Struggles Exist But There Are No Solutions
Posted in Mass Dissent - September 2012
By Sean Richards
Sean Richards is an inmate at Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Shirley.
Daily life as a state prisoner is always a battle because we constantly fight from behind the 8-ball. As a prisoner, you can expect to be looked at and viewed with critical skepticism and in most cases you will never have credibility, even when the questions from casuist DOC administrators and correctional officers seem innocuous. If you attempt to stick up for yourself you are met with trepidation and a cold, inimical gaze. You can believe retribution is sure to follow, but the retribution will not be obvious; it will be subtle and typically does not happen until months later when you will not be able to prove it was for the earlier “infraction” (the infraction being that you stuck up for yourself).
Other struggles arise when one makes an earnest effort to legally help himself right a wrong. For me, that means getting remedies via the courts (I am appealing a probation violation). However access to better resources is not available, and my experience has been that a lot of people in society either do not want to or do not have the time to help those of us who find ourselves incarcerated, and it becomes a daunting task.
Fortunately for me, I am blessed to have found two individuals who send me relevant decisions from the Appellate Court, which significantly aids in adequately preparing my appellate brief. The two men work for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, and I cannot thank them enough for their humanity and acts of kindness. It may seem trivial and not a bother for them to help me, but it is a big deal when you are a prisoner and have no other means to get this valuable information. We have no access to the internet, so it is a big deal!
Another glaring struggle that abounds is the lack of individuality. Here an austere life is king, and material possessions and the things one takes for granted in society become prized possessions. Any distinction that allows you a scant sense of individuality is assiduously sought after, but forbidden by DOC contraband policy.
Finally, the biggest struggle is trying to get the education one needs in order to become a productive member of society. At the end of the day, I want to become better than the person I was when I was brought in. I want to prove that I am much more than a guy with a propensity toward criminal acts. I want to use my time constructively and apply myself to learning new things and being able to give back to society. That all starts with education, but here I cannot get into any classes because they are not offered.
I know of a program called PARTAKERS and it is run by Mr. Lanny Kutakoff. The premise is simple: a team of up to four mentors from the community visit you biweekly to encourage and motivate you as you complete college courses via distance learning. In the interest of space, that overview is simplified, but it is much more than that. The mentors help change your thinking, your values, and your habits. They get you to buy into change and offer you a real solution – education that you can use to substantially decrease your chances of recidivism. Once you realize the power of an education you are well on your way to success.
This program, unfortunately, is based on donations, so not a lot of the prisoners get to benefit. Instead, DOC implements an ineffective program called Correctional Recovery Academy and contracts with Spectrum Health Services, Inc. to operate it. Spectrum is a non-profit organization and, in my opinion, a huge waste of taxpayer dollars. State Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein recently stated in an article that “non-profits are mission driven, not market driven” However, having had the experience of doing their program I can atest that Spectrum CRA employees – ostensible professional substance abuse counselors – are not mission-driven!
If the DOC really wants “corrections,” they could focus their attention and efforts in programs like PARTAKERS. I cannot say enough about these altruistic people; they are willing to enter a hostile environment, free of charge, and their sole mission is to see that I succeed. Because of them, along with hard work and dedication, I have entered into the Wentworth Institute of Technology Construction Management degree program, and I plan to complete that goal and go on to be a man that the rest of you in society can be proud of.