Looking past the label

Last Friday, 14 students in the Honors Program at Minnesota State Mankato went on a very interesting trip. Instead of visiting a museum or the state capitol, these students took a tour of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee, a women’s prison. Vicki Hunter, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Corrections, led the trip.

The women serving time in this facility have crimes that range from chemical abuse to first-degree murder. In society, these women are perceived as malicious and violent. During the tour, the students met with inmates who talked about their experiences. The three inmates they talked to were labeled as sex offenders and murderers. However, when students looked past the label, they saw real women with sadness, regret and fear.

“For me, I’m afraid of having to adjust to everything. I’m leaving here as a sex offender and a felon, and I’m scared,” said a 29 year-old inmate.

Society tends to view prisoners as evil beings with no compassion, but this trip helped students break that stereotype.

“I have conformed my mom to prison, and she doesn’t deserve that. It’s really, really hard,” said a 31-year-old inmate.

Inmates serving time have more time than the average person to reflect on their behaviors, and it can take a toll on their mental stability.

“The hardest thing for me is having to admit my problems, having to deal with myself, having to take a look at reality and figuring out who I am,” said a 28-year-old.

As horrible as a prison sentence can seem, it can be considered a bit better to serve time at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee. Individuals who work in the prison enjoy their jobs and there are many activities and groups inmates can participate in. There are flowers planted outside, and the inmates seen on the tour could easily be considered calm, loving individuals despite their crimes.

“How we are treated in prison affects how we will be treated when we are released,” said a 31-year-old inmate.

The Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee opened in 1986 and is currently home to more than 500 adult female offenders. The facility is a minimum/medium security prison, though there are inmates of all security levels living in the prison. The area has no fence, which requires the standards of control to be much higher. Movement between the buildings on the grounds is limited to designated time slots.

The inmates in Shakopee undergo seven head counts a day, a number that far exceeds those of other prisons. Though it may be hard to believe, there has not been an escape from the prison in eight years. Despite their weaponry training, the only control management items needed by guards are simple chemical irritants.

While in prison, women are encouraged to have either a high school diploma or GED. If they do not, they are required to attend classes so they can receive their GED and begin working at the prison. Women in the prison do various jobs between 15 and 30 hours per week.

Inmates can work on assembly tasks, such as packaging Mylar balloons or inspecting rubber tubing. Other prisoners clean the prison and produce textiles for outside companies such as Metro Transit. If not working, inmates can enroll in one of the two vocational programs on campus: the office support program which awards inmates with a 14 credit certificate from Hennepin Technical College, and a licensed cosmetology school.

Before entering in the prison, students were required to surrender their driver’s license number, full name, and birth date to the state. This was done to ensure students are not currently on probation, nor are visitors to individuals within the Minnesota Correctional Facility. The students were also advised on specific rules and a dress code which were necessary to abide by.

Students in the honors program left the prison with tears in their eyes and warm thoughts in their hearts. The crime still stands, but listening to the stories of these women impacted the students, leaving them with a mere glimpse into the lives of Shakopee inmates.

“It puts a face on women in prison,” said Hunter as the group was leaving the facility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *