From Jodie Lawston: Mary Thompson on “rehabilitation,” budget cuts and Three Strikes

20 Jun

With the ongoing “budget crisis” across the country, education and rehabilitative programs in prisons are disappearing.  This is particularly difficult for people in women’s prisons, as women’s prisons already had significantly fewer programs than men’s prisons.  Mary Thompson, a woman incarcerated in California who also took my writing workshop, writes of the struggles of being incarcerated with few arenas for rehabilitation:

Since education and substance abuse programs were cut to almost nothing in the prison system, the effects on inmates have been drastic.  My question to those in charge is how can you call the prison system, “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation” when you cut all of the rehabilitation programs?  Without education and substance abuse programs many will fall back into the behavior that got them in prison in the first place.  Even the programs we have left are often cut or cancelled, due to lack of space.

Mary continues, reflecting on her own pathway and achievements despite the lack of support in the prison system:

Thank God for outside entities.  I have been able to further my education for these 16 plus years.  Presently, I am two courses away from a Doctorate in Christian Counseling.  But, it was not without great struggle and setbacks.

I have been incarcerated for over 16 years of a 25-life sentence for a theft charge.  It amazes me that the system would prefer to pay $50,000 a year to incarcerate me (and thousands more) for a crime that carried three years tops without the Three Strikes Law.  Not all of us are violent, predators, or someone to fear.  To look at my criminal life you would think, “Oh, she has a robbery on her record.”  No one knows that this charge took place 14 years prior to the nonviolent charge that struck me out—that I turned myself in—that I never physically hurt anyone—that my criminal history is much shorter than many who use prison as a revolving door year after year—that I am one of the most nonviolent people you will ever meet.  It seems no one realizes it would have been cheaper for the state of California to treat my drug addiction than to incarcerate me for life.  I have, however, graduated from the substance abuse program before its demise.  I went on to become a peer mentor in the program.  After taking several courses outside the institution, I became a Certified Drug Counselor.  I truly believe I could be of more use to society on the outside.  I would certainly be cheaper.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story and for voicing yourself!  We live in solidarity with you as we continue to raise awareness about all of the women inside, and the injustices that you face on a daily basis.

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