Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

A man covers his face while the word "disconnected" is projected over his body.
Photo by Pier Monzon on Unsplash

In prison, I learned I had several character flaws, one of which was apathy. 

I had no connection to others and didn’t care about them. My apathy stemmed from being treated with apathy. I believed we lived in a dog-eat-dog world. 

My whole perspective changed after participating in the Lancaster Prison Program, which is hosted by the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. 

The Lancaster Prison Program offers an opportunity for incarcerated people to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. As one of its students, I was inspired by a course about trauma-informed care, an approach in which a caregiver recognizes the role trauma might have played in an individual’s life and uses this knowledge to treat them. 

Through this class, I learned a lot about the necessity of building empathy to create a more caring world.

Empathy compels us to give others the benefit of the doubt, to actively listen and see the worth and frailty of our peers when they can’t see it in themselves. Empathy motivates us to have brotherly love and compassion for those who need it most and for those who are suffering, even if that suffering is self-inflicted.

I now understand that individuals who commit crimes may be negatively responding to past trauma. For example, perhaps the three-striker, who is incarcerated for life, stole money or goods to feed an addiction that developed from childhood trauma.

But today, when I watch the news, I see a world full of apathy. People are disconnected from one another. Educated corporate folks commit grand larceny and swindle the 99% out of millions of dollars to feed their greed. Uniformed police folks are planting guns and drugs on their neighbors and shooting them in the back for committing misdemeanors.

They too are disconnected, as are the judges who sentence juveniles to prison for life, labeling them as incorrigible, before the kids have a chance to mature.

It feels as though apathy is winning, but I know this isn’t true. I see empathy in those who host food drives and fundraisers for good causes. I see empathy among those advocating for prison reform. 

My hope is that we can become an empathy nation. We need more empathy now. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Delbert Williams is a writer, who holds a B.A. in communication studies from California State University, Los Angeles. He cares about empathy and healing to solve America's many divisions, hate and injury. He is incarcerated in California. Delbert Williams is a pen name.