Sitting face-to-face with two criminals in a maximum security penitentiary may not seem like a situation one would volunteer to be in. However, Sociology II students knew exactly what they were getting into when they entered the Omaha Correctional Center (OCC) on either Oct. 12, 15 or 16. There were three separate trips because there are three blocks for this class.
Jail seems so distant for most Marian students, so it’s hard to imagine what life is like inside. Visiting helped students understand what the OCC is, gain new perspective, and learn about the cycle of crime.
The students toured the education center first where the facility offers college courses for the convicts and runs a high school for those who have not received their high school diploma. Like any school, there are standards set by the teachers for the students. They must do their homework and keep their grades up in order to graduate. “I think that we as civilians take freedom for granted and people should be aware that there are people that will never be free. Going on the prison visit was a very humbling experience,” senior Marissa Morris-Haynes said.
A tour of the cell was next on the agenda. They vary in size, but the one the students saw featured a bunk bed, sink, and toilet. There was no extra space. Although this cell sounds like one might imagine, there are also some cells that hold eight people due to overcrowding. There were two community showers in the sector they were in and they are made private by a curtain, but no doors.
One of the few prison dogs was met in the commons area by the cells. The Nebraska Humane Society runs a program for dogs who are in need of socialization or have special medical needs. The inmates can fill out an application to have part ownership of the dog temporarily, which includes responsibilities like taking him/her on walks and keeping his/her hair brushed.
The last part of the visit was talking to the inmates. The OCC is not a co-ed prison, therefore both convicts the class talked to were male. Block A was introduced to two inmates who were both murderers; one was charged with murder and the other with robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and murder. Throughout the half hour, the students got to talk with them; they started to see more than just the crimes they commited.
The inmates are people too, who, in this case, both fell on hard times and admitted their mistakes. Morris-Haynes went with the Block A class and noticed the humanity that is underneath labels and the prison itself. “The inmates were literally the same as us until a certain decision that they made; nothing makes us better than an inmate at the OCC,” Morris-Haynes said.
Being a criminal is a label that sticks with a person. It is hard to escape the prison life once one is released. Many times these people fall back into the same crowds, or in many cases, become members of gangs. One of the guards at the OCC explained that there are 400 gangs in Omaha, so the chance of a convicted criminal being involved in one is high. It is extremely easy for a person to fall back into their old habits and reenter the criminal system. Each person is a product of their environment. What he or she sees the people around them doing becomes behavior they believe to be normal and acceptable. Through this socialization process, one can enter the cycle of crime.
Although committing a crime is ultimately the choice of the individual, there are situations that make one’s future in crime inevitable. “Criminals are humans too; they make bad decisions like everyone else,” senior Jordan Hatcher said.