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  • Doug Tjapkes

When will we think about prisoners?

I’m impressed. I must admit it. As a news junkie, I was glued to the TV screen watching the peaceful transfer of power. But this time I felt better. Perhaps it was the stark contrast between the outgoing administration and the incoming administration. Yet, with all that feel-good stuff, I still experience a tug of pessimism regarding my friends behind bars. Here’s why. The new President of the United States and his administration do not have a plate big enough to hold the giant stack of pressing problems. The pandemic, or course, is at the top of the list. The many issues involved with the coronavirus crisis alone demand immediate attention...deaths, business closings, job loss, homelessness, hunger, education, depression. Then you have the economy. Global warming. Immigration. Ugh! My fear is that, with so many squeaky wheels, there may not be enough oil to squirt on the bearings. Mass incarceration may not seem like the most pressing issue in our country, but it’s a serious, serious problem. I’m cautiously thinking that maybe, with our incoming administration’s emphasis on unity, kindness, compassion and such, just maybe we can finally steer away from our country’s obsession with revenge and overly-punitive punishment. Because of that attitude, the U.S. has over 2-million people behind bars. In fact, since 1980, there has been a 500% increase in population of our jails and prisons! I’ve raised these issues before, but these are some of the most disturbing things about our country’s prison statistics: -People of color make up 37% of our nation’s population, but 67% of our prison population! -1 out of 3 black boys today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life! Attorney and California Senator Dave Linn also offers these baffling observations: -There’s no connection between our country’s crime rate and incarceration rate! -Overkill in the justice system is directly related to higher recidivism rates! With all of the immediate problems facing our nation’s new leaders, dare we even hope for such things as prison reform and sentencing reform? There are two things, I think, that we can and should do. First, let’s pray that kinder, gentler leadership at the top level of our government will trickle down to a softening of our “law and order” nation’s street-level feelings of revenge and retribution. Meanwhile at the bottom of the ladder, you and I can get it started with more compassionate, more humane attitudes. As Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman concluded in her inauguration presentation today: For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.

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