Prison Issues Discussed, Institutionalization, Part 4

Question continued: My 19 year old son was sentenced to one year in jail on a drug charge. I hear so many horrible stories. I am scared for him. Can you please give me advice on what I can do?

Answer: Please click here if you want to read the first three parts of the answer.

We discussed in the last Q & A about sending your son money and sending him a specific pre-determined amount every month. Remember to stick with that.

I also discussed keeping hope in your son and never giving up on him. That is so important. What kept me going when I was being abused by the guards was I knew I had family and friends on the outside that cared for me deeply.

I fought abuses in prison and ultimately learned that fighting the system with my brains was better than with my fists. The prison system answers violence with violence and they are better at it than inmates.

Life in prison changes you whether you think it will or not. You become institutionalized. There is really no way around it. I will give you an example.

When I left prison (2007) I wanted to take a bus and experience a bus ride NOT in shackles and leg irons. I was given the money I had on my commissary account and at first I thought the money was fake. Remember, when I went to prison (1996) the money was a lot different. It changed three times in the time I was away. I didn’t trust the guards because I was beaten by them and thought they were stealing my money. I asked them where do I change the money in. I thought it was like monopoly money. After accepting that the money was real I was given a bus ticket and a ride to the bus station.

I left prison in Forrest City Arkansas and had a bus ride to Tampa Florida to the halfway house. I got on the bus and sat next to a young lady who had a cell phone. I asked to see the phone and she looked at me like I was crazy but she gave me the phone. As much as seeing things on TV you cannot imagine a cell phone until you hold it. You have to remember, when I went to prison in 1996 a cell phone was those big gray things. A big change! I was wondering how my big fingers can touch these little buttons. I gave the phone back and I guess I spooked her because the next stop she moved seats.

The bus pulled into a gas station and the driver said we had forty minutes to get something to eat. Another shock, when I went to prison a gas station was just that. Maybe they had a little convenience store, but when I got off the bus this place had a Subway sandwich shop, McDonalds and a few other places. WOW!!

I remembered Jared the fat guy from subway so I went there. I went on line, and when it was my turn to order I froze. I started to sweat, get nervous; I felt pressure and people looking at me. A convict has a sixth sense and can feel tension. I left the line and went back to the bus and was in the back of the bus like a big baby. I was in a defensive mode and ready to strike. I didn’t eat for twenty hours.

If not for the knowledge of my cousin who I called and she then explained to me I had sensory overload. It would have been very easy for me to strike out at someone out of fear and not understanding I was institutionalized.

As educated as I am, a man who read the newspaper every day, read thousands of books, and did the law, I was still institutionalized. They say a person gets institutionalized in a short time. I can see it. You are told what to do, when to eat, when to sleep, and you never make a choice.

The prison system does not address this very important re-adjustment back into society. Let’s call it the feeling of freedom. What it’s really like. Only a person who has been through it can explain it, and the system doesn’t want to recognize that fact.

I am just giving you an idea of what goes on in an ex-convicts mind. Understand that your son will have some readjustment issues. Stay tuned for our next newsletter on prison issues.


Larry Lawton