Dan Zalewski
Staff Writer

When Millersville University hosted the Essentials of Happiness Conference it helped to shed a light on aspects of society that are often shadowed by profits and polling results. Happiness is a crucial part of one’s life that is often not taken into account. So, as expected, there were many speakers talking on the subjects of positive thinking and leading a happy life. However, one speaker brought up a group of citizens that we rarely consider in any scenario, let alone a scenario involving their happiness: the incarcerated.

John Murphy, MSW, LSW took center stage in the Lehr Dining Room last Thursday to talk about the subject of prisoner happiness. A social worker for the family support initiative in Pittsburgh, John Murphy is a specialist at the Allegheny Jail in supporting and providing counseling for the incarcerated individuals and their families. The discussion of prisoner happiness is one that Murphy advocates because of the many concerns surrounding the effects that the jailing could have on families and their locked up loved ones. The presentation supported the importance of prisoner happiness by looking specifically at families. Even though prisoners are serving time for the crimes they have committed, these individuals still have roles that they need to play, such as a caretaker for loved ones. Some of the efforts put forth by Murphy and the Allegheny Jail’s family support initiative have allowed prisoners to stay in close contact with their families and loved ones. The initiative has even created opportunities for those in jail to have outings with their children to places like the Pittsburgh Zoo. The goal is to rehabilitate prisoners, and the initiative allows the incarcerated to be members of society and still gives them the chance to be a part of their families, supporting both the jailed inmate and the family members of the inmate.

The initiative and infrastructure at the Allegheny County Jail is on the cutting edge and is only one of a few select prisons to support such an attitude towards those leaving family and children on the outside, but Lancaster County doesn’t have the same facilities to support these large scale plans. Murphy suggests starting with engagement. “It’s about being able to connect with people and be able to, I think, recognize and know that they need to be driving their own fate in life.” Rehabilitation requires supporting the prisoners as they try to overcome the issues of re-entering life.

John Murphy talked about happiness among prisoners. Photo courtesy of Dan Zalewski
John Murphy talked about happiness among prisoners. Photo courtesy of Dan Zalewski.

“People… they’ll let you know exactly what they need,” Murphy said.  “If someone needs housing they’re going to let you know they need housing. If they need help with employment, if they want help with their family, they’ll be straightforward with you about what their needs are.”

The biggest hurdle to the mind set of prisoner happiness is that the public is not fully educated on the prison system. Many either don’t understand the goals of rehabilitation or make the assumption that most prisoners are of the severe violence crime variety. Murphy believes that the proper mindset can help to curb these misconceptions. “I think the most important mind set is recognizing that incarceration does not affect just that one person. Incarceration affects children, it affects families, it affects communities, and that often is generational. I think that’s the most important mindset to have because I think when policies are made, or even general opinion about the criminal justice system, it can be very much an individual mindset… It’s really easy to forget that the statistics [that show] the majority of people in jail are parents.”