Journal Entry: Douglas Jason Way-03/10/2024-GIVING BACK

Journal Entry

For the fourth time, my request to give back to society through participating in the Thomson camp community service program was turned down. Was it because I have a lengthy criminal history, including violence? No. I am a first-time, non-violent offender. Was it because I have been a trouble maker at the camp? No. I have had clear conduct for 3.5 years. Was it because I am a flight or security risk? No. I am minimum security with a recidivism risk score below zero, and I live in a camp with no fence, affording me the opportunity to walk away any time I want.

The reason that the BOP would rather have me watching daytime television than serving the community is that according to their calculation of my projected release date, which they are aware is inaccurate, I have too much time left to serve. Through some backwards logic the time I have left is viewed as a drawback, rather than a win-win opportunity. More time for me to give back could be additional preparation for a successful re-entry as well as a great deal of free labor for the small towns and charitable organizations in the area that need it. Alas, it’s not meant to be–policy is policy and everyone loses.

When I first arrived at Thomson in 2020, there was no community service program. That was a shock to me. My spiritual tradition stresses service and I can attest to the transformative power of thinking of others before yourself. Through thousands of hours of organizing and performing volunteer work at a community golf course and green space in my hometown called Canal Shores, I have also seen the immense benefit that comes from people taking ownership of the care of their environment.

One morning in the summer of 2022 when I was walking the track, I heard a story on NPR about a conservation organization called River Action that was working to clean up parks and green spaces in the Quad Cities. The Executive Director of River Action, Kathy Wine, said that they were always in need of volunteers. I wrote a letter to Kathy, sharing my volunteer background and explaining my situation. I asked if she would be interested in having a crew of guys from the camp to pitch in on their projects if I could get it approved. Within a week she wrote me back, “We would very much like to work with you and your service program on some of our park and conservation projects…”

What an opportunity for the men at Thomson to make a difference while experiencing the character building benefits of stewardship and service. I enthusiastically pitched the idea and passed along the response letter to the camp administrator. Nothing happened. After repeated follow-ups with the prison administration, unit team, and re-entry services, I let it go.

A modest program of community service in the town of Thomson was started and I decided to try and get involved at that level, hoping still that I could influence expansion into assisting River Action and other like-minded organizations. That was when I received my second denial.

Subsequently, I was accepted into a community college program at Highland Community College. The full-time program required me to commute back and forth one hour each way, five days a week for four months. I successfully graduated and figured that after proving my trustworthiness, getting approved for community service would be a sure thing. Guys who were in the program told me that neighboring communities were clamoring for their own work crews and they did not have enough participants. Once again I applied. For the third time, I was denied.

Several of the stalwart participants in the program went home, necessitating a restock. Rather than taking someone like me who has a track record of responsibility and solid work ethic, the unit team selected a random group of guys based on nearness of release dates and the results were mixed, to say the least. Some have quit, others ended up in the SHU, and the one A-player on the team is burned out from picking up everyone else’s slack. He encouraged me to try again to get on the crew and even made a recommendation on my behalf. For the fourth time, no was the answer, even though the case manager told me that he is having a hard time filling the spots. He knows that the date in the computer is wrong, but can’t do anything about it. By the time I meet the current criteria for participation, I will already be home.

The BOP policy regarding community service, as well as the program execution at Thomson, highlights the purposelessness of the minimum security camps. If I was home with a wrist, ankle, or phone monitor, I could perform as much service as I wanted. Both I and my community would benefit. Instead, I am among 125 able-bodied men who are stuck in an environment where society is a paying a high cost for a default outcome of atrophy.

It is unfortunate that everyone is not as motivated to serve as I am. It is even more unfortunate that the bureaucracy of our retributive system wastes my willingness and doesn’t give many others a chance to discover the power of giving back.