It was around this time in December of 2012 that I left the prison for good. I had been there for four and a half years, and it was time to go for many reasons. It’s strange to think, though, that a decade has gone by. It was a time in my life that changed me considerably.
Working in the prison was hard. As much as the company I worked for wanted to create a positive environment, it was still a prison. The ladies I worked with had still done terrible things. This fucks with your brain because on one level, you start to like them. I worked with some very interesting people who were really good at what they did.
We weren’t supposed to look up the crimes and this would have been a nice rule to follow, but my curiosity got the better of me from time to time. A lot of the women would just tell you, too, what they had done to get themselves to that point, but sometimes I just had to know.
During one of my early training classes, I had an older woman who keyed in on me telling the group that my background was in the non-profit world. She chimed in and said hers was as well. She was very sharp and picked up the training quickly and easily. She seemed like she was going to be a good caller and, as you might imagine, I got curious about how this person made it to prison.
Before the new hire was over, I looked her up in the Arizona inmate database. You can look up anyone who has been in prison in this state and see the status of their felonies and such. I looked her up and found out she was in prison for sexual abuse of a minor child.
I couldn’t look at her the same way again. I should have never looked at her records, of course, because my ability to train her to the best of my ability was now compromised. I think she could tell, too, that something was different. I was cold towards her and probably very discouraging, too, about her future with the company.
I confided in my boss what I had done, and she admitted to me that she had looked a few people up, too. She also admitted that it was a tough lesson to learn. We had several inmates on our training team who served as the trainer for each call center because we could not always have one of us on every yard. As relatively new people, we were curious about the gals on our team and some of them had told us why they were there, and some hadn’t.
Televerde had two call centers on minimum security yards, two on the medium security yards, and one on the maximum-security yard. There was also a call center at the home office in Tempe, too, where women who had gotten out would often go to work. Every so often, I would work from there. Looking back, and this may sound weird, but working from the home office was stranger than being at the prison. I think I may have felt more comfortable behind bars.
My incarcerated teammates had done several fucked up things. One had been part of terribly abusing their son. Bad enough to get a lifetime trip to prison. Another had been part of a murder of a family member. One was an embezzler, and one was a thief. Those are the ones I remember. Another one, now that I think about it, was part of a group of Nazis up north who almost beat a person to death.
These were people I had to work with on a daily basis and they were among the seemingly nicest people you could meet. Human personalities are incredibly flexible things. Working in the prison showed me some of the darkest parts of the psyche.
After almost five years, I had begun to feel like I had earned a parole of my own. Getting searched on a regular basis, and to certain extent, daily, takes its toll. About a third of the correctional officers (aka guards) were pretty decent and friendly people and the rest were assholes. Many of them did not like the opportunity my former company gave women and resented us for making their lives a bit better.
I got mad dogged by more prison guards than I care to remember for just being there.
Some of the worst days were when visitors would come, and you would get to see the children of these women on the busses that took you between the different custody levels. On these days, I would often just walk from yard to yard if I needed to in order to avoid seeing these kid’s faces. It was heartbreaking.
Many of the women who worked for us had children and families who were missing them and that stuff piles on you. I got pretty good about not taking work home when I was neck deep in sexual abuse prevention for Casa, but it still just sucks. I taught some healthy and unhealthy relationship classes while working at the prison and I’m sure it would surprise no one reading this that every inmate I spoke said they had been part of the cycle of abuse.
I believe it was true, too.
That doesn’t make it okay that they committed felonies, but it certainly helps explain why they were thinking the way they were. In my heart, I believe that about 20% of the women I worked with were truly sorry for what they had done and would probably never commit a crime again if given the chance. There was probably another 30% or so, maybe 40%, who would definitely think long and hard about putting themselves in that situation again, but that left the 40 or 50% that would be back, no matter what.
Recidivism is a real thing. The prison system, from what I witnessed firsthand in Arizona, is not about rehabilitation. It is about keeping these people down. Some deserve to be down, but others would change their ways if given education and opportunity to do so.
After my time in prison was up, I was ready to go. I do not look back on it fondly. I have not kept in touch with people I worked with there, outside of a couple who were decent, good people, and even then, I haven’t talked to either of them in over five years.
I became a person I don’t even recognize anymore for a while. I cheated on my wife with a co-worker during my time there and I am ashamed about that to this day. It wasn’t an inmate, but that doesn’t matter. It was the worst thing I have ever done, and I have been trying to figure out how to write about it for months.
I’m still not sure I even can but now you know.
See you tomorrow.
I love this picture of Teresa. I was an asshole when I took it, but I can, at very least, remember how much I loved her at this moment. This love helped save me from myself.