I was sitting in a classroom learning about a program IDOC wanted to implement, and the counselor explaining the program was about making promises, stated, “You’re trying to teach grown men who haven’t developed the moral aptitude for this subject…” That made me question, more than usual, how are we in prison perceived?
I know we can be viewed as conniving, manipulative, and amoral, but to hear it aloud brought a deeper level of contemplation. Individuals in prison are not amoral; we may have developed twisted means of moral application, but we are moral beings.
We have a sense of honor, respect, and loyalty; we understand what these terms mean, and how to apply them.
When we talk about being men of our word, essentially making promises, we are talking intent; moral questions always imply intent. Promises come in 2 forms; one, promises that one has no intention of keeping – which isn’t a trait specific to criminals; two, promises one intends to keep. The latter has 2 forms; ones that are kept, and ones that are broken due to extenuating circumstances – the intent still counts. The only immoral act is the promise broken without the intent to keep at the beginning.
Us in prison understand this concept, and how to apply it; we know the moral standard and act according to it. When I was younger, before incarceration, I made the decision to not want marriage, due to knowledge that I was incapable of honoring the commitment. I may not have understood the value of certain relationships, but did understand the value of the promise. Though, today my position has changed, either making or not making the commitment is due to having the moral standard to do so.
Thinking of us as amoral, or even immoral, allows the most inhumane practices of prison to continue. We must change the narrative.
I want to invite all who read this to write and answer; how am I, a person convicted and imprisoned for murder perceived?