By Richard Johnson, Folsom State Prison
When we ponder the age-old question of whether we can all get along, it is still a dilemma because not much has changed in regards to social relationships between people of diverse cultures, beliefs and religions.
These differences often seem to escalate into physical conflicts.
Several years ago in Pelican Bay State prison, different prisoners, so-called gang members of distinguishable nationalities and opinions, came together in an expression of hope to stop the violence not only behind the walls but also outside the walls.
This in itself was a historical monumental event, given the history of violence that has plagued prisons, especially in California.
These brave men who rallied together to halt the violence did so because they came to realize that fighting each other only plays into a pattern of bloody carnage.
These men also finally made the connection that the violence that existed inside reflected the violence outside as well, and it must immediately stop.
The fact that all these men at various times were directly or indirectly involved in violence undoubtedly allowed them to have a discourse on the subject from a position of first- hand knowledge.
They understood that civility must begin somewhere, so why not begin at the heart of the violence to create a better environment for everyone, both inside and out.
They diligently put themselves out there, desperately going against the paradigm that has prevailed for decades, that being the premise that violence was the only way.
Some prison administrators balked at their decision to unify and dismissed it as some gimmick with an ulterior agenda. This reaction was to be anticipated because they often exploit the differences and chaos in prison so they can control the inmates by pitting one faction against the other, keeping the flames of antagonism, hatred and hostility burning.
These same attitudes are being played out in the neighborhoods with similar mindsets on the same ongoing disputes that are played out in prison.
Instead of applauding the efforts of these brave inmates who banded together to halt hostilities, they were dismissed as troublemakers.
Acting as a devil’s advocate, I can see the prison bureaucrats’ point of view, because stopping the violence upsets the mainstay of prison hegemony (violence).
Stopping violence curbs the cash flow from their backers on the money chain.
However, the prisoners can’t do it by themselves. They need community support in order to exact real substantive change. The churches, community services, politicians and everyday people must get involved so that failure won’t be an option.
We need to contact community leaders to let them know that you embrace and support them wholeheartedly.
Don’t allow those who dictate the terms of prison affairs to continue to articulate and promote prison dissension as in the past. It’s a brand new day with new updated thinking, and progressive action.
The future belongs to those committed to making it happen, not to those who choose to sit on the fence remaining silent to the future.
If it can happen inside, why can’t it be done outside?