Never mind that President Obama’s prison visit was a public relations handshake event on par with a disaster relief stop by:
I’ll take it.
The man did, after all, pull off a first-ever presidential prison tour without a GOP push-back accusing him of somehow assisting Mexican druglord ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s recent escape. With adversaries like Obama’s, it’s a downright miracle he hasn’t been vilified for cozying up to his convict martyr buddies.
Still, I think my own California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation inmate ID number (E-80604) qualifies me to wish for more, and I do wish Obama had visited an actual visiting booth. You know, the one with the glass, the short-cord handsets, and the steel stool: it would have been encouraging to see the politician conduct his inmate interview for the upcoming VICE HBO special from one, thereby aligning himself with the needs of the families who support those at the center of his current presidential focus on “second chances.”
In California, for an unsurprising example, ever more restrictive visiting policies alleged to stop the flow of drugs into facilities are making things tougher on family members, yet the very possibility of successful reentry rests largely on inmates maintaining positive contact with the outside world. And there are few results to speak of for all the money that’s spent on security contractors, scanning technology, man-hours of custody training on strip searching mothers pushing baby strollers, and even German shepherds walking visitor entrance lines. I could go on, or I could just link to my own take on the topic and move on to why Obama’s prison visit, while imperfect, is a very good thing.
You see, the more we joke about, complain about, or even argue the merits of a presidential prison reform publicity play, the more we’re talking about incarceration and the incarcerated in ways we haven’t before. And that’s precisely my mission: getting people to understand the humor, heart, and humanity I found behind bars is how I use my prison number in the civilian world. So while I would’ve been bowled over had it gone down in a more hard-boiled facility like Folsom, Quentin, or Clinton (that number also has me handcuffed to higher standards), I applaud the President’s historic (if slightly dorky) correctional institution visit.
El Reno is a fine beginning. If indeed, per a White House spokesperson, “the President believes that, at its heart, America is a nation of second chances, and the reentry programs and drug abuse programs housed at El Reno are vital to ensuring that inmates have a second chance to give back to the country they love,” I’m okay with using that wedge to pry open this door a little more. The more the public can see through that crack, the closer we’ll get to policies that aim to redirect, not just recycle, juvenile and adult offenders. The more attention that’s paid to what can truly reform our criminal justice system, the more taxpayers will understand how blindly and vengefully their money has been hijacked and maladministered over the years. And the more they’ll force fiscal discipline and change.
Popular as it may be, Orange Is the New Black does little to broaden the public’s ability to recognize what life behind bars really looks like, and only by countering such kitschy pop cultural interpretations of prison life will people start to realize how little genuine human potential they have been allowed to see so far.
Oh, and if you happen to be among the dwindling population of Americans who don’t think criminal justice reform is needed, I have just one question. Whose behavior is more criminal, the 18-year-old who sells weed or the fully grown adults who greeted a black US President outside of his Oklahoma hotel by waving Confederate flags?
Tags: "El Chapo" Guzman, California, California Department of Corrections, Clinton, disaster relief, druglord, El Reno, Folsom, incarceration, Obama, Orange Is the New Black, presidential prison visit, prison, prisoners, reentry, Vice, Where Excuses Go to Die