“Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What do you mean by seizing the whole earth; because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor”. City of God, St. Augustine
In another lifetime, my day job involved working with “special populations.” Initially I taught Welfare-to-Work and Career Development and over time moved on to work collaboratively within our community as a planning unit supervisor, designing and delivering programs that served refugees, at-risk youth, foster youth, and ex-offenders. Such programs are meant to assist in assimilation of refugees and in the transition from foster youth programs or incarceration to integration into the mainstream population.
These programs involved a range of services – General Education Diploma, English as a Second Language, vocational training, case management, mental health counseling and support groups. Because early in my career my work included training, I had first hand contact with clients, including at one point going into prisons to do some preliminary work toward successful transitions and lower recidivism rates. Later, writing grant applications and assisting in the development of Requests for Proposals required hosting focus groups with stake-holders, which included our prospective clients.
This experience was quite enlightening for a kid who was raised and educated in convent schools. I was equally appalled and inspired: appalled by the ways in which our culture and government and even well-meant social programs can entrap and inspired by the depth of faith and courage I witnessed in people who had crushing barriers to successful and sustainable employment and integration. Many of these barriers were artificially created by ill-informed perspectives and biases and sometimes cruelty on the part of the general population and by lawmakers.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
There were certainly a lot of clients who clearly had exercised poor judgement or simply (often devastatingly) had no idea of the impact their actions had on the lives of others; but, there were those many whose incarceration was born of poverty, lack of education and opportunity, lack of parental guidance and presence, racism, learning disabilities and mental illness. Among other things, the great lesson – and the great disappointment – of that period in my life was that the U.S. justice system was rife with injustice. That was true all those years ago and never more so than it is now.
Today, one of the great travesties is the move from publicly run prisons to corporate management and exploitation. You will often see prison management companies advertise the provision of education, training and other services meant to make the general public believe they act with good conscience. If you review stockholder materials, however, it is blatantly obvious that recidivism rates are a selling point. Privately managed prisons have a vested financial interest in high prison populations and a high percentage of returns to prison. Hence, the way prisoners are treated IS CRIMINAL. All things considered, this is a modern-day example of the view St. Augustine’s pirate held: “I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.”
© 2017, Jamie Dedes
The video below provides an overview of the corporate prison complex.
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