The United States of America incarcerates more of its native population than any other industrialized nation. The recent move by the Federal government to lighten the burden on our prison system will touch only a fraction of those incarcerated in the Federal prisons. Some of the states have already started to change their prison systems because they realize there just is not enough tax money to maintain a large prison system.
People who could be working and paying taxes to provide for real needs are sitting in small cells, eating limited diets and still devouring a gargantuan portion of the tax dollar.
We have to change the story.
We can start to change the story if we stop referring to the Prisoner caste as “those people.”
I was telling a fellow about our ministry one day. He immediately began to tell me his thoughts about what to do with “those people.” To be candid, his thoughts were uninformed at best and repugnant at worse. Draconian sentences, a larger use of capital punishment, forced and hard labor, debtor’s prisons for the indigent to keep them that way. Granted, this gentleman was a mildly extreme example of American cultural thought about the Prisoner Caste, but, and I owe him for this, he enlightened me by continually referring to the Prisoner as “those people. Here is my point, now castigate me, if you must. To refer to any large group of human beings as “those people” implies these things:
- Those people are all alike, so that the fellow with an ounce of grass in Texas is worthy of the same approbation as the major distributor in Florida;
- Those people cannot be helped and so deserve life long, costly exile;
- Those people are not like us, though I have met few families who do not have a close relative or personal friend in some jail somewhere;
- Those people are meant, by our very reference to them as “those people,” to be distant from us and we would be well served to preserve that distance, if not enlarge it when we may.
These thoughts are unworthy of civilized persons. We dare not waste all the human potential trapped for now in a tiny cell. These people are our fellows, our brothers and sisters.
We start to change the story when we stop calling them “those people.”