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The Top 5 Ills of Prison, Written by a Prisoner Himself

In a 2018 article published by online magazine Prison Writers, writer and current inmate Tracy Lee Kendall outlines what he thinks are the ways to improve prison life. As an incarcerated person serving his 60-year sentence for murder in Texas, Kendall gives the reader a firsthand account of how the prison system has not served as a rehabilitative place fit to judge when people can be reintegrated into mainstream society.

In his efforts to suggest reforms, Kendall exposes the ills of prison life and how the system is ill-equipped in helping incarcerated people from different backgrounds deal with their sentences.

1. Not looking at statistics to find an underlying problem

For Kendall, there are common trends present among people who are successful in finding new lives outside of prison, just as there are common reasons why some people go and find themselves back to prison after re-offending. By looking into what works and what doesn’t, a better system can be created—which is sorely lacking in the current process.

2. Not separating people according to their actions

“In Texas, you mix up people with multiple prison disciplinary cases with the people who are trying to live honorably,” writes Kendall. Because of the practice of lumping prisoners together with no regard for the nature of their crimes, Kendall asserts that there is no way for positive and like-minded individuals to foster communities that “strengthen their resolve to keep doing things right.”

Instead, prisoners serving lighter sentences for petty crimes learn from hardened criminals serving life sentences—and end up enforcing negative qualities during their time in prison.

3. Keeping incompetent and corrupt prison employees

While inside, prison inmates have no one to turn to except the prison employees. When prisons keep corrupt and abusive employees, they foster a negative environment that lets inmates’ worst qualities fester.

Additionally, these kinds of employees are also the ones who perpetuate—if not orchestrate—corruption and destructive practices within the prison system. According to Kendall, these corrupt employees “are continually under investigation and have accumulated many grievances for abusing prisoners physically, sexually, mentally, and in every other way, from writing fake cases to destroying property and everything else.”

Kendall asserts that the prison system does not work because the same people expected to facilitate rehabilitation are also the same people who commit the same acts of corruption.

4. Corruption when it comes in funds management

With the quality of life in prison as deplorable as it is, the misuse of funds is making it even worse. Kendal writes that there is a need to account for the funding from the time of issuing until it enters the general fund and gets spent.

“A team of monitors will pay for itself in the funding saved,” Kendall says.

5. Using religion to “fix” inmates

According to the Texan native, the use of religion in prison is not helping and should not be used to try and reform inmates. Kendall writes that in the current prison system, “the penitentiary religion scene will mostly be a big game people try to use to get parole or favors from free-world volunteers…”

While religion is not inherently bad, Kendall asserts that people will find it without having to be given incentives.

The Bottom Line

In his effort to suggest meaningful reforms to the prison system, inmate Tracy Lee Kendall succinctly summarizes his thoughts on why prisons are, as he describes, “manipulation factories.” While far from being a scientific treatise, Kendall’s insight in the ills of a prison system sheds some light on why inmates have cards stacked against them, even if they themselves are willing to be reformed.

The Success Stories Program aims to build safe communities by delivering transformative justice to individuals who have caused harm. Instead of reinforcing the patriarchal systems’ negative experiences, we work to create safer spaces in prisons, group homes, and schools, among others. Contact us today to know how you can bring Success Stories to your organization.