Monday, January 31, 2011

The Mayonnaise Jar

The field trip to Angola was extremely enlightening.

We saw many things that I never thought I would see ... the first electric chairs used, the lethal injection table, the first prison cells ever there made of only concrete, numerous prisoners, the coffins they build for all the prisoners that die there, even entered their dorm rooms while they were in there, and ate in their cafeteria.

My eyes were opened to prison life. 

I wouldn't wish that life on anyone.

There are so many things I could tell you about the trip, but the one thing that affected me the most was something that was said at the start of our tour.

We entered the main prison and were led to a small trial room by our guide. She introduced us to a prisoner, who would talk to us for a while and answer questions.

His name was Kerry Myers. He was in his 21st year of a life sentence.

He was a trustee, meaning he had never broken any rules since in prison and was considered trustworthy with special privileges.

Mr. Myers was extremely well-spoken and articulate. I even thought, at times, he spoke a little above a thirteen-year-old's vocabulary and comprehension level. He was obviously quite intelligent. Turns out, he was also the editor of The Angolite, a magazine produced and published at Angola. Yes ... award-winning magazine for journalism. Who knew? Mostly filled with criminal justice and law stuff, along with the happenings going on in Angola (and there's a lot going on with 5200 prisoners ... 90 per dorm ... double-bunked thanks to budget cuts ... $25000 to care for one prisoner per year ... Grrr. Whole other post here.)

Mr. Myers explained that people often look at Angola (where 80% of the prisoners have life sentences and are in for murder, rape, or armed robbery) like a mayonnaise jar.

Every drop is the same. Everything that's in a mayonnaise jar is mayonnaise.

But, in Angola or any prison, it's not like that at all. People just lump every prisoner in the same group ... bad criminals who commit horrible crimes. But, each person has their own story and one bad decision determined their destiny.

We all make bad decisions. Some of us may have even committed crimes, but didn't get caught.

They did.

One bad decision could cost you your life.

Mr. Myers went on to explain that some of the men in prison for life were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and their actions caused someone's death, even accidental in cases. But Louisiana law is strict, ya'll. Only Pennsylvania and Louisiana have the life sentence which means life is life ... no parole. Hence the reason we have the most incarcerated individuals ... remember .... $25000 per prisoner ... that's what we pay per year.

Now, there are those that definitely live up to the stereotype of who we think a prisoner is. About 20% of the prisoners contribute to the prison's discipline problems. It's kind of like when you were in school, it was always the same kids getting into trouble all the time. It's pretty much like that. Most who are there are on good behavior on a regular basis.

My stereotypical view of prisoners has definitely changed.

I became a little more compassionate. And, I felt extremely sad for those on death row. To be alone all day, every day, until you die must be unbearable.

I got teary when one of the prisoners, who was the radio station disc jockey who played only gospel music, asked for us to pray for him. He said that God could work miracles. All these guys have to hang onto is hope.

Back to Mr. Myers ... When I got back on the bus to head home, I googled him to find out what he did to end up at Angola.

I would have never guessed that he bludgeoned his wife to death with a baseball bat, even injuring his son in the process.

The saying really is true: "You can't judge a book by its cover." I would have never thought from the way he spoke and presented himself that he would have done something like that. Perfect example of my own stereotype.

Even the most well-dressed, intelligent individual could be a murderer; just as, the poorest, most unintelligent person could have a heart of gold and give you the shirt off his back.

Mr. Myers said we should look at Angola like a can of mixed nuts instead of the mayonnaise jar. I think that's pretty true about the world in general. We are all so alike, yet so different.


The Hat Chick said...

I just listened to a bible study from 1 Peter on the radio by Chuck Swindoll entitled "Hope Beyond Division". Very timely and enlightening post.

Tammy said...

Eye opening post. Thank you!

Latch said... I took some of my students on a field trip there in Dec. and we met with Myers and the guy at the radio station, definitely what they say is true. Being that we were on a trip with Agriculture students we were able to go to the dog pens and the horse stables (I don't know if y'all were able to but it's really awesome!). We met with several of the prisoners in charge of the care of the animals, they were so compassionate and love those animals dearly.

I remember speaking with one of the horse caretakers about his job and it turns out his story was similar. He was in for murdering his wife, and I would have never guessed! Definitely taught how not to judge a book by it's cover and how anger can lead people to do horrible things if not controlled.

Ramblin' Red said...

what a blessing to have shared such an experience with your daughter...lots of teachable things I'm sure.

H-Mama said...

What an eye-opening experience.