On Tuesday, April 2nd, Dr. Jerry Stahler came to speak to our class about drugs and criminal justice, and it was an eye-opening experience. We looked at a lot of statistics, some I already knew, and some I had not seen before. I don’t know anyone that’s been incarcerated, and my only glimpse into what it’s like is through “Orange Is The New Black,” documentaries like “The 13th,” “The Kalief Browder Story” and books, especially “All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island.”
The two things that struck me the most about our discussion were 1.) the issue of privatization of prisons, how little inmates get paid, yet how they still have to pay per minute to use the phone and to buy things from the commissary, and 2.) the fact that some prisons don’t allow medication assisted therapy, and that aiding people as they go through withdrawal is not really on their list of priorities.
It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be an inmate in a prison system where the punishment is not just the lack of liberty, but living in inhumane conditions, and then being branded as a felon for the rest of your life, making it near impossible to get back on your feet and have a successful and happy life.
It’s even harder to imagine what it’s like when you go into prison already having a substance use disorder, and being treated by medical professionals as “less than.” Hopefully in my future career I can help these issues by humanizing inmates, shedding light on some of the many reasons why people end up in situations that lead them to criminal behavior and substance use issues, and help the public understand the difference between “states” and “traits.”