Tuesday, March 22, 2016

when a family member goes to prison, the family serves the sentence, too

On Vox, Dominique Matti writes about how her father's incarceration punished the whole family. She writes beautifully about cruel circumstances.
For every man in a cell missing the birth of his child, there is a woman delivering alone. My uncle took me to my elementary school's father-daughter dance. No one asked why — everyone already knew. While I was grateful for my uncle's attendance, my dad's absence was a much larger presence, a yawning chasm at the core of my childhood. His absence was something we were all trying to accommodate, to build a life around, to cope with.
...his absence remained an elephant in every room we entered. His absence marked us. We had to compensate for it, compartmentalize it, and normalize it. ...
When my father was released, we tried to live like he had never been gone. But it was impossible. His goneness was as integral a piece in our relationship as his presence. ...
Despite the vast number of Americans dealing with it, having a loved one in prison is lonely. I had to deal with the absence of my father alone. My mother dealt with the absence of her co-parent alone. My grandparents dealt with the absence of their son alone. Incarceration has different implications on everyone it affects, and it often feels like no one understands.
There is a stigma attached to having a loved one in prison that makes it difficult to talk about openly. At sleepovers, speaking about it earned me looks of pity from my playmates' parents. At school, kids were amused by the stories. I was a stereotype fulfilling itself, and there was very little genuine empathy for what I was going through. I was confronting the reality that one misstep meant anyone I loved could be taken and locked away in a box for years. I needed understanding. 
Instead I found that many people believe it's our fault for loving the incarcerated — that we deserve the suffering inextricably linked to that love. People think we are foolish or unfortunate.
 And it feels selfish to speak to the person in prison about it. It's hard to fret for yourself when you know the reality an incarcerated person endures each day. I told my father I missed him. I did not tell him I was scared. People on the inside need strength and support, and much of that strength comes from the people on the outside — despite the fact that they need the same. And so the processing of all of the heavy emotions that come with incarceration is largely internal, and largely traumatic; it's largely done alone.
I sat through many callous remarks, many fairy tales about "good guys" and "bad guys," feeling like I was on the wrong side of existence. I was not aligned with the people protected by the system; I was being punished by it. And if I spoke up about its flaws — the traps of race and poverty, the evidence of unjust sentencing, the incentive to take a plea, the industrialization of prisons — I was silenced with nullifiers like, "You do the crime, you do the time." I learned quickly that many people are unwilling to hear about the humanity of prisoners and the people who love them. Human suffering requires confronting — "criminal" suffering does not exist (or, worse, it's justified).
The United States, with 2.2 million people incarcerated, is finally acknowledging the problem of overcrowded prisons. What we have yet to acknowledge is the problem of overcriminalization.

2014 Chicago Tribune editorial talks about how that problem leads directly to deaths like that of Eric Garner, the Chicago man who was killed by police when they arrested him for selling cigarettes:
On the opening day of law school at Yale, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
The Chicago police may not have meant to kill Eric Garner but in their zealous attempt to enforce a silly law against selling "loosies", indivdual cigarettes, they did. Without that law, they would not have killed Garner.
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book "Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law," points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is — a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice. 
In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.
Too many laws make it too easy to put people in prison, to put families into the awful black hole of having a family member in prison. As Ms. Matti makes painfully clear, even when the family member returns home from prison, that black hole remains a presence in the family.
Part of the problem, Husak suggests, is the growing tendency of legislatures — including Congress — to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills on countless subjects. It's as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it. 
The Adam Walsh Act, Jessica's Law, and Megan's Law all came from efforts to show how much legislators care for children. If only those legislators would acknowledge publicly that the laws have done more damage than good to children.

Legislators tend to nod solemnly when they hear how families suffer under those well-meant laws but we need more than sympathetic nods.

We need legislators with backbone, legislators willing to risk their legislative seat on behalf of families in their constituency.

I quoted a great deal of Ms. Matti's piece but please read the whole thing. Read the Tribune editorial, too.

People tend to think that incarceration issues concern only those who have someone in prison. Those of us in that category laugh a little ruefully at that way of thinking because we remember clearly the days when we didn't need to think about incarceration,either.

Overcriminalization increases the odds that your family will be touched, too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

surprised by WAR: "it takes a moment to digest that such a group exists"

The Daily News (TDN.com) out of Longview WA ran an opinion piece expressing shock at an email they received in response to an earlier story about a vigilante "sex abuse sting." After telling the reader,
Let’s be clear, The Daily News does not support vigilantism, we think local law enforcement does a great job and we should stay out of their way 
...TDN goes on to explain which vigilante operations they do support.
There have been all types of vigilantes throughout history. Some romanticized in fiction like Robin Hood, Superman and Batman. And then there are groups and individuals like the Guardian Angels and John Walsh.
No one can dispute the amazing work of people like John Walsh from his television program “America’s Most Wanted” and we aren’t going to start. Nor are we going to weigh in on the pros and cons of what Curtis Hart did this past week.
True to part of their word, they do not weigh in on the cons of what Curtis Hart did.
What we are concerned about is what happened after we ran the stories.
We received an email from a group called WAR, Women Against Registry.
And then...the belly laugh:
It takes a moment to digest that such a group exists, a group that defends the privacy of sex offenders and is against a national registry.
It takes a moment. Really? A whole moment??
Their entire organization is about educating the public as to how the sex offender suffers after they have been convicted of a crime of a sexual nature and stopping laws that are put in place to protect society from sex offenders. On the homepage of their website, the group tag line is “Fighting the Destruction of Families.” 
We found this quote on the brochure emailed to us, “We, the members of WAR, feel that it is time to stop the cruelty. It is time to reform the registry for the good of the over three million family members of registered sex offenders who live under the invisible punishments of the registry every day.” 
So it appears, at first glance that this group is claiming that it’s the registration of the sex offender that’s harming the offender’s family, not the act they are found guilty of committing.
WAR is also against the reauthorization of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.  
Once they loosened their grasp on their pearls, it seems they did read the email from WAR and absorbed what it said. Until...

In the midst of a re-telling of the Adam Walsh story, they lose all sense of perspective. After detailing the gruesome crime:
The details of the crime are disturbing, yet sadly, not uncommon.
Not uncommon? After discussing the decapitation of a child, they pronounce it not uncommon.

No wonder they are shocked that anyone could oppose the registry! They are completely disconnected from reality.
Women Against Registry are opposed to the Adam Walsh Act. They claim this law harms the offender and their families because they might not be able to keep or find a job, they are threatened by members of the general public, the offenders suffer from depression, anxiety and are teased.
 Teased. Yes, sex offenders are teased. They are also murdered right there in Washington state.
We don’t agree with the public harming, harassing, assaulting, either verbally or physically.
They don't agree with tormenting sex offenders in the same way TDN "does not support vigilantism."
But what about the victim? What about the family of the victims?
If TDN is concerned about the family of the victim, have they considered what it must feel like for the family to hear details of the child's death over and over again?
Is society better served by the public knowing where these predators are living? [My emphasis.]
Now, there's a question a good journalist would love to dig into. Is society better served knowing where these predators are living? Much research has been done on this question, leaving us to wonder which studies will be cited to answer it. Their answer:
We thinks [sic] so and, as parents, we appreciate these laws.
Oh, TDN! You think so?

If that's the best they can do to answer a question easily answered with facts, then it is time for WAR to fire off another email.

Maybe this time TDN will absorb all of what WAR says.

You think so?