One thing every old convict asks himself at one time or another is: Is prison change better than the old way of doing time?
Backing up to the days of slave labor when a simple complaint could buy you 8-28 days in the hole, I have seen each privilege fought for and won by convicts who were willing to stick their necks out and take that giant step to bring about a more humane way of living through a prison sentence. When I think of the guys who have fell and died by riot guns, clubs, the months of sleeping on a cold concrete slab and getting longer sentences in order to make things better for the ones yet to come, I must ask myself; was it worth it?
It would take a week to describe the price convicts have paid for clean sheets, decent working hours, a daily shower, clean clothing, more than 3 letters a week, tape deck/radio, a television and telephones, visitation rights of more than one hour a month. A law library, educational books and teachers to help us learn and earn an education. I never thought I would live to see the day we had IBM and Apple computers in prison. Not to mention real trailer visits and wearing our own clothing. Medical help consisted of two aspirins for a headache or a heart attack. Either you lived or you died, no one cared.
Yes, things have changed a lot in the past 35 years, and I wish to God I could say that it was all for the better, but there are times I have my doubts. I remember an old con telling me about his brother getting killed for protesting against not being able to make a phone call home when his wife was dying, and after they finally put in a phone for the cons to use, some punk tore it off the wall because his mother wouldn't send him ten dollars.
Back in the old days you did your time and it was all you could do to mind your own business, now tattle tails run in packs and they think they are fooling someone by acting tough and calling other guys names.
Not many of us will be able to make it after we hit the bricks but I think those who will make it are the ones who take the time to educate themselves and learn a trade. It is better to have a hamburger with a wise man, than a T-bone steak with a damned fool.
And as I sat behind my desk in the prison library, I see some of the smartest men I have ever known doing things to help other inmates, and putting a newspaper together in hopes that they will be able to serve us with news and information that will broaden our knowledge and give us a legal sense of how we can help ourselves in a peaceful manner.
I hope none of their friends have to hear someone say, "So what? What have you done for me lately?" Support the PLN. It is only as strong as you make it...
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login