Saturday, August 23, 2008

On Prisons

My lovely goddaughter recently posted photos which she'd received in an email identified as a "new prison" facility in IL. It is my habit to always check on or some other such site to look up the reliability of such emails, which I did before commenting on her post. I thought I'd share part my comment here, since it contains some of my recent reflections (they will make more sense if you read the post under discussion first). By the way, comments on my comment are welcome! :)

I recently listened to a CD with the conversion story of Russell Ford, an Alabama prisoner who converted to the Catholic Faith while in prison and is now a leader in prison ministry and evangelization. His story is intensely powerful and shares some of the troubling details of prison life. And while reading further on him online, I read some appalling firsthand descriptions of a prisoner's environment.

The fact that I had just researched the above made it hard for me to believe that these photos are really a U.S. prison. So I searched "New Cook County Correctional Center" and quickly learned that those photos are actually of a court building and prison in Austria. According to and (two reliable resources for checking on supposed information), the photos have been circulating via email the last several months, decrying the use of our tax dollars, when in fact this is not the case. As I know nothing of Austria's system or laws, I will not propose to pass judgment on the building of this prison. There is, however, no cause for Americans to be up-in-arms about their tax dollars going to it.

As to that "comparison list", I believe I've seen it before... but it seems to me unfitting for people of good will to make such complaints. I doubt there is any hardworking free man who would rather be behind bars, even if it is hypothetically "easier". Prisoners need our prayers and compassion, not our ridicule. The most valued American right and ideal is freedom. That freedom is justly forfeited by one who defies the law. The fact that a prisoner has lost his freedom should be punishment enough for him: we don't need to top it with sub-human conditions.

Now, just because I got on a soapbox here, please don't think I am upset with you, dear goddaughter. :) The subject of your post simply gave me the opportunity to share some recent knowledge and thoughts. I hope they will challenge you and your readers toward the most Christ-like response to this topic.


Victoria said...

Aw darn! I was looking forward to going to prison in Illinois. LOL!! I find it hard to believe that a US prison is that bad. I believe prison should be a place of punishment, but aren't those conditions a little harsh?


deb said...

You seem to have done your homework and concluded correctly that this photo is a hoax. Very good! I try to check with Snopes also.

My own opinion is that people should be concerned as to how their tax money is spent. The government has a limited source to draw money from, us the tax payers.

Paying for prisons that are as beautiful as the one in Austria would probably mean taking money from other programs.

We also have to ask if the prison is effective. For example some prisoners might, if given access to educational resources be open to changing their lives. Other prisoners really are dangerous people who shouldn't renenter society. So prisons have to provide those of its inhabitants that wish to change, a means to do so, while protecting us from the bad guys.

Prison is also a punishment. We can't be so nice that we forget that prisons should be uncomfortable.

So, the issue isn't as straight forward as it might initially seem.

Anonymous said...

I was in an organization in Canada called Books for Prisoners. We collected books and sent prisoners what they asked for. (By the way, the most popular reading material requested were Westerns, followed by...poetry.) This got me researching and discovering that educated prisoners are prisoners who usually don't end up back in the prison system. I exited that experience close to being a prison abolitionist. I believe in prison for violent offenders, alternative sentencing, education and rehab for non-violent crimes.

We have a friend who was in the state pen up in Susanville, CA for five years. There wasn't even a doctor prisoners could see except for once every two weeks. Yeah. Very luxurious.