I was a good kid and I was a bad kid. I was a spiritual leader in high school while also skipping church on the weekends. I played volleyball and tried to be active and healthy while I also smoked two cigarettes on my way home from volleyball practice and drank on the weekends. I was best friends with the super choir singing, drama performing Adventist kids while I was also best friends with pot-smoking, alcohol drinking public school kids. Okay, I think you get the picture with these few examples. Whenever I have been told a behavior is bad or a person is bad, believe me, I have had a strong drive and curiosity in desiring to know if that “bad” thing was actually bad on my own terms. I feel as if I have been in constant pursuit of finding all the good possible in all the “bad” things because I have never believed what I was told was bad was actually bad, or that bad people were actually all bad people, and yesterday was no different.
In the morning, we visited the Salinas Valley State Prison, which is a level 3-4 prison. We spent our time touring with the Lieutenant of the prison and walked around interviewing the Correctional Officers. I have to say, my experiences with absolutely every single individual we spoke with was delightful. Although I had my own biases about correctional officers before going into the prison, I was gladly surprised by their relatability and kindness in our interactions. Now, do I agree with everything they probably do on the job? No. Do I agree with how emotionally detached they have to become in their interactions? No, but I understand its purpose. But do I think at the end of the day they’re bad people just because I don’t agree? Definitely not. They’re people that need jobs to support their families, and the Salinas Valley State Prison is one of the best employers many people can find in the Salinas Valley. Are there some corrupt ones? Probably. But are there good ones that actually care about keeping their colleagues and prisoners safe and secure? Definitely. I love that I got to speak with them and feel their humanity because it’s often easy to forget that they are not their uniform.
In the afternoon, we visited the Correctional Training Facility, which is a level 1-2 prison. This time we spent our time touring and talking to some guards, but mostly community counselors and the prisoners that partake in their programs. I sat in on a Substance Abuse Program meeting with the “Lifers.” These are the guys that are most likely in prison for homicide or some other crime that puts them away for 25+ years. These are the men that have tattoos on their necks and faces, with wrinkles not only exuding age, but they exude years of stress and trauma. Their eyes are visibly tired like they’ve been fighting their whole lives, but then you notice their smiles. Their smiles melted me, especially one man’s smile who kindly shared his paper with me. He was so proud to have shared his paper with me, so I could read about what they were learning about. His smile was genuine and kind, almost childlike. These men were the type of men I was told to fear growing up. These were the type of men that were meant to go to hell because they committed sins and crimes. Was I afraid of these men? No. I actually felt quite comfortable in their presence. Now because of this, do I would be comfortable with the crime they committed? Of course not. But do I believe they deserve another chance if they’re showing true change? Yes, yes, yes. Most definitely, yes. I love that I got to sit down and see them as humans, without their crime hanging over their head. I realize that if I knew their crime, my opinion might change of them. I don’t want to know them for their crime, though. I want to know them for who they are today.
I always knew the Adventist kids were wonderful humans even if I didn’t agree with all their judgmental behavior at times. I have also always known that my public-school friends were also good people even if they partook in things that I didn’t always agree with. I think I am pretty decent at being able to separate an individual from particular behaviors. Of course, some behaviors are inexcusable as people do need to be responsible for their own agency, but other behaviors just need to be understood. In order to not accept other people’s perspectives as my own, I’ve been in constant pursuit to understand behaviors of people I don’t understand well. Does this mean I never judge? Of course not. Does this mean I’m good at putting my own biases aside to interact with people genuinely? Maybe sometimes. But does this mean that I believe every person has some good in them? Yes, I fully want to commit to that belief.
In the evening at the debrief, we discussed the importance of being able to interact and give credit to both sides of each story and each side of each conflict. Does that mean I will be able to ignore my biases? No. Does that mean I will have the capability to sit down and listen respectfully to each person’s story? Probably not. But do I have the desire to try and be as fair to each individual and their story? Yes. I look forward to more opportunities where I am able to create relationships between the “good” world and the “bad” world.