Thursday, June 02, 2005

Matthew 26:11

For those who missed catechism this morning, that passage reads "The poor you will always have with you".

So, back from the prisons. Seeing the kids in the prisons - two prisons, one boys only, the other boys and girls, one squat and new and pale brick, the other expansive, on a high hill, bricks the colour of dried blood, both of them ringed in razor-wire - is a weird experience.

One thing that strikes you about - them - is how tiny many of them are. Your average child prisoner, and I suspect your average prisoner, is smaller than your average person. We get some very large kids, and so on, but yesterday when I write out medications for one boy (early teens) I ended up giving the dose appropriate to a five year old. Some of them the nurse is not allowed to see alone, due to the gravity of their offence, so the two of us stand shoulder to shoulder against this child who would not stand four foot tall.

It's - I don't know the word - conflicting? At one level you think these must be children. They look like children, they have the same high, piping voices, the same swagger when they're right, the same look of embarrassment and confusion when they're wrong. But they can't be children, because we've locked them up and taken them away from their parents, and because at least part of the idea of "childness" is innocence, and a need for protection. So these must be something else, something in a child's garb, wearing a child's face, but not a child. A monster perhaps, something usurping the place of a child. A changeling, a body snatcher.

The backgrounds these kids come from - ah. I can hear people logging off again. "He's saying it's all societies fault" - the backgrounds these kids come from beggar description. At the extreme, these are horror stories - mothers who hold guns to their son's heads, fathers who bugger their daughters on video and trade tapes with their friends. But most of the time it's not like that, it's less spectacular, more mundane, almost becomes run of the mill after a while - "the usual" story of amphetamines at twelve, marijuana at ten, dyslexic, ADHD, father in Mauro (a local prison), mother in Furby (a local psych ward), sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse...

I don't know. I don't know. You can't throw open the prison doors, let all the children stream out, sortof a reverse of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, because some of the things they've done have been so horrific. I suspect in the last three weeks I have started a murderer on antibiotics, checked a rapist for warts, talked about sleep patterns to someone who stabbed someone under the eye. Opening the gates of the prison can't be done.

(But you know, it would give them a chance, whereas in here they have no chance, no option to do good, only try to endure in the environment and hope that it doesn't make you into a bigger fuckup than when they sent you in here). If we beleive parents have a responsibility, then what do we expect will come out of a place where kids are locked up without their parents, and are instead incubated with criminals?

I keep getting this image from the Gospels, Christ opening the prison doors and letting the huddled captives free. And I know that story is in there because besides being a miracle story it's a story about forgiveness and redemption and giving something priceless freely, hope to the hopeless, that kind of thing... but it's an image that keeps coming back to me.

I don't know. The reason I put that "poor you will always have with you" up there is I think there's always going to be the bottom 1% of people, in terms of power and obeying the rules, and those bottom one percent are going to be put in prison. We are always going to discipline and punish. Across times and countries and cultures the crimes and the punishments vary, but I feel that whenever it happens, the kids will be the same ones.



Blogger Stoic Stranger said...

Until such a time as we decide that the priority is either prison or rehabilitation, we will have this abortion of the two combined. Ineffective at rehabilitation and, sometimes far too brutalizing in punishing.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Well Timothy said it rather well.

1 Timothy 1, verses 9, 10
9: Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
10: For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;

or even Tittie:
Titus 1, verse 15
15: Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.

And that was the new testament!

9:54 PM  
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