by Nick Andrea
Our prison system is broken. It doesn’t work.
Today, May 7, 2012 a dear friend of mine went away for two years. Two years.
I’m not going to discuss what he did, but just know that he did not hurt anybody. I don’t mean that figuratively. I mean it literally. His crime was one of addiction and negligence.
So now it’s two years, two years sitting in a box with bars, bored out of his mind. Why? What does that accomplish? If the point were to keep this “dangerous man” out of society, then it ought to be a life sentence until he is no longer deemed a threat. But then again, if he’s not actually a danger to society, then why locked up?
Because our society believes in punishment. We want to punish people that do wrong things. There is no concern for the accused, of how to help them recover from their mistakes and find their way. We just want to punish them, like a bunch of bloody puritans.
Where my friend is going there are no meditation classes, group therapy, or college courses. There isn’t even a gym because they took it out. What the ….? He has a cell. And a courtyard, and that’s about it.
Prison doesn’t work, people. Punishment without positive reinforcement doesn’t work. Our prison system should not only provide opportunities for prisoners to grow as individuals when they are in prison, it should also give them opportunities and support to create a brighter future when they leave. But generally they don’t. This point was summed up by a juvenile prisoner I once worked with who remarked, “What the hell have I got to look forward to when I leave? I’m just going back to the same shit I came from.”
Prison doesn’t work. It doesn’t. There is a crisis in this country. Prisons are overcrowded because the same people keep coming back over and over again; because they are pits of punishment, when they should be sanctuaries for soul healing.
Punishment only works insofar as it gets someone’s attention that what they did was wrong. Beyond that it should be positive change and opportunities for growth.
Are there some cases where people need to be sequestered from society? Of course. Some people are genuinely sociopathic and are a grave threat to the public. But not a man such as my friend, who got the message loud and clear the day he was arrested, and has been agonizing over his mistake for the past six months as he’s been strung along by the legal system.
I hope you can share my conviction about this, because some day someone you love may get screwed by our punitive system, as my friend has. I don’t want to scare you, turn you off, or make you angry. I want to make you aware. Our prison system is broken. It needs our help.