Charles Karim Diggs, and I’m calling from Pennsylvania, Graterford.
And, uh, my, uh, title for the subject tonight is, “Is There a Fear to Love?” You may ask yourself, what does love have to do with the prison-industrial complex, massive imprisonment, mandatory sentences, life sentences, death sentences, and putting two and three prisoners in a cell to die.
Yes, the question must be asked, and we should welcome an enlightened opinion from those who have lived under a system that is drowning in a defective but conscientious structural system that has proven to make prisoners fail when they return to society. The alleged theory is to give longer prison terms and the offender will be- will be then less likely to commit crimes again. The opposite has took place and the experts are saying, “what went wrong?”
Let’s take a look at the message being sent. First, young African-Americans, Hispanics, and poor whites are coming to prison. Most of them did not complete high school. And all of them, in my opinion, were economically depressed.
After 42 years of imprisonment, I’ve- I’m a paralegal, I’ve done many cases and help men with their legal matters, and all of them are related to economics. And what we have is drug sentences, small-time crime, small felonies, theft, robbery, that has caused a great, uh, overpopulation of unnecessary people in prison.
And that is the law- and they are the ones who keep coming back and forth. They make the constant prison populations. The short-timer as they say. In the meantime, they have us lifers with no parole in Pennsylvania and many other states, and so you have a geriatric population that is actually aged out.
Crime is a young man’s, uh, uh, I would say sport, cause most people get involved in crime, they don’t even take it seriously. You’d be amazed how people are in jail and they finally realize what they’ve done was fatal. And then we also have a group of men who are innocent of their crimes. And another large percentage are men and women who have been overcharged. Other words, they may have a robbery, they got eight or nine charges. What’s the robbery, you know? And this is what forces, many, uh, citizens to plead guilty.
The next aspect of my argument deals with when you are 50 years of age and you’ve served a substantial number- number of years in prisons, the medical, uh, experts say you should add 15 years onto your 15 years. And that is because of the diet, the water, and the stress of long imprisonment. Many people don’t understand that stress is the cause of many of the illnesses: heart disease, cancer, it creates all of those, uh, fatal diseases for being under stress for long periods of time.
The question should be why aren’t life-term prisoners and other long-term prisons considered for release? The nation is talking about second chances in America, but the only talking about drug- drug abuses. They’re not talking about the vast number of prisoners been in prison 5, 10, 15, 20 years, 30, some 40 and 50 years.
And there seems like there’s no movement towards dealing with that elderly population, which they would pose no threat to society. And they’ve even got a couple of geriatric prisons in this state and other states are beginning to make, uh, eriatric wards and different housing areas.
There should be some type of redemption in punishment. There should be some type of mercy in punishment. And as the old maxim says, you know, punishment without mercy is no justice at all. So we have to begin to put justice into the- incorporate into the judicial system. And all of these systems are related: the prosecutor’s office, the courthouses, the prisons, probation and parole, and the police officer on the street who makes the initial arrest.
And we really put too much pressure on the police officers to expect them to solve all these social, economic and, and mental, mental health issues, and it’s just not going to happen until we change the whole philosophy of dealing with, uh, citizens who have, uh, come in violation of the law.
The challenge takes vision and imagination, something that the founding fathers had. They had enough courage to embrace vision and imagination. And we should take on that same imagination to imagine something different than- than over 1500 prisons all over this country. And they’re still building. The change will take courage and the only energy that I believe that will allow change: if we bring love to the justice system.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.