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Maine Corrections: Down the Long Dark Tunnel

Maine Corrections: Down the Long Dark Tunnel

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Published by Stan Moody
The sewer remains despite our efforts to plant resurrection lilies around its perimeter so that the public and its legislative voices will be satisfied that all is well...
The sewer remains despite our efforts to plant resurrection lilies around its perimeter so that the public and its legislative voices will be satisfied that all is well...

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Published by: Stan Moody on Mar 14, 2013
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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.
The Differences
 
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Two pedestrian factors point out these differences. Who do you know in thegeneral community whose vocation requires a uniform as a statement of authorityand power? Not even bus drivers and nurses wear uniforms these days. Few of uson the outside wear ties anymore except in places where they are required. Andthen, can corrections staff members legitimately be expected to rehabilitateprisoners and reduce recidivism if their jobs depend on a steady flow of humanmisery and failure? They cannot unless, of course, reentry becomes acomplimentary growth industry to corrections, depending on government grantsfor its sustainability.Rather than work together to solve our mutual systemic embarrassment,departments of state and county corrections are now hiring grant writers tocompete with social service agencies. We can only hope that the government runsout of money soon enough to address this waste of human resources thatcharacterizes our criminal justice system.
A Smug Legislature
Compounding the problem is a legislature that smugly stands between thecommunity and the corrections system, believing itself to be the arbiter of publicsafety. As tough-on-crime legislation gets votes for reelection, the general publichas put the fate of its children and loved ones in the hands of those with a cynicalmotive and little to lose by throwing them away.Corrections revels in being functionaries in a growth industry beyond theintellectual capacity of the average citizen ("Nobody knows the troubles I'veseen!"). Community is a fear-based culture that wants its neighborhoods to besqueaky clean of all semblance of evil, ignoring that most crimes are committed bysomeone we know and to whom we have granted access to our money or our kids.
Prison Reform as a Civil Rights Movement
As with all civil rights movements, if real prison reform is to happen, it willbe because a handful of advocates have taken to the streets. Coffee klatches withcorrections staff will not result in prison reform but mere adjustments to programand policy to appease the growing awareness that we are treading water in a sewer.As with the so-called Two-State Solution between Israel and the PalestineTerritory, negotiation and collaboration are dead ends. What works best is
 Intifada
 - a "shaking off".
Role for the Faith Community
My hope has been that the faith community in Maine will recognize itsobligation to stand for social justice and call for reform of our laws and our systemof dealing with those who have fallen through the cracks. It will, however, take farmore than Thanksgiving baskets and sending useful do-dads into our jails andprisons. It will require getting down and dirty, a condition few in the faithcommunity are inclined to assume.

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