“I will not stop pressing for prison reform until it is safe to be in prison.” The words of my friend Carol as we discussed the general topic of incarceration.
I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but she has something there.
Recent high-profile cases can help us to focus on that issue today. How safe is Dr. Larry Nassar going to be in prison? Especially when upright citizens like you and me, who could never imagine ourselves behind bars, quietly assure each other that additional justice will be done when “the prisoners take care of him.” How safe will that couple be that starved and tortured a house full of kids? Especially when our thoughts concede that, “If anything happens to them in prison, they had it coming!” How safe will that guy be who just got sentenced for torturing and killing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old boy? Especially when our thoughts drift to, “Someone ought to beat and torture him the very same way!”
And it’s not just the high profile cases.
Robert (Roberta) is a transgender inmate. It’s not safe for him in prison.
Gary is gay. It’s not safe for him in prison.
Cindy is mentally ill, doesn’t know right from wrong, and gives the officers trouble at every turn of the way. She’s not safe in prison.
Tony is an old man, accused of inappropriate behavior with little boys. It wasn’t safe for him in prison. He no sooner got there and someone slashed his face!
Michael was only 15 when sentenced to prison years ago as an adult. It wasn’t safe for him at all…he was fresh meat. He was raped in no time!
Carol is accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with her own kids. It’s not safe for her in prison.
Kasim is an Iraqi. It hasn’t been safe for him in prison since day one.
Conrad ratted on a crooked corrections official who was convicted and sent to a federal prison. Connie is still in prison, but he has a target on his back! He lives in fear every day.
Agreed, prison is and can be safe for some. Slugger was a boxer, weight-lifter and body builder before he was incarcerated. In no time he established his credentials, abilities and territory. He’s safe in prison. But for how long?
Carol is exactly right: People are not safe in prison, and the onus is on the system. We need more and better training in handling those with mental and physical disabilities, those with sexual orientation issues, those convicted of exceptionally brutal or heinous crimes…well, let’s just leave it there. Our training and orientation of corrections officers needs refining.
And it’s not only the system. We need an attitude adjustment, as well.
Jesus said that what we do to the “least of these,” we actually do to him.
After what he did for me, the old “eye-for-an-eye” concept doesn’t work anymore.