Sunday, February 15, 2009
Ninety-Three Days Until My Release From Taft Federal Prison Camp
Through my readings I learned something about the history of America’s prison system. The entire concept of imprisonment began with a religious sect, the Quakers of Pennsylvania. Prior to my own incarceration, when I thought of Quakers, the only image that came to mind was the round tub of oats with the picture of the white-haired old man. That memory was a testament to an effective marketing campaign. My readings from prison enlightened me on the real concept of the penitentiary.
As the name implied, the penitentiary was designed as a place where society could send offenders for the purpose of inducing penance. In the original penitentiary, a fortress in Pennsylvania known as Eastern, the prisoner was locked in a cell and completely shut off from the world. He served a year, or 18 months in that cell, during which time he was supposed to contemplate his crime, and through spiritual reflection, grow inwards in ways that would reform him and condition him for a better life upon release.
More than 200 years after the Quakers introduced the penitentiary project, the system has become an institution with a set of goals that differs in remarkable ways from the original intent. The Quakers oppose what today’s prison system has become, and they now lead an effort to reform the system. That’s another story.
Although I may not be locked in a cell, totally isolated from society, my imprisonment at Taft Camp has forced me more inward, and I have learned a lot from the books I’ve read. In reading about other people’s lives, I felt my mind and my capacity for tolerance expanding. My experience in prison will ensure that I am a better citizen, a better son, a better brother, and a better man.
I am closing in on my release date. Soon I will resume my life amidst society. Although I never could have imagined myself coming to such a conclusion before my term began, I know that prison has strengthened me. The experience has given me a perspective and a capacity to embrace values that are more consistent with the virtues of good character and citizenship. I’ve learned more about empathy. That single lesson will help me appreciate the true meaning of responsibility. Because I know more about other people, I know more about myself.