By: Terry L. Thomas-Bey #194430
When faced with the question of what I could do in the coming year to positively impact the people in my community, I found myself confronting the essentially powerless condition of the prisoner, and it stopped me in my tracks for quite a while.
Prison exists for the sole purpose of eliminating a prisoner’s ability to impact their community. While every life effects those around it (if only by its absence) and not even death can stop us from impacting “someone”; the prison system does a pretty good job of reducing that impact to a less than marginal level of effect. We are no longer legally allowed to fundraise for charity or accept employment from outside the prison. We cannot own or operate a business, contribute to a political candidate or even vote; all ways that a typical American impacts his community. There are dozens of other such examples of mundane everyday activities that make up the fabric of American cultural, political and economic life which are forbidden to prisoners.
They are instead restricted to influencing a small group of family and friends with whom they are in contact through a choice of monitored communication mediums, knowing that anything they say could bring negative attention from the administration. Outside of this there is only the prison staff and their fellow inmates that they can impact.
The recent socio-political climate in American culture (guided by proponents of the prison industrial complex) has done an effective job of undermining the humanity and credibility of prisoners in the eyes of the public. On the rare occasions when prisoners can access a prominent platform on which their voices might be heard, their statements are viewed with open skepticism and hostility. So I was taken aback by the simple question you asked of your contributors because it goes to the heart of the sickness of the prison system. Prison not only prevents prisoners from having a negative impact on their communities, it also stops any positive impact they might have. It throws out the baby with the bathwater.
So what can I do to positively affect the world around me? To that I have a two word answer; Be kind. I can be kind to those around me and hope that kindness is contagious.