As the celebrated literary icon, Robin Sharma, once said ‘it is not that things are hard that we do not dare; it is that we do not dare that things are seemingly hard’ (Mays & Winfree, 2009). Given the above, is it possible for an inmate to have any significant impact on society from behind bars? Ordinarily, it does not seem as though anyone would have any considerable influence in society in such circumstances. In his runaway success dubbed Behind a Convict’s Eyes, K. C. Carceral offers a very insightful account of doing time in a modern prison. His memoirs are tangible proof that even an incarcerated person may have a significant contribution to his society. While some consider incarceration unfortunate, K.C. Carceral chooses to view things from a different perspective, one that involves positive thinking.
As the plot unfolds, it emerges that the name Carceral is a pseudonym denoting ‘belonging to a prison.’ Carceral, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence, creates a dramatic real-life account of life behind bars. The author captures not only the personal experiences of a convicted felon but also the culture and the political economy of modern prisons. He begins by creating a series of vivid word portraits of life behind prison walls. Carceral proceeds to create a ‘toxic shame identity’ expressing his thoughts as to why people become criminals (Carceral, 2004). Carceral emerges as a very brilliant person; serving a death sentence does subvert his noble goal of having a positive influence as a means of giving back to his society. While Carceral talks little about the crime for which he is doing time, one cannot help but speculate the kind of influence he would have had had he not committed the crime.
As he documents his first-hand experience in prison, Carceral espouses the manner in which prison changes people by giving them a different perspective on life. The first emergent theme in his discourse is identity construction. Carceral (2004) reckons that life in prison leads to the formation of personal identity. For first-time inmates, as he observes, incarceration may lead to frustration. The feeling of failure and disappointment overcomes most prisoners, which compromises their ability to think rationally (Hugo, 2010). Solitary confinement, in particular, changes an inmate’s perspective towards life and society. For others, incarceration gives a prisoner time to reflect on their actions. Reflection and the subsequent frustration influence the formation of personal identity. As for Carceral, he was able to see things differently; his perspective changed (Carceral, 2004).
Prison violence emerges as another prominent theme in Carceral’s account. Violence is a common denominator in all aspects of prison life. From physical to psychological torture, inmates undergo a wide range of brutal experiences while doing time. Carceral documents the experiences in the hands of vicious prisoners and the ruthless prison authorities. In his very words, prison violence is real. Virtually every inmate belongs to a gang. Prison gangs protect their own on a quid pro quo basis. Some gangs have even infiltrated prison authorities in a way that they are able to seek certain favors. Violence in prison takes the form of sexual torture, racial profiling, or pure gang animosity (Carceral, 2004). Those perceived as weak are subjected to intimidation. In the prison culture, the rule of the jungle prevails; only the fittest survive. Carceral uses the analogy of ‘natural selection’ while describing survival behind bars. It is all about perception in prison; weakness is tantamount to suicide, as people will definitely take advantage of that. Those able to command fear are able to control prison affairs (Kendall, 2009).
As a major theme, capitalism emerges as the very essence of the political economy of the modern prison. As Carceral recounts, there is an entirely new world within prison walls. Prisons operate as discrete political and economic entities. Powerful prison gangs run and control the drug trade from behind bars (Carceral, 2004). Having infiltrated prison authorities, they have become very powerful cartels transforming into a very lucrative trade. In the United States, for instance, major state penitentiaries are crawling with powerful drug lords who operate in partnership with outside contact.
Carceral has done a commendable job in documenting his first-hand experience behind bars. Behind a Convict’s Eyes is an informative discourse based on the author’s account (Mays & Winfree, 2009). The author seems to possess sharp observation skills. He has succeeded, as well, in narrating prison experiences in a way that a reader who has never set foot in prison is able to relate to his experience. There is one concern, however, with Carceral’s account: the editors may have altered the various aspects of the author’s experience. With editing, there lies a possibility of distortion such that the edited text does not convey the message as initially intended by the author. This is not to downplay the essence of editing though; it is a mere acknowledgment of the foreseeable danger of changing the author’s authentic accounts. In essence, Behind Prison Bars is an informative book that enlightens readers on the prison experience (Zaibert, 2006).
While it does not seem as though people can have considerable influence in society from behind bars, Carceral offers a different perspective. From his discourse, there are many important life lessons. It is important to realize that the limit of human potential is not physical but psychological. While some consider incarceration unfortunate, K.C. Carceral chooses to view things from a different perspective, one that involves positive thinking. His memoirs are tangible proof that even an incarcerated person may have a significant contribution to his society.
Carceral, K. (2004). Behind A Convict’s Eyes: Doing Time In A Modern Prison. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. New York: Random House.
Hugo, A. (2010). Punishment, Crime and the State. New York: Random House.
Kendall, D. (2009). Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. New York: Cengage Learning.
Mays, G. & Winfree, L. (2009). Essential of Corrections. Belmont, CA: Cengage.
Zaibert, L. (2006). Punishment and Retribution. England: Ashgate Aldershot.