Incarcerated people don’t often get the chance to give their 2 cents on how to improve life inside prison.
So I asked eight men at Eyman State Prison in Florence, Arizona, about their views. Their full names have been withheld so they could speak freely.
Answers have been lightly edited.
Q: What is one thing the prison administration could do to improve the quality of life inside prison?
Timothy: They could hire quality correctional officers that do their job as policy prescribes, those who do not shirk their duties and work just to get a paycheck.
If a correctional officer commits a drug-related crime in prison, there should be a nonnegotiable penalty of 30 years in prison as punishment. This would stop the influx of staff-driven drug paraphernalia into prisons, as some investigations have found.
The administration should force every correctional officer to wear a body camera. This could prevent them from committing crimes — or allowing crimes to be committed — against inmates, or from committing crimes on the taxpayers’ dime and getting paid for it. There needs to be a measure of control and accountability for those in positions of responsibility over other human beings’ lives, liberty and possessions.
Max: Give those who earn the privilege a chance to work on the outside — a chance to earn more money and be responsible for what privileges they can earn. This should apply to those with more than 20 years in prison. This would give them a reason to take responsibility over how much freedom they can gain back.
Kalil: Allow those of us with a desire to choose a more productive way of serving our sentences the opportunity to do so. Proffer us an opportunity to do something productive for society — a measure that is worth something and not just lip service.
Or, allow those of us who can make a qualified and sound judgment a choice to opt out [of all this] by choosing a method of life dissolution.
Carlos: Allow inmates access to the internet. Personal connections are important, but access to worldwide information at the press of a button would give inmates the ability to learn on an enormous scale. Inmates have nothing but time to invest in learning what appeals to them, rather than what the prison feels they deserve for being criminals.
There are so many people in prison that have taken the time to invest in themselves. The knowledge some of these inmates possess is unbelievably detailed, current and progressive. Some could even teach at colleges and write in-depth subjects for the curriculum of such institutions.
Michael: Make prison a more interactive environment that stimulates and promotes progressive thinking, not one with regressive and suppressive stimuli.
Lorenzo: Allow prisoners to make phone calls and engage in video visits on our prison tablets, in our cells, like they do in the county jails.
Zach: Form a committee of qualified participants and challenge them to create 10 ideas on how to make prison a more productive environment. They should suggest ideas that will keep people wanting to work for their privileges and their freedom in a beneficial manner.
The inmates chosen as the participants must meet a certain criteria of knowledge-based skills and be able to provide constructive feedback. Education should be a prerequisite qualification for any inmate to join the committee — not just a GED, but a deep-seated and profound understanding of ethics, respect, morality, human nature and the need to be productive for their own future and those around them.
Chen: Give those who have taken the time to educate themselves an opportunity to reintegrate back into society, in spite of their sentence length. After 30 years of incarceration, if you have not taken the time to invest in yourself, then you do not deserve a chance at reintegration.
This does not mean one must be disciplinary-free or a “choir boy” while serving their time in prison. But a determination could be made based on how much time they have spent on self-betterment. Such a state of evolution should be proven through quality discourse and professional assessment by elite scholars, not by correctional employees. Allowing correctional employees to make the assessment, especially those who are unqualified or biased, would completely defeat the purpose of selection based on proof of self-advancement.
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.