivism rate of America’s inmates is staggering. But statistics show that inmates who truly receive some sort of rehabilitation while serving their sentence have a much greater chance of never returning – rehab that includes tools to help them find or create a supportive network outside of the prison walls.
We all know how important a support system is when we need to be held up while we try to walk on some new legs. It’s a critical piece for inmates. Fellow prisoners become their family; the prison their home. If they have nothing on the outside, it’s no wonder they would rather be back in jail. It’s a support system for them when they lack any other. And, for many career criminals, it’s all they’ve ever known.
So why, when America houses 25% of the entire world’s population of inmates, do our prison systems lack sufficient rehabilitative services? Some argue that it’s because keeping people incarcerated is big business – for correctional food providers, phone companies, prison guard unions, laundry services, etc; that too many benefit from people being imprisoned. Others say that the rehab services only help 1-2% of the prison population. But, as Morgan points out, 1-2% is about 50,000 people! And the number of people those 50,000 can effect can make the ripple effect reach the millions.
Isn’t it worth giving it a shot?