Recently Terry and I began watching a series called “I Am a Killer,” featuring interviews with prisoners convicted of murder. The stories tend to be heartbreaking. The last one we watched was the story of a man with an IQ of 70 and a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). He seemed as baffled as everyone else why one moment he was chatting with an elderly neighbor on her porch, and the next he had pushed her into her house and had begun to brutally murder her.
The detective who had investigated the scene of the crime was understandably horrified by what she found. She saw her role as the advocate for the victim in the legal proceedings. As part of the documentary, she listened to part of the prisoner’s interview. In it, he talked about being brutalized by his father. Without blinking an eyelash, she said “Well, lots of prisoners claim they were abused in childhood.” Perhaps because many of them were? The percentage I saw reported was 44%.
I am always struck by the approach that operates from the mindset that involves treating inmates as less than human. How does treating people who often have been made to feel worthless throughout their lives do anything but perpetuate the same?
On the other hand, I read this week an article from a minister who taught a course at a local prison and became acquainted with an inmate who had persuaded the prison administration to let him cultivate flowers in the middle of the prison. This was one of his tactics of survival for incarceration.
The author of the article also described a book he had come across written by a prisoner in a facility near the Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona. The prisoner had painted and sketched plants, animals and insects he was aware of in his surroundings. He included stories about how he and his friends would welcome birds to build nests on their window ledges, between the bars, leaving bits of food for them.
Label me a “bleeding heart,” if you like. I recognize we are talking about people who have committed crimes, sometimes horrific, repulsive ones. Yet I see no way for us to make any headway in reducing crime if we continue to think only in terms of punishment, with little or no effort towards rehabilitation.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: Years ago on a visit to our exchange daughter in Germany, we were shopping with her in a town nearby to her home. We came across her father, a policeman, with a fellow just walking along with him. We exchanged greetings and her dad and his companion went on their way. Later, back at their home at supper, we asked who had been with him. Oh, he said, it was his prisoner. No handcuffs. No indication he was in any trouble. By all appearances, just two men walking through the village.
2 thoughts on “Prisons”
Thanks for your thoughtful commentary, as usual Kate.
Employing Occam’s razor, I think I will not call you a bleeding heart,” but more simply someone with a “heart.”
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