Sunday, September 18, 2011

He's in prison? Now what?

The incarceration of a loved one often forces family and friends into a reality that is unfamiliar, intimidating and frightening - the bureaucracy of the Washington State Department of Corrections. This blog is my platform for sharing what I learn as I navigate within the WA DOC.   Over the last two years, I have become familiar with it's organization, policies, customs and challenges and used this information to improve the quality of life of my loved one and others.

As an advocate for prisoners, their families and friends, I believe that working together for the common good is the best way to gain a better quality of life for the individual.  With a sense of solidarity and loyalty, we can join our personal experiences with the lessons learned by others similarly situation for the betterment of all.

The Players: families, prisoners, advocates, DOC officials

Families experience prison, once removed.  We are not in prison, but everything about our relationship with our imprisoned loved one is affected by WA DOC. Former strong networks, support systems, income levels, mental health... can all completely change overnight.  Most people can't comprehend the pain, shame and shock of having a loved one in prison. Friends, however well intentioned, can not or will not walk this difficult path with you. Employment vanishes as employers question your association with a convicted criminal.   Depression, denial and hopelessness overtake happiness and productivity.  That's where connection with other prisoners' families comes in.  We support each other, we inform each other, we work together to survive challenges, celebrate small joys and to just get through another day.  From our unity, we find the information and strength to make things a little better.

Prisoners bring experience and knowledge into the mix when working for positive change.  What is is that they actually need or want?  How are they dealing with things now?  How can choices we make result in retaliation against them?  My loved one, I'll call him Greg to protect the not-so-innocent, has been incarcerated over a decade and he is a valuable resource when I try to help another family explore ways to solve challenges they are having with DOC.

Organizations: Social justice groups, human rights organizations, law firms and nonprofit advocacy groups are great places to find information, help and also offer opportunities for building new social networks.  Shared purpose is a great foundation for making new friends.

Prison Employees are usually professional and well trained.  The new age of corrections focuses in writing and following policies designed to further the penalogical objectives of the prison system, which include deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security.  That said, there is variation in the way policies are interpreted and implemented, often times varying widely from facility to facility, officer to officer.

As I interact with WA DOC employees, my greatest tool is the WA DOC Website, where copies of all DOC policies can be downloaded.  It is surprising how many people are unaware that families have access to the same policies as employees and how stressfree interactions are when everyone is following the same guidelines.  My advice....Families: "Know the rules and follow them" and it's counter part,  Corrections Officials: "Know the rules and don't make them up because we know the rules"

One of the best resources for how to make changes in the system are professional, astute and compassionate COs (correctional officers).  They know what goes on, they know how families are struggling with the challenges and they agree that many things can be changed to ease our difficulties and not compromise any of the objectives of the institution.  They know how the system works and get us on the right track, and if the policy allows it, even fast track our efforts.


Moving forward, here is a bit of background about what influenced me as I decided the title of this blog. 

All for One, One for All is a phrase introduced in Switzerland in the fall of 1868 after a series of floods devastated the young country.  Officials began using this motto to evoke a sense of duty, solidarity and national unity in it's citizenry, making solidarity a central theme of Swiss identity today.

All for One, and One for All is also traditionally associated with the heroes of the novel The Three Musketeers.  In the novel, it was the motto of a group of French musketeers who stayed loyal to each other through thick and thin.

I hope you enjoy my blog.  I look forward to posting about organizing families, understanding WA DOC and working for positive change in Washington State prisons.

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