Saturday, December 10, 2011

Common sense responses to prison protests

Recently, prisoners in Georgia and many other states organized in a peaceful manner to protest their treatment in prisons all over the country.  In an unprecedented move, minority prisoners joined together and swore to remain in their cells, refused to work, and some even refused to eat.  Prisoners claim that the Department of Corrections (DOC) is violating their basic human rights and treating them like animals and slaves.  The prisoners have laid out a set of demands for the DOC and I have laid out a common sense response to each of those demands.

Elaine Brown, former Black Panther Party leader is at the forefront of the complaints and spoke in depth about the inhumane treatment of prisoners in an interview on Hard Knock Radio.  I patiently listened to the entire interview and was blown away by her analysis of the situation.  She did make a few valid points, such as the exploitation of prisoners by privately owned companies, the unfair sentences non-violent criminals receive, and the abnormally high rate of blacks in the prison system.

I was waiting to hear something that would compel me to believe that the prisoners were justified in their stance, but I didn’t hear anything convincing enough to sway me to get on board with the protest.  I immediately thought to myself, there has to be another issue Mrs. Brown could take up that would be more beneficial to society.  If she were talking about prison prevention, or drug treatment programs that need our support, maybe I would have been on board with her.  But in this case, I couldn’t agree with her, the prisoners or the protesters.

Listed, are the demands of the prisoners and my common sense response to each demand:

1. “A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.”
Truth be told, prisoners should probably be paying the state for eating 3 meals a day, having a place to sleep, and clothes to wear. 

Prisoners vs. slaves:  Anybody that would compare a prisoner in America to slaves is ignorant, point blank.  Slaves didn’t have a choice between being free, or being enslaved.  They were captured, sold, or born into the evil bounds of slavery and most spent their entire lives fighting for freedom.  Involuntary servitude and prisoner shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence because prisoners voided those rights when they voluntarily violated the law.  This is a non-valid demand.

2. “EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.”
Really?  I believe that education is the new form of currency and a lack of education is the opposite, but we aren’t sending people to prison to be educated.  They are sent to prison to be punished for a crime they committed.  Receiving an education while incarcerated can be beneficial to prisoners and society, but a free prison education is not a God given right.  Law abiding citizens pay for their education and prisoners should do the same.  This demand is also non-valid.

3. “DECENT HEALTH CARE: in violation of the 8th Amendment prohibiting against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.”
There are millions of non-incarcerated American’s that don’t have any health care insurance and can’t afford to visit a doctor.  If a prisoner needs medical attention, they should be required to have their own medical insurance, or pay for each trip to the doctor just like the rest of us.   Non-valid demand yet again.

4. “AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.”
Cruel and unusual punishment describes some of the acts criminals committed against their victims.  Sexual assault, homicide, robbery and drug dealing is cruel and unusual to me.  I included drug dealing because of the carnage left behind as the result of the distribution and selling of illegal drugs to people in and around our neighborhoods.

I would encourage a protesting prisoner to read a slave narrative or two to see what cruel and unusual really means.  Having hot pork fat drippings poured on your back is cruel.  Being tied to a post and lashed one hundred times is cruel.  Being dragged on the ground behind a field plow or horse carriage until the flesh rips away from the bone is cruel. 

An inmates cigarette rights being taken away, or the confiscation of unauthorized cellular phones, or not having hot water in the shower doesn’t qualify as cruel or unusual punishment in my book.   This demand is also falls into the category of being non-valid.

5. “DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in the winter and oppressive heat in the summer.”
Ask a Marine, Solider, Sailor, or Airman that has spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan how comfortable their living situation is at times.   We don’t see protestors in front of the Pentagon complaining about the living conditions of service men and women fighting for our freedom, but they have time to protest for criminals.  A prison should not be a comfortable place to live, hence the name “prison.”  Maybe if the living conditions in prisons in America continue to deteriorate, people will think twice about doing something that could possibly land them behind bars.  This one qualifies as another non-valid demand.

6. “NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.”
It’s hard enough getting healthy meals in public schools and now all of a sudden these prisoners are concerned about the type of food they eat?  Give me a break.  If they want vegetables and fruit, I would encourage them to grow their own. The choice of dinning options and meal plans went by the way side when the crime was committed.  Non-valid demand once again.

7. “VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skill training, self-improvement and proper exercise.”
You don’t go to prison to learn a trade, or to get in shape!  To my knowledge, technical colleges haven’t started turning away people that want to be trained as a welder, plumber, or electrician.  That training isn’t free and has to be paid for by the individual seeking to learn a specific trade, not by taxpayers.  Yes, another non-valid demand.

8. “ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.”
No, No, No. The person that committed the crime is solely responsible for disconnecting themselves from their families, not the DOC.  The finger pointing in this demand is somewhat laughable and falls directly into the category of being non-valid.

9. “JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.”
Luckily for the prisoners in Georgia, parole is an option.  They should be thankful they aren’t in a non-parole state like North Carolina.  Say it with me, non-valid demand.

Here’s the bottom line.  The prison industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and the people financially responsible for the facilities rely on criminals in order to thrive. That’s right, the prison right there in Folkston, Georgia U.S.A. needs warm bodies to fill those cells, or else it would go out of business. 

It disgusts me to know that states spend so much of our hard earned tax dollars on prisons, and at the same time are cutting education budgets.  I don’t understand how our elected officials can’t see that if they continue to slash budgets for schools and after school programs, the more likely it is that young people will end up in the prison system. 

Or is that the design?  I’ll leave that for you to decide, but if you follow the money you will certainly find the answer to the question.

I hope the complaints and demands of these prisoners catch the attention of a young man or woman thinking about doing something stupid.  These demands should illustrate the fact that being in prison sucks worse than we imagined.
Originally published by the Charlton County Herald on December 21, 2010

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