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Voices from inside the walls

Robert Mosher has spent most of his adult life in prison. He is a repeat offender, a recidivist. His current prison sentence is for armed robbery. He has a prison job sweeping floors.

"You know, my wife says if they were cruel enough and mean enough and made you afraid to come here, you probably never would come back. That's not the case. I think it goes even beyond that. I believe that where we came from we rebelled against taking our places in factories and in the Army. . . ."

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Prisons, Mosher says, didn't deter him. "I didn't like it [prison], but I could adjust to it. . . . Soon as the guy [released from prison] has to pay the rent and you have to pay your bills . . . you have your family, you start to say , 'I just can't make it. I gotta go steal.'" He blames the inadequacy of prison programs. He does not blame himself.

Charles Frazier Jr. is also a repeat offender. He is currently serving a sentence for manslaughter. Though still a prisoner, he was getting married in two weeks.

"[Attica] was more lenient [when he was first here in 1979]. You know, they gave you a little more respect. Now I don't see it that way. Now it's more or less a thing where it seems they [prison officials] are trying to provoke something . . . they want another riot to take place."

Why do so many released offenders end up in prison again? "When you leave here, [they] give you $50, [say] goodbye, hope you make it, you know. Meanwhile , you haven't had any money in your hand for God knows how long; you haven't been able to keep your family ties because your family's way down there in the city, you're way up here in the state somewhere, people pass away in your family and you can't go to the funeral. . . . They throw you right back out in the same environment you came from. . . .

"I think the family has a lot to do with it [staying out of prison]. Your opinion of yourself, because you just set your mind on not coming back, you know you're not coming back."

Martin Fitz Patrick is serving a life sentence for a murder he still contends he did not commit. If released, he says, he will "take a job dishwashing some place. . . . Eventually, as theyears go on and the months go on, I could possibly get a better job.

"Most prisoners that get out of here that I talk to, they want a little higher job, they don't want to do that [dishwashing], they want something where maybe you'll make good money and you don't have to work."

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But readjustment to life on the outside is hard, he says, because "you get so controlled in here."

He earns 31 cents an hour at his job in the metal shop.

What encourages a person to try to go straight? "Old age . . . maybe they get a little tired."

But "some [prisoners] commit suicide; some go crazy," he says. There is a need for more volunteers or staff persons who care enough about inmates to encourage them, he stressed. He recalls a chaplain at a jail telling him he first had to "love himself" before he could get any place.

"If anything comes of this [interview], I wish there would be more people who could counsel people at the county jails before they get into the system. I think that could save lives."

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