In Answer 2 PUNISHMENT BY DEATH I left you standing in a locked cell with your new cellmate, an open lower bunk bed waiting for you to make up your mind which of two bunk beds you were going to take, the lower bunk that looked unused, but your new cellmate claimed it as his, or the upper bunk upon which your new cellmate sat, and where his bedding warmed the mattress. Nervous as you are, still feeling shamed by your experience walking around nude in front of half a dozen uniformed guards, and then having a unknown doctor shoving his finger up your ass, feeling around for any contraband. Doesn’t he know you’re innocent of all charges? Doesn’t he know you don’t even know what kind of contraband to smuggle in, if you were going to smuggle something in? At last the finger was removed, and a line on a piece of paper checked. “Next,” the doctor had called, and you ran for the exit door. You didn’t want the guy behind you to see your shit running down your leg and leaving a line, no, adding to a line that was already on the floor but which you hadn’t noticed before. But that’s in the past. You’ll never have to live through that again. And you’ve got more immediate worries. Which bunk are you going to choose? Does it even matter? You say to hell with it, and sit down on the bottom bunk.
“Good choice,” the surly voice comes down at you from above, like God talking to Moses or Abraham. You take a deep breath and let it out slowly. And that is about the last time you feel safe while you are behind all those locked doors.
Being in jail is not like being in school, or even university. Nothing like work. You are told when to go to bed, and when the lights are about to be turned off. Come morning the lights come on, and something related to a fog horn is blown. You’ve got 10 minutes to shit, shower, and shave and get dressed for the day, but you are competing with your cellmate who wants to do exactly the same things. You quickly teach your body to get up 15 minutes before the light comes on, which is just a guess because you cannot wear a watch in prison, and there is no clock on the walls. Ten minutes after the lights come on, your cell door opens and you best get out fast. The door isn’t open very long. You join the other prisoners all walking in the same direction, walking down 6 flights of stairs, and into the mess room. Some trustee shoves a metal tray in your hands, and in no time more trustees have thrown dollops of mush, or eggs, or even sometimes bacon on your tray as the line forces you forward. You get about 8 minutes to eat and drink the slop they call coffee, then everyone is getting up and heading for the exit door while you see prisoners from another floor start to file in the entrance door. Any food or coffee you didn’t finish gets pushed into a giant garbage tub, and someone else collects the tray and spoon you used, just another dirty dish added to a growing pile of dirty dishes on what looks like a table on wheels with a garbage can stuck through a hole in the middle where the spoons end up. Your cup is unceremoniously thrown into another tub, smaller than the previous one, but used just as noisily. The room is a cacophony of sound that just about deafens you until you get out the exit door, and the sound level drops several decibels, telling you just how thick those walls are. Now people are walking in all directions, probably going to some kind of work or class or something. You have no idea what to do, until you hear your named shouted out across the floor by a guard. When you get almost to the guard, a short conversation ensues.
“You got any skills for a place like this?” the guard almost yells.
“Don’t know. I was a taxi driver before…”
In one smooth move the guard makes a tick on one column, then makes another tick in the box in front of the words next in line on the second column. “Yard duty.” the guards says with a straight face, “and I don’t want one piece of garbage on the ground when you finish before supper, and before you can say even one word the guard is already calling out another name, and you wonder what jobs the guy in front of you or the one behind you are getting. They’ve got to be better than yard duty.
Rehabilitation, you say, when do prisoners get rehabilitated to be better citizens when and if they ever get out of prison. For you, your rehabilitation program is learning how to pick up garbage off the ground, a highly needed skill on the outside. However long your sentence is, that is what you will be doing. Of course, there are times when psychologists offer their time to come and do group sessions for prisoners with specific problems, be it child abuse, a mental illness, PTSD, victims of racism, or whatever the good DR. is wanting to write a book on. Psychologists, psychiatrists, brain doctors, and a lot of other professionals need to publish books to keep in good standing with their Associations. Some write books by studying other books to put information from each book together in a new way, or they use old surveys to gather evidence pro or con the theory the survey was studying. But there are two specific populations that they use as subjects in new studies: university students, and prisoners. Neither group represents the “common people,” though, so their results are almost always skewed. University students do surveys either to impress a professor, or to make beer money without their parents knowing about it. Prisoners are never paid money, but they are paid in time away from whatever job they have been assigned to do. Neither population is trustworthy as a general rule, but the surveyers couldn’t give a damn. They’ll contort whatever evidence they are given to prove or disprove the theory they are writing about. That, hospital visits, trials for other offences, and conjugal visits are about the only things a prisoner can do to end the boredom. Even gang wars or other kinds of struggle are done just for the entertainment. Strikes and prison takeovers seem to be a thing of the past, but then I don’t read much news at all. Maybe they do still happen occasionally, but unless guards or visitors are being murdered they are not as newsworthy as they used to be. It’s all been done before, and for the most part the public do not want to hear about the plights of convicted criminals.
But if prisons are so boring, why is the recidivism rate so high? There are many factors in that statistic, and every person has different reasons for letting themselves get caught again, and again. 1) They don’t know how to do anything else except commit crimes. And while they are in prison, they learn better ways to do things, more ways not to get caught, but they are learning from people who were caught, so where is the logic in that.
- They learn how to commit bigger crimes, to go from convenience store robberies to bank robberies, and how much more money you can make in the process. Criminals love to make money without having to work for it, and thus they go from stealing purses off little old ladies to pickpocketing, and armoured car robberies. They go from being “poor starving artists” to counterfeiters, or faking art, or stealing art that is worth millions that they sell on the black market for tens of thousands of dollars.
- The thrill of it. Some thieves get orgasmic feelings from walking out of a business or home with something that does not belong to them. They start by stealing money from their mothers or fathers, and end up stealing fancy cars or fancy jewels. And there is always someone who will give them money for their stolen goods. Never close to the value of what was stolen, but they understand that getting ripped off by fast-talking fences still gives them more money than they could make in a year of slinging burgers in a McDonald’s Restaurant.
But those are the easy reasons for so many recidivists. Then there are the people who remember how they were treated in prison, like animals that had to be shamed into compliance. It might have been a guard who shamed them, or a warden, or the cop that arrested them in front of TV cameras, but now they want revenge, and they don’t particularly care who they take that revenge out on.
And then you have your psychopaths and your sociopaths who have no regard for other people or their property. Without medications these people are as unpredictable as a tornado, never going in a straight line destroying lives as if the people were dolls.
With help, all of these people can be made into good citizens. But staying on medications for life takes the fun out of life. And fun is what they feel is their right, pursuing their happiness in whatever way they want to. And if they get caught, they just pull out their papers that say they are insane, and as soon as they are back on their meds and looking as normal as anyone can look, they have to be allowed out of jail. And they are free again, so who knows what they are going to do next.
The next time you look at the stats for recidivism rates, who do you blame for how high they are. The people who need help but never get it, or the prison system that is supposed to provide that help, but instead of hiring psychologists and social workers, they hire guards that are disgruntled police failures, or people who love to lord it over others, bullies all of them. Big adult bullies, who just love to push others around and say, That’s my job! I’m just doing what I’m told to do. And maybe that is what they are told to do, and that is why the bullies were hired in the first place.
But what else can we do? We can’t afford to run prison populations that overcrowd prison facilities. What else can we do, we have to protect the regular citizens of our nations. What else can we do? What else CAN we do?
That question has more than one answer, and in this blog I am only going to give you teasers for the next blog on PUNISHMENT BY DEATH. The very first thing you do is study those who were in prison once, and never went back. Another thing is taking the word punishment out of the adult population. You punish children when they do things the parent doesn’t like, actions they want to teach the child not to repeat. Third, you treat them with the respect any person wants to be treated with. And four, you use restorative justice every opportunity you have. Fifth, and last, or probably what should be done first, you deconstruct the nuclear family, and stop letting parents raise their own children , and make sure all children get a good start in life, without abuse, without poverty, without learning how to be bullies, but by giving them love, respect, and human contact of a meaningful kind. But who, besides me, is willing to look that deeply at the nuclear family, and realize that while it is responsible for creating non-criminal adults, it is just as responsible for creating criminal adults?
Where are the people with the strength to stand up and say, “It’s at least worth a trial, it can’t do any worse than we are already doing?