I watched this fantastic Documentary called Breaking the Cycle on Netflix. (The trailer for it is above.) It is a comparison of the Maximum Security Prison system in Norway to the United States. The movie is about how in Norway prisoners are isolated from society, including their family and friends, and that is the punishment. In American Prisons, the prisoners are treaty poorly. Prisoners are treated, even right now in Canada, as a lesser human being than the average citizen. Even after they leave prison and have served their time, experienced their punishment, it is hard to find a job that will hire them. There are people who think that prisoners have it too easy, they can watch TV, get exercise, eat three meals etc. but what good does it do to take any of that away from them? How does making prison more miserable help society?
Maybe you think that if we make something as terrible as possible then people will do everything they can, not to go there. We know this does not work. I can re-quote the statistics from the movie of recidivism: when people who serve their time in prison go back repeatedly, but I don’t think I need to. The idea is that some people are just bad people. They were born bad, they are bad now and they will always be bad. We know, however, that everyone has reoccurring bad habits. We know we do things that are bad for us and yet we keep going back to it. Maybe for you, it’s smoking, overeating, laziness, or even media! (You are reading this blog….) Breaking a habit is hard but when it comes to prison, breaking a habit becomes crucial to society.
You might also respond to this by saying, “However bad they are treated in prison it is not bad enough.” If someone murdered someone, deep down we know there is no justice. You can never give back a life that you’ve taken. This is where forgiveness and compassion come in. To say to someone who has had a loved one murdered, “you need to forgive” is hard. The thing is, forgiveness heals the person who forgives not the murderer, once you can let go of that pain it heals you. As the bible says when we show kindness to people who don’t deserve it from us, “it is like we shovel burning coals on their head.” (Proverbs 25:22) It’s painful to be filled with hate and have someone show you compassion. Forgiveness creates the pain of healing.
The bottom line is that these people, good or bad, are going to serve their time in prison and come back into society. Helping them become better functioning members of that society isn’t even compassion, it’s just common sense. I believe that when people are treated a certain way, that they accept their role and act out that role accordingly. So if you treat someone as if they know everything, they will become a know it all. If you treat someone as a delinquent, they will act like delinquents act. Therefore, when we treat people in prison as if they are an animal, they will accept the role and integrate it into their very being.
You might respond to this, “Good! They deserve to be treated like the dogs that they are!” In the last blog, I stressed that there are no bad people, only good people who make bad decisions. If we treat people as a human being first, and judge him or her for their actions second, I think the world would be a better place. I’m not saying to ignore or dismiss their actions either. People released from prison have served their time. They have been separated from society and they don’t need further humiliation and punishment. What they need is the opportunity for change. We give them that by focusing on rehabilitation in and after prison. This comes down to one principle; love your neighbour as yourself. When the Pharisees ask Jesus who is their neighbour, his answer is any person who is “other”.