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Finding My Purpose In Prison by Eric Burnham

We’re pleased to introduce a new contributor to our blog, Eric Burnham.

My name is Eric Shawn Burnham. I was born April 21, 1979 in Las Vegas, Nevada, but I grew up in grad-speech-picOregon and California mostly. I came to prison in 2001, and I’ve been at EOCI ever since. 

When I was 21-years-old, I took another man’s life while intoxicated, and I was given a 25-to-life sentence in prison. I deeply regret the actions of my youth, and I’m ashamed of the lifestyle I was living that led to the death of another human being at my hand. But as much as I want to, I cannot change the past. I can use it to shape my future, however.

In 2003 I earned my G.E.D., and in September 2015 I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Counseling, graduating Summa Cum Laude (3.98 GPA). By mid-2017 I will have earned my Master’s degree in Counseling. In addition, I’m accumulating CEUs (Continued Education Units) in order to meet the requirements for state certification as an alcohol & drug counselor. (I’ll still need 4000 hrs. of clinically-supervised counseling after I’m released.) My education is important to me because I’m dedicated to helping young people avoid making the same mistakes I made.

I work as a tutor in the G.E.D. program here at the prison, and I love my job. It doesn’t pay well, but it gives me the opportunity to help young people and practice my skills.

Personal growth, to me, means becoming the person I was designed to be. I’m not too sure where the balance is found between nature and nurture in the formation of my spirit as a unique human being. I do know, however, that I’m just one incarcerated man trying to overcome my past mistakes and make a positive impact on this crazy world. I kind of think that’s what life is all about: taking the bad and using it for good.


Finding My Purpose in Prison by Eric Burnham

Can the prison experience be good? Inmates are crammed into small cells or overcrowded dorms like sardines, surrounded by some of the most difficult personalities on the planet, and ordered around by self-righteous, often power hungry and abusive authority figures. The cramped living quarters are physically uncomfortable. The lack of privacy is emotionally exhausting, and the empty nature of prison friendships is socially unfulfilling. The boredom is mind-numbing. The loneliness can be crushing, and the inflexible power structure imbeds anger into one’s personality. The incarcerated person is completely isolated from loved ones — few things hurt more than knowing your friends and family have moved on without you. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow, however, is knowing this is all self-inflicted. After all, if you admit it’s your own fault, you are then responsible.

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Letters From Prison: Frequent Unexplained Deaths

From a prisoner in Sing Sing facility in New York.

ELeary

Q: Please indicate issues you would like to see addressed in your facility.

A:  Actually, everything, because management could not run a hot dog cart for a week without going out of business. Clearly they want recidivism. Keep the cells full – just like a hotel needs its rooms full. Sing Sing may be best prison in NYS, but very badly run.

Main problems are health care with ZERO education, prevention, healthy diet, age appropriate care or exercise for older men. We have frequent unexplained deaths of fairly young men. Our pharmacy is very prone to errors. After our Nurse Administrator was “fired” and arrested, they gave her another job in mental health which is technically a different agency. She kept her parking spot! Does it sound like a certain church? Educational opportunities are here only for those who fit profile of 20-25 years, above average IQ, interested in college, and no mental illness. That is about 150 out of 1600. My GED classroom has 20 seats. About 1000+ men need a GED. Obviously, this “does not compute.”

Roughly half the population has substantial mental health problems (on psych meds, zero impulse control, talking to themselves, self-medication / drug abuse, very low intelligence, illiterate in any language). Treatment of mentally ill is overmedication, zero exercise, poor diet and isolation.

For those of us who came to prison with skills and education, the problem is no opportunity to use or maintain skills. Our library is okay for fiction, otherwise zilch. Very old, e.g., vacuum tube electronics and a book on Fortran IV (might be valuable to a collector?). Car books have carburetors and crank windows.

Drug problems are major. Head in the sand about problem because “they” don’t want to explain how drugs can get through a forty-foot-high concrete wall. (Staff, of course.) Only control point is poverty of most prisoners.

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