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American RadioWorksDocumentaries Hard Time: Life After Prison
Scraping By  |  Marsha and Sons  |  Collateral Damage: East Durham

Milton Jordan
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Milton Jordan My name is Milton C. Jordan, Sr. I'm 59, be 60 in May of next year. I'm a consultant, a PLUS professional. I'm self-employed, operate a home-based business. I'm very excited about this because these three areas that are going to be the world's first trillion dollar industries: the deregulation of public utilities, network marketing, and e-commerce.

I've lived in Durham off and on all my life. I was born here. Frankly the first time I left here, I went to prison—in 1959. Except for living in other places in North Carolina such as Smithfield and Charlotte, I have always lived here except when I was incarcerated. I went to prison, I started doing crime . . .

My story is very simple. I've learned to summarize it, because of workshops and speeches. I started doing crime when I was five years old. I stole five dollars from my aunt's pocketbook. I remember, and I force myself to remember, and to relive, the exhilaration of that moment because that is where it started.

One of the things we hide ourselves from ourselves, so we go into denial, even criminals do this, about why we do crime. We don't like to face the fact that there is this rush and we become addicted to this rush, but like any other addiction, over time it takes more and more of your drug of choice in order to do it. Anyway, I started at five. And then from five till twenty-five, I did something criminal every day of my life.

You come to these crossroads, John. The first job I got after I got out of prison was a janitor in local hotel, the Jack Tar. They had a motel section across street. I got a job, they called it houseman, which you were, you were a janitor. And one day—I got that job on December 24, 1968 and this would have been the spring of '69. I was still very much a criminal. I was struggling. I really wanted to change. No one could tell me how. I mean, I was doing this on my own. They called me over to the motel part to clean up a woman's bathroom. And when I walked in, John, it smelled like somebody who'd been drunk for a month had just thrown up everywhere. It was all over the floor, the commode, the sink, I mean, just terrible. The criminal in me just went off.

Here was the criminal-in-me's line of logic: Milton, there are six or seven other janitors in the hotel, why did they call you? They called you because they knew you would have to come over and clean this mess up because you can't quit see because you got a record and it's going to be hard for you to get a job and you don't have to put up with this and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Fortunately, the new me who, at that point by analogy, would be just an infant, spoke up. What I wound up having to do was literally lock myself in a room and spend over an hour in, what I realize in reflection, was a life and death argument. If the criminal in me had won, I mean, had won, I would probably be dead by now. Because again, to satisfy the addiction, you have to do more and more crime and you get more and more reckless. You get more and more whatever you are. I wouldn't have made it. I'm convinced; I wouldn't have made it to 59. Fortunately, the new me won. And the logic was really very simple. Do you want to hear any more prison doors slamming?

The thing I learned to hate more about crime than anything else was the idea of prison doors slamming. I hated that sound. I spent, not a lot of time, but some time in Central and there are these automatic doors that slide and when they come to, it's this (LOUD sound), this incredible sound and I learned to hate that sound. And that was what the new me won with. Because more than anything else, I didn't want anybody else to ever slam another door, another jail door on me. That was why I went in that bathroom and got on my knees and cleaned up somebody else's puke.

I've often thought that in some crazy kind of way, I owe that drunk a debt of gratitude because it was a defining moment. And you run into these and it's good to remember them and it's good to celebrate when you get through them. The unfortunate thing is that most people on the change continuum don't have any help and they come to those defining moments and lose. In the drug culture they call it relapse. The same thing happens in crime. You come to one of those defining moments and the criminal in you wins as opposed to the changeling in you.

One of our favorite terms in schools is zero tolerance. We should have zero tolerance for crime. Any time we apprehend you and convict you of any crime, here is the approach that we will take:

Your behavior says to us that you have no intention of being committed to the welfare of our society. You have no intention of cooperating with us. You have no intention of communicating honestly and truthfully with us because you lied from the very moment we caught you. You have no intention of making contributions to us. Therefore, we will imprison you until you change.

If we created for example and this is not a novel idea—I got it from ancient Israel—if we took the Louisiana state penitentiary, which is 5000 acres inside a fence and if we did six of those regionally. And we say, okay, every other prison becomes a change center and you go there first and you get introduced to the change curricula, principles of change that confronts you everyday with:

You cannot live in this society thinking and believing in this way. If you're going to think and believe in this way, here's what we're going to do. We're going to take you to the closest regional prison. Now, everything else becomes a change center; there are only going to be four prisons. And we're going to put an initial investment, we're going to give you seeds to grow vegetables and so forth and so on. And we're going to drop you off in there. There's a red line 5 miles from the fence.

And everyday, the professionals in this change center have become advocates of change rather than purveyors of punishment. They focus, they challenge. And I mean that in a very positive way. That this is the behavior that is not tolerated. It's not so much rules and regulations, as it is, you have to think this way in order to stay here and you have a very limited window of opportunity to learn to begin thinking this way. So everything is focused on change.

And you have to also change the pay structure. So, if you are an officer in one of these change centers, we're going to assign you to 10 or 20 folk. Your incentive is to confront them with the challenges of change because your bonus comes from them changing and moving them on the change continuum until they become post-crime achievers. So, we're going to pay you a base salary to deal with them inside this center, but if they decide to change and you are their—you are the one that begin to sell them, you recognized the spark of coherence, you helped them nurture it into life and so forth—your bonuses come from them getting out of this change center, moving progressively through the curriculum, getting out and staying changed.

Let me tell you, let me give you an experience that is what led me down this line of reasoning. I was sitting in what is called back hall in the old Central Prison. This was in 19—God, Jimmy and I had just tried to escape, so it must have been '64. And this old man—Babe Dillon's name rang across the prison system—he had tore up camps and beat up guards and so forth. And I see this little old man, he's about 5'7" and kind of stout and his legs were swollen from the knee down, almost double in size. There was scar tissue in his head where hair wouldn't grow and he's walking on two canes. He came up and he sat beside me. He came up and sat down beside me and said, "What's up, young blood?" I gave some smart answer. He said, "You don't know who I am, do you?" I said, "I don't really give a flip who you are." "I'm Babe Dillon."

Now, I had pictured of Babe Dillon to be at least 9 feet tall and weigh 475 lbs. I mean, come on. This guy had a reputation on the state. But fortunately for me this man told me the real Babe Dillon story. He told me about being on escape once in the dead of winter, about to freeze to death, and the guards wouldn't let him come out of the woods. Every time they see him, they shoot at him. He told me about being hosed down in Central Prison. And I'll never forget the last thing Babe said to me was, "Fool, don't make my mistake," as he hobbled off down the hall.

That was one of my epiphanies. That was one of my defining moments because as I watched this man hobbling down this hall, I saw myself 10, 15, 20, 30 years later hobbling down some hall somewhere trying futilely to convince some young criminal not to make my mistake. And it was at that moment was when I began to recognize and be confronted with where I was headed. Now, I have since refined this experience to understand that if you confront people, the sooner you confront them, the more likely you are to help them keep the spark of change alive, particularly if the confrontation happens in moment of coherence. It just happened to be one of those coherent moments. I was sitting there; it was confluence of circumstances over which I had no control. I was sitting there. I was having a coherent moment and I got challenged. And in that coherent moment, I was able to see where I was headed.

I contend that what we have to do is formalize that process so we recognize those coherent moments and we produce a challenge at that moment, the moment of coherence. And people begin to see where they're headed and they begin to see that they have a real choice. One of the most subtle and insidious justifications of crime is the argument, "I have no other choice." And we never confront them in those coherent moments; we never confront them with it.

So, if a person chooses the change continuum, then we educate them, we teach them how to change. We get them to mark their progress and so forth. We take them through the curriculum. They will be released from a change center. I have no problem with the halfway house notion as long as it's focused on change. And at the end of the process when they become post-crime achievers, we grant them an automatic pardon or forgiveness. That's the way I envision this working. Will it happen in my lifetime, John, I sure hope so.

But I go a different place with it than most people go because I would be being untrue to me if I didn't believe that we can do this on a national basis. Why should I be the only one? Why should I be only a handful. If living proof can be done one time, it can be done a hundred times, a million times, five million times, it can be replicated. We simply haven't developed the process by which we replicate it. That's what Henry Ford understood about cars, that if I develop a process, we can make enough cars that everybody can have one.

So if I can be true and faithful to this process, and market it successfully, then we can make inroads into this crime piece that will begin to significantly downsize the prison industrial complex. I used to not say that so bluntly, but I had to confront myself on it. Yes, that is what I am doing. That is ultimately the outcome, not the only one, but ultimately the outcome is to downsize this complex.