Nowhere To Go But Up by Justin A.

Today’s guest essay touches on the subject of programs and one’s security level. Here in Ohio I am a level 1, the lowest security designation I can possibly achieve. This is also known as “minimum” security. Unlike today’s guest author, it took me 19 years to earn my way here. He on the other hand, started and will finish his lengthy sentence here. Is this fair? What’s the point of minimum if you don’t earn it? Today’s guest author explores these same questions and considers how they both harm and benefit him. I assure you, he is one of the rare New Fish who has his head on straight.

Pay particular attention to what he calls one’s “prisume,” also known as an Institutional Summary. He discusses a key flaw in how parole boards, courts, and other outside agencies approach decision making when relying upon an Institutional Summary.

Finally, consider his arguments about being able to attend institutional programs. At my institution, unless you are within 5 years of release you are barred from participating in nearly every program, trade program, educational program to include college enrollment — basically everything that would prepare you for your return to society. What to do then? What do you think most inmates do in the interim with nothing but down time? Yeah, use your imagination.


Nowhere To Go But Up

By Justin A.

“Mr. A., you will serve 12 years in an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections facility.”

Days later:

Do you have a diploma?
Do you have a steady job?
Do you have a secure home?
Are you in a solid relationship / have a supportive family?

Yes to all…Boom, “level 1” security.

What do these questions answer for my interviewer? I assume it is tied to my risk of fleeing. My case drew very little in the way of notoriety or media. Maybe it is all based on my “Offender Risk Assessment Survey” and the liklihood of my recividism/reoffending. Regardless, I am at level 1 and I have nowhere to go but up.

This begs the question: “What is there to strive for?” If this camp is “it,” is this the best camp for me? I’m already at level 1 and every year I get a “security review.” I always hear, “Just keep doing what you’re doing. There are no programs for you,” (which I discuss later), “and ‘I’ recommend you stay a level 1.” Gee, thanks? My next step is going home. I have no path towards any lower security or more liberties. I don’t use the word “freedoms,” as it implies I think I should be freed. I’m here for a reason. I’m here for a purpose. Maybe this is also by design. I agree that it is torture to see so many “short-timers” around me and I get to witness (especially with my current institutional job) hundreds of people going home every month. Unfortunately, of those, I see alot come back. Some will return another two or three times during my years. Did they get asked those four questions, too?

The facility I am in is my “parent facility,” meaning if I go home and reoffend, I’ll come back here, most likely. I stepped off the reception center bus here, and I will most likely go home from here. Up to twelve years, all here, all as level 1.

I’ve heard “only kick it with those who leave after you do.” It makes some sense, as I have felt (a few times) the turmoil and conflict of a friend going home, and knowing I will not have any further communication with my friend. First because PRC/Parole officers typically tell their clients that they cannot be in contact with felons/inmates. These people are our family, so to speak…. I only bring up this issue because here in a level 1 facility, there are typically two types of inmates: “short-timers” and “lifers”. Obviously the time to serve is varied from one person to another; however, there is a very small number of us who are neither “old school” or “short-timers”.

Everyone leaves sooner or later, right? Not really.

There has to be some benefit to being at a level 1. What about programming? So many programs, too much time! At least, that’s how it is in my case. I have 12 years, as stated earlier, and our programming is designed for those who will be going back on the street soon. In fact, I’ve been told many times that this programming loses efficacy within three years. Well damn, what do I do with the first 9 years??

I have an amazing case manager, whom I have pestered to no end, at times, trying to get on to waiting lists and into programs “if you have a little bit more room.”

Because of this case manager, I now have the privy to facilitate many of the inmate-led “Pro-Social Group” classes. Being a willing participant in these “Pro-Social” classes, inmates like me can feel they’re using their time to better themseves. It helps me, too. Being a good facilitator allows me to get into programs that I’d normally not qualify for, since my “ORAS” score is so low and I have so much time. That’s a true double edged sword. If I take specific programs — one’s that require a medium/high or moderate Risk Assessment score, it could have a negatve impact on my actual score. Some programs come with a requirement to attend some sort of maintenance or follow-up, such as AA or NA. With the majority of our programming being “Drug-Centric,” I could really “shoot myself in the foot” by trying to do one or two addiction counseling programs, just to look good on my “prisume” (or Institutional Summary).

To get into any of the addiction help “Drug-Centric” programming, I’d have to answer a very loaded question: “Do you have a problem?” Well, no, I don’t.

Part of the day-to-day in prison is having a job. Having this much time to do creates a whole set of additional problems with finding an insitutional job. Education goes the same way as programming, so my 12 years precludes me from all the jobs with apprenticeship capabilities and requirements. I am a tailor. I do this job very well and I have realized that I have a unique talent for this type of work. I had enough time to first vounteer my time to prove my worth and abilities. After six months of that I finally was hired as a “grade 6” taylor. Then, after an opening, a “grade 7” tailor — top pay and responsibility.

That took about a year, total. One down, right? I’ve still got pleanty of time to do — eight more years, to be precise. With this job it is very easy to get complacent. It is too easy to forget myself and my place. That could lead to a simple mistake being misconstrued as a major violation or security threat. Because I will be here so long I must be extra vigilant to my own actions. Maybe if I started in level 2 or 3, I wouldn’t forget so easily. My job is now considered “Institutional Need,” because I taylor the uniforms for personnel. Staff comes to me — like I can do anything without my bosses approval, right?

The feeling of being useful is fantastic. I’m not too far removed from it — from before — because I made myself useful on the street. I take it hugely for granted now and I constantly must remind myself that I am an inmate. Don’t get too comfortable! Basic training in the miltary works because it tears one down to their core, their rock bottom, to the basic elements. It then builds from those elements a well rounded, cohesive, working, machine. It makes bad habits into good soldiers. Is that not what we are trying, in essence, to do with ourselves now?

I’ve saved my most drastic point for last. Is “Camp Cupcake” how my victim sees me as being punished? How about my judge? My family and friends have minimized my offense by saying, “If you’re so low risk, why even lock you up?” That scares me. Truth is, I am locked up, for good reason! I’m here, too, for a purpose. It’s a mystery as to what any higher level prison could have afforded me, or, if it would have been more detrimental to my rehabilitation.

Because I ask these questions, and because I seek the answers to them, I believe I am in the right place as a level 1. I have observed many in my same predicament that do not choose to enlighten themselves or take advantage of these same liberties. What then?

If our judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys received an institutional summary for everyone incarcerated, regularly, would that not create less of a divide? I will be eligible for Judical Release in a few years and once I file, a copy of my “prisume” will be sent to my judge, the prosecutor, etc. From the moment he executed my sentence until the moment my Motion lands at his desk he’s not thought of me. That “Institutional Summary” or “prisume” will be all that they see; to condense over half, or nearly a whole decade of me into their minds to decide if my debt is paid for. I fear “he’s doing nothing” or “he’s just kept his head down” will be a negative. I don’t get to be seen as someone who worked hard for their “level 1” status. I’m seen as someone whom it was given to. Not just from staff and the prosecution, either. This same thought is founded by the inmate population.

Thank You.

Justin A.

3 thoughts on “Nowhere To Go But Up by Justin A.

  1. Why would the system differentiate between a person with and education, steady job, secure home & family and ties to the community against a person, say from the Gheto, who has none of that, and give one rehabilitative programs and not the other?

    Isn’t the Ohio system a rehabilitation system? If so, and if a person has earned a trip to the Joint, then in my opinion that person did something that violated the social norms and laws. There should not be a “floor” of prison directed requirements that gets them programs!

    Equal opportunity for equal crime?

  2. Pingback: Inmate vs. Convict or The Prison(er) Mentality – Letters from Christopher

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