Blog Post: the neatest line you can draw
17th January 2013
The concept of incarceration is fascinating to me. I have no illusions that there are evil people out there and that they need to be removed to protect society from them. Beyond that, the purpose becomes increasingly murky. Are we simply getting revenge on people who have wronged us? Is that a worthwhile aim? The idea that a 'correctional facility' can rehabilitate people through force, especially after essentially destroying their chances for a true reintegration with the community after their sentence, seems ludicrous to me.
While I applaud the goal of keeping prisoners busy and making them contribute to society, at what point does this become slave labor that drives unfairly competes with other nearby businesses? Furthermore, what yardstick measures when a jail is imprisoning people for the good of society, versus for the good of the ruling class? Should jails be used to enforce morality? Who determines the morality that dominates to the degree that people who offend it are deprived of their lives for years and incarcerated with the dregs of society? What constitutes reasonable treatment for a prisoner, and is offering incentives for good behavior like televisions in cells justifiable because it keeps violence against other prisoners and prison guards down?
So many questions that can be debated endlessly. We like to draw neat lines around issues that are messy and frightening and pretend that they have been resolved, but in reality the questions surrounding prisons should always be re-examined and re-evaluated. There is never a point where taking away the liberty of another should be a comfortable thing, particularly in cases where it is not directly for the protection of others. This is especially true in a nation that incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, yet calls itself free.
After all, these questions are all rhetorical for you and I right now, something that we can perhaps discuss over a glass of wine after dinner and then move on from when it becomes tedious. Upon entering a prison like this, the reality of confinement and loss of control becomes entirely different. Guard towers, megaphones, sally ports: all serve as reminders that our comfort and conveniences can be stripped from us if a court deems it fit, whether it truly is or not. The neatest line one can draw around an issue is an electrified fence topped with barbed wire, but the only way it is reassuring is if you are on the outside looking in.