PRISONERS' JUSTICE DAY:
Today was 'Prisoners' Justice Day', also known as 'Prison Justice Day'. For 32 years now prisoners and their supporters, mostly amongst communities of faith and aboriginal groups, have commemorated this day as a day to expose the conditions within Canada's prisons and to call for alternatives to prison. This year was similar to all the others. If any readers are interested in this issue Molly urges them to go to the Prison Justice site that is an invaluable resource for those who think that the whole concept of imprisonment is wrong and who want to find alternatives to it. Ongoing news about actions against the bureaucratic prison complex are also featured there along with practical alternatives, literature about prison, the history of Prison Justice Day, memorials to those who have died while incarcerated, facts, statistics and so much more. It's also gratifying to read about how our own country, Canada, has actually initiated something that is becoming part of world culture as Prison Justice Day becomes a worldwide movement.
Molly is especially happy with the mini-biography of Claire Culhane, a woman who might be styled the founder of the prison abolition movement in Canada. Molly worked with her way back when and actually wrote an obit for one magazine when she died. She was a true heroine, a wonderful person all around. She tended to have the focus of mind that Molly has never achieved, and she devoted her almost unlimited energy to whatever cause she felt was important, and prisoners' rights was the cause that she espoused in the latter years of her life.
Claire began her radical career as a commie, but she left the party in 1953 and never looked back. She described herself as an anarchist in the last decades of her life because the emotional commitment that she had to her causes had no other good name. In a different time and place she would never have entered the Communist Party in the first place. I could see her easily in Spain as one of the intransigent anarchist militants. Claire had a human decency and strength of personality that many of the old commies that Molly grew up with had. The problem is that all these people are dead and buried. The commies of today are hardly 1 thousandth as endearing. Asshole hardly describes what they are. Besides, Claire and I hated the same things.
Which is, of course, a lead in for one of Molly's aggressive and ill-tempered rants. If this sort of thing doesn't belong in your view of the world then go on to something else. The classical anarchist position on prisons is very simple- they shouldn't exist. Humans got along for 99% of their evolutionary history without this cultural creation. Molly is in full agreement with this simple statement, and she is in favour of every initiative that reduces the rate of incarceration anywhere and at whatever time. The conservative arguments for prisons simply don't hold water. Neither do the liberal plots/schemes/plans/proposals etc. for "reformation" hold any water either. They are rotten at the core. They take a failing of morality on the part of a criminal and treat it as a "technical problem" that can be resolved by the sort of mind control techniques taught in the schools of social work. At the best this will have no overall statistical effect on criminality. At its worst it will result in an increase in criminal behavior. A moral and existential confusion that leads people to be criminals can never be "corrected" by the juvenile psycho-babble that is taught to those whose working lives will produce nothing but social control- or the illusion of same.
OK, point made. The traditional anarchist view in favour of the abolition of prisons essentially rested on two premises. One is that the social conditions of inequality produces crime on the part of the underclass. This in undoubtedly true to a limited extent, but it hardly explains the extremely high rate of criminality amongst those who are well up in the social ladder. Abolishing poverty will, in Molly's opinion, abolish only some crime. Neither will abolishing economic inequality abolish crime. Making money can only explain part of the criminality of people such as Conrad Black. There is an unfortunate dichotomy in the very nature of people. They may be tempted by money, some more than others, but they may also be tempted by many,many, many other base desires. The desire to control other people. The desire to simple "get one up" on a convenient victim. I'm afraid that these desires will always be with us, even in the best of us, and the best we can expect is an eternal struggle, both within society and within the individual.
The second pillar of the tradition anarchist view was that those who commit crimes were "sick" and needed "treatment". Appreciate the fact that this ideological justification for the abolition of prisons was formulated in what are practically "ancient" times, the times of classical capitalism when the state, and its bureaucracies of social control, was nowhere near as bloated as it is today. I reject this because it is a)factually wrong except in the case of psychopaths- who can't be "treated" anyways and b)demeaning to the actual criminal, to the majority of the population who have half formed ideas about how wrong it is and also to the so-called "helpers" who try to apply pseudoscience to a "disease" that doesn't exist. Criminals are not "mad"; they are "bad".
The traditional anarchist criticism of prisons still holds. Prison is an atrocity. Locking humans in cages is a "bad" equal to most (not all) of the bad committed by those who are locked away. It's much worse than a B&E for instance.The brutality of prison spreads to the society outside the prison. Thus Molly is still an abolitionist, even if she is also a gradualist abolitionist. Molly is not so foolish as to think that we can abolish prisons overnight in some fantasy of a revolution- without of course resorting to the FAI "solution" of simple killing those so released who persist in their anti-social ways or recruiting them and hoping to use and control them. No... there are some very simple steps, reforms, that can be instituted here and now and gradually that will move us closer to a society without prisons. Restorative justice comes to mind, something that the average person thinks is a great thing in their less blood thirsty moments. No social workers. No psychologists. Just a direct confrontation between criminal and victim with the force of society on the side of the victim.
The whole idea of Prison Justice Day also helps to raise the moral level of the prisoners who participate. It is a "teaching moment" when they have to abandon the selfishness that led to their imprisonment and cooperate with other prisoners and those outside who support them. The full impact of this teaching moment is, of course, reduced by slotting the whole thing into the hoary categories of leftism whereby being say a "transgendered,lesbian, disabled, indigenous, person of colour(blah,blah,blah)" allows you to avoid the realization that you have committed an evil act. Prisoners can become ordinary valuable members of society, but they never will until they can face up to the fact that they have done wrong. Even if they have done wrong, however, it doesn't excuse the further wrong of imprisonment. Two wrongs do not make a right as the old saying goes. The prisoners justify their evil by their own selfish motives or via leftism and those who wish to continue the system of prisons have their own equally false justifications.
Which brings us back to Claire and how we hated the same things. We were in basic moral agreement. The whole idea of prison is wrong, but we were never so deluded that we thought that prisoners were some sort of heroes. YES...maybe they could aspire to heroism after admitting the wrong that they had done and confronting the institution that held them in bondage for that wrong. Regular readers of this blog will be fully aware about how much I detest criminals. Let's call it the voice of experience, and I may I say that I am very happy that I have had no instance in many years to total up the number of murderers and victims of murder that I have known in my life. I lost track a long time ago at a point that 99% of the population mercifully never reaches.
So what did both Claire and I hate beyond the "damaged goods" (her words) of people who were unreformable- an actual minority of prisoners. We both hated our so-called "comrades" who would mindlessly glorify criminal acts, try to pretend that thugs were some sort of "ideological leaders", and who would encourage the sort of acts that landed people in jail under an ideological cover. At the time when I met Claire she had 40 years experience on me as to why this was wrong. Nowadays I give my piddling 30 years experience as to the stupidity of this sort of thing. It does not lead to any sort of viable anarchist movement. It leads to cultism, the precise opposite of intelligent political action. It does no favours to anybody. Except, perhaps, to an idiot who wants fame and tries to get it by being one of the Unibomber's visitors. That gets you mentioned when Time Magazine wants some sort of sensationalism, but it disgraces the whole idea of anarchism. Anarchism is not a playpen for those who have the moral capacity of an Indonesian water snake (apparently the most venomous animal on Earth). Anarchism will prove itself worthy of consideration by the majority of people when it gets over childish fantasies and exerts enough "altruistic punishment" to remove people such as this from any influence. The old way was exile, and if we want to prove that we have a realistic path we have to deal with the moral idiots in our own ranks.
That's the end of Molly's angry rant. Take it as you will.