The savage brutality of prison life

One of the most horrifying things I have ever seen in a movie is when a sex trafficker is sent to prison, it is heavily implied that he is being raped as Charles Bronson walks away laughing. After thirty years, I still remember that scene. What makes it horrifying is not that such a thing would be depicted in fiction, but that many people feel the same way in real life that Bronson’s character felt at the end of that movie. These predators are just “getting what they deserve,” right?

We do not care about the basic human rights of people in our prisons. For us, it is out of sight, and out of mind. Many people giggle with glee at the thought of someone who molested children “getting his” once he gets to prison. This, of course, means being the prison bitch and getting repeatedly anally raped. If the convicted child molester did not actually abuse any children (as in the case of Bernard Baran) then, well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. What are you, some kind of thug hugger?

This is why nobody should have been surprised when the Abu Ghraib scandal hit the national media in 2004. We have so little disregard for the basic human rights of our own citizens, it should be expected that we would treat foreign terrorists on foreign soil without respect to human dignity – especially only two years after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This is not just disgust for individual people, but a patriotic fervor and a desire for vengeance after a war crime.

(Yes, I know Iraq was not involved in 9/11. I am describing the attitude of the American people.)

But we need to do better. People in our prisons are under the direct control of the state, and as such we have a moral responsibility to protect them from needless violence. Do I really need to point out that not everyone in prison is a rapist, a murderer or a child molester? If this means cutting spending somewhere else to make sure that we can afford to put security measures in place, then that needs to happen. Obviously, when you house bad people together, then they will do bad things. We will never eliminate all violence in prison, but we can do a whole lot better than we do now.

Some of these men should be executed. Some of these men should never be released again. But they are still made in the image of Almighty God, and we should treat them humanely because they bear God’s image. It is a failure of both society and government that we allow this to continue. We must implement radical reforms to protect basic human rights, and there are prison officials who need to join the prisoners behind bars for the way they have enabled violence and rape. If the states refuse to submit to the 14th Amendment and give prisoners equal protection under the law, then the federal government must act to protect human rights.

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