Commentary: Reflections on the inhumanity of being in jailI spent June 26-28 in the Hennepin County jail in Plymouth, Minn., a short time, but perhaps enough to justify communicating something to those who have not had a similar experience.
By: David Harris, The Republican Eagle
I spent June 26-28 in the Hennepin County jail in Plymouth, Minn., a short time, but perhaps enough to justify communicating something to those who have not had a similar experience.
Twelve of us involved in a nonviolent civil disobedience protest at Alliant Techsystems, Inc., manufacturer of depleted uranium weapons used by our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, were convicted of trespassing on company property by a jury of six. We were not permitted to invoke Article VI of the Constitution or international laws and treaties to support our claim of right. The presiding judge, Harry Abrams, allowed us to choose either paying a fine plus community service or going to jail.
Two of us chose jail, as previously described in the Republican Eagle.
I wrote a fuller report the night I first came home, but to recapitulate briefly, the time was largely spent in a small solitary cell, where I was not allowed to have a watch or any writing materials or electrical equipment. My clothes and shoes were taken and replaced by a jump suit and badly fitting sneakers.
I slept on a metal sheet with a 2-inch mattress and no pillow until the second night. The jail was air conditioned and cold, despite two thin cotton blankets, until I was given a third the second night.
My cell was on the first floor of three tiers, near the middle of a long hall. There was a ceiling light which I could switch from bright to dim, but never off. The only way to tell night from day was when the long black wall across the hallway revealed a glazed, barred window dimly transmitting the light of day.
Meals consisted of a tray of perfectly adequate food passed through a narrow opening below the bars of my cell door. I had brought my own Bible, but this was taken and I received a standard Gideon Bible instead, and on the second day was also allowed to take a magazine from a small collection in a laundry basket.
I was able to get some exercise only by pacing back and forth in my cell. Most of the guards, who seemed to walk the corridor at least every hour, didn’t acknowledge my attempts at conversation. When fellow prisoners weren’t shouting and cursing at one another, it was deathly quiet, and time passed infinitely slowly.
My overall impression from this experience is that the prisoner, at least in this county jail, is regarded as someone less than human, someone who can be ignored, if not demeaned, because he is getting what he deserves. Although lip service is paid to rehabilitation, the system does not provide either the resources or the personnel to do much more than punish the prisoner.
Chaos reigns in the prison system just as it does on the outside in a self-destructing culture such as ours where ignorance and fear triumph over knowledge and courage, where children learn all too often that success means beating someone else in a world of limited opportunity, a world divided by Us against Them.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, in a time of depression, cry out to us again, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
We have choices. We can do better. The necessary first step is for each to recognize our common interest, the all-inclusive human community in a stable and sustainable environment.