I am so very, very often asked why I am interested in inmates and prison reform. What is it that makes me so sure that writing inmates can make a difference.
The answer has plagued me for years but since hind sight is 20/20 I think I may have some of it figured out.
My step father was a notorious local criminal in and out of correctional facilities from the moment he came into my life at 5 years old. With crimes ranging from the uber-violent to exceedingly stupid we often found ourselves getting the hell outta dodge and as a result I found myself in a different school every year of my life until I was just about to start high school.
My mother was a consummate narcissistic enabler and I grew up with a certain feeling that the cops were out to get us. We were working class stiffs, my mom would explain. We couldn't make it on the regular wages others were scraping by on. No. Dear old Dad loved us way to much to settle for that. He was supporting his family in the way he knew best.
As I grew up my personality morphed and meshed and went into survival mode to find a way to make life manageable among the criminal element that was my family, friends and peers. I was constantly creeped out by some of the men my dad would have around and kept a running fear that one of them, or someone, would hurt me. When I was in the third grade a mentally handicapped neighbor man grabbed me off the street and threw me down in the yard, ripping at my clothes. I was able to escape with the aid of my little brother but the fear and the uneasiness of life in general kept that fear alive in me for years and years.
This ingrained fear has served only to draw me closer to the very element that scared me.
Over the years my youngest brother became a criminal of the highest ilk much like my step father. His crimes, however, were more of the bumbling variety and I would often step in to persuade probation officers, police, prosecutors, public defenders and even judges to give him one more chance.
Eventually as I became a nonfiction writer and covered the crime beat in my home town. I became familiar with the cops and the criminals. I interview investigators and lawyers, victims and family and of course- the criminal.
More often than not I see the many ways the crime could have been prevented, the victims spared and the future a little brighter for everyone. There is always a trigger; a trigger set in place by forces other than that person.
I hope that by the actions I take to understand and humanize our nations inmates is a step toward reducing recidivism by making the United States more excepting and welcoming of prisoners starting a new life.
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