There are some hard facts and truths about the humanity that many of us choose to overlook. Many of these truths and facts are exposed through the way we view corrections. We are a society that call for human rights in other countries. Countries that have been stricken by war and poverty. We call on world leaders to address the needs for educational rights, rights for women and other marginalized members of their society. We call for the release of prisoners of war in other countries. Or The release of bloggers in other countries who blog about the injustices of their governments against their people. We are quick to call for the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom to practice religion, the freedom to choose and do what one wants with their body, the freedom to have rights for gays, the freedom to smoke marijuana. All this while 2.3 million people are locked away in our own backyards.
We have become robotic in the way we look at those incarcerated that we know longer see humans. They are not long treated as humans. They have become numbers. They have prison numbers, they are statistical numbers, they are numbers waiting for numbers to get out, they are numbers on the waiting list for halfway house, or any one of the other programs that are offered out in society, they are numbers waiting to come back. They are treated as less that civil when they are returned as if they have been infected with a disease that is contagious. At some point we cannot continue to treat those incarcerated as lower that lower class citizens.
When we think of justice we think, primarily of criminal justice. Crime and punishment is what usually comes to mind. We have to catch the criminal and make him pay for his crimes. This is retributive justice, getting even. This is the idea we have of justice. Retribution is one of the goals of incarceration. This concept stems from ancient tradition, eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth. If one were to suggest this as form of retribution he would be deemed barbaric, brutal and less civilized. But have we given up these traditions, in totality?
Let’s ask ourselves these questions. Do we punish criminals, demand retribution, or do we reform them? Is the purpose or prison simply a tool used to keep them off the streets? Are we punishing people for committing crimes or are were protecting ourselves? If a man commits a crime, may one such as murder, is it enough that we are guaranteed that he will commit another one? Or does he deserve to be punished even if we know that he will not commit another one.
To do time is easy. What is hard is facing a society that really does not want you when you are released. As I sit in prison writing this I am reminded of hearing stories of white woman, upon seeing a group of black men crossing the street, locking the car doors and rolling up the windows. I use to find these stories far-fetched. I could not believe that people did this. Until it happened to me. As I hear the stories of men that return to prison, for whatever reasons, there is always a story of rejection. Should this rejection be enough to drive one back to crime? Who knows the answer. What is known is that it paints a clear picture of who is wanted, trusted and deemed deserving, from those that are not.
I once read a story, that I found ludicrous at the time. It was the story of flea circus and how the trainers trained the fleas. The nature the flea is to jump. They would put the fleas in a box with a lid over it. The fleas would jump and jump and jump. As the jumped they would bounce off the lid of the box. After some time the trainers had to see if the fleas were trained. They would take the lid off of the box and lo and behold the fleas would jump no higher than where the lid was placed on the box. The made these fleas change their very nature, which is to jump, and conditioned them to behave in the way they wanted them.
When I read this I think of the conditioning of people when it comes to the criminal justice system. They have become so conditioned to think and act a certain way against these people that they have themselves become like the fleas. Trained to respond the way they have been programmed.
There are some hard facts that I want to present to prove this point. What is, and how do you consider one to be a violent offender. The laws that are being passed today are more or less geared towards first time drug offenders, most do not have a lengthy sentences. The facts. The recidivism rates are higher among drug offenders, the rate of recidivism is higher for those that serve shorter sentences. Those that serve drug offenses are deemed to more likely to continue criminal behavior. As the crime of drug dealing requires plotting, planning and negotiation.
Those that are incarcerated for homicide have the lowest rate of recidivism. Social scientist have declared that those serving time for murder are less likely to commit future crimes; as the crime of homicide is often spontaneous and done out of on the spot emotional response. Not to minimize the offense. I only mean to show the contradiction in what we are lead to believe. To prove this point. The crime rate went up during the last recession. Why? Did we all of a sudden have an increase in “criminals” or was it due to the dire and desperate need for people to survive and support themselves that drove them to crime. Due to these conditions, if and when these new breed of offenders are caught, do we classify them as violent offenders? Or do we see them as unfortunate. Do we see those incarcerated for border violations, illegal crossing, as violent offender and deem they need to stay in prison longer (to learn their lesson at the expense of tax-payers dollars). Well both of these new breed of “criminals” occupy space in the federal system. I personally know men that hold the status of both of these example given. There are men here who, in a desperate need to provide for their family, after some losing their homes to greedy banks and mortgage companies now have housing courtesy of the BOP for the next 10, 15, 20 years.
As these talks continue, penal reform, lets open our eyes to the big picture. It is next to impossible to focus our attention on “one” certain type of prison. These are individual lives that need to be looked for a humanistic point of view. Not as numbers or as the others. But as people that can potentially return to society and contribute. It is impossible to have a one-side conversation. They must be included, at the very least.
“Let each man first direct himself to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will not suffer. Let man makes himself as he teaches others to be. Let no one forget his own duty for the sake of another’s, however great; let a man after he has discerned his own duty, be faithful to his duty.”