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.