Earlier this month, The Long Walk Home started a pilot program of its 10 Challenges to Service in the Lowell Correctional Facility (a prison for women) for all the Veterans incarcerated there.
It was overwhelming and the impact was nothing short of miraculous, you could witness the change and impact this program had right before your eyes as prisoners broke down and got in touch with things they had stuffed for years. The shift in attitudes and awareness of a different way to see the world was inspiring. We are working to have this group of Veterans become mentors, leaders in their environment to spread it throughout the prison.
I got to visit death row and talk with two women there. I told them I have no idea what it was like to be in their place and asked a lot of questions. They told me their cell is about 6 by 10 and they get 2 hours of outdoors time in the prison yard. They are separated from the general population and they get to be in a bigger cell with the other prisoners on death row for 3 hours a day. They asked me what I expected of death row. I told them the only thing I knew was from movies and reality shows, so TV leads you to believe you’ll get shanked or stuck in a prison riot. I also said that the only difference we had was that I never got caught for what I did in my youth. We continue improper behaviors, and it increases your chance of getting arrested. If you can’t afford a reputable lawyer, putting up a proper defense can be difficult. Our system demands that someone must be punished. I got the feeling that if most of those women had an attorney, a lot of them wouldn’t be there.
One woman on death row told me that when she was arrested she left a 4 year old daughter behind. When her daughter grew up she was arrested at the age of 16 and put in the same prison as she was. When her daughter became 18 they put her in the general population, so every now and then when she was allowed in the yard she would see her daughter in another yard and know that because of her, this is where her daughter ended. I was overwhelmed and disoriented after I left; I don’t think you could hurt me more than to live with that, seeing my child in prison because of me. The warden told me that 25% of all Americans have been incarcerated and from talking to the women it seems that almost 100% of all cases, drugs or alcohol were involved.
After spending 4 to 6 hours over the course of two days in Death Row, I believe I made a lot of friends and learned to see things from a different angle. How many Veterans like you and I just got lucky that we weren’t caught in the moment of making a poor choice, or had enough money to get a lawyer other than a public defender that may be overloaded?