Greetings from “Thoughts beyond the wall”. My name is Darren Cross and I’ll be responding to the following questions.
“What are your thoughts and opinions about how the criminal justice system can provide a meaningful environment for rehabilitation, motivation to change and a way to seen as human beings, not just a number? In other words what would really help?”
This question presents three separate questions; therefore, I’ll do my best to address them in that manner. “Meaningful environment for rehabilitation” speaks to an environment that is conducive for mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. In my opinion, this can best be achieved by urging the Department of Corrections to make available more vocational schooling and trade training opportunities. In addition to this I will use this opportunity and platform to share a long-held vision of mine. I think transformation, rehabilitation, and redemption is best fostered by civilian volunteer programs. Society volunteer programs should be established at every prison across America. The volunteers should represent every segment of society, bringing a specific message and/or skill set. I think it’s best to have four categories of volunteers, namely:
1.(Regular everyday citizens) This group would consist of everyday hard-working citizens, especially those from the inner cities, but not limited to. This group would speak to the effects of crime on their neighborhoods and cities. They would share their heart felt feelings about crime and those who have committed crime but most importantly they will seek to establish a bond via agreeing to a new social contract by stating their desired expectations of prisoners re-entering into society. This group would consist of no more than 4 to 5 volunteers, giving each 10 to 15 mins. to speak. The second half of the event should be set aside for questions and answers/open discussion.
2. The second group would consist of small business owners, spoke persons of major corporations, financial advisors, stockbrokers, and authors. A significant driving force of the American economy and work force are small businesses. The insight of starting a business and their hiring practices would prove invaluable for many who are incarcerated. (Spoke persons of major corporations), especially the big 3 auto manufacturers would speak to job opportunities, hiring practices for “returning citizens”, qualifications, starting salaries, benefits, and union affiliation. (Financial Advisors) or (Money management coaches) would advise from an empathetic perspective of (someone who just got out of prison). They would give advice about saving money, inform about the differences between banks and credit unions, how to establish and build good credit, the best way to purchase or lease transportation, and the do’s and don’ts of renting an apartment or buying a home ect… (Stockbrokers) would inform about what the stock market is and how to engage and invest. There are a lot of prisoners who have sincere interest about the stock market and investing. (Authors) would educate about copy right laws and procedures, what a LLC is and how to establish one, publishing, manufacturing and distribution. There are many who are incarcerated that have written books and many more that would value this insight.
3. The third group would be termed (Specific occupational workers) this group would consist of: Construction workers, Plumbers, Electricians, Factory workers, Custodial maintenance, Hospitality, Truck drivers and Bus drivers ect… They would speak to: qualifications, salary, benefits and struggles. Genuine honest conversation about real life!
4. The fourth and most important group would be participants of the (Restorative justice Forum). I think it’s extremely important for prisoners to hear from those who have been a victim of crime, especially violent crime. A family member of a murder victim, victims of rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking, assault, armed robbery, carjacking ect… should be given the opportunity to speak to a group of prisoners concerning the impact that violent crime has had on their lives. They should be given the opportunity to share their pain and process of healing. In my opinion, this experience would greatly assist in expanding the prisoner’s willingness and ability to empathize and create a heighten awareness for the importance of accountability. These ideas should not be pursued in a classroom setting for the following reasons:
1. it’s not financially viable/ the state will not pay for such long-term endeavors.
2. You don’t want inmates to get classroom burn out and lose interest.
3.There should be a constant turnover of volunteers and fresh voices, thoughts and ideas.
4. In the prison gym or auditorium you can speak to 200 or more human beings at a time
5. you want to leave them wanting more! Each of the 4 groups and speakers should leave time for questions and answers/ open discussion. Each group participation should be scheduled 2 to 3 times a year.
This would give time for Volunteer recruitment, training and messaging. All 12 months of the year should be utilized. In my opinion, these year-round volunteer programs will be highly anticipated and thoroughly engaging. The groups will inspire reflection, introspection, empathy, critical thinking and planning. When inmates return back to their cells or the prison yard, their conversations will reflect their positive experience. I have no doubts that the volunteers (many of whom who probably would have never interacted with prisoners) lives will be enriched as well. Those of us who are incarcerated need more than just motivational speeches. We need and seek instructional guidance for real life challenges. “Motivation to change” is more of an internal goal and endeavor. At age 19 I was convicted of taking the life of another human being (drug related crime). I’ve been incarcerated since 1986 serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. As a means to cope and thrive I felt a deep need to empower myself. I knew I needed to change my thinking and behavior. In the fall of 1992, I began to study and practice the discipline of meditation. It was by far the best decision of my life :)! If anyone have any questions about my personal journey especially regarding the practice of meditation, please feel free to ask. Lastly, for those who are incarcerated to be seen as “more than just a number”, those who may see us as just a number should be afforded the opportunity to experience our humanity. I am hopeful that THOUGHTS FROM BEYOND THE WALL along with the various existing prisoner outreach programs will further serve this purpose.