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A Father’s Thoughts

The following was submitted under the direction of Robert Houghtaling, Director of the East Greenwich Drug Program.

America’s prison population has exploded over the last few decades. The reasons are many, often exposing numerous social ills. Recently, a number of measures have been put forth in an attempt to ameliorate a situation that impacts many beyond the years of their sentence.

While individuals involved in grievous criminal activity need to be stopped, many presently incarcerated are there for issues stemming from mental health or drug use concerns. In short, prison has become a macabre social service provider. The system was not built to function in such a way.

This piece is an attempt to share a few thoughts about what it is like having a family member in prison. Feelings of shame, guilt, fear and worry abound. Also, there are few places to go to discuss things with others.

While fully acknowledging that ‘wrongs’ have been committed, what’s next? The following poem depicts one father’s struggle to reach his son, as well as find a way to help him become a productive member of society.

The Visit

The line is long.

The evening’s cold.

I’m here again

and feeling old.

The faces, familiar.

The smiles, quite sad.

They’re here as part family.

I’m here as a Dad.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

Today is confession day

at the temple of despair–

the clergy carry night sticks

for the souls living there.

Where the pews are never empty

and sermons are preached

by Saints making profit

on sinner’s need for bleach.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

For those now to enter

next comes the charade

past metal detectors

that lead the parade.

Then herded to tables

as loved ones shuffle in

dressed in their khakis

and forcing a grin.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

The visit goes quickly,

each trying our best –

ignoring the feelings

that are put to the test.

“Why do we do this”,

others will ask?

You do it because

there are tears neath the mask .

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

The ride home is long

and you think to back when

your son played in the yard

with a bunch of his friends.

But, the world continues,

unaware of the place

where a loved one is living

searching for grace.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

The barbed wire cathedral

now fades from our view–

yet etching dark memories

in all that we do.

And we wait for calls,

or the next day’s mail,

all with full knowledge

for us there’s no bail.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

Something went wrong,

it’s now time to pay.

Tears fall at night,

in attempts to atone,

for building those prisons

we all share alone.

Yet, the contrivances of men

have all come to naught,

for redemption is given

and can never be bought.

Refrain

He’s just a kid,

that’s what they say.

We all have done wrong

so please let us pray.

When an individual is sentenced to prison the impact exceeds the act. Often forgotten is the impact on those who care for the wrongdoer. Often forgotten is the impact on minority populations as well as those struggling with issues previously mentioned. The call here is not to ignore or minimize crime. The call here is to take an honest view at the fairness and effectiveness of our prison system.

Finding ways to creatively address those who have committed non-violent crimes would go a long way in lessening our prison population, as well as the residual effects brought on by a criminal record. It makes financial sense. It makes common sense. Most of all it makes sense to attempt bringing offenders back into society as viable members. This entails work on behalf of the system as well as the offender. It is a step worth taking.