An Unforgiveable Debt

As it exists, today, the prison system is mostly populated by individuals who will ultimately be released and they will return to a society that bars their achieving complete integration into what we experience as a daily routine.

Prison, by definition, is a sentence for felony convictions. A person convicted of a felony is, by many licencing boards, statutes and policies, ineligible for a significant number of jobs and vocations. Conventional employment for those transitioning from prison is severely limited in the United States to jobs that pay minimum wage, not even a “living wage”.

Other than the occasional exception, a person who would be required to disclose a felony conviction is left with either establishing themselves as a business owner and having the good fortune of support and success (which is a challenge without the added hurdles of a criminal conviction) or finding some other means of economic resource in order to survive. Everything non-essential to survival, being moot, short of having no shelter, food or access to medical care, any human being will be forced to place themselves at the mercy of handouts or steal if they can’t work. The alternative is to die.

Say and think what you like, but, facing this reality does not lend itself to inspire anyone to change their relationship with a society that is committed to rejecting attempts to be a contributing, law abiding member in it. And, this doesn’t factor in the considerable individual variables such as psychological resiliency, tolerance for frustration, existence of familial or community support, on ad infinitum.

Rehabilitation , as a destination, cannot be expected to travel successfully on a one way street when there are multiple drivers starting out from different places.

To realistically expect prison to serve as a rehabilitative opportunity, the society these prisons operate needs something akin to a “come to Jesus” moment that results in taking a real, honest look at our collctive role in passively accepting the absurdity we embrace that  “Do, the crime, do the time” co-exists with a reality that doing time is actually a “paid debt to society”.

It may have been a payment in retribution, but the missing piece of this sentiment is getting real about the nature of the debt: it can never be completely satisfied. Today, in this society, the person completing their sentence is carrying a debt that its’ payee will not forgive, no matter how much is repaid.

I am not a sympathizer of those who commit serious crime. I am critical of confusing systems that set others up for failure by design, and then feign amazed disbelief or righteous indignation that a person failed to “get with the program”, “learn anything from going to prison” or proves that “once a bad guy always a bad guy”. It’s just not fair and especially twisted since the injustice is perceived to begin in our Justice System.

The problem begins with us. If the truth is that once you wind up with a prison term you will never be fully received by society, again, then let’s SAY THAT and teach that and get behind it and prove why that’s the right outcome instead of encouraging magical thinking and false hope while insisting on the expectation that society isn’t accountable for what it gets when it makes a person choose between living a life by crime or dying from an unsatisfiable debt.

However, If you expect it is possible for a human being to change, you also must be willing to treat that human as if he’s changed. Why ask him to change if that change doesn’t earn him passage back into the society he’s changed for?

How do you see it?

tl;dr rehabilitation is only relevant in a society that recognizes someone as rehabilitated. Don’t fix something that will be thrown away as soon as it is returned.

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