It isn’t easy to make a case for better treatment of prisoners. Most
people don’t want to hear about it (“Oh, give me a break! They deserve
whatever they get — and worse. They didn’t give their victims any
thought, so why should we give them any thought?” or something to that
effect.) Some people even think that prisoners are treated TOO well,
what with hearing about their having gyms for working out and TVs to
watch any old time, to say nothing of those three free meals a day.
Well, those thoughts can stop right there. First and always foremost,
no matter what any prisoner HAS, what he does NOT have is his freedom.
And freedom is at the top of the wanted list.
All prisons are not alike and all prisons are not run according to the
same rules. What might be fine in Georgia may not be fine in
California; and what might be the norm in one prison within a
particular state, might be the exception in another prison in that
Most people, I would imagine, don’t give the treatment of prisoners
much thought; therefore, because they don’t, and because it is not an
especially high priority item on anyone’s list — including those who
could do anything about it — whatever is or is not being done, and
whatever way those prisoners are being treated, continues “as is.”
I need to ask: What makes the person who deliberately abuses a
prisoner any better than the prisoner who abused another? And how is
it okay for the authorities to act inhumanely toward a prisoner when
that prisoner is now imprisoned possibly for doing the very same thing
I can hear it all now: “But the person in prison is the bad guy! He
doesn’t deserve to be treated better than he gave! He’s the slime of
the earth! Lock him up and throw away the key!” and words to that
effect. But do we decide which people we treat humanely and which ones
it is okay to mistreat — which includes anything from withholding
food, blankets, or the “privilege” of getting to see their visitors,
to actual physical abuse tantamount to torture? Some women are even
being sterilized against their will, and some are in shackles during
labor and childbirth.
Many prisoners who are moved from one cell to another, or one prison
to another, regardless of the reason, find that their property “gets
lost” — that includes not only their radio or TV, but their clothes
and shoes, and even their books and letters. Prisoners “lose” things
all the time, and those things are not easy to replace, if ever they
You do not have to be religious in any way, shape or form to believe
in treating others humanely. All people (well, those who are not
breatharians anyway) have to eat, and that is predominantly for
nourishment of the body. There are other reasons for eating, but one
must consider the NEED for food first. Every prison has a food budget,
but not every prison spends that allotted money on food for the
prisoners. Would it surprise anyone to learn that some prisons skimp
on what they spend on food for the inmates in order to pocket some of
that budget money for themselves?
Whether your three meals a day were free or not, I wonder how many out
there would feel “nourished” by some of the food that is served in
prison-and that’s provided one really can eat enough of it when it
does not look, smell or taste appetizing at all. Whether or not there
was a gym to work out in, I wonder how many out there would feel it
was a luxury — although compared to their life at large it is — as
opposed to a way to keep in shape for necessary self-defense purposes
against the ever-possible threat of bodily harm from either another
prisoner or even one of the guards. And for the many who cannot read,
who have no access to a daily paper or even a monthly magazine, and do
not have a radio in their cell, watching TV may at least keep them a
little up to date as to what is happening in the world if they are not
watching a movie or a show to take their minds off the fact that this
is their life, maybe for the next ten or twenty years, or till the end
of their days.
And did it ever occur to anyone that not everyone in prison is guilty?
Again, I can hear, “Oh, everyone says they are not guilty,” but in
some cases, even the witnesses that were responsible for the guilty
verdict have recanted and nobody is listening. One prisoner who is
doing 70 years for a crime he did not commit, had the love and
dedication of his only daughter, who was working day and night to get
her father freed. The last time she approached the authorities she was
told, “You can forget your daddy because we are going to make damn
sure your daddy dies in prison.” The accusing witness wrote a letter
saying she was so sorry she lied about the incident that got him that
sentence, but no one would listen. The day after the authorities told
the daughter what they did, she was in a fog. Her husband couldn’t get
her to tell him what was wrong. Finally she said that she would rather
be dead than see her daddy treated so shabbily. Ten minutes later, she
And that is not the end of it for that prisoner. Yes, losing his
daughter that way was enough to bear for someone in his shoes, yet she
was the only one who supported him in his innocence and sent money for
his personal needs to supply those things the prison does NOT supply.
Most people would imagine that prisoners get everything they need.
They do not. They learn to survive without what most people would
consider common necessities, such as deodorant and shampoo. Some
prisoners cannot even enjoy the “luxury” of answering a letter because
they have no way of getting any stamps. Knowing that, can you begin to
see how cruel and inhumane it must feel to a prisoner to have even his
letters taken away?
Even some hardcore prisoners come to grips with the deeds of their
past and regret them. Yet they are treated the same as those who never
learn and grow and show remorse. It’s like someone who smokes
marijuana being lumped into the same pot with heroin and crack cocaine
users as all being druggies. We need to understand that all prisoners
are not alike and all prisons are not alike. And as long as violent
people are kept away from society at large so we need not fear for our
life from heinous acts committed by those who have no sense of right
and wrong and no regard for any living creature, let us not be guided
and influenced by their behavior into inflicting on them what they
might happily and without a care inflict on others. If anyone is ever
to learn a better way — and I am not saying that everyone CAN learn a
better way — if they don’t see such better behavior in anyone
(especially the so-called “good” guys, such as the ones in charge of
the so-called “reform” system), how will they learn? People generally
respond in kind.
How will that prisoner respond in kind to those who told his daughter
they would make damn sure he would die in prison, causing her deep
depression that led to her suicide?
While it is easy to love babies and children, and feel sympathy for
the victims of crimes, and even feel passionate about bringing the
guilty to justice and punishing those who seem to have no soul, how we
— society at large, in the body of the prison authorities, the courts,
and anyone else who is in a position to interact with those in prison
— treat others one-on-one says more about us than about the person on
whom we are inflicting our anger, hate or rage. They have been through
the system, been judged guilty, and are paying the price. If you
believe in God at all, and in the teachings of his son, Jesus, perhaps
you’ll remember that we are to love each other as we love ourselves.
Don’t take that as meaning we have to LIKE everyone, or treat them as
family or friends. We might not even want to ever see some people
again; but if we did, the way we treat them would show the world
what’s in our heart.
Let God be the judge of what’s fitting for a person for the eternal
journey. In the meantime, remember that every prisoner is a human
being and requires food, cleanliness, warmth, and some kind of
interaction with others, if even through letters. To deprive prisoners
of such basics is truly inhumane. Are we not better than that?
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It isn’t easy to make a case for better treatment of prisoners. Most