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"After Leaving Jail, I Wanted to Grab a Gun and a Six Pack and Go on a Shooting Spree"
Published on April 5, 2004 By 6969jimbo6969 In Politics

The news filtered in as Rick and I said hello this morning before our weekly update, that, down the street from where we conversed over coffee, a masked gunman had just robbed the local Wachovia. Only a few diehards among us would disagree that the perpetrator of this crime belongs in prison. What about my friend Rick, who two months ago, after ten years “on the wagon,” culminated a three month beer-to-vodka binge by sideswiping a shopper’s car in a suburban Atlanta parking lot and then heading home, contending at the time that the “f**cker had taken up two spaces and deserved what he got?

We spoke about his experience of “criminal justice” and came to the conclusion that no oxymoron---not ‘military intelligence,’ not ‘business ethics,’ not even ‘creation science’---so fully expresses the hypocritcal madness of this moment in history. Georgia has the highest incarceration rate on earth(Mississippi is an occasional contender for this dubious honor as well), the vast majority of inmates darker, poorer, and less likely Anglo that my buddy. In turn, this country, even the least benighted American jurisdictions, maintains a solid lead in manifesting prison policies that are at best stupid and insane.

Our conclusions, obviously, rest on the assumption that the point of a “prison policy” is to reduce criminality, increase conviviality, make the world safe for democracy, and so on. Instead, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” have become foreign to everything current leaders of our land propose and dispose. A substantial portion of the posts here, at “All the News That’s Fit to Spit,” will deal with issues of police and prison and drugs and guns, and related topics. Rick’s entire experience is worth a novel or two, a film series on the bizarre hilarious tragedy that presently passes for everyday American experience.

Today’s posting focuses on just a couple points about my buddy’s situation. The first concerns what happened during the three days he served in the County lock-up. He checked himself in, and the clerks there promptly turned his three-day stint into a thirty day sentence. He brought this to the attention of his keepers on multiple occasions, receiving ---in return for his very demure and humble(trust me, that’s how he is, unless he’s been drinking)requests to address this mistake---heaps of abuse and invective to “shut the f**k up” unless he wanted to “end up dead,” or worse.

He managed to win the right to speak to his wife, which cost him a bit over $25.00 for a ten minute call, and she visited him and promised to talk with his jailers about the error. Folks still refused to change the paper work, but he foreswore freaking out when his captors were three hours late releasing him, although he admits, “if she hadn’t come to see me, I might have done something stupid---because” he would have felt they were going to keep him locked down another 27 days. His assessment of the environment in lock-up is wise and humorous. “The energy is overwhelming that, ‘we’’ll see you again;’ they think you’re coming back and they’re, I don’t know how to put it exactly, they’re glad about it. It’s depressing and weird.” When he left, the way he felt was crystal clear: “I wanted to get a gun and go rob a liquor store for a six-pack, I was so pissed off.”

The second point about his adventure deals with his initial appointment to do ‘community service’ in payment for his crime. Rick actually really looks forward to this part of the bargain. He likes to contribute. He goes for five to eight hour assignments, the first of which took place last Friday. While there, he listened to abuse for an hour, more or less, “how we were wortheless, basically;” sat around or stood around or hurried-up and waited for another four hours; spent thirty minutes in transit back and forth; and picked up litter on a county property for fifteen to twenty minutes.

This pointlessness is especially painful. Rick, and everyone alive today, practically speaking, has skills that could help alleviate social ills, improve the way we live together, make a positive difference somehow. My friend is an exercise instructor, with various certifications; he has training in massage; he has volunteered in schools and old-folks’ homes, but “instead of using us for any useful purpose, they just ended up making everyone feel stupid and useless again.” And again he exited angry, instead of having even the remotest sensation of rehabilitation.

Rick is White, educated, solidly established thanks to a small trust fund and years of therapy and introspection. Clearly, he should not escape just punishment because he has pale skin and a little money. The object lesson of his incarceration is how vicious and meaningless the entire exercise is, except to make recidivist tendencies almost irresistible. “I mean, if I didn’t have support from Sally and all, my God! There’s no way I’d be safe on the streets, and I mean this second!.” Moreover, the rationale for his loss of liberty is roughly equivalent to that of 80% of the inmates in America right now: petty drug and alcohol crimes, “failure-to-appear,” and other minor infractions of “public peace and order” are the cause “right this second” of the vast majority of people behind bars.

At first, considering his own failings and the seemingly irreversible tide toward retribution---the “pattern of victimization and revenge” that will be thematically central to this site---Rick sighed that “it’s just hopeless.” After talking for an hour, he saw a different possibility as a viable alternative. I suggested that “we could take responsibility for ourselves, for Christ’s sake. We could recognize that the current practice is in fact a matter of will, of human will not our own, and that we have the power, if we have the will, to make it work differently. It’s only this way because we allow it to be.”

The manager of our coffee haunt just narrowly missed being in that Wachovia down the street when some crazy, furious cretin robbed it earlier. He could have been killed, by some fool who almost certainly has a rap sheet as long as my arm, as a result of what we all alow to occur, occasionally to people like Rick, much more often to people of color and class different than the PR picture of American society.

In the world today, we all might meet our ends due to crazed viciousness. The odds seem ever higher that something awful is about to transpire that will terminate civilized existence. If we want a different outcome, if we hope for possibilities more peaceful and prosperous for our children, then we need to conside what happened to Rick as an opportunity to see that the time has come to take a stand for democracy. In spite of the fact that this requires us to oppose the theocracy of plutocracy almost everywhere ascendant now, the time has come to take a stand.

Or we could just whistle and wait, until it happens to us. The advice of Benjamin Franklin seems apt. “Either we will find a way, my friends, to hang together, or, assuredly, we will all hang, separately.”

on Apr 05, 2004
Another insightful. I couldn't agree more. We are all in this together.
on Apr 05, 2004
Very few people have any compassion or understanding of criminals of any sort. What most people don't understand is that rehabilitation is possible and is preferrable. On the other hand, your friend will need to take responsibility for his own life, his anger and his abuse of alcohol. Otherwise he will never get out of the rut he is in.
on Apr 05, 2004
Thanks, Sherye!

You state exactly the way my friend is approaching it, religiously going to AA, trying to do everything by the book, look at himself when the pain hits. I have a different view. It's not that I disdain any of that; it's all good. What I call us to see, however, is that the institutions, which have NO POWER OTHER THAN OUR PARTICIPATION OR PASSIVITY, we have created have no moral compass, no guiding principles which most of us would accept. They traffic in death, they profit from decay, and only a people conscious and aroused can create a context for children coming up now that is anything other than disgusting and decrepit, at best.

The good news is that the work we have to do is simple to see, if not easy to achieve. We have to start by seeing it, though, which means we have to look beyond personalizing responsibility and think about SOCIALIZING RESPONSIBILITY.
on Apr 05, 2004
I agree completely. Read my blog on drug court, and other posts on drug addiction.
on Apr 06, 2004
It is become a 'industry'. People don't know that the number of 'productive' members of society are the one's most targeted for the fines programs, not because they are white, but because they generate revenue for the judiciary and local gov't. In the county I visit relatives in, there are over one half of all cells occupied by people who 'missed' a phone call or were late to an appointment with Probation. Some are in the fifth year of their one year sentence of probation. Why? It is a revenue generating gig, not justice. they have steady jobs and so will be guaranteed to have money to pay in 'fines' and costs'. Consequently , they are deliberately held in this state of indentured servitude perpetually.

The whole Country is like this in macroscopic form. The system is breaking down, and the age of THX1138 is here, where one's 'cost' is the determining factor of who and when they go to prison. The millions in the system all know how un-just it is and they comprise a Party larger than either the Reps. or Dems. Wake them up and you have the 60's all over again, with a vengeance. Society can and should condemn criminal behavior, but if the intent is to make slaves for missing a telephone call, then the injustice must be addressed or will find vent in some other way.

Your friends treatment is common. His best option though is to stay straight and get free of it, not perpetuate the behaviors that got it all started. Grin and bear it like a bad relationship, till he can get free of it.
on Apr 06, 2004
You are so right, Wahkanta!

The "Prison Industrial Complex" has merged with the Military Industrial Complex(Wackenhut and Haliburton are two of many examples of companies that make billions off our taxes by providing different forms of 'security,' which translate as scams of incarceration and incapacitation.

My point is that we CAN do something about all this, if we'll just be stalwart in relating to each other and standing for each other. I hesitate to imagine a future where we don't become more socially responsive and responsible. Thanks for responding!
on Apr 06, 2004
An extraordinary blog with a most important message. Good luck, JU will improve in dignity with your input. I give it an insightful.
on Apr 06, 2004
Thank you sir!

High praise from the maestro. I like what Octavio Paz said once: "He dreamed, dreaming not to remember his true life of lies,
but to remember his lying life of truths."
on Oct 08, 2004
"The Will to Overcome Hopelessness Has to Be Our Own"

I'm thinking this one needs to be bumped, Jimbo, until I can feature you!