Voices from the Inside: Juan M.

This essay is part of our series Voices from the Inside, which asks individuals who are currently incarcerated in Illinois county jails the question: What kind of world do you want to return to?

“The world that I would want to return to would be a world where convicted felons are not judged by the mistakes or bad decisions someone has made in life. Return to a world where they are looked at for the things they have accomplished or for the effort they have put forth to be better people. ‘Doing time,’ as they put it, is a time of extreme tribulation, of isolation, that someone has to endure because of their mistakes or bad decisions. Those tribulations can put into perspective the things that are truly important in life. A person that realizes his/her dire situation, then has every reason to change. I believe that those changes are what our society should look for in a person that has been incarcerated. A person that has shown change or remorse should be given an equal opportunity to prosper in life. I know from experience just how biased the world is towards people with convictions or backgrounds. Our society has been taught that people with backgrounds are less than capable or cannot be trusted. Or the other stereotype, that all convicted felons are bad people. Having a background should not keep a person from receiving a second opportunity at regaining their respect or dignity.

This country is known around the world as the land of opportunity. Contrary to that, we are known as a country with the highest incarceration in the world. A country that incarcerates people who make mistakes, without providing them with rehabilitation or opportunity to better themselves or their lives. Things will only get worse if our convicted felons are not given the tools that are necessary to succeed. Without opportunities they are more likely to fall to recidivism. I’m not speaking from what people in this country are told or talk about. But I am speaking from my own present personal experience of incarceration. There is very little to no opportunity in our jails and prisons that can give people the tools to better themselves. Where I am today there is no library, no way to further our education above the GED level, and no job training of any kind. There is nothing here that I can return to society and be certified in or use on my resume as a credential. This is the standard our country has set for our incarcerated population.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the 2nd Opportunity course offered at the facility I am in. Mr. Augie Ghilarducci Is the advocate for the 2nd Opportunity program and I am so grateful for people like him. I respect Augie for all the hard work he does and all he stands for. He knows personally how important it is for convicted felons to be given the tools, the resources, and the equal opportunities to succeed in life. He understands how crucial it is for people to be given the tools and resources that will prepare them for the extreme difficulties that await them upon returning to society. Prepare them with knowledge of the resources available to them that can help them overcome the barriers our country puts in the path of a convicted felon. Without opportunity, a convicted felon has a better chance of returning to prison than becoming a respected tax paying member of society. They are more likely to fall to recidivism than they are to become a productive member of society. Why does this great country incarcerate people and not put every effort and resource into rehabilitating them? If we do not ask why our prisons’ primary purpose is NOT to rehabilitate convicted felons, then people will continue returning to prison, returning to drug use, returning to the only life they know.

Ask yourself, Why are prisons so overcrowded? Why are prisons so underfunded? Why are prisons not all equipped with rehabilitation programs and why are they not a part of convicted felons’ sentences? Why! Why do people keep returning to such a horrible place?! I’ll tell you why, because rehabilitating our incarcerated population and providing them with opportunity is not a priority to our country. Instead, they are faced with being titled as a ‘convicted felon.’ That title creates more barriers that a person never convicted of a felony could ever imagine. It effects job opportunities, qualifying for loans, opening a bank account, insurance policies, and so much more. These are things a person needs to survive, things a person needs in order to function as a tax paying, productive member of society. Lets not forget the stereotypes I mentioned earlier that come with the title as well.

Now I am in no way saying that every convicted felon will change or are they all good people. What I am saying is that if convicted felons are offered equal opportunity upon rejoining society, or if when still incarcerated are offered proper rehabilitation programs, the convicted felons that take those opportunities and make the best of them, are people that are committed to and want change. They are people that deserve the opportunity to regain their respect from society, their self-dignity, as well as the opportunity to build a healthy and stable life for themselves and their families.

If we want to see a better world or be a better country, then we need to begin by looking at the way we treat people. If someone makes a mistake in life, they shouldn’t be judged for It for the rest of their lives. It shouldn’t be the reason they are denied certain opportunities. It shouldn’t put an enormous amount of difficulties in their path to success. We need to look at the people that have made mistakes, and have paid their debt to society, for who they are, for what they have accomplished, the changes they have made as a person, and for their abilities. Opportunity creates a better world. Everyone, including convicted felons, should be given opportunities to become better. Equal Opportunity! Here we are in ‘the land of opportunity.’ Yet we are still struggling and fighting to create equal opportunity for ALL people. Equal opportunity no matter the color of your skin, country of origin, or of your mistakes. Could you imagine what a world of equal opportunity to all would be like? Well, I imagine it would be a world filled with educated, grateful, and successful people from all walks of life. That would be the type of world I would want to return to.”

—Juan M., Kendall County Jail, Illinois

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