Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth—Hard knocks…

16th July 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Columnist

Part II

Last week we began an exposé of how the prison system works from someone uniquely qualified to know. His name is being withheld by request but he accepts being called “Hard Knocks” because he has learned some of life’s lessons in the most difficult way possible, spending nearly nine years in the prisons off Louisiana, the largest incarcerator in the United States and the world. Below we continue the discussion:

SUN: How important is a family support system?


HARD KNOCKS:
That depends on the individual, what they are there for, how many times they’ve been there and what action was taken. If it’s his fourth time, who’s going to keep taking the same route? You’ve been taking that route the past 15 years. Most people who have a support system from their family, those are first-timers. The third or the fourth time, the family becomes used to it. The inmate himself becomes used to it. It’s like a second home.

SUN: What is the priority of the institution? How important is rehabilitation?

HARD KNOCKS:
It’s something that they are totally unconcerned about. Because if rehabilitation is ever a factor. The prison stock market is going to drop. Congress, judges, police, correction officers would be out of a job or income. There would be large scale employment loss if rehabilitation ever takes place.

SUN: How do you account for the fact that those running this system usually profess some religious affiliation? Where is the morality in profiting from the suffering of others?

HARD KNOCKS: The false teaching of religions and traditional practices.

SUN: What are some of the things you would change to make it better?

HARD KNOCKS: There’s a lot that I would change but to sum it up, education is key for any other charge besides rape. Because no prison can correct that because that is a mental sickness. Prison is not for them. Pedophiles see a grown woman pass and don’t feel anything but see a child and get aroused. Giving them 10 years won’t fix that. I can’t say it can’t be cured but prison definitely won’t change it.

SUN: But don’t they have good therapy psychological care?

HARD KNOCKS: No. In fact they don’t even have a program for sex offenders.

SUN: So what education would you bring if you had the power?

HARD KNOCKS: Employment training, literacy, whatever is needed, but not getting too unrealistic about it. Giving education for becoming a doctor when you can’t go out there and get a job being a doctor is unrealistic. Do something that is reasonable. Every drug dealer runs his own business. He’s in the same competition that Wal-mart is in with Target. So have an entrepreneurship class. Burglars would be good at detecting fraud, or good for insurance companies. Everybody is naturally good at something. That was on the criminal side of it. There is a legal way their skills can be employed.

SUN: What about health care inside the system?


HARD KNOCKS:
As far as the prison is concerned there is no chronic disease. There is no such thing as cancer, tumors, and heart conditions. The only things that are acknowledged are HIV positive or hepatitis. Otherwise you’re in perfect health, which explains why a lot of people from the ages of 35-55 die. They are just dropping dead because they have a condition for so long that has never been noticed or treated. Somebody needs to go in the records. You have a person that’s in prison; they are not drinking, they’re not running the streets, they have a controlled diet. Why is the life expectancy less than 65? I don’t think there is such a thing as a 77-year-old prisoner. Something could be in the diet that guarantees a life expectancy between 50 and 65.

SUN: When did you decide that you were not going back?

HARD KNOCKS: I knew that maybe two months after I was there. You get up; you’re working for maybe four cents per day. So you should be happy to work for $3.00 per day when you get out, if you look at it that way. The time I was there I may have contributed about $300,000 in labor at minimum wage with overtime. Keep in mind there’s 5,000 more like me.

SUN: About how much of that did you make?


HARD KNOCKS:
About $217.00. I made even more for the system when I became a welder in school. I was an instructor, I wasn’t always a field worker. Same with carpentry school. The cabinets we built went to Habitat for Humanity for low-income housing. I built a 10 -foot pantry and 30- foot counter tops supposedly for low-income houses. I’d like to see the low income houses that really have pantries and counter tops like we built. Habitat kept up the machines that we were using in exchange for the cabinets.

SUN: Sounds like a tradeoff.


HARD KNOCKS:
The whole prison game is a tradeoff. You give me him, I give you him. You raise the cows, we raise the pigs. We both send them to the meat-processing plant which sends them to Prison Enterprise which is the source that all prisons get their products from. Even at the hospitals here, you go to University (Hospital in New Orleans), the chemicals that the janitors are using, that comes from prison. That goes to all state buildings.

SUN: If this trend continues where do you see it going?

HARD KNOCKS:
About 70 percent of Black males in a particular age group will be incarcerated. The ages change. At one point it was Black males ages 21-30. Then it went back to 18-30. I’m sure it will change again, especially with people as young as 15 being sentenced as adults.

This article was originally published in the July 16, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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