Reforms are Needed in Our Prison System
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 23:12
On Thanksgiving, to avoid watching football, I decided to peruse the news. I read a very interesting ar¬ticle on thedailybeast.com about the Aryan Brother¬hood and a black man that befriended a few of these individuals in prison through his use of the written word. In the article, written by this anonymous man, he describes his experience in prison. Both in Nevada’s Carson City prison, and at a federal prison in Kentucky. For the sake of this article, we will call this anonymous black author John.
He describes the Carson City prison as, “where there was a day room with a working color TV, a fairly well-equipped weight pile and by prison standards, excellent food.”
When he got to Carson City to await his trial, he had already been through the penal system four previous times and knew the ropes. He avoided the seven Aryan Brother¬hood members.
“I kept my head down, my eyes averted, and ate my meals alone at the far end of the table…at least for the first few weeks.”
Then an article came out in the local pa¬per about his crime and the millions of dol¬lars he and his crew supposedly got away with. This earned him a little respect with the Aryan Brotherhood. The leader of the group, a man appropriately named “Big Red” due to his head of red hair, had a prob¬lem that John volunteered to help him solve.
Most of the Brotherhood members were full of “brawn and violence,” but were not very educated. They could not write. Big Red asked John to help him with a legal problem; to fill out a few legal forms to re¬quest documents for his trial.
“When the documents I requested came back about a month later, I was considered a legal whiz on the order of F. Lee Bailey. I was, to a degree, ‘in.’ They considered me a harmless black mascot, I considered them fools to be played.”
It is a common misconception that all Brotherhood members are racist or skin¬heads. Members originally started and joined the group in Texas for protection from the two most prominent gangs; the Black Go¬rilla Family and the Mexican Mafia.
“The ironclad rule for entrée into the Brotherhood is simple: kill a black or a His¬panic prisoner.”
This rule contributed to the stereotype that all Brotherhood members are Nazis.
After doing this favor for Big Red, John was then asked to do things for other Broth¬ers, such as write poems for their wives or craft birthday cards for their children. The other members even stopped calling him the “N” word after earning some disapproving glares from Big Red.
John experienced firsthand how far the Brotherhood’s reach extends when he was transferred to the federal prison in Kentucky to serve out his sentence.
“Within a week of arriving a tattooed AB member came up to me in the yard and said, ‘We heard about what you did for Big Red out there in Nevada … if you need any¬thing...just let me know.’”
John then goes on to describe the men¬tality of many Brothers, how many of them have grudges and want retribution for vari¬ous things. He believes that by utilizing isolation as “a corrections tactic of first choice”, for men that already have so much hate for the system, creates monsters.
“The true terrorist wins because of his or her willingness to die for what they believe in—history has taught us that over and over again. Many of the first men locked up when our nation embarked on a policy of for-profit mass incarceration near the end of the last century are now returning into society. And, as predicted by numerous professionals, they are sicker and more dangerous than when they went behind bars.”
I am going to quote another paragraph, because I really cannot explain it better than John does.
“While the U.S. population grew 2.8 times since 1920, the U.S. prison popula¬tion grew more than 20 times, and most dra¬matically since 1980. The fear among law enforcement is (or at least should be) is that now we have dozens upon dozens—if not hundreds (who knows, maybe even thou¬sands)—of murderous chickens finally com¬ing home to roost.”
This really spoke to me. Just how many of these people that are coming out of our prisons every single day are actually re¬formed and have learned their lesson? Not enough.
We need to have more reform programs in our prisons. The only way to make some¬one truly change is by approaching them like real people, not like they are the scum of the earth. Treating someone like they are the scum of the earth breeds hate and vio¬lence and does not provide prisoners with a reason to change. It negatively reinforces prisoners’ bad ideals and hate.
Of course, I can understand that it could be difficult for prison staff to treat mur¬derers and rapists with respect, but that is what needs to happen. Giving someone that respect provides them with an idea of the person that they could be, and gives them something to aim for. To be a person that can put their past behind them, and really earn that respect.
With that, I hope at least a few prison of¬ficials read this article and I hope it gives them some fresh ideas. I understand that not every prisoner will change, but maybe a reform of our prison system will encourage prisoners to actually want and desire that re¬spect.
Rhianna is a freshman majoring in jour¬nalism.