We consider ourselves tolerant and compassionate. But where is our tolerance and compassion when it comes to prisoners? Christ had something to say about them, "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] world's foundation: for I hungered, and ye gave me to eat; I thirsted, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was ill, and ye visited me; I WAS IN PRISON, AND YE CAME TO ME." (Matthew 25:34 ~ 25:36) Christ continued, "Verily, I say to you, Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me." (Matthew 25:40)
Yes, criminals are the least of God's brethren. They are also the least understood. They are the forgotten ones, turning to crime because they were abandoned by the world. Now they sit in prisons, with no one to hear their sobs. Are they bad people? Here's what the founder of Daoism (Taoism), Lao Tzu, had to say, "I find good people good, and I find bad people good, if I am good enough."
We differ from criminals in three respects. First is the severity of the crime. Did you ever cheat on your income taxes, use the office copier for personal business, or keep the extra change the cashier gave you by mistake? It is a crime to rob a bank, but judging by the way we're gouged, it can also be a crime to open one. It's a crime to rob a gas station, but what about the way they steal from us at the pumps? How about the way we're ripped off by auto mechanics?
The second way we differ from criminals is they were caught and we were not. The third difference is serious offenders are sick. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "All crime is a kind of disease and should be treated as such." Crime is a cancer. Increasingly, research points to brain disorders in offenders. For instance, Dr. Stuart Yudofsky, Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine writes, "We view people who are violent in the same way we used to view people who were mentally ill. In the old days, schizophrenics, manic-depressives and others were thought to be bad people who had to be punished. When we reconceptualize violence as involving the brain, then we are really going to start making progress. The brain is left out of the whole paradigm in the criminal justice system. We got nowhere punishing mentally ill people and we're getting nowhere with our population of criminals. We're just building more prisons."
Ray Jeffery, Professor of Criminology, Florida State University adds, "What we need is a modern crime-prevention model, one that uses science to determine the causes of criminal activity-including the chemical, psychological, dietary and environmental causes - and employs public-health techniques to wipe them out. In short, if crime is a cancer, let's treat it as such."
Why do some become criminals and others do not, even though they share the same environment? The answer is they do not share the same environment; they only appear to do so. Two people may be poor, but one may be poor AND drinking water containing lead and eating vegetables laced with pesticides. There is not one cause for crime, but many. The greater the accumulation of negative factors, the greater the likelihood of becoming a criminal. We are all vulnerable and potential criminals.
Here is a sampling of SOME of the many factors that when combined can lead to criminal behavior: poverty, lack of education, genetic deficiencies, the desire for attention and recognition, a society that stresses consumerism and materialism, lack of values, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and conscience, negative role models, availability of drugs and handguns, childhood neglect and abuse, unemployment, thrill-seeking to numb the pain caused by hopelessness, alienation, single parent home, neurochemical imbalances, physical and head injuries, toxic environment (pesticides in food, heavy metals and bacteria in water), food allergies and intolerances, birth trauma, mental illness, low I.Q., hormonal problems, peer pressure, victim of bullying, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, maternal smoking and drinking, alcohol and drug abuse, paranoia, premature birth, memory and behavior problems, learning disabilities, attention deficits, poor language skills, compulsions, speech and vision problems.
We must never forget the victims of crime and do everything in our power to help them. But we often overlook the fact that the perpetrators of crime are also victims and in need of help. Those behind bars, however, need to break from their past. They need to stop being victims and start taking responsibility. They need to turn their lives around by making the right choices and seeking help when necessary. If they fail to do so, they will be guilty of the greatest crime of all, not developing their potential. When they fail to do so, they rob themselves of success and happiness, and they rob the world of their valuable contributions.
For more, well-researched information, see: A MIND TO CRIME, by Anne Moir and David Jessel, Signet Books, 1997; CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, CHANGE YOUR LIFE, by Daniel G. Amen, M.D., Times Books, 1998; CRIME, Edited by James Q. Wilson and Joan Petersilia, ICS Press, San Francisco, 1995; GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY, By Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D., Fawcett Columbine, 1998; INSIDE THE CRIMINAL MIND, by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D., Random House; THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF CRIME, by Adrian Raine, Academic Press, Inc. San Diego, CA, 1993; TINDER-BOX CRIMINAL AGGRESSION, by Nathaniel J. Pallone and James J. Hennessy, Transaction Publishers, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 1996.
The following poem is written by Sheldon Bomford, a prisoner in South Dakota:
just to hear your voice!
RING - 1 racing pulse
RING - 2 thundering heart
RING - 3 Hello?
the sound of your voice, and angel's harp.
Verbalized hugs and kisses.
I love you's,
I miss you's!
How are you's?
but... Daddy loves you!
The following Haiku poem was written in prison by Craig Hanson:
Golden clouds: sunset
I watch the sky from my bunk
© Chuck Gallozzi
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