Every time we here at the Banner Graphic cover something that goes on at Putnamville Correctional Facility, we get flak for it.
Generally, that flak comes from people who post story comments on our Web site. What usually ends up happening is that people of differing opinions start arguing back and forth. The comments often take a very ugly turn and become almost impossible to police, so the commentary just gets shut down altogether.
What I've found is that there are people who really believe that because a person is in prison, he or she is worthless.
As a journalist, a Christian and a human being, I take extreme issue with that notion.
I believe there are criminals that cannot be rehabilitated, but I think that's really more the exception than the rule. I know there are people who are just plain and evil and who would always, were they out of prison, be dangerous or commit crimes.
But what my reporters and I try to convey with stories about events at the prison is that a good number of the inmates really are trying to better themselves, and we think that deserves attention.
I think what people need to remember is that we have no idea why people are in prison. Knowing that someone was sentenced to 10 years for a theft or a robbery essentially tells us nothing. If we don't know the person, we can't say what led to them being incarcerated.
Think about it. If someone is convicted of robbery, they may have committed the crime because they are suffering from the disease of addiction. A drug addict will do anything to get a fix; they become incredibly desperate.
Financial troubles can also cause people to do things they might not do otherwise. Can you honestly say that if your children were hungry and you had no money you wouldn't resort to stealing in order to feed them?
My life mantra is "I never say never." Of course I wouldn't kill someone just for fun, but what if someone was threatening my children? What if someone was attacking me?
Thinking about those circumstances, I can't say with any certainty that I would never kill. Sure it would always be a last resort, but I can't say it would never, ever happen.
And who among us has no regrets? I know I do.
I know there are people who will say the inmates at Putnamville aren't sorry for their actions, they're just sorry they got caught. And for some of them, I'm sure that's true.
But I've interviewed some of these men. I've listened to their stories, and I believe they were remorseful for the actions that landed them in prison. It is possible to be sorry for things you've done, even if they're bad enough to get you a prison sentence.
No matter who you are, I am a firm believer that if you're trying to be a better person, that's a good thing. The inmates at Putnamville aren't all required to take any life skills courses or to participate in educational or faith-based programs. Generally, the ones that do are a part of those things because they want to be. They are involved because they are trying to improve themselves.
I am not na*ve. I know there are bad people in this world, and that a lot of them are in prison.
But I'm also not one to judge someone when I don't know all the facts.
I guess my hope is that when we run stories about people who are incarcerated, people will take from them that there are inmates who are not just plain bad people that will never change.
As the old saying goes, "Don't judge me until you've walked a mile in my shoes."
Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.