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Lowered Expectations

May 7, 2012

 Lowered Expectations

by Davin Douma

         We’re all a bunch of lazy bastards.  We don’t want to take out the trash.  We don’t want to mow the lawn.  We don’t want to expend any more energy than we absolutely have to.  Is that a human trait, something endemic to the species?  Or is it a symptom of the modern era, a byproduct of 21st century thinking?  In the end it doesn’t mater where it comes from or its evolutionary purpose.  It is what it is and we have to deal with it.  The consequences show up in all parts of our lives.  The part I’m most concerned with is how it relates to prisons.  Prisons are a pet project of mine.

            What do we expect from prisoners?  I’m being rather general here when I ask the question.  What do we as a society expect from the men and women we incarcerate?  Do we want them to make better decisions in their lives?  Do we want them to behave and stop being criminals and drug addicts and malcontents?  Do we have any goal or destination in mind when it comes to the people who break our laws and live in our correctional facilities?  Or are we just playing catch with ourselves in the dark?

            The same question can be asked of the men and women who run our prisons.  What do we expect from a prison guard or a warden?  What do we expect from a case manager or a correctional counselor?  Do we have any idea what we want these people to do on our behalf and in our names?  We pay their salaries and yet most of them do jobs that are as mysterious to us as the depths of the sea.  What do they do and what do we think they should be doing?

            We could easily extend this most basic of questions to our judges and politicians.  What do we expect of them?  Do we expect anything at all?  The bar is so low in our society that anyone can be a politician or a judge.  As long as they have a pithy slogan and promise to hammer the law breakers, we seem to be happy.  Life without parole for pot heads.  Jay walkers should be shot on site.  Anyone who disagrees with the basic premise that criminals should be severely punished, drawn and quartered if necessary, is un-American and a supporter of the Taliban.  Doesn’t everyone know that Osama Bin Laden is a criminal too.  They’re all in on it together.

            If we (society) don’t set the standard then there isn’t one.  How is a former criminal in prison supposed to put his life back together if he doesn’t know what is expected of him.  Dogs chase balls because they think its fun and they are rewarded for it.  When the ball is thrown we expect the dog to get the ball and bring it back.  Simple expectation.  Pat him on the head and throw it again.  He’ll chase the ball all day as long if you pat him on head each time.  He has a purpose and a place and role to play.  Is there anything more basic than that?  In human terms we call this purpose and meaning.  It is fundamental to who we are and the contentment we can achieve in our daily lives.  Purpose and meaning.

            Public employees, like prison guards and wardens and correctional counselors, have to be told what we expect of them.  They produce a product.  If a car manufacturer sold you a lemon there would be consequences.  Why would you accept lemons from the correctional system?  Are the recidivists acceptable?  When a car thief becomes a burglar or a robber becomes a murderer is it just accepted?  Do we even care so long as it doesn’t happen to us?

            When judges don’t do their jobs we end up with people on Oprah who were wrongly convicted thirty years ago.  Do you know how many people have been released from death rows because of DNA?  Do you know how many poor bastards don’t have DNA in their cases to prove their innocence?  Do you have any idea how many people we have put to death in this country before DNA evidence existed?  Getting arrested and convicted is easy in this country.  Getting a wrongful conviction overturned is almost impossible.  Who’s job is it to make sure that things like this don’t happen?  Why are there no consequences for the men and women of the bench when they screw up?  If you do something stupid in your job, you get fired.  Ever hear of a judge being fired?  When no one is held accountable there are no standards and expectations are irrelevant.

            When a politician proposes an outrageous sentence for a minor crime there are no naysayers.  The next politician just tries to come up with something even more outrageous.  He or she wants to prove they are tuff on crime too.  Look what I can do.  What does that sentence cost us?  Instead of expecting people to think, to use their minds and explore viable solutions, they do stupid things and get rewarded for it.  The dog in this game isn’t returning the ball.  He picks it up and runs away and buries it in a hole some place.  How many balls are you going to throw before you realize the dog is playing a different game?

          I can ask the same lame questions all day long but the answers aren’t coming.  People first have to care.  I think people just don’t want to be bothered.  We don’t want to know what goes on in interrogation rooms.  We don’t want to know what goes on in prisons.  We don’t want to participate in the process of justice or rehabilitation.  Don’t talk to me.  Leave me alone and let me be.  Isn’t Dancing With The Stars on tonight?

Copyright 2010. Davin Douma

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