A Peek Into the Prison System: Personal Ruminations

A Peek Into the Prison System: Personal Ruminations

It was a typical summer evening in the small Rocky Mountain town of Salida, Colorado.  I was taking my routine walk down F Street with my dogs, Kia Ya and Mickey. Final destination — the Arkansas River for some stick throwing and a dip in the river to cool off the pooches.

Kia Ya is a 5-year-old, 75 lb. Flat Coat Retriever, shelter dog, and Mickey is what the Vet terms a Navajo Retriever. I picked up Mickey behind a McDonald’s on the Navajo Indian Reservation, and that’s why I appropriately call her Mickey.

Even though Mickey is going on 2 years old, she is still puppy-like. She spots a squirrel in the park and goes for it, leash and all. I chased Mickey all the way to the other side of the park before I finally caught her.

As I was exiting the park with both dogs in hand, I noticed a police officer slow down in his patrol car. With a southern drawl, he sarcastically yelled out the window, “Can’t you read that sign?”

It was dusk, so the sign was barely visible, but being a 16-year local, I am aware of what the sign says.

My blood was curdled by the tone of the police officer’s question, but I assertively answered, “Yes, I know what the sign says, my dog got away from me, and so I was getting her out of the park.”  

Salida, Colorado, is a popular tourist destination because of the premium rafting and kayaking conditions of the Arkansas River, surrounded by 1,400-foot mountains, perfect for hiking enthusiasts along with snow skiers during the winter months because of the pristine powder conditions of Monarch Ski Resort, but, unfortunately, like many small American towns, Salida isn’t as picture perfect as it looks. 

The town has always been about ten years behind other progressive Colorado communities. Tourists and newcomers are always puzzled by the “No Dogs Allowed” signs posted at the entrance of all public parks. However, about 5 years ago, Salida finally acquired a neatly tucked away dog park that anyone unfamiliar with the town would need a GPS to find. In fact, the back of the dog park tee-shirt reads, “Where the heck is the Salida Dog Park?”

The comment “Can’t you read that sign?” would not have been offensive to a five-year-old, who hasn’t learned to read, but I happen to be the citizen who passed the city leash ordinance, founded a non-profit restorative justice program, earned a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and am earning my Master’s degree so I can make a difference in the tattered state of the prison system.

As small as this little dog violation encounter seems — it provided me with a personal insight into the prison system. I experienced a minuscule fraction of what inmates run into on a daily basis — authority figures attempting to dehumanize their captives with bullying, rendering them powerless like a spider caught in a web of defeat.

The entirety of it all makes me ponder:  How transformed would the prison system be if the main objective was to educate as opposed to an egocentric urge to have power over others who are depreciated as subhuman because of their status as an offender?