Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
The words "escape" and "prison" fit together like hands in gloves in the mind of every prisoner, but in that of every warden, the two will never meet; or not on his watch, not if he can help it. So prisons don't have fire escapes. Instead, they are built of materials that will not burn; concrete, steel, brick. They look dull, but they work.
Except in Honduras, this week, where a fire began and spread and burned over 300 captives alive, roasted and smoked to death in their cells, hopelessly and horribly trapped.
"Obviously", Honduras must be barbarous. "The degree of a nation’s civilization," said Dostoyevsky, "can be seen in the way it treats its prisoners". That prison was flammable, and there was no quick-release mechanism for all cell doors in the event of emergency (or breakfast) and wardenships may have been contracted out to the lowest form of human life.
Not so fast! - for jails and prisons were often made of wood in America as its frontier moved Westwards, and England on the cusp of its most glorious period of empire housed some prisoners in "hulks", so I'm reminded by a re-read of Dickens' Great Expectations. Hulks were old wooden ships that would no longer float, secured in marshes and filled to overflowing with those who had broken the government's laws... and with rats. That was less than two centuries ago. I wonder how many caught fire.
Government slavers to lock away people in its power, but doesn't rush to house them humanely. When Irwin Schiff was imprisoned for breaking a tax law nobody could find, he was issued boots the wrong size - so a toe got gangrene and had to be amputated. He told me that when prisoners are moved around, it is done on short notice and in conditions just like those portrayed in the movie "Con Air" - prior to the airplane hijacking, that is. They call it "diesel therapy."
The savagery in Comayagua reminds me of that in Waco, TX, in 1993. Eighty four men, women and children were burned alive by FedGov agents out to demonstrate their manhood. None had been convicted or tried or even accused; but they were certainly imprisoned, and very dead. The few who survived the inferno were punished for doing so with forty year sentences. What was that Dostoyevsky wrote?
The Honduran prison was overcrowded, with men accused of running drugs contrary to law. Why do such laws exist? - because the FedGov distributes money (stolen from US taxpayers) and other favors to foreign governments who do its bidding, and it bids them help in its own so-called drug war. Why does it wage its war on drugs? Because (1) it provides employment for its drug warriors, (2) it helps its politicians get re-elected by parents so terminally stupid as to swallow whole the fable that laws can cure their childrens' addiction, and most of all (3) because it has provided a wonderful excuse to spy on all financial transactions everywhere. Why is it so desperate to spy on financial transactions? Because if it didn't, victims of its taxation would rather quickly find a way to avoid it. And why is it so addicted to taxation? Because government does hire some people smart enough to understand that if it merely prints everything it spends, hyperinflation will certainly result and quickly ruin its party. (Robert Mugabe was too stubborn to learn that. He knows it now.) Finally, why is it so determined to keep spending? Because it is intoxicated by power. Power is all that government's for.
Brutality towards prisoners will not be seen in the coming free society. The free-market justice industry will bend itself to the task of restitution, to restoring stolen rights, not to punishment--for punishment is a hopeless, lose-lose proposition that benefits nobody. The only exceptions will be the tiny number who do repeated violence (and who survive defenses by a well-armed series of intended victims) from whom society clearly needs protecting. And even then, the limits on their liberty will be the least and most economical feasible, starting with electronic anklets, progressing to house arrest, and then in extreme cases to a closed workshop in which the serial killer can earn his living (and rent). Vengeance, which is the very fabric of today's caricature of justice, will have no place. Nor will fire-prone (or any other) prisons or wrong-sized boots.
I speculate, but think that as behavioral science progresses and more is understood about why some people are habitually vicious, it may become possible to change sociopaths into normal human beings; if so, the justice industry will certainly offer such treatment to those it finds liable to a victim--at the expense, perhaps, of insurers who will save from it in the long run. It will need great care, for brain-altering surgery must never be imposed on someone against his will, but I suppose nobody actually wishes to continue as a deeply-hated monster in an enclosed workshop. I expect such an option to be welcome.