A friend of mine lent me a book a couple months ago called Violence, which I just picked up this past weekend and started to read. Only 25 or so pages into it, I can already say it is the most intensely disturbing book I have ever read. And for all the right reasons. Author James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist, writes about the hell of prison life and the “deadness” of the inmates. One passage struck me in particular as a powerful antidote to some of the rhetoric that I used to hear from friends at one of my former jobs:
The state of despair of these violent men does not result simply from their being imprisoned (although that frequently exacerbates it). Many have made suicide attempts before they were jailed, others attempt or complete suicide after their release, and a certain percentage of murderers never enter prison because they kill themslves before they are even arrested or convicted. Also, more inmates are killed by other inmates than were ever killed by the State. In other words, no group is more strongly and widely in favor of capital punishment than are the murderers and other prison inmates. They will even impose it on themselves and each other when the State fails to do so, which is why I feel I am living in “cloud-cuckoo-land” when I hear people suggesting that capital punishment will deter murder and induce more “reverence for life.” The men I know already feel so spiritually dead that they long for physical death as well.
That IS a disturbing paragraph. Do Jesus’ words “I was in prison, and you visited me” take on new import when you read that sort of thing? What kind of hope can someone from the ‘real’ world bring to such tragic lives, I wonder. They sense no hope, only a way out of existence.
May I ask why you are reading this book, by the way?
hey i read a great and also disturbing book that touches on similar stuff. Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Non-fiction, author shadowed an extended family in the Bronx. Everyone’s totally screwed up and it seems hopeless from the moment they’re born (to unwed teen moms of course) into the situation. Jail, drugs, the works. They go into jail, sometimes hope for more, come out and go right back to the Bronx for the worst of reasons. Lots of room for thinking about sociology, criminal justice systems, religion, etc. with this one. cheers, diane “sunny skies” reckless
Those men are violent and in despair, but the author agrees that being in prison is not the cause. Their self-destructive behavior also seems to not be the result of imprisonment. All of that seems not to be a case either for or against capital punishment by the state, but a commentary on the issues that make incarceration and the prison system a necessity for the protection of non-violent society. I think that we should oppose capital punishment not because some violent people are for it, but for higher principles, and we should favor the means (prisons) for protectinng society from violent, desperate people.