Book cover by Author Shawn Griffith
Abusing Prisoners Decreases Public Safety
--An interview with author and former prisoner Shawn Griffith
By Angola 3 News
If given the attention it deserves, an important new book is certain to make significant contributions to the public discussions of US prison policy. The author, Shawn Griffith, was released last year from Florida's prison system at the age of 41, after spending most of his life, almost 24 years, behind bars, including seven in solitary confinement. Facing the US PrisonProblem 2.3 Million Strong: An Ex-Con's View of the Mistakes and the Solution was self-published just months after Griffith was released from what is the third largest state prison system in the US, after California and Texas.
This new book's thoughtful analysis and chilling reflections on what author Shawn Griffith experienced while incarcerated is a remarkable illustration of why the US public must listen to the voices of current and former prisoners who have stories that only they can tell. Griffith writes that "by integrating my own personal experiences with statistics and examples from different corrections systems around the nation, I am attempting to discredit the general perception that the system is designed to enforce and protect justice for everyone. The U.S. criminal justice system is an economically and politically profitable enterprise for special interest groups in this country. The general taxpayer needs to understand how the abusive policies fostered by these groups worsen the U.S. prison problem and the debt crisis through wasted corrections expenditures."
Florida's state prisons are the book's main focus because "the majority of prisoners are incarcerated in state institutions. As of 2010, the US incarcerated 1,404,053 prisoners in state correctional institutions. For that reason, and based on my own twenty years of experience" Florida serves as an especially relevant test case for the changes needed in the US correctional system for two reasons. First is the size of Florida's prison population and some of the political causes of its growth... Second, Florida has enacted some of the toughest sentencing laws of any state, causing correctional budgets to soar while educational budgets have been cut repeatedly," writes Griffith.
After reading about the many different ways prisoners are abused, the very notion that US prisons are designed to rehabilitate or improve public safety, can only be viewed as a sick joke. Griffith writes that "hidden behind the walls, huge numbers of human beings have their spirits broken daily. Secretly, many suffer false disciplinary reports, illegitimate confiscation or destruction of personal property, physical beatings, rape, and sometimes fraudulent criminal penalties. Substandard nutrition, indifference to serious medical needs, and policies that encourage laziness have also become common. These practices help to sustain rates of recidivism, which is defined as a return to prison within three years of release."
"Indeed, the strongest factor in reducing the rate of criminal recidivism is education, especially higher education, the one correctional expenditure that federal and state politicians have slashed. This course must be reversed,' writes Griffith, himself an example of the healing power of educational programs for prisoners. While incarcerated he began his long journey to full rehabilitation, gaining his GED and then taking over 40 accredited college correspondence courses with an emphasis on criminal justice, psychology, and marketing. He has a 3.5 GPA from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. As a teacher in prison, he helped hundreds of inmates gain their GEDs.
Since his release in 2012, Griffith has lived in Sarasota, Florida where he founded Speak Out Publishing to publish other works of non-fiction that focus on tackling some of societies' most pressing issues. Copies of Facing the US Prison Problem 2.3 Million Strong can be purchased directly from Griffith, through his website: www.speakoutpublishing.com, by mail: Speak Out Publishing, LLC at P.O. Box 50484 Sarasota, Florida 34232, or by phone: 941-330-5979.
Angola 3 News: You write that this book "isn't just a commentary on correctional problems and solutions"it is also to share the human side of the story." Based on your experience of spending almost 24 years in a Florida prison, what is the human side of this story?
Shawn Griffith: Sometimes I think people forget that prisoners and their families are people. The prisoners have committed crimes, but many of them come to prison with serious psychological issues, and they still have feelings like every person in this world. Most prisoners are not sociopaths, but instead human beings with more pain and trauma in their pasts than the average citizen. Committing crimes, for the most part, is a direct sign of their mental instability.
A good example was a murderer with the moniker, Arkansas. Arkansas was a real stand-up guy in prison. He was someone who kept his word, minded his own business, but had a violent father who instilled violent teachings into his head repeatedly during childhood. He would give a friend the shirt off of his back, but if you tried to harm him or get over on him, his training went into effect. He had some serious psychological issues that I saw him struggle with every day.
One day I walked into his cell and he had obviously been crying, although he tried to hide it. I asked him what was wrong, and he gave me the tough bravado treatment. But I have never given up easily, and after some coaxing, I learned that his mother was dying of cancer. Arkansas cleaned up his act immediately. He did everything by the book to get a hardship transfer closer to his dying mother, who was too sick to travel across the state of Florida.
After repeated attempts to get transferred, he gave up in total despair. His mother was the only person he had in this world. He turned his anger inward and sliced his wrists deeply. This got him transferred to the prison by his mom, since it had an Intensive Psychological Unit for suicidal inmates. This is the human aspect to which I refer. Neither Arkansas nor his poor mother should have had to deal with that in the only, heartless manner available.
Society should understand that 95% of prisoners will one day become their neighbors. Worsening people's emotional trauma in this manner does nothing to increase these prisoners' chances of becoming a productive, empathic citizen and neighbor. People should take an active part in reconsidering policies that ignore the human aspect of the story.
A3N: You argue that "what is most striking about" the abuse of prisoners "is how successful the government has been at maintaining the invisibility of it through "perception management.' Public affairs offices work around the clock to spin damage control for correctional improprieties into non-controversial, politically correct sound bites. With 5,000 correctional jails and institutions dotting the U.S. landscape, prisoner abuses are common. However, much of the abuse is overlooked by unconcerned reporters who simply regurgitate government press releases."