“Some men see things as they are, and ask why.
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” – Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)
The most powerful force depressing the consciousness vibrations of all of humankind is the fact that every human institution is fear-based. We have seen that this is true of religions, which use fear and guilt to keep the faithful in their pews; and in fact, it is true of everything we do. Humankind as a whole is not sufficiently developed spiritually even to know what a love-based institution might be like! So let’s look now at some of the differences between fear-based and love-based institutions, and then let’s consider the most destructive fear-based American institution of all so we can re-imagine how it might be replaced with a more successful version that is based in love. Fear-based institutions are:
Top-down. Every such institution has a governing body that makes and enforces the rules. That body generally lacks supervision, so it wields a lot of independent authority.
Tailored to serve the needs of their constituents and the larger society as the governing body perceives those needs to be. Over time, the decisions made by leaders of fear-based institutions tend to be more and more influenced by outside and often self-interested actors.
Allowed to wield substantial power to enforce consequences for their constituents’ infractions. The consequences that a given institution’s leadership has the power to impose might be as trivial as the loss of some privilege, or as major as the loss of one’s life.
Careless about whatever negative consequences they might create. I don’t know of any human institution of any size that doesn’t create substantial problems. Many of them create far worse problems on a much broader scale than the ones they have been entrusted to solve.
The most heinous institution in the United States gives us a good example upon which to experiment. We are hearing talk now about prison reform, but for us to undertake mere prison reform would be like applying an Ace bandage to a compound leg fracture! Our entire criminal justice system is so deeply fear-based, so pointlessly cruel, so destructive to American society, and so lacking in any redemptive qualities that we have no choice but to tear it down altogether and entirely rethink it. The Catch-22 in this, of course, is that until many more Americans are thinking from love and no longer from fear, most people still will sadly see the worst aspects of our criminal justice system as not really so bad, and probably necessary.
Whole books could be written about the many things that are wrong with our criminal justice system, so I will give you here just some of the lowlights. Hold onto your breakfast:
The US is barely 5% of the world’s population, but we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. Read that again! Even including places like China and North Korea, one in four of those incarcerated in the world is imprisoned in the United States.
A staggering 97 percent of all federal inmates and 95 percent of all state felony inmates were sentenced and imprisoned without a trial. Almost everyone now imprisoned in the United States was terrified into “pleading guilty to a lesser charge.” My research suggests that most of these people are not properly charged, or are wrongly sentenced, and a significant number of them have committed no actual crime. Some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
More than six million Americans are currently in prison or on probation. To think of this differently, the current US prison population is larger than the populations of 15 states; and to feed, clothe, house, and provide healthcare for a group this size is an industry approaching $200 billion in annual costs.
More than half of current inmates do not pose a special danger to society. One in five is incarcerated for a nonviolent drug offense, and those who are imprisoned for violent crimes are no more than forty percent overall. Perhaps surprisingly, statistics indicate that some of those who committed the most violent crimes now pose no elevated threat. For example, rapists and murderers are among the folks who are least likely to re-offend.
Conditions in prisons are deliberately dehumanizing. Prisoners are treated like immoral criminals without rights, just as you will be treated if you run afoul of some aggressive prosecutor. You may be denied family visits and allowed little contact with the outside world; you will be limited in what you can read or watch on TV, and how you might use a computer; and all of this will happen at the whims of your keepers. If your mother dies while you are in prison, you won’t be going to her funeral. If you are moved to a prison far away from those you love, that will be tough luck for them and for you.
Punishment does not end when you leave prison. Former inmates are often permanent second-class citizens, without the right to vote or to access public benefits. More than ten million Americans collectively owe over $50 billion in fines and fees associated with their arrest, conviction, and incarceration that many will never find a way to pay. Even very wealthy ex-felons can have access to their assets limited for years after they have entirely paid their debt to society. Indeed, those who are incarcerated for more than six or seven years will often become so conditioned to prison that they can no longer lead productive outside lives.
And what of the children? More than half of America’s prison inmates have minor children. More than a million fathers and 220,000 mothers have left almost three million children without one or both of their parents. One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent today, and a father’s incarceration has serious implications for children and their ability to succeed in school due to associated patterns of aggression and delinquency.
Our poisonous criminal justice system is the single biggest reason for the ongoing disparities between black and white Americans. It is tragically not an overstatement to say that ever since the Civil War, in many ways this nation has been criminalizing the very condition of being black and male. For example, in 1970 blacks were twice as likely to be arrested for drug crimes. By 1990, it was four times. Today, it’s about three times as likely. It is easy to assume that this is because blacks use and sell drugs at proportionately higher rates, but data consistently shows that this is not the case. The incarceration rate for blacks is seven times the rate for whites. In twelve states, more than half the prison population is black. One in 87 working-age white men is in prison, vs. one in twelve working-age African American men. And the loss of the presence of so many fathers has created a “school-to-prison pipeline” for young black men, so there are prisons now in which grandfather, father, and son share a cellblock.
As far back as 1972, thoughtful judges were decrying our criminal justice mess. For example, an opinion of the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (340 F. Supp. 544 [W.D. Wis. 1972], April 6, 1972) said, “With respect to the intrinsic importance of the challenges, I am persuaded that the institution of prison probably must end. In many respects it is as intolerable within the United States as was the institution of slavery, equally brutalizing to all involved, equally toxic to the social system, equally subversive of the brotherhood of man, even more costly by some standards, and probably less rational.”
If we were to take the entire criminal justice system down to base and rebuild it as a love-based institution, how would it differ from our present train wreck? A love-based institution is:
Bottom-up. The needs of those the institution serves come even before any public needs. In the case of a rethought criminal justice system, concentrating on turning convicts into more successful members of society would be this institution’s main goal.
Responsive to society’s overall needs. The fact that nearly all convicts will return to life on the street means that prisons must avoid disrupting prisoners’ lives any more than is absolutely necessary.
Empowering to those they serve. The fact that so many of those who run our prisons are petty tyrants who beat prisoners down emotionally would be anathema to a love-based institution.
Careful to do no harm. A love-based institution treads lightly, always seeking out and working promptly to correct any unintended consequences.
Building a love-based criminal justice system is going to take considerable research and effort, but these will likely be its main characteristics:
Nonviolent offenders will pay their debts to society while remaining in their homes. Felons will each follow their own individualized programs of education, work, fines and reparations, counseling, and community service, with always the background threat of incarceration to ensure their ongoing cooperation. Instead of sitting in prison, these people can be parenting their children, maintaining their relationships, and responsibly supporting themselves and their families as they continue to build productive long-term careers.
Any prison sentence of more than two years’ duration will require a jury trial. With prisons now limited to holding only violent offenders, prosecutors will be further limited to cases they believe can be proven. And due to the costs and time delays of trial, the only people tried will be those who have committed serious violent crimes. For lesser crimes, plea-bargaining for sentences of two years or less can remain in place.
There will be a mechanism to promptly restore full civil rights to nonviolent offenders, including banking and firearms privileges and the right to vote. And after a nonviolent offender has maintained a clean record for five years after having left the system, all his criminal records will be sealed. No longer will a plea-bargained prison sentence impair any nonviolent offender’s ability to go back to living a normal life.
Having examined some of the differences between fear-based and love-based ways to handle the same set of complex social problems, it is time for us to consider how we might best begin to rebuild all our core institutions from a base of love and not of fear. It is essential that we do this soon! For so long as we continue to subject ourselves to the tyranny of powerful fear-based institutions, we will be severely impairing everyone’s ability to move beyond fear as humanity’s primary motivating force. It may well be that until we have replaced not just our fear-based religions, but also all our other fear-based institutions, we will remain forever stuck in the mire of negativity that pervades every human culture now. We have got to start somewhere!
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” – Rabbi Hillel the Elder (c.110 BCE-10 CE)
Penitentiary photo credit: Onasill ~ Bill Badzo – New Format <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7156765@N05/48512361822″>Rawlins Wyoming – Wyoming State Penitentiary – Historic Prison</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Black man photo credit: Benjamin Disinger <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/92014410@N06/16336104359″>Marco Martinez</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
Young family photo credit: Anirudh Koul <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/84856173@N00/3801955554″>Mommy, Daddy & the Budding Baby</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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48 thoughts on “Fear-Based vs. Love-Based Institutions”
I think you have made an excellent point about prisons. Something does need to be done about it. That the prison population continues to rise, shows we clearly have a dire situation that needs attention.
I have not studied any of the data regarding black and white incarceration or what leads to it. I do however, read the online news, and watch local news programs. Every time I see someone fleeing from a cop, either in a high-speed car chase (endangering the lives in a community), or on foot, it almost always seems to be a person of color. The same goes for confrontations with cops. It seems to happen so often in fact, I begin to wonder if there isn’t something biologically different that makes their first response a combative one.
I have been pulled over by the police in my car, and had the police at my house over a domestic dispute with my housemate. I am a WM, and in all cases the cops are always aggressive and belittling to me. They won’t let me explain myself, and in my own house they demanded I not speak and just sit still. It was utterly humiliating. However, I behave exactly as they ask, and essentially took their crap. I have never mouthed off to them, I have never disobeyed them, I have never attempted to physically attack them, and I have never fled from them. Which is why I think I can say I have never been a victim of police brutality.
The news articles I read and segments I watch on tv, most often seem to be with POC not handling a police interaction as I describe above. Do they think that the cops only treat them like that? It is my guess that cops treat everyone like that. The key to self-preservation is to get successfully through that initial police interaction.
I have taken some law enforcement training while in the military in my younger days, and law enforcement officers are trained to take immediate control of the situation. This may be why they come across as complete jerks. They really are potentially putting their own lives on the line with every situation they encounter. There is probably a bit of fear on their part when they enter particularly sketchy situations. I think it would make the entire situation go more smoothly if people would just cooperate with the initial police contact, and remember the cops are just trying to do their job. No need to mouth off and act belligerent around them just because we have the first amendment right to do so. Even though we have the right to antagonize them, it’s probably in our best interest not to.
Of course, this only speaks to the initial law enforcement interaction, and says nothing of the justice system processing that follows. That needs re-worked as well to be sure, but I only have my observation to share on what I see with the contact between the public and the police in the news.
Thank you for all the work you do!
Oh Jason, I do understand how this situation looks to you! I once felt the same way, thinking that people who run afoul of the law must be disrespecting the police, or actually breaking the law, or in some way or other calling the wrath of the law down on themselves.
But I have done the research, and I have found to my horror that many people serving time in prisons in the United States have done nothing wrong at all. Here are three examples that aren’t rare – they are common!
1) A comptroller of a closely-held business whose owners were laundering money was arrested with them. He swears he didn’t know what was going on. He was told that he could get ten years in prison if he was charged and tried, but if he would plead guilty to being an accessory he would be let off with three.
2) A girlfriend who didn’t know that her man was dealing heroin was arrested with him, and she pled guilty to being a lookout because otherwise she would have been charged with being a dealer herself.
3) A CEO of a newly-public company was advised by a consultant and separately by his attorney that he could compensate employees in part using a class restricted stock. There was no law or regulation that said this was against the law, but still the CEO and all the consultant’s other clients were charged with having committed a crime that actually did not exist, and he was told that unless he pled guilty to securities fraud his controller and some other employees would be charged with him. He took the deal, to protect them. He served four years in prison.
The problem of black incarceration is horrendous – it is as great a shame as slavery was – but it is only a part of what is wrong! I didn’t write this as an attack on any individual or group of individuals, but rather I simply turned over a rock that all of us have been walking past every day. This nation has a cancer that is killing us! And pointing fingers at one another does nothing to cure it.
I am retired L/E officer the person that complains about L/E have never had first hand experience doing the job. Its Monday morning quarterbacking. All professions have their problems.But to generalize about the entire profession I say try the job see if you can take the crap each day that people throw at you. I spent my career in L/E before that the US military. A big responsibility that people don’t know is you are a product of your home. To teach respect to others and expect to get it teach your kids. When both parents don’t take responsibility or there is only one parent the kids develop into the parents and then blame the schools or the police because their kids are rogues. What you learn for your entire life begins at home.
Dear Jim, I am astonished that you feel so defensive when you have nothing to feel defensive about here! The police at every level in this nation deserve nothing but the keenest admiration – they do a tough job for all of us, at great risk to themselves, and they do it well.
If you were to blame one person for the problem of out-of-control youth, then my research strongly suggests that the culprit is Lyndon B. Johnson, the father of the War on Poverty, which program broke up the black family. Before 1960, the percentage of intact black families wasn’t much different from the percentage of intact white families; while today, about 75% of black children grow up without a father in the home. There is no doubt the Great Society programs had this horrible unintended result! The only question is why that one program so devastated all those families. I believe that I now know why. I may write about it soon, as part of this series.
But please, sir, do not for a moment think that anyone is blaming the law enforcement community!
This is an important conversation to be having about many of our “correctional” systems, including schools and churches. As an educator, I have things to add, but I would like to see what so many others have experienced. So I will continue to read with interest.
Dear Mike, I wouldn’t go there at all if it wasn’t beginning to seem very important that we rebuild every one of our institutions. What good is it for us to try so hard to raise the consciousness vibrations of all humanity if our cultures are all so enmired in fear that we are living in chains driven into the ground?
In the State I live in Montana it is the Native Americans that are the majority in the prison system. The prison system has been so full that they have had to contract to out of state facilities and build private ones in state. The jails are so full that they have to put inmates on the floor, and they are crying for bigger jails and prisons just to house them.
One of the biggest problems I have witnessed in this State and I am sure there are many others. Is that a great many of the accused do not have the funds to pay for counsel, thus are appointed a public defender, of which I call public pretenders. The public pretender will not stand up and fight the legal battle and will only do what is necessary. I have been told that if a person was to get a lawyer and pay a retention fee that most would get off and not got to prison.. What this comes down too, is the money.
I do not know how much they get, but I do know for each felony conviction the State gets, the Feds give an amount to the State. This makes the State work extra hard to get a conviction.
In the State of Montana they can convict on the testimony of two witnesses, so a person can be incarcerated without being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Plus it takes years in order for the person to prove there not guilty. So much for due process..
A great many in prison started out as young children who have gotten in trouble with the State, they come from single homes, and have one or both parents in the prison system. Thus they are children left to them selves and most will get into trouble with the law.
I call them State babies for the State has become their parents, they go through a revolving door, because they will spend their whole lives in and out of prison, plus sadly it is the only place they can find a controlled environment that helps them manage their behavior. They don’t have this on the street nor do they have this at home. They just don’t know how to do this on their own.
The prison system has come up with counseling groups for everything they can think of and it is required that a person complete what ever groups. Then when released they have to take the same groups again and pay out of their own pockets. They are set up to fail all the way around, yet again they go through the revolving door, and they go back to the controlled environment where the State takes care of them…
This is a fact if the parents can’t or won’t take care of their children, the State will!!!
I know of a Christian based program that had some great intentions working with Inmates in and out of the prison system get back into society.
They rented a houses across the State for both men and women. It was a Christian pre-release or half way house.. They would find Mentors from area churches from the community in which they reside and depending on which denomination or nondenominational church they were affiliated with. Like I said there was some great intentions here, but they didn’t go into this whole heatedly not realizing that each person coming out of prison is a unique individual. Instead of mentoring they trued to mold the person in to what they want them to be. I am sorry to say that this just does not work. The reason I believe is God is the potter, and He is the only one who can mold a person. When I asked Jesus into my life, I understood it to be “just as I am” Mentors should respect that and work on who the person is not what they want them to be…
Another issue with the program is that is is required that a person go in to the church and talk with the Pastor and the leaders and confess their crimes or sins so that they can be further be helped some how. The problem I see here is that the confessions made are soon all over the church, and many people in the church, will look down there nose and treat the offender(s) with scorn. They keep them from church activities, so all they do when they go is set in a pew and go home wondering why they went in the first place. Needless to say the person is set up to fail right out the gate, from parole to probation to the church. If a person is lucky and makes it though the program and is done with his or her time. They are done too, and that person is left to them selves once again. It is any wonder what is going to happen next in that persons life. In my opinion the whole thing is a set up and fail, and it is all about the money…
OMG, don’t get me started on the travesty that is all those prisons called reservations! How long ago were the defeated tribes consigned to reservations, with no clear plan ever to transition them into normal American life? Do you know the extent of drug use, depression, and suicide on those reservations? If not now, when, for heaven’s sake?
The criminal justice system does need to be changed and modified, especially for non violent offenders. The above suggestions would likely work quite well for these particular people, but not for violent offenders, as they would use a liberal system like this to their advantage and then revert to violent behavior once they are released.
Although police interaction is important. the actual problems begin after the arrest and after the justice system kicks in. To no one’s surprise, a defendant lacking the money for an experienced trial and criminal lawyer stands little chance. A public defender is usually next to useless. Also, in the case of a jury trial, the jurors are often asked to base their decisions on medical and forensic evidence that they don’t understand and know virtually nothing about. The “experts” that are hired by both the prosecution and the defense almost always come to different conclusions, depending on which side of the fence they are on. This, of course, leads to confusion on the part of the jurors.
It’s no secret that black inmates are in a number disproportionate to white ones, but again, I think that money, or lack of it, plays a big role here as well. After all, OJ Simpson was black, but had the money to hire his “dream team”, and this made all the difference in the world as far as the outcome of his trial was concerned. Many blacks and white people are sitting in prison simply because they can’t afford an experienced lawyer, yet alone a “dream team.”
Not all judges are created equal, and many do not follow sentencing guidelines. I know for a fact them many are designated as violent offenders just because they will have to serve half of there sentence before they are parole eligible, plus to dehumanize which is does..
I know that there are violent offenders, but a person should or have some discernment as to the reason why a person was designated as a violent offender. I personally think that a person can be come to bias when it comes to being tagged with this. They are still human beings, God created them. where is love in this???
Dear Rockey, “Where is love in this?” is indeed a great question! If it were up to me, our present form of prison – which is little changed in five hundred years – would be abolished altogether, and efforts would be made to rehabilitate and give fresh chances even to violent offenders. So perhaps it’s just as well that it’s not up to me!
All sadly true, dear Lola. And any crime committed using a weapon would of course be on an entirely different track, but to consign nonviolent offenders to prison – especially parents, and especially via plea bargain alone – is an unconscionable travesty.
It is a travesty, but plea bargains make it easier for the ones who run the system, as they clearly find it an easier and faster way to solve a case. Little or no consideration is given to the offender or any member of the offender’s family. A lot of this is due to overcrowded prisons and court calendars. Interestingly, the state of Montana seems to be targeting the Native Americans, as once again, they are minorities and many of them are unable to afford adequate counsel.
Yes dear Lola, that’s the thing about top-down systems: they are built around what is best for the bosses and not what is best for the people they serve. That fact is the very essence of why they are so deeply fear-based, and so destructive of human happiness and empowerment.
Absolutely. So for the system to change in a positive way, those in control of it would have to change their mindset, and that would require a whole new different group of people to take control.
Jesus said “No man can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24). We have served the master of fear for so long that we no longer remember how to serve the master of love. As Roberta has so eloquently stated, it is way past time to switch masters with respect to not only our prison systems but all of our governmental and religious institutions. It will be a monumental switch but one well worth it. I sincerely hope that I am physically here when this switch occurs.
Oh my dear friend Don, thank you for understanding this problem so well, and then for so perfectly stating it!
As I will say next week, I don’t think that calling the two options fear-based and love-based will cut much mustard with the wider public. A love-based criminal justice system? Come on! But in fact, the characteristics of a love-based system simply work a very great deal better, and once we can demonstrate that I think we do have a shot at making people want to apply these characteristics and techniques to all our institutions, without exception. This is indeed an exciting time to be alive!
What beautiful ideas!!! This would improve our world so much. I want to see the end of the heinous system we have now. Thank you Roberta!
And thank you for saying something so supportive, Becky! Fortunately, there are people working with this administration who are getting the most egregious sentences commuted. I’ve just been told about a woman who refused to rat on her drug-dealer boyfriend and ended up with a 300-year sentence. The President has commuted it to time served. And there are others.
This system is an inhumane disgrace. What beautiful ideas you have laid out here, Roberta. Do you see any hope for them becoming a reality? This has got to cease.
It won’t be easy to convince a public currently vibrating at such a low level that everything has to be re-thought, and the notion of “love-based” anything seems woo-woo to a lot of folks, but in fact love-based institutions simply work a lot better. We can perhaps persuade people on the basis of efficiency? I’ll be taking a first stab at this next week….
Well, you’ve convinced me Roberta. So, there are likely others out there! I read somewhere that something like 80% of both Republicans and Democrats want jail to be rehabilitative rather than punishment-oriented. That’s a lot of people who don’t want what we’re currently doing.
I honestly feel our vibration is rising now. I told the people serving me at McDonald’s this morning that I loved them after they told me my breakfast would only be $2, lol. They laughed and said they loved me too! People in the world seem really receptive to love and in a loving mood right now, in my opinion. Now’s the time to go for it, Roberta! Let’s abolish prison! Keep sharing your ideas and passion on this!!
Wow, I love your 80% statistic, Becky! I also am seeing some encouraging signs in the general populace, but there still remain some pretty big obstacles and my guides are strongly cautioning me about not leaping out too far ahead. But on this and on some other important issues, there are indeed encouraging things starting to happen 😉
I know, I thought that stat was encouraging indeed.
If you’d like to share more about what your guides think about all this, I’d love to hear what they are saying!
This topic, post and discussion was awesome. Thank you so much for it!!
Dear Becky, apparently I’m working with a number of people who are not now in bodies, but the only one of them who speaks to me directly is my primary guide, Thomas. His main issue is raising the consciousness vibration of all of humankind, but he also wants very much to heal the lingering vestiges of slavery – as witness my book, The Fun of Living Together – and it is in that vein that he wants us to work on criminal justice reform. But his primary focus for our work remains: he wants to bring the true message of Jesus to the world as a primary key toward making everything more love-based.
Interesting post and I am quite certain as many point out that our justice system is anything but that. What I find interesting is that when laws are written and sentences are made, so many times, motive is not taken into consideration, or at least it is not studied to the point that it should be. For instance, I find a white collar offenses often times to be more heinous because offenders often have a good life and are just greedy and take advantage of the system until it backfires on them. Then, they are often just slapped on the hand. As many point out, a black man caught peddling drugs, and often just to survive and “get by”, is likely to be treated like some horrible monster. We need to be better and do better but where do we start?
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Dear Timothy, I used to feel as you do about the different classes of convicts, but now I have met a few of those heinous “white collar criminals.” AND THEY ALL PLED GUILTY TO A CRIME THEY DID NOT COMMIT BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO PROTECT EMPLOYEES… WHO ALSO HAD COMMITTED NO CRIME. In one case, the “crime” they pled guilty to was not even against any law or statute, and it was something that seemed okay on its face and was done with legal advice.
Dear Timothy, when NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT OF FELONS WERE FRIGHTENED INTO PLEADING GUILTY, then that fact on its face tells you that we are living in a nation that has lost all sense of justice. Every person reading these words should look at all those “criminals” – no matter what the color of their collar – and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Yes, some blue-collar folks have had drugs planted on them. Some who were of a minority shade of skin have been framed for rape or murder. But this is a nationwide tragedy and horror: it can happen to literally anyone!
Thanks Roberta for enlightening me on white collar criminals as well.
Now we have identified at least two major institutions to overhaul, and to quote the lyrics from an old song,
“It’s gonna take a lot of love to change the way things are.”
Oh my dear wonderful Timothy, I’m sorry I shouted! I wasn’t shouting at you, my precious friend – I was shouting at the whole system. And yes indeed, Christianity and the American criminal justice system are long overdue to be completely overhauled; but what about our political system? What about our entire government? I write this on the morning following the Iowa presidential caucuses, where the wrong guy won so the Democratic party is refusing to certify the results. I am asking myself at this point whether there is indeed any institution in this country that is not long overdue for a complete overhaul. Oy.
I saw it as passion and did not take it as yelling, but thank you. I am not well versed in the criminal system, and I do know you are a trained attorney so I respect your thoughts. I have come full circle with capital punishment (the most severe punishment) from against it, to needing it, after a friend of mine was murdered senselessly, to once again against it. Our political system is flawed and confusing, and our government does need a complete overhaul. I wonder what Thomas thinks, did the founders expect us to improve on the original Constitution or keep it in place as much as possible? So much to ponder.
Hi Roberta. I heard a segment on The New Yorker Radio Hour on Jan 24th that went to this very issue. It was entitled, “What Would the World Look Like Without Prisons?” They inteviewed 2 advocates of what is called prison abolition, one of them a former prosecutor! Another idea called restorative justice was also discussed. It was a bit of a mind bender for me, but very thought provoking. Unfortunately, I can’t see anything beyond a little tinkering around the edges happening anytime soon, not until the consciousness of society is raised quite a bit. The former prosecutor agreed. He felt it would be similar to how long it took to eliminate slavery in this country. Along the lines of the racial disparities, there is a documentary on PBS called “Slavery By Another Name,” which gets into how, not too long after the Civil War, Jim Crow policies would put huge numbers of black men in prison who had done nothing, or the most minor offenses, and basically turn them back into slaves. Many never made it back out. Policies like this went on in the deep South until at least 1945, never mind all the extrajudicial lynchings that townsfolk would bring their kids to watch and teach them to cheer. These policies certainly helped contribute to the unequal treatment we see blacks receiving in the legal system to this day.
Dear Scott, thank you for this wonderful contribution to our discussion! I have studied the Jim Crow period – which is loosely the whole century between 1865 and 1965 – and it is quite literally true that within a couple of decades after the Civil War the former Confederacy had use the criminalization of “vagrancy” to create a new version of slavery for any black men who remained in the south – which is why in the early part of the last century there was such a broad migration north. In my own beloved state of Texas, a gigantic mass grave was lately found that contained mostly young black men, because labor to build the railroads had eaten up so many “convicts'” lives.
You are sure answering the question of how to raise vibrations in society that I posed last week! This week’s post is fascinating, to say the least. (And please my dear, I’m grateful to get a reply from you at all; I don’t mind whether it is sooner or later in the week! 😉)
And if there is any institution that needs reinventing in the name of Love it’s the prison system. Everywhere. I’m learning much in this week’s blog as the US penitentiary system is legendary but not really understood by myself. So I’m also very thankful for my fellow bloggers’ fascinating replies here.
Roberta, I notice that whatever group the (often critical) psyche of a nation considers less than equal is usually over represented in the prison system. For instance in Australia, our Aboriginal people were historically dispossessed of their tribal lands and also put into ‘missions’ as were the Native Americans. They are much freer now and they are attaining self empowerment, but Aboriginals are over represented in our prisons. Sadly, prior dispossession and oppressive treatment now expresses itself as a higher rate of incarceration than non Aboriginals. (NB: The overall percentage of the Australian population incarcerated is very small; 219 persons per 100,000.)
I agree with your point about rehabilitation based on love. But each country has a different collective psyche so the process of reform may be quite different in each place. For instance, we hear that in Pacific west coast states of the US, people have a very different way of thinking and enacting law and administration. We’ve heard that San Francisco for instance, has made a volume of illicit drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a crime. Therefore an individual is no longer sent to jail for possession of drugs. Though this may seem a kinder approach to addiction, it has resulted in a large increase in homeless living, unhygienic environments and resulting diseases and in street crime in downtown SF. This if true, is very sad but also very dangerous for people moving about in the central, City Hall precinct.
Australians were not a little horrified by this situation and disapproved of the city government’s management immensely. In short, such law changes would never be accepted in socially conservative Australia. The differences in approaches will really matter concerning law reform; according to each nation.
I’d love your thoughts on this Roberta. (Californian culture seems very different from Australian culture; especially how they managed their wildfires recently…)
Lastly, prison management by private companies is a big thing in the US. (Much bigger than in Australia where the state governments manage the penal system.)
Do the private correction management companies have a vested interest in keeping prison numbers high? If so, do you thing they exert much influence on politicians and lawmakers to this effect ?
Hi Efrem – Prison management by private companies? I never knew that before, but it doesn’t sound good. It seems like there must be some type of “vested interest” involved here, or they wouldn’t do it.
The homeless situation here is out of control. Just lately, the police “raided” a homeless community, forcing them to take down their tents and leave. This happened in northern California. They gave no hints to these people as to where to go afterward, nor was there any alternatives offered. They just wanted them out of their sight, so where they went is anyone’s guess. as the available homeless shelters in the area were already filled up.
I guess that the US has a much more nuanced and inventive prison system than we do in Australia. I understand that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is the US agency responsible for prisons. It is within the Department of Justice. BOP runs the prison system but subcontracts many services to private companies.
However I’ve learned that in addition to this, there are actual private prisons in the US. They are a smaller percentage of overall correctional facilities, but they do operate for profit. One such company involved is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
This company and others like it run some federal and state prisons. Private facilities are investment opportunities for banks, and immigrant detention centers are increasingly included in this business model.
Like yourself, I wish that love was the natural motive for dealing with individuals convicted of crimes. Rehabilitation would then flow out of the principle of love, and as Roberta has highlighted, would involve different solutions beyond just imprisonment. The desire to punish and the profit motive are of a much lower vibration than compassionate love and understanding I think. Hence, I’m aware of the big inner change needed across society to raise the vibe to love from these baser motives.
Your information about raids and displacement of the homeless leaves me very sad. Surely there needs to be a real will to end homelessness in all our countries. I can think of few things worse than sleeping rough, as we call it. Yet I do know that there are a lot of people who are concerned about this issue, and who would love to fix this problem. The goodwill of everyday people is a powerful force when awakened and given purpose and direction. 🙏🏼❣️🕊
Dear Efrem, as I’ve said to Lola, there seems to be a fairly large class of people – for the most part, young and male and into drugs – who seem to prefer to sleep rough, as you put it. This has been a horrifying discovery for me, but the evidence doesn’t lie. One solution proposed is to again outlaw sleeping on the sidewalks, and to have the police take violators to an encampment outside the city where these people can be accommodated, cared for and supported, and helped to build independent lives. But the present situation helps no one!
Dear Lola, there was a homeless camp the size of three football fields (they say) that stretched under a major highway intersection in Austin that burned on Monday. Apparently no one was hurt, since all the residents fled. But it was a nightmare for firefighters, since it was full of tunnels, rats, combustible propane tanks, trash and debris, and thousands of used needles on the ground.
The cause of this disaster was our City Council’s cheerful decision to relax things a bit and allow people to sleep on the sidewalks. That decision created problems almost at once. I have watched this homelessness situation develop throughout a city that always prided itself on being clean, wholesome, and welcoming, and my conclusion is that if you allow people to live in subhuman situations that are as vastly unhealthy for them as they are for the rest of us, then you will destroy healthy living for everyone. The people I see in the homeless camps under the highways are never families, never children, and almost never old people. Sadly, if you let them build it, they will come.
Hello dear Efrem! Wow, you’ve given me a lot to unpack here. Let’s see what I can do:
1) When I said in this post that after the Civil War, the South quickly criminalized the very condition of being black and male, I was not overstating the case. “Vagrancy” simply meant that you didn’t have a job, and since there were no jobs available to black men other than what they had done as slaves – so naturally they were reluctant to take those jobs – the southern states simply made vagrancy a crime and enforced it against black men primarily. Many (perhaps most) black men who didn’t flee to northern cities soon ended up arrested and convicted of vagrancy and given sentences on chain gangs doing slavery-work, plus huge fines that they never could repay so they effectively were back in slavery for the rest of their lives. This was still going on in the American South well into the 20th century!
2) For decades I have been aware of a fairly common saying among American conservatives: “Tilt the country, and all the nuts roll to California.” I don’t for a minute think that all the people who have made such a social mess of San Francisco and Los Angeles have not had the best of intentions! But what are sometimes called “the gods of the copybook headings” – simple science, simple economics, and basic human nature – are going to prevail, no matter how good your intentions might be. When they stopped penalizing drug use, they got a lot more drug use. When they stopped penalizing living on the streets, they got people living and defecating on the streets all over the cities so now in San Francisco they literally publish maps of where the piles of human poop are; and when they stopped penalizing shoplifting of items worth under $1000, they got rampant and open theft of $900 items all over the city. And it goes on. California has become magnet for dysfunctional people from all over the country. Was this what was intended? Who really knows?
3) The fact that operating and providing goods and services to prisons has become such a big set of industries in the United States is a shame and a national scandal. In 2013, 8.4% of federal prisoners here were in private prisons. In 2016, the percentage was 19%. It is a very big business indeed! And do all these companies form a powerful constituency in favor of locking people up which contributes to the awful fact that 25% of felons in the world are incarcerated in the United States? To ask the question is to answer it.
Ah, my dear wonderful Ephrem, we have our work cut out for us, don’t we?
My dearest Roberta,
One can learn so much from you my dear. You are a true American visionary, as is Thomas who was Thomas Jefferson. That’s the thing really; Australia has mediocre politicians much of the time but we throw up a few earnest, good hearted, practical leaders at odd times. Whereas the US of A really does excel at the visionary, truly big picture leaders. And they are ‘can-do’ people to say the least. That’s the specialty of America – vision that works. (I guess each nation has its unique quality.)
Hence I do appreciate your big picture focus on love awareness. The prison system is an excellent example of an area where the work of reform really needs to be done.
And the ongoing tragedy of what has happened to the Native Americans and the African Americans reflects closely what has happened to the Aboriginal Australians: It is almost that to save our collective soul, we Australians need to do right by the original custodians of the land. And Roberta, at heart we know it!
Homelessness, incarceration and unemployment are part of this struggle, though it affects other Australians as well.
When we help the most vulnerable through empathy we begin to become whole. And yes, your explanation of how the African Americans were/are treated cuts to the quick, because I see how closely it resembles how the Australian Aboriginals have been treated.
This history is a shame to Australians and for us there is much work to do as well. Did you know that we have had a Royal Commission (Federal inquiry) into Aboriginal deaths in custody decades ago and it is still a significant problem? The Government basically did nothing to fix this problem. You see young Aboriginals lose hope when they are placed in a prison cell and they suicide more often than others. It’s something to do with the free, semi nomadic history that Aboriginals have had for eons. When they are limited to a prison cell, many young Aboriginals fall into a deep, irremediable depression. Incarceration affects them much more than European and other Australians.
Surely, we can all agree that for non violent crimes incarceration is NOT the answer. Often these mostly young men have had little opportunity and come from families who are too poor to afford top gun lawyers or barristers (attorneys). They are bound to a circle of poverty, petty crime and prison.
Talk about second class citizens!
Hence, only love awareness can end these woeful cycles. As you say Roberta, we have our work cut out for us. 🙏🏼❣️🕊
Heh. Thomas chuckled when we first read that you were comparing me to Thomas Jefferson, which startled me. He seems to see that lifetime a lot the way you or I would see our own earnestly zealous college days, when we were trying so hard to do our best but we hadn’t yet become the person who could actually live up to our own highest ideals.
In order to transform our cultures, we will first need to transform ourselves! And that is where we are going next….
dear Timothy, Thomas doesn’t now present as his Founding Father alter ego, but back then he actually wrote that we ought to re-write the Constitution every 20 years, letting each generation govern itself. The man was incredibly optimistic about human nature, and touchingly confident that regular people were wise and good and could be trusted to continually improve the American experiment. I cannot get him now even to tell me whether his views have changed! His mind is so absolutely focused on the need to elevate human consciousness that he seems to see the related need for us to write about how best to get there to be kind of my thing,
Actually, no, he does have an opinion. He asks that we remember about our primary guides the fact that their lives are being carried on in the perfect love and bliss of the upper levels! They have trouble even imagining now, or even dimly recalling, the awful negativity in which we are living our lives, so even though the work of changing it all is very important work, it must be our work to do. They can give us guidance and encouragement, but for the most part they are too far removed from it now to have the kinds of insights and understandings that we can pull from living in it every day. He calls it a collaboration – they need us just as we need them!
Wow, Roberta, the situation you described in Austin sounds like something out of a horror movie. It’s true that people sleeping on sidewalks and leaving behind dirty needles etc. is completely unhealthy for everyone. The young guys who sleep under bridges etc. are mostly suffering from addictions, and if you give them money, many of them if not most will use it to feed their addiction. This has been going on for many decades. It isn’t just males any more either. There are a lot of women doing the same thing. Many of these people are not in the position to interview for a job nor are they especially interested in “starting a new life,” so maybe a lot more effort needs to be aimed at the addiction problem,
When they freed the slaves in 1865 or so, they gave them no training to perform any kind of job, and they were forced to take jobs no one else wanted for much less wages than they would have paid a white worker. Then they called them lazy and slackers because they weren’t working. When they forced Indians onto a reservation of the government’s choice, they were in locations with no bus service and were many miles away from places where jobs could be found. They were then admonished for not having a job even though there was no means of transportation to any place where work could be found. It is no secret that some of these reservations are havens for alcoholism, depression and hopelessness. It is my understanding that some of these people don’t even have indoor plumbing! The Pine Ridge Reservation in S. Dakota is a great example of this.
Dear Lola, I am more and more troubled by the problem of reservations for Native Americans, the more I learn about them and about their history. It may have made sense 150 years ago to confine what had lately been enemy combatants. But, come on!!
God made me an empathetic person, so I feel sadness and pain for all those unfortunate souls discussed in your blog and the comments. I would change things if I thought I could. I know that by God’s grace, my situation could be their’s. I have learned after overcoming addiction, that the Serenity Prayer” helps my soul that is troubled by the “things I cannot change.”
I am encouraged to know from your research and Mikey that a wonderful Afterlife awaits those of us who are seemingly unfairly treated by this world. We may have planned our life’s circumstances.
I know you are very empathetic, too. God bless you.
Your friend, David
Oh my dear David, I am sorry to trouble your mind! You have overcome addiction, which fact deserves our respect and support. Each of us is called to help others in different ways, and just your serving as a positive model for those now struggling with addictions might be your role to play. God bless you, sir!
I was going to say something about education — and the reformation of education systems (in the U.S. and other places) — being instrumental in addressing the root causes of so many social ills. There are studies galore and, as it is said, “you can look them up.” I prefer, instead, to point out that starting somewhere, anywhere, with a transformed attitude based on the genuine divine force of Love that is already within us, will begin to change everything. We may not all live to see the outcome, but we can live to see it starting. I personally am optimistic about humans’ abilities to see things as they might be and to say, why not?
The psyche of the whole universe is transforming, and here on earth in this experience we perceive as incarnation, humans are the transformers. It’s already happening.
I’ve just put up a final draft of our post for tomorrow, which speaks to this issue!