Prison about passing time, not rehabilitation

With regard to prison reform, you first need to look into the past to see what took place that would help (and not hinder) the years people serve.

Before 1997, prisons were run with the help of inmate workers. At one time, Illinois had its own farms, and that is a good start for those who do not belong in the system. Yes, there were some flaws, but it was still smooth. They came through and cleaned house and took all the stuff we had, like guitars, amps, keyboards; there were inmates doing paintings and making good money without having to give the state their share.

When I was at a prison, I had outside clearance. I was able to go outside the fence and work, but I did not use it at any time. There was nothing I wanted out there, and now that I’m out here, I can open my mouth and tell others about what we were forced to deal with on a daily basis.

At Stateville, we were placed two men in a one-man cell, and there was no shower use. In the two weeks I spent in the old Round House, I never saw any hot water. We got some yard time, but that was just one 20-by-20 sheet of cement, and all you could do was walk around in more circles like cattle.

I’ve seen lots of bad and have been told of even more problems. I received a letter from an inmate at Menard, and that person needs medical help, but will never see anyone. The State of Illinois took out almost all the different industries like farming that fed the system, and that’s where you can make the inmate work and learn how to go back into the world and earn a living.

I had a trade skill when I came home, but it was of no good use to me. Prison is now a set-up for passing time, because there is no rehabilitation when you take what made the prison work for itself.

You have to want change for something that should have been fixed many years ago, but someone said, “Later … when we’ve got more money.”

Now, for there to be a change, you need to set it up so a company can employ so many people, and they will have to work the program before there will be any change for the better.

Kieth Nielsen

From the Jan. 15-21, 2014, issue

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