By Troy W. David
In 1984 I was incarcerated for a homicide robbery and was sentenced to life in prison. Born in Philadelphia, I had come from a loving family.
My mother and father discouraged mediocrity.
Exactly what made me go out and commit a crime is not the focus here. But, I will say, it wasn t my mother s or father s inability to raise me responsibly; it was not my neighbors who paid their taxes or the mom and pop store across the street that would always give me pieces of candy.
And it was not the elderly couple whose grass I frequently cut. And it certainly was not the governor s office or Department of Corrections. No, it was not any of them.
When I was sent up-state as we inmates call it, I realized that all of the privileges and rights that I had in society were either lost or greatly reduced. I had forfeited them, and was now in a place where I had to be in my cell by 8:30 pm.
Showers were limited to 10 to 15 minutes one per day. No longer had I had the choice to choose meals I wanted to eat. Everything was somehow rationed even the clothes on my back.
My underwear are washed once a week and new ones are issued every six months. Recreation periods are twice and sometimes three times a day one to two hours.
Everything we do in prison is monitored and limited. Those limitations and restrictions were the linchpin to my complaints about the system.
I was self-absorbed with thoughts of what I couldn t do; I was mad at the guards who I felt were personally there to make my life a living hell. It was the district attorney s fault for lying in court; my lawyers fault for selling me out.
Oh yeah, my judge was a racist. And if my family would have borrowed more money for a better lawyer, I would have beat the rap. Such thoughts not only reflected my selfishness, but are the pervasive mentality among many inmates in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections system.
Certainly there is some unfairness within the system, but no system is totally fair. Life is not fair. And I think this is why there will always be winners and losers.
I was dissatisfied with my situation, however, I had nothing but time figure out how to better myself. I began to read self-help books, religious books and history books. Reading matured me, made me think outside myself.
I question how I put myself in prison. One day I finally said to myself you killed someone , a young man s life is gone. And I wondered how my mother would feel if it had been me who had been killed.
I began thinking about my victim s mother. I didn t know her, but I felt for her and her family. How had the loss of her son affected her? How had my actions affected my community?
Trying to convey my message to inmates of What about them? is unpopular and difficult. It is difficult telling inmates to stop blaming the system stop focusing on forces that work to make a life a bit more complicated (draconian political policies). And stop looking at the hurdles and start leaping over those hurdles.
I am amazed at inmates who write articles about the system, complaining about the Department of Corrections: the food, the cost of phone calls and the cable system, etc.
But never do I read or hear these crying mouths talking about forgiveness. What about writing an article asking victims of crimes for forgiveness?
What about apologizing to the community for their taxes being raised because of criminal activity? What about the destabilization of communities when businesses relocate to other communities because of high crime rate?
What about saying sorry to sons and daughters left abandoned by inmates? What about the elderly men and women who work all their lives and retire, who can t even take a walk in their neighborhood parks without the fear of becoming a victim of crime? What about them?
I do not advocate closing prisons as some do. I think we need robust prisons focusing on victim awareness programs and mandatory training classes: construction, auto mechanics, and refrigeration and heating to name a few so that inmates have something to rely on when released, as well as a sense of pride.
And those inmates who take a proactive approach towards those programs will self improve, and reenter society prepared not to return, thus reducing the prison population.
Until then we must ask, what about those affected by your crime?
Troy W. David is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Forest.
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