Jail Time, The Justice System and Identity

14 04 2011

Over the course of my time at the Slabs, I met several people who served jail time – and probably many others who also served, but not to my knowledge.  While I may not have a full picture of the events detailed below, the stories and experiences shared with me sparked three thoughts:

1-  One man was incarcerated in various state prisons for six and a half years for burglary.  During his sentence, he shared a prison – and often a cell – with criminals convicted of far more violent activities.  He was often roughed up and the experience was traumatizing.  Not that prison should be a walk in the park, but it’s absurd that such different types of prisoners could be so dangerously lumped together.  Does anyone have thoughts, ideas or insights on this?

2-  My dinner companion at Karma Kitchen argued that the justice system does a lousy job of delivering justice to the victim.  For example, three men stole $1,000 from an elderly woman at the Slabs.  These men were sentenced to time in prison, but this woman will not be repaid the money stolen from her.  My dinner friend argued that a proper judicial system would have uniform punishments for particular actions, but would also make a point of compensating victims for their losses.  In your experience, does our legal system do this?  If so, what are the exceptions and loopholes that screw people like this elderly woman over?

3-  One friend burned his identification when he came to the Slabs.  He had been repeatedly screwed over by “society” and no longer wanted to be part of government or “tracked” or anything of the sort.  I initially felt that the decision was not well thought-through:  What about social security checks?  Voting?  Driving?  Leaving the country, and coming back in?  A later conversation revealed that he had indeed thought through these things and ideologically decided that it was worth it to him to live off the charts and be ‘truly free’.  I never met a person with such a different perspective who also had the guts to (stupidly or cleverly) put ideology into action.  Have you ever met anyone like this?  Do you find this appealing?  Irresponsible?  Both?

The past year has been an incredible series of eye-opening, giggle-inducing, occasionally stress-provoking learning experiences: the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, the RV, Burning Man, Faces of Israel, Reno, Los Angeles, Israel, Joshua Tree National Park.  Hands down, there was something different and unique about this week.  I have always contended that travel is about the people and cultures you meet, and this was a powerful week of people meeting.  Boy, we’re not in Riverdale anymore!

posted by ayo

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5 responses

14 04 2011
Michael

Regarding number 3, I’ve never met Daniel Suelo but have corresponded with him via email and he’s commented on my blog. He has been living without money for over 10 years. He has my most favorite blog and lives in Moab, UT. Since your kind of close you should try to meet him. He’s the most authentic and Holiest living man I can think of. I’ll be backpacking in Canyonlands NP in May and will hopefully meet him myself.

14 04 2011
Cyndi

having worked with inmates, I have all kinds of contrary feelings and beliefs regarding our justice system.

With regard to the elderly womans’ compentstion: There is an avenue to recieve compensation for crimes commited. It’s called a civil suit. Note I didn’t say effective, fair, efficient or affordable. Even if you choose to pursue a civil suit i am pretty sure in many circumstance the odds of recieving payment are slim to none.

I’ve done about all I can to become invisable to the government. Unfortunately, I do need my retirement check to survive in someplace other than the slabs or in similar circumstances. While I admire the ability to go completely underground, I sure do NOT have what it takes, physically or mentally, to do so.

Now I have to go look for Dan Suelo’s blog. Thanks for the heads up, Michael!

14 04 2011
frugalveganmom

I’ve never met anyone like that, but have read about them in this book called Off The Grid – fascinating book, check it out!

14 04 2011
Mike

WRT#1. Prison systems vary so much by state that i’ts hard to say what policies are everywhere. I know in Massachusetts they do a pretty good job of separating the violent from non-violent offenders and protecting at-risk prisoners. Though I’m sure that’s not the case everywhere. That said, burglary is a pretty serious crime. It involves breaking and entering with the intention of committing a felony. What if someone had been home? Or someone came home in the middle of the burglary? The chance of violence and damage to more than just property is high. Someone might seem pretty harmless over dinner years after the fact after having done time. But what if you’d bumped into him in the dark in your house six years ago?

WRT #2. I have seen courts in Massachusetts order restitution to victims in the form of monthly payments sent directly to the victim as a condition of parole or probation. When the criminal doesn’t pay, he has to answer to his probation officer and the judge. Don’t know if they do it anywhere else though. And I’ve never seen it done when someone was sentenced to incarceration, though I think it could still be done.

Not sure I’d want uniform punishment though as you mention. A purse snatcher who takes money to buy medicine and a purse snatcher who takes money to buy beer are two different things. They both deserve punishment, but I would argue different punishment.

14 04 2011
Michael

More on #3) Born, raised and living about midway between the Amish and the big city. I know first hand both ways. I much prefer going towards the Amish. A great book along these lines:, “Better Off” by Eric Brende.

Better Off, Flipping the Switch on Technology
by Eric Brende ©2004

“What happens when a graduate of MIT, the bastion of technological advancement, and his bride move to a community so primitive in its technology that even Amish groups consider it antiquated?

Eric Brende conceives a real-life experiment: to see if, in fact, all our cell phones, wide-screen TVs, and SUVs have made life easier and better — or whether life would be preferable without them. By turns, the query narrows down to a single question: What is the least we need to achieve the most? With this in mind, the Brendes ditch their car, electric stove, refrigerator, running water, and everything else motorized or “hooked to the grid” and begin an eighteen-month trial run — one that dramatically changes the way they live, and proves entertaining and surprising to readers.

Better OFF is a smart, often comedic, and always riveting book that also mingles scientific analysis with the human story, demonstrating how a world free of technological excess can shrink stress — and waistlines — and expand happiness, health, and leisure. Our notion that technophobes are backward gets turned on its head as the Brendes realize that the crucial technological decisions of their adopted Minimite community are made more soberly and deliberately than in the surrounding culture, and the result is greater — not lesser — mastery over the conditions of human existence.

Eric Brende has degrees from Yale, Washburn University, and MIT, and has received a Citation of Excellence from the National Science Foundation and a graduate fellowship from the Mellon Foundation in the Humanities. At the insistence of his editor, he now has an e-mail account at the local library but continues to minimize modern technology for himself and his family. Eric and Mary Brende have recently relocated to an old-town section in St. Louis, where Eric makes his living as a rickshaw driver and a soap maker.”

I believe I found what amounts to a Thesis Statement on page 10
… not to rid the world of technology but to ascertain more carefully how much – or how little – technology was needed. Was there some baseline of minimal machinery needed for human convenience, comfort, and sociability – a line below which physical effort was too demanding and above which machines began to create their own demands? Or if there was no such absolute mid-point, was there perhaps a rule of thumb or a formula for arriving at practical compromise in varied circumstances?

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