Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prison Issues More Than Playboy "Felons"

Is there anyone who does not know who Jeremy Meeks is at this point?

This screen shot of the Stockton Police Department photo posted on Facebook was taken at 03:40 June 21, 2014 

82,064 people Liked this photo.  10,676 Shared it.  And there were 23,085 Comments at the time this screenshot was taken.  

#FelonCrushFriday became a popular trend on Twitter.

Facebook Pages have been created and his mother even started a GoFundMe page.

I hesitated to say anything.  I tried not to read the comments and discussions and arguments.  In fact, I vowed that I wouldn't and I managed not to until someone wanted to talk about it at work and I was asked my opinion. 

I hesitated to say anything because I have submitted myself to pat downs and walked through metal detectors for visitation.  I have accepted collect phone calls.  I have sent and received mail week after week.  I have experienced judgement, been the butt of jokes, and even lost friendships because I have friends and people I love who have been or are in various stages of the justice system or are incarcerated.

That being said... the barrage of comments I've seen about this have sickened, saddened and angered me.  I personally find this to be disgusting, but not for the reasons you might think. 

When you care about someone who is incarcerated, it is hard to see so many people who genuinely believe that everyone who has been in jail or prison is a piece of garbage.  Sometimes in life, people make bad decisions ...that doesn't necessarily make them bad people; Obviously that statement does not apply to every person ever convicted of a crime and to say otherwise would be ignorant. I will never say that someone who has broken a law shouldn't pay their debt to society or have consequences for their actions, but people can make mistakes and have severe lapses in judgement that led to incarceration without being "monsters" or "garbage", just as there might be people in your life and possibly even on your Facebook Friends' list who are monsters and might never see the inside of the cell they so richly deserve.

A "felon" by definition is a person who has been convicted in a court of law of a felony crime.  "What do you think of the FELON?", "who cares about the felon?", "People who think a convicted FELON is sexy are desperate".  Is there a point where we should stop using nouns like "felon" to refer to someone?  I realize that Jeremy Meeks is, in fact, a convicted felon who has just been charged with more crimes, but I wonder...does that ever stop being a descriptive noun for someone who has committed a felony?  Do we only stop using those words when they're famous like Martha Stewart or Mark Wahlberg?  Do we stop calling them that after paying their debt to society?  Maybe years after the crime was committed it is less appropriate?  And if not... does that mean we should publicly refer to people who are adulterers, cheaters, thieves, bullies, liars and other such nouns as such forever in spite of how much time has gone by or whatever life changes they may have made?

The fact that I care about people in the system does not make me ignorant, desperate, stupid, or needy as so many commentators on this situation would have you believe.  Yes, there are people out there who seek relationships with inmates who have problems up to and including self-esteem issues and being ignorant, desperate, stupid and needy but that doesn't mean EVERYONE is like that.  To assume such a thing is like assuming that all people who get married do so because they are incapable of being independent.  Is that true?  Sometimes it is.  But to assume such a thing about all married people is just plain fucking stupid (and yes, that's a shitty and silly example but so is the assumption).

I am not disgusted by the fact that people find Jeremy Meeks attractive.  Lots of of people go to jail/prison who do not meet the ugly, scary, mean, nasty, uneducated, "ghetto", or creepy stereotypes or mental images that people who do not have a loved on the other side of the bars might have.  I do, however, find myself saddened and disgusted at the fact that Jeremy Meeks never had a chance at a fair trial and still doesn't...it just appears that the pendulum may have swung in his favor.  Which leads me to what I find to be the most disgusting parts of this entire situation.

Our justice system in the United States is flawed, and when I say that I mean it is fatally flawed in that people die as a result of how fucked up it is.  I used to believe, like so many others, that our justice system is unbiased, fair, and based on facts.  I used to believe that people who are incarcerated MUST be guilty of the crimes which they were convicted of because it seems so impossible that an innocent person could be wrongly convicted in spite of all the measures taken to prevent such a thing.  Take for example, the case of five men who were exonerated in the Central Park Jogger case who agreed to settle their suit for $40 million just this last week.  

Jeremy Meeks has a pretty intense criminal history.  He is not a first time offender.  The charges facing him are serious and shouldn't be made light of with comments like "FREE JEREMY WITH HIS SEXY ASS! GIVE HIM HOUSE ARREST, at my place. I'll keep him handcuff to my bed, I PROMISE".  Jeremy Meeks was pretty much convicted the moment he was arrested as a result of his former convictions.  While I don't necessarily believe Jeremy Meeks is not guilty, I also feel I have to acknowledge the fact that even when people with a criminal record do change and attempt to live a law-abiding life (both rare concurrences according to recidivism numbers, but it DOES happen) they will forever be "guilty until proven innocent".  

What disgusts me is the fact that this is a clear cut example of just how fickle both people and our justice system are.  Jeremy's mother has set up a GoFundMe account and at this moment in time $2,015 has been raised by 123 people.  While I'm sure it will go to either his defense team or to support his family, the fact of the matter is these donations are not being made because there is evidence that Jeremy is being wrongly accused (at least not that I have seen at this time).  The comments being made by those making donations include, "Donating to good looking people today" and "Because it's the Christian thing to do, good luck from one hottie to another", and "Here's to your second chance".  If people did not find Jeremy attractive, he would not be receiving this attention and this kind of money would not have been donated.  I wonder if these same people have donated to the other men arrested in the same case; I highly doubt it, but the question I pose is... if this isn't about looks, if it is really about second chances and doing the "Christian thing", don't the people arrested with Jeremy Meeks deserve donations too?

The GoFundMe account has raised just under $3,000 in the time it took me to write this post.  I doubt that there will be enough money raised to post his $1 million dollar bail, but stranger things have happened.  I don't know if I believe enough money will be raised to actually get Jeremy an attorney instead of a public defender, but I suspect there may be an attorney out there willing to take the case pro bono or at a reduced fee in light of the media coverage.  But the media attention and the fact that there is any money being raised at all means Jeremy has a lot more going for him than anyone who might be in a similar situation or facing less serious charges and not as attractive to the general public who will receive a public defender, no words of support, and definitely will not have any money raised for their defense or to support their children.  

But the WORST and most disgusting part of this entire thing?  The fact that this guy's face is plastered everywhere - Facebook, major news media, newpapers across the world- and for what?  I've met and have known some very attractive, intelligent and downright charming people who are serving time.  It is a waste of time to talk about what kind of people go to jail/prison because good people, bad people, ugly people, sexy people, religious people, non-religious people, thin people, fat people, tall people, short people, old people, young people...they all go to jail and at the end of the day, they're all people - someone's child, spouse, sibling, cousin, parent, grandparent.  The most disgusting thing about this entire situation has nothing to do with Jeremy Meeks himself but the fact there is this big news coverage and all of these discussions and debates going on about this... and you know what isn't being talked about on such a grand scale?  
  • How flawed our laws and justice systems are and it doesn't matter whether you're a victim of a crime or you have committed a crime because both sides suffer the consequences of having a system that is so incredibly fucked up.
  • To add to the conversation about how our systems are flawed... the things that we could be doing differently to prevent murders in our country.  A good friend and fellow blogger sent me this TED Talk,  "Lessons from death row inmates", by David R. Dow.  In it, David talks about the similarities between death row inmates and "proposes a bold plan, one that prevents murder in the first place."
  • Reducing prison recidivism rates, which is especially important in an economy where people are struggling to find jobs with college educations.  If our college graduates are "settling" for jobs outside of their fields for less than desirable wages because competition is tough, it is virtually impossible for someone with a criminal record (especially a felony record) to find gainful employment upon release. 
  • The fact that prison is a profitable industry.  Who is making this profit? What are the advantages/disadvantages to legalizing the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons?  Is it exploiting or abusing inmates by paying them far below minimum wage (according to the following article, less that $2/hour) to produce goods for incredibly large brandssuch at Motorola, Microsoft, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq,  Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, and Target Stores?  What impact does moving production operations from our communities into our prisons have on local economies?  The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?
"To put this in terms that more people can identify with, would you trust a hospital to deliver your baby if it had an 11% minimum rate of swapping babies at birth? If there were an 11% chance minimum that you would walk out of the hospital with the wrong child, would you still use it? Would you still have faith in it? "  
  • Prison conditions.  I know some people just don't care about the conditions of any prison because they believe anyone who is there is garbage.  What I will say is that when we choose to punish people by denying them their freedom, that does not mean we should treat them inhumanely or in a way that is abusive.  I feel that we have an even greater responsibility to provide an environment that is clean, safe, and conducive to rehabilitation because at the end of the day...most offenders have a release date.

    I would also like to acknowledge that people with white-collar crimes are often seen as "not as bad" as those with violent charges.  While I do not subscribe to that belief wholeheartedly for those who do I emphasize that there are not "special" prisons for people who have committed crimes that are victimless or white collar.  Prison is prison and while there is a difference between minimum, medium and maximum facilities...at some point, people with felonies on the complete opposite ends of the violence spectrum can and will encounter each other.  It is not out of the realm of possibility and therefor impossible to say "people who physically hurt people deserve worse treatment than people who only steal or evade taxes" because it is all the same prison, same care standards, same food, same conditions.  To put this in perspective, in the popular Netflix show "Orange is the New Black", Pieper Chapman is surrounded by other prisoners who are incarcerated for a variety of offenses, some considerably more violent than her own including a woman who accidentally shot a child, a woman who shot an abortion clinic worker, and a woman who murdered a client after he abused one of her immigrant child workers.  While the show has been acknowledged as being merely inspired by true events, it is a fact nonetheless that in most states non-violent offenders co-mingle with violent offenders.  
  • Are our prison conditions creating future problems for us?  Some people feel that incarcerated individuals deserve whatever they get nutritionally and otherwise.  In 2012, studies came out showing that the foods served in prisons might actually be more nutritious than food fed to school children.  I would be interested to see a numbers comparison.  Either way, I think it is a crime to feed anyone the over-processed, high sodium gruel that passes for being food in either institution.  However... the difference is that prisoners have no choice.  What I mean by that is prisoners eat the food they are given by choice or by force, and the only other option for inmates who work or have family who supports them is a selection of commissary items such as this selection from JL Marcus.  We're basically creating overweight people with bad cholesterol and high blood pressure due to high sodium, over-processed foods in a high stress environment with low activity levels who upon release will most likely not be able to procure gainful employment to support themselves, much less employment with benefits, who will need to be supported by the state.

    I would also like to mention that there is very little acknowledgement by the people who publish studies about prison food and by people who comment on the quality of prison food about "Johnny Sacks".  A Johnny Sack is the type of meal fed to incarcerated individuals during a "lock down" which consists of two "sack lunches" (one for breakfast and one for lunch) usually consisting of a peanut butter or slimy green bologna sandwich made from stale and sometimes even moldy bread, maybe a piece of fruit, and warm milk or red "juice".
  • The Death Penalty.  I struggle with my stance on the death penalty.  I admit there are crimes I've heard about where even I felt that capital punishment would be the only appropriate sentencing.  That doesn't mean however that I don't know all of the reasons why it should be abolished including the financial benefit to sentencing convicted people to life without parole, the fact that there is no evidence that shows capital punishment deters crime, the knowledge that innocent people have been executed, the influence of race, and the knowledge that the money spent executing an offender is money NOT being spent to help assist victims and families of victims.  Whether you agree with me or not, the fact of the matter is that it IS something we need to be talking about no matter what side of the argument you are on.
  • Botched Executions.  While some people believe in "eye for an eye" or that people should "suffer" for their crimes, I am of the belief that we are not better than the people who have committed acts of depravity against us if our solution is to commit the same acts of depravity against them as "justice".  It only shows how capable we all are of such unspeakable things.  We should never lose our humanity in the pursuit of justice, because if we do...then what is the point?
When all is said and done...the sad fact remains that huge amounts of media attention has gone to one man with a "sexy" mugshot instead of the many various and serious problems within our country, especially concerning our Justice and Corrections systems.  Perhaps if everyone were more educated about just how flawed our system is as well as more active in reforming the system Jeremy Meeks could have really been a model and not Calvin Klein What-If Meme.

7 comments:

  1. Yeah, the whole justice system is screwed up. Especially here. What blows my mind is that the police posted the mug shot.

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    1. That's apparently a thing now. My local newspapers posts mugshots on the "Crime Blog" it hosts every month.

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  2. I found it amusing watching women who write blogs about how we need stricter gun control laws, some going so far as to want to ban guns, then posted his picture like, "he's so hot I can't help it." I'm like, "Um, he was carrying illegal weapons."

    My views about prison... Jesus went to prison. Martin Luther King Jr. went to prison. The best of the best of men have served time.

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    1. All those posts... just imagine if any of those women had dedicated themselves to writing something about how to improve the system in ANY kind of way (there is so much more to things like the juvenile system, for example) instead of mindless sexual drivel. Not that that doesn't have a place, but there are just so many more issues than a "hot mugshot".

      Thanks for stopping by and the great comment!

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  3. I've seen his picture everywhere (of course), but yours is the first post I've read. I'm so glad I did. You bring up so many important points and raise so many important questions. I don't have the answers, but hopefully the discussion will keep going.

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