prison talk, continued

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Last week I commented on Adam Gopnik's compelling New Yorker piece on prison life and silence.  In the wake of that post I received several notes, many off-line, regarding the state of justice or injustice in our country.  

Christopher Glazek, senior editor of n+1 magazine, was among those whose notes entered my e-bin.  He had just posted his own story on prison life—or, I should say, prison terror—and wanted to share it with me—a different perspective, he said in his e-mail, but one I might find intriguing.  Well-researched and deeply tragic, "Raise the Crime Rate" makes a radical suggestion, one that I can't imagine this country ever ultimately adopting.  But it often takes an extreme suggestion for us to reconsider the known facts, and Glazek's piece isolates some very real stories and statistics that should make us think harder about how we care for those behind bars.

Before I posted a link to Glazek's piece, I wanted to watch "Mario's Story," an artistically hailed documentary that turns the lens on Mario Rocha, a young man imprisoned for ten years for a crime all evidence suggests he did not commit.  He was sixteen when he attended a party at which another was shot.  He was a man—stabbed multiple times while he waited for justice—by the time he was released.  This cannot be the United States, I kept thinking, as I watched the film.  This is utter outrage.  And yet.  For ten years Rocha remained in jail and at great personal risk until someone in the judicial system actually listened.

Rocha's story is rare.  His release was predicated on the ceaseless dedication of a nun, on a team of pro bono workers, on a large family of supporters, on a church, and on all the people who knew he was innocent and spoke out on his behalf to investigators who sought to bend their words.  It was also predicated on his own character and talents; while incarcerated Rocha became and is a very capable writer. 

There are no easy solutions when it comes to crime and punishment.  My mother's life was radically redefined by a cruel and senseless violence.  As a young person in a far-away place, I was a victim myself.  Just yesterday a gang of kids broke into both our cars and stole what they could take—quarters, dollar bills, nothing much.  Still, it left me shaken.

I don't have answers.  But I am grateful to those who do not forget those made invisible in a system now gone awry.  A system that often hurts the prisoners more than they ever hurt another in the first place.  Watch "Mario's Story" or read Glazek.  You'll see what I mean.


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