Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The New Neighbors

Quite some years ago our little city of slightly over 100,000 became the site of a new maximum security prison. Not everyone was thrilled to have the prison as a new neighbor, but eventually most of the citizens accepted the fact that it WAS established and wasn’t likely to go away anytime soon. And many citizens also found a new employer with the prison system.

At this point, I must point out something I heard in a song [‘Til It Shines] by Bob Seger, who sang: “Let the inmates free the guards.” I have thought about that line several times and still wonder about possible meanings. Whatever the reason for the line in the song [assuming I understood the words correctly], the news about prisons and enforced detention has not been good lately. In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Chikurubi Prison had 327 deaths reported by the International Red Cross between November of 2008 and January of 2009. The prison has seen the deaths of 700 of its 1,300 inmates in filthy, disease and rat infested cells. Because the government has been so unstable and incapable of allowing help from international organizations, men have starved to death by the cell-full. The prison morgue may have rat-riddled bodies stacked ten high at a time.

In our country, we debate capital punishment. In Zimbabwe, well, life has little value. And in Ireland, where a young child could be taken forcibly from the parents—especially if the parent were an unwed mother—if the child got in trouble at school or in the community, the child could be put in detention “home” and be subject to horrid abuses by those who were supposed to be helping to reform the child’s behavior. Unbelievably, this abuse went on from the 30s up until the 90s.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the mentally challenged residents of one dormitory of a state operated school have been used as a “fight club” type of entertainment for some employees.

Death, degradation, dishonor. It is still true what Burns said:

Man's inhumanity to manMakes countless thousands mourn!*

Wordsworth, too, had his view: Have I not reason to lament/What man has made of man.**

One of the comments of the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was extremely revealing about life in our up-to-date, well-informed world:

I am not an investigating magistrate but somebody who describes the life around us for those who cannot see it for themselves, because what is shown on television and written about in the overwhelming majority of newspapers is emasculated and doused with ideology. People know very little about life in other parts of their own country, and sometimes even in their own region.***

If the apathy and ignorance that Anna Politkovskaya found in Russia is even a tiny bit like that found in Ireland, America, and yes, even in my own state of Texas, then we can expect to continue to hear “the still, sad music of humanity”** Anyone still determined to sing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” need not expect a sing-along because the new neighbors in Ireland, Zimbabwe, Dagestan, Corpus Christi, and beyond are still all too aware that we don’t have much to sing about when life and freedom is so little valued.

*Robert Burns, From Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge, 1785
**W. Wordsworth, Lines Written in Early Spring; Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey
***Her Own Death, Foretold, Washington Post

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