We cannot separate from incarcerated

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express

In his book, Gates of Injustice: The Crisis in America’s Prisons, Alan Elsner observes that “suicide is a major problem for prisons and an even bigger one for jails. Studies have suggested that the suicide rate in prison is around double that of the general population. In jail, it is nine times higher.”

Replacing sheets with coverings that cannot be torn into strips or used as a hanging noose would undoubtedly reduce this high suicide rate.

The 17-year-old Yates County Jail inmate who was discovered hanging in his cell last month, had been at the jail for over six months, pending trial or disposition of grand larceny and criminal mischief charges involving three stolen cars. Whatever his involvement in these alleged crimes may have been, I agree with Sheriff Ron Spike that what happened is “very sad.” (Chronicle-Express story, Dec. 1).

Despite understandable public clamor for toughening up on crime, we cannot forget that people in jails and prisons, like the rest of us, experience fear, heartbreak and loneliness.

Incarceration is often the “rock bottom” episode in an inmate’s life, at which point there is potential for positive self-change. Spiritual awakening, arising from the soul, can and do occur, even amid the despair that exists in penal institutions. The importance of having someone to reach out to at such a crucial time should not be minimized.

If you know someone who is incarcerated at the Yates County Jail this holiday season, consider sending him or her a card and a note letting them know they are in your thoughts. Since substance abuse has been a problem for perhaps a majority of inmates, if you are recovering from alcoholism or other addictions, consider corresponding with an inmate who is coming to grips with his or her addiction.

The general service offices of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer correctional correspondence services and guidelines for “outside” AA or NA members to correspond with “inside” members. If interested, contact General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous, Grand Central Station, PO Box 459, New York NY 10163 (212-870-3400); Narcotics Anonymous, PO Box  9999, Van Nuys, Calif., 91409. Like other forms of sharing, such correspondence can help the “outside” members much as it helps the “inside” member.

Elsner reminds us that “try as we might, we Americans cannot separate ourselves from the world of jails and prisons. Ten million people cycle through our jails every year... There’s no Iron Curtain separating them from us. They are us.”

Joel Freedman