|By Nina Quinn|
|Recently NPHA received a letter seething with anger and vengeance. It was from a man who wants prison hospice programs banned. He states that he is researching and finding like-minded people; and he is lobbying for legislation to shut these programs down and to limit the health care that inmates who have committed violent acts can receive.
While disturbing, his reaction is understandable. Behind this pulsating bitterness is the scoring pain of a father whose daughter has been brutally murdered. For now, externalizing his pain has him bound in the same base energy that propels and perpetuates violence and aggression in our society. This grieving man is caught, in the same negative continuum that entraps many inmates and feeds our pro-prison culture and mainlines our dehumanizing prison systems.
In sharp contrast; this issue of Prison Hospice offers examples that illustrate that when given a safe and, acceptable environment these negative energies can be met and converted allowing deeper, truer dimensions of humaneness to be revealed; to touch, sometimes for the first time, positive energies such as caring, love, compassion, forgiveness, redemption and peace. Through these articles we are invited to witness how ignorance can be replaced with understanding and how lives can be transformed.
Clearly seeing these two opposing energies at play is a conscious reminder that in any given moment our thoughts, words and actions foster either aggression or peace. The choice is ours – as individuals; as institutions, as a society.
It is hard to look at the issue of the under-use of compassionate release in our criminal justice system without the socio-political back-story popping into relief. It is hard to avoid seeing what appears to be an increasingly fear-based culture. In a world of rapid change, we want to feel safe and secure. Politicians know this. And they have responded, and we have allowed them to respond, by avoiding complex and creative social planning in favor of decades of facile ‘tough on crime,’ ‘law and order,’ ‘war on drugs’ agendas.
The result is not a safer society but an increasingly fear-based, punitive society that has blotted the landscape of our minds and our communities. We hear it in the rhetoric and we see it around us from the concept and reality of gated-communities to prisons as an American growth industry.
The danger is that we get comfortable with this worldview, that we confuse what currently is, for what is possible. The invitation is to resist these myopic tendencies and remind ourselves that the existing criminal justice and prison systems are not normal. They are at odds with the rest of the world. We have the dubious, if not appalling; honor of imprisoning far more people per capita, for ever-escalating terms, than any other country. In an array of other countries, many of the people for whom we are seeking compassionate release would already have been released or they would have initially received alternative sentencing or assistance. They would be free to die on the outside. They would not be facing, like the vast majority of terminally ill inmates in our prisons, what in effect is a death sentence.