People in power make decisions that benefit them. Naturally. It’s “natural” because we accept it. It’s “the way things are.” Thus, we allow prison systems to operate behind a shield of “official authority” because… it’s natural to NOT want to know what happens inside a prison.
What happens is not natural.
Look at a famous tale Walt Disney rewrote: “Sleeping Beauty.” Our culture had that tale redefined to emphasize evil, jealous siters (witches) who put a spell on an entire country that was saved by a prince’s kiss. Awww…
The original tale focuses on the king who happened by the sleeping princess and raped her; she bore twins. His wife was a trifle put out and attempted to kill both the children and the princess. Not exactly Disney material, right? But even the Disney story glosses over a theme that stayed with us; the king’s refusal to invite the 3 women causes the curse, and the king puts the whole kingdom in Shutdown in an attempt to avoid the princess’s fate.
What happened to the kingdom? Either they were all frozen (as the movie illustrates) or they starved. How could the shepherds produce sheep that produces wool to weave? How could the women spin the wool into necessary garments to wear and sell? They couldn’t. The king and queen could have made a rational decision: teach Beauty about the spell and the spinning wheel. Admonish her not to get near one. Allow her to watch as the village women created clothes, but from a safe distance. Instead, the king’s foolhardy decision to please himself and his child doomed the entire village kingdom.
Stultifying, right? Yet we were delighted with the prince (unmarried) and with the happy little birds, without focusing on the decision that created the disaster. Why didn’t we stop to look behind the birds’ songs? And what does that have to do with prison grievances, you might ask. Well …
Worried about drugs that saturated some greeting cards sent into inmates, Texas Department of Corrections officials issued a system-wide ban on all greeting cards, any paper other than typing sheets. sparkles, colored paper… That’s right: they are denying 134.000 inmates birthday cards, Christmas cards, hand-made children’s cards with sparkles.
They had options, just as the king in Sleeping Beauty. They could have declared that those inmates who have been discovered to have received drugs would be kept from receiving any letter/package that did not go through additional scrutiny. Or, they could have traced the senders through address or P.O. number—no mail can enter a prison system without an identifying return address to begin with. They chose not to do that. Instead, they issued the draconian edict that no inmate, no matter his or her record within the prison, could receive a greeting card.
And Texas citizens have allowed that. They are not looking behind the official shield, because they don’t want to see what’s back there. And right now, they are focusing on the virus. Just think: these imprisoned people have to live side by side, stand in line next to, eat next to other inmates. Many are not given soap (another issue for later). And at the same time, they cannot open a “we love you” card, cannot get a sparkled drawing from their child assuring the recipient that all is well at home.
Sociologists point to human connection as the major step toward reintegration for those within our jail and prison systems. “Only 50 percent of the ‘no contact’ inmates completed their first year on parole without being arrested, while 70 percent of those with three visitors were ‘arrest free’ during this period. In addition, the ‘loners’ were six times more likely to wind up back in prison during the first year (12 percent returned compared to 2 percent for those with three or more visitors). For all Base Expectancy levels, we found that those who maintained closer ties performed more satisfactorily on parole.” Doesn’t that make sense?
Maybe we should rethink our “heroes” and our childhood stories…