Sunday, February 23, 2014

Greening our prisons

I live in Jackson, MI - "Oh, do you work at the prison?" No.

I moved to Jackson in 2008. I do not have a lot of history with this town or with the prison that has had a part building its reputation. Under normal circumstances I would not give a lot of thought about the prison system in our society or how we can improve upon it. But I live in Jackson. And this is its history.

Opened in 1839, the Jackson Prison was the first prison in Michigan. In 1926, the prison became the largest walled prison in the world with nearly 6,000 inmates.

In 2007 the main prison closed down to save the state approximately $35 million per year. Inmates were transported to other prisons in Michigan, and near by. Many people lost their job in Jackson in 2007.

The Prison in Jackson at one time was a city within a city. Railroad cars stopped here, houses were constructed on the perimeter and goods such as furniture and pottery emerged from behind its walls.

Jackson's history was built with that prison, for better or worse.

Jackson is no longer the largest prison in the world and there are several prisons in Michigan now. It does still have a place in the business of rehabilitating prisoners in Michigan though. The Parnall Correctional Facility (SMT) is a minimum-security prison that houses 1696 prisoners.  Initially it was part of the former State Prison of Southern Michigan until its break up. SMT maintains 47 buildings, including 5 housing units setting on 45 acres.,4551,7-119-1381_1385-5339--,00.html

Now I just may not understand how prison systems work. I certainly don't understand budgets or security issues. And I may just be a naive middle class white woman who has been fortunate enough to not have any major setbacks in life.

But from my little understanding prisons do not do a very good job of rehabilitating people. Idle time is often used to sharpen the mind, strengthen the body, and construct plans within a school of like minded individuals. I've always been told if you want to be a better person, surround yourself with better people. The system of family and friends that are built in prison do not always offer better people to be with.

I can't help but think, what if the Parnall Corrections Facility was turned into a sustainable facility? What if these prisoners had to work together to grow, harvest and preserve all of their own food? What if these 1,696 prisoners had the opportunity to learn the value of life and the fragility of the world around them? Not to mention, saving the state tons of money.

What if we brought in a few better people to teach these inmates about how they can become sustainable in their own life, in and out of prison. About how their actions are directly making the planet a better place.

I understand this change would be radical. It would take a lot of commitment and passion. It would take a complete restructuring of what we think when we think prison life.

I think that's a good thing.

This practice is already being tried in a few prisons around the world. Here are a few uplifting articles that will give you some new hope for humankind.