From “The Human Condition: A User’s Manual,” by Arnold Kunst
LIFE IN PRISON, PART ONE
I taught in a California state prison for 13 years and I came to some conclusions about my convicted-felon students you might find enlightening. The following is the first of a number of entries from that same prison-educator experience that will appear over the next four days.
If you’re born in the wrong place/at the wrong time, trust me on this: the one-way road to prison is virtually inevitable. For one thing, poverty is both pervasive and inescapable. A kid that grows up poor will almost certainly grow up angry. Throw in a lack of, or complete absence of, parenting and he'll almost certainly decide school is a waste of his time [a reasonable enough conclusion since he’d probably score a good two years below average at reading by the time he’s 10]. Consequently one of his first major life-choice decisions will be to drop out of school like so many of his friends, a decision with more disasterous consequences than he can imagine or might care to acknowledge.
One of those consequences is the unquestioned enthronment of dilusional thinking - he’ll believe the same things as his best buds [who themselves, when the chips are down, may not know how to be a best bud at all].
For example, he’s sure to make the mistake of misreading to himself what “The American Dream” means – for him it goes something like this: "I've arrived, so being it on!" Unfortunately, although he doesnt realize it quite yet, life doesn't quite work like that. Abundance is there, certainly, and a generous piece of it even has his name on it, but it doesn't just drop into his lap like ripe fruit from a tree. So much for galloping misconceptions. (Too bad about chucking school; that's a wonderful place to find out about how the world we all live in actually works).
Or he'll think the phrase "dining experience" is the same thing as "Happy Meal." I remember like it was yesterday when my student Mr. Thompson, a remarkably innocent-looking 19-year-old [peach-fuzz beard and all!], found out that The Golden Arches doesn't provide a “dining experience” - he looked like someone just killed his cat!]
Or he’ll think it's all good if the only thing he does is break into the occasional car, or that he hasn’t gotten arrested (yet). And when the cops DO pick him up for something but then let him go with barely a slap on the wrist he'll conclude that they're all bark and no bite.
Then it happens.
He does something that isn't all that different from previous no-consequences no-no’s, but this time he gets more than a slap on the wrist. He appears before a judge, is assigned a lawyer who then doesn't provide very good representation - maybe he can't even spell the kid’s name, maybe he's a racial bigot, certainly the legal-aid guy is both vastly over-worked as well as vastly under-paid. The kid, of course, is looking for some kind of justification for his behavior and is ready to sieze on any one, or combination, of those factors and come to believe it/them with ever-increasing fervor [think Donald Trump writing off that Access-Holllywood tape as “locker-room talk”].
Whatever about those justifications the fact is that this kid, a mere blip on the radar screen, has been swept up into a bloated, underfunded universe whose primary focus is to feed itself, and, though he may not realize it yet, he’s well and truly at the bottom of that particular food chain.
Another factor - one he’s not so inclined to put much emphasis on - is the fact that his behavior created a victim where there wasn't one before. In any event, here he is, an angry, scared kid convicted in a court of law, caught up now in a world that he thinks - correctly - is going to grind him up and spit him out without a second thought.