I have had the privilege of taking a class inside a prison here in Oklahoma this semester. Going into the class I wasn’t scared but rather intrigued. As a future journalist, I wanted to be knowledgeable about everything. Taking this class was more of a fun learning experience for me.
I believe the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program has the potential to change the lives of many people inside and outside of our prisons. The nationally-known program creates opportunities for more than 35,000 “inside” and “outside” students to move beyond the walls that separate them.
Class day finally arrived, and it was completely different than I had expected. The inmates (inside students) were more afraid of us than we were of them. As the semester progressed, I made some friendships with these men. As I developed friendships I started noticing things that were happening.
The men were treated very badly by certain staff members. The man checking us in and out would often make comments about the men and talk down to them. Still, I continued to keep my mouth shut and ignore the comments.
The final straw was when I took another tour of the same prison for a different class. The man giving us a tour forced an elderly inmate out of his bed to show us his room. I remember thinking how is this humane? The elderly inmate was asleep in his bed and was forced out. If it was that easy to force him out of his bed what else are they doing?
I saw some of my classmates in the yard, naturally, I waved and smiled at them. I was yelled at multiple times for that. I wasn’t even allowed to look at the men. Still, the guards keep repeating, “We treat them like humans. We treat them so good.”
I have yet to see any treatment that is appropriate.
After the tour, the men who showed us around took us to the visitation room. I was very familiar with this room since this is where my class was held. The public information officer that showed us around began talking to us. I knew what was about to happen.
“Seeing your classmates outside the yard, does that make you see them differently?” the PIO asked.
I got very heated and said, “Not at all. I see them the same way I did before, humans that made mistakes. “
The PIO kept testing me and then claimed I raised red flags for the Inside-Out program.
According to some prison employees, we shouldn’t care about the inmates. We shouldn’t feel bad because they deserve to be there. They made the mistake, so they deserve to be treated like lowlife criminals for the rest of their lives.
“I will not shake an inmate’s hand. There is no reason to. If they extend an arm to shake I won’t do it,” a former ECU student proudly bragged.
Once again, I shouted, “They are still humans and deserve to be treated as such.”
The student said, “I treat them like humans I see at Walmart. I don’t ask to hear about their life story.”
I walked away that day having learned an important lesson.
People behind bars will always be treated like bad people even if they pay for their crime.
Ashlynd Huffman is an aspiring journalist and mass communication student at East Central University.