Hunger Strike, Raising Awareness

Education is the only proven method to help reduce recidivism rates, meaning that through education and a program of rehabilitation and personal change and growth, prisoners are at a far lower risk for re-offending and being sent back to prison. According to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, national recidivism rates stand at 67.5 percent, nearly double what they are in those nations we consider to be our peers. (Henry, 2011.) For inmates that secure a GED, their re-incarceration rate is somewhere in the range of fifteen to twenty-three percent. Those who secure an associate of arts degree, two-year degree, or vocational degree have even lower recidivism rates. In fact, in one California study it was found that of those inmates who attained a degree…none were re-incarcerated.

Astounding right! Yet shouldn’t that be common sense? Education is liberation, it’s empowering, and it is the key to any type of success. We wouldn’t refuse our children the right to an education? We would create for ourselves an uneducated populace once they’ve all become adults. For inmates, “Over 70% of all people entering state correctional facilities have not completed high school, with 46% having had some high school education and 16.4% having had no high school education at all.” (Maguire & Pastore, 1996). These men and women might as well have the minds of children; many have yet to complete high school. Yet we deny them education, and a variety of other basic human rights.

A lack of education is one issue with the prison industrial system, solitary confinement is another. A variety of factors come into play when addressing the prison industrial system here in the United States, a list that could quite literally be endless. Due to our frustration and outrage at this hurtful and debilitating system, a small group of Saint Lawrence students, including myself, have been on a four day hunger strike to protest solitary confinement for non-violent offenders and be the voice for the suppressed, the confined, and the voiceless. Today is day four. Some inmates in Californina prisons have gone on 20-40 day hunger strikes to protest for better rights, some have gone as far as to starve themselves to death because it is a better option than continuing to live in the inhumane and dehumanizing environment of solitary confinement units.

We have had a petition to sign, a table in the student center, we have reached out to a local newspaper, and begun the slow and ugly process of educating and raising awareness about the issues within the prison system in this country, solitary confinement specifically. There are so many issues that need to be addressed and dealt with. It’s hard to feel like any of our efforts have actually accomplished anything. Because I’ll be honest, it hasn’t. Myself and 6-8 other students not eating for four days is ridiculous. Some have even taken a vow of silence. How are we to raise awareness about the prison industrial system, if we are as silent as the men and women who are locked up? I did not take a vow of silence. I believe that is a disservice to the men and women who need civilians like us to rally and rage for them.

I am extremely hungry right now, sitting here alone in Augsbury staring out the window, watching cars and people meander on by; parking, driving, leaving, or walking. Me starving myself isn’t helping anyone at the moment, I am raising no awareness. I am sitting down, alone, and hungry. I wish there was a real way for us to help get people involved and passionate about prisoners rights and changing a system that is sick and warped. I’ll be honest most people are too caught up with themselves and too caught up in pre-conceived notions about inmates and prisons to ever get outside of themselves and fight for the rights of someone they don’t even know. Someone that they believe is scum of the earth. Inmates are people too, 97% of those in prison are there for non-violence, drug, theft, or gang related crimes. They deserve to be rehabilitated, cared for, educated, and placed back into society as citizens, not just a man or woman who is going to reoffend and go right back to the system they just left. But the prison system is a business now; it wants inmates to come back. Inmates are people who made mistakes just like you and I, they just happened to get caught doing it. You and I are probably white and come from middle to upper class families, so the odds are, we won’t ever be in a prison. (Unless we’re there for class or community service.)

All in all, there is so much to be said about the prison system, so much to be angry and disgusted about, and it’s overwhelming and hard to know where to begin. If you’ve actually made it to the end of my spiel and are still reading along with me, I ask you to in some way to educate yourself about the prison industrial system. Take your blinders off and realize that this country has many dark alleyways and locked up cupboards that they don’t want the American public to see. Do yourself a favor, do your countrymen a favor and get educated, get involved, and if you don’t agree with something, speak up. Even if it’s not going to change anything for the time being, and your sitting here hungry, alone, and tired. It’s the fact that you’re trying. And that my friends, is a hell of a lot better than blinders.

-Hannah Brook Smith


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