How frequently do we receive a clear picture of what it’s like to be imprisoned in the United States?
Consider what you know about prison conditions: much of what you know comes from popular culture, with series like Orange is the New Black, Sons of Anarchy, and many more giving us our only glimpse of what it’s like “on the inside.”
Although television portrayals of jail circumstances are not always good, they are nonetheless sanitized for public consumption. The jail in Orange is the New Black, for example, is spotless and newly painted. That portrayal is diametrically opposed to the circumstances in which most jailed persons find themselves.
Tyler King a highly educated Texas businessman, is the face of his non-profit organisation, A Voice from Prison. Tyler is presently jailed, serving a six-and-a-half-year term for “conspiring to obtain” confidential corporate information, a charge Tyler believes is both imprecise and false.
Tyler updates his blog on a daily basis with intelligent comments on not just the realities of incarceration but the underlying impacts of the United States prison system on its inmates, with the support of his family. His blog postings are jam-packed with material that the typical person would not be aware of, such as the mental health consequences of jail. Tyler King is able to send updates since he is held in a low-security jail where he has regular access to a computer.
But even having access to the outside world isn’t guaranteed. All 122 federal prisons in the United States were recently placed under total blackout, which meant that phone calls, computer access, and visiting were all disabled.
This blackout was more than simply an annoyance and an imposition; it had the potential to be life-threatening for inmates. Tyler King founded A Voice from Prison after losing trust in the US legal system and with the ultimate objective of criminal justice reform in mind.
Several other convicts have had similar bad experiences with the legal system. Tyler King’s mission is to preserve convicts’ constitutional rights and advocate everyone’s right to a fair trial; he’s no stranger to the stories of those who have come before him; He’s no stranger to the everyday experiences of the folks he encounters, and he’s recognised enough of a trend to act. Many convicts use their access to books and computers to perform legal study as a result of numerous injustices, oversights, and unjust incarceration.
Tyler King further points out that keeping inmates on solitary confinement deprives them of fundamental human needs such as social connection, physical mobility, and access to fresh air and nature. While the lockdown was prompted by inmate violence at another federal prison, he believes that closing all federal prisons and denying convicts access and contact with the outside world encourages additional violence among inmates.
“Preventive-policing has a long history and has resulted in some of the worst administrations owing to the use of authority based on assumptions rather than truth,” King says. When people are punished for what they may do rather than what they actually do, the outcome is clear: there is a lack of responsibility. It doesn’t matter if they do the right thing or not. When liberty is taken away, it is a steep slope to controlling someone’s future. This unfettered authority is precisely what our forebears wanted the Constitution to prevent.”
Tyler King’s attempts to keep the public informed about not only the intricacies of his personal tale, but also the situation of the US justice system and penal institutions, is a brave endeavor that shines a light on the hidden human rights breaches taking place right beneath our noses. A Voice from Prison is working hard to raise awareness and exposure, which are the first steps toward lasting change.