I’m Incarcerated. My Family Should Be Allowed to Mail Me Food.
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS) in Dec. 2017 made life for the incarcerated a little more painful.
The “Secure Vendor Package Program” was implemented to crack down on contraband—like drugs and weapons—that was supposedly smuggled in through family care packages. That meant no comfort foods to help give an incarcerated person a taste of home, and maybe even a little hope.
However, the program did allow families to purchase food packages from a handful of overpriced, government-contracted vendors. Essentially, the state found a way to enrich private businesses by taking away our care packages—in the name of “safety.”
Within the Green Haven and Bedford Hills correctional facilities, where the Secure Vendor Package Program was to be pilot-tested, the outrage was immediate.
Incarcerated individuals and their family members quickly organized in protest, and authorities responded with draconian sanctions.
Stripped of their voices, incarcerated individuals continued their protest in silence, and, as if a switch were suddenly thrown, the once lively prison fell into stark silence.
While the incarcerated quietly persisted, their families raised their voices tenfold. And their protests reached the ears of New York state Assemblyman David Weprin, who helped form a coalition of lawmakers in opposition to this cruel and unfair practice. Under immense pressure from the power of the people, Albany ultimately relented, and rescinded the Secure Vendor Package Program.
The people won, we thought. But the victory would be short-lived, as Albany’s retreat was only temporary.
If you want incarcerated individuals to do their time without incident and reenter society as upstanding citizens, the last thing you should do is further cut them off from ‘home.’
NYSDOCCS’s Acting Commissioner, Anthony Annucci, wants to revive the main elements of the program, citing in a memo “an increase in violence and overdoses due to the introduction of contraband through the package room, specifically, illicit drugs and weapons.”
Essentially, rather than taking responsibility for his department’s failure to keep incarcerated individuals safe, Mr. Annucci is blaming their family members.
As Emily Brown and Rebecca McCray wrote in New York Focus: “There is ample evidence nationwide of corrections officers bringing drugs, weapons, and other contraband into prisons and jails; in the last two years, multiple New York City corrections officers faced charges for allegedly smuggling contraband into jails in exchange for cash.
Naturally, some people mailing care packages will have ill intentions, but the vast majority are law-abiding citizens, merely trying to send some love to their incarcerated loved ones.
Incarcerated people must endure humiliations on a daily basis. We bend over at the waist and spread our cheeks after every visitation, lest we be denied time with our families in the future. We endure the physical and verbal abuse of corrupt officers, just so we don’t do anything to jeopardize our release. And we work on modern-day plantations for six cents an hour, just to lessen the burden we placed on our family’s shoulders.
For the love of our families, and for the sake of our lives—we turn the other cheek at every disrespect, we shy away from every threat, and we cherish every opportunity to improve ourselves.
There’s almost nothing restorative or rehabilitative about being incarcerated. But there is one positive to being locked up: it enables the incarcerated to recognize the importance of family, which we might have once taken for granted, but never would again.
If you want incarcerated individuals to do their time without incident and reenter society as upstanding citizens, the last thing you should do is further cut them off from “home.”
Clean up the mess in your own backyard, starting with corrupt officers smuggling guns and drugs into correctional facilities, and leave our care packages alone.