Former Inmate Shane Flemens Reflects On His Time In Prison In His Book, Conviction
Shane Flemens was feeling happy and hopeful before his incarceration. He had landed a fishing job in Alaska and promised his son he would be back in thirteen weeks. Sadly, after a fateful incident on the boat, he found himself facing time in prison. It would be years before he would be allowed to speak to his son. Despite the seemingly huge set back of being sent to prison, Shane Flemens was able to make the most of his time. Upon his release, rather than forgetting about all the horrors and injustices he witnessed in prison, he made a conscious effort to remember everything – he even wrote it all down.
In his book Conviction, Flemens describes his journey to finding faith, helping his fellow inmates, and recognizing the many shortcomings of the US prison system.
Your book Conviction describes your life before, during, and after your incarceration. What were you feeling before/up to your time in prison? How does that compare with your feelings now that you are out of prison, and your life looks very different?
Before my incarceration, I was feeling great. I had just landed a great boat/job in Kodiak, Alaska. However, at the time, my son was only six years old and asked me to stay home. I told him I would be home in thirteen weeks. He was begging me “Daddy please no go.” I told him, “Kiddo its ok, I will be home in thirteen weeks.” Then I was incarcerated for about three years and finally got to talk with him. He said, “Dad, thirteen weeks is a long time.” It crushed me. I said over the phone, “Jayden, dad is so sorry.” Today, I’m overwhelmed knowing all that God has provided for me; it’s just amazing.
What were your expectations of prison life and how did that contrast with your real-life experience?
I expected nothing. I walked in knowing nothing. I understood nothing. I was scared and alone. I was blown away by the support of the other inmates when I started to try and do the right thing. I was a GED instructor, was an Alpha team leader, law librarian, and kitchen helper while going to school. So, I was very well known for my actions and helping guys get released. However, some of the members of the staff were not thrilled with this type of behavior - it had never been done - so I was getting targeted by a few inmates and staff. I still continued to work as hard as I could.
What was the most shocking thing you learned about the prison system in the US from your experience or from another inmate's?
I learned that the Alaskan prison system is known for being the most corrupt in the United States. To corroborate this - the Alaskan prison system is ranked second in the US for recidivism. Additionally, they are ranked first for government funding. State prisons (not private) receive money from the government. Alaskan prisons receive more money from the US Government than prisons in any other state. It’s crazy to me that they house fewer prisoners and yet the state makes more money than any other state, inmates eat better food than any other state – it’s just a numbers game. They force inmates to take certain classes/programs, so the government provides DOC funding.
You coordinated a fundraiser while in prison - which is a very uncommon occurrence - can you describe how you were able to do that and talk about the significance of the fundraiser?
In order to lead a fundraiser, we had to ask the Assistant Superintendent for permission. Then we had to write up a proposal of exactly what we wanted to do. It was a huge lift for the prison, not only for the staff and main prison personnel, but it was also a remarkable thing for the inmates and their families. It was refreshing for the families to see their loved ones were doing all they could to give back. The Salvation toy drive/fundraiser had never been done before. I was unaware of the huge community support on the outside. Us inmates were trying to make a difference buy helping the community. In the end we raised $1000 and making $.50/hour that’s around 2,000 hours of work. It came out to a normal person’s wages for a year, so we did really well. I actually wrote a letter after words and snuck it out of the prison. It was later published in the Alaskan Clarion. It was a very fun and rewarding experience.
You cite your faith as being a key factor in your success story. Can you talk about how you found faith while being incarcerated? Did your fellow inmates have a similar experience?
I found my mind and heart changing towards the inmates wanting to change. So, as I started to get more power - as in food, money, and notoriety - some of the inmates were trying to get out of gangs, go to classes, get there lives back on track. They would come to me, some would be beat up, others were really trying to escape the gang world, they were so badly hurt. I let them share their stories with me. I would feed them. I could tell they wanted a better life; I had a little extra to spare. I would do my best to try and help. I started to read the bible more. I really was trying to pray. I was taking every program, class, schooling I could. Another inmate tried to get me into a faith-based program called Alpha, which was a huge deal in Alaska, not so much for the system, but because there was lots of outside help and support for this class. Alpha was a six-month, faith-based program that had classes from Anger Management to Financial advising. It was seven days per week, it was in Kenai, I was really doing good, all the guys liked me, I was working, school and Alpha, guys from the community would come in and share with us, gave lots of guys hope. Little did I know, I would be part of that when I got out. We prayed, sung songs, read the bible, studied scripture and did lots of homework. We were considered the model prisoners and were held at a way higher standard, our clothing, bedding, hygiene, jobs, and actions were all scrutinized by everyone. As for my fellow inmates – yes – some really did change for the better.
What would you like your audience to understand about the injustices of the prison system?
Taxpayer money is being used incorrectly. Why do you think Alaska is leading the nation in recidivism and government spending? Why move a prisoner from a prison when he or she is making a positive impact on their life? The system broadcasts that it is trying to help inmates, but statistics are proving the opposite is true. To transfer a prisoner from one place to another costs lots of money. I was transferred over twenty times. Most the time, it was for no good reason, just to make things harder on me. However, Alaska is known for programs/programming and that’s where the government funding comes in. In terms rehabilitation, however, if you have family, kids, sponsors, education, pose no threat, they have no reason to move you. Why move a prisoner to a place where there is nothing like that at the new place? It’s called a failing system and it is failing the families and the inmates.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’m working on promoting my ABE Landscaping company. I just finished a fundraiser for a custodian that has cancer; her son also sadly committed suicide. Her roof was leaking, so we organized a group of people to tear off her roof, fix, replace it. We also cleaned her yard and donated food, beauty supplies, and some cash to help with medication for her medical needs.
To learn more about Shane Flemens remarkable story and his book Conviction, click here.