The easy answer to the initial question is that there is little to do in prison except suffer the loss of liberty, equality, familial connections, and respect as a human being. The hard answer no prisoner wants to hear is that our pain and torment brings other people pleasure and satisfaction. Not many people in the free world care if our lot is fair.
Stripped of everything but our minds in this human warehouse, we have less utility or purpose than slaves. In the eyes of the U.S. Constitution (8th Amendment) prisoners are slaves. According to the courts and politicians and people who support this system, a prison's purpose is to inflict punishment on those convicted of violating the law. It is not crime and public safety, crime and deterrence, or crime and incapacitation. Prison is crime and punishment.
If the system got the responsible party every time it reached a conviction, if its sole intent was to punish the guilty justly and equitably it would still be a crooked machine imbalanced by numerous class issues. Criminal justice in America is another avenue of class warfare where the poor, minority races do a majority of the time while the elite . . .well, everybody knows what the elite (many of them, not all) do. Injustice extends into the domestic policies of every state, by the time it coats the cracks and corners of crime and punishment the ideals in our Constitution are unrecognizable.
It seems futile to believe one can get a fair shake when it comes to dealing with the system, but it does happen. It's then proponents of long prison terms, the death penalty, punitive laws for minor drug offenses, and supporters of the legislative body who purchase votes say "See? The system works. so what if some poor black kids get caught up in the currents of justice? It's their own fault. What should we care that all of the mentally ill are finding their way to prison because the hospitals are closing? They commit crimes, they can do the time."
Fighting the many problems that plague the criminal justice system is a daunting task. As one small voice among many, it is my hope that enough people will hear the need for a change in our crime and punishment culture and act upon it. In the meantime, prison is a catchall for those who fail in the community and for those whom the community fails. Writing about this failure, learning to accept all of the real or perceived pain and unfairness, is the only way to deal with these circumstances.
A clear picture of the burden that is incarceration was developed long before any crime was committed, it is only necessary that we recognize this and move on. By doing so, we lessen our suffering and begin to understand our environment. We can now see beyond the pain and loss, past the razor wire and gun towers, and live.
Lyle C. May