I’m reposting myself here because I’m vain and all, but a scribbled thought on a comment thread is just as good as an original scribble here, especially when I can copy and paste.
Governor Cuomo has proposed a plan to provide a college education to New York’s prison population. In the ballpark of $5,000 per year per inmate. Not a terribly novel idea, but the fact that it’s progressive relative to New York and many parts of America makes it all the more crucial. Education is the answer, we’re told, so it’s entirely sensible to explore whether it could be the answer for prisoners, particularly if we hope a prisoner won’t find his way back to a criminal conviction.
The biggest and most annoying retort to the idea deals with two overlapping concepts: prisoners don’t deserve a thing (higher ed) that we pay out the ass for in the real world, and fuck if I’m going to allow my tax dollars to help a prisoner get what I’m steeped in debt trying to achieve.
I’ve read and heard this refrain probably upwards of fifty times in the past few days. It’s enormous bullshit.
The “I have it rough so I’m opposed to anything that might make someone else’s life better until my life is perfect” doctrine is pervasive, divisive and, in many cases, wholly counterproductive. Asking “why do I have to pay for college when this dirtbag gets it for free” ignores (a) the college you’re paying for isn’t paired with strip searches, the crushing loss of freedom, and daily fear of violence and, worse, sexual violence; (b) the quality of the education you’re paying for is exponentially better than what a guy would get in prison due to quality of instruction, the school community and the lack of highly intense stresses as noted above; (c) the high price of college is an issue independent of this discussion and is a legit source of frustration that is in no way cured by furthering the notion that higher education need not be provided to each and every segment of society; (d) we ALL benefit if we can find a way to stop recidivism, and at this point we have to be willing to try every option, since we’ve proven ourselves to be pretty terrible at imprisoning people and releasing them as a better version of themselves; (e) we generally have no problem, as a society, with long incarcerations, sometimes administered by private penal corporations, no matter the social and economic costs, and no matter that the private companies have a financial incentive to NOT rehabilitate the prisoner populations; and (f) the scumbag you don’t want to help in any way is a person. A person. A person who made a mistake and maybe regrets it and, based on statistics, serving a mandatory minimum for drugs and maybe never hurt anyone but himself. He’s a fucking person. Hell, he may not have even done the crime for which he is serving time.
What we do and how we treat him while he is a ward of the state after being prosecuted by the People isn’t about him. It’s about us. Do we want to be a nation who doesn’t give a shit about prisoners and is willing to forfeit their life out of some bizarre sense of justice mixed with rage and a side of feigned superiority? Or can we be better?