By Tom Wright
Learning is a function of hunger. What? That’s right, the hungrier a student is for the mind food you are offering them, the better the learner they are. And they will also digest what you have to offer more readily as well. Regardless of how “smart” you think they are, or what their I. Q. is. Digestion equals the ability and a willingness to apply what has been learned. This is because the easier it is to access skills, information, and tools, the more likely a human being will use them. This rule is immutable. This observation applies to most of the human race, bar none. Other than those who have physical characteristics that prevent them from learning, this rule always applies. And those with physical limitations are a very, very, small portion of the entire populace.
I have taught both English and transformational seminars in prisons for years. If you talk to the outside populace about the prison population, the politically correct verbiage is “recidivism” while simultaneously if you ask them, they would not want an ex-con living in their neighborhood. Therefore, their belief in recidivism is either nil, or no. That would mean that most people do not believe that inmates can either be persuaded to live different lives other than crime or they believe that inmates cannot be re-educated with the skills necessary to do so. It is this belief that has to be overcome in society, in order for people to see that anti-recidivism training works, and in turn, to have faith in its outcome. As long as the majority of citizens do not believe in these truths, that people’s lives can be changed for the better, even when you do valuable work to that effect with inmates, they will be at a disadvantage. This disadvantage manifests as blocked opportunities, and unwillingness by those in power to provide a realistic offering of programs that would actually support an inmate in getting a job, a place to stay, and to live a life within an environment that supports the changes that have happened.
In reference to the above point, I have seen inmates released from prison with little money and a very tenuous support system, at least not one that would allow them to actually survive on the outside. Under those circumstances, would you be able to get a job, stay somewhere, feed yourself, and feel good enough about your life so that the temptations that led you to get into trouble in the first place weren’t simply repeated? I don’t know if / could to it, even with all of my training. I have talked to enough inmates while training them, to have heard the familiar story told of how they got back into trouble simply because they didn’t know what else to do. And, that the community within the prison system of friends and food was enough of a draw to convince them that being on the outside was not their best option for survival. And that’s the point. Just like learning, when the tools you have are easily accessible, there is more likelihood that you will use them. Including the tools of being able to feed yourself, and stay in a supportive environment, one that will encourage you to use all the other tools you have learned, including those transformational tools learned in prison. 1 can’t do my work with inmates in a vacuum, and neither can they live within one either To think that released inmates will thrive that way is entirely unrealistic.
And the irony in this learning process regarding doing what it takes to prevent recidivism? It’s that inmates have a distinct advantage in this process over the rest of the population because they’re hungry. How do I know this? Because inmates have been the best students I have ever had, particularly when you offer them anything, that in any way, looks like it will help them to establish meaningful lives as a fully functioning, productive citizen. That would be, law abiding. But again, even with the best training in the world, if their hunger for normalcy in their lives isn’t also addressed, then that training will fail. In our modern world, no one survives alone, least of all those on the fringe of support. If the only person you can call to come pick you up when you are released is an alcoholic relative, and you are an alcoholic, what chances do you think that that freed person has for living a life away from addictions and old habits? Not much of one, I would say.
Back to the beginning paragraph: If learning is a function of hunger, and it is, then the hunger necessary for inmates to learn those skills necessary to survive and do well on the outside is already there. Once made available, the training is not the problem either. Skills, attitudes, abilities, and methods can be taught and learned with such an eager populace. So what’s the missing link that would make this system work to end recidivism? It’s us, here on the outside with our stubborn beliefs against all this working out. And to make the point very clearly, we are not to “blame” for this, we are not even responsible for the choices inmates make, but rather, we are responsible for the way in which we view our world, especially if it’s a way that insures that those who are incarcerated, will not be able to survive on the outside. We are responsible for the way we think about recidivism because it’s important to us to live within a safe world that works for us, because that’s what we keep on saying we want over and over and over again! And the truth is crime just doesn’t work to help anyone, ever. So it’s we who have to hunger for a better world, one in which we are no longer willing to pay the price of crime just because we don’t want to pay the cash it takes to undertake the number of training and support programs that will cause a follow through result of success. The success that we want! This failure of belief comes straight out of the old “as long as I’m safe right in this moment I don’t care” mindset that does not hunger for change, does not believe that change is possible, and certainly isn’t willing to pay the cash for experimenting with methods that might actually work to cause this follow through result,
I recently read in the news that the government is going to spend thirty-five billion of our dollars on the space program in the next ten years or so. I thought, great! What a great advance for humanity, well, almost. Because unless we are free from recidivism, and crime, along with having a populace where no one goes hungry at night, then what advantage does going into space have for us except to satisfy a curiosity that once satisfied, feeds not one person. We can temporarily and at a very high cost, escape with our heads into the sands of space, but that won’t help to fund a single program that would actually work to make ours a planet on which we so love living, that going out into space is an afterthought, a way to enhance our lives and curiosity, rather than a striking expenditure whose cost is in the very lives of those who watch rocket ships liftoff from the earth from the ground. It is a conundrum to think of what real education we are getting by the implementation of such programs over the ones that actually make a difference in the quality of life on the planet we are launching ourselves to get away from. This whole hunger and education thought process makes you think of what the real education we are getting here is, and what it is we need to learn in order to have more compassion for those whose hunger we can satisfy with simple programs of support. Such hunger for success and follow through seems to be then, something that those who are not hungry, don’t think about all that much. But those who are hungry certainly do!