I worked in the prison system for 5 years. Here’s what it does to a person.
Bishop Jahwar saw first-hand that prison often doesn't work as intended.
95 percent of the people who get arrested or go to jail they're coming out. They don't die in prison. So what are you going to do about that? There are no people in my experience, there are very few people rather, that are so incorrigible that they woke up genetically assigned to do harm to society. There's very few psychopaths. Most people are responding to environmental triggers. So if we could take those triggers out and give them other triggers they would be as whole and as normal as we are – mistake filled normal people.
When you believe this, when you believe you're in a jungle you say I have to become more animal. But the truth is if you're in a jungle you have to become more human, more strategic, because you can't out-animal a lion, you've got to out-think it. See, the strong rule the weak but the wise rule them all, so you've got to figure out how to create thoughts that govern this jungle. But if no one taught you that you'll just go to your law of nature and say survival of the fittest and whenever I'm just going to push high and whatever it ends it ends. And that's a fatalistic view of life and so you've got to reprogram that.
But here's the good news: it is always appropriate to give someone a second chance when they ask for it. Because the sincerity of the ask will give you more room for that personal growth. It doesn't matter that they are trying it again and again, I tell young people all the time, "If you keep trying and you're getting closer to the point where you actually do what you say you're going to do, that's the goal."
Working in the penal system for five years what I realize is it's a breeding ground, it's housing, it's not interruptive of behavior when it comes down to pro-social behavior. It can get you pathologically on a path to go as far as you can take it here negatively. It does not give you real sound options because it is like being in an ultraviolet ultra ray tanning booth with no relief in sight. It burns. It's sears into your skin, your DNA. You become that. So if you're not careful the prison system becomes the breeding ground for behaviors that we say are not social.
Well meaning people with a bad system that they're trying to manage – those who lead it. And then well intended people who are trying to get out but they're saying to get out I have to say this but to stay alive while I'm in I have to be this. You almost have multiple personalities. You become this different person. So in the chow hall you are saying "I'll shank you." But in front of your case manager you're saying "I'm repentant." And so you don't know which one you're faking. You could be faking with the PO or you could be faking with – but either one of them you're not being real. So my role when I worked in a prison was to take all those masks off. Like we would do this box, and it was a powerful box, when we worked in prison. I would say "What do you love? What do you hate? What do you fear and what do you need?" And I will put you and I will have them put their name in the box and say that's the real you. So I will keep you in this box so you know who you are because if you start getting out of this box man you will react differently when you're not you because they will say – I'd say, "Hey man what's your name?" "My name is OG, which my name." I'd say, "Okay tell me who you are, not your character, not the person you play in chow hall, not the one you're trying to convince to let you out, but let me get you." And then when they can do that in a place that's that intense and they can be vulnerable in that intense place and make it it gives them power over their environment so they can say maybe I can shape this environment to be a seeding ground not just a breeding ground. I can plant some good seeds and it can grow into a harvest.
- Most people who go to prison are not incorrigible criminals — just normal people who made mistakes.
- The prison system can become breeding ground for antisocial behaviors.
- Bishop Jahwar worked with prisoners to help them retain the core of who they were and "take masks off".
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.