Sunday, July 23, 2006

Where justice stops and cruelty begins

Jails are made of bricks and passion,

broken dreams and ribald men.

I had an interesting conversation today, a conversation which has to be censored to remove the vernacular for obvious reasons, although the removal may detract from it. I can't remember verbatim of course, only policemen can do that. To protect the guilty I shall call the fellow I had the chat with by the name of Cecil, because I don't know anyone called Cecil so that should be safe enough.

The conversation went something like this:

Cecil - "Frank, how long have you been in the nick now?"

Me - "Over twenty years, why?"

Cecil - "I've got twenty-five rec. and I've only done two. Does it pass quick?"

Me - "Well it's all relative really. When I look back at the last twenty years, it has flown past like a snap of your fingers. But when I look forward it seems never-ending.”

Cecil - "I know."

Me - "But nothing lasts for ever."

Cecil - "I know - you did it hard as well, didn't you?"

Me - "Well, that's relative too I suppose. Hard compared to what? Compared to a Russian Salt Mine, I had it all pretty easy. But compared to how you lads have got it now, with your telly and everything else, I suppose it was no laughing matter."

Cecil - "Do you never get depressed?"

Me - "Ah! Someone once said that when you get old nobody gives you time to cry or feel sorry for yourself. Besides, it's easier to smile, even when you don't feel like it."

Cecil - "But you must get depressed."

Me - "A ten minute conversation with you would depress anybody. Take my advice - try to get all the pleasure you can from each day. Accept each day for what is in it and don't dwell in the past. You can't change the past - not even God can change the past - you can only work for the future. If you do that, your days will be a little easier. If you don't do that, you won't reach your release. Now go away and bother someone else, I'm reading."

Cecil - "You are always reading."

Me - "I'm learning things, it helps."

Cecil - "You already know loads of things."

Me - "But not enough. I am learning all the time. Have you nothing to do?"

He went away after that after getting some sugar from me for a cup of tea. It made me think a bit. These young men have all got ridiculously long sentences and they can't even take care of themselves well enough to ensure that they have the means to make tea! In what way is the prison service equipping them for life in the years to come? Who is giving these youngsters the advice they need? I don't mean courses which are worse than useless and which will be meaningless in a few years' time. I mean real advice, life-changing, thought-provoking, commonsense advice.

One day, society will reap the harvest of this wilful neglect. It's true to say that these young men have, in many cases, committed terrible crimes and, as a consequence, deserve to be punished, but there is a huge difference between punishment and vindictive revenge and justice.

Let me put it this way: if a person beats a dog for barking, and the beating turns the dog vicious, and the person beats the dog further for being vicious - sooner or later that person is arrested for cruelty. We need to decide where justice stops and cruelty begins.

The Voice In The Wilderness

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