July 11, 2008
The Fool’s Court – Taking a Fresh Stab at the Old Problem of Crime
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
– Albert Einstein
It’s been reported in recent years by various media outlets that the United States has more of its citizens incarcerated in jails and in prisons as a percentage of its overall population than any other country in the world. Here in “the land of the free” some two million wasted lives are sitting, standing, pacing, eating, reading, yelling and sleeping in 10’ x 10’ cells. Few “free” Americans seemingly care or are disturbed by this sad fact or this first place statistic, only the incarcerated and their neglected families seem to be concerned.
Last year, I reported in my essay “Love and Compassion” that close to seventy percent (67.5%) of all parolees will become repeat offenders by “breaking the law” only to return to jail or to prison within three years of being set free. Does this sound like a successful instrument for carrying out “justice” (whatever that means) or some type of reform? Has the system simply broken down only to serve the purpose of exacting vengeance on the “guilty”? The reported cost to re-arrest, re-try and process a single convict back into the penal system is estimated to be $200,000 (undocumented). Where’s the common sense in this line of thinking by our politicians, law enforcement agencies and the department of corrections? Will anyone get honest about the system or has it become big business for law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and trial lawyers, counties and state’s operating jails and prisons, respectively?
This is what being “tough on crime” gets you – a harsh and ridiculous set of policies that don’t work in either the public’s interest or in changing the long-term behavior of the convicted. Can’t we come up with something more effective and gentler on everyone? It will happen only when a man’s life is seen as redeemable even after taking another man’s life, deliberately or not, and society stops to hear the truth and to learn the lesson, in order, to grow – emotionally and spiritually. When we angrily throw away the keys for life or offer someone a room on death row we have not learned a damn thing. History repeatedly bears out this plain truth. Our weaknesses are our best teachers, yet we shamefully and routinely ignore them and the lessons they can yield.
There are several factors contributing to the growing number of Americans living behind bars. I have frequently raised concerns about “the state of the nation” from what’s being broadcasted over the airwaves day and night into our homes and vehicles – violence, foul language and heavy sexual content. This constant onslaught leads to the deadening of our senses (sanity) and crippling our reactions by blurring our “realities” while hardening attitudes and hearts of most Americans towards their anonymous neighbor. The breakdown of our society can be seen in the exploding levels of inappropriate behavior occurring among all social backgrounds including unexpected community members, such as, high school English teachers having sex with their students while religious leaders and government officials use the Internet to arrange dates for sex hopefully with an appetizing child and not with some law enforcement agency waiting to arrest them across state lines. Where is the outrage that our society’s buggy is shaking uncontrollably, like an alcoholic suffering from the DT’s, and its wobbly wheels are about to fall off or worse has already careened over the cliff?
We, as a community, are in serious trouble visible by the current and somehow unanticipated housing crisis, credit, financial, oil, food, banking…what in God’s name is next? Most Americans along with our politicians in Washington and in statehouses across this country definitely have one thing in common – their heads are all buried in the sand. That’s the only plausible explanation that would make any sense. Nobody wants to face the truth about much of anything. We are a nation of liars, liars to reality, to the truth. Our elected officials are going from crisis to crisis trying to fix decades old problems in one fell swoop with late night legislative heroics passed just as another session ends and everyone goes home for a holiday break. This is no way to run a house. It really isn’t.
Every institution in our country is corrupt evidence of this can be seen by the known crises and the unknowns coming down the pike. When is enough, going to be enough? When will Americans wake up? Will it take having their retirement plans go to hell along with the Dow Jones? This could be a reality much sooner than any of you think. I believe this train wreck will happen as the baby boomers try retiring with a declining portfolio and lose their health insurance while the younger generations are sitting comfortably idle in their cubicles updating their Facebook web page or playing with their new iPhone. It’s going to be a mess, a bloodbath; mark my words. Like 9/11, Katrina or Iraq, we are ill prepared for it.
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was established for the citizens of a new America, now an original draft of these forgotten words is collecting dust in a national museum for this society of dependence and codependence, but not for people with independence. This nation is dead – every one of you. There’s no freedom in the word – slavery. There’s a giant elephant (no pun intended) in America’s living room and every one of us simply walks around it while saying nothing. We no longer believe in our own 200-year-old Gospel – the Spirit of ‘76.
As Fr. Richard Rohr put it this way about Christianity…
“So whenever any church [society] stops believing its own Gospel, God has to come in through the air ducts [email or the Internet]. God has to find a shrouded identity, code words to say the same thing, new ways to open the human heart, and catch people with the truth when their guard is down. Jesus went “fishing” for souls. We put up a corporate sign [Lady Liberty] and ask them to come to us.
All anyone cares about are their toys, their phony image and not going to bed alone, tonight. How pathetic of a life. We know neither our God-given talents nor our potential for greatness in this one and only life. Our idea of making it “big” often leads straight down a path to a mid-life crisis so we can childishly go out and reward our miserable selves with another expensive toy, to get our “fix” – maybe a red convertible that you have always been craving to drive around solo, like, fresh bait in search of a new soul mate. Or how about a brand new Harley-Davidson so you can be “initiated” into some weekend gang of harmless road warriors for a Poker run down to the beach or a ride through the mountains.
Some success you are, it’s called mediocrity. It’s nowhere close to achieving a standard of excellence. America is full of it, in more ways than one. Did you hit the “mark” in life or have you missed it? How about when you die, will your family be able to tolerant eulogizing your life based on your actual character and merits or will they have to bring in some funny guy to deliver old stories for lasting memory, but not entirely true. Where’s the wisdom in any of this from the world’s “richest” nation? Is this what a soulless society looks like? Its right before our eyes for everyone’s viewing, like, the decease at a wake, if we will just open them up to see.
Our society is broken, but nobody “in charge” wants to fess up to this truth because they are clueless on how to “change” America. With the hard facts of pressing problems, what else won’t this society admit to? Like so many millions of Americans put on trial, maybe its time to put on trial this culture with its head-in-the-gutter. Is this nation culpable for creating a hostile and toxic environment that leads to certain individuals or groups reaching a boiling point and acting out, both, here and abroad? While some have a nervous breakdown like myself, others in desperation commit their first criminal act or two, such as, vandalism or theft, and then turn it into a new way of life?
Is it possible that our dysfunctional nation has a responsibility for some part of each and every crime that has ever been committed? How about in the treatment of Native Americans or African slaves and their descendants? How about every group of immigrants that followed seeking freedom from persecution in their homeland only to be abused much like the current and latest wave of immigrants arriving from Latin America, today? Is this society’s actions rooted in fear or in faith, in Ego or in God?
Doesn’t this society hold each defendant on trial and every convict in prison responsible 100% for the crimes committed? Is that fair or even honest? Who’s holding this society accountable for its, past and present, sins – we Americans, the rest of the world? Hasn’t this society repeatedly refused to take any responsibility for the environment or culture where crime occurs? Case in point, in the prosecution of the attacks on September 11, 2001 neither the “9-11 Commission”, the current Administration nor Congress has ever admitted to themselves, to the American people and, more importantly, to the world that the U.S. was a contributor and that our own actions brought upon the violence on that September morning. The 9-11 Commission was established by Congress to review the United States “preparedness and the immediate response…” but not its blame, as spelled out below. We never even considered this absurd notion.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission), an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation and the signature of President George W. Bush in late 2002, is chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission is also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.
Instead of putting all the terrorist attacks from the 1990’s, including 9/11, into some context with a little modern history, President George W. Bush and many other government officials chose to conveniently lay all blame at the feet of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda terrorists network and the nineteen hijackers. We smugly and childishly washed our hands of any and all liability for the attacks before the eyes of the world. America righteously claimed victim-hood in the nearly four thousand deaths at the World Trade Center in New York City, in an open field in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon outside of Washington, DC. We have repeatedly refused to acknowledge that our domestic and/or foreign policies over the previous half century or maybe longer, carried out by many U.S. Administrations, has produced much disdain privately among Arab nations and including various Islamic groups who feel like the United States has corrupted their leaders and Americanized their culture.
Or worse, the CIA-backed armies that have toppled their elected officials and replaced them with brutal dictators, such as, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran, to serve the U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region and, finally, the U.S. has continually displayed partisan attitudes and treatment towards Israel always at the detriment of its Muslim neighbors. Our response to Iraq, as a “future” threat following 9/11, was to invade this oil rich nation and to capture and kill its leader, Saddam Hussein. This brief project has become a five-year-old war. It has resulted in the deaths of four thousand U.S. servicemen and women and an estimated six hundred thousand Iraq people with no end in sight. That’s a little heavy-handed and not very Christian of us.
We use to have the world’s empathy and support, now we have their disgust. “You reap what you sew.” I have always believed this act of aggression was due to the fact that there was more blood in this Persian “tick” than in some rag-tag army, with no recognized home country, living in the deserted mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Iraq and Saddam was an easier target to “drop the hammer” on and to extract some serious blood for our surprise loss. After all, in the name of American justice someone had to pay for the attacks, regardless of their guilt. If we can deny the truth in the run-up to 9/11, what else have we denied on our own soil?
In our eyes, this nation can do no wrong. We’re always the good guys and never the bad. This brainwashing is simply not true, as I have previously written about it. This line of thinking creates a lot of problems, such as, an inability to live in reality or to live side-by-side with our neighbors. These false beliefs, including our prejudice, are passed down from one generation to the next where it is perpetuated. The attitudes keep us from never having to look, too closely, at ourselves, but it gives us plenty of opportunity to gossip and complain about everyone else. We never focus on our part in any crisis or look at our side of the street, but we are always quick to point out “the dirt” on the other side and to demand that they clean it up.
In America, it’s simply never our fault. Thus, we never change and we never grow towards the truth, towards wisdom. We’re stuck behaving like a bunch of teenagers and twenty-year-olds, perfect for NY’s Madison Ave. and its advertising machine. It’s propaganda for our own drunken and obese consumption. We have been reading our own press clippings for way too long. Long ago, the U.S. media stopped reporting the truth. They figured out that it was bad for business.
Recently, a key idea for this essay hit me as I pictured, in my mind, a criminal trial proceeding. The thought occurred to me, when is some so-called “honorable” judge, an esteemed district attorney or a celebrated criminal defense attorney going to wake up from their stupor, their nap and see what’s really taking place and blow the whistle on this failing system? It’s become obvious that more trials aren’t leading to fewer new crimes being committed?
Across the country, criminal trials go on day in and day out, year in and year out like a spinning merry-go-round. The prison population only grows larger never smaller and our nation is only getting sicker and sicker and not any better. When will a wise “officer of the court” face this appalling reality and speak up? Has a death penalty case ever stopped another murder anymore than the issuance of a speeding ticket has ever stopped other motorists from speeding? Has a murder conviction ever led to a measurable drop in subsequent homicides? It doesn’t seem to be the case. Could it be that the focus by our society and law enforcement is on the wrong “problem.”
In the treatment of alcoholism, consuming alcohol is viewed as a symptom of the disease and not its underlining problem. It’s not enough to simply get the alcoholic to put down his favorite drink, problem solver and god, forever. That’s only the starting point. Alcoholism affects every aspect of a human being including the mental, emotional and spiritual. In the daily recovery process, each component must be addressed to insure sobriety through spirituality leading to a new freedom, a new happiness, peace of mind and serenity.
The same could be said of crime being merely a symptom of a sick society and not its cause. All the crimes ever committed and those occurring over the next 24 hours are symptoms and not the actual problem. Just like arresting the drinking in the alcoholic, arresting crime in society is one of many symptoms confirming that we have lots of problems. It can also be seen in symptoms, such as, poverty, families living in squalor, alcoholism and drug addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness, hopelessness and despair, unemployment…
However, in this fearful society, the existence of crime is viewed as intolerable when compared to the other signs of trouble and gets the full attention of our irate citizens, the media and the authorities. Efforts to stamp out neighborhood crime with nighttime roadblocks, raids on crack houses or through gun buy-backs are tantamount to what Prohibition was in the 1920’s to combat alcoholism. It’s like placing a lid on a pot of boiling water. The gas burner is wide-open and the pot of water is simmering as the pressure slowly begins to build. The tipping point will be reached and the pot will explode. Crime, like, alcoholism and drug addiction are viewed as a criminal problem and not as a public health crisis. The former approach uses batons, fifteen-round pistols, Tazers and jail cells while the latter approach is rehab in a therapeutic setting.
Society’s cure for, both, of these two conditions are treated overwhelmingly in exactly the same inhumane manner – the criminal justice system – law enforcement (police and prosecutors), defense attorneys, court, jails and prisons. Don’t our problems come from a much deeper and corrupt source – a spiritual sickness? This dys-ease results in a society that’s constantly “irritable, restless and discontent.” This spiritual ailment is a recipe for disaster, as an entire community that’s perpetually unhappy acts out in so many inappropriate ways – among society’s good and bad. Isn’t this what’s taking place in all four corners of America? Are we simply and easily fingering all these individuals committing crime while refusing to take a hard look at the role of society, in general, and its unfit condition?
Are all these past convicts and future defendants shouldering the entire burden while an immature society refuses to take even one ounce of responsibility? How come this society never grows up and seems to always walk away scot-free? Solve that riddle and you’ll understand why criminals don’t grow up, either. Neither our society nor the convict has ever been given the tools to work through life problems or know how to deal with a crisis in a healthy way. Committing crime is proof of an absence. Few of us were ever properly taught these essential skills by our dysfunctional families, schools, churches or society because they didn’t know them, either. Instead, they did their best by instilling fear, in us – with the should’ves and the should nots, the musts and must nots, the ought toos and ought nots – but never the how’s of life.
How does a virus, like, the mafia or a drug gang, quietly and easily or maybe aggressively enter an organism or a community and establish a permanent foothold by controlling “turf” through operating illegally within the greater community or the nation? Is this not another symptom of a corrupt (dishonest and secretive) culture ripe for exploitation? Didn’t the 9/11 hijackers live, train and operate, right here in America, in plain sight of everyone, but below this society’s and law enforcement’s consciousness? Isn’t a nation at sleep a greater national security risk than some terrorist organization across the pond?
Why have thousands of FBI agents on payroll when we can have three hundred million alert Americans everyday? Could this have occurred in a healthy (sane and transparent) community? Would this virus be able to successfully penetrate a new environment without any resistance or notice? Gangs, the mafia and criminals co-exist and blend in, for years and even decades, due to a sick society. Like a farm, a corrupt community grows its own criminals that fulfill some perverse need or a diversion in the capacity of a scapegoat or a problem child.
In every dysfunctional family, each member plays a role – Hero, Mascot, Lost Child, Caretaker, Good Child or Problem Child. “The Problem Child is the one who is repeatedly blamed for most of the family’s problems in spite of being the emotionally honest one in the family” [or community]. Within society, their acting out results in their arrest and produces more feelings of shame and blame. The local news media piles on by putting the Problem Child’s mug shot on every newscast and writes up their disgraceful crime in the next morning’s newspaper.
Their criminal act should be an indicator of social problems and not the latest wayward citizen to fall from grace. How strong is our denial regarding our own personal and social problems – incredibly? How much time, money and energy are we spending every year policing, prosecuting and punishing “the criminal element” while conveniently and dishonestly neglecting the root cause – a sick culture? When are we going to send out social workers and counselors in tow with police officers and sheriff deputies responding to emergency calls – particularly in repeat domestics and/or involving alcohol and drugs? What are the consequences for turning a blind eye for decades? How many lives have been ruined?
A real gut-buster in the recovery process of the alcoholic is the 4th Step Inventory from Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step program. The inventory is much like what a business would perform, annually, by taking stock of the company’s goods. Removed from store shelves are all damaged and worthless goods while writing down their values to determine a new and more accurate inventory. After years or decades of insane living taking a moral inventory is a scary proposition for any alcoholic to face be it a priest, president, biker, banker, doctor, nurse, lawyer, accountant, salesmen, criminal….
The 4th Step Inventory attempts to identify all matters affecting an individual’s character or integrity. Both, positive and negative attributes are honestly captured with pen and paper for the alcoholic to see and to review. The defeated alcoholic is commonly deficient in, both, integrity and in dignity due to their past, including their childhood, while always harboring plenty of anger and resentment, justified or not, towards others for “causing” their troubles. Once sober, the alcoholic’s mind clears and they regain their conscience producing recurring thoughts of guilt and shame over their insane actions and their losses.
Alcoholics, like our society, have inaccurate opinion of themselves, which produces extreme mood swings of grandiose happiness to suicide-induced depression. It’s critical that the alcoholic/addict honestly see their part in each incident. Processing past events and the negative feelings associated, ultimately results in the pain dissolving turning a once humiliating experience into a humble one with great importance. “Letting go” of these burdensome feelings is an act of kindness and freedom to oneself. Identifying with the positive qualities in the alcoholic’s character is an important step towards long-term sobriety and is confirmation that their life has value and is worth saving. The past, however, inappropriate is discussed with another person, shared with God and the door to it is to never be closed and locked.
There’s value in the worst of circumstances and it is commonly shared in one-on-one settings, openly in meetings and while telling one’s story before an audience. It’s powerful to share one’s story and to hear it. The honesty leads to humility, to truth and to a closer connection to God. Whether it’s a series of events including wrecking cars, jail or prison time, infidelity, lying, cheating, domestic violence, bar fights, thefts, robberies, sexual assaults, day spent at crack houses, combat or even murder – everyone is embraced and the alcoholic/addict slowly heals, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, regaining their integrity and their dignity. It all has value for the alcoholic and for everyone in earshot. In A.A., no part of the human experience is ever pushed under the rug in shame or embarrassment. When a human life is at stake you simply can’t afford to – it’s our story, it’s every ones.
A.A.’s 12 Steps are powerful because they work as a guide for living. In nineteen years, I have found nothing that even compares. Fr. Rohr, who is not a member of A.A., continues from his earlier comments by paying the following compliment, “The 12-Step wisdom is, without doubt, a work of the Holy Spirit, and will go down in the history of spirituality as the specifically American contribution to spirituality.” I agree.
On the other hand, our society is in deep denial and the life of every convict or problem child becomes a castaway where their experience brings only more guilt and shame in a shame-filled jail or prison where their integrity and their dignity are stripped and possibly violated. Egos flourish when the inmates run the asylum. This climate produces meaner, stronger and more dangerous parolees walking our streets further cut off and rejected from our superficial society. The inmate is neither humbled by his latest crime spree nor does he learn from his mistake and is subject to relapsing into his old ways.
This society doesn’t have to understand the context of the tragedy or see its role in it. In the end, lots of fingers are pointed, but nothing really changes and no one ever grows up. Now, we can better understand how after three years, nearly seventy percent (67.5%) of society’s paroled problem children find themselves back behind the prison walls. Maybe it’s about time we do something different, maybe it’s time we take our first 4th Step.
Just as the recovering alcoholic perpetually works the 12 Steps including the 4th Step to progress towards wholeness and sanity, every A.A. group has a tool called a group inventory, as needed. The purpose of the group inventory is to determine if the group is keeping within the fellowship’s suggested guidelines or if the meetings have gotten sidetracked. The group inventory offers a path back to operating within the guidelines.
I think its time for this country to also consider taking a “group” inventory. I believe that we are way off the mark established by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence that has served as this country’s spiritual foundation. Rather than an environment or a culture that produces happy and healthy Americans, I find too much misery, envy, jealousy and greed. Instead of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” it’s become a life of death, a life of slavery and a life of depression. Due to our present values, we are missing the mark and the violence against each other, nature, God and ourselves has become blatantly obvious. This course is unsustainable. Address the underling issues facing this country and our values will naturally change for the better. Crime and addiction would disappear along with the daily circus at the courthouse filled with judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Either, we grow or we go. Our once proud nation has disintegrated into a bunch of spoiled juvenile delinquents.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
May God bless this nation and this world.
I am actively seeking speaking, consulting and political advising opportunities. My insight is regularly expressed in, both, my essays and in private guidance has been widely recognized by members of this audience. All of my writings can be viewed at my web site: http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. Please support this worthy project with its mission to produce excellence in political, social and spiritual commentary, you can make a donation by contacting me via email: email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008. All Rights Reserved. “The Fool’s Court” by Ted Burnett.
Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics – Recidivism Study http://www.cor.state.pa.us/stats/lib/stats/BJS%20Recidivism%20Study.pdf
Free Republic: 1 In 32 Americans In Jail, On Parole http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1746525/posts
Life for Liberty Association (U.S. prison population)
Rohr, Richard, O.F.M. “The 12-Step Program as Coded Gospel”
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission) – mission statement http://www.9-11commission.gov/
Wikipedia.com/ Dysfunctional families http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysfunctional_family