Can People Really Change In Prison?

Just ask Spencer Oberg and Vik Chopra.  They’ve been to that “fair” and seen the bear. What suddenly changed them behind bars?  They say it was a “moment of clarity” that overrode the constant barrage of noise and insanity surrounding them in prison. 

They now live successful lives in Washington state as co-founders of “Unincarcerated Productions,” a company dedicated to changing public opinion about prisoners and those who have been released from prison.

Spencer served 8 years for selling and using drugs.  Vik served five years for identity theft and possession of a controlled substance. Both shared the “moment of clarity” that changed them.

  • Spencer:  “I was in a red jump suit in a King County jail after a full on SWAT assault team raid on my house, facing decades in prison at 22 shortly after nearly being kill while being robbed at gunpoint (and accidentally shot at) for the oxycontin I was selling… I wanted to be happy, confident and free, positively impacting people and the world around me…I had a choice: Keep doing the same stupid shit and get the same results or figure out a better way to live.”
  • Vik: “The spark of transformation comes at different times for those of us who were incarcerated…For me, it was getting sober, then realizing as I gazed around my unit in Snohomish County jail, that this was not how my story was going to end. The tale of my life would not be a tragedy.  It would be a triumphant saga of hope, redemption and success. I took my power back as the author of my own story that day…”

My husband – Billy Wayne Sinclair – changed in prison for the same reason after a stunning moment of clarity.  He spent years behind bars after being convicted of trying to rob a convenience store and shooting the clerk chasing him in the dark across the parking lot. The man died.  Then a close prison buddy slit his wrists and committed suicide in the cell next to Billy. As his body was being removed the next morning, Billy had his moment of clarity.

How can we ensure there are more” moments of clarity?”

We need more rehabilitative programs in prisons across the nation that can inspire these moments in all prisoners. A visit to “Unincarcerated Productions,” describes programs it offers inmates to help them change their lives. A Tulane University English professor and acclaimed writer, Zachary Lazar, is making changes in Louisiana inmates with a writing program at one of the state’s prisons.

In mid-2019, Prison Legal News reported that two studies of recidivism rates among prisoners showed very high re-arrest rates. Without more effective rehabilitation programs in prison, society will go on paying the price in lives lost and millions of public dollars spent to keep inmates behind bars.

There could be many more of these “turnarounds” if we had decent treatment for the incarcerated, and perhaps more importantly if we had more programs like Unincarcerated Productions to keep their lives turned around once they reenter the free community.