Letter to the Editor - Carl's Story

The DelcoCPR Storytelling Team works to gather and share the experiences of people incarcerated at George W. Hill, their family and friends, and those who work at the facility. We shared Carl's story as a Letter to the Editor in the Delaware County Daily Times. Read about his experience below.

To the Times:

It’s been about 11 years since Carl (a pseudonym) was incarcerated at George W. Hill penitentiary. Today he’s thriving as a full-time truck driver. His charges were all misdemeanors. He was sentenced for retail theft and trespassing, both to feed his drug habit, and possession of heroin, opiates and cocaine. Carl also had several DUI’s for which he lost his license a number of years prior. Clearly, he was a non-violent offender. Since then Carl has completely rebuilt his life. He has mended ties with his 17-year-old daughter, stopped stealing and using drugs, and is gainfully employed.

Yet it took Carl, an agreeable man of 41, 10 stays at George W. Hill to break the cycle. Why? One could say he was not able to reform himself until the 10th stay. One could posit that his problems were too deeply ingrained to be rectified sooner. But a glaring factor contributing to the difficulty that Carl had in changing his life was the conditions of the privatized penitentiary in Thornbury, Pa., owned by the GEO group.

Carl describes his time at GWH as “boring” and “unpleasant,” but not “inhumane.” The understaffed guards carried out their jobs for more than 60 inmates indifferently seated in lawn chairs watching television. Carl considers sleeping on the hard, paper-thin mattresses, often with no pillow, appropriately “unpleasant”; it’s punishment after all. He feels similarly accepting of the 10-minute mealtime and having only an hour after dinner to leave your cell and stretch your legs in the day room or an enclosed courtyard. Twenty-two hours a day spent languishing in a cell with no reading material or television to occupy your mind was indeed “boring.”

However, the shortcomings of this penitentiary are much more grave and damaging, resulting in lack of inmate reform and recidivism in the service of making a profit. Even though Carl was able to start a GED program while incarcerated and he witnessed Alcoholics Anonymous meetings occurring in the jail, there were few opportunities to visit the library regularly and little encouragement overall. Furthermore, counselors were only available for five or 10 minutes at a time and they focused solely on logistical matters of sentencing. Therapists who could help prepare inmates for making a fresh start once released simply were not available. There was more than enough unoccupied time to participate in educational programs, such as life skills training and job preparation, but such programs were sorely lacking. Carl admits to pervasive feelings of helplessness, guilt and shame that, together with the lack of reform and therapeutic programs, made it extremely difficult for him to see a better way of life ahead. Carl’s willingness to work, learn, and change was lost.

George W. Hill is run by a private company, the GEO group, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla., and serves 64 prisons nationwide and 7 overseas. It is the only privatized jail in the state of Pennsylvania. GEO charges $49 million a year, or 17 percent of Delaware County’s annual budget, to operate the jail. The unmistakable reason we believe the company does not provide adequate rehabilitative services at George W. Hill is that they turn a profit on each inmate, every time they come through their doors.

We at Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform (Delco CPR) believe that people like Carl deserve a chance at reform. They should not be released with insufficient rehabilitation, lacking the skills and support needed to prevent them from being pulled back into the cycle of crime. Adequate preparation for reintegration and hope for the future benefit those like Carl, who deserve and desire the opportunity to turn their lives around, and benefit our community as a whole. We have observed that jails with public oversight, such as Chester County Prison, are much more likely to provide accessible libraries and educational programs to the inmates. As a result, we strongly urge that George W. Hill be returned to public hands in order to decrease the taxpayer cost and, most importantly, so that inmates will have opportunities for true rehabilitation and will be provided with tools to help them turn their lives around.

- Claudia Brown, Nelson Vecchione, and Michele Downie
Delaware County Coalition for Prison Reform


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