Today’s blog is brought to you by the letter R.
The state department I work for, the CDC, or California Department of Corrections, in 2005 had the letter R added to its acronym, making it the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It’s a fancy name for the state prison system. I work in Records, filing papers into the central files, or c-files, of inmates, and processing various forms and notices prior to an inmate’s parole date. That is what I do for a paycheck. For spiritual sustenance, I also volunteer with the Catholic chaplain of the prison. I am privileged to conduct Catholic services and to facilitate a faith-sharing, self-help group.
In my workplace, the R of CDCR more often stands for Ridicule. Sometimes the R is even scratched off official signs by cynical employees. The idea of a criminal being rehabilitated is a joke to many of my coworkers, who consider inmates a less-than-human breed, and who find it easy to demonize those they do not know. The R also signifies Recidivism, as my office processes the same offenders over and over, men who did their time and then come back to prison as parole violators. The system doesn’t work for them the way it should.
But I believe that rehabilitation should be our most important task in the daily life of an inmate. A term in prison has the potential to be a life-altering, slap-in-the-face event, if those incarcerated are given the tools to succeed when they are back on the outside. I believe in the practical things like GEDs, job training, money management, anger management, and treatment for addictions, of course, but I believe true rehabilitation comes from the epiphany that, as a child of God, you are loved and forgiven. So many inmates look deep into their own hearts and are quite sure that they can never be forgiven, not even by God. They do not believe they are capable of being the person God made them to be. They have no faith in themselves, and realize that the families they have abandoned or let down have little faith in them, either. They are in a bad place, both inside and out.
I believe that people who think they are broken can be fixed. With care, a shift in priorities, and proper funding, I believe that the R can be the biggest letter in our acronym. I believe that human dignity can overcome human failing, if only given a fighting chance. I have seen the R come to life in our little chapel, in the faces of men who leave and do not come back. I tell them that I hope I never see them again, at least, not in prison. They show me that the letter R can save lives.