People in Prison Who Have Never Used the Internet Are Asked to Describe It
Date:  09-05-2013

How to do you explain something that didn’t exist when you were first locked up?
We all know that perception isn’t reality. Many of us learned that lesson as a child through the telling of the story of three blind men trying to describe an elephant. The first man feels the elephant’s trunk and believes an elephant is a rope-like creature. The second person feels the elephant’s ears and concludes an elephant is like a large, flapping fan. The last man feels the elephant’s rough, dry skin and likens it to a large expanse of road. Not being able to see or experience something makes an accurate description impossible.

Such is the subject of a Buzzfeed article posted on August 29, 2013. Buzzfeed reports that prisoners who participated in San Quentin’s Last Mile program were asked to describe the internet. All those who answered were sentenced before the introduction of the internet, and while they have been able to catch a glimpse of computers and their function on television, none of them had actually surfed the web, or have any real knowledge of it.

When asked about their thoughts on the internet their answers were not very descriptive, but their confusion and curiosity was apparent. In the developed world reliance on the internet is the norm. Most companies require job applications to be submitted online. Encyclopedias that were once the major source of information on a wealth of subjects have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Newspapers are losing subscribers by the millions as more and more people prefer to get their news online. For prisoners who are released into a world that has been taken over by modern technology the process of reentry brings about yet another set of fears. Not understanding how to find a job, or fill out a job application, online is yet another barrier to employment that thousands of newly released prisoners are facing. It used to be that the majority of help wanted ads could be found in the local newspaper, but that has changed. Now websites like Craigslist is the first place job seekers look. If you aren’t familiar about how to navigate the internet, you are lost.

While some prisons offer basic computer literacy programs for inmates, access to the internet is forbidden. It may be that in the future corrections will allow supervised, and limited, access to the internet by inmates who are about to be released from prison. Being able to use the internet to make a list of companies that are hiring, to check out the cost to rent a room or apartment, or to search for service providers in the community into which he or she will be released will enable a returning citizen to hit the ground running and will offer a better chance of successful reentry. Until that time, inmates live in, but are not truly a part of, the modern world.

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