While still in the hospital in the aftermath of my knee replacement surgery, I had on the TV a show about county jails. It might not be the choice of programs for most people, but I had the good fortune to work for a period of time in our local jail teaching a parenting classes. The presentation showed police officers arresting folks and then checking them into the jail and, of course, the officers always came across as compassionate and reasonable. I know there are always rotten apples in a system, but where I worked I found that most of those who served had these qualities as they worked with people coming into the system. What I found interesting was the behaviors and attitudes of those being arrested. These were very typical. People were often under the influence of alcohol or drugs and tended to be angry and fearful. Almost universally, they expressed that they really didn’t know what they had done to be arrested in the first place. I liked one scene in which one woman being arrested gave advice to another one about her drug use. The officer in charge told her, “I think that woman really heard what you had to say. You really helped her.” In my experience working with incarcerated people, nudging toward bettering their lives often comes from other inmates.
While I watched, one of the aides commented, “It is too bad that these people never seem to learn.” While I realized that this person was really just making small talk with me, I also recognized an opportunity to correct a belief people often have concerning those who find themselves in jail or prison. “On the contrary,” I said, “People who are arrested do learn from their experience. Many of them need only one arrest; some may require 2 or three times to learn from their mistake. And yes,” I said, “There are some that ‘never seem to learn’, but this is not the usual scenario. People are different and their capacity to learn from their experiences varies.” I received a nod that told me that this person had heard what I said. I like to think that in the future, if he heard another person make prejudicial statements like the one he had made, he might share the day one of the patients in the hospital taught him something.