Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

PRISON VIOLENCE NOT ACCEPTABLE

 

September 1, 2019 | View PDF



Since I have been out of flying for a while trying to get this shoulder of mine back into working order so I can climb back into the cockpit, I have thankfully had the opportunity to do a lot of writing (book #3 underway) and perhaps unfortunately, watch a lot of television. I have gotten hooked on channels like Investigation Discovery (ID) and some other crime type shows. There is no escaping the sick people we share this planet with. But these shows are like a train wreck, you just can’t look away. They are like entertainment crack, once hooked, you are hooked.

To me, among the most disturbing shows depict sexually motivated rape and murders. There is absolutely no shortage of these crimes on so many episodes. Although I could be prompted to punch you in the face if you need it, I could never sexually assault another person. Never. My father taught me right. So many of these cases involve this type of crime that it is difficult to watch at times. My wife and I watched the new Ted Bundy special the other night and let me be clear, this guy deserved what he got in the end. It is hard for me to fathom how a human can operate the way he did and do the horrendous things he did to so many young women. Two as young as twelve. I did not realize that. But at the same time, no matter how vile a human being he was, and many others are, their life in prison should not be a state-condoned torture chamber. This leads me to my point.

If we define prison as an institution for the confinement of persons held in lawful custody, why do we allow criminals to commit crimes while under lock and key? Why do we seem to embrace and even glorify prison violence as a form of normalcy? Back in 2003, the Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed. It is a federal law that “prohibits sexual misconduct in correctional settings such as prisons, jails, lockups, juvenile facilities, and Immigration Services/ICE detention facilities. Sexual misconduct under this law includes:

- Inmate-on-inmate sexual assault and abuse

- Staff-on-inmate sexual misconduct (sexual/inappropriate

relationships with inmates)

- Inmate-on-inmate and staff-on-inmate sexual harassment

Twice per month, 2 - 4 men from my church go out to Red Eagle work camp in Wetumpka and minister to the prisoners out there who want to come and listen to us. I have been doing this for about 7 - 8 years now and one of our guys has been going out there for about 16 years. Yeah, these guys are in prison for doing illegal things but at the same time, they are human beings who are often lost and in need of direction. Once you get to know some of them, some are much harder than others and although most of the men in the camp do not come to our meetings, you realize that they are being justly punished for whatever they did and we have no right to expect non-State sanctioned violence in their daily lives.

Too often, many of us tend to laugh and joke about people in prison becoming someone’s “wife.” The reality is there is nothing funny about rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Nothing. The old HBO show Oz, for example, often depicted this brutal reality of prison life. A good friend of mine used to work in the Georgia prison system (key phrase “used to”) and many of his stories relating to what he often witnessed were sordid, disgusting and disturbing. There are approximately 1.5 million people in federal prison in America today. (http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/basicfax8.htm). In 2001, Human Rights Watch (https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Prison_rape_in_the_United_States) reported that some 140,000 people had been raped while in Federal prison and that every year more and more of this type of crime is committed within our prison system with too many administrators looking the other way. If asked how I can say this, the fact that it still goes on in proof enough. Is it on the decline? I sure hope so.

I do not have any data on how successful this Prison Rape Elimination Act has been but as a nation, we should commend the attempt to implement national standards aimed at reducing prison violence and sexual assault. As Americans, we should never condone the commission of crimes no matter who the victims might be. No, a rapist does not deserve to be raped while in prison. Sorry. It is sort of like being a prisoner of war. Before I accept your surrender, I can pretty much do to you whatever I want within the Laws of Armed Conflict. If you come to me with raised hands wanting to surrender, I am under no obligation to accept your surrender and I can shoot you on the spot. Rude? Without a doubt. Illegal? Sorry, Charlie. Once I accept your surrender, however, I have to afford you certain protections. As it should be. The same with our prison system.

As has been suggested, I agree that training correctional officers to combat this problem is a first step. On the walls at the Red Eagle administration block, they have posters bringing awareness to this abomination. As it should be. Likewise, identifying those prisoners subject to victimization is of utmost importance. If you can identify them, rest assured, many in the general population will identify them within seconds of their arrival. Lastly, officials must single out the perpetrators of violence and separate them from the rest of the prison population. In effect, we have to remove the fox from the hen house. This also includes the correctional officers themselves who either commit these crimes or willingly turn a blind eye to the reality around them.

Rape is always an abomination, pure and simple. Whether Russian soldiers raping German women by the thousands at the end of the Second World War, a father raping his daughter, a female teacher raping her 15-year-old male student, a correctional officer raping a female prisoner, this is one crime that should never be allowed to be seen as “no big deal.” Any society that views rape as acceptable, whether committed against men or women, needs to reassess its own morality. I think we can agree that nobody ever “deserves” to be raped. In prison, the victims know their tormentors are close by and the chance of continued violations exist every day. The victims live in a perpetual state of siege and fear that does not go away; it cannot. They are locked in an area with nowhere to run. This is not nor should ever be the intent of our prison system. In addition to the legal and rightful denial of their freedom while being incarcerated, prison becomes their chamber of horrors as concerns about rape, sodomy or the forced performance of sexual acts on other inmates is a daily reality. Not to mention physical beatings and often times murders.

I think criminals belong in prison and we must severely punish those who commit the most heinous of crimes. I am firm here. Let there be no doubt. At the same time, while in prison crimes will be committed. There is no doubt and it is a certainty. A bunch of bad guys/ girls in an enclosed space with nowhere to run is the breeding ground for violent confrontations. While in custody of the state, however, whether we like it or not, prisoners are entitled to certain rights. I have heard people argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. Others claim that putting prisoners to work for eight to ten hours a day is equally unfair. At the same time, many see nothing wrong with the unremitting violence and sexual aberrations that occur within the prison population. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the prison violence is that the least violent of offenders are often the ones most likely targeted for violence and exploitation. If rehabilitation is a goal of prison, then years of physical, sexual and mental abuse will do nothing to prepare prisoners for release back into society.

I for one will be happy to see firm evidence of the reduction of violence in our prison system.

 

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