There is a group of people in society that has largely been marginalized for their behavior and ignored because of their social status. Without question, prison inmates in America are forgotten in the psyche of the average individual. I have observed that there exists a certain societal stigma toward a person who mentions that they have been to jail. I believe that this needs to change. Since first visiting prisons in 2006, I believe that everyone should spend a certain amount of time in prison to gain a better perspective on the crudeness of society and the pain that comes with feeling alone and forgotten.
As I have talked to kids from the Newark Juvenile Detention Center, in New Jersey, several conversations have changed my perspective on the prison system and those who live in it. Fourteen year old Carlos, who is in jail for theft, once told me, “I feel like I am more accepted and loved in here than I am outside of these barbed wire fences.” Terry, having been to jail three times from age twelve to sixteen, once commented to me, “As soon as I get out, I find a way to get back in. My friends and family have all abandoned me and living on the street is too dangerous. At least in prison I have three square meals to eat; protection, a bed to sleep in and, most importantly, people that will not look down on me for my past.”
I know what it feels like to be left out. In middle school, I was all of four feet tall and uncoordinated. My dream of playing professional sports was not looking to promising. When it came time to pick teams for a game of football, on the play ground after school, I was never picked because of my height and ability. This experience was disheartening for me because I longed to be accepted by my friends and I could sense my dream of a professional playing career dissolving quickly. Jail inmates experience similar disappointments when they are released and looking for a job. I have heard countless stories from former prisoners that the hardest time of their lives was not when they were in jail, but, after they got out, being accepted as an individual with worth in society.
Finally, I have experienced the societal stigma against the word prison first hand. When I speak with people from my church or job about the time I have spent in work with prisoners, I am always ridiculed and put down for my efforts. I have felt a little of the pain that my friends in jail feel when they get out. It seems to me that nobody wants to be associated with a prisoner and thus they are criticized and pushed to the lowest levels of society.
I believe that you and I should not look down on these marginalized prisoners, but view them with unfiltered glasses. They should be treated them with love and respect, after all, prisoners are humans too.
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