I’m not ignorant about the damage done by crime. I’m not immune to the suffering caused by crime. I’m not blind to the consequences of crime. But I am two things: I am pragmatic and I am a believer.
I believe in the indomitable spirit of human beings.
I believe in a fair and just world.
I believe in the power of potentiality.
I believe people are born good.
I believe we all have lived lives less perfect than we would like. I believe we should offer hope to those who have harmed others, because without hope there is no point to life. I believe we should shine a light on the inner goodness, not treat the symptoms of pain. I believe we have a wealth of entrepreneurs, creatives, leaders and poets in our midst. But we slam the huge iron gates and hope the problem will go away instead of nurturing that talent, drawing it out. I believe we should be judged by how we treat others. In the words of Dostoyevsky – “A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.”
If we, as a society, were to be judged on what I see when I walk into the prisons I enter, we would come up short. Not just the inmates – the support people, the staff, the management teams. Every day in these dark places people are risking their lives. People are being spat at, shouted at, abused, hurt. Some of these people are the people we have locked up. Some of them are the people who are there to protect us and keep them locked up.
The system is broken. We have tried to punish our way out of our problems for decades. We give people prison sentences, take away their liberties, their families, their hope. And then we either forget them or pray that they will come out rehabilitated. How?
How, when there are not enough staff to enable good relations between the residents and the people that go home every night?
How, when grass root organisations whose sole aim in life is to rehabilitate, cannot get funding or noticed because we keep buying more dogs, more machines, more prisons?
How, when we are locking people up again and again for mental health issues? People who need support and care are mixed in with people who manipulate and use.
How, when the residents leave prison with barely enough money for a train fare, often no home, no job, no hope?
There are many good people in prison. Staff and residents. Many people who want to make a difference. Staff and residents. Many people who wish for a better life. Staff and residents. Why wouldn’t we facilitate that? Why do we keep doing what we’ve been doing that just doesn’t work? Why don’t we take a good look at what is going on and start to discuss how we can fix it?
I don’t want to see another headline of someone’s throat cut.
I don’t want to see another person taking their own life.
I don’t want to see another officer in hospital.
I don’t want to see another family destroyed.
I want to see community, in prison – the punishment is lack of liberty. It shouldn’t be poor nutrition, filthy living environments and fear for your life.
I want to see families supported, listened to, understood. The punishment is the loved one being taken away. It shouldn’t be stigma, poverty, retribution.
I want to see the tolerant society I believe in come together and make the world a better place.