A Snapshot of My Thoughts

By Ariana Falco

I would like to start off this blog by saying this was the hardest part of the program thus far. We visited the Salinas Valley State Prison and Correctional Training Facility. I have never seen the criminal justice system displayed this close to me so it took me a while to debrief on it. My thoughts are still digesting this hard topic but I feel that it is necessary to explain them, and an experience that I will never forget. 

Visiting the Salinas Valley State Prison showed me a lot that is wrong with the media. Going into that experience I only knew what I had seen from the TV shows, but anticipated that it be different in person. I was pleasantly surprised by my assumptions, but shocked by the truth, this sounds confusing but I will explain. In the shows you see men being treated horribly by prison guards and being shaped as animals. I found it very hard to look at these men as animals. We are all human, no matter what. Initially seeing these men locked up in cement walls was hard to comprehend. When we walked through the yard and saw that we were feet away from them, I broke my own heart. I was initially scared, and then realized who am I to be scared of these men? They were friendly, saying “Hello” and “Have a good day”, simple human acts. Now, I am not discrediting that all of these men had done something to put them in there, I am a believer that justice should be served, but in a humane way. This leads me to my next thought, the programs put in place to enable change within the men. I was shocked to see a library and school rooms next to the prison yard, for men to go when they please and get help. The program that stuck with me the most was the “Ruff Start” program. The SPCA would bring in dogs that were available for adoption, and allow the men to help train them. I felt hope through this, not only from seeing it in the men’s eyes, but from seeing humanity brought back into the prisons. A dog brings out love in a person, and you could automatically see that through these men. I do not know their stories, but can guarantee that it gets lonely in those cells. This gave me hope that out of our messed up systems, some things were beginning to change.

The next piece that resonated with me was the hardest. We had the opportunity to go to Yard D which is a maximum security yard. In this yard there was a wing with open cells that we were able to step into to see the inside of the cells. Getting into that building felt just like all of the others, what was different was the silence within the wing. When we arrived in the wing the Correction Officers controlling that center opened up some cell doors for us to go into. Stepping into the cell felt cold. We had the option for them to close the door on us which they did, nothing compares to the sounds of a cell door slamming shut on you. No way to get out, locked in a closet sized room, with another person, for years. I am not, by any means, trying to put myself in another persons shoes, just simply trying to educate myself so I can better understand for the future. This experience had a lot more to it but these are the moments that stuck out to me that will be in my thoughts for a while.I would just like to end this conversation by saying this is what the taxpayer money is going to. These are the men that the public’s money is going towards to help serve justice and breed reconciliation, and we need to learn more about it. 

Lastly, I would like to touch on the subject of the police. We visited the Salinas Police Department where we were in discussion with the Chief of Police, Adele Frese, and three Commanders. This conversation was interesting to see the other side of the police compared to what the media presents. I had a lot of questions after listening to the officers but overall, it was enlightening to hear their views and be open to seeing the other side. I think these experiences both brought a once in a lifetime educational value that I will continue to research on. These have sparked my interest even more in peace-building and reminded me that we do not have to travel far to find conflicts to work on. Humanity is a lesson that everyone should learn and education is the pathway to it.

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