This week I am sharing my impressions on Thomas Harris’ journal entries from Sept. 2021.
I encourage you to visit the Journal Archive if you are interested in seeing more works directly from prisoners.
Reflecting on Norman Theriot (Journal from 09/2021)
The reason I chose to talk about Harris’s entries is that they explore (i) the prison system and how it operates from the perspective of someone who is in it as well as (ii) how faith influenced his path. In the first entry, Harris talks about moving to Texas and shortly thereafter devoting his time to supporting missionary efforts in Mexico: “I helped organize the mailing lists and helped around the mission.” As I understand it, mission work gave him a purpose that allowed him to escape the person he had been before: “a long time, cocaine-addicted, 5-week unwed father, unemployed through no fault of [his] own.” Key in Harris’s path to change was the desire for change, which is hinted at when he writes: “I was praying for a change in my life.”
Addressing issues such as addiction and incarceration is complicated by the fact that not everyone wants to change. Even when there are resources and help at someone’s disposal, there are those who may be content with the life they’re living—whatever their reasons may be. That’s why I think that change begins with a change in someone’s mindset; the desire to want something better.
Though things appear to have unraveled for Harris later on, from the loss of an important relationship to incarceration for a crime he claims he did not commit, physical separation from his past and missionary work paved a path for him to change. Towards the end of his entry, he writes: “He found himself in Mexico, clean from drugs, and finding peace in helping others; he taught, he worked, and best of all, for several years he didn’t cry himself to sleep.” If you read the rest of this section of his entry, you’ll see that this was the one time in his life when he didn’t cry himself to sleep. While Harris speaks of finding God and his purpose through mission work, I think that the message here is that committing yourself to something and wanting change can lift you from the throes of addiction and even sadness, which I feel often go hand in hand.
There was another sentence that stood out to me: “Now an old man, kept 24/7 in cell (“heat restrictions”), deprived of family, friends, sunlight, exercise, television, telephone, and even his ordered medications and medical diet (helping him survive the damages of his drugs and physical abuse to his kidneys) are with – if received. He now daily and nightly, cries himself to sleep.” As I see it, the goal of a correctional facility is to correct, as is stated in the name. The environment described here, however, is one that discourages change and makes it all too easy to slip back into addiction.
“There’s more honor between (and among) inmates than there is between (and among) inmates and security personnel (or staff and staff).” I find this pretty easy to believe, especially in considering the conflicts between law enforcement personnel and citizens that have surfaced and made headlines in recent times. The dynamic between prison staff and inmates is undoubtedly critical to the successful operation of a prison. One of the ideas that have intrigued me during my involvement with PE is the capacity for change and how we can measure this. Though I do not know the details of his incarceration or what transpired after he returned to the US, I felt that Harris embodied the commitment to change that I’ve thought about through his mission work in Mexico. I think (and hope) that, similar to the faith that Harris speaks about, Prisoner Express has offered ways for prisoners to discover their own capacity for change.