Just over a decade ago, I spent a summer volunteering in the women’s facility of the San Francisco County Jail. I led a support group for women and did basic case management work. Most of the women were in for drug offenses, prostitution, or both. Some were in for fighting or stealing. Two women were locked in private cells for attempting to light their mother on fire after stabbing her over 30 times. They were high on methamphetamine at the time.
I interacted with two populations on the jail floors, the inmates and the prison guards. Although I experienced them as two distinct cultures, they nevertheless seemed to share the same understanding of the nature of criminal reform: rather than just “talking the talk,” the reformed criminal was capable of also “walking the walk.” Guards and prisoners alike would nod knowingly when these pat phrases were used to describe an inmate’s likelihood of breaking out of the cycle of continual recidivism that swallowed the potential of most prisoners in the San Francisco County Jail.