Over the next four months the Prairie Messenger will occasionally feature writing from past contributors and editors. The following feature is reprinted from the Dec. 23, 1973, issue of the Prairie Messenger.
If I were asked what I missed most while being in prison, I wouldn’t answer freedom or sex. No. What I miss most is love and affection. Plain and simple. Very few men inside prison, or outside for that matter, will “cop out” to such an unmanly thing as missing love and the occasional warmth of affection.
Certainly I miss freedom. I miss it very much. And sex, so often used in society as a sensual substitute for love, I, a physically normal person, also miss. But the opportunity to give and receive a little love and affection ranks first on the long list of needed entities that I carry printed across my mind.
Jail is a bleak, desolate chamber of loneliness, as wide as the outstretched arms and as deep as the sorrow loneliness creates. Consequently, and as a result of trying desperately to forget about what kind of love might wait my eventual release, I am over-involved in clubs and projects within this confined, if not confounded community. But in my desperation to forget, I am unwittingly cheated by habit; my escape into superfluous involvement needs a constructive balance and I find myself dependent upon mental and physical action — action which fills the void left by the lack of love, affection and companionship.
I will be cheated because when I am finally released from prison I will be geared for action and involvement. And what is involvement in the outside community if it is not something that is weighed in terms of friendship and dollars and cents, two items that, unfortunately, I will be somewhat short of.
I have been forcing myself for a number of years to be busy every waking moment, but when I am released from prison I will have less than $200 in my pocket. With that money I am expected to pay my own way back into society. It is almost impossible for me to become involved in community affairs, service clubs, sports functions or the like without friends or financial means or both.
I need involvement while I am serving time, but it must be a realistic and constructive involvement, not a means of escape. As well, I must prepare myself for the “street.”
The re-entry into society must be a gradual process begun a few months prior to release. I must be gradually phased out of prison routine, unlearning what I have, through habit, come to accept as being quite normal. This process of re-entry will allow me to adjust myself, gear down in preparedness for the real society. But in order to do this, I need co-operation from the outside community and from the prison system.
The prison system is trying, but it is making a mistake by attempting to duplicate societal situations within a penitentiary. It can’t be done. Society refuses to be duplicated or set upon a stage to be poorly represented. The only way I can become familiar with society is to live within it. I can be readied in some ways to function acceptably upon release, but I need the practical experience.
The process of obtaining practical experience can best be accomplished through such methods as “pre-release employment” and “temporary leaves of absence” from prison. Both of these methods require outside community participation as well as prison system approval.
Pre-release employment is a process which allows a prisoner to leave the penitentiary during the day to work in a normal job situation within the outside community, then return to the prison after work each evening. This method of gradual re-entry into, or reorientation with society, gives the prisoner an opportunity to adjust himself for gainful employment. As well, the prisoner is able to earn enough money before he is released to support himself once he is left on his own.
Having enough money when I am released is very important because all is lost if I don’t have sufficient funds with which to meet costs of room and board the first month I am in society. If I have no friends, from whom will I borrow money on which to get by?
Temporary leaves of absence passes are nearly as important as pre-release employment passes since then the prisoner is given the opportunity to become accustomed to the type of people with whom he will be working. He is allowed to live away from prison for up to five days on these passes. In this way he is able to “feel out” the community. Pre-release employment and temporary leaves of absence work hand in hand to supply the prisoner with an all-around understanding of what he can expect to be confronted with upon his release.
What have we learned here? We see that involvement in projects within the prison is no guarantee that the prisoner will be able to function acceptably in society, especially when that involvement is indirectly forced upon a prisoner through his desire to escape the unpleasantness of loneliness.
We see, too, that a man must be gradually taken away from prison routine, not abruptly slapped into society’s hands.
One of the questions remaining is whether or not society feels that I, and others like me, am worth the effort involved in participating in pre-release and leaves-of-absence programs. No one will know the answer until they become involved.