The most meaningful tattoo I have reads, “Who will guard the guards themselves?”
As a young man, I took this to mean “bullying those who are bullying others.” Growing up as a kid who was physically larger than nearly all of my peers, I used my size to stand up for those who were smaller and weaker than the average kid.
My interpretation of the tattoo has evolved in incarceration. I now understand the immaturity and hypocrisy associated with bullying those who bully. I firmly believe the question calls upon society — as a whole — to watch those who are entrusted with authority.
“Guards” in this case means police, federal and state corrections officers; youth prevention officers in juvenile detention centers; and jail deputies. Prisons have normalized bullying through repeatedly incarcerating low-income people, while continuing to operate with less oversight than I would like to see.
I believe that as citizens, we must be aware that certain demographics have been bullied and wronged by those entrusted to guard them. The responsibility lies upon the rest of us, not to bully in response, but to civilly convey our collective demand for reform.
My tattoo will never represent the belief that all guards or officers are immoral. Nor will it ever mean that all guards must be watched. It merely reflects my feeling that, if left unwatched by those in positions to create necessary change, it is unlikely we will ever end mass incarceration.
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.