I long for a kinder, gentler nation and world.

I want to see HUMANITY shown toward man.

I long to see open recognition of good works done, even small works.

MSNBC Nightly News often devotes its last few minutes to a report on something uplifting. When I hear those reports, I feel good…and I want to hear more.  

That leads my thoughts to prisoners.

Is credit ever given to prisoners who turn their lives around while they are serving their sentences? One would think that the MDOC would jump at the chance to claim results from their efforts as evidence of solid programming. Positive reinforcement – that is, praise – for a job well done is highly effective in improving behavior. But positive reinforcement seems to be in short supply. Prisoners have to wait…for meals, for medical care, for everything, it seems, except praise. From stories I have been told, it is often through an individual’s determined effort to bring about change in his or her life that transformations often occur. Since 95% of those currently serving time in prison will at some point be released from prison, it would simply make sense to make use of positive reinforcement in prisons.

“Good time” is a term used to describe exactly that – a reward to prisoners for good behavior. Michigan does not do that any longer. There seems to be, in fact, little recognition behind those bars of anything done well.

I long for a kinder, gentler state. I long for a kinder, gentler MDOC. In my world, prisoners would serve their time receiving instruction from Day 1. At first, they might be required to work through anger issues, or to break an addiction. Positive reinforcement would be very effective here. Once they began to have respect for themselves and for those around them, there could be a focus on the future. How wonderful if fresh starts could begin with new careers! Vocational training would provide a “leg up.” In fairness, Michigan’s Vocational Villages are a start to this…but they are not available to everyone. A skill would give so many a fighting chance to succeed in very competitive and prejudicial environments. Given a viable chance to succeed, I believe there would be more enthusiasm and drive, and there would likely be less recidivism. 

Everyone needs to feel valued! Sadly, prisoners wait, often feeling ignored or overlooked while they serve their time, while they wait to hear from the Parole Board, or while they hope for the recognition of a commutation.

Sadly, too, what about those who are ill, or aging within prisons? Couldn’t there be a more compassionate plan for such folks?

And finally, how terrible to die alone in prison, without anyone to care?    

I don’t have the bully pulpit that my friend, Doug, has at Humanity for Prisoners, but recently I voiced my thoughts to him, wishing that we could somehow institute a statewide memorial service for prisoners who died in the previous year. I would like to see this recur annually. Not only would it give value to lives that have been forgotten, but it might just provide some healing for those left behind, who couldn’t say goodbye. Today’s technology could allow such a service to be viewed in all Michigan prisons by all prisoners.

Each of us is unique. Each of us has value. I strongly believe that no matter how off track our behavior has been at one time or another, there is something good in each of us. Think about it:  what if each of us reading this valued, complimented, or affirmed someone today? What a nicer place this world would be! If we did this daily…we could absolutely turn this world – and maybe even MDOC upside down!

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The Prisoner's Prayer Book

Louise is author of The Prisoner's Prayer Book which evolved as she became a volunteer in prison ministry. Retired from a career in social services, Louise resides in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

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