Surely, you’ve seen inmates released and then returned. Why do you think this is so common? There’s a common misconception that the prospect of prison or returning to prison is a deterrent to crime, but I have my doubts. What do you think happens to people that brings them back?
Financial stress is a big reason people come back to prison. One of my first cellies in DOC was back on a parole violation. He violated because his parole officer made him quit a good paying job in a motorcycle shop because it was too far away. A juvenile offender friend of mine was on parole and working on a road construction crew. He was making a lot of money and getting a lot of overtime. He’d come home from work so dog tired all he could do was fall into bed, getting into trouble was the last thing on his mind. His P.O. made him quit because he was working too much and had to work at night. He took a job which paid far less.
Stress leads people to fall back into drugs and alcohol. Yeah, drug programs can help people but it is unreasonable to lay such heavy stress on people who are newly clean and just learning to cope with life on the streets, substance abuse free. A lot of guys get stressed out when they have to pay hundreds of dollars a week in classes and drug tests even when they took the same classes in the joint and have no history of drug abuse. I’ve known some guys who decide that it just isn’t worth it to go on parole and would rather stay in prison until they could get out without having to do any time on parole. That was so common that Colorado changed its laws to create “mandatory parole”. Too many people were waiving parole and getting out without restrictions. I know guys who plan to abscond on their mandatory parole because they’d rather risk coming back to prison and live on the run than try to jump through the hoops.
Colorado is also really bad with technical parole violations. My friend got paroled to Grand Junction from Canon City. He was given a bus ticket and his $100 “gate check”. Well, he fell asleep at a bus station and missed his bus. Because it was Thanksgiving, there was no place open to cash his check and get transportation to his halfway house until the next day. He showed up a little late as a result, still reported to his P.O. trying to comply with his parole, but he was still violated and sent back to prison. He chose to spend his entire parole in prison (2 or 3 years, I forget which). People get violated for petty “technical violations” all the time.
The high recidivism rate in the US is due to the failure of the system to address the core problem in most criminals, a lack of empathy and identification with others. Prison is not a deterrent and is premised upon selfish motivations – “I don’t want to victimize others because I will get punished if I’m caught. There are too many “I’s” in that equation, the focus is on avoiding unpleasantries (which is also what crime is) instead of the value and rights of others. The proper reason to not commit crime is not a selfish desire to avoid punishment, it is the selfless desire to not want to cause harm to others or make their lives worse off. As long as avoiding crime is a cost-benefit relation instead of an intrinsically moral evaluation, people will decide the benefits outweigh the cost – even if the cost is death!
Ex-cons, like most Americans, still have the fundamentally flawed notion that life is all about the “bling”; that material goods is life’s purpose and a man is only worth what he has. Criminals have discovered that they can gain wealth easier and quicker by selling drugs and robbing people than by honest work and have not been instilled with the empathy necessary to care whether they obtain their goals by stepping on others. If they took the time to go to business school they wouldn’t been highly successful, ruthless CEO’s. But they went to school on the streets, their chemistry class was the meth lab. They are the celebrated embodiment of the successful venture capitalist manifesto in a sub-culture which does not see conventional means as an option for them.
Until an ex-con’s goals change and his life is focused upon some value system which is not self-centered he will continue his abusive ways. I’ve been fortunate that many of my friends who’ve gotten out have kept in touch (that’s rare) and they have all successfully left crime behind them. The common thread among all of them is that their goals in life are not self-centered and they respect the rights of others.
Many guys who get out and want to stay out for selfish reasons end up going back to their same circle of friends with the same social distortions. They quickly fall back into the same patterns and the same mentality because there was no fundamental change within them. I’ve noticed that once that change occurs that the old ways of thinking, the old cycles, become distasteful and there is no temptation to go back. Seeing people stuck in those same destructive mentalities is not an inducement to fall back, but a reminder of why you are better off.
I am fully convinced that a person who has experienced that inner change can be placed back into a toxic environment and not be corrupted. That is something my latest foray into Supermax has taught me. I am surrounded by people infused with my old mentalities. They are consumed with negativity, anger, predation, and cares about foolish things. I look at them and thank God I’ve come so far. I could not imagine the misery of going back and being one of them again. There is no appeal whatsoever; they represent everything I don’t want to be. Their talk of making money at the expense of others and “living large” leaves a foul taste in my mouth. I imagine that someone who has shifted their mentality from a selfish paradigm to a healthy selfless one would feel the same way when returning to their old neighborhood and lose interest in their old friends.