a proposal for prison reform
this proposal, first published in 1988, had been offered to bill clinton, then governor of the state of arkansas and to mario kuomo, governor of new york state. some ten years before that, we had proposed to the chief justice burger to send the then 513 death row inmates to work with us on the experiment basis. If they transformed, then, for the practical purpose their "killer" selves would be dead. and if they did not change, he would have them back. we had given a copy of the letter to the local paper of the van buren county. its editor told us: "we do not want the convicted killers in our backyard."
in the news then was bill clinton trying to look tough on crime by signing the death sentence of a death row inmate who was mentally retarded with the brains of a pre-teen boy. the arkansas governor was then preparing for the u.s. presidential nomination from his party. as both bill and hillary clinton were also promoting the educational reforms along with the wal-mart founder sam walton, we had communicated with them on the subject of bill's phrase: "preparing arkansas for the 21st century." and what we had pointed out to him was the fact, that, he was proposing to prepare the 21st century for the arkansans.
now, the prison population is more than 1.5 million, nation wide. the number of inmates on death row is 3350 as of januay 1, 2007. it costs 43,700 dollars a year per person sentenced to death. since this is a capitalist society, what is an expense for one, is a source of income for another. in california, there are even proposals floating for the floating prisons, as an innovative idea thought out by a for profit mind
subject: a proposal for creating a situation in which prisoners can change radically, outwardly as well as inwardly, by learning to respond intelligently rather than reacting habitually to the fear of insecurity.
transforming prisoners requires changing the society's conditioned notion of crime and punishment. it questions the validity of labeling, of fixing identities, and pigeon-holing persons. it is the colloquial version of the almost mystical term, the name-form relationship of both the eastern and greek philosophies: one who oversees the work of the nation is the president; one who acts is an actor; one who kills is a killer. all work related identities require the continuity of the work. the editor must keep on editing, the actor acting, the president presiding, and the killer killing. mr. reagan gave up his acting career decades ago, and yet, his critics refuse to acknowledge the present. or, even if the person may be rotting in the solitary cell of prison for many a year, he is seen as a killer. this reflects the society's misperception rather than a fault of mr. reagan, currently residing in the white house, or of a prisoner, currently confined in a cell. actors are thought to be dull-witted, and prisons are the warehouses for those who are thought to be dangerously cruel persons.
the mystifying element in the name-form distinction is the misperception; what is, is different from what one thinks it to be, or likes it to be. perception of what is, is always direct since it exists outside of the thought patterns which are conflicting.
the law and order are the products of thought -- the thought arising from the primitive fear of insecurity at the sight of something different. it projects the defense mechanism: the weaker animals hide or run, the stronger ones attack to guard what they are used to. a person in plight cannot think cohesively nor are the fear-induced thoughts logical. because the bulk of law and order is the product of the defense mechanism, it is different from place to place and is often conflicting in nature. it is the same regarding the other aspects of life: food, shelter, clothing, work, and the concept of the ultimate ancestor, all products of thought arising from the fear of insecurity. and a thought-out fear, the "what if," is unreal, though most of the human activities in the urban culture have sprung from it.
from the very beginning of the notion of law and order, prisons were created as the warehouses for those who were unable to obey the law of the land -- the land that was fenced by the brute force or the conniving skill of greedy merchants or those who would prostitute their brains in return for the material security from the above two. together this trio invented the idea of possession as a protection against the fear of insecurity. in turn, it developed into an artificial need for keeping others away from one's possessions, material and ideal. since nature does not depend upon man-made laws, all laws that try to eradicate or limit the natural order are despised and defied, no matter how strict or severe the punishment. the bulk of codes of conduct written by man is unintelligent as it tries to accomplish what has never been possible, despite the reign of terror. if the prostitution of the technological brains has produced the nuclear weapons and modern gadgetry of the torture chamber in the modern day prison, so, too, the intelligent disapproval of the brute force as the judging standard has grown in magnitude from a fearful private sigh over the agonies of a suffering soul in the dark dungeon to a well organized protest born of the collective intelligence which is logical, ethical and ecological. the reason that its growth corresponds with the rate of literacy.
what is not necessary is a waste. what is wasted is creating serious consequences in the ecological process of life in which there is no exception to the nature of things.
thus, human warehouses are a waste of natural resources in human forms as well as in material and non-material forms. the operating expenses are a burden on the taxpayers, many of whom do not earn as much as is spent on every prisoner. the non-material form is the loss of the human potentials of prisoners as well as of the guards.
society institutionalizes violence as the mode of behavior through the overt and covert wars and the defense industry producing the tools of violence and through the department of justice with its violent warehouses for humans. such a society eventually falls prey to the very violence it promotes. soldiers and police, who are taught to kill, eventually bring home the message of power and the elimination of the opposition. society may not offer them medals for "unauthorized" killing, but it learns to respect the powerful image; and the respect is but a form of fear.
the society that provides for and sanctions such a violent way of life loses the creative innocence and the compassionate concern for the human cause. without these qualities the human existence becomes the cruel game of survival of the ideological fittest in which the dissenters are systematically disposed of in fear of the insecurity of the unknown.
by its very nature, a society formed of thoughts about what things are becomes blind to what really is. to such a society living becomes a prescribed list of do-s and don'ts. the judiciary branch of government is practically an autonomous group of people that interprets the law of the land and renders justice according to the wishes of a judge or a panel of judges or a jury. a federal judgeship is a lifetime appointment that enables a judge to become arrogant and dull-witted with the passage of time in which all happenings are reduced to a make-believe reoccurrence of the past. chancery judges acquire power from the people who elect them. in either case, judges are the former lawyers who have represented either of the two feuding sides for money and not for helping find the truth. there was nothing in their legal training of the adversary system that prepared a lawyer-turned judge to objectively look for the fact of a given matter: what, how, when, why. the jury system makes it even cruder. a number of people picked at random may represent popular will but not justice. the jury, not trained in sorting out facts from the cunning game of arguments, follows one among them who appears to be a little more knowledgeable. it is ironic that in the age of minute expertise the society relies upon the unprepared members of the jury and former lawyers in determining the grave issues in which people are actually sent to their graves or are buried alive in the grave situations of prisons.
there is not "yes" or "no" nor "innocent" or "guilty" as the single answer to every question. and hence, there is no justice possible in the present system. hence, first it must be recognized that the present system of justice is improper as a tool for righting the wrong which is a complex social question ultimately questioning the very way of life. in the identity-oriented lifestyle of the society, even if the judge sleeps or doodles on paper instead of admitting that the whole system is boringly useless, he is still the presiding judge. and more money brings a better lawyer, and a better lawyer wins the case. prisons are the warehouses for those whose cases are lost, not necessarily by their own deed. some of them are wrongfully accused. some are victims of the judge's, lawyer's, or society's grudges against the selection of the victim rather than the crime itself. such as, there is a stigma against killing police, or a black man raping a white woman receives more severe punishment than a white man raping a black woman. and, all of them in general are victims of the collective ignorance that keeps punishing those who are caught malfunctioning, even though unintentionally, or not being able to avoid it short of suicide. and, in some societies, even suicide is a punishable crime, that is, is one failed in the act.
the society at large is a fragmented entity. all its fragments draw from each other but benefit only separately. the educational and various governmental bureaucracies, the commercial sector and the service industry depend upon the consumer group but treat the consumer the worst. bureaucrats are halfway between public servants and leaders. and, with the increasing loss of the sense of direction, or the sense of going nowhere, the bureaucratic notions are all the more determining factors in the human affairs.
if judges fall asleep on the bench or doodle on paper when feeling bored, the bureaucrats of prisons frequently take it out on the prisoners, though this form of abuse is not the official form of punishment which the judge, jury, or the society at large have in mind for the prisoner.
child abuse, spouse abuse, and prisoner abuse are not three isolated, unrelated forms. they are but a few of the unacknowledged ills of the underdeveloped minds of the otherwise technologically advanced human society. child abuse creates an inhibited mind that brings about a lasting preoccupation with self-defense. it is real at first, but later on, in an adult it still operates from those childish perspectives. adults seeking positions of physical power, soldiers, policemen, judges, and their crude counterparts, the violent thugs and rebels, are the persons who were abused children. and now, as adults, they are reacting to those subtle or socially accepted abuses that subjected them to the horrors of life as children.
the bulk of the human society lives in the animal fashion who dare not venture into the unknown for fear of insecurity. if prolonged, this fear can retard or even destroy the ability to think and reason. the outcome is the illusion of a secure comfortable living while actually engaging in self-destructive acts. drugs, alcohol, overeating, prolonged fasting, and tv and other forms of entertaining escapes are early signs.
in the animal world all forms of insecurity are physical, obvious; and animals try to overcome them by physically acting. man's fears arise from physical factors as well as from the psychological factors or the thought mechanism. and then, man creates psychological pain from the physical form; and the physical pain from the psychological form.
for a man of this society, the pure physical sense of insecurity is an issue that is a lost chapter from the exhaustive study of social science. it is viewed as an anti-social ideology. the nationalized society rarely tolerates a study that is critical of its very foundation. thus, within the frame of this social structure, the man of society feels secure when his identity is recognized by the people around him. (though women constitute a slight majority in this society, they are still acting for, or reacting to, man's idea of life. hence, they inherit man's problems unwittingly.)
parents may be well-known educators, sociologists, leaders, judges, etc., but are afraid of rejection from their growing children. and, despite the concerted efforts of glamorous and action-filled movies depicting bravery soldiers, police and prison officials are not highly regarded in the society. nor is a judge, lawyer or a juror or a professional counselor sought after for insight in the day-to-day matters concerning immediate members of society. this form of avoidance or denial from the immediate members creates the sense of insecurity commonly known as loneliness. people react to this fear more than any other form of fear. by training and habit, man is violent in expression of his fears. he tries to ward off the fear through the use of force. parents and teachers beat up the children, and spouses are beaten up in want of recognition.
a frightened man does not think or act intelligently, and so his sense of security associated with the idea of the show of power and punishment is expressed at the expense of the weaker ones around. the children, spouses, and prisoners constitute the three largest groups who cannot fight back and, knowing so, they are preyed upon.
when a number of people migrate for food to distant lands, they carry with them the knowledge of the parent group. beyond that, they regress in understanding of life and other matters driven by the fear of the unknown in their new surrounding. fear breeds a violent mode. they subdue or kill the strangers thinking that otherwise the others will do so to them. this is why there is more violence in the new world than in europe. the vastness of land enabled them to revert to the mentality of the hunting age in which man stood better chances if alone or in loose association of small groups. this enabled the ethnic europeans the comfortable distance from each other. also, since they are not the descendants of the same group, they came with inherent dislikes or disapproval of each other.
almost without exception, all the discoveries and inventions made on this continent were authored by foreigners of recent times who came here, not in search of security, but knowledge. still, the now native majority of americans laud only those inventors who appeal to their sense of security. they praise and promote only discoveries that are violent in nature and exploitative in purpose.
the masses of the otherwise resourceful society need to be made aware that since the significant step from the hunting tribes to the agricultural community has already been taken, it is inevitable that all persons be afforded equanimity of existence. that is not an end in itself, but rather the beginning of an era of the living of human beings as a society. all other species, including the primitive human societies, are not infested with the ills of modern society. among them the items of basic necessities are common rather than for grabs. this frees them to evolve as very well organized societies. in absence of the fear of insecurity, both physical and psychological, human beings may develop yet a different order of harmonious relationship based upon the awareness of the interdependence among all nature's elements.
the problem from the perspective of this proposal is to somehow make every member of the judicial branch to cognize one's role in the perpetuation of the ill that haunts each and every member of the society. cognition follows the need to search for the remedy. those who presently feel comfortable with the prison industry by making a living as police, guards, officials, judges, lawyers, as well as builders and suppliers of the prison gadgets and goods, are not eager for any change that takes away their source of earning a living and their niche in the socioeconomic structure of this society.
thus, the problem seems impossible to comprehend by the social minds who are in positions to pass this off as a proposal for a utopia.
the approach preliminary (inward):
first of all, this proposal needs to be discussed with the prisoners. for this purpose, a series of interview/conferences will need to be arranged with those prisoners who write, think, and express their concerns beyond their personal grudges. there must be among them the death row inmates, first time minor offenders, the so-called chronic offenders, and the inmates of both genders, young and old.
interviews will be held in the prison facilities, in the beginning, and will be at first on a one-to-one basis, then in progressively larger groups. these meetings will be held on an alternate day basis, requesting them to reflect on the matter during the intermediate days. approximately 10-15 such sessions will be needed. the program coordinator intends to spend entire days interviewing prisoners one by one, with each session lasting about an hour and a half. this way he shall be able to communicate with about 15 prisoners in the first three days. after that, the sessions will be in groups of three to five persons, extending up to not more than 40. for, unless the program coordinator meets an exceptional person or two within or without the prison community who can help him, 40 is the maximum number of persons he can work with maintaining a link on a one-to-one basis. at the end of the first year, we will be able to extend this proposal to every prisoner, everywhere. the purpose of these meetings is to familiarize everyone with the proposal and with each other in relation with the proposed work. within a week after the last meeting, the final verbal form of the proposal will be drafted and offered to the governor.
in all these meetings with the prisoners and the government, the wholesomeness of the human existence will be emphasized: no one exists all alone, and nothing that one does is an isolated event. this being the fact, no ill, whether drunk driving or the nuclear proliferation or human warehousing can be understood and remedied without questioning the very source whence they arise the society, the way of life of the society.
thus, the significant aspect of this proposal is the inquiry into the unknown in the prisoners' perspective of life -- the unknown which is perceived by a habitual mind as the fear of losing the known, no matter how painful and problematical. this inquiry, when conducted properly, generates no feeling of shame or remorse. even these feelings of shame and remorse are the products of fear. having done something disagreeable, one invents such forms to escape the punishment. when the purpose of such inquiry is to understand what went wrong, rather than looking for scapegoats, it brings about a clarity of the perception of what is. the understanding is instantaneous; it is only the material process that has a schedule of events.
the approach (outward)
in the totality of the life process there is no distinction such as inward and outward. all such distinctions arise when there is an external element preventing the natural course of action that follows in response to what is perceived, such as the fetching of water follows the realization of thirst or one falls asleep the moment one feels the need to sleep.
thus, this proposal can be talked about only in absence of such direct link between perception and response. and it must not be viewed as mere physical facilities for the purpose of dwelling, work, rest, and recreation of the reforming prisoners.
the purpose of this proposal is not to rehabilitate a number of prisoners into a secured area, and thus unwittingly create a workforce of pariahs. nor does the process end with the transformation of the prisoners into intelligent, aware, caring human beings. what is set into motion and what constitutes the ecological elements, both material and non-material, evolves.
since motion is a significant characteristic of life, and all forms are interdependent in the ecosystem, the human motions will have to be harmoniously interrelated. all motions of life are purposeful. what makes one motion an act of creation and another an act of destruction is the state of mind of the doer. a mind that is free of inhibitions will not indulge in thoughts or acts of destruction. all inventions of the weapons and schemes of destruction are the products of the frightened brains in search of the personal socioeconomic security.
hence, this proposal cannot create a work program that offers the socio-economic security to the participants. rather, it questions such a practice since it has never made anyone safe and secure for all one's life. besides, the society would not benefit from the act of removal of 40, or even all, prisoners if they are going to be replaced with new prisoners.
to negate violence one must not negate the weapons, but that for which the weapons are made, the idea of protection. since all attacks originate from the very notion of insecurity, real or imagined, one must find out if it is possible to create a situation in which no one lacks in the essentials of life. thus, before the notion of protection of one's possessions progresses into the codes of conduct: "thou shalt not steal," and labeling one a thief, and punishing, it is equally necessary to find out if a person who is intelligently aware and caring would ever want to possess. all these aspects of life must be inherent in one's thought, speech, and actions. the motions work, rest, and inquiry thus become inseparable from each other.
thus, the forms of work would be only those that are the intelligent responses to the actual needs of the human beings rather than the cosmetic extras that waste the precious resources of the earth.
the participating individuals will operate small-scale cottage industries that produce things of actual use according to the individual customer's precise need, rather than theoretically reducing everyone into the standard sizes that machines produce. such products are always a little bit too large or too small, and the customers are expected to tailor their need according to the available sizes and remain dissatisfied.
the operation will be equipped with the tools that are energy efficient and ecological. approximately 5-7 persons will work in a work shed of one kind. there will be about 5 work sheds making that many different items of use, each one custom made. and there will be organic farm and the organic food products for the use of the residents and for the nearby community.
women's and men's single unit quarters will be at a safe distance from each other to provide privacy and to prevent mishaps. but beyond that, as the work has no gender, the workers will work together and participate in common activities.
the notion of comparison will be absent, not only between the genders, but also among the work areas. comparison breeds competition, and results are jealousy, fights, and violence. in the totality of life there can be no exclusion of either of the genders. any artificial exclusion produces the homosexual tendencies in both genders, much the same as the artificial togetherness has produced the promiscuity, pills, teenage pregnancies, abortions, and diseases.
likewise, the non-competitive games and sports will be encouraged and introduced from around the world, particularly from the rural societies that interact and work with nature rather than compete with others. they rest and play differently. eventually new games may evolve.
there will also be the facilities for the classroom learning and research concerning a science of wholesome living; an auditorium to accommodate talks, seminars and shows of documentary films; a guest house; and a printing press to publish a journal of social science based upon the firsthand experience of the nature of change. architectural plans and detail will be provided after the initial acceptance of this proposal.
the commitment to the proposed work
initially, the participating prisoners will be asked to give the minimum amount of time that they would otherwise serve in prisons. prisoners without parole and the death row inmates will have no such options. they will not be treated differently in any other way. they all will learn skills and work in work sheds. they will also teach skill to other inmates and the students from nearby schools. they will help the outgoing residents set up cooperative workshops and promote the work of meaningful social change through lecture, example, and publication.
in case of prisoners who are married and who have children, a careful study would be made to see if their children are suffering from the socio-economic consequences of their parent's imprisonment. likewise, a study would be made of the victim's children's problems. a fund would be setup to provide the necessary help towards the upbringing of these children. this fund will be regarded as a necessary aspect of the proposal and, therefore, be allocated an amount as part of the operating expense. for, had the misdeed not occurred, no children would be experiencing the socio-economic ills, victims' or the victimizers'.
the co-operative would be non-profit and all its net income will be used for the improvement of the quality of life throughout inquiry, education, and dissemination of the factual observations regarding a living that is practically devoid of those misconceptions that produced the sick society.
the cooperative would serve the society not in the form of individual income taxes, but in more urgent, direct forms, such as the production of custom made necessary things of use, and through the research in the innovative forms of work, play and the ecologically wholesome living, through workshop, seminar, publication, and example.
cooperative nature of the proposal
in order to function as a true cooperative, there will be no position higher or lower than the rest. all work areas will be operated and cared for by the participating inmates. nobody will be given any privileges that are not available to the rest of the residents.
no outside person will be appointed, particularly in the administrative aspects of work, such as director, secretary, accountant, etc., in order not to create the psychological segregation in which the participating prisoners would otherwise end up with the laborious work and the outsiders with the inflated monetary benefits. concerning the program coordinator, the participants will have come to perceive him as an eager participant in this cooperative undertaking by the time it reaches the operational level. so no title is necessary, nor does the coordinator require any special "salary." the program coordinator's commitment to this work is to get it started and bring it up to a level that convinces every participant and the society at large that it does, indeed, work. the program coordinator will reside within the proposed work perimeter until that moment.
and by then there would have evolved many other work programs that address many other ills of the society and involve others who are not necessarily prisoners.
the availability of the land that has renewable sources of energy -- water, wind, and sun and fertile soil -- will be essential for this proposal.
instead of building all the buildings first and moving prisoners from the prisons to the new location, it will be worthwhile to allow the facilities to evolve along with the work in progress. apart from its being cost efficient, it will also become a significant ingredient of perception for the participants, who having helped to create it, will be more eager to nourish it.
thus, the buildings will be constructed by the maximum volunteer work, both from the prisoners and others. the estimated cost of the buildings will be about $700,000* or less. $200,000 more will be sufficient to equip the place with tools of work and study and necessary artifacts for living, food, etc.
beyond the expense of bringing it to a fully functioning level, there will be no need for the state's support, as it will be a self-supporting entity operating on a cooperative basis.
* this amount was calculated in a not for profit way of doing things. however the material cost may be more now.
once fully functioning, it will also become a model for prison reform where prisoners can be trained to help change all prisons, and further along the course, it can accept the new offender and offer him or her the missing element in life: the state of mind that is free of the fear of the unknown.
the program coordinator is prepared to meet anyone, anywhere, and intends to awaken the sense of intelligence to enable the other to respond to this proposal matter of factly rather than avoiding what sounds strange.
just as the prospect of termination of religious practice threatens the earning a living of the preacher, and the total disarmament and the gun control would initially mean the loss of jobs for all now benefiting from the weapon industry, so also there are thousands who will lose jobs as an outcome of this undertaking -- the department of correction, that has corrected nothing, not being aware of what is a mistake; the warden and his subordinates, and even the prisoner trustees who are either bribed or subdued and are treated differently.
all those conditioned to view existence as a matter of earning a living would feel threatened at the mere thought of losing the job. so they protest anything that proposes such a change. there must be hundreds of individuals on the department of correction payroll, some of whom have developed the air of authority as their second nature, and have invented the violent nature of the prison inmates as a justification of their own brute force upon those who are at their mercy. the violent nature of the prisoner is invented for the same reason why the english hunters and early european travelers told stories of the ferocious animals and savages of the distant woods. it magnified the image of their strength and courage. the tv documentary films show quite the contrary. those animals never fight to kill, nor even pursue an animal that snatches away food from their mouths.
thus, it would be a mere waste of time and energy if it is left up to the department of correction to approve or disapprove this proposal. however, the department may begin to question its now rigid practice and learn to relate to the imminent change that may initially displace them, as many technicians are displaced when a factory adopts a change, or closes. if prisoners can change, so can the prison officials. in the factual nature of things, it does not matter whether one wants or likes to change or not. and the proposal is concerned with only the inevitability of the change.
(the main article is re-printed from "a book of unamerican dreams and dissent" the death row picture is from the internet.)