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One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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63 Responses

  1. Maribou says:

    Thanks for pointing to this, Kazzy.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Here’s how it worked: black men (it was usually men) were arrested for petty crimes or no crimes at all; “selling cotton after sunset” was a favorite charge. They were then assessed a steep fine. If they could not pay, they were imprisoned for long sentences and forced to work for free. This allowed savvy industrialists to replace thousands of slaves with thousands of convicts.

    Imprisonment is cruel and unusual. Hell, I’d be willing to entertain the argument that serial rapists or people like BTK should be locked in a room with the lights on for the rest of their lives… but look at the crimes that we put people in jail for. We’re not trying to keep people safe. We’re trying to create middle-class employment for guards at the same time as creating cheap labor in the jail.

    You might not want a serial rapist working a phone line… but a guy who moved pot? They make decent trustees who have great potential for fitting in quite well answering the phones in a call center.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      “We’re trying to create middle-class employment for guards at the same time as creating cheap labor in the jail.”

      Do you really think that is the case? I know there are a lot of very expensive programs that we keep in place because of the jobs they create (e.g., military contracts to produce obsolete tools). But I tend to think of the prison-industrial complex rooted in things far more sinister than “job creation”. I could be wrong. Oddly, I’m not sure which of our positions would be the more sinister one.

      That said, I agree with everything else you say here.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Look at stuff like the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

        From the wiki:

        Lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the CCPOA have helped secure passage of numerous legislative bills favorable to union members, including bills that increase prison terms, member pay, and enforce current drug laws. The CCPOA takes the position that correctional officers perform an essential public service that puts in great danger, and strives for a safer California

        “Increase prison terms” “enforce current drug laws”

        These aren’t about making society better. They’re about employment.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          Yikes. I had no idea.

          Okay, I think your position wins out for most cynical.

          Ugh, the more I think about it, the more deplorable it seems. I have to go shower.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

            I’ll grant: there is a babtists and bootleggers dynamic here and only pointing at the bootleggers doesn’t give the whole story.

            I do assume that we are all familiar with the babtist narrative, though. Being familiar with that, I think it’s important that we look at the bootleggers’ interest.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

            Just wait until you see those private prisons they’re building in the south. Worse than Cali…Report

        • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

          The Cal prison unions are an easy, and largely deserving target. But defining prison guards as an essential service is actually pretty easy. It is possible for people to believe in the current drug laws and see them as a good for society. I know you don’t agree with that and neither do i. But there is something, as others have noted at times, about not seeing people you disagree with as evil, corrupt and stupid.

          But if you take away the cal prison guards union are private prison companies better? Ummm no and no. Nor does the Cal union control drugs laws around the country. Bashing the cal prison guard union seems to miss the point a bit and be more about harping on unions.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

            Dude, that’s the problem with babtists and bootleggers. The people who supported prohibition were not all evil people. Some wanted to make a buck.

            HA! I kid.

            The people who supported prohibition were doing so with the best of intentions.

            So friggin’ what? There’s a point at which you’ve done something absolutely horrible despite those intentions and the choice is between screaming about the absolutely horrible thing or pointing out the quality of the intentions of the people who did it.

            Stated intentions mean less and less and less to me.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

              I worked with a parent a few years back who is a *big time* lawyer. So big that I can’t mention his clients because they’re famous and you’d quickly piece together who he is. Anyway, this guy was brilliant. He was also affable, friendly, charming… the whole 9. He was middle-aged, probably in his 50’s, and black.

              I forgot how we got on the topic, but I was speaking with his wife one day about his career trajectory (she was a media personality and loved to talk). She mentioned that he was once a rising star in the DAs office with all the potential in the world. But one day he looked around and realized he was a ‘young brother’ putting a bunch of other ‘young brothers’ in jail. And so long as he was willing to keep doing that, the sky was the limit for him.

              He left that job and went into private practice, ultimately carving out a highly successful path for himself, sometimes (but not always) defending those ‘young brothers’ that he once so callously put away.Report

            • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

              Stated intentions can be tracked and measured and argued about which is generally more than you can say for the unstated intentions.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

            “But if you take away the cal prison guards union are private prison companies better?”

            No. But private prisons account for only about 100K-150K of the over 2 million inmate population in the US, using stats from websites that are opposed to private prisons.

            They are still not a big player in the game, despite the hype. Delanda est, to be sure, but perspective.Report

      • greginak in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well there are plenty of private prisons so the profit motive is involved. Is that about middle class jobs: no, i don’t think so because there aren’t a huge number of those. It is about business’s making money and making the gubmint more efficient by privatizing.

        Fun memory. When i was moving out of Jersey years ago i remember a bit of ruckus in NY state about the Gov at that time, Pataki i think, a repub who was thought to have a big future, killing the HS and college programs they offered i state jails. Why the heck should inmates get to go to school when they are being punished. So he got rid of them.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to greginak says:

          One thing that any reasonable prison must include is the abolishment of private prisons. There are way too many preverse incentives with private prisons as the infamous case in Pennsylvania demonstrated. Prisons must be owned and run by governments and funded through tax dollars in order to prevent said abuses.Report

        • George Turner in reply to greginak says:

          I would disagree, because a state run prison almost inevitably builds a big government guard union who then become a lobby, and executive positions become government handouts to loyal players. The government then has an incentive to create as many union prison guard jobs as possible because they’re all loyal government voters (like postal workers and TSA screeners) who then get represented by Democrats in negotiations with other Democrats for massive pay and pension benefits, as has happened continuously in California. It’s probably true that 90% of the people locked up were also loyal Democrat voters, but they don’t vote in support of the state prison complex nor the guard union, whereas their non-voting presence in the system provides the justification for all the salaries.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

            Oh George. Any time you want more of something, you subsidise it. Either we are the most heinously criminal nation in the history of the world or something has gone dreadfully wrong in our justice system. We have more people in prison on a per-thousand basis than Stalin at the height of the gulags.

            Let’s have lots more private prisons, so we can distort the free market by having those prisoners build furniture and sew uniforms and solder together electronic components. An entire slave labour class, and deserving of their slavery, too. That sort of thing isn’t subject to any problems with government handouts, oh no, these are legit government contracts. Say, why not let’s make soldiers fill some private contracts, too? Surely private industry can find uses for good solid well-fed troops with guns at the ready. Awfully useful in fending off those pesky unionists. It’s been done before, even against other veterans of foreign wars, see the Bonus Army for the facts on this sort of thing.

            Gen Smedley Butler had a few things to say on the nature of rackets run by government for the benefit of the privileged few.

            All this hooey about the threats posed by trade unions is fascist nonsense.Report

          • George Turner in reply to George Turner says:

            US prisoners don’t make a lot of things for industry. They mostly sit in cells. What they do make has to be sold to the federal government, and the company doing most of the work is Federal Prison Industries, which by law gets first bid on contracts since 1930. FPI employs 13,000 prisoners out of a prison population of two point four million – who mostly sit in cells. Their customer is the US government, and by law they cannot sell to private industry.

            In contrast, 5 to 10% of state budgets are spent on the prison business, not making things, just billing taxpayers and employing lots of guards and construction firms related to politicians by marriage, to the tune of about $35 billion dollars in state spending, and over $70 billion when you add local and federal. Of that, private prison companies only get $3 billion, and only house about 100,000 of the 2.4 million prisoners. Only five states have more than 25% of their prisoners in private facilities, and three of them are Montana, Idaho, and Vermont, who together could hardly fill a cell block. Only 12 percent of states have more than 10% of prisoners in privately run facilities.

            The privately run facilities aren’t the ones doing the prison labor, and the prison labor isn’t a big business. In Florida, out of about 102,000 people in state prisons, less than 2,000 actually make anything for their government mandated single-access prison industry company. In Florida and other states that have such programs, the companies are mandated by law, only sell to the government (which is why they tend to make license plates, military uniforms, and such) and often the scam is overbilling and turning around and laundering money as room and board expenses, washing state money through the state process. They are also often 501(c)3 charities and even make money operating “trust funds” for the wages, getting their space with $1.00 leases and such.

            It is a standard government graft and kickback operation forcing private companies out of business.

            And who says that? The report for the Congressional Black Caucus.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

      I wouldn’t go that far but I agree that we jail far too many people. Prison should be for people who commit violent crimes. Putting non-violent criminal in jail, especially if they are very young or old, is cruel and waste of money and resources. Fines, community service, and various programs are better forms of corrections and punishment. Even when jail time is an appropriate punishment, we put people away for way to long. Prison sentences for most crimes need to be dramatically reduced.

      The various Scandinavian countries run the best prisons on the planet. They actually make attempts to reform the inmates and rehabilitate them. The problem is that they require a non-vengeful population whose willing to spend the money on doing things right. I don’t think we’ll ever achieve that in the United States.Report

      • LeeEsq,

        Serious question: should we put people like, for example, Kenneth Lay or Rod Blagojevich in prison for their crimes, even though they are not violent offenders?

        I’m not certain of my own answer.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          We really must do something with them. I recommend the old English custom of the stocks, where we could throw trash at them. The Perp Walk is about as close as any of us get to seeing these crooks getting any justice. Society really does need more.

          Kenneth Lay should have been publicly crucified between the Bull and the Bear in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Pour encourager les autres.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          I think the answer revolves around your theory of justice and what you see as the purpose of prison.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

            Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of punitive justice. I’m not sure it works. And there is something unsavory about the state saying, “You did something bad so we’ll do something bad to you,” as strong as the urge might be.

            I’d prefer to see prison revolve around two basic principles: rehabilitation and protecting society, ideally done in tandem

            But I’m also okay with non-prison approaches. Blagojevich doesn’t go to jail, but is barred from participating in politics until he can earn back the public trust, perhaps by staying out of trouble for X years. Lay doesn’t go to jail but has his assets repossessed and his wages garnished (still allowing for a decent life) to help make his victims whole; additionally, you can limit the type of employment he can pursue and/or stipulate that should he assume a position where he is similarly situated to what he did at Enron, the company must submit to additional oversight. These aren’t fully formed ideas, but are the type of thinking I’d like to see more often. And I’ll that I’d seek similar punishments against smaller thieves than Lay, provided their crimes were non-violent.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

              Justice has very little to do with the criminal and everything to do with the victims. In our zeal to avoid looking like Awful People, we desperately pretend these crooks aren’t Awful People either, fatuously writing our hands, thinking they might be redeemed. Some might be redeemable. This skim milk theology of reforming these people.

              What of the victims? Two wrong might not make a right. But one wrong, unpunished, is a mockery of right.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I worry about the “good” person who feels made whole by watching another person suffer.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                It’s not about being made whole. It’s about consequences. Kenneth Lay, through fraud, damaged the lives of millions of innocent people. I worry about the self-deceit inherent in an ethical system which includes Redemption without Atonement.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Would working in service of his victims not qualify as atonement?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                Are you kidding? Do you realise the scope of the Enron fraud? 74 billion dollars in stockholder losses. A 23 billion dollar bankruptcy filing. Bank fraud. Money laundering. Lying to government officials, filing false statements with the SEC. That’s just scraping the tip of the Enron iceberg.

                How long do you think Lay and Skilling and the rest of those crooks should have to work? What would they do — convicted felons that they are? Pick up trash off the side of the road?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                First off, we need to realize that a lot of those stock losses were fictitious.

                But more importantly, is it better to seize his assets, garnish his wages, and give his victims whatever you can salvage? Or simply stick him in a hole to give people the warm-fuzzies?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                No, Kazzy. This isn’t about warm fuzzies or the inebriated thrill of revenge. I will not be schoolmarmed about the sum of two wrongs. The arithmetic is brutally simple. Tell me what we should do about a 63 page enumeration of crimes of which destroyed the savings of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

                All investment gains are paper gains until they’re cashed out.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                What is accomplished by putting Lay in jail?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                What is accomplished by putting Lay in jail?

                Imprisoning people like Lay disincentivizes others who may be thinking of engaging in those types of activities.

                If carrots don’t work, sticks might. In fact, I think the long history of humanity (since the Dawn of Time) has demonstrated that sticks actually do work. Most of the time.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Possibly. But the type of person who does what Lay did is likely unmoved by the consequences that befall others; they tend to see themselves as untouchable.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                What did I say about Redemption without Atonement? What is accomplished by putting Ken Lay in jail? He’s atoning for his crimes. That’s an accomplishment. When he’s paid his debt to society, then we can call it quits with him and hope he goes on with the rest of his life, though for crimes as large as his, Fraudzillas like Ken Lay should probably serve life sentences.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                But the type of person who does what Lay did is likely unmoved by the consequences that befall others; they tend to see themselves as untouchable.

                Then rehabilitation isn’t really possible, is it? And maybe jail-time isn’t a sufficient punishment.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                The lash? (Though the lash also has an ugly history, especially in the US, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not somewhat less ugly than incarceration.)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


                Let me first say this is more of a half-baked theory than a full-baked philosophy. It’s far from perfect.

                And you are right that some people are beyond rehabilitation. So we should focus our energy on preventing them from ever doing it again. That might mean jail. I’m not opposed to jailing people. I just don’t think it should be the default response to anyone ever doing something bad.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                The lash?

                Only after rum and sodomy.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                What if we made criminals work as COs? Two birds, one stone.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                What is accomplished by putting Ken Lay in jail? He’s atoning for his crimes.

                Well, doing penance. He didn’t make reparations.

                Fraudzillas like Ken Lay should probably serve life sentences.

                He did.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

                He did.

                Turns out I misremembered this. I thought Ken Lay died in prison, but he was actually out on bail awaiting trial.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I struggle with the idea of the criminal justice system being a place to make penance.

                But, again, I tend to be a bit weird in this area.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

                To be precise, Lay had been found guilty, but died before being sentenced, which led to his conviction being vacated. (I don’t see why that follows; perhaps one of our attorneys can explain it.) As a result, even though he was found guilty of 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and generally being a douchebag, he is not technically a felon, nor could his conviction be used as evidence in any civil trials against his estate.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                The lash?

                Only after rum and sodomy.

                Is it Friday already?Report

              • George Turner in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Some perspective. You steel $75 from someone in the wrong neighborhood, or in the wrong country, and they will hunt you down and make you die slowly, involving days or weeks of fire and blood. You steel $75 billion from a vast number of people, and their families, often their life savings, and you just get to do a little community service and then hit the country club every evening?

                Maybe it’s like that Star Trek TNG episode where Picard was confronted with the old man who lashed out in anger and used his mind to wipe out an entire technological species spread across a huge number of star systems, saying “We have no punishment to fit your crime. You are free to return to the planet.”

                Well, he could of at least made an attempt at it.Report

            • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:


              Thanks for answering my question. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds of your conversation with M. Pascal, but I’ll say this:

              1. I have some problems with the idea of rehabilitation being a purpose of imprisonment. This is because it’s a bit too close for my comfort to the notion of doing it for the prisoner’s own good rather than because the prisoner deserves it. My thoughts here align somewhat with C. S. Lewis’s: http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html

              2. Even though I’m more comfortable with punitive imprisonment than with rehabilitative imprisonment, my inclination is for imprisonment to be done only for severe crimes (but of course, “severe” can be a term of art). I do think something also should be done (what that “something” is, I don’t know) to help prisoners find a life for themselves after leaving prison. In that sense, then, I do support rehabilitation.

              3. Much of what I’ve heard about prisons–especially the maximum security prisons, but also intermediate and lower security prisons–sounds awful, amounting to my conception cruel.* I don’t know how much of what I heard is just folk wisdom, how much is anecdote, and how much is based on fact, and for the amount that’s based on fact, I don’t know how much is systematic and how much is just a number of abuses. With that in mind, I’m reluctant to endorse placing most people except for violent offenders in prison.

              My last point is especially incoherent, and I would need to learn more about our prison system.

              *I don’t mean constitutionally “cruel and unusual.” I’m not asserting it’s necessarily unconstitutional, only that it shocks my conscience..Report

              • I should add that even though I cite Lewis with approval, I’m not sure I fully agree with him.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                See, I don’t see rehabilitation as only being about the criminal; I think it also does something for society. We care warehouse these guys, at great cost, in a place often referred to as “Criminal School”, and release them with absurdly high rates of recidivism -OR- we can do something to hopefully break the vicious cycle and lower imprisonment rates not just through relaxing laws and jailing fewer people, but also by reducing criminal behavior.

                Maybe it is the PreK teacher in me, but I’m a big believer in natural consequences. Because being criminal (or perhaps better described as “anti-social”) in one area doesn’t mean being universally criminal or anti-social. But putting people in jail sends that message. And people tend to rise, or sink, to the level of expectations. So rather than jailing drunk drivers who have not yet harmed someone, take away for their license… for a LONG time… and mandate counseling.

                The cost of jailing people is enormous. Not just financially, but as the article points out, we are robbing communities of their fathers and husbands. We are robbing our society of people, many of whom aren’t the evil mask-wearing bad guys that popular portrayals would indicate. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think many of these people can be productive members of society if intervention happens early enough. Not all. Some people probably do need to be and should be locked up with the key thrown away.

                As I said, I’m uncomfortable with a criminal justice system predicated on vengeance. When my students have spats, if Child A says, “I pushed Child B because he pushed me,” I always ask, “How did you feel when you were pushed? Did pushing make you feel better?” The answer is almost invariably, “No.” And if the answer with a particular child is consistently yes… if they derive some pleasure out of doing harm to another, even if it is in retaliation… I get a little worried.

                Of course, my (admittedly half-baked) theory here would need to be part of more comprehensive reforms, coupled with changes to our laws, our court system, our education system, our social safety nets, etc.Report

              • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think we’re probably more on the same page than my comment might have suggested. I think the whole mentality of “you go to jail, you are forever marked” is bad.

                I also agree that vengeance–pushing back–is often (usually?) unsatisfying beyond the initial rush one feels.

                I wish I had a clear idea about how to get from A to B, though. I think some things would help (e.g., ramping down the war on drugs) but to bring about the changes you’re suggesting, I’m kind of at a loss.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                I won’t pretend to have even the inklings of a road map to how we get to where I propose, or even if what I’m proposing here is what I’d really want to see done when looking at the issue more closely. I just know what my hunches tell me which are that the current system is objectionable and I think there is a better way.

                If you didn’t read the entire article (and I won’t blame you… it’s long), I’d recommend doing so. It looks at much more than just the criminal justice system and prison stats.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

                As you may remember, and I don’t care to go into it again in depth, I was once accused of a truly disgusting crime, which had I been convicted, would have resulted in a long prison term and becoming a registered sex offender thereafter. Spent some time in jail on this basis.

                In prison, I met several men who were guilty. Freely admitted it, too. Prisoners in our classification really had no other company than our own. With little else to do but talk with them, I reached some conclusions about the purpose of incarceration.

                Mostly, if we’re honest, it’s about keeping criminals off the streets and out of society. The rest of society is genuinely better off without sex offenders in their midst. Some vulnerability is the price of living in a free society: if the Libertarians are right about anything, it’s their proscriptions on Force and Fraud and their observations on Victimless Crimes. Granted, it’s not a terribly well fleshed-out argument, mostly framed in the negative, but it’s a useful dividing line, especially when it’s framed in the negative. Freedom isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t be trusted with freedom. To that end, we take it away for periods of time, at the discretion of judges and juries, in accordance with laws which apply to everyone.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:


                I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written here. Committing crimes, especially crimes with flesh-and-blood victims, deserve action. Often, perhaps even most of the time in victimful (whatever the opposite of victimless is) crimes, the right course is complete removal from society. HOWEVER, while removed, I think the ideal course of action would be taken steps to find ways to reintegrate that person into society if and when possible. That might not be possible for all people. As you said, some people can’t be trusted with even the most basic of freedoms and their actions and inability/unwillingness to change justify restricting their freedoms. However, I don’t think that necessarily means denying them their humanity, which is often what the prison system does. As much as we tend to use the term “monsters” when it comes to sexual offenders, they are not. They are still human.

                I don’t object to locking up sex offenders. I might object to the current state of their incarceration, but the idea of locking them up does not offend me. However, I do object to locking up a petty theft for an extended period of time, thus denying his children and his wife their father and husband, denying them the source of income he could be if properly integrated into society (a failing which likely started long before he was an adult), and increasing the likelihood that they themselves become criminals or otherwise engage in anti-social behavior that creates an ever-greater strain and drain on society.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

                I favor monasteries (or something similar) for sex offenders. Keep them well out of the places they can cause trouble, and let them be productive.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

                English lacks the proper words for what I’m trying to say here. The word in Arabic is awad.

                I understand your motivation. I used to think that way, too. In the words of Roy Batty I’ve done questionable things. We’ve all done questionable things, I suppose. I worked in refugee camps for a long time, working off my awad debt for the questionable things I did. Felt much improved thereafter.

                Rehabilitating a criminal or an addict or a sinner of any sort requires awad, which means both reward and compensation. The world is full to brimming with evil and its consequences: if justice requires a man to go to prison for stealing and his wife and children suffer as a result, we do those innocents no favours by overlooking the thief’s guilt. Perhaps society could arrange for the thief to pay awad restitution and avoid jail time. But nowhere in your goodhearted schemes do I see your Rehabilitation following Atonement.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I’ll note that this isn’t a fully formed ideology or methodology. So, yea, much is lacking. But I would definitely include a form of atonement whenever possible. The thief would be expected to make his victim whole again, or as whole as possible.

                I’m not saying no punishment ever. I just think we should move away from a model that seems solely about punishment for punishment’s sake.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                That’s the spirit. Have you ever read DFW’s Infinite Jest? Don Gately, as described, movingly and brilliantly by Elaine Blair.

                Wallace risks the credibility he has built up over three hundred–plus pages of funny, irreverent, macabre, showily agile and complex and original prose, to tell us something that we probably didn’t go into this novel expecting to hear: that sometimes clichés are true, and we avoid or scorn them at our peril. This is what Gately discovers, for instance, after a few months of miraculous-seeming sobriety, when he finds himself helplessly remembering all kinds of scenes from his childhood that years of drug abuse helped him to forget. Some of his memories are mundane (the precise look of his childhood home’s front steps and mailbox) and some of them are more obviously emotionally charged (his mother’s nightly passing out in front of the television with a bottle of vodka), but they are pretty much all unbearably painful for him to relive. This, he realizes, is what is meant by the AA talk about Getting In Touch with Your Feelings—“another quilted-sampler cliché that ends up masking something ghastly deep and real.”

                Atonement. In English, it rings with the tinny overtones of religion, of grisly, crucified Jesus, hanging there between heaven and earth, dying for our sins. Of Puritanical retribution, of bloody-minded revenge, of the litany of half-truths we call grievances. America sure does like Punishment. But atonement? A serious effort, as in the Twelve Steps? Those steps are the map to atonement and rehabilitation. Clichés all — let me tell you from my own life, a cliché is what we like to call unpleasant truths.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Forcing these folks to beg on the street for spare change is far better justice than sending psychopaths to prison.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Its a very tricky issue. I’d argue that if a non-violent crime causes a certain amount of monetary damage or involves political corruption of some sort than prison might be appropriate.Report

  3. zic says:

    I’ve been hoping someone would write a post about some of Ta-Nehisi Coates work, tagged The Moynihan Reports on his blog; a conversation of what was that shapes the incarceration of black men today.

    I feel blessed to witness the inside look at his thought process as he asks questions his horde on his blog; asking them for sources and letting them push back on his ideas. I look forward to reading his finished pieces, seeing the public blog conversation reflected in the written work. Sublime.Report