By William R. Piper
To begin, environmental survival concerns the ability of the prisoner to sustain his well-being given the rigors of prevailing prison conditions. Imprisonment entails a form of secondary socialization in which prisoners have to adapt to prison as a way of life. Old modes of living are shattered and they have to adjust themselves to the deprivations of prisons. They might do this in a number of ways. The range of such adjustment entails the pain of imprisonment in which prisoners must come to grips with a new reality, a new concrete situation in which the events in the prison setting fail to corroborate their prior social experiences.
Prison conditions constitute the concrete situation in which prisoners find themselves and in which they must not only survive, but must transform and from which they struggle to free themselves. Although constituting the prisoners concrete situation, prison conditions should not be perceived as hopeless or unalterable, but merely as limiting and therefore challenging.
I have been incarcerated since 1992, and during my imprisonment as a result of an unlawful arrest and conviction, I have witnessed the need for continuing education, along with other programs equipped to provide a means of positive change.
It cannot be disputed that providing education begins a process of enabling and motivation. It motivates the person to look at themselves and seek change; and it enables a person not only to gain information but to open their minds and spirits to more objective and positive views of the world and their own ability to establish a place for themselves in the world.
Education enables a person in prison to see the potential for change and the possibility of a new life. Indeed, it allows the person to think more responsibly and, in thinking more responsibly, the person’s attitudes and values are called into question.
When attitudes and values are objectively looked at, the full range of social and community obligations begin to take root in that person’s mindset. This in turn creates “positive” changes in one’s behavior.
It can furthermore be argued that education inspires a person to develop those essential human qualities that are necessary to all social and community relationships. With education men and women can return to their communities from prison, bringing the spirit of positive change. Without it, they bring only the worst of the experiences encountered as a result of their exposure to imprisonment and the Criminal Justice System’s practice of warehousing a particular class of people.