Self Esteem and Rehabilitation – A California Department of Corrections Myth

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
Once upon a time, if you went to prison, while you were incarcerated you were supposed to try to build up your self esteem and rehabilitate yourself out of those old ways that led you to get behind these walls. Each prisoner had their own vocational trade as well as education class.
On April 1, 1998, new grooming standards were instituted that we all must adhere to or be punished if we don’t. Everyone with hair at neck length must wear it pinned up any time we walk outside our unit. Our fingernails have to be a fourth of an inch long and only one pair of earrings is to be worn at a time, and no one can wear anything but clear polish. Your hair must never be dyed again even if all you want is to keep your natural color.
The reason for this is security. The cameras were taken off the yard so no one can even have a photo of us unless we can get to the visiting room and have a picture taken there.
All of the weights and exercise equipment were taken away and now they are talking about taking all of our personal clothing and put us in a uniform color – off-white material. No consideration of the climate changes in each area where there is a prison, so if they are too thin we will all be sick with flus; if it’s too heavy we will all be passing out with the stage 1, 2, 3 heat alerts.
Some women are here doing short amounts of time, but for those of us who are doing long times or are lifers, how will we know how to dress or wear our hair to go on a job interview when we finally get out? How will I know how to walk in a shoe with a heel because for the last 15 years all I have worn was a work boot or a pair of tennis shoes. Where is the work incentive for lifers and long timers? What do we have to look forward to?
The staff give tours to people in the small communities. They see us walking around in our own clothes. They walk past one of our cells and they may see a couple of 9″ color TVs and they are led to believe their tax dollars are what paid for these things. They are not being told that our families paid for personal clothing or electrical appliances. Many of us, who had a job out there, just made one mistake that caused us to be locked up the rest of our lives.
What crime is it stopping to take away all of my personal clothing, any food or hygiene that my family might want to send once or twice a year? We cling onto the things that people in the free world take for granted. Please try to remember one day I or one of my children could be your next door neighbor.
Help to make self esteem and rehabilitation a reality, not a myth.