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Prison Myths

America is obsessed with "tough on inmate" policies. Elected and appointed officials seem to usually come down on the side of austere conditions and treatment for the incarcerated when given a choice. Politicians often speak from their bully pulpits about how inmates don't need better conditions and don't need more rights. The media routinely use the worst inmate possible to put a face on any issue. After all, it's about selling stories these days, not telling them. Indeed, even Charles Manson has become the face of cellphones in prison because he has been caught with one. Many Americans are even convinced that some inmates have it better than we do because the media and politicos have convincingly sold this lie as a fact to further their own agendas: elections and ratings. Myths of "country club prisons" keep this belief going, but only those who have lived behind prison walls know the truth. Cells are tiny, the toilet right there for all to watch. After all, humiliation is a form of punishment. Medical care and food quality are substandard. Commissary items, like shampoo, cost five times what they cost on the outside. Visiting conditions are often dehumanizing for both the inmate and the visitor. Guards turn a blind eye to prison rape. Loneliness is epidemic. Suicide is common. And false bravado becomes the inmate's persona. Punishment is emphasized over rehabilitation, so new skills learned in prison to help inmates upon release (and more than 90% WILL be released) are more likely to become "how to be a better criminal" rather than "how to read and write" since many prisons make little effort to offer educational programs. Illiteracy is higher in prisons than on the outside. So is mental illness. But hey, let's lock 'em up and throw away the key!

Let me pose this question: If you knew that providing inmates with more amenities would reduce crime on a national level, would you be for it? If you could be shown actual facts and figures, what would you say? The idea of an inmate even wanting anything more than essentials necessary for survival borders on criminal to some. Well, meet Halden Prison YouTube - World's Nicest Prison: Halden Prison, Norway, Norway's response to incarceration. It is a humane and ecological prison, the first of its kind. This is a country club prison if there ever was one. Perhaps this is what many Americans are confusing with prisons like San Quentin and Attica here in America? While this prison may seem extreme in a different direction entirely, you cannot deny the fact that Norway's recidivism rate is much better than our own. Compare their recidivism rate of 20% after two years to that of America at 60%. Now I’m not suggesting movie theaters or ski lifts (climate permitting) in prison, but there is a lesson to be learned here. If we treated current or formerly incarcerated people more like people instead of a different species, perhaps they would be more inclined to act like people. Maybe if we didn't slam the door in their face at the question "Have you ever been incarcerated?" perhaps they'd be more likely to work for their money instead of take it. I would be willing to wager that many inmates would gladly embrace a second opportunity at life if one were given. Many inmates have, but we are certainly not making it easy on them as a nation. The "lock 'em up and throw away the key" mentality will likely remain alive and well... until it is affecting someone you love. And hey... with the U.S. the most incarcerated nation on the planet (10 of all American men will at some point be locked up), the chance is good that someone you love will someday experience incarceration in a U.S. prison.