Sometimes Prison isn’t Punishment

I have been to jail many times for things like hot checks, tickets and a DWI. The longest that I have ever been in jail was 2 weeks in a city jail that had no yard, TV or radio. The only thing to do was read and nap. The food was horrible, using the bathroom in front of everyone was awful and being treated like I was subhuman was humiliating. One thing that I had plenty of time to do was to talk to other people who were in jail with me. Some of them were hookers, crack addicts, and women on the way to prison who had to first sit out their tickets before going on down the chain. I learned so much from these women, which may sound weird to people but had it not been for the conversations with them I would not have ever known that my ex-husband was smoking crack. I never liked drugs and everyone in my circle knew that. People wouldn’t even smoke weed around me because they all already knew that wasn’t my thing. I was a slut, not a druggy. I had no idea what the signs were until I talked to women who smoked crack and then it clicked.

I have been exchanging letters with someone in jail who is accused of doing something that had people calling for this person’s head on a silver platter. In fact, when the case first became public, I was one of those people. But since I have begun to get to know this person and hear their story, I have realized why exactly Jesus said that we should visit prisoners, because it is humbling to get to know someone who you want to make a monster. It is Catholic to see the human person in someone who has done the unthinkable and see all the wounds that led to the place that they stand now. This person was raped by their father at the age of 4, sold for drugs and has never had a parent that loved them. They have no clue how to love or be loved, yet they long for love. I know that turmoil. It is only by the Grace of God that I never ended up in this person’s shoes.

I have known a few people who have been in and out of jail and prison for their entire life and I wondered why that is. Why would anyone ever go back to prison after they have been freed?  I was watching Orange in the New Black when it hit me. Sometimes jail can be the only home that anyone ever knows with a family that they never had on the outside.

When someone comes from chaos and a broken home where nothing is stable, not even food, and they have no attachment to anyone because they have never really felt like they belong: prison/jail isn’t a punishment. It’s a place they are with people like them, where they can find their place, go to school, have 3 stable meals and structure in their life. Something they have never had in their life. The violence is really minimal if you mind your business, which most people do. Not to mention the number of people who are behind bars who have been sexually abused already, so it’s nothing new for them to grin and bear it if it happens. It isn’t the worst thing to ever happen to them in jail, it happens on the outside.

If the goal for those on the outside is to punish them, then I think people need to realize that when your life hits that point where you are locked up, your life has already been punishment and being incarcerated is really a step up in some cases. The goal should be to start helping people heal so that they don’t end up back behind bars. That would take mercy and understanding instead of wanting to dish out revenge.

I am not naïve enough to think that some people shouldn’t be locked up or that everyone who commits a crime has the excuse of having a crappy childhood to hide behind. What I am saying, is that it is possible that a lot of the people in jail could become productive members of society if they were given some love, therapy and education along with personal accountability.  I honestly think that it needs to begin way before they end up in prison. Our justice system, like so many of our systems, is jacked up. It is understaffed with people who are tired just trying to keep up with what they have to deal with and suffer from burn out. We have a society that is so hung up on punishing others and seeking revenge while upholding the idea that there is no objective truth and we shouldn’t judge the way any other person chooses to live their life. That makes no sense unless you buy the idea that some people are just evil.

I do not buy that at all. Not just because I am Catholic, but because I have sat down and talked to some of these people. The father of my children is in prison as I type this. He is not evil. He lacks a lot of things, but he is not evil.

The idea that anyone can live as they wish and then when they mess up they should be locked up and forgotten or put to death is the most unmerciful and careless philosophy to live by. And yet that is the philosophy that so many in this country live by today. It makes no sense.

Luke 4:18

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free


2 thoughts on “Sometimes Prison isn’t Punishment

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