I recently read a fantastic article by Anniseed, and I just wanted to quickly say something about it.
It was about the BBC Three documentary that featured a series of young men in American prisons, each of whom had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole prior to turning 18. Each of the men talked about their crimes – all of them had committed murder – and their experiences of prison and rehabilitation (which not all of them had achieved). Viewers were left to form their own opinions of the men, and whether it was just that they remained in prison forever for a crime committed before they are legally old enough to make independent decisions.
Scary, scary shit – I couldn’t even begin to imagine being judged on my actions as a teenager, or spending the rest of my long, long life in prison. It’s a fantastically chilling documentary and I’d recommend watching it, if you can.
Anniseed in mentioned a particular man in the documentary that struck them:
Sean Taylor was sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting dead an innocent bystander caught up in gang violence. In prison, he continued to live the life of a gang member, viewing the world through that narrow prism and getting into constant trouble with the authorities. But Sean was fortunate. An older inmate decided to look out for him, and every day would approach him and ask him a particular question. Here Sean leans forward and shares the question that was to save him:
“What have you read today?”
So Sean started reading. And it opened up his eyes to whole new worlds, made him delve into his own inner self, and make the tremendously brave decision to change his life. Through reading, he discovered Islam, and this showed him another path. He gathered his fellow inmates together and told them he was no longer going to be a gang member – he was going to live a better life, even though he was incarcerated, and he would help anyone else who wished to do the same. His transformation was to change not only his life, but the lives of many others. And the State Governor was moved to commute his sentence to parole.
Now Sean lives back in his home community, working with young people to try and stop them from getting involved with gangs, and to steer them away from lives of violence. It’s impossible to know how many lives his actions have actually saved, but his brave effort to pay back society for his own crimes were admirable. He spoke as an intelligent, committed and articulate man, and his story moved me greatly. I am inspired.
Proof, if any be needed, that reading can change lives.
That last sentence, that really grabbed me. It’s hard not to take away a message about the importance of books, and education in general, in the process of rehabilitation when faced with inspiring stories such as those of Sean Taylor.
Yet in the UK, a blanket ban has been introduced on the sending of books to prisoners. Sure, they still have access to books in the prison library, but the supply is somewhat limited. And sure, there are some prisoners that have used books to smuggle drugs and other items into prison in the past. Does that really mean that we should deny the entire prison population the opportunity of self-improvement, or the important moral lessons books often contain? I doubt it. When you see these case studies of people who have turned their whole lives around on the basis of important influences in prison, like particular texts, can you really deny prisoners that opportunity?
Most of these people have not had access to the things we take for granted – a quality education, books, a stable home environment – and prison represents an ideal opportunity to introduce them to these things, in an effort toward their rehabilitation and their reintegration into society. We shouldn’t punish people for the sake of punishing them.