Sunday, March 2, 2014

You do the crime, you do the time.

Everyone remembers that old adage, "You do the crime, you do the time," but there is more to it.  You may or may not be aware of it, but that adage is not all that true.  The truth of it is, you do the crime, you do the time, and you keep doing the time till the day you die.  And that is mostly wrong.

We live in a country where once you have been arrested, tried, and convicted of a crime, you pay for that crime for the rest of your life.  It doesn't matter if it was smoking a joint, or murdering 30 people.  As it stands 2 or 3 out of every 10 people you meet either know someone who is currently or previously incarcerated for a crime.  You likely won't even know it, unless they told you.

How many of you know this man?  Danny Trejo, famous movie actor, participant in a meme about Chuck Norris.  He is relevant to this conversation, he is a former convict.  Yup, spent time in prison.  Same as Robert Downey Jr, and others.  Key difference between people like Mr. Trejo, and Downey is, regular people have a hard time coming back into society.

I think we all know what happens when you are convicted.  Really it depends on where you are, but lets review.  Most felons loose their rights, all of them.  Right to vote, right to keep bear arms, and their right to protections from unreasonable searches and seizures, just to name a few.  What is not often talked about is the other things they loose access to.  If you are convicted of anything to do with drugs, you cannot get Pell Grants or Financial Aid, which makes getting trade skills education, or outright college education harder.  You lose the right to get welfare, and section 8 (HUD) housing.  Forget medicare.  If the GOP has its way, they will also loose the right to Social Security, and disability.

In order to get a job, you have to disclose your crime to your potential employers, and most people don't feel inclined to hire a convict.  Hey, you have that right, its not like its illegal to discriminate against someone who has been convicted of a felony or drugs.  But as I sit here this is part of the problem.

We punish people, which is part of the point of incarceration.  People violate the law, they are punished for it, just as when we break the rules as children we are punished.  The problem is, through punishment we do not solve the problem, we are often dealing with people who are breaking the law because they may not know any better.  People doing what they need to in order to survive.  Sure some do it for the thrill, some do it because of mental illness or defect, and some just don't care about the law.

But our focus needs not be solely punishment, and it certainly does not need to extend past the point of incarceration, parole/probation.  We need to put punishment as secondary, and focus on rehabilitation or habilitation.  See, some people really don't know or understand right and wrong, they were never taught as children.  Some people seem to forget right and wrong, or they are unable to cope so they disregard right. 

Addiction is an illness, not a crime.  Doing something illegal to survive is not a crime, it is doing what you need to in order to continue living.  When I see poachers take something for food, that is not a crime, when people loot food, water, and stuff you would use to survive, it is not a crime.  When someone poaches for sport, or loots televisions, that is a crime.  Drug addiction, as mentioned before is an illness.  As you use drugs, they rewire how your brain functions, creating a situation in which your brain craves the chemicals released in your brain.

Now, here is the problem with out current model.  We do nothing to treat the illness, nor do we do much to ensure that people do not recidivate, or reoffend.  We assumed punishment, making their lives as hard as possible when inside and upon release that they do not want to go back.  Sorry, I know a few people who have been convicted of misdemeanors and felonies, and I can tell you from their experiences, it isn't great inside.  It is not pleasant.  You share a 6x8 cell with at least one person.  Inside that cell are a minimum of two concrete bunks, that you put a pad over.  The air temperature is around 60 degrees year round, the lights are never off.  Sure they turn them down, but its like leaving a light on 24 hours a day.  There is a window in some cells, but you cannot see out of it.  If you want something, I hope you have someone on the outside to send you money.  You hear about inmates with televisions in their cell, they bought them.  Sure they have a communal television in the rec area, but the CO's typically pick whats shown.  As for food, yeah, food.  No steak, cob corn, or anything like that.  You get fed on the cheap, often times lunch meat. 

When you get out, you likely have parasites, and a host of other medical conditions.  I knew a woman who went to prison after a questionable trial.  When she went in, she could walk, but it was hard (several strokes before the trial started), she weighted around 120 pounds.  When she came out, she was stuck in a wheel chair, topping the scales at 350 pounds, was a full blown diabetic, had more parasites than a starving child in some third world African country.  Due to the sleeping conditions, she suffered from numbness in her legs, required high doses of cholesterol medications, and had to undergo cardioid artery replacement surgery.  Some 4 years later, she is able to walk, but she spends her life in extreme pain, she has dropped most of the weight, down to 140.  But the damage is done. 

This whole thing also does not just affect her.  Did you know that those of her family who live with her, also have their rights restricted.  Her son, was forced to get rid of all his firearms when she came home to live with him.  Until her time on probation ended, he had to deal with random checks by law enforcement officers, without a warrant.  They could and still can just show up at his residence and say "we are ensuring that your Mom is not in violation of any laws."  Refusal to allow it, puts her back into prison.  If she does not have a home, she goes back.  If she does not have insurance, she goes back, which puts added strain on the family, because of her newly acquired medical conditions.

As for the healthcare these people receive....  As someone who is waiting on his Obamacare to kick in, I get better medical treatment.  Even when she was in prison, it was lousy.  She had a heart attack while she was in isolation for complaining that her chest was hurting.  When she was taken to the hospital, she was cuffed to the bed, arms and legs.  Hannibal Lector would see the same treatment, but so would the guy who was nothing more than a shop lifter.  On that one, the state did cover the bill, but the fact of the matter is, it is wrong to treat nonviolent people that way.  Ultimately, every time something happened, she would sit down in the medical ward, with nurses not doctors tending to her needs.  If something became serious enough, the resident shrink would step in.

Oh, and while it comes to mind, lets talk religion.  She is not Christian, many were not.  Do you know why so many cons find Jesus inside?  Because it is all that is preached inside.  If you don't convert, you are treated worse.  You are set up to have problems.  She never did convert, but if she had, I doubt that a 60 year old woman would have spent around six months of her five years in the hole.

Yeah the hole still exists.  They call it segregation (Seg).  You are put in a cell, with no window, you are allowed one book (a bible), when it is time to bath (once a week) they come and bolt the shower to the door.  You cannot speak, no one speaks to you.  You have the cloths on your back, no pad, and one sheet.  The pillow is optional.  And all you need to do to find yourself there?  Tell a CO something, don't tell a CO something is happening, eyeball a CO/other inmate (eyeballing is where you look at someone the "wrong" way, or stare at someone).  You go to Seg for complete isolation for 30-90 days.  If your hair or nails are too long, you go to Seg.  If a CO does not like your response, you do not move fast enough, you so much as breath at one wrong...  Yup you guessed it.

We are creating more violent people, more criminals.  But then they come out, only to be prisoners of society.  They are less than a citizen, with few if any rights.  The few rights come a few states stepping in, but otherwise they must find a way to keep themselves from going back.