By Daniel B. Kline
Having never been arrested, my only knowledge of prison comes from watching those MSNBC documentaries about life behind bars and seeing nearly every episode of HBO's "OZ." Still, what I have seen of life behind bars makes it seem like a pretty horrible place to be.
That's why the continued existence of criminals baffles me because one would think that no criminal endeavor would be worth the risk. Jails have bad food, deplorable living conditions, the possibility you might get shanked and the seeming likelihood that your cell mate will take sexual liberties with you.
I'm pretty much deterred from committing a crime by the public toilets and thin mattresses. You don't even need to mention getting raped in the shower or having to "date" an enormous man to keep me following the law.
Even the basic act of sustaining life by eating becomes particularly horrendous behind bars as prisons across the country have been sued unsuccessfully for serving prisoners a wretched concoction called "nutriloaf." Though the recipe varies, this unappetizing foodstuff involves taking a bunch of meat. grains and vegetables, blending them together and serving them in loaf form. Nobody thinks this taste good and numerous priosners actually consider being offered the stuff constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Perhaps the presence of nutriloaf has yet to receive the publicity that jail's other atrocities get, but its existence certainly does little to make anyone think that a cell would be a nice place to end up. In fact, nearly everything we see or hear about our prison system makes it seem like a someplace no sane person would even vaguely risk having to be.
No amount of negative publicity, however, seems to deter the criminal element from doing things that might get them locked up. You would think that we send our prisoners to Acapulco based on how many people seem practically eager to get incarcerated.
Even with the general horribleness of prison, people continue to commit crimes without giving much thought to the consequences. One would think that the loss of freedom coupled with being forced to spend your miserable existence in a dangerous cage would stop most people from breaking the law.
It has not, however, and it makes you wonder what sort of punishments would make criminals think about taking up another profession. Perhaps we should drop an angry grizzly bear into general population or make convicts share their cells with a swarm of killer bees. Maybe we could force prisoners to watch a single episode of "The View" on a loop or pump in Clay Aiken's latest album endlessly into their cells.
In recent years we've even made prisons worse places to be, but that has not cut down on crime. Prisoners can no longer smoke, conjugal visits are largely a thing of the past and any sort of rehabilitation program has been dropped for budgetary reasons.
Realistically, lowering crime seems impossible because if making prisons dangerous, hellholes with impossibly bad food and the near probability of sexual assault doesn't serve as a deterrent, than seemingly nothing will. Maybe we need even tougher prisons or perhaps we should ask criminals what possible punishment might actually dissuade them from breaking the law. Until we do something, it seems we're destined to be the country with the largest percentage of its population behind bars.
Daniel Kline's work appears in over 100 papers weekly. When he is not writing Kline serves as general manager of Time Machine Hobby New England's largest hobby and toy store, www.timemachinehobby.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.