Essays From Inside: Benjamin Hall

A New Perspective

As hopeless as this sounds, at one point in my life I believed I would always lose and be destined to fail. As a teenager I really did believe I would end up in prison. It is where I was told I would go by my father and many juvenile counselors. When I took Michelle Inderbitzin’s Inside-Out sociology class in 2008 I did not know really what to expect. Going up the stairs that first night of class I was actually afraid I was perspiring, and I was worried of what these students would think of me. In the weeks that followed, those fears melted away as we had meaningful discussions about crime and punishment and I learned we had more in common than I ever would have thought. I learned about typology theories like Moffit who argued that there are only two types of offenders. What she calls life course persistent and adolescent limiteds. I was surprised to learn how Moffit’s theory and many other typology theories believe change for the life course persistent were not possible! The very book we were reading by Sampson Laub in many ways their theories were proven correct right there by what we were experiencing in the class. Sampson and Laub said “What was lacking in criminology was a rich detailed knowledge base about offending from those who commit crime, expressed in their own words.” Sampson and Laub believed change was possible. Our preconceived notions were being broke down and change and learning were taking place. When I entered that class I doubted my abilities to do well in college and did not really consider going back to it. During this class I was given hope and confidence in that area.

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James Anderson, Benjamin Hall, David Spencer, and Doug Sanders were students in a Crime, Justice, and Public Policy course taught by Oregon State University sociology professor Michelle Inderbitzin at Oregon State Penitentiary.

I believe most academic lessons truly become the most valuable when they are applied to life. So allow me to speak from my heart about some life lessons and experiences I took away from the class in prison or in life. It is easy to think about all the things you don’t have but it is really all about perspectives. The best time in prison is the early morning on the weekend because it is quiet for one. Also I have a window in my cell. It has bars on it. I can look out through the bars past the prison yard up over the concrete and steel and watch across the horizon as the sun lights up the sky. In those far-and-few in between moments in prison you stop to take it all in, because you know that it cannot and will not last. There looking on God’s creation your perspective is changed to something so much greater than your circumstances in this piece of real estate. Sometimes freedom truly is just another perspective away. That is something I took away from Inside-Out. Different perspectives that opened possibilities I never considered.

I am now taking my second Inside-Out class and learning about different theories of descriptions of crime, causation, and social response to crime. I learned from and identified with Syke and Matzas techniques of neutralization how I justified my crimes and deviant lifestyle with “the appeal to higher loyalties.” In Sutherland’s differential association about crime being a learned behavior, I have both experienced and see it around me every day. As much as we learn about descriptions and causes of crime the conclusion of these brings us to the social responses to crime. What do we do? How do we make dent preventing future crime? It’s my belief that Inside-Out is doing just that. In Miller’s theory lower class culture and gang delinquency he wrote about focal concerns of the lower class adolescent street corner group (something I was part of) at the top of these concerns is belonging. How “the corner group fulfills essential functions for the individual” (Miller 262). We spend most of our lives trying to belong searching for those social controls as they are called in the world of criminology. Sampson and Laub found in their research that for some offenders there has to be an accumulation of losses before one becomes sensitive to the inhibiting power of informal social controls. They also talked about human agency and turning points. Bringing about desistance in crime, through connecting or reconnecting with loved ones, faith, family, work, friends. Speaking from someone who has lost a lot as many of us have I can say these things are true. Social stimulation and learning bring about desistance from future crime especially when you have lost so much. Inside-Out is a turning point in many people’s lives. It was a turning point in mine for education. I have friendships I may never have had without Inside-Out, all because of a different perspective. I have seen racial lines broken through these classes, men getting together in prison throughout the week talking about the material learning together while at the same time developing social bonds. Many of these guys will go on to succeed, even as they are now. For the short 10-12 weeks Inside-Out comes into this prison, rehabilitation, prevention of future crime takes place and carries into a life for some. Our true character is revealed when no one sees us, but we can’t hide from each other in here and I see lasting change. When Michelle brings in Inside-Out each week, hope travels with her. A second change, a smile, compassion, these go a long way in cracking the hard exterior of a life time criminal. As we come to the end of an Inside-Out term, you feel sad saying goodbye to your new friends but the experience and the life lessons you walk away with outweigh the sadness and become a tabernacle of remembrance in your heart. I believe when you are given a second chance, an act of kindness or compassion, an opportunity, forgiveness… it carries with it a responsibility to live in such a way to honor it. I keep a piece of paper in my cell. It has 168 people on it. It is all the people it affects when I make choices. When I struggle with bad choices, I look at or think about that list. I have added Michelle Inderbitzin’s name and “the class” to it because I want to never forget the impact one choice can have on many and live in such a way to honor the people who invested in my life. I can easily say the Inside-Out program has been one of my best experiences in my 16 years of incarceration.

Thank you.

Benjamin Hall