Being released from prison and being free from the blame and the responsibility of a crime that one did not commit is supposed to be happy and relieving. Exonerated prisoners have this fleeting feeling of happiness and relief but after awhile it is replaced by frustration and grief over the lost years of his life as he is trying to rebuild the life and the identity that was taken from him. Because of social stigma placed on people behind bars, these exonerated prisoners are treated much the same as the other convicts.
The psychological trauma that they have gone through inside the prison is replaced by the stress that they face when they try to rebuild their lives. Getting out of prison is one thing, living the life outside of prison when you have lived inside one is the more difficult part. Rebuilding his life has been hard for Scott Fappiano as he tells his story of finding it difficult to get identification cards that is needed for him to own his identity once again, and in the longer run give him a job to earn his living.
Being an exonerated prisoner, he has no release papers to accompany his inmate ID. This created problems for him as institutions, particularly, the Department of Motor Vehicles, did not acknowledge his inmate ID, Social Security Card and newly issued credit card. The reentry of exonerated prisoners to the society is harder because of the social stigma that is associated with prison. Having a criminal background, though one is innocent and has been proven innocent of the alleged crime, causes people to shun them.
This destabilizes the cultural values and norms of the individual causing psychological problems and turning to suicide or substance abuse as an escape from the stigma. This, in turn, makes them prisoners of the marred reputation that they have. The interaction and relationship between the individual and the society is based on the shared values and meanings placed on these values. This signifies that the social relationship of individuals and the different institutions of the society have different implications in the behavior and perspective of the individual and the society.
Because of being institutionalized, living in a world in which there is no individuality and identity, the exonerated prisoners have stunted personal and social development. When they come out of prison, their values significantly change, thus, changing their perspectives and relationships with other people. The social stigma that is attached on their identities is difficult to erase and there is a need to counsel these individuals on social relationships outside of prison. This will ultimately prevent them from turning into what they have been exonerated from or committing other criminal acts or turning into substance abuse or suicide.
Since socialization is the best way to reinforce behavior, it is important that these individuals be treated with the same respect and value as other individuals who have not been in prison. This will allow the exonerated prisoner time to adjust to his new environment. Within prison, they should have been prepared for their re-entry to the society, whether or not they will be able to get out. This will maintain social order and avoid deviance when they come out of prison since the destabilization of their identities and beliefs will go from being in an institution to becoming free men.
Courtney from Study Moose
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