Get Out and Stay Out
Adam B. Clausen
Professor Tony Gaskew, Ph.D.
September 20, 2012
Abstract: This paper examines the influences conspiring against convicted criminals attempting to reshape their lives. It further explains how both media sources and criminal prosecutors are able to influence public opinion in order to shape criminal justice practice and procedure. The author addresses the issue of consistently high rates of recidivism and contributes his personal views and experiences to the discussion. A potential solution to the problem of recidivism is suggested by the author in conclusion and supported by a course required text, "Getting Out and Staying Out" by Demico Boothe.
When a person is released from prison they are likely to be filled with a sense of euphoria. Inevitably the sobering reality of daily living in the world outside of prison comes crashing down around them. Any person whom has served time in prison is expected to know "The Rules Of The Game." Their accumulated experiences, coupled with the stories they heard from others in prison, leaves them no excuse for not knowing what their role is within "The Game."
"Criminal associations" are a clear violation of the terms of the parole and probation but what happens when a parolee lives in a crime infested neighborhood where there is seemingly no way to entirely avoid the criminal element of that environment? The answer is that it becomes the parolee's responsibility to know who all of the players are in the Game and to avoid them at all costs if they hope to succeed. Maintaining a constant awareness of one's environment is an essential life skill that should have been honed in prison for self preservation and can now be utilized out in the world. Demico Booth wisely suggests formulating a "positive plan of action" as a means of avoiding these types of troublesome situations once released. Adhering to that plan, even during times of great hardship, and recalling the discomforts of prison, can greatly reduce the likelihood of recidivism. Also, deciding to make "family" a top priority in one's life is an intelligent way to remain focused on those things that truly matter the most.
The only way a parolee ends up back in prison is if they break that law or violate the conditions of their supervised release. Knowing the tactics employed by law enforcement is an absolute essential element of survival for anyone wrapped up in"The Game," including all recent parolees. The strategies and methods used by officers to combat the War On Drugs are constantly evolving but can all be traced to what is known as the "Enterprise Theory." For over sixty years, law enforcement has relied upon the "Enterprise Theory" as a means to dismantle criminal organizations both large and small. Officers focus their attention on "gutting the ground floor" of an organization in order to bring the next tier above them down. By eliminating those lower levels of the organization, law enforcement is able to not only disrupt business but also to bring themselves closer to the top tier criminals leading the organization. Certain criminal enterprises, such as drug distribution and sales enterprises, are clearly more susceptible to this technique due to the addictive nature of their product, which causes people to act more unscrupulously.
Hollywood movies, rap lyrics and music videos all contribute to the glamorization of the Drug Game. The risk for rewards and inevitable consequences are all equally embellished to paint a picture that does not accurately depict reality. The implication is that the potential rewards will all be worth it no matter how briefly they may last. This pervasive mentality has been perpetuated throughout pop-cutlure and made it incredibly easy for law enforcement officers to remove legions of aspiring young criminals from the streets. Once they are taken into custody, their cooperation with law enforcement officers and prosecutors is almost a foregone conclusion. Cooperating has actually become so commonplace that it is no longer holds the stigma, nor fear of retribution, that it once did. Clearly, "The Rules Of The Game" have dramatically changed and the boundaries are not neatly defined as they once were.
Nowadays prosecutors unquestionably wield the most power within the criminal justice system. If a person has committed a crime it is the prosecutor who will then likely determine how much of their life must be traded for repayment. Judges have been basically relegated to the role of "referee" during most court proceedings. Since the prosecutor retains the right to determine which charges a criminal defendant will face, he or she is able to hold a near infinite amount of time over each defendant's head. Their job is simply to attain as many criminal convictions as possible and they most often attempt to do so by whatever means necessary. Frequently, they can be heard boasting to the media about their "conviction rate" and the number of total years they have managed to accumulate against criminal defendants. This attitude does not represent the true (theoretical) interests of justice.
As the Rules Of The Game have changed out in the street, so have the practices of prosecutors across the nation. Anyone attempting to play by the Old Rules Of The Game is at a severe disadvantage and likely to be made into an example. Those few criminal defendants who dare not to cooperate with prosecutors can expect to receive astonishingly harsh treatment. However, these situations so rarely occur in this day and age that when they do hardly anyone even takes notice. American pop-culture icons have repeatedly proved that it is now socially acceptable to destroy the lives of everyone around you if it is necessary to avoid a lengthy prison term.
Traditional media sources tend to target a more mature audience, but their message is not that dissimilar from one found in pop-culture. Much attention has been paid to the recent mass murder which occurred in Aurora, Colorado and what might have been done to avoid it.
Tighter laws, harsher penalties and the expanded use of law enforcement techniques have all been suggested as a means to prevent another similar event in the future. This dangerous expansion of the criminal justice system could have dire consequences for every citizen if left unchecked. It has boldly been suggested that a law "that would make it easier to treat and institutionalize violent paranoid-schizophrenics without their permission" (How The Gun Won" by Joe Klein, Time. August 6, 2012) might have prevented Senator Giffords' shooting in Arizona. The media is attempting to manipulate the general public and win their support for a greatly expanded criminal justice system, which could be used to ensnare citizens who have never even broken a law. No mater how dire the situation my seem, recall the months following 9/11; if such an expansion of the law were permitted to occur, the facade of "law and order" along with the "exit door" that currently awaits parolees at the end of supervised release would cease to exist.
At times our current criminal justice system may appear largely ineffective, especially when viewed from a distance. However, the view changes once you begin looking from the Inside Out. Down on the ground, deep in the trenches of the War On Drugs, it gets "grimy." Not everyone is prepared to deal with the dirty reality of what they find and fail to realize that the grime can be washed away over time. This system, as it currently stands, may be easy to enter but there is still a way to get out and stay out without compromising your core principals and beliefs. Remaining down in those dirty, filthy trenches of the War remains and individual choice. Any person who instead chooses to comply with the laws and conditions of their parole thus becomes responsible for a recused rate of recidivism and likewise a decreased dependency upon the criminal justice system. Until the recidivism rate declines, the media will remain in a position to suggest that more laws and greater law enforcement is necessary. In order to change the current Rules Of The Game and halt any further expansion of the criminal justice system, those individuals currently entangled in the system have to make every effort to remove themselves from it. The future will be determined by their ACTIONS above all else.