On Jail

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Jail

With the dawn of civilization, a major complication was seeded; there would always exist those who could not play by the rules. Inherent in the system is the law of mutual cooperation, thus, these rule breakers have always needed to be dealt with.

Before agriculture, humans in groups of fifty or less banded together to increase each individual’s selfish needs of survival. (This force could have given the Native Americans who first crossed the Bering Straight the power to eliminate all large land mammals in North America.) But if an individual acted in a manner that disrupted a band’s equilibrium, they would be ostracized and cast out and left to fend for themselves.

Today, there’s no good solution to the problem and the one we’ve come up with is quite peculiar. We can’t possibly know every person in our neighborhoods, cities, states and lives nor do the negative actions of others always affect our personal well being. But every person who pays taxes is in a continual state of pushing “criminals” out of the circle of civilization.

Most people never visit the jails they pay for, see them, or even realize their own energy is expended to create them. It all happens silently, beyond our consciousness. Where are all the jails, and who are the people in them?

Small town America, once home to booming industry, is becoming Prisonville, USA. Whole communities revolve around hiding society’s problems, soaking them up for the money. But who are these small towns’ real customers, the prisoners housed in them or outside society?

Law abiders seem to be getting the better deal but prisoners are not doing so badly themselves. They get three square meals a day, a gym membership, free rent, local chess clubs, private libraries and college educations. According to a welder from Riker’s Island whose parents happen to both be prison wardens, prisoners are quite brilliant people because they don’t have the problems of quotidian life, i.e. bills to pay, jobs to hold down, families to take care of, and as a result, have more time to be creative and productive intellectually. If they had the chance to apply their skills developed in jail to real life, not just prison life, many could make great contributions to society.

The idea is to punish these people for their wrongdoing, take away their freedom, but when one starts to look at it, “criminals” seem to have it better than some middle and lower class citizens. Of course, the problem with living in jail is the other prisoners. And even if one had the jail to themselves, they’d probably go mad from isolation.

Jails also seem to be filled with a lot of angry people, people who feel cheated or taken advantage of by the “system,” who believe they have not been given a fair chance. We can’t choose which socio-economic background we are born into, and differences in class is where many problems originate. Today, every 1 in 9 male Black Americans is in jail. Inevitably, there are higher rates of imprisonment among the impoverished where degraded social interactions and aggression are the community norm.

We’ve all heard that crime doesn’t pay, so why do so many young people end up in jail? What if everyone, like in Thomas More’s Utopia, was given the same opportunities and was truly able to cooperate? No energy would be wasted on dealing with betrayers. Everyone would benefit from such a society and the freedoms it would afford, so why doesn’t everyone become a part of it?

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