June 28, 2015
Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Letter #389: Go, Team, Go!
Dominating the national news for nearly the entire month of June is the larger-than-life story of two prisoners who escaped from an old prison in beautiful upstate New York. Every day it seemed that new details would emerge, a slowly-unfolding drama that had an innocent populace on edge and law enforcement confounded as they played needle-in-a-haystack throughout the dense forest.
Maybe the story didn’t grip you as it did me. I turned on the news several times a day, hoping for some word the fugitives had been apprehended. Two heinous killers who deserved every bit and more of the life sentences they were serving; I hoped and prayed they’d be found and returned to prison before harming anyone else. Instead, for three weeks, investigators had nothing except more and more details about how they pulled off the first escape in over one hundred years at that facility.
For starters, they enlisted the help of a female employee, who failed to remember Rule #1 about interacting with prisoners: Don’t Fall In Love. And Rule #2: Don’t Smuggle In Hacksaws. Some prison officials tried to claim how rare it is for staff to fall in love with their charges, but it is VERY common. I’ve seen two women escorted out due to relationships, just in the past three months at this facility, and those are the ones I know about. We have rules posted for visits that include how long the embrace can be (four seconds), and how to request to use the restroom (stay seated; raise hand), and who gets to keep the picture if a former staff member is visiting you (they do). Every weekend, former staff visit inmates. It isn’t rare at all.
Now, I must say that not every inmate is as deranged as Charles Manson or as heinous as Ted Bundy. I know plenty of guys who are doing unbelievably long stretches of time (say, 20 years) for unbelievably small offenses (say, punching a guy twice … true story). And I know many guys who are actually innocent, accused of sexual crimes by women who know that no evidence but their own testimony is all that is needed to put away someone you don’t like. But for the vast majority of us, we deserve to spend time separated from the rest of society, in the hopes we will return somehow rehabilitated. Fixed.
In the meantime, in the years and years before that day comes for some but not all of us, we can’t help but hope to get out sooner. Though I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that we should beg for an early release, claiming “set the captives free” Scriptures and such, plenty of my dearest friends do. We yearn to be free. This is natural.
What is unnatural, stunning, nearly unbelievable to me is that most prisoners root for the bad guys, hoping they outrun police in television shows about officers on the job. When such shows are on the TVs in our dayroom, the atmosphere becomes akin to a sporting event, except everyone’s favorite team is the guys who just committed a felony and are running from the cops.
I always feel odd in these circumstances, since I’m not rooting for the home team. I have close friends in law enforcement and a brother in the military, and I believe in our system of justice, though it be flawed in parts and at times can be over-burdensome. I cannot hope for perpetrators of evil to get away from due justice, not even when that perpetrator is me.
I was absolutely elated when both fugitives’ run for freedom finally came to an end. The one will save taxpayers millions, since he chose to be gunned down instead of surrender when approached by law enforcement. The other gets to return to the relative luxuries of American prison life.
Here at La Palma Correctional Center, every guard and staff member to whom I said, “Well, they finally got them!” knew exactly what I referring to and joined in my feeling of relief that the two convicted killers were apprehended. Inmates however, gave me a far different response.
I dedicated an afternoon to the project and took an informal survey of everyone I could make contact with, both young and old, every race, Christian and non-Christian alike. I asked them simply, using a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” gesture, “Were you glad to hear the escaped inmates were caught, or were you hoping they’d get away?” I asked the first thirty guys I saw, and just three were glad the killers didn’t get away. A full twenty-seven were disappointed to see their run come to an end.
Even a follow-up question, “What if they’d killed your family member, or if your family lived near the prison in New York?” couldn’t dissuade most of my fellow inmates from their opinion that it is always a good thing for any inmate to get out of prison, at any cost, and by any means, and only two said that they could at least acknowledge they knew their opinion is wrong, morally, with no prompting on my part.
With no moral compass (or a broken one), we can easily become conditioned to accept and adopt the opinions and standards of the society we live in, rather than base our morality on the unchanging Word of God. “Freedom to Marry” and a “Woman’s Right to Choose” can blur the moral lines and soon have God’s children rooting for the wrong team.