(Originally blogged on June 19, 2011. Re-posted for continuity)
Man, what a year it has been. I expected to post a blog at least once a week, and maybe even two. How surprised I was to find that an entire year and five days had elapsed since my last post. I suppose that the time was flying because I had the singular goal of getting the house for recovering addicts up and running, to the exclusion of all else. I wish that I could say that it’s a rousing success. On one level, yes it is, and many men have benefited from it. Unfortunately, it’s all about to go down the tubes if we can’t get a few more guys in this week to stop the financial bleeding.
You know, I have to admit that it is definitely stepping out on a ledge to start any kind of “program” designed to help people. It turns out to be ten times harder if the government is not standing behind you with a bunch of checks and the community doesn’t embrace you. To be honest, I started the house with the hope of it doing a little better than breaking even for my cash flow. The concept was really secondary. But, now that we’re into it, I really must say that any man would be crazy to be in this for the money. Unless, of course, there are deep pockets behind you. But, now I can’t let the concept go. And the lessons I’ve learned from the guys are lessons that everyone is this naive country should learn. Here are just a few:
1. The difference between a “citizen” and a “criminal” is that the citizen has a good lawyer. OK, you say to me that there are a lot of bad people in prison and a lot of innocent citizens. Yes, there are some really bad people in prison. Rapists and murderers should not be allowed out to terrorize the citizenry. But, what about the 18 year old kid who gets his 17 year old girlfriend pregnant and then is convicted of rape. Or what about the guy who never hurt a fly, but just seems to get stopped just over his limit a few times and ends up a felon? How are these people different from you and me? If you never have drunk and driven or if you never have had premarital sex, then maybe you can point a finger. But, with all of the “laws” in this land, I’m sure you have broken some. How could you not? Sometimes, it comes down to a choice between obeying the law or doing the right thing. If you choose to do what’s right in that case, then you are a criminal according to the state. But only if you get caught; otherwise, you are just a citizen.
2. People tell themselves whatever they need to tell themselves in order to feel good about themselves. I’m only going to give the most bizarre case in point, because it’s so absurd that it illustrates the point perfectly. One of the brothers was talking to me the other as we were looking at the small library that has been donated to the sober house. He saw a four-volume biography of George Washington. He told me that he liked a lot of the books in the library, but he couldn’t care a hang for Washington because is was a white supremacist who loved to enslave the black man.
Well, George Washington may have been a lot of things, but he was certainly not a racist. He did, however, understand that his uneducated servants didn’t have the tools to survive unless he took care of them. At a great expense to himself, he kept all his slaves in good health, and, after he died, even provided that they could all go to college when they reached twenty-five. (Unfortunately the state of Virginia passed a law prohibiting blacks to go to college after Washington has passed.)
Now, having never read about Washington, my sober house brother could not know this about him. But what made his statement completely disingenuous was the fact that, it his former life, he had been a pimp. He had taken half a dozen girls, some of whom were in college, and turned them out on the street to work for him. For anyone who doesn’t know, the pimp makes psychological slaves out of his girls. So Washington was a racist, but this brother who made slaves out of black girls was not a racist, just a hard-living business man. But because the brother is black, I cannot call him a racist or a slave owner. Because he was driven to do it by the white man. And also he deludes himself into believing that he loved his girls. But it would be more accurate to say that he loved his girls’ profit margin. Interestingly, he was a “citizen” until his DWIs, not his pimping, made him a criminal.
3. The criminal justice system is designed to keep criminals in the system long enough for them to become lifetime criminals. I always get a kick out the the turn “corrections.” If the prisons were really designed for correcting people, then we would be making it mandatory for them to get a higher degree while incarcerated. We would be teaching them skilled labor. We wouldn’t allow the same gangs who control things on the outside to control things on the inside.
When a convict gets out on parole, he needs to find housing and a steady job. We deliberately make this hard by announcing to him on almost every application for employment or rent that he must indicate if he has even been arrested. It’s like saying to the prospective landlord or employer, “I want you to put me on the bottom of your list, and don’t even think about calling me unless you have some desperate job that no one else will take and I can do it for less.” On top of this, many parole agencies require their clients to make an appearance in the parole office, without fail, once a week. So, now, you also have to tell you potential employer that you can only work for days a week, unless he has a night shift job available.
What really makes staying out of jail, though, is the microscope that you are put under. One little slip up can send you back to jail. So each day you live with the ax over your head. For instance, let’s say that you have a no contact order with your ex-wife. Well, if you are a citizen and you happen to bump into her on the street, the worst that will happen is you walk away. But if you are on parole, you have just incurred a violation. You could be sent back to jail for up to 90 days. Too bad you have that nice job that you just finally manage to land after working three months of dead-end temp jobs. Now you have to give that up. Next time, that employer will know better than to hire you.
4. There is a fine line between the two sides of the justice system. This point is best illustrated by the story, by David Horowitz, in his book “Destructive Generation”, of two men who went to Vietnam together. One came back and soon was running one of the largest drug dealing operations in the San Fransisco Bay Area. The other one came back and soon became one of the top narcotics agents in the Bay Area. There paths crossed many times. When interviewed years later, the narc admitted that the only thing that had kept him from following in his friend’s footsteps was landing a job on the police force. They both did what they did because they could not come down to living a mundane life after the chaos of Vietnam.
It’s interesting–and more that a little sad–that the lives of criminals and cops often mirror each other. Both populations are heavily using drugs (alcohol is the cop drug of choice). Both populations have trouble dealing with domestic life (a lot of cops divorce). The more you look at it, the more you see that both sides are getting trapped by the system. And you also find that there are many on both sides that get off by doing what they do, get drunk on power. And there are also many on both sides who feel helpless but unable to do anything else.
5. The criminal justice system is making most people very poor, but some people very rich. It isn’t really about keeping the country safe, punishing the criminals or rehabilitating anyone. It’s all about the fact that it takes money to run prisons, and that money is paid to suppliers who are doing very nicely, thank you. It’s about the political capital of appearing “tough on crime”. It’s about the legal system that gets fat on prosecution and defense. It’s about the countless billions of dollars that flow through bureaucrats and institutions that line up for their share, even as they speak in lofty tones of what they intend to do to help the “crime-ridden urban areas” and the “helpless victims of crime and abuse.”
On this last point, I don’t want anyone to think that I feel there are no victims. But I am here to tell you that many times the true victims are the ones who end up in jail, and the real criminals are the ones who have learn how to effectively cry “wolf”. I plan to spend an entire future blog elucidating this concept and many others that I have touched upon here.
It has been a fascinating and educational year. I have read about four times as many pages of history as there were in the simple little 2500-page Obamacare bill. That doesn’t include thousands of pages on the internet discovering that the energy shortage is due only to bureaucratic red tape and the histrionics of oil and power companies. My good friend, who has filled me in on the entire understory of Chicago, Obama included, often tells me that he is the most dangerous man in America. Well, I probably should begin to watch my back as well. But since, if you strike me down, I shall only go to heaven and become more powerful than you could possible imagine, and, since I am too poor to ruin, so be it, bring it on. Of course, they could always throw me in jail. I’m sure I’ve broken something…