AMERICA’S PRISON DELUSION –Why Prison Doesn’t Offer Restoration for Citizens Who Need it Most

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.”
-Bruce Feirstein.

This quote, in my simple mind, seems to reason that insanity measured alone, results in failure every time. Trust me, as someone who’s had his head smashed into the hood of a car by over zealous undercover cops, I know this to be true. I have also learned first-hand that Feirstein’s assessment of insanity applies to prisons in America. Where is the success?

America’s prisons are set up to punish offenders by degrading, humiliating, and emasculating the inmates they confine and control. This kind of dehumanization takes place only by exposing inmates to conditions that violate their basic human rights and strip them of their self-esteem.

For example, something as clear-cut as placing two or three men in a cell designed for one person can violate an inmate’s human rights and be categorized as cruel and unusual punishment. Imagine for a moment, you are locked in your cell lying on your bunk—which is strategically positioned next to the commode—when suddenly, Tiny jumps down from the top bunk and pops a squat on the toilet bowl next to your head. And yet, that’s the least of your problems in prison!

In prison, human rights violations include poor living conditions, extended periods of isolation, violent assaults by inmates, torture by guards, sexual assaults and rape by other inmates and even guards. Most people would be shocked to learn that when you add the prison population to the statistics of sexual assault, more men are sexually assaulted in America than women!

Adding to prison’s problems are illiteracy and poor social and emotional health. Seventy-five percent of inmates are high school drop-outs, and many are illiterate. While education must be a crucial component in the battle against poverty and crime, it is not, however, the be-all, end-all solution so many believe it is.

Even if we educated and equipped every inmate with a college degree but failed to engage the critical condition of their social and emotional health, I believe there would still be very little change in the rates of criminal behavior and recidivism in America. We would simply have inmates who hold college degrees, but still struggle with the never-ending consequences of poor social and emotional health.

After I left prison in 1986, serving three years of a seven-year bid for extortion, I began restoring homes and have earned a living at it ever since. Restoring a home is a bit more complicated than building a new one because I can’t build anything new until I have removed all the rot and decay from the existing structure. It would make no sense to install new materials over materials that have been rotting and decaying for years because the new installations would become corrupted by the old materials.

When it comes to restoring a life, it’s no different. An inmate’s life is often times filled with the rot and decay of social and emotional injury that, like a house, accumulate over many years. Completing a drug program, acquiring a G.E.D., or learning a trade skill in prison could lead to lasting change, but if they’re added without addressing social and emotional injuries, it’s like building on a rotting foundation.

As I wrote in my memoir How’s It Feel, Tough Guy?, my victim status as a child was directly related to my offender status as an adult. Until I removed the rot and decay of my own life, I wouldn’t be able to build something new and strong. Time would prove that neither an education nor a desire to live my life responsibly could overcome the unaddressed, unhealthy, social and emotional inadequacies that led to my confinement in the first place. To genuinely restore lives within America’s prisons, we must adopt an approach to reform that ends the dehumanization of inmates and embraces the challenges of meeting the social, emotional, and spiritual needs of inmates whose victim status more often than not led to their offender status.  Anything less amounts to painting over a crumbling foundation and hoping for the best.



Part 1 The Delusion

America is a nation populated by approximately 325 million people who make up just under 5 percent of the 7 billion people living on the planet earth today. Despite our flaws, America is, and has always been, a beacon of light throughout much of the world. We have consistently led the way on many fronts, not the least of which is showing concern and compassion for those suffering around the world. Today however, our example to others around the world seems to be missing right here at home when showing concern and having compassion relates to one particular group of people; Inmates! While America accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, our prison population of 2.2 million inmates accounts for approximately 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

For decades America’s leaders and law makers have been operating under the delusion that the answer to squashing the escalation of criminal behavior in our culture surrounds harsher punishment, longer sentences, and using approaches to punishment that nurture the broken spirit, and hopeless dispositions of the men and women serving time in our prisons. “This false belief among leaders and lawmakers has been firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof to the contrary.” This is the medical definition of Delusion!

My opinion regarding “America’s Prison Delusion” comes from the perspective of having spent time in prison and from having been subjected to such an approach to Punishment/Reform. I should be clear that I FULLY support law and order and the need to not only punish criminal behavior, but to deter criminal behavior from happening in the future. I will also concede, my criminal behavior was such that it required a Judge to hold me accountable for my actions in the form of a prison sentence. Finally, I believe that any person whose behavior threatens the safety and security of law abiding citizens should lose their freedom until which time it can be reasonably guaranteed such a person no longer presents a threat. In fact, it seems that I agree with almost everything we do as a nation to enforce the laws of our land and to guarantee its citizens their right to live free, in peace, and without the threat of harm from others. At least I agree right up until the prison door closes and the delusion of confronting criminal behavior by applying longer sentences and harsher punishments begins.

The basis of my indictment concerning the failure of America’s prisons and prison policies fall not only on my personal experiences inside of prison, (which some may dismiss as biased) but equally upon the unbiased statistics surrounding, higher arrest rates, higher rates of convictions including non custodial sentences, and perhaps the most telling statistics of all, the statistics surrounding recidivism among parolees. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) show nearly 80 percent of all people released from prison return to prison, many of them return within the first year. Click Here for Link  I am not suggesting there is an easy solution to the problem of mass incarceration in America, if that were the case, we could simply Xerox the solution to the problem and hand it out. What I am suggesting however, is there is an apparent lack of urgency on the part of the leaders of this nation to begin to remedy what is so obvious to so many others.

The issue of mass incarceration in our nation is not a Black problem, nor a White problem, nor or a Spanish problem. Mass incarceration in the United States is a HUMAN problem and needs to be addressed in exactly that way if we are ever going to solve the problem. NO society, or persons within a society, should be empowered to have control over, or profit by their control over other human beings who may be vulnerable, susceptible, or have a propensity to come under the control of those making a profit by providing the service of controlling them. It is my position that Prisons for Profit, combined with the privatization of goods and services supplied to prisons for profit  by outside vendors, crosses a line whereby housing inmates becomes more about making a profit than about carrying out justice or affecting positive change in the lives of inmates. This for profit exploitation of inmate lives constitutes a “TYPE” of Human Trafficking as I understand the United Nations definition of Human Trafficking and should be defined as such until which time our approach to prisons and reform changes. Click Here for Link

Again, this is a HUMAN issue and an AMERICAN OUTRAGE as it relates not only to Prisons for Profit, but also as it relates to the persistence of our leaders and policy makers who continue to invest the financial resources of the American tax payer to pay for failure. Incarceration in America has become a profitable and lucrative industry whereby too many civilians are able to profit at the expense of society’s most vulnerable members including those from low income families, minority groups, and those being treated for mental health issues, to name a few.

In the world of recovery, we call doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, insanity! It is time for our nation’s leaders to sober up regarding the issue of mass incarceration and prison reform. It is time for our leaders to step out of denial and away from the delusion that longer sentences and harsher punishment is going to change anything. We need to call mass incarceration what it has become… a “TYPE” of Human Trafficking! It’s time for a new approach to the way we deal with crime and punishment in this nation. In Part 2 of  America’s Prison Delusion I will discuss why I believe the system has failed inmates and tax payers alike.

Mike Interviewed on TV Broadcast of Road to Recovery

Mike Interviewed on TV Broadcast of Road to Recovery

Mike appeared on Road To Recovery with host, Mike DeLeon, founder and CEO of Steered Straight. Steered Straight, Inc. is a non-profit educational and prevention/intervention organization, committed to reaching children, teens and young adults with a message of reality about life-choices and the importance of consequential thinking so that they understand that there are consequences to their actions.

Mike looks forward to returning to Road to Recovery in early 2017 to continue the conversation of discussing issues surrounding incarceration, addiction and prison reform. We will post today’s interview when it airs.

Wonderful Counselor?

Wonderful Counselor?

 “It’s a shame that people like him even exist. I only wish I could give him more time!” Those were the words of a New Jersey Appellate Court Judge responding to my Legal Counselor during my appellate hearing in the fall of 1985. The truth is, at that time in my life, I believed it was a shame that people like me existed too!

In any case, it wasn’t the report I was looking forward to receiving from my attorney. I don’t think it would come as a shock to hear me say I lost that appeal, but what I didn’t lose was the memory of what that Judge said to my attorney. The Bible says about the tongue, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21) In its simplest form, this scripture means we can use our words to build people up or to tear people down and the words of that Judge did nothing to build me up. I lived in the shadow of his destructive words for the next two decades of my life believing I didn’t have what it takes to succeed. In fact, I believed some version of that lie for most of my life. The Judges words just served to cement in place what had already been formed.

In the end, my counsel charged something like $25,000.00 to represent me and my co-defendant in that appeal, and after all of the testimony, after all of the legal arguments and all of the money, justice was served and I had to finish serving the remainder of my sentence. So what was so wonderful about my counselor? Apparently nothing! He charged a high price only to lose the appeal, and not only did I lose the case and the money, I had to pay the State of New Jersey every second, of every hour, of every day, of every year I was sentenced to prison! Doesn’t seem fair at all!

What if I told you there is a Counselor who would represent you for free?  Isaiah 9:6 that says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  We have a “Wonderful Counselor” who doesn’t charge a dime to represent us. In fact, he became the ransom for my sin, and in sharp contrast to what took place in that courtroom during my appeal in 1985, He paid for my sin IN FULL! There is nothing owing, there nothing due! It doesn’t seem at all fair either!

Jesus Christ IS the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6 and the only reason that exists to celebrate a holiday called Christmas. The Bible says, “God gave us the gift of his Son while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8) It doesn’t say that God gave us the gift of His Son when we got our life together. It says, “while we were yet sinners,” and still active in our sin, whatever that sin may be. Please check out my story of redemption, healing, and restoration that began on Christmas Eve of 2004 by clicking this link:

Stop putting your hope in the ability and strength and resources of man as I have done and consider putting your hope in the ONE who is all powerful and makes all things new! I can’t think of a better time than Christmas to ask God into your life and personally receive the gift of Jesus Christ.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Heidi and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!