Inside-Out Prison Exchange Students Discuss Values: Diversity in Growth, Angela, James, Alyssa, and Cole
The Socratic Oath is wholeheartedly believing in your personal values and that if you deviate from your beliefs, then you are not truly living. You would rather take the consequences that society gives you because of your actions, instead of bending to break what you believe. Socrates’ beliefs were tested when he was placed on trial for supposedly being an atheist, corrupting the youth, and being considered a nonbeliever of the gods of Athens. Socrates viewed himself as someone who challenged the societal roles of all class levels, as well as the wisdom of others. Socrates did not view himself as an atheist, but rather a believer of more gods than solely the Athenian gods. Because he was teaching youth to question the acceptance of Athenian understanding, he was seen as corrupting them rather than helping them become wiser.
We have never had to make the decision that Socrates had to make, however it does remind one to consider the values that you hold and live your life by. A set of values could be a religion or sect, political affiliation, cultural affiliation, or any other kind of doctrine or philosophy. Another avenue of gaining values is to transition from one’s own experiences. A person’s values don’t usually change unless they go through a change of themselves. These could be anything from age to environment. Our stories show different ages, different environments, different challenges, different backgrounds, and different lives. We have all had values and beliefs change in our lives, whether that be when we were younger or through our time of growing up. Our beliefs have become building blocks for our future and how we each live our lives every day.
Alyssa: For me, I had to grow up quickly because of home circumstances. I have a little brother that I had to help take care of. It always felt like my mom and I had to protect him, since I was unable to have a normal childhood. We desperately wanted that for him.
Ang: My experiences as a 20 year old on the outside have been different. I struggled with my image and with success. I thought that my image needed to perfect and I was driven in my actions by what people would think of me. I was the pastor’s kid, the straight- A student, the athlete, and the girl who was always smiling. I tried to do it all and through that, I pressured myself to be successful in each one of my images. Because I pressured myself so far, my smile was hiding pain and hurt that was underneath everything. I didn’t smile because I was happy, I smiled because I couldn’t bear to let others know that I didn’t have myself together.
Alyssa: Because of this, I have always been not only family oriented, but hard-working and determined to create a better life for myself. I am not very old, only 20, so maybe I will change as time goes, but as of now I stand wholeheartedly by my determination, as well as would do anything to take care of my family. I have not changed, but I also think it is because I had to adapt younger than most to an adult mindset.
Ang: Looking back now, I know that so much of what I poured my time into was temporary. I had surgery on my back and I was pulled from games, meets, and tournaments until I wasn’t able to play at all because of my injury. I continue to do my best to succeed in school, but my worth is no longer placed on a letter grade. My faith grew to become my foundation and through my beliefs, I now still am the girl that’s always smiling. However, now it is because I have real joy that is so much deeper than just that smile. My values now are my faith, my community, and my happiness.
Socrates was incarcerated prior to his execution and he stood true to his doctrine of beliefs. It would have been easy for Socrates to go against his values for his case and especially his release. However, Socrates chose to die for what he believed instead of turning against his own beliefs. Incarceration in our society can be a sentence of social death in itself. When one is given a sentence, you are taken away from your community and completely displaced from everyone and everything that you know.
Inmates are stereotypically viewed as soulless numbers in the system. They lose their sense of individuality and humanity, as well. However, what society usually fails to realize is that people change. Years spent incarcerated forces its own kind of change of values for an inmate through the change of age, environment, and challenges. Cole’s and James’ values have changed for both of them because they have been forced to reevaluate pieces of their lives in a new way. Every person grows in their life through how they build their value system and an inmate is not an exception to this. They all have a story to tell and we were able to share all of our stories with each other.
Cole: As a young adult my values lacked coherence. Before coming to prison I was a drug user and therefore was unable to properly assess the values I held. Much of my adult life before I came to prison, at the age of 27, was spent either in, or right outside of, addicted drug use. Being addicted to a drug, or anything really, warps a person’s mind and renders every priority secondary to that addiction. My family exhibited plenty of values and virtues for me to follow in their footsteps and be a good person, because of this, I at least had a foundation of values that I admired about my family that I could build on.
James: I did not always live life with integrity. In my younger years, I was less concerned with how my words would affect others. If deceiving others benefited me, I did.
Cole: Once incarcerated, I decided that no matter how long it takes, I have to change this. The second thing I decided was that no matter what the consequences, i can’t let the typical prisoner’s mentality and attitudes become my own. Since being incarcerated, I have felt a need to learn about as many things as I can. I feel that the more information I take in, about any and everything, the more accurate I can be in knowing myself and the world around me.
James: After years of incarceration, and of course getting older, I now understand the importance of a belief system. Honesty is at the center of this value system. My word is my bond. Without it I am nothing. I will still always pay the consequences for my actions, even if being untruthful will grant me reprieve.
Through being in a class of inmates and students, we have been able to share pieces of our lives with each other. College students have been able to receive knowledge and have one’s eyes opened to a piece of society that so often is tried to be forgotten. Inmates have been able to share their stories with people who have ears to hear, which is not easily found. We all are able to be raw and vulnerable about the brokenness in our world and in our own lives. Socrates taught us to seek out the values that we each have and to remain true to those beliefs. There is not a key set of values that is “correct” and the process of getting to learn about different people’s value systems has made that evident. However, another value that we have learned throughout our time together has been to recognize that everyone’s story is important. Each person has a story to share and sometimes we have to be prepared to listen and to search for the growth that they have come through and which values drive them each day.
Image 1 https://purposeandnow.com/2011/02/14/core-values-or-placebos/
Image 2 purposeandnow.com
Image 3 http://www.amreading.com/2017/01/23/5-reasons-experience-isnt-necessary-for-writing-a-good-story/