Strengthening Democracy

By Philip Melendez | November 14, 2017

Providing education inside prisons strengthens a democracy by giving people a chance to level out the playing field. If there are disenfranchised sectors of our society then there is no way we can call ourselves a democratic society. How can we reach democracy, or even equality, if the disenfranchised don’t know the definition of the word? Becoming educated helps people see injustice and the need for change, which will galvanize the people most affected by criminal justice and empower them to stand up against injustice and strive for the changes they want to see.

In studying for my AAI took US history, Ethics, and various English classes. It was through these classes I expanded my world view and reassessed my place in it. History helped me look at the origins and beginning of our nation. I saw slavery, injustice, and control. My Ethics class helped shape my views of right and wrong. It also gave me a glimpse at the importance of treating each other how we would like to be treated. My English classes helped me to write about it. That’s what I do to impact the larger society; write about it.

The thoughts and realizations I learned in class put a solemn duty on my shoulders to do all I can to impact the larger society by opening their eyes to the injustices that occur in this country everyday. This is no easy task. Given the infinite amount of challenges and restrictions in prison, it is very difficult to have a voice. It’s even more difficult to have that voice heard. So, if one cannot find an avenue to put that voice out there, I would say, explore every avenue that you can for more knowledge and utilize every opportunity you have to demonstrate the education that you’ve been given. If every incarcerated person did this, the perception of us in society would change. If public opinion changes in regards to criminal justice, then so does public policy around it.

Hopefully, one day, high quality education will be a mandatory part of rehabilitation. It’s part of a well-rounded understanding of self and the world. It’s a strong foundation for building empathy. If it were accessible to everyone in prison, then we’d be taking a real step towards equality, democracy, and consideration for each of our citizens. To quote the great Mike Farrell, who recently visited San Quentin, “Either all of us count, or none of us do.”