Walking into a Maximum Security prisons is not unlike walking into a room filled with cages. I should say animal cages. All day long there are hollered threats all over the cell houses. It's worse than cages at the zoo. It is a situation I fully understand. Hopefully you will be able to hold your judgment long enough so that by the end of this story, you will have knowledge and depth of prisons and prisoner culture. Society will probably always need some kind of system for protecting itself against violent people. But only when necessary should men be put in prison. Even then, imprisonment should still allow the prisoners to maintain their human dignity and self-respect.
Before describing the situation I'm in today, I want to tell you why I wrote this, reaching back to my youth from where I am. What moved me to write this was a program I was involved in.
The main core of the program was developed here at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas. The purpose of the program is to lead troubled youths away from violence and crime. Before I go any further, please let me introduce myself, and present a brief history of my life.
My name is Bob Clark. I'm serving a sentence of 121 to 222 years in prison. I have served five decades in prison and I'm still writing essays or memoirs. Actually I've been working on a book--I have been for years, and I'm close to concluding it but I lost some pages on one of my transfers so I'm rewriting these. My goal was always to get my story out in the hopes that it will help someone not make the same mistakes I made.
Years ago I was one of a dozen prisoners selected to participate in what was called the “Jail Program.” We were screened by the prison staff. I was reluctant and hesitant at first. being from a violent background that evolved from a lifetime spent in institutions. I didn't feel my own life was in order, let alone fit to help some youngsters make a positive change in their lives. However, after participating in a few of the meetings, I thought I might have something to offer the program. This was not a “scared straight” program where you’re supposed to scare kids into straightening their lives out. The Jail Program, in contrast, teaches concern and care. Counties in the State of Kansas choose troubled and difficult youngsters who have had repeat problems with the law and could be headed to prison. A kind of a last chance.
At least ten juveniles arrive at Lansing State Prison in Lansing, Kansas, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen. Our goal as prisoners is to convince the kids to take the right path toward a better life. They are escorted into the prison by officers of the institution and given prison clothes to wear. They are processed in just as if they were being admitted permanently. They are handcuffed and given a bedroll and assigned different stops. Their first stop is the Adjustment and Treatment building, where they meet a group of us prisoners, as well as staff members, and probation officers. They are assigned a cell.
After they are placed in lockdown for a half hour or so (time for them to reflect), we then come to their cells and introduce ourselves, each to the one youth we've been assigned to. We then have one on one sessions with them. For example; in my one on one I tell my story to him, illustrating how a small act can lead to years and years of incarceration. I ask him to ask me questions. I try to gain his trust and install within him confidence in me. The main purpose is to let him know that we all care for him, rather than to scare him.
They are given tours of the hole, and they eat with us. The prison mess hall can be a very intimidating place, especially for a young teenager surrounded by dangerous people. Not many of these kids want to eat lunch. This is quite an experience for them. After lunch five of us are selected to give speeches to the whole audience. I wish in my youth there were programs like this.
We try so hard to encourage and instill, hope, drive and motivation toward goals in line with getting their lives back in order. When it's time to speak, I tell them my story. On July 17, 1968 I was sent to Boys Training School at the age of thirteen. I was sent there for a misdeed of vandalism from Omaha, Nebraska. I was sentenced to four months. I never made it out. After running away numerous times I was placed in a county jail in Kearney, Nebraska, and ran away again. I was captured in Omaha a week later and transferred back to Kearney. A judge sentenced me to two to three years in the state prison in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was in April of 1969 and I was fourteen years old.
Being thrown into an adult prison at the age of fourteen was tough. When the staff found out I was fourteen they put me into solitary confinement until I turned sixteen. It was Nebraska policy.
I was released into the prison population when I turned sixteen. I did the whole three years, and when it was release time, they took me back to Omaha and charged me with a crime I’d committed in Omaha while I was on the run. I robbed a gas station with a knife, and the net was two packs of cigarettes and 110 dollars and 10 cents. I was fourteen. I was given five more years to do in Omaha prison. I did the whole five years, and before I was released, I got into an altercation with a staff member and was given ten to thirty more years. They kept me in solitary confinement for several years for this. This was 1975. In 1979 I was given one to three more years for carrying a weapon in prison. In the same year, 1979, I was placed in segregation for an assault on an inmate, but luckily I wasn't charged for it because he never testified. On June 25,1981, I was charged with assault for three more incidents in the prison. I was sentenced to 110 to 189 years. Now my total sentence reads 121 to 222 years.
I started off with a non-violent crime and a four-month sentence. You can see the end result. I was scared to death as a youngster in prison, so I turned fear into violence. At the end of my speech, I tell the youngsters I am happy they can still go home but that I am sad for myself because of the situations I created for myself and the havoc I caused for innocent people.
All I have to offer is forgiveness and to try and give something back, through sharing this story with everyone. I believe prisoners can help some of the youngsters headed in this direction. Some of us prisoners are warehoused for life with no hope other than what we can create. I know we can give something back to society if given the chance. In my situation, if I can help anyone, in or out of prison, not to do the self-destructive things I've done. I will feel that I’ve helped.
We've been through what the kids are going through now, and they can relate to us. Even little differences make differences. Locking up children is not the answer, it's the worst thing you can do. I wish I could reach more youngsters. If I can ever get my book published, I believe it will help. All I have is pen and paper to communicate. These kids have purposes in life beyond getting into trouble. I know first hand what it takes to get in one of these places; very little. We think if we're just doing small things, nothing will happen to us. I still haven't figured out what it means to be free.
I hope my brief story will help you to stop and think before making the small mistakes that could send you to prison for the rest of your life. What started as four months turned into fifty plus years of incarceration so far. I take full responsibility. This is not about me; it's about helping anyone who will relate to my story. Also, I want to send a message to people in my situation. It's never to late to improve yourself, no matter what. I've got a GED, an AA diploma, a few vocational classes and a strong work ethic. I’m currently working on my spiritual life.
Thanks for listening.
|Bob Clark 44032|
Oswego Correctional Facility
2501 West 7th Street
Oswego, KS 67356