REAL PRISON REAL FREEDOM

Rosser McDonald

BOOK SUMMARY

BOOK SUMMARY

Real Prison Real Freedom tells the heartbreaking life story and inspiring change of the notorious Texas inmate Rickie Smith during time of major upheaval within the Department of Corrections itself.

In the words of Warden, Dr. Keith Price, “People that wind up in prison, inmates, generally are society’s rejects. They’ve been unable to do the things other people do to make life a success, whether it’s because of an abusive parent, addiction to some substance, stupidity, being unable to read or write, they’ve been failures and have chosen alternate means, that is crime.”

Since retirement from the prison system Price is Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at West Texas State University. His Ph.D. is in Criminal Justice and Behavioral Science. He is also aware of the very challenging life on the other side of the bars, “The correctional officer has to deal with people so maladjusted that society says they can’t live amongst them anymore. It’s conflict day after day, hour after hour, and it really takes a toll, from broken marriages to financial problems to substance abuse. It’s continual.”

This book is not a study of penology except as it relates to three topics. The primary focus is on one inmate, Rickie Smith, who was described in court and elsewhere as ‘the most violent man in Texas Prison’. Another way to say it is he’s the worst of a hundred thousand convicts. He went in on a ten-year drug charge and could have gotten out in a few years. Instead, he received three new ninety-nine-year attempted murder sentences for attacking officers and inmates. Many other cases against him were dropped or ignored. Then after fifteen years of gang wars and fighting prison officers, everything changed.

Secondly, we glimpse parts of the career of Keith Price. He became one of the most effective wardens, but circumstances made him the ‘enemy’ in the eyes of some prison personnel. Eventually he retired from the job he loved because he knew he would never be promoted above warden.

These personal stories play out in the third aspect of “REAL PRISON, REAL FREEDOM”. That was the complete takeover of The Texas Department of Corrections by a Federal Judge because of what he called “unconstitutional treatment” of inmates. The state denied the problems and resisted most of the reforms the judge ordered, and the appeals court upheld. There was an extended period of turmoil – even chaos – too few guards, rampant gangs, gang wars, overcrowding and other issues. Judge William Wayne Justice kept oversight of the system over 20 years after he took control. Even then some officers continued to disagree with the ‘new’ ways of treating prisoners, and some dislike Dr. Price, who, before making warden, held a key position investigating inmate treatment and ‘use of force’ issues in light of the judge’s edicts.

So, prison operations in any facility are determined mostly by those who live and work there, and how they interact with each other, day to day. In other words, human nature. Naturally there are policies and rules, but many on both sides of the bars find themselves reacting to the other side of the bars. What brings those reactions is frequently something unexpected but very real. Rickie Smith demonstrates that in extremes. He is not only incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice he is in an even worse imprisonment, controlled by hatred and anger rather than locks and bars. Escape from that would be more difficult. Even so, ultimately, FREEDOM can be as REAL as PRISON.

Excerpts:

Ricky saying after he had a difficult time; I may not make this people like me, but there damn sure that they’re going to respect me.

RICKYS MOTHER:
Ricky is the sweetest thing that you can ever had.

A warden price told Ricky: I’m taking you out of this bad cell block, and putting you with normal prison population. You can go in there, and start fights or you can kill someone, but you can never say that I did not give a chance.

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