Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jasper Levi, Adult Offender # blah blah blah

My best friend is in prison...and it sucks.  Big time.  He's been gone for twice as long as I knew him on the outside, and yet, I still miss that little shit.  Every.  Single.  Day.  How does one maintain a friendship with someone who has been incarcerated for twelve and a half years?  Very carefully.  I buy more stamps in one month than most people buy in six.  I take pictures of really random, stupid shit, because I know Jasper will get a kick out of seeing it.  I cry.  I pray.  I smile.  I hope, and I dream.  Someday, he'll get out, and I won't have that void in my life anymore.  I'll have my best friend back.  My husband will have his childhood friend back.  My mailman won't look at me funny anymore when I get letters stamped "From a Correctional Institution".  Right?  He'll come home, and it will fix everything.

Except it won't.

It won't, because the world he left is not the world he is coming home to.  Best case scenario, he will have been locked up for 14 years when he gets paroled.  And that is if, and I say if, he doesn't get flopped (denied for parole).  Now, he has a fairly decent chance of making parole, but it's all a gamble, so we'll see.  So, 14 years.  He has been incarcerated since 1999, so before 9/11, before facebook, before smartphones, before a lot of shit.  This is a far different world than the one he left.

And beyond that, the issues that caused him to make the decisions that landed him in prison have not been fully addressed yet.  The percentages vary, depending upon which survey you read, but somewhere between 40% and 65% of all inmates have an untreated mental illness.  And then people act all shocked and shaken because our recidivism rates range between 50% and 80%, depending on the type of crime?!  Well duh!  If there is a problem, and you don't take the necessary steps to solve the problem, it isn't going to solve itself!  Jasper has been pretty lucky, because he has had consistent support from his family, and myself, during his entire incarceration, enabling him to work through most of his issues on his own.  He is a far better man now than he was when he went in. Most inmates don't have that support.  And when the system fails to get them the mental health help they need to make better decisions, they get out of prison...and crash and burn.  Then they go back to prison. I have volunteered with offender advocacy programs and programs designed to reduce recidivism rates for many years now, and I have seen it over and over again.  The only way the reduce our recidivism rates is through quality targeted mental health and addiction treatment.  Period.

So, Jasper will (hopefully) get paroled in 15 short months.  We are no longer the children we were when he left.  Will he have developed the skills that he needs to not repeat the mistakes he has already made?  Will he have corrected the thinking errors that caused him to lose 15 years of his life?  Will he acknowledge, and seek treatment for, his mental health issues?  Time will only tell.  Until it happens, all I can do is buy stamps, take pictures of random stupid shit, cry, pray, smile, hope, and dream.


Do you have any experience with the criminal justice system?  What is your opinion on the link between untreated mental illness and crime?

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