O-beast-ity

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by Dante Overby

Seeing news reports on America being the fattest country in the world, and the First Lady’s program to fight childhood obesity – the Let’s Move! Campaign – leads me to wonder why there is no governmental urgency to address the other obesity-like epidemic affecting America, the one stemming from mass incarceration.

Dante Overby, web
Dante Overby

I view mass incarceration as an obesity-like epidemic because America represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet our penal system has locked up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. That’s a HEAVY burden on taxpayers!

Our penal system has earned the nickname “The Beast” because it’s huge, its appetite is insatiable and it is out of control. The Beast is made up of the court system, which forms the head, a broken school system, which forms the left arm, a combination of over-zealous police and prosecutors, which form the right arm, overcrowded prison systems, which form the “belly of the beast,” and your tax dollars, which form the legs that prop the beast up. And its HEART, the “prison for profit” policy, has become diseased.

On March 31, 2014, USA Today published an article titled “USA’s costly justice system is being taken apart,” chronicling the problem with our current penal policy. To date, the beast has swallowed up 2.2 million live carcasses, mostly those of Black, Brown and POOR white people.

I say “live carcasses” because this class of Americans is considered dead to the rest of society … DEAD beat, DEAD broke, DEAD weight … just plain DEAD! And since society doesn’t care about them, they have become the prey of choice to the beast.

As a live carcass inside the belly of the beast, I feel that the only way to slim it down is with a healthy regimen consisting of a proper diet, endurance training and strength training.

A proper diet for the beast is people “rightfully” convicted of crimes. But lately, the beast has been allowed to feast on the live carcasses of the innocent, the poor and the illiterate people, while those rightfully convicted are an optional side dish. Its poor diet and ever expanding waistline is a symptom of the various forms of immunity given to those who break the law to feed the beast.

I view mass incarceration as an obesity-like epidemic because America represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet our penal system has locked up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. That’s a HEAVY burden on taxpayers!

CNN has profiled numerous cases where there was never enough evidence to convict, but the wrong person is convicted and, after the case is overturned, no one is ever held accountable for that.

For examples of cases where prosecutors were without enough evidence to convict, it would be rather easy for me to point out the highly publicized cases of Mumia Abu-Jamal or Lorenzo “Cat” Johnson, but that would not do justice to the not-so-publicized cases like the one of a legally blind man named Tyshaunt Love. Google his case. It REEKS of actual innocence.

Immunity for rogue cops, DAs and judges conspiring to enslave the innocent, poor and illiterate people is wrong and is against everything the framers of the Constitution stood for. In Federalist Paper 51, James Madison stressed the imperative of obliging the government to control itself by pointing out, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary [and] if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

But a proper diet alone is not enough to shrink the belly of the beast. Endurance training is a must.

By endurance training, I mean that prisons, being charged with the responsibility of making “corrections” in an offender’s behavior, must act in accordance with those enduring principles by educating and rehabilitating offenders so that they are less likely to re-offend.

On Feb. 25, 2013, the Huffington Post published an article titled “The Norwegian Prison Where Inmates Are Treated Like People,” authored by Erwin James. Mr. James reported on his trip to Bastoy Prison Island in Norway, a place where critics brand the living conditions “cushy [and] luxurious,” while the inmates there say “it’s like living in a village, a community.”

Inmates on Bastoy Island live in six-man bungalows, each having their own room, but they share the kitchen and other facilities: televisions, computers and integral showers. “Only one meal a day is provided in the dining hall. The men earn the equivalent of £6 a day and are given a food allowance each month of around £70 with which to buy provisions for their self-prepared breakfasts and evening meals from the island’s well-stocked mini-supermarket.”

Every man works and is allowed to go fishing on his free time. There are just too many perks to name them all. But those who branded this prison a “holiday camp” have failed to take into account its purpose – to serve as “an arena of developing responsibility.”

Gov. Arne Nilsen said: “’In closed prisons, we keep them locked up for some years and then let them back out, not having had any real responsibility for working or cooking. In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals. Here we pay attention to you as human beings.’

“A clinical psychologist by profession, Nilsen shrugs off any notion that he is running a holiday camp. … ‘You don’t change people by power,’ he says. ‘For the victim, the offender is in prison. That is justice. I’m not stupid. I’m a realist. Here I give prisoners respect; this way we teach them to respect others. But we are watching them all the time. It is important that when they are released they are less likely to commit more crimes. That is justice for society.”

Prisons, being charged with the responsibility of making “corrections” in an offender’s behavior, must act in accordance with those enduring principles by educating and rehabilitating offenders so that they are less likely to re-offend.

I am in agreement with Gov. Nilsen, which is why I believe that endurance training is essential.

But strength training for the beast is necessary as well. The responsibility of society is more than just paying taxes to lock up criminals; you also have to assist us in rebuilding our lives upon release, because the deck is stacked against us. What happened to me is but one of many UNHEARD OF examples of people trying to change, but receiving no assistance, and winding up back in jail.

I was paroled from SCI Huntingdon in January of 2001 and released to a home-plan bearing the address of the residence I was arrested at. Seeing that I was set up for failure, I set out to prove them wrong. I swore off hustling and got a job my first month home, but I had bigger aspirations, so I went to a medical trade school and became a medical assistant. My criminal record limited me to being a medical assistant; I actually wanted to be an ultrasound technician.

After successfully completing the course and externship, I was sent on a few interviews and never landed a job because of my criminal record. But the one event that turned me back into the old me was the response I got about a job interview I had with a well known hair restoration company. I got a call from them two days later informing me that I didn’t get the job, and when I asked the lady, “Why?” She said that it was “because [I] had bad credit.” I thought, “First it’s my criminal record and, now that I’m off parole, it’s my credit!” All I could do was laugh.

That was the end of my job hunting adventure. I went back to doing what I used to do, and here I am, back where I started – IN JAIL! A little support, in the form of affording me the opportunity to PROVE my willingness to change, would have, no doubt, kept me out of the streets and out of jail.

The responsibility of society is more than just paying taxes to lock up criminals; you also have to assist us in rebuilding our lives upon release, because the deck is stacked against us.

As a community, we are only as strong as our weakest link, and you, the community at large, along with the various departments and bureaus of “corrections,” must do more to assist folks like myself because, as Gov. Nilsen acknowledges, “(J)ustice for society demands that people we release from prison should be less likely to cause further harm or distress to others, and better equipped to live as law-abiding citizens.”

Being “better equipped to live as a law-biding citizen” is something that is best taught through practice. Sporting teams practice, students do internships and musicians rehearse – all for the sole purpose of insuring that what was instilled in them becomes instinctual. Right living is no different; it takes practice.

In my heyday, locking me up without “correcting” my behavior was an opportunity for me to polish my flaws and gear up for another run, but today, my hope is to be acclimated to right living through practice, while I’m incarcerated, because that is rehabilitation to me – a better investment of the taxpayer’s dollar.

That said, I believe that if Pennsylvania came up with a program that dedicated one state prison and three halfway houses in each region to the imperative of rehabilitation, equipped them with the necessary programing, education and job training, plus a nurturing staff teaching prisoners to respect the law, their communities and society as a whole, which would begin two years before their minimum sentence expires, the belly of the beast will rapidly decrease, and it’s HEART problems will be cured. LET’S MOVE on that!

Send our brother some love and light: Dante Overby, BA-5437, SCI Rockview, P.O. Box A, Bellefonte PA 16823-0820.

 

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