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Isn't it Ironic? (Voice Paper II)

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I couldn’t find a visual, not even my own, to write an essay on. So, I found a new image. When I Google searched schools and prisons, I came across an image that illustrated the irony of bibles being encouraged in prisons while prohibited in schools. Initially, I thought this image was very interesting; it was the only obvious difference I have noticed thus far in comparison to our class discussions on similarities between prisons and schools in appearance and structure. The picture seemed pretty accurate—I can’t recall seeing an actual bible in school and only remember analyzing excerpts of it for academic purposes. However, when I look back at a specific moment in my early childhood education, I realize that the irony expressed in this picture is true but an actual Bible isn’t needed, at least in schools, to implement the beliefs within it.

In elementary school, like many of my peers, I carelessly broke the rules and, when caught, I was disciplined. One time, I got in trouble for something stupid and as my punishment I had to repeatedly write what I had done wrong and why I was suffering this incredibly boring punishment. In retrospect, I had no idea that this seemingly simple disciplinary action had greater implications, even a history; I just wanted to complete it and regain my privilege to recess.

This experience of writing the same line over and over again reminds me of  the beginning of chapter  five in The Right to Be Hostile  in which Meiners describes how her formerly incarcerated students would write “redemption genre” that, similar to my writing punishment, reflected on the crime done, the consequences, and one’s ownership of his or her action (140). At the age of eight I was being put through a process of penitence, much like criminals in the early history of Eastern State Penitentiary, even though the intended outcome was not achieved—I did not care for deep reflection, I wanted to play.  In doing so, my school, and its form of discipline, upheld the original purpose of schools, and prisons, which was “to create good moral character” (Spring 61). I could only regain my privilege if I showed that I had learned from my mistake.

In doing an activity that was intended to better my character, I did not reference a bible nor was one needed for me to “repent.” Thus, it was the religious-like practice that was meant to mold my character, not the bible itself. In illustrating this irony,and ultimately a contrast between the two institutions, the author of the  isn’t explicit about religon’s deep roots in both the classroom and cell in belief and practice. While female offenders were given “inspirational texts” in Reading is My Window, of course, with notion that inmates would self-reflect, I was told to write out and own my misbehavior—both examples with the goal of pentinence (2).

Nowadays, I do not think the purpose of religious-like practices in schools and prisons is directly related to the church. So, I find the modern-day use of  penitence in the context of a school and prison problematic. What is the point of such practices if there is no great fear of going to hell? And how effective could they possibly be when I did not even care for the purpose of my own  punishment in school?

My fear is that such practices are used to exploit students and prisoners who are poor and/or colored. When forced to repent, assuming that it is taken seriously, it is easier to assume sole responsibility for whatever crime or misbehavior without seeing greater circumstances, i.e. oppresion or the school-to-prison pipeline, that intentionally targets certain people. Therefore, like Meiners mentions, public issues are privatized to the individual and the people behind such oppressions are not held accountable (140). I am not saying that the culture of power should be held accountable for actual crimes/misbehaviors, there is no denying that the individual did them; but, focusing solely on the actual crime and not greater factors (oppressions on race, class, gender and even age) that have negatively influenced one’s life and actions protects, and further empowers, the culture of power.

Looking at schools and prisons in relation to the church—an equal third party that often gets ignored in our conversations—is important. It is hard, at least for me, to understand the interwined relationship beetween schools and prisons without exploring how the church has influenced, hindered and made it possible for the exploitation of both institutions.

Yes, the image is quite ironic but an even greater contradiction is the fact that repent-like practices once meant for individuals to “see the light,”now prevents them from seeing the systems of oppression that lurk in the dark.