In Your Name

Urban Winter '06-'07: Reaching Upwards

In the Christian calendar today marks the beginning of Lent. It's not actually about giving up chocolate or cheating or what have you. Nor is it entirely about the things it isn't: Carnival before, Passion after. Lent is for atonement.

Jews, similarly, observe Yom Kippur; Ramadan is likewise an analogous time of reflection and purification. (Leave it to the Catholics, of the three Abrahamic strains, to have devised the longest season of fasting and prayer, though.) But obviously, reflection and self-improvement are hardly the exclusive domain of religion, and it often pays to pause and take stock now and then. So let's take a moment to consider a few of the things being done in your name, and mine.

For instance, no country imprisons a larger fraction of its people than America, often under conditions of unbelievable brutality:

I probably have AIDS now. I have great difficulty raising food to my mouth from shaking after nightmares or thinking to hard on all this . . . . I've laid down without physical fight to be sodomized. To prevent so much damage in struggles, ripping and tearing. Though in not fighting, it caused my heart and spirit to be raped as well. Something I don't know if I'll ever forgive myself for.

That's the legally-sanctioned prison system. I've written before about the illegally imprisoned, too. How they broke Padilla, for instance:

According to court papers filed by Padilla's lawyers, for the first two years of his confinement, Padilla was held in total isolation. He heard no voice except his interrogator's. His 9-by-7 foot cell had nothing in it: no window even to the corridor, no clock or watch to orient him in time. ...

Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team. Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact "part of a continuing interrogation program." ...

After spending more than 25 hours with Padilla, both psychiatric experts have concluded that his isolation and interrogation have resulted in so much mental damage that he is incompetent to stand trial.

Through a still-murky combination of malice and criminal negligence we've caused the deaths of probably more than half a million Iraqis. But I wouldn't discount the possibility that our culpability goes deeper than failing to prevent civil war:

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal...

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers...

Superfluous to say, there is much to be put right in the world, and it is nobody's responsibility but our own. Mine, and yours. To begin: take a moment to be mortified.


The way to fix the system is to stop punishing victimless crimes, i.e. drugs

Agreed, that would solve much of the problem in one go. After all, a huge part of the reason why our prisons suck so much is that they're absurdly overcrowded.

Case in point from the recent news -- the Governator made headlines the other day by declaring a state court ruling to be a public safety menace. He went on to threaten to release "dangerous criminals" if the decision isn't overturned. The ruling? That he isn't allowed to involuntarily export inmates to private jails in places like Tennessee as a way to reduce prison crowding.

Incidentally, the fellow I quoted in this post? Arrested for a DUI.

I agree that our punitive philosophy is all messed up to begin with, and that the actual administration of the PI system is just as wack. But if you're discussing "victimless crimes" I have to say, drunk driving is a pretty weak example.

Yes, except that in my original post I didn't choose the example because DUI is victimless -- it emphatically is not. It is, however, one of the crimes for which our justice system is the most skewed towards leniency (Hell, if they can't prove you were drunk, you can *kill* a person with a car and only get a ticket.), but that will still land you in a non-minimum-security facility (Safe to say, white collar criminals usually don't face this kind of prison environment.).

Plus, it's the example I had on hand.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on February 21, 2007 10:21 PM.

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