Corrections? I�d like to know who thought up that name. Arizona no more has a true Department of Corrections than it has a Department of Fairies. The current state of the Arizona prison system corrects nothing: in fact, it can be said to ensure that the offenders who pass through its doors will emerge uncorrected, unaided, unrehabilitated, and unemployable. I know I have only anecdotal evidence to back up this tirade, but after I lay it out, you tell me what YOU think.
It was a beautiful weekend for a drive up to Flagstaff, as Amanda and I loaded the dogs into her new car and took off. Less than three hours later, there we were: at the Cocononino County Detention Center.
Three guesses why. Yes, you already know. They have moved Little Jerry, my former foster kid and someone I still think of as my son, again. Last time we visited, only a month ago, he was in Globe. Before that, he was in Buckeye.
He has been in prison for trafficking in stolen goods (a non-violent crime in which he, a teen-age drug addict with bipolar disorder, tried to sell hot cars to an undercover policeman) for the past eighteen months. There�s no way to get him out in less than another eighteen months, because this was his third strike. The first two were warrants for minor items: a ticket he didn�t pay; a car he broke into to steal a tool kit. He�s not a criminal; he�s pathetic � a sick kid from a terrible home in which the father committed suicide and the mother became a crack whore.
During this time, his sister Amanda and I have laced the state trying to visit him, to give him hope for the future. I�ve been trying to make plans with him for a business, so he won�t feel unemployable. I�ve been sending him books about business plans and real estate, so he can stay connected with a world I know well. I want to try to prevent the recidivism that�s endemic to the system.
I�ve been to Marana, Alhambra, Buckeye, Globe, and now Coconino. Good thing I can afford gas and tires. At each prison, I �put money on his books.� That means I send about three hundred dollars so he can have a Walkman, an electric razor, a lamp, a pair of running shoes, and other overpriced items sold in the prison commissary. I also send books and a subscription to the Arizona Republic.
Each time he is moved, the things he has bought (with my money) are confiscated, and have to be re-purchased at the next �yard.� Except for the books. The books have to be shipped home, because a prisoner can�t have more than nine books in his possession. Are the guards afraid of death by literature? Suicide by crossword puzzle?
I have bought the same items over and over again. I have sent money for college classes, which take months to get into. Each time he starts one, they transfer him.
The progress he has made stays at the last prison. He has to re-enroll and start again.
What�s scary is that he is not angry at all this; he is resigned. He just says he�s �doing his time,� and �paying for his mistakes.� Every once in a while, when the guards treat him like a sub-human, he vents to us on the phone. But mostly he does his time patiently. I�d be furious by now, because the guards treat every prisoner alike � like an animal.
We surprised LJ this weekend, because his birthday is Monday. He will be 22. He�s 6�4� and a man, and when he went in he was still a kid. Amanda and I were planning to go in together singing happy birthday. But in this prison, only one visitor can go at a time, and there�s no contact � it�s all through a glass with a telephone. If you call, they tell you the visiting hours are from 8AM to 8 PM. But when we got there, the prisoners were at lunch, and we had to wait. Then they let everyone in one at a time, and it was almost �lockdown� (a time when they count all the prisoners and everyone has to be in his cell) by the time I got to see Jerry. In reality, there are about two hours in every day when prisoners can really receive visitors.
But just the look in Jerry�s eyes when I picked up the phone was enough. He was overjoyed that anyone cared enough to make the drive.
All right; I�m resourceful. I have time, energy, and money for gas. Suppose Amanda wasn�t living with me. Suppose I were someone who works in a Circle K for minimum wage and has four kids and no car. How do I see my loved one in a prison 150 miles away? How can you correct someone if there are no programs, no continuity, no training beyond the same sold substance abuse classes? You are not correcting them. You are wasting their time, my time, my money, and yours.