RESPECT By Leo Cardez

I have a grandiose goal: to leave prison a better man. My hubris extends further still: to leave prison a better place for having been there. I'm confident I can achieve both goals by simply helping my fellow inmates recognize opportunities for positive change and in doing so create a culture shift in our shadow community.

Prison culture has changed dramatically over the past two decades. We've seen a progressive demise of respect among our fellow inmates. Many argue, this is a result of the paradigm shift in power between the officers and the inmates. In the 70's, the inmates "ran the joints," whereas now, it's clear the police are in charge. It was us against them and we stuck together, fighting for what we felt was right. But, it went beyond the administration, we demanded respect among our own ranks. Elders were to be respected and protected, we looked out for each other, there was no stealing, prison code was life. We've forgotten these essential qualities as a community. I'm not saying prison life was perfect or even enjoyable, but there were rules and if you followed the rules you could have the semblance of normalcy. Now? It's a free-for-all...and it's sad.

Selfishness, pettiness, greed, and arrogance have replaced respect for many inmates (especially younger inmates unfamiliar with the real convict code) leading to division and far-reaching cultural consequences that are manifesting in a variety of ways. Inmates talk to each other and about each other with a lack of respect I've never seen. Anyone can do anything,; there are no consequences. It's affecting the relationships between inmates, the officers, and administration. There is no trust across all lines. Sadly, we continue to see the repercussions of these new customs in the senseless fights and assaults that have affected too many innocent people.

There clearly has been a breakdown of basic regard for one another, and if we continue on this path, it's going to lead to a fundamental breakdown of our "world."

The good news, however, is that we have the opportunity to set a different, better example that can help correct this course. All of us together can make a big impact.

It starts and ends with showing respect . We have to first earn it by demonstrating it through our own words and actions. We need to lead by example, teaching the young, new inmates to show deference to their elders, each other, themselves, their families and yes, the law.

We need to empower people like the C.O.'s and counselors to do the jobs they're hired to do and respect that they're putting their lives on the line every day. At the same time, we need to require that they too show respect for every person, inmates are still people after all.

We need to respectfully reject disrespectful behavior when we see it and instead encourage each other to find common ground.

It's shocking to me, for instance, when I hear about people fighting over the phones, pulling out clothes early from the washers or dryers, or worst of all: stealing.

It seems we've forgotten we're all inmates stuck in this place together. The LEAST we can do is recognize that when you disrespect another inmate, you disrespect all inmates and most of all, yourself. Let's not live up to the expectations of the guards or so much of society that see us as ignorant bastards who only care about themselves. Animals who deserve to be locked up. Be better than that -- don't give them the satisfaction. Fight the social stigmas through actions of kindness, understanding, and patience.

So, this year, starting today, I hope you'll join me in committing to promote, give, and call for respect. Let's make it a priority to do what's right and positive in our own actions. Collectively, we can  rebuild the foundation of a more civil and respectful society. That's something we can be proud to pass along to the next generation.