No prisoner is bad

April 9, 2021

In doing research for classes, and because of a slightly obsessive watching of a few prison TV shows, I have become more and more solidified in my stance for prison abolition. To start off, the quickest argument people tend to have when fighting for the existence of prisons (and police) is that bad people exist. People always want to claim the robbers, gangbangers, rapists and murderers as reasons for why we have this complex structure that is the prison system. Beyond the very real argument that prison systems do more to make nonviolent criminals become violent criminals than they do to correct criminal activity, it must be understood that each individual deserves to be looked at holistically and can never be dumbed down to just “good” or “bad.”

While this principle of mine is what drives my philosophy on prison abolition, I believe it is an example of larger ideas or theories on what the human is and how reality actually works. Firstly, I believe that no person is all bad, including each rapist, each murderer and each abuser. While I condemn these people for their acts that are so undeniably harmful, I cannot ignore that each person was once a child to a mother or father, a sibling to a brother or sister and was, at one point in their life, innocent beyond belief. No criminal came onto this earth with the sole desire to do harm, to hurt and manipulate others or with a master plan for whatever crime for which they were eventually caught. In fact, more often than not, in their years of innocence, they were exposed to violence and abused to a point of untreated trauma. 

People who commit murders, assaults and sex crimes cannot be wholly happy, healthy or mentally sane. They could not have been a successful and mentally strong individual in the moment of their crime, and frequently these individuals have not healed from the trauma that has been inflicted on them, either personally or on a systemic level. Many individuals who resort to these crimes have been systemically relegated to social situations in which their response method is built upon a trauma system. Pertaining to those charged with theft, these individuals have dealt with the plight of poverty and the demonization of their own maneuvering of a capitalistic society that accepts exploitation but criminalizes equity. 

For this belief, no person can be reduced to the one title of “bad,” consequently cast out by all of society and reduced to conditions that can only ever psychologically mean the deterioration of the human in them. On a karmic level, society’s complacency with the robbery of man’s freedom and the condemnation of these individuals, as if the rest of us are all 100 percent good people, is an injustice that can only mean a cycle of negativity feeding into our universe. 

Analyzing prisons on the American level provides a new layer to the prison abolition argument, in that it is so obviously an institution that seeks to criminalize poverty and further the enslavement of Black and brown people in the modern world. It is no secret that the way prisons work psychologically calls for populations to systematically return to incarceration, implying a subtle goal of prisons to forever hold on to individuals and separate them from “normal” society. It is also no secret that Black and brown people in this country have been systematically impoverished and criminalized for their impoverishment while also being robbed of their labor. Evidently, as we sit back and watch more than two million people, most of whom are people of color, enter a system of slavery and oppression, we are simultaneously karmically doing wrong a whole population and neglecting adequate mental health treatment for a community that inherently deserves it and more.

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