John Bundy was thrown in solitary confinement for this article.
It must not be in vain.
This is about our criminal justice system, a message for reform .
By JOHN BUNDY
I have been incarcerated in the Florida Department of Corrections for more than two decades and am serving seven life terms, five of which are without possibility of parole.
I have witnessed many of the things that were addressed in the article “Group Calls for State Prison System Overall,” published in The Ledger on Nov. 14.
Prison reform has been a long time coming. What I am most impassioned about relates to the statement in the article, “In addition to punishing inmates, make a concerted effort to rehabilitate them.” Though I believe I understand the intent, I take issue with the language.
You cannot punish inmates and rehabilitate them at the same time.
A clear distinction must be made between those who broke the law and have been incarcerated and those who have been incarcerated and continue to break the law.
In the first instance, the individual has been incarcerated as punishment, separated from society and its benefits, privileges and freedoms. In the second, the incarcerated individual continues in his pattern of criminal behavior, undeterred by his self-inflicted loss.
I have been incarcerated and separated from society for crimes I committed against society, as punishment. I get that. For me it means long-term or permanent loss of everything that we take for granted every day.
I will never own my own business, earn a paycheck, own or drive a car, own a cell phone, order a pizza, surf the Internet, eat seafood, go fishing, walk on a beach, own a home, sleep in my own bed, celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas with my family, get married, have an intimate relationship with children and grandchildren.
I am constantly reminded of these things every day. The world is passing me by. Cell phones and the Internet did not even exist when I came to prison. My incarceration is the other death penalty, warehoused for life, sentenced to die in prison. So, I know what it means to say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” And that is, perhaps, as it should be.
But the idea that I am incarcerated to be punished implies that you need to do more to me than I have already done to myself. In fact, it is exactly this ideology that is at the root of the prevailing mindset within DOC that it is somehow their job, duty and mission to further “punish inmates,” to make the incarcerated miserable.
This goes way beyond punishment. It is an unjustified contempt and prejudice toward inmates by those who use their vested authority to oppress and abuse, under the guise of “corrections” — not too unlike a dictatorship or the plantations of our shameful past.
Indicative of this mindset is a statement attributed to one of our heads of security here: “If these inmates are smiling, then I am not doing my job.” It is exactly this ideology, this mindset, which has led to systemic corruption, mismanagement and abuse — and has cultivated a culture of violence and callous indifference, where they feel completely justified in their actions and methodologies, that the ends justify the means. Those who propagate and facilitate this ideology intentionally and maliciously inflict mental and emotional distress and create a dangerous, volatile and abusive environment for both inmates and officers alike.
Whatever happened to the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would have them to treat you? Whatever happened to ethics, integrity, professionalism and the fact that they have sworn to uphold the laws and Constitution of this state?
If you want to make the incarcerated miserable, you need only teach them the value of what they forfeited, remind them of it often and lead by example. But do not think that whatever privileges that are extended to me in a prison environment can ever offset or mitigate what I’ve done to myself. Or, that the continued and ongoing punitive and abusive action, especially when unprovoked, will ever produce anything other than resentment, anger, fear and disregard for authority.
“If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for law.” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1928.
It is somewhat a relief that these issues are finally receiving attention. The cycle of recidivism and financial burden is directly associated with Florida’s “outmoded and abusive” practices. Many, including James McDonough, retired Air Force colonel and former secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, have said that this is so deeply seated that it is irreparable.
Were I only facing a few years of incarceration, and eventual release, I might be willing to hold my breath. But given DOC’s current direction, and in light of recent events and rising inmate fatalities, nobody’s release is guaranteed.
An ever larger segment of the inmate population is facing long-term or indefinite incarceration (the other death penalty), as well as abuse and violence at the hands of those whose mission is supposed to be care, custody and control — whose mottos are “When they succeed, we succeed” and “Changing lives to insure a safer Florida.”
Sadly, history has shown that in many states prison reform only came on the heels of catastrophic meltdown, violence and bloodshed. For many it came too late.
Any talk of overhauling or reforming the Florida prison system must include addressing and rooting out this deep-seated and misguided mindset of “punishing inmates” and attempting to make them miserable; incarceration is, by its very nature, miserable, unnatural and abnormal.
In failing to do so, Florida will only continue to pound square pegs into round holes, at a cost to its citizens and public safety, and the culture of corruption, violence and abuse will continue to evade any superficial and cosmetic attempts at change.
John Bundy is an inmate at the Avon Park Correctional Institution and Incarcerated since age 20.
Via The Ledger