Monday, January 25, 2016

‘The Dark Ages of Racial Segregation’

Monday, January 4, 2016

Currently, Arizona is one of only a few states that actually enforces racial segregation within its prison housing locations. This means that Caucasians can only bunk up – or cell – with other Caucasians and so on and so forth. There are a few exceptions to the rule for people like myself who are actually classified as ‘other’. I can. For any reason, be housed with any race.

Over the years that I have been in prison, a part of me has always believed that it was the administration’s higher powers who continued segregation in hopes of preventing the races of coming together. If all races saw themselves as equals then surely, they would be a force to be reckoned with. By allowing the races to be divided, race wars typically result – or at least, a war between one particular race, and not the others. Since Arizona prisons are my only experience, I can tell you that this is exactly how it plays out. Though I am not a supporter of segregation, I know it began long before I was alive and so, I have had to conform to the ideologies of this particular correctional system.

This past month however, The Arizona Department of Corrections, has in effect, began planning to integrate the races in their housing assignments. I was secretly elated at this news. I admit that at times, I believed it was surely nothing more than a pipe dream, but I was wrong. I was so wrong in fact, that tomorrow marks the 1st day of racial integration in my particular unit.

Over the past week, I have been silent to those around me. People who I have considered close to me have begun to let their true colors come out. All of a sudden, I am seeing how racist some of these men are. I can somehow understand how men, who have been incarcerated for many years (like myself) would become set in their ways. That is not the case however. Instead, I am seeing men in their 20’s, who have been in prison for only a few years, (some even less) suddenly having an issue with being housed with races other than their own. It’s incredibly disheartening to me and at the same time, thought provoking. Were these racist thoughts/beliefs simply latent inside them? Is prison so intensely conforming that it can change people’s logical thinking in such a short period of time? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this question but it is curious just the same.

It’s no secret that the skinheads have accepted me in their own way and of course, they make it clear that I can absolutely live in a bunk or cell with any one of them. Anyone else of color however – is unacceptable. It begs the question of: why me? Is it possible to be selectively racist? I suppose we can all be somewhat racist, given a person’s character, but what is it that convinces people to drop their bias and accept certain individuals?

I have listened to guys go on and on about how they would live with a Black, but not a Mexican American or a Native American. Some claim they will not live with a Black but only a Mexican American. Inside, I wonder how these men came to these conclusions. Are we not all human beings in this world? Haven’t we gotten past this stage of history? I suppose not. I guess we instead simply choose to remain silent in our beliefs because after all, it is 2016.

So here I am. I am in a melting pot of cultural bloodlines and I find myself guilty of the exact same thinking.

For example, if a form were to come around with various races on it with check boxes next to each and I was forced to choose (1) to bunk, or cell up with, then I myself would choose Caucasian. In my case, I don’t know if that decision is racially motivated or not. My choice would be tied back to my association within this environment. It just so happens that I have more close acquaintances/associates/friends who are Caucasian. Does this mean that I am racist against Blacks, Mexican Americans, Native Americans and Asians? In my heart and soul – it doesn’t. But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps this is exactly how others will see it.

Time will tell how this all plays out. One thing is for certain though, I am glad that my journey in this chapter of my life is almost over.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

‘What Makes Me Different?’

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I received a random, anonymous inquiry recently asking me what it was that made me different from every other criminal that is in prison. The writer went on to say that I took people’s lives and that I deserved to be here. They added that I was using my looks and my education to overshadow the fact that I was a murderer.

Take a moment and imagine me sitting in my 6’x8’ cubicle after a long day of work and opening that piece of correspondence. I was visibly shaken and immediately crumbled up the letter and dropped it into my trash bin. I took a long shower and cried my eyes out, not because this person is right, but rather – because I needed to be reminded of my actions. I do this on my own, every single day. I will always have shame in my heart for the fact that my decisions and actions resulted in, and contributed to people dying. I have never made excuses for that.

Once I got myself together and had a moment to really think about what this person had said, I realized that there is indeed a lot that makes me very different from other criminals in this prison. Unless someone actually lives and breathes in this place, and associates with the men who call this place “home”, it would be difficult for them to really understand. There are many things that set me, and a few others – apart.

1.   Outside love and support
Very few prisoners have the love and support of family and friends. It is an amazing thing to know that there are people who care for and love you. It gives me at least, a bigger reason to get up and be better and to love and care for others in return. The visits, the phone calls and the endless letters; all of these things remind me that I am a human being and I am not just another inmate in orange.

2.   “Murderer”
Contrary to what the author of this anonymous letter asserts, I do not and cannot classify myself as a murderer. There is no argument that my actions had a correlating effect on the fact that that 3 innocent people lost their lives. I own, and take responsibility for that.
The difference, the distinguishing factor is that I did not go out that evening with intent or malice. As tragic as the event was, it was truly an accident. I think that fact alone, sets me apart from someone who willfully puts a gun to another person’s head and pulls the trigger or intentionally runs someone over with malice in their heart.

3.   Career Criminal
I am not a career criminal like so many men in this place. I do not spend my days mapping out or planning ways to commit the same crimes – but in a much better way. Many men in prison sincerely believe that they only have to steal or cheat in order take fast money.

4.   Corrupted Mind
Rather than adopting a criminal way of thinking, I have learned how to stay ahead of it and – understand it. It is bizarre to realize that I am surrounded by men who are inclined to believe that because they see and want something, they are entitled to simply ‘take’ it. They will lie, cheat and manipulate others to get what they want – and at the same time, convince themselves that it is "okay" in order to validate their actions. It is really quite pathological when you sit back and watch it all unfold.

5.   Looks Aren’t Everything
The way that I look is completely out of my control. I can however lead a healthy lifestyle despite the environment in here. Because of this, I appear healthy. The majority of men in prison are ravaged by drug use, homelessness, laziness and a few other not so pretty things. I have been lucky enough to be able to take care of myself and for me, physical fitness has always been a big part of me life, even before coming to prison.
I have never believed that I am better looking than anyone else. I am really not that superficial. In general, I am accustomed to being scrutinized on my appearance – so why would I do that same thing to someone else?

6.   The intelligent factor
My education was a very good one, thanks to my mom. I had very little influence on where to go, or what to do with regard to my education and I am so glad for that now. Yes – I am educated, cultured and pretty worldly. It’s a part of who I am and cannot change that.

This entry is not intended to change people’s minds about me, but rather, to enlighten some readers on the fact that there are distinctive differences between me and the typical inmate. I do understand why it is that I am in prison. My goal is simply to help others understand that sometimes, extraordinary and horrible accidents can happen to individuals who are not intentional criminals.  If I have managed to empower just one person with this new understanding, then I have succeeded in writing this for everyone to read.