This post isn't like any other post I've written, and I want to begin with some major prefacing. First, most of what I suggest here for prisoners would be illegal under our laws without a special exemption. Second, when I talk about breaking someone from their culture, I'm not talking about breaking them from any Hispanic culture, or Southern American culture, or Black culture or whatever culture YOU think your typical prisoner belongs to. I'm speaking about the twin cultures of crime and poverty that some, but not all, prisoners belong to. I've worked for a prison, and I know that prisoners come from literally all places. Third, one of the things prisoners lack in my prison of the future is contact with other human beings. On the surface, this seems like a special form of torture, but there are millions of people in this country who voluntarily do this to themselves. On our planet, you can find literally hundreds of people in every city who like to live like this. Fourth, I don't pretend to have all of the answers, I just think we should try a different way.
The scene begins in a courtroom, perhaps 20 years in the future. Three prisoners have been found guilty of non-sexual violent crimes. While the prisoners are very different, they each have some things in common: They are not considered mentally ill, they are not well educated, they are repeat offenders. Most importantly, they come from broken cultures which are part of their problem. Prisoner A is a gang-banger. Prisoner B is a white supremacist. Prisoner C is a member of a violent religion. They each agree to be a part of an experimental prison project, with a promise of a good paying job at the end of their sentence, as long as they fulfill the agreement.
The next day, each of them arrives at the cells where they will spend the next 36 months. Typical sentences for their crimes are 10 years, but they have a chance to spend three years in prison and another three on a special form of probation. Most importantly, their records, which begin as juveniles for each of them, will be sealed if they succeed in the training.
These cells are not like other prison cells. There are no bars, there are no other prisoners. Technically, there are not even doors. Each cell is 10ft by 10ft. The walls are flexible plastic. If the prisoner bangs up against it, it yields. One side has a cot that folds out of the wall. It has a lightly padded alcove, with a curtain. It can be used as a bed, or sat on like a couch. When the cot is folded up, there is a toilet beneath it, and a shower above it. All of these are within the privacy curtain. The prisoner cannot be observed within this space, it is his zone of complete privacy.
The room has video screen technology on three sides. The prisoner cannot turn the screen off, can not turn the sound up or down. The ceiling itself glows and dims instead of having well-defined lights. The bed, curtain, bed linens and the prisoner's uniform are undyed cotton. The thread count is high. It is comfortable, but plain. The closest "culture" to which these clothes belong is medical culture, they are more like scrubs than anything else. The prisoner has no allowed identifying items. He may not wear any jewelry or special clothes. If his religion requires his head to be covered, he is provided an appropriate piece of headwear in the same undyed material. If he has any tattoos, regardless of why he got them, they have been removed. It was part of the agreement he signed when he came to the prison. The cell also has a rudimentary piece of exercise equipment. The prisoner may keep himself fit, but is not given the opportunity to do extreme weightlifting, or other such things.
For the most part, he does not see people. A hatch opens up with fresh linens, another takes those he has away. His food appears through a slot in the wall. The food is strange. It meets his religious or dietary strictures, if any, but it is in forms he is unfamiliar with. He is given a choice of foods each day, usually between things he has never heard of. Each thing is described in detail in the menu, but there is no real choice in food. He may take one from column A, one each from column B and C, but there is no special anything for the prisoner. As he stays at the prison, he grows to know each of these strange foods, and they become comfortable, but at first he is off-kilter, having never experienced these things before.
He is given things people in a normal prison might rarely see. A razor, shaving cream, toiletries. They do not have brands. They do not have fragrances. They are boring colors. Nonetheless, they are high quality. There is a reason these things are of the highest quality, but the prisoner does not know why.
From early in the morning until late at night, the prisoner is exposed to programming that he cannot turn off, cannot turn down, cannot change. If the prisoner does not speak English well, the initial programing is education in the language. The programming is factual, non-fiction, based on reality. For hours and hours a day the prisoner is shown how things are made, how things happen, how things came to be. He gets non-slanted (or as non-slanted as we can manage) history, science, nature, engineering. He learns, even if he does not want to, how the world is placed together. His mind is expanded. He doesn't hear the talk of prison culture, he isn't exposed to crime shows or things that improve his ability to commit crimes.
A lot of the stuff is probably boring as hell. Anatomy, physiology, evolution, how animal names work, proper grammar. After the first few months, the prisoner starts to be given the opportunity to learn more about topics that interest him. He is given a choice of programming, watch the defaults or pick from a small menu. If he can answer questions on the screen about the basic programming he gets more advanced stuff. Eventually the prisoner knows "inside-baseball" level of knowledge about several things, and can draw connections between things. As he learns more, over time, he gets more interactivity. He can now ask questions of the experts, and starts to get training in specific things.
Once a week, he's let out of his cell to meet with a therapist or other professional. This is to make sure he doesn't go nuts from the program. It also gives them a chance to clean and or fix the cell.
At the end of the program, if you've done the media right, these prisoners have nothing in common with the culture they came from. Again, not the ethnic culture, but the crime culture. You've literally changed how their brain works, making new connections, new distinctions. You've rebooted the brain to see the world as a wider place. Nothing exists in isolation for this person anymore. They know how a shoe is made, how the concrete they walk on came to be, why their clothes are the color they are, why the sky is blue, how a car works.
After the imprisonment phase, the next stage is intensive training with a slow increase in ability to be trusted to be with other people. You've forced the prisoner to begin the inner dialog with reality that so many people in crime culture lack. You've given the prisoner an inner world with which to interpret the outer world. You've given him FACTS in a life that was previously only understood through emotional response.
Now you break him into a different culture. He's moved far from where he used to live, doing a job no one back home even understands. He's invested in his new reality. Even if he contacts people back home, they will seem shallow and narrow minded, lacking an understanding of even the basics of reality your prisoner knows. You've expanded his mind, then given him responsibility for the first time in his life.
Try this, even with 5 or 6 prisoners, and evaluate the recidivism rates. Betcha get something approaching zero. Furthermore, bet you get non-criminals clamoring for this training.