Maine Corrections: Down the Long, Dark Tunnel
Mar 13, 2013The criminal justice chapter of my life, now well into its sixth year, stretchesout into a long dark tunnel. The more you learn, the fewer solutions you have toaddress the social degradation that follows the warehousing of disposable citizensof these United States.
Another Place/Another Prison
In a recent trip to the Palestine Territory, I opted to walk rather than ridethrough the Bethlehem checkpoint. I was being met by a high profile ChristianPalestinian who had parked his car in an alley so as not to be noticed by Israelisnipers. Sami Awad had told me once before that his family knows that everymorning when he leaves, he may not be coming home.The chilling effect of the checkpoint set the stage for a long, nerve-wrackingwalk through a curved tunnel - nerve-wracking due to the inability to see morethan ten yards ahead. That was, of course, the intention of its design.In a sense, the criminal justice system in America is like that curved tunnelat Bethlehem checkpoint. You can't tell where you are going, how long you will bethere or what is just around the corner. All you know is that it has been designedfor the benefit of those for whom the element of surprise affords thempsychological advantage.
The Illusion of Collaboration
My experience in the criminal justice system of Maine pales intoinsignificance, however, compared to those folks who make corrections theircareer.I became a whistle blower at Maine State Prison as a witness in a homicidecase involving prison staff who likely never will be prosecuted. After several yearsof writing about systemic corruption within the state prison system, I switched myfocus to county jails, thinking that because our sheriffs are elected, they would bemore responsive to public pressure.A recent experience with a county corrections system in Maine that hascreated an award-winning reentry program, however, has cured me of such flightsof fancy. The hope of corrections and community working together to solve thisblight on our nation's landscape is just that - a flight of fancy. The two cultures aresuch polar opposites that neither will ever be able to understand the other or giveup enough control to empty our jails and prisons. The minds of the two are indifferent realms.