Pen Pals

Prisons Punish Families Too

By Bert Burykill


Image via Sense & Sustainability

When I read articles like this one in the New York Times about how prison makes people poor and destroys families, I have mixed emotions. I think it’s admirable that this high-and-mighty mainstream paper is examining the effects of the nation’s prison population explosion over the past 40 years. The author, John Tierney, tells the story of Carl Harris, a guy from DC who used to sell crack until he beat up some of his customers who robbed him and got 20 years on a trumped-up charge because the cops thought he was some big-time drug dealer. Sounds like Carl is doing better now, and I’m real happy he’s gotten to the point where he can enjoy life. Sadly, I ain’t exactly there yet—the drug statutes of New York State are continuing to butt pump my unlucky rump, even though I’m out of prison.

I could repeatedly point out injustices I believe I’ve incurred over the past eight years, however, I’m trying to stop that train of thought and get back to basics. I’ve been beating off to my old Susan Powter videos like it’s ’94 again and thanking whatever there is to thank up there that I didn’t get 20 years for beating up crackheads. As that Times article demonstrates through Carl and his family’s story, some prison terms are WAY too long, and excessive sentences unnecessarily handicap communities already in dire straits. Basically, prison is responsible for more chaos than anything else. But if it took the Times writing about it for you to get that, you’re probably a simpleton who needs some help eating solid food.

I didn’t go to Harvard or Yale and by many peoples’ accounts I’m dumber than dookie-dipped dewdrops drying on a dildo, yet I know prisons better than the front of my dick. While the clink-clink blows balls on a number of levels, the one aspect of doing time that, at least in my experience, isn’t that bad is the one the media plays up the most, and that’s the actual physical doing-time part. Movies and shows depict prisons as full of bloody dicks and shivs, and no doubt, dirt gets done in prison. But actually, most motherfuzzies in jail deal with a lot iller shit in the streets. The prisons I’ve been to were all pretty much chillin’. It’s basically summer camp minus the baby beavers. Lots of us bitch and moan, but we play cards and sports, watch TV, eat free food, have people clean up after us, lift weights, listen to music all day, take profucive naps, read and write a lot, and get money (masturbate) till the cows come home. The best part is you taxpayers pay for it all!

What devastates us is that we’re missing out on the experiences that give us a functioning role in society and make us feel like worthwhile human beings. It’s heartbreaking that a single bad decision can cause years of pain to our mothers, fathers, wives, and children. I know that most people don’t want to think about who’s in jail, let alone the effects that mass incarceration has on its victims, but just go there for a minute... Imagine your dad was locked up for most of your life. You’d grow up poor, probably full of anger, likely in a louse-filled neighborhood with unseemly influences, and you’d have a great chance of becoming a whore or a thief or a drug dealer and following dear old Dad into jail. As that Times article says, quoting a sociologist, “children are generally more likely to suffer academically and socially after the incarceration of a parent. Boys left fatherless become more physically aggressive. Spouses of prisoners become more prone to depression and other mental and physical problems.”

And here’s where my mixed emotions come in—does it really take a fancy-pants academic type to say that when your parent is in jail, your life is going to suffer for it? Do you need to be a magical wizard Harvard professor like Bruce Western to say stuff like, “Prison has become the new poverty trap. It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.” Guess what? Reddee-Rock Reggie from Rockaway could’ve told you that when he was eight years old. Here’s Western again: “People who go to prison would have very low wages even without incarceration. They have very little education, on average, and they live in communities with poor job opportunities, and so on. For all this, the balance of the social science evidence shows that prison makes things worse.” Prison makes things worse? Fuckin’ fascinating… Please, tell me more.

I’m still pissed off I’ve lost all this time to the state for playing with drugs. In person, you probably wouldn’t know it—I put most of my frustration, anger, and delirious brain stains into this column—but a little secret I keep stuffed deep in my butt pocket is that I’m madder than a motheruffer, and mostly at myself for allowing anyone to rape my friend Freedom so savagely. I come from a stable background, and this shit has been rough even on me. It’s gotta be damn-near impossible for people to break this cycle when they’re coming from the worst environments. I’ve seen a lotta hopelessness. It takes a while for people to get fully fed up with the bullshit and grow the fuck up. In my early 30s, maybe I’m finally there.

Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here

Previously: Valentine’s Day Is a Punch to the Gunt

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