Editor’s note: This week’s On Writing column was written by guest columnist Lowell Ford, an inmate at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, and is the third of a three-part series on writing classes offered at the facility.
BY LOWELL FORD
For the Capital City Weekly
After only two weeks my face has become a veritable forest of new growth. What used to be a well maintained and regularly trimmed parkland has regressed into a wilderness of facial overgrowth. This wild forestation of coarse bramble causes an almost unbearable urge to scratch, but it’s not my preference. I had to make a choice between grooming and health.
Good grooming and personal appearance are important to me, especially as an inmate at Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Personal appearance is one of the few things an inmate has some control over, and that control has a direct impact on personal motivation and self-esteem.
But the medical staff here at Lemon Creek has recommended that I not shave until a growth on my neck goes away. They recommend this because of the razors available to us here in Lemon Creek. As an inmate, I do not have the option to buy a personal razor. The Department of Corrections provides razors for us, and Corrections is highly economic about it. You can tell by the quality; single bladed, poorly crafted, often with microscopic nicks in the blades, these razors almost assure that you will cut yourself in shaving. And if you happen to get a particularly bad one, the term “cheese grater” comes to mind.
Medical understands this. As Byron Benedict noted in his column two weeks ago, the prison environment can be a breeding ground for bacteria. With so many closely confined bodies, mersa (MRSA, a strain of staph infection resistant to antibiotics) becomes a daily concern. In such an environment, that low-cost razor becomes a weapon of mass infection. That’s why Medical recommends that I not shave at all.
There used to be an alternative to using a badly crafted razor. At one time, inmates were allowed to purchase electric shavers or beard trimmers for personal grooming. But some inmates discovered that they could use the small electric motors to make tattoos, and because tattooing can also spread infection, inmates are now prohibited from possessing anything with an electric motor in it, whether it’s a beard trimmer or a compact disk player. (Did someone decide that infections spread by bad razors aren’t as bad as infections spread by tattooing?)
Despite the general prohibition against electric motors, Medical can authorize the purchase of a beard trimmer, if it is deemed necessary for the wellbeing of an inmate. But personal grooming is not, strictly speaking, a health issue. In my case, Medical decided that personal grooming was not a necessity to health care and that shaving was not needed, so I did not “need” an electric shaver.
The policy recommending that I not shave due to a possible health care concern is understandable, but well-being is not simply a matter of doing whatever is medically necessary.
It is generally acknowledged that an inmate’s contact with the outside world is necessary to keep an inmate from becoming institutionalized. The ability to personally connect with someone active in the community outside is a key to healthy rehabilitation. But contact visits were prohibited after a couple of isolated incidents that ruined it for anyone with a drug charge. It’s the old story of a few ruining things for the many.
And so it is with other things we need for rehabilitation, small details you might not immediately associate with rehabilitation, such as personal grooming. Failure to rehabilitate doesn’t normally happen as a single cataclysmic event; more often than not, it is the slow accumulation of small events, of minor disappointments and denials. They build up like rainwater on a hillside, and the earth gives way beneath the trees and buries the path to rehabilitation.
It is a challenge, I realize, for Corrections to reconcile the need for security and order with the need to help inmates find a path to rehabilitation. While restrictions may often legitimately serve the function of maintaining security, the prison bureaucracy sometimes inadvertently inhibits our ability to build the self-esteem that is ultimately the foundation of any rehabilitation. Trying to cut through all the red tape to rehabilitate oneself is like trying to jump hurdles with both legs tied. In an attempt to make a secure and healthy environment, rehabilitation is being sacrificed one small piece at a time.
I am hopeful that the new administration in the State and at the Department of Corrections will review and modify the existing system with a clear view of what it takes for inmates to hold onto a sense of human dignity and self-esteem. Those qualities are fundamental for a person to escape recidivism and emerge from prison once and for all. My hopes for this system are the same as for my beard: that it become the well trimmed and maintained system it can be with proper grooming.
To read part one of this series, written by LCCC writing instructor Jim Hale, visit http://www.capitalcityweekly.com/stories/080515/ae_1255557434.shtml, and to read part two, written by LCCC inmate Byron Benedict, visit http://www.capitalcityweekly.com/stories/081915/ae_1256553582.shtml.