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Do Jails Kill People? (newyorker.com)
129 points by Tomasz_Papka on Feb 21, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

A major unaddressed issue is laws like PLRA (passed in 1996) that utterly wiped out federal court oversight of local/state prisons/jails. In addition, PLRA made it borderline-impossible for incarcerated people (whether convicted or not) to bring legit, non-frivolous lawsuits relating to unconstitutional conditions of confinement.

Pre-PLRA, there was some hard-won federal court oversight (consent decrees and the like) of state prisons/jails but PLRA forcibly evicted federal courts from that role (with nothing to fill their place). See https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/why-its-nearly-impo... or https://casetext.com/analysis/nineties-crime-and-punishment-... for more about this, as well as PLRA's ugly twin, AEDPA.

All this wanton brutality and abusive conditions of confinement in jails/prisons happens in part because PLRA countenances it, there's no other way around it.

A federal judge in Georgia recently responded to an inmate's plea for help. Timothy Gumm had been arbitrarily thrown in solitary confinement for being accused of attempting to escape:

"Gumm’s handwritten lawsuit made it to U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle, who acknowledged having “serious reservations as to the ultimate validity” of Gumm’s claims. Laws aimed at curtailing frivolous lawsuits make it hard for inmates to protest prison conditions, and judges set a high bar for hearing such complaints. But Weigle noticed that several other of the 180 or so inmates in the Special Management Unit at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison were making similar claims. He eventually let Gumm’s complaint go forward, and assigned lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights to represent him free of charge." [0] (emphasis added)

I was not aware of the PLRA when I read this last night, thanks for filling in that detail.

[0] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/one-america-s-harshest-...

Edit: Docket for Mr. Gumm's suit: https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/PC-GA-0020-9000....

I've found it hard to find out who was responsible for PLRA, but what I do know is that it seemed to enjoy wide congressional support, received little scrutiny, was signed into law by Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden was one of the only senators who raised concerns about it preventing meritorious lawsuits. [1]

[1] https://ilr.law.uiowa.edu/print/volume-100-issue-2/please-pa...

It's definitely reaks of 90s Clinton triangulation.

It reeks more of Clintonian conservatism; while triangulation was a Clinton strategy, it gets overused to explain Clinton's policy actions recently, perhaps because people have bought in to decades of Republican propaganda labeling Clinton as some kind of Communist, forgetting that he was an active and vociferous conservative democrat, and before being President a leader of the center-right DLC, and that outside of healthcare and culture war issues his positions were a hairs breadth from Republican positions (at least the pre-1994 ones; his own conservatism contributed to a radical rightward shift of the Overton window, including a radical rightward move in the Republican Party.)

Absolutely right. I should put "triangulation" in scare quotes because it's totally ineffective and dishonest as well.

Triangulation is often (and was for Clinton) an effective near term political strategy (it's quite useful as an electoral strategy for a single election, in many cases), but it's a strategy which wins battles by setting your opponent up to win the long term policy war.

> A major unaddressed issue is laws like PLRA (passed in 1996) that utterly wiped out federal court oversight of local/state prisons/jails.

Well, it greatly reduced it. It didn't utterly wipe it out, as California’s post-96 experience rather dramatically demonstrates.

My experience with jail:

I was having severe heart palpitations in jail and the guards would not give me my medicine. When I got irate they would threaten to throw me in the hole without food and water for a few days.

I also have a spine disorder that brings me extreme discomfort and the cots were the same units they'd ordered in the sixties. No stuffing at all, and I would wake up slightly paralyzed waist up for a few hours, with intense shoulder pain and barely being able to walk from sciatic flare-ups.

I coincidentally was suffering from multiple dental infections accelerated from black mold in my apartment, sometimes running fever, again with no medicine because I "didn't feel out the medicine form". They never gave me one and wouldn't give me one. They wouldn't cover an emergency dental operation either because "I wasn't going to be in there long enough". I really thought I was going to die or at least become critically ill and in need of hospitalization while in there. Only two or so weeks after I got out, I ended up developing an infection that paralyzed me almost completely until I was able to secure antibiotics.

Best part was, the entire conviction and incarceration was illegal but the prosecutor changed my public defender and the new one refused to help me or let me appeal my case. I was also handed the maximum allowed sentence for the conviction, despite absolutely no evidence and several conflicting testimonies.

The American justice system really is something.

Edit: forgot to mention a juicy part: The jail lied to me and told me the only way that I could bail out the night I was arrested was if I signed a particular form which I later found out waived my right to a fair and speedy trial by jury. I was tricked into taking away authority over my case from the people and bestowing it entirely to a judge with corrupt motives.

This is the thing that scares me about police, jails, and prisons, especially when visiting the U.S.

Regardless of what the law is, who is right, or who is wrong, you find yourself under the control, care, and protection of some of the lowest grade of people society has to offer.

Get yourself a paid for lawyer, make sure the lawyer shows up to the jail when you are arrested, you will have a much better time dealing with the criminal justice system.

> Have money, and use that money to pay for above-average treatment, and you will have a much better time dealing with the criminal justice system

I'm sorry that you experienced such an inhumane ordeal. Were you incarcerated at a publicly or privately operated facility?

Public facility ostensibly, but essentially privately owned because the mayor's son is the district prosecutor, the (at the time) county's only judge, mayor and sheriff are political best buds, and the mayor is the bail bondsman for the county.

To give you a better idea: Someone I know tried running against the district prosecutor last year, and ended up getting thrown in jail for made-up charges which magically appeared citing a rape of a woman 15 years ago. The district prosecutor was assigned to the case and this person has simply been fighting to have another prosecutor assigned to the case because obviously if the DA tries him he will put him away as long as he can as an example to others. These people get away with everything up to and including murder.

Sounds like a great story for investigative media. Are there none in the region?

Some stories made it into a couple surrounding local newspapers, not within the county itself afaik. This person is a lawyer and has some connections and is trying to involve the FBI.

I myself had begun the task of gathering evidence about my arresting officer, who was actively manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine. I personally witnessed this officer engage in smurfing, and have surveillance photographs of her engaging in drug deals.

My plan was to take this evidence to the nearest local FBI office, but after discussing the situation with several former police officers I wasn't convinced of my safety or that the officer wouldn't be tipped off, so I eventually just got out of the town and didn't look back because they were trying to make things really bad for me. This officer has a personal vendetta against me and friends of mine and would frequently harass and threaten us.

I tried contacting the ACLU and soliciting free legal assistance once when my conviction took place, but at the time the barrier was $1000's of dollars of court records from several appearances needed to prove my situation, which I didn't have the money for at the time. AFAIK I'm no longer able to appeal the conviction because of the amount of time passed.

What region of the US is this?

The South, of course.

Are they selling bulldozers and concrete near that area?

This story about a woman giving birth in a cell at a Texas facility is pretty disturbing: https://dfw.cbslocal.com/2012/07/10/premature-baby-born-at-d...

The guards just ignored her. The baby died. The story mentions other incidents in the same facility. There are several world class hospitals just down the street.

It did get shut down, but likely solely due to this incident involving a child. The prior incidents were well known, but didn't kill anyone other than prisoners.

Also, this happened to be a privatized facility. I do think that's a big problem.

On the other hand, there are plenty of state employee run facilities with similar issues. The conditions vary wildly by both state and specific facility.

I've decided that American jails are job projects [2]. They make work for guards, sheriffs and lawyers, at the expense of trapping people in a system from which they can't escape.

The passenger I bailed out of jail [0] was almost killed by jail policies. He was forced to submit to a daily injection of time-release insulin, on the basis of his high A1C levels at intake. This has the effect of suppressing his blood sugar throughout the day... Time-release insulin is probably okay on a normal diet with adequate amounts of sugar. The Maricopa County Jail feeds a starvation diet, where the only things worth eating are found in the vending machines.

I think we're slowly realizing the futility of fixing social problems by throwing people in cages. The recently-passed "First Step act" [1] is a baby-step in the right direction.

[0] Who Are Your Lifelines? http://www.taxiwars.org/who-are-your-lifelines/ (originally posted at kuro5hin.org)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Step_Act

[2] America's Make-Work Sheriff: The Anachronism of Joseph Arpaio - https://www.taxiwars.org/2017/09/americas-make-work-sheriff-...

[2] Ordinary Rendition: The Public Servants' Quagmire https://www.taxiwars.org/2017/10/ordinary-rendition-public-s...

>This passenger had gotten a series of "driving without a license" tickets, and now owes $10,000+ in fines. Because of the outstanding balance, the state issues him an identification card that expires every 3 or 6 months. People who don't have balances with the state get identification cards without an expiration date.

the state behaves just like a petulant cruel child, so typical of GOP and their puritanical mentality.

If ID is required by state to access basic rights, then having such an ID is a right not a privilege. In this case, beside everything else, AZ by de-facto denying ID to those people effectively strips them of their right to vote for example.

A related note on prison systems designed as cheap labor: Solzhenitsyn argued that the Gulag system was not a Stalinist aberration from the Soviet ideal : Lenin himself had envisioned forced labor in an extensive network.

Solzhenitsyn remarks that the Soviet productivity in public works was dependent on this system of slave labor. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulag_Archipelago

The US prison system is a direct reaction to the Constitutional Amendments that banned chattel slavery except for prison. Et voila, immediately a huge prison system immediately popped up.

Incarceration has been a sore spot of the american justice system for a long time. Privatization should be illegal and the plea system needs reform.

“Because jails are chaotic and concealed from outside view, we only become aware of them when very bad outcomes occur, such as deaths,”

Rikers Island is operated by the New York City Department of Correction, not a private company, and 85% of Rikers' residents have not been convicted (at least not yet) so how are your suggestions supposed to help with any of the issues outlined in the OP? If anything, moving away from plea bargaining would mean more people in jails awaiting trial.

More generally, what is the value or repeating things like argument-less slogans about prison privatization or "if you don't pay for it, you're the product", especially to people who must have read it dozens of times?

"Guilty pleas have replaced trials for a very simple reason: individuals who choose to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial face exponentially higher sentences if they invoke the right to trial and lose. Faced with this choice, individuals almost uniformly surrender the right to trial rather than insist on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, defense lawyers spend most of their time negotiating guilty pleas rather than ensuring that police and the government respect the boundaries of the law including the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard, and judges dedicate their time to administering plea allocutions rather than evaluating the constitutional and legal aspects of the government’s case and police conduct. Equally important, the public rarely exercises the oversight function envisioned by the Framers and inherent in jury service."



Plea bargaining makes innocent people admit to things they didn't do. Given the choice to plead guilty and receive 30 days in jail vs taking a chance in court at the risk of 3 years in jail, which would you take? Not to mention the insane costs of hiring a lawyer, which only wealthy people can afford. With the current trend of "guilty until proven innocent", it's no wonder folks take this approach.

And how does it relate to brutality on Rikers Island? What is the relevance to the OP?

If you do elect for a trial, you are going to be waiting for a long time (on Rikers), because the system is overloaded and isn't actually provisioned to provide justice for the volume of people forced through it. This is the same reason that prosecutors are pressured to plead everyone out and public defenders are pressured to take those deals.

It's easy to score public dollars to hire cops and build prisons, but it's much harder to add judges, public defenders, clerks, and courtrooms. The result is more people with a right to a trial than we have the capacity to give a trial. Justice is therefore a scarce good and must be rationed by some means: you can either queue (wait in jail), pay in cash (by hiring private representation and making cash bail), or roll the dice and go to trial with a public defender.

The solution isn't to find another way to ration justice, it's to reduce the imbalance between people with rights to a trial and the number of trials we can provide. We can do this by arresting fewer people by, for example, ending the war on drugs (among other things) or by expanding the number of judges, clerks, and public defenders in our justice system to be able to handle the whole load. Maybe both are needed in some measure.

Does any other country have a system like plea bargaining? I mean officially sanctioned and on something like the same scale.

> easy to score public dollars to hire cops and build prisons, but it's much harder to add judges, public defenders, clerks, and courtrooms

If other countries do not have plea bargaining then how does this economic argument work in the US but , apparently, not elsewhere.

I ask this because I get the impression that the US is the only country that has an official plea bargaining system.

Why do people awaiting trial for petty crimes need to go to jail? Rich people don't have to go to jail. Give them an ankle monitor and a court date.

You also can't bail yourself out. If taken in, you can't just hand them a credit card, and be done. You have to have someone else pay for your bail, assuming you can convince someone to do so. Forgot every phone number because it's 2019 and we all have our contacts in an app? Too bad. You're not allowed to use your iPhone either. It's a very well thought out system to keep you in jail as long as possible. Unless of course, you're rich.

> Forgot every phone number because it's 2019 and we all have our contacts in an app?

This is going to be off topic, but I find this dumb.

Is it so hard to learn a 7 digit number that you need to make yourself dependent on a stupid device?


If you don't want to keep hearing the slogan, find a different way to fix the underlying problem.

Privatization isn't the issue. A lot of the abuses you see in private prisons, you see in public prisons. I recommend anyone read "Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform"[1] by John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham who focuses on these issues. It addresses a lot of misconceptions about the criminal justice system and suggests reforms. You can find a 1 hour talk by Pfaff that gives a good overview of the book[2].

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Locked-Causes-Incarceration-Achieve-R...

[2] https://cdn.cato.org/archive-2017/cbf-04-26-17.mp4

Great points, thanks for the reference to that book. I follow Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner[0] and I think he's headed in the right direction. I'm not in Philadelphia but reports of his efforts are very positive.

The reason for me knocking privatization is corruption. Kickbacks/lobbying[1] and nepotism[2]. While most of these actions are legal I don't think it is ethical.

I'll do some more reading before commenting further.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Krasner

[1] https://outline.com/MzTc9f

[2] George W. Bush & Gus Puryear https://medium.com/@pavelsokolov_56935/private-prisons-in-am...

>Privatization should be illegal and the plea system needs reform.

IMHO, apathy about anyone who's ensnared in the legal system, "Well, if they weren't doing anything wrong...", leads to dehumanisation. Dehumanisation will - almost always - lead to many forms of abuse.

I wish it were as simple as just making privatisation illegal and reforming the plea system but I fear that it would take far more than that to see true change.

Put succinctly: The moment you no longer care about someone's life, in any shape or form, then that battle was already lost before it was even begun.

"apathy" is an understatement. Surveys show clearly that many people in the US, compared to other cultures, firmly believe in punitive justice.

People who broke the law are seen as "deserving" to suffer in order to restore a "just" world.

Even if the suffering is not effective as a deterrent or as part of a healing process, it's expected for a philosophical (or religious) reason.

Everyone commits around three federal felonies a day, according to the premise of the book "Theee Felonies a Day" that I read a long time ago.

We are all criminals and all do something "wrong" legally, all the time. The only difference is that the justice system focuses on some of us and not others, and the plea system harms most of those who are focused on, because any scrutiny at all can virtually always lead to an indictment.

Just check the Skrelli incident for an example, or the whole Muller investigation. Virtually all those people would have escaped indictment had they just kept their heads down and avoided notice by justice officials.

That book was a huge exaggeration. It's central thesis was that most things that that are felonies are larger scale versions of minor acts (like battery is unwabtedt touching, so supposedly you could be convicted for bumping someone on a subway, and since the law accounts for mens rea, anyone could be party to a crime if the crime occurred and the judge/jury believe it was intentional. What's the alternative, to make any crime legal as long as the perpetrator has a partner and they both blame each other for being the mastermind?

Your example of people who very clearly commuted major crimes, but could have avoided punishment, is the opposite of your thesis. very few people steal over a million dollars.

I just looked at the reviews on Amazon. One reader wrote, "If you're looking for everyday examples of the felonies you and I unwittingly commit each day, you won't find them here."

I guess I won't be buying it.

This is a real concern in politically- or publicity-motivated prosecutions. And it gives prosecutors a wide avenue to abuse their powers.

But are these a significant per cent of cases that lead people to Rikers? I'm gonna guess no, they won't add up to even a single per cent.

Just to be pedantic, Rikers, as I recall, is a state/city jail and not a federal prison.

My personal belief is if the gov't wants you in jail, they can basically make it happen and only people with extreme resources may be able to belay that.

The root of the problem is that we as a society can't agree on what the purpose of prison is. Is it punishment? Is it repaying a debt to society? Is it reform? Is it to prevent people from committing more crime? This is also the reason why the US justice doesn't make much sense either.

Because people have vastly different views on the matter, we are unable to construct a prison system (or justice system) that makes any sense.

Has anyone watched the recent documentary 'The Work'? I think putting people in jail is possibly the worst crime of all. Let's get them in therapy instead. We can help to heal them by listening to their stories.

The trailer for 'The Work' can be watched here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8OVXG2GhpQ

Good luck convincing anyone that listening to stories will drastically alter a person's neurology to the point of making them go from hyper-aggressive to docile. Until we improve our cognitive reforming abilities, violent criminals need to be segregated from the rest of the population. I do agree, though, that the vindictive aspect of "justice" is primative.

I think we can move towards less punitive measures. In Europe there are far fewer jail sentences, I agree about violent offenders. The fact is most people are in jail for non-violent offenses.

Even in the case of violent crime, the necessity of imprisoning them for as long as the US does, is questionable. Again in Europe jail sentences tend to be much shorter.

Non-violent offenders still mess people's lives up and will likely continue to do so given opportunity. Imagine losing your retirement savings due to being conned. The so-called victimless crimes (eg: drug use), are the ones which could use the most overhaul.

The issue is that most people in prison aren't "hyper aggressive". We incarcerate way more people than other places so your argument seems predicated on there being a lot more "hyper aggressive" people in the US than other places and I can't think of why that's the case.

I never said victimless crimes need prison time. My argument is that hyper-aggressive people, and those that cause harm to others, need to be separated from the rest of society. The percentage of people that this applies to is greater than 0. The post I was commenting on said putting people in jail is a crime, when that's the best of bad solutions we currently have in a lot of cases.

Genuine question: do you believe laziness exists?

“We Americans stubbornly resist the possibility that what we do is profoundly shaped by policies, norms, systems, and other structural realities. We prefer to believe that people who commit crimes are morally deficient, that the have-nots in our midst are lazy (or at least insufficiently resourceful), that overweight people simply lack the willpower to stop eating, and so on. If only those folks would just exercise a little personal responsibility, a bit more self-control!” — Alfie Kahn

I think it's presumptuous to say that all violence is the result of a person's neurology, and not someone being in a desperate position because a number of their human needs not being met. Do you ever get angry or regret things?

When you talk about 'cognitive reforming abilities’, to me it sounds as if you are saying that human beings are like machines to be tweaked, which is rather indicative of technocratic solutionism. Do you think you are connected to a compassionate, nonjudgmental view of humanity or life itself?

In my experience, a lot of other men I’ve had around me tend to shy away from sharing what is going on inside of them, not sharing and describing what they feel in their body and how this relates to their unmet needs.

"The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, 'Please do not tell us what you feel.' ... If we cannot heal what we cannot feel, by supporting patriarchal culture that socializes men to deny feelings, we doom them to live in states of emotional numbness. We construct a culture where male pain can have no voice, where male hurt cannot be named or healed." — bell hooks

When I first read this, it resonated with me a lot. Does it resonate with you?

I think American society has evolved into a culture that glorifies violence, turns young girls into sex objects, sends young men to their deaths to ‘defend America’, and indoctrinates it's citizens with bizarre nationalistic views and a sense superiority that to me is completely removed from a compassionate view of life.

I recently learned that that there is not just one type of abuse, ‘disempowering abuse’ - which is shaming, and making someone consider themselves ‘less than’ others, but two types. The second type of abuse, which I think American culture suffers from, is what Pia Mellody calls: ‘false empowerment’. It leads to codependent individuals, on both sides. Here is a description by psychologist Terrence Real, from his book ‘How Can I Get Through to You’:

“What Pia has called “disempowering abuse” is the one we can all readily identify. It is made up of transactions that shame a child, hurt him, physically or psychologically, make him feel unwanted, helpless, unworthy. What Pia has called “false empowerment,” by contrast, is comprised of transactions that pump up a child’s grandiosity, or at the least, that do not actively hold it in check. Pia’s genius was in understanding that falsely empowering a child is also a form of abuse.”

I think this artistic video, by Lubomir Arsov, sums up the Global North’s collective unconscious: https://vimeo.com/242569435

I think we need to move away from punitive justice as practiced in America today, and move to restorative justice. Re-humanizing and de-labeling people.

After doing deep soul searching, at this point I just can’t say that if I were in someone else’s shoes - that I would do ‘better’ than them. Listening to people’s stories and exploring their motivations with them has led me to some beautiful experiences and connections, including a more compassionate connection and relationship with myself.

To be honest, at the same time as I am getting very stirred up inside from the viewpoint you shared, I somehow don’t think the world could be any better than it is today. Tracing our collective behavior to the roots, I think a lot comes from our money system. Bernard Lietaer helped me see that money is a human invention.

Charles Eisenstein on Sacred Economics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEZkQv25uEs

> After doing deep soul searching, at this point I just can’t say that if I were in someone else’s shoes - that I would do ‘better’ than them.

I believe in Open-Individualism. You (the subject of experience) are in everyone's shoes. You can't seperate the 'you' I believe you're referring to here (the ego) from the shoes, so to speak. So yes, with the identical neurology of someone else, you would act identically.

I'm not advocating punitive justice, justice for the sake of vengeance, because of the belief outlined above. What I am advocating for is reducing suffering as a whole, and part of that solution, unfortunately right now, involves separating some individuals from the rest of society. It's a pragmatic matter. Of course the environment (including the "patriarchal" lessons directed towards men on emotional management) strongly influences the odds of an individual necessitating said seperation. We should be researching ways to fix that. In the meantime, though, there is a certain percentage that simply won't respond to treatment or therapy. To think otherwise is simply naive, and suggests one has had few encounters with true malevolence.

“I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief, so this massive darkness makes me small.” — Rilke

I am grateful to learn about this new term ‘Open-Individualism’. I see it is somewhat similar to Hindu philosophy’s ‘Tat tvam asi’, which I love.

Might I implore you to start an apprenticeship with grief? I think what this society needs most at this time is people who see the beauty in indigenous ritual processes and actively participate in them in their communities.

“In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life. Poet Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths. We are an ascension culture. We love rising, and we fear going down. Consequently we find ways to deny the reality of this rich but difficult territory, and we are thinned psychically. We live in what I call a “flat-line culture,” where the band is narrow in terms of what we let ourselves fully feel. We may cry at a wedding or when we watch a movie, but the full-throated expression of emotion is off-limits.” — Francis Weller

I learned about having an ‘apprenticeship with grief’ through the work of Francis Weller. He writes:

“I’m not sure how or when I began my apprenticeship with sorrow. I do know that it was my gateway back into the breathing and animate world. It was through the dark waters of grief that I came to touch my unlived life, by at last unleashing tears I had never shed for the losses in my world. Grief led me back into a world that was vivid and radiant. There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive. Through this, I have come to have a lasting faith in grief.

This book is also about restoring the Soul of the World. Bringing soul back to the world means perceiving the world through a deepened imagination, one that is capable of experiencing our intimacy with the surrounding world of finches and dragonflies, creeks and woodlands, neighborhoods and friends. Everything possesses soul. It is our myopia, our one-dimensional attention to things “human,” that leads us to see the world as an object, something to be controlled, manipulated, and consumed. The earth is a revelation, offering itself to us daily in an astonishing array of beauty and suffering. What is required of us is living with a level of openness and vulnerability to the joys and sorrows of the world. Taking in the beauty of the land as well as the great rips and tears in her skin requires a psyche attuned to the living world and one engaged in the ongoing conversation with all things. Soul returns to the world when we attend to the rhythms of nature, when we nourish our friendships with time and attention and in our daily participation with repairing the world. How well we do that will determine the fate of our communities and the planet.” — Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow

I found a great introduction to his work in this podcast: https://charleseisenstein.net/podcasts/new-and-ancient-story...

You write: “To think otherwise is simply naive, and suggests one has had few encounters with true malevolence.” Do you think maybe it is possible that there are experiences or insights where others’ suffering has taken them down roads that you might not have had the opportunity of having been down yet? That is what it sounds like to me, when you write the above.

I understand your point. ’…separating some individuals from the rest of society’ to me sounds like what ‘Nonviolent Communication’ originator Marshall Rosenberg calls ‘the protective use of force’:

“The intention behind the protective use of force is to prevent injury or injustice. The intention behind the punitive use of force is to cause individuals to suffer for their perceived misdeeds. When we grab a child who is running into the street to prevent the child from being injured, we are applying protective force. The punitive use of force, on the other hand, might involve physical or psychological attack, such as spanking the child or saying,

“How could you be so stupid! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

When we exercise the protective use of force, we are focusing on the life or rights we want to protect, without passing judgment on either the person or the behavior. We are not blaming or condemning the child who rushes into the street; our thinking is solely directed toward protecting the child from danger.

The assumption behind the protective use of force is that people behave in ways injurious to themselves and others due to some form of ignorance. The corrective process is therefore one of education, not punishment. Ignorance includes (1) a lack of awareness of the consequences of our actions, (2) an inability to see how our needs may be met without injury to others, (3) the belief that we have the right to punish or hurt others because they “deserve” it, and (4) delusional thinking that involves, for example, hearing a voice that instructs us to kill someone.”

I’m not sure if you’ve seen what goes on in American prisons, but judging from the documentary ‘13th’, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. To me, the Prison–industrial Complex is incredibly inhumane.

Reading both Marshall Rosenberg and Pia Mellody helped me to understand why people can be violent, to try to ask questions instead, and to be less quick to judge others when they are using excessive force.

Marshall Rosenberg starts one of his books with:

“Nonviolent Communication evolved out of an intense interest I had in two questions. First, I wanted to better understand what happens to human beings that leads some of us to behave violently and exploitatively. And second, I wanted to better understand what kind of education serves our attempts to remain compassionate—which I believe is our nature— even when others are behaving violently or exploitatively. The theory that has been around for many centuries says that violence and exploitation happen because people are innately evil, selfish, or violent. But I have seen people who aren’t like that; I have seen many people who enjoy contributing to one another’s well-being. So, I wondered why some people seem to enjoy other people’s suffering, while other people are just the opposite.”

In another he writes:

“My preoccupation with these questions began in childhood, around the summer of 1943, when our family moved to Detroit, Michigan. The second week after we arrived, a race war erupted over an incident at a public park. More than forty people were killed in the next few days. Our neighborhood was situated in the center of the violence, and we spent three days locked in the house.

When the race riot ended and school began, I discovered that a name could be as dangerous as any skin color. When the teacher called my name during attendance, two boys glared at me and hissed, “Are you a kike?” I had never heard the word before and didn’t know some people used it in a derogatory way to refer to Jews. After school, the same two boys were waiting for me: they threw me to the ground and kicked and beat me.”

I would like to express my gratitude to you for this exchange. I enjoyed your responses, and having been able to engage with you.

Thanks for this amazing comment.

Can we read more of your writing/thoughts anywhere? The videos and books you shared were fascinating.

I read an estimate that the majority of rapes that happen in the US are prison rapes. If so then even the public discourse on rape itself is failing to highlight and protect these thousands of victims of sexual violence.

It's so normalized in the cultural psyche it's the subject of jokes. It's not uncomfortable "trying to make terms with something" jokes, it's full on schadenfruede.

> The main cause of injuries was fights with other incarcerated people

Putting large quantities of aggressive people into confined areas does generally result in violence, yes.

Also, these two YouTube channels are by former prisoners, if you're looking for information from that perspective:

* https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGPB2ZA4096SESz_VZVzHoA

* https://www.youtube.com/user/FreshOutSeries


I don't think this is entirely true. Where I live they don't move you to a prison if your sentence is less than a year.

It is kind of irrelevant though, don't you think? People who are guilty of crimes don't deserve to be murdered either.

It's an issue of magnitude that a lot of Law And Order types are happy to set aside for their purposes. Some people really are okay with convicted felons getting "what's coming to them" in prison, and you can see it in public discourse with jokes about prison shanking and prison sexual assault. (Personally, I feel like it should go without saying that none of that stuff is okay.)

If you make it clear to the average voter that the people getting hurt and killed by cops and other prisoners in jail are the elderly, single moms, etc - often held for a few days awaiting an initial trial, or even without charges - it becomes a lot more obvious to them that something is not right here. People are much more willing to blur the lines and shrug if it's "bad guys", and we talk a lot about "bad guys" in modern american politics.

I agree that no one should be tortured and murdered, but my point still stands because Americans are so apathetic to the suffering of convicts (and suffering of anyone in general). Most probably assume people in jail deserve to be there. There may be some convicted people in jail, true, but then it becomes a multi-purpose facility that's both jail and prison.

Do jails kill people? No. Jail is a tool. People kill people.

Jails are a system in which people operate, and how that system is designed lacks accountability and encourages guards to kill people.

The people within that system have responsibility for how they behave, yes, but as long as the system continues to exist the behaviour will as well.

They're not really people, they are officers acting in official capacity, ie. agents of a state.

They are, as people, often immune from legal consequences for their actions.

Would they behave the same way otherwise?


Jails do harm and even kill people.

Jails and prisons inflict violence daily on the inmates, and even the guards and staff, just from the very nature of the situation they create.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_violence

People don't kill people. Loss of oxygenation of the brain kills people.

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