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Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Pound of Flesh

A friend of mine has pestered me that I should talk about more
controversial and timely subjects. I don't know that I agree; I don't
feel that the podcast should be imbued with inflamatory rhetoric and
pounding of tables and what-not. But I might have to give it a try, just
to see how I feel about it. So let's try one on, and see if it fits.

Paris Hilton was sent to jail for drunk driving. Then they let her out
because she was sick, then they put her back in because she was rich. No,
wait, that's not right, is it?

Now I'm supposed to write what I think. But I don't know what I think. I
know what I feel, but that doesn't tell me what I think.

I feel that drunk driving is a serious crime, and deserves serious
punishment.

I noticed on Court TV they were having one of those extended "panel
discussion" group rants they do, one of the attornies prefaced his remarks
with something like, "While I agree that drunk driving is the most serious
crime you can commit against a civilian person..." Huh? So blowing up
buildings, kidnappings and school shootings are misdemeanors, maybe? But
I digress.

So, I feel that drunk driving is serious. I feel that drunk drivers
should be punished seriously. I feel that rich criminals shouldn't be
treated better than poor criminals.

I feel that being deprived of freedom is a serious punishment, and more
deprivation of freedom is more serious. Now I sound like a politician:
"Crime? I'm agin it!"

BUT!

When we sentence someone to imprisonment, we're saying we think they
deserve to have their freedom taken away for 45 days, or six months, or a
year, or twenty years. And yet, we know when we send them to prison we're
sentencing them to more than that.

We know we're sentencing them to having their safety and their lives
endangered for much of that time. We know they will nearly certainly be
threatened and intimidated, they may be raped, they may be beaten, they
may be killed. We know that. If you have watched anything more than
Saturday morning cartoons on your TV, you know that.

But we sentenced them only to having their freedom taken away for a while.
We lied, and we know we lied, and we went a head and did it anyway, and
felt proud about how just we were being.

Poor people who are imprisoned are sentenced to more than someone like
Paris Hilton would be. A poor person with a record is sentenced to
probably never having a decent job. Paris Hilton will likely never need a
job. Poor folks may be turned from minor criminals into major criminals.
Paris Hilton will likely never have to turn to a life of crime to get
money. She has plenty.

So, arguably, imprisonment is more unfair to the poor than too the rich.
But it is unfair in both cases. Deprivation of freedom may be a fair
punishment. But imposing punishments without imposing sentence is unfair,
rich or poor.

So, was sending her to jail fair or unfair? I don't know what I think.
It doesn't feel fair, though. But it feels like I ought to think it's
fair.

Then, too, I saw the video of her being hauled away in handcuffs, and in
tears. I don't feel criminals should be able to cry their way out of
punishment. But I don't like to make people cry, either. Childish of me,
but that's how I feel. And I would feel bad for a poor person being lead
away in tears, too.

And if she's in for 45 days, which if I'm not mistaken means she'll be in
Jail, not in Prison. I'm told by those who would know that Jail sucks
more than Prison, if for a shorter time. And I've heard from corrections
professionals that minimum and medium security facilities are more
dangerous than (well-run) maximum security prisons.

Gee, that didn't work out well at all, did it? Not a very good rant.
That's why I don't tend to speak out on controversial stuff. I'm just not
vehement enough.

If anything good can come out of this, maybe Paris will take on prison
reform -- if that concept makes any sense -- as a personal cause. Maybe
conditions in jail will get her involved as an activist, doing something
practical to make the system work better and more fairly for everyone.

And maybe she'll just go back to drinking and partying, and get a chauffer
-- chauffeur -- um, somebody to drive for her.

And she won't have to cry anymore.

That would be good.

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