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Many things are wrong with the U.S. prison system, but one issue that I can truly relate to is the double standard that is applied to indeterminately sentenced inmates, otherwise known as lifers. In my opinion, there is a higher standard required by the Board of Parole for an offender with a life sentence to be granted parole.

A part of this requirement is for an offender to gain insight into their offense. The person is required to articulate who they were and what changes they have made in the process. In addition, the individual must undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if there is a risk of them committing further harm. The indeterminately sentenced person is not granted parole until they can articulate how they have evolved and the steps they have taken to remedy their criminal and antisocial behavior.

“How to Become a Man” by Harry Goodall Jr.

In California, the Three Strikes Law put many individuals behind bars for 25 years to life regardless of the nature of their third strike. All of them are required to meet the above condition even if the third strike involves a non-serious, non-violent crime. Meanwhile, people with fixed sentences are not subjected to any standard other than the completion of their time.

The double standard aside, as a lifer myself, I have participated in many self-help groups over the years, and I created a 12-step program using what I’ve learned; I’ve turned these lessons into a book. 

Over the years, I’ve noticed an influx in adolescents coming into prison. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) opened 21 new prisons between 1984 and 2005 and now operates 35 adult correctional institutions. 

Sitting in my cell one day after attending a self-help class, it dawned on me that society needed the same help I was seeking. My reasoning initially may have been to seek help because the parole board required it, but I believe everyone can use the standard that CDCR asks of a lifer. 

I began to ask people how to stop this trend and I realized that hurt people hurt other people and healed people help heal other people. I wanted to inform and persuade our youth to look within themselves to heal while also helping parents understand the role they play in their children’s success or failure. Mass incarceration is not a solution. Society as a whole needs to heal. 

The self-help book, “How to Become a Man,” is a companion to a curriculum that combines my learnings from 22 years in self-help programs. The book’s title is not about ego, but refers to the trials and tribulations I went through. It was painful at times to open myself up and peel away layers like an onion, but I hope the book can change people’s lives.

My Innovative Rehabilitation curriculum goes in depth about how age alone will not allow you to mature. It illustrates the difference between two bottles of stored wine. The one that was stored in the wrong way will sour into vinegar. This is what I feel occurs to most people who grow up in dysfunctional homes.

My goal is to spread my 12-step program throughout California and eventually across America and the world. 

My ambition is to create a program that will include a clinical specialist as well as instructors who are formerly incarcerated individuals. I feel they can provide the biggest insight into reality when life spirals out of control.

I am not saying that I have the key to everyone’s success, but I assure you that once you complete the program you will have different values in your life.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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Harry Goodall Jr.

Harry Goodall is a writer incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. He is a journalist and frequent contributing writer to San Quentin News.