Answering Taylor’s Question

Taylor, longtime friend and blog reader, recently wrote this comment:

“I hate it when you do this. Not trying to be antagonistic, but that is hard to do when you make such fallacious statements throughout your blog. But here goes:
So what is the solution? I see a pattern in your blogs that criticize ‘x’: identify problem -> identify Republicans as instigator of problem -> offer no solution.
I read 1 stated complaint and 1 implicate:
Stated: private business profiting from high incarceration rates is bad
Implicit: ‘making stuff illegal and locking people up’ is a bad policy
I agree that if incarceration rates were not high there would be no reason for the market to respond with providing services. But to suggest that private prisons are killing off their inmates and the government is turning a blind eye is a bit far-fetched isn’t it? I mean, personally, I could care less. They are prisoners, and in my opinion, we should devise a zero-sum expense model to deal with them instead of pouring tax dollars into such a system. But, the liberals in the country will cry foul, so, oh, well.
As for the policy, let’s list who is incarcerated ( in no order ):
– murderers
– thieves
– rapists
– drug dealers
– Martha Stewart
Which of these categories of criminals do you suggest we set free? I assume you are not going to come forward with some radical policy like hang ’em all, and, I assume the Libertarian in you will say, ‘just set all those drug-dealing gang-bangers free.’
If that is your solution, put it forward for discussion.”

I hate to make an example of my friend, but he is bolstering my case by writing that: “personally, I could care less. They are prisoners”.

This is the attitude that typifies Republicans.

This speaks to Taylor’s experience. Presumably, he has never had any serious problems with the police, and so anyone who does must be a bad person. The notion that we are locking anyone up unnecessarily is viewed as preposterous, as is the notion that the prison system is anything but just.

I’ve heard many a Republican say that we are simply too soft on our prisoners. Prisons need to be harder. The time spent, tougher. As one-time Republican candidate for Texas governor, Clayton Williams said during his campaign, “We need to introduce our prisoners to the joys of busting rocks.” It’s an attitude I can understand. Republicans feel part of the system, so the system must work for them. Surely, any allegations otherwise must be “far-fetched.” Government would never stoop to the level of locking up people unnecessarily. That’s just crazy talk.

Unfortunately, this attitude is very naive.

I remember reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about the history of an Alabama mining town that used prison labor in the mines. Mining was a dangerous profession, so many prisoners would die. When the prison population got too low, the local sheriff would go out and arrest people so that the mine would have more workers. (Far from being far-fetched, Taylor, this kind of stuff is hardly uncommon.)

And, let’s take it from the local level of an Alabama town to the national one.

When the United States was fighting in Vietnam, Republicans seemed to have few qualms about the fact that drug offenders (who were mostly black) were being forced to fight — and die — for a war they did not believe in, merely to avoid jail time.

I find this kind of hypocrisy grossly unsettling.

I don’t see the material difference between the Americans who let drug offenders fight their war against Communism for them in the rice patties of Vietnam, and the Germans who let the Nazis falsely imprison the Jewish population so that their wealth could be confiscated and the state would have plenty of labor to fight their own war. Both are examples of a citizenry on the “right side of the law” allowing themselves to be willfully ignorant of the system’s darker side. I find it even more ironic that these “law and order” types are the very same people who want to make politics more religious and talk about Jesus’ love for everyone.

From my experience, religious faith challenges its believers to sympathize with the experiences of the downtrodden. In the Bible, does Jesus not ask his followers why they did not visit him in prison, and then go on to say that, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” I understand the hypocrisy that is to call for a more holy nation while, at the same time, call for harsher prisons. I understand it, but I don’t have to like it. And so, I apologize to Taylor for using the pages of my blog as a pulpit to wage war against the hypocrisy of our nation, but that hypocrisy is the true root of our decline into a decadent empire.

If we would spend time with those who have a different experience of things, we can learn from them. If Taylor and the other Republicans calling for “law and order” understood the experience of inner-city blacks who many times feel that the police are part of the “They” that is out to get them, they might come to this discussion a bit differently.

If they had ever had a family member incarcerated for a victimless crime such as drug possession, and seen the hardships that the family had had to endure, they might come to this differently.

If they had known anyone who got drafted, or took prison deferment and died fighting a war they didn’t believe in, they might come to this differently.

Now, to come back off my soapbox, and answer Taylor’s question.

Our growing prison population is a symptom of our hopeless “War on Drugs”. Although I think it was obvious from my original post, if we would end our prosecution of victimless crimes such as drug offenses and prostitution, we would dramatically reduce the prison population, and with it, our need for prisons. And if we would but understand, as Jesus asks us to in the book of Matthew, that prisoners are still people and that they are worthy of our fair treatment and to still be considered people with rights, then I doubt we would allow these conditions to exist to begin with.

The Republican lies of “law and order” are merely an appeal for the state to gain more control over its citizenry.

Similarly, it was just a few short years ago, that the Republicans under the Bush Administration told us that the CIA and military intelligence needed to be allowed to torture people so that we could win the “War on Terror.” What I find so galling, is that Republicans like Taylor seem to swallow these arguments hook, line and sinker — and then turn around and tell me how much we need to get government out of our lives. I sincerely doubt they they have viewed movies, such as “Rendition, that highlight the abuses of such programs.

If they did, I sincerely doubt they would be comfortable with handing these powers over to the government under any circumstances.