Thursday, 27 May 2010


By: George Coombs

Crime and its ramifications are of understandable concern to many people. Prisons are full to bursting point with national figures exceeding eighty five thousand. Overcrowding with its inevitable consequences of escalating tension and violence is a national disgrace but more prisons at enormous expense often constructed by American companies are not the answer.

There needs to be new thinking. Justice equals understanding, not revenge. Crime does not equal punishment but clear thinking and seeing. The vast majority of the prison population are working class people from deprived areas and with disturbed backgrounds. Havelock Ellis is right to argue that "Every society has the criminals it deserves."

Long periods of deprivation of liberty, isolation and lack of one's own safe space are dangerous. In a 1965 paper Professor Harry Harlow described his studies of the effects of social isolation by describing how he, and colleagues had reared monkeys from birth onward in bare wire cages causing them to experience paternal deprivation and these studies lasted for periods of three, six or twelve months. They concluded that severe and enduring isolation reduced the monkeys to a kind of socio/emotional level where the primary social response is fear.

This idea and related matters are taken up by the Chinese scholar Chiang Yee "Life came into being with space in which to live. Room in which to be and in which to live. To be alive inwardly as well as the life seen by others. Take away that space, that room in which to live and inner death is inevitable. Deprivation is so often inflicted on those already deprived of so much and this, and emotional deprivation lead the scream nobody wants to actions called crimes yet are not the real criminals the creators of deprivation, isolation and fear?"

Chiang Yee asks a telling question here and elsewhere he suggests that "Justice is light leading to light. It is not revenge or pandering to the deceitful, the powerful and the selfish.....stains are on many hands I tell you truly too many hands have been washed too often."

Life needs space in which to live, Take away that space and fear is inevitable. Fear as a social response leading to resistance and anger, two expressions of the scream society seeks to ignore. The anger may well be turned outward in violence or inward in self harm and suicide.

All this find terrible expression in the death in custody in Flagstaff, Arizona of Bill Rogers. Bill was an environmental preservation activist who had been accused of destroying corporate property and is remembered as an intelligent man and full of activity.

Bill chose to end his life rather than spend a good deal of it in prison as could well have happened. On the Winter Solstice of 2005 he was found in his cell with a plastic bag over his face and his fist raised above him. If treated with understanding, compassion and awareness he might still be alive today.

In this excerpt from another of his meditations Chiang Yee gives us a fitting conclusion when he says to anyone in prison "Strive to maintain your inner life......keep alive the inner vibrations of your higher aware justice is a lone frightened child who roams your prison crying "Not in my name."

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