Thursday, June 13, 2019


Trying to teach an 8-week course that has a rhythm and a momentum of its own is damn near impossible when the prison routinely locks down. When a facility is locked down, the inmates are in their cells for 23 of 24 hours. A lockdown can happen as a disciplinary measure for a part of the facility, or the entire facility may be locked down as it was for 9/11.  The length of the lockdown varies and does not appear to be predictable.
My latest session of “Reaching through the Cracks” began March 5, and was scheduled for 8 consecutive weeks.  We completed the workshop May 28, 13 weeks later. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feelings of powerlessness that I get from the early morning call that says, “Prison is locked down.  No class today.”
In all fairness, we did miss a week because I was in Portland, Oregon at the Writers and Publishers Conference 2019.  I haven’t yet learned how to be in two places simultaneously, despite my best efforts!
That being said, it is disconcerting to see how little control the staff has over the continuity of its programs.  I understand that maintaining control in order to ensure the safety of all is paramount. But I cannot express how horrified I was to hear the warden of a detention center say that, “a good day is when everyone goes home alive.”
The inmates don’t go home.
Intellectually, I know that rehabilitation is supposed to happen through the programming available to the inmates.  However, when the rhythm and the momentum get disrupted by a lockdown, the attendance drops. Why, you ask? Because when a week or 2, or 3, or 4, or even 5 is missed for whatever reason, the class loses its importance.  Sometimes, the participants forget, or go to recreation, or simply don’t get called by the correctional officers assigned to the blocks or tiers. Sometimes, they don’t get called by the CO’s because the CO doesn’t deem the particular class a mandatory one. Sometimes why the participants aren’t called for a class or a group remains a mystery.
Rehabilitation doesn’t happen in a cell, or on a block, or on a tier.  It happens through education, treatment for addiction and/or mental illness. It happens through programming that gives new meaning to a life derailed by the conviction of a crime. That could be attendance at religious meetings or services, attendance at support groups, or peer counseling. It happens when someone cares.
It’s hard to know anyone cares when everyone is locked down.