What comes to mind when you think about prison? If you were to go to prison tomorrow, what kinds of things would you be afraid of based on what you perceive? Is it rape? How about gangs? Violence? What about finding your identity?

When prison first became storage units for souls it was because southern cotton farmers were pissed that slavery got abolished. The states reacted by Jim Crow laws, laws that targeted African Americans, and made prison labor slavery legal, which still stands today.

This is important to understand because everything prison knows about authority and compliance was born from slave owners. Sit in elevated positions above them, talk angrily always, use animalistic training and reward systems, make it impossible to comply with every rule so that they always have an opportunity to display punishment.

Here we are150 years later, and nothing has changed, for them. For prisoners, much is changing, at least in Washington State. The staff still do the same things like sit in elevated positions, enforce impractical and minuscule rules, speak with venom and anger at every turn, laugh at us when we try to be reasonable…

But inmates are beginning to understand a reality, we can rise above that through love. This occurred to me one afternoon when an officer let out a long sigh and said “Whew, can’t wait for my weekend man”, he was speaking to another officer. I couldn’t help myself, I interjected, since they were speaking so publicly and in my college class, which I just came from, we had a lengthy discussion on what it means to be tired of your job and what to do about it.

I said “You know, if you can’t wait to leave this place, you can always go back to school and retrain, the job markets never been so favorable.”

The look of absolute disgust stretched across his face, I seriously pissed him off. However, I didn’t care, if your miserable in your job, which we know this person is because he tells everyone (though since that day, not a peep around me other than “Afternoon Utnage, how’s that class coming?”), you should go do something that makes you happy. Shouldn’t you?

I mean don’t you, as a human being, deserve happiness? I believe you do and I seriously don’t care if you agree with that or not because nothing will compel me otherwise, I have seen too much.

That’s where prison is changing for prisoners. Prison fosters an old class system that was designed to denigrate a race so they would continue to be field hands at the hands of a master. They same techniques used 150 years ago to submit African Americans is still being used today and instead of coming out field hands we are coming out activists.

Instead of being broken and ready to kneel before a pair of sunglasses and dressed in boots we are standing in the face of anger and hatred and we are saying “No more hate, teach me to love.” But they cannot.

DOC cannot teach us to love because they do not understand such novel ideals. They only understand submission. So WE are teaching THEM the language of love.

So are you. Through volunteering, through visits, through letters, through outrage and legislation, through voting and lobbying, through nonprofits and board meetings, through patiently listening to someone like me talk about feeling abused and isolated then in the same breath whisper glimmers of hope and STILL having the patient love to say “Your doing well.”

Prisons are changing because love is destroying them.

What a beautiful destruction…


Jeff “Jeffebelle” Utnage