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7/2/21: Inmates Helping Inmates Be Inmates

Below is my great friend Dr. Neil Jobalia’s perspective of life upon coming out of quarantine and how inmates help out fellow inmates.  Hopefully you enjoy his inspirational perspective on things.

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Throughout the inmate handbook, it specifies the importance of contact with the “outside world”.  Outside world generally refers to friends and family.  Unfortunately, our ability, as inmates to maintain those connections proves quite difficult because of the rules the Federal Bureau of Prisons imposes. 

Our access to those important to our lives entails 15 minute phone calls with a monthly limit of 500 minutes which equates to 17 minutes per day.  Text only emails creates a very difficult environment to meaningfully connect with people, especially if you have more than one person that you wish to connect with.  It seems to me that control of the inmates represents the primary goal and the well being and success of the inmates holds much less importance. The realization of this simple fact impacted me deeply, from an emotional standpoint, but did not surprise me.

Starting with the phones, fifteen minutes doesn’t provide enough time to have a meaningful conversation. The email system allow for more information, but appears almost DOS-based (an operating system from the early nineties). Now, I’ve heard many differing reasons for the way inmates communicate with the outside world. In the end, the most plausible reasons involve prevention of illegal activity and control of inmate behavior. The philosophy embracing control of inmates, regardless of the obtuseness of the rule, belies the primary means to reduce “bad” behavior. Unfortunately, good behavior simply maintains your baseline, but doesn’t reap any palpable benefit. In addition, allowance for individuality occupies no position in the eyes of the staff.

Inmates, on the other hand, gladly and freely provide the assistance and comfort which makes life somewhat more bearable. The generosity of other inmates on my first day on the unit, in the form of giving me things like shoes, soap and snacks, pleasantly surprised me. Contrary to my preconceptions about other inmates, the kindness represented a “pay it forward” attitude that refreshed my positive belief in people, as opposed to the attitude displayed by the employees of the prison system. Advice about different aspects of prison life and tips on navigating through this horrible circumstance also flowed freely from other inmates.

So, eventually, you learn how to cope with the lack of access to your loved ones. I believe they experience much more difficulty because of their reality of easy and unlimited ability to communicate, while you, as an inmate, learn to accept your new reality. Interestingly, I find myself much more concerned about them than about myself. In the end, my loved ones and I will adjust the best we are able and I know their smiling faces await me when I finally leave. In the meantime, I can depend on some of my fellow inmates and them on me to help each other reach that joyful day!

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