Men In America
4:29 pm
Fri August 29, 2014

'I Am Not An Inmate ... I Am A Man. And I Have Potential'

Originally published on Fri August 29, 2014 8:40 pm

If you want to know how prison can shape a man, talk to Dan Huff. He's spent more than half of his 59 years locked up. He says he was "raised by the state of California."

"Even judges, when they would send me away — looking back at it now — they [were] kind of more like a father figure sitting up there," he says. "Closer to fatherly than any father that I ever had."

Those judges had plenty of reason to be concerned about him: Huff used heroin. He committed robberies.

"I'd go to the spoon, and I'd get a pistol. Or I'd go to the hardware store and get a shotgun and a hacksaw, and leave a piece of that barrel in the parking lot," Huff says.

Huff has served time for robbery, prison escape and manslaughter. He felt comfortable behind bars.

"I surrounded myself with other people, and we patted each other on the back and told each other how swell we was," he says. "We was the real men — and everybody else is a slug or worthless or a mark."

About 2 million men are currently serving time in prison or jail in America. For many of them, incarceration has played a big role in shaping their sense of what it means to be a man. And for several former inmates now living in Portland, Ore., like Huff, being on the outside has meant forming a whole new definition of manhood.

'Prison Told Me To Be Hard'

Keith Moody served a few short sentences in his youth. But when he was 30, a drug trafficking charge put him away for a decade.

"It definitely ... gave me a lot of time to think," he says. "And I started saying, 'OK, I've been proclaiming to be a father, proclaiming to be a man. But the whole time, everything I ever done was for myself.' "

Behind bars, Moody enrolled in college classes, including sociology.

"It really just started opening me up, because it let me know, that's not me," he says. "I'm not a convict. I'm not an inmate. ... I am a man. And I have the potential to be much more."

The classes and the time definitely helped. But Moody says he didn't become the man he is because of prison. Nobody does.

"Those bars can't change you. Those guards can't change you. There has to be something in you that recognizes that change is necessary," he says.

Felton Howard spent a year in prison along with Moody. Prison is "not a rehabilitation center," Howard says. "It's a warehouse. That's what prison is; it's a warehouse."

For the past five years, he's worked at Portland's Reentry Transition Center, where he's helped thousands of former inmates. There's a lot of growing that these men have missed, he says.

"They find a way to fit in prison, but that doesn't mean that they've grown as a man — they're just growing older," Howard says. "My formula is, if you go into prison and you're 26, and you're there for five years, you might be 27 when you get out."

Prison doesn't just slow down your path forward. It can also set you back, says Emanuel Price. He was a college junior when he fell in with some old high school friends and got picked up for robbery.

Going to prison "was like throwing me into a lion's den," he says. "I'm not a lion; I'm not an animal. But here I am, surrounded by lions.

"Prison told me to be hard, not show your emotions, walk around with a frown on your face," he adds.

'It's Tough Being A Square'

That five-year sentence convinced Price to never make those mistakes again. Like Felton, he also works helping former inmates. But having to bottle up his feelings for so long, he says, made him a different man.

"And when I got out, I was just like, 'Everybody out here is soft. Why is everybody smiling? Why is everybody so happy?' And then I began to unpack those things, like, 'Wait a minute — I can smile!' "

For Price, that transition — redefining what it means to be soft, and what it means to be strong — happened because of friends and family. But it can also happen in prison. And slowly, it even happened to Dan Huff.

"There was just times, when, reading books and stuff, there would be things in there that would bring it to my attention that I was a fraud," he says. Huff started valuing people who were compassionate and honest, and trying to be that same sort of man himself.

It's hard work. Since getting out a couple of years ago, Huff has basically been figuring it all out from scratch.

"There ain't nothing I've done that I had any experience of doing. It's traumatized me a time or two," he says. "Just little stuff, like being laid off from work, and bills come up. I had it all mixed up. And now I see that it's tough being a square."

But while dealing with hardships of daily life has been difficult — especially with a criminal record — it's that shift in thinking that's been the biggest change.

"It's devastating. On the one hand, you've been thinking all this time that you're Superman, or God, or something. And now you find out you're not even a man."

And whether it's because of prison, or in spite of it, Huff and others like him are figuring out what kind of men they want to be.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Over the last few months we've been hearing about what it means to be a man.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Be a good provider, hard-working and making time for the family.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You can't just be macho and show off. It's got to come from the heart. And you've got to have God in your life, that helps.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: In the hood so to speak, manhood can be how much money you got, how many women you have access to, whether you've been locked up or not, how violent you are. OK, but on the flipside manhood is an evolutionary process.

BLOCK: Today we'll hear from men who have lived behind bars. Men overwhelmingly dominate America's prisons and jails. Two million men are currently serving time. That's an incarceration rate 14 times higher than for women. And for men who spend many years in prison the process of rejoining society can include reevaluating their ideas of manhood. Reporter Deena Prichep talked with some former inmates in Portland, Oregon and has this story.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: If you want to know how prison can shape a man, talk to Dan Huff.

DAN HUFF: I was raised by the State of California.

PRICHEP: He's spent more than half of his 59 years locked up.

HUFF: Even judges when they would send me away, looking back at it now they're kind of like, more like a father figure sitting up there, you know. And closer to the fatherly than any father that I ever had.

PRICHEP: And those judges had plenty of reason to be concerned. Burglary, heroin.

HUFF: I'd go to the spoon and I'd get a pistol or go to the hardware store and get a shotgun and a hack saw and leave a piece of that barrel in the parking lot.

PRICHEP: Huff has served time for robbery, prison escape and manslaughter. He felt comfortable behind bars.

HUFF: I surrounded myself with other people and we patted each other on the back and told each other how swell we was. We was the real men and everybody else is a slug or worthless or a Mark.

KEITH MOODY: You know it's kind of hard to get manhood from unauthentic men.

PRICHEP: Keith Moody served few short sentences in his youth but when he was 30, a drug trafficking charge put him away for a decade.

MOODY: Well, it defiantly gave me some time to think. (Laughing) It gave me a lot of time to think. And I started saying OK, I've been proclaiming to be a father, proclaiming to be a man, but the whole time everything I've ever done was for myself.

PRICHEP: Behind bars Moody enrolled in college classes, including sociology.

MOODY: And it really just started opening me up because it let me know, that's not me. I'm not a convict. I'm not an inmate and I am a man and I have the potential to be much more.

PRICHEP: The classes and the time definitely helped. But Moody say he didn't become the man he is because of person. Nobody does.

MOODY: Those bars can't change you. Those guards can't change you. There has to be something in you that recognizes that change is necessary.

FELTON HOWARD: It's not a rehabilitation center. It's a warehouse. That's what prison is. It's a warehouse.

PRICHEP: Felton Howard spent a year in prison along with Moody. But for the past five years he's worked at Portland's Reentry Transition Center. Howard's helped thousands of former inmates and he sees there's a lot of growing these men have missed.

HOWARD: They find a way to fit in prison but that doesn't mean that they've grown as a man. They're just growing older. My formula is if you go into prison and you're 26, and you're there for five years, you might be 27 when you get out.

PRICHEP: And prison doesn't just slow down your path forward. It can also set you back.

EMANUEL PRICE: It was just like throwing me into a lion's den. I'm not a lion, I'm not an animal, but here I am surrounded by lions.

PRICHEP: Emanuel Price was a college junior when he fell in with some old high school friends and got picked up for robbery.

PRICE: Prison told me to be hard, not show your emotions, walk around with a frown on your face.

PRICHEP: That five year sentence convinced Price to never make those mistakes again. Like Felton, he also works helping former inmates. But having to bottle up his feelings made him a different man.

PRICE: And when I got out I was just like everybody out here is soft. Like, why is everybody smiling? Why is everybody so happy? And then I began to unpack those things like wait a minute, I can smile.

PRICHEP: For Price that transition, redefining what it means to be soft and what means it means to be strong happened because of friends and family. But it can also happen in prison and slowly it even happened to Dan Huff.

HUFF: There was just times when, reading books and stuff, but there would be things in there that would bring it to my attention that I was a fraud.

PRICHEP: Huff started valuing people who were compassionate and honest and trying to be that same sort of man himself. And it's hard work. Since he got out a couple of years ago, he's basically been figuring it all out from scratch.

HUFF: There ain't nothing I have done that I had any experience of doing. It's traumatized me a time or two, I mean just little stuff like being laid off from work and bills come up. I mean I had it all mixed up and now I see that it's tough being a square.

PRICHEP: But, while dealing with the hardships of daily life has been difficult, especially with a criminal record, it's that shift in thinking that's been the biggest change.

HUFF: And It's devastating. On the one hand, you've been thinking all this time that you're Superman, or god or something. And now you find out that you're not even a man.

PRICHEP: And whether it's because of prisoner or in spite of it, Dan Huff and others like him are figuring out what kind of men they want to be. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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