I don’t know when we abrogated our sense of personal responsibility, when it became acceptable to put the blame on anyone and everyone but ourselves and to only take credit for the positive and not the negative, somehow denying our culpability in anything that did not turn out well. There used to be a time when a person would own up to an act or event or causality. ‘It was I who broke the lamp.’ ‘It was I who let the dog in the house with muddy paws.’ ‘It was I who did not do my homework.’ At best, these are simplistic examples in which there is very little harm in the actual outcome. When the act results in destruction, defamation, or death, it seems that we have stepped away from accepting due process and rather defer the entire matter in an entirely alternate direction. And when you consider the waning moral values now prevalent and a softening in the justice and penal systems, the results are a pure sense of outrage that can not be suppressed any longer.
It is quite easy to read or watch examples almost daily. Some miniscule technicality of the law results in someone being released from custody, at times never even being brought to trial for a heinous crime. Lack of evidence, tainted evidence, or doubt created about valid evidence, any of these winds up freeing a perpetrator. A prosecutor more interested in the idea of the celebrity associated with a case winds up making crucial mistakes which result in an unfavorable verdict. Judges granting bail or bond of such a pathetically small amount that a defendant almost certainly does not appear for trial. Even worse is the idea that a prisoner, an individual who has committed a crime against society, gets the use of athletic equipment for working out, television service, some internet access. A working class family, struggling to make ends meet, struggling to simply put food on the table, would have to pay in the neighborhood of one hundred and fifty dollars per month or more simply to enjoy these amenities. They have done nothing wrong against the rest of us and yet they pay. Twice. Their tax dollars are paying for the criminal to enjoy these same amenities. That means that the convicted criminal has victimized still more people.
Perhaps I digress. Perhaps you would consider my anger and frustration to be misplaced. The human scum, who sells drugs, molests innocent children, violently rapes women, murders indiscriminately—they should be the subject of and focus of our attention. But it is We, the collective group of all the rest of us, called Society, that have allowed the laws to become porous and the prisons to become festering units of men and women virtually laughing at us. Since when is punishment allowed to be enjoyable? Yes, there is lockdown and routine and regimentation and the idea that there is a loss of humanity. This much might be true. But there is the same routine and regimentation found in the military. I know this to be a fact. I am a veteran. I went through boot camp, a series of drills designed to submerge the individuality of the recruit in order to create a collective consciousness for a greater good. This was a choice. I, as countless of my brothers in arms had done before and after, chose to devote myself to a unit, an infrastructure, designed to combat evil and unrest in the world. We allowed ourselves to be molded into a fighting machine. Prisoners are regimented only by scheduling. Lights out. Meals. Exercise times. Their minds are not retrained or reorganized to eradicate their violent behavior. And therein lies the difference. The concept of rehabilitation is, at this point, virtually non-existent.
It is not the criminal who is to blame for this system. In the end it is us.
If it were up to me (a satisfying yet highly impractical expression) the prison system would consist of twenty-three hour lockdown in individual units; the windows would be sufficiently high enough to allow light to enter but not the actual world to be viewed. By the very definition, a convicted criminal has given up his or her right to be associated with the civilized world and as such should not be able to view it. Nor should that individual be allowed to have knowledge of the world they violated by having access to news or information of what transpires. Nor should they be allowed the hard-earned amenities that so many of our decent members of society find difficulty in obtaining legally. The idea of rehabilitation would then be to contemplate the nature of the crime and nothing more. To realize that the harshness of the penalty is warranted and that, should a parole be considered, the individual will not reconsider actions or activities that would return them to this ignominious and ignoble condition. I would bet you then that the recidivism rate would decrease dramatically. As it stands now, the misguided Judeo-Christian ethos of redemption and rehabilitation is used by these vile creatures to mock us into believing that they have any redeeming values.
As I have previously stated, the sense of personal responsibility has diminished to an abysmal low. The Menendez brothers of the late eighties, after brutally murdering their parents with shotguns and then going out and living lifestyles of a supremely gaudy nature, had the audacity through their mouthpiece of a lawyer to suggest it was done as a result of lifelong abuse, of an emotional, physical and sexual nature, by their father, and that their mother was killed to have her avoid the pain of losing her husband. That same lawyer was accused of having one of the brother’s psychiatrist delete and rewrite some portions of his notes, presumably to substantiate this claim. These were supremely ridiculous man-children who had, up until the time of their murderous rampage, the most pampered lives imaginable. Their father had actually taken the Concorde, during an important business deal, to fly overseas to witness one of his son’s tennis matches and then flew back to conclude the deal. To claim in any small measure repeated instances of abuse is nothing less than tragic. A decade earlier, a pathetically insecure city supervisor in San Francisco, had the impudence to claim that an abnormal intake of sugar laden junk food from this so-called health food advocate resulted in diminished capacity that resulted in the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. There was never any legal argument that Dan White had not assassinated these men. But the defense team strategy worked; the jury determined that White, due to these circumstances, was incapable of the premeditation necessary to be convicted of murder and brought back a verdict convicting him of involuntary manslaughter.
Perhaps the easiest way to affect change would be to work from within the system. If I were to be elected congressman or senator from my state I would then have an opportunity to help pass legislation that would, in essence, change the structure of jurisprudence and the penal system in this country. It would be for the above-mentioned reasons and countless others that I would seek to readdress issues of laws and prisons. However, it would be impractical. The political system in this country is such that an individual, interested largely in civic responsibility, must select one of the two major political parties to affiliate with in order to present themselves to the voting public. These parties have the funds and machinery to ensure successful election. They also have a specific agenda which the candidate must adhere to in order to insure election, thereby eradicating the concept of the individual working for the betterment of his electorate. The notion of a third party in order to present alternate views is amenable but highly unlikely to result in success. As wealthy and successful a businessman as Ross Perot could only garner nineteen percent of the national presidential vote in 1992; he created some dialogue of interest but just as much humor for the nature of his campaign. I lack both the funds and resources to be anything other than a major party candidate. And yet I am unwilling to immerse myself in the machinations of either party as my individual intent would more probably be overwhelmed by the party platform. Beyond that is the idea of change within the Beltway. A congressman has but two years for a term with perhaps a third of that focused on re-election. It is possible, were a congressman to become a favorite son of his district, to be re-elected several times before the district becomes dissatisfied. A senator has a lengthier six years but to break into that brotherhood is nigh upon impossible unless the party sees you as a viable candidate. A Gulf War veteran with an impeccable record and credentials, such as myself, may be just such a choice. But I lack the resume necessary to be considered. And the steam of this concept wanes even further when one considers the heavy pressure applied by lobbyists. One can only think back to the considerable efforts of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and realize that something as simple as a boys camp can interrupt the plans of men of power who find nothing gratifying in the personal development of youth and will do everything within their power to crush Innocence on a millstone until it is a fine powder for their pleasure.
Look around you. No one of power, no one IN power, wants change. The structure would be altered and their power would be eradicated and they would be required to fend for themselves as the bulk of us do now. Those of us who want change can not find the means, financial or otherwise, to initiate change. It is as though it were all a merry-go-round. Colorful and tuneful, stopping and starting at regulated intervals, going nowhere. Where is the progress? Where is the resolution? It gets to a point where the options become increasingly limited. A growing sense of frustration can result in a feeling of acquiescence. Since there is nothing that can be done, nothing will be done nor attempted to be done. It is, after all, in this particular state of mind, pointless. And life continues until the end of life and the accounting is done then. Anger is another alternative. But misplaced anger only winds up metamorphosing the individual into the same object of derision. In essence, the concept of degrading one’s self into the thing that has created the fear or hatred or disgust. This is counter-productive to a resolution of a situation. This scenario winds up with the feeling of an intellectual paraplegic. There is the mind working, integrating ideas, collating information, processing data, but the body completely incapable of acting upon any satisfactory ideas. However, to allow that mindset to take hold permanently is a greater paralysis than anything else. If resolution is strong and purpose is clear, it is apparent, without the monetary resources, that some sort of sacrifice is required. From a positive standpoint, I have encountered hundreds of stories of well-meaning individuals, not clergyman or community leaders, but simply honest-to-goodness everyday people, who have given of themselves and their time and their lives, and yes, what little money they had, to affect a change, albeit within a smaller circle. But like a pebble tossed into a pond, the circles spread out and touch the other side of that pond. It is feasible to make a difference. It is possible to change, even one small miniscule segment of society. Not perhaps an entire state or county or city. Perhaps just a neighborhood. A household within that neighborhood. A family member within that household. And what if that family member is involved in a gang or was abused by another family member or close acquaintance or was a victim of a scam in which their life savings was eradicated and now the entire family will struggle even more and have to face to indignity of government assistance?
What can be done then?