December 18, 1996
How to Make Prisons Work

Click Here To Read a Happy Prison Story

I think that prison (as it stands today) is a pretty bad way to try to reform criminals. In fact I'd say that criminals tend to find their criminal nature enhanced during the prison experience. Now just why is that, do you suppose?

First of all, let me make it clear that when I say "criminals," I mean real, pain-causing criminals. As I've mentioned before, I do not consider non-violent offenders to be "real" criminals. And, while many a pot-head or DeadHead has been turned into a violent thug by a stay in prison, that is not the subject at hand.

Today we are talking about reforming true, violent criminals. Rapists, muggers, murderers, and the like. Or can they even be reformed? Is it simply our fate to have a certain (growing) population of misanthropes (people who hate mankind)? And will we just continue to build more giant cinderblocks to stack them in? Boy, does that sound like fun, or what?

The alternative would be to try to examine the nature of criminality, and try to design a system of solutions to society's many degeneracies.

I will readily grant that the reforming of the criminal element in society is neither a simple task, nor an easily achieved one. But everybody knows that education is the main weapon we have against crime. It is common sense that a person will be less prone to crime if he/she is smarter, and thus more confident, more able, and more aware of others.

What if prisoners were required to get a high school diploma (or G.E.D.) in order to "graduate" from prison?
What if prisoners were required to get a job before being let out of prison?
What if violent criminals had to pass a "sympathy curriculum" connected to their crime, to make them gain an understanding of their victims?

A lot of people are in prison because of a single lapse in judgment. Many more are there because they had felt, from the day they were born, that they were marked for prison, and all-too-often that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. These people, originally good in nature (mostly), now leave prison not less likely, but more likely to return than before they went in.

In layman's terms: An average Joe, or Jane, who "screws up big time" once, may go to prison. If he/she does go to prison, he/she will (on the average) be much more likely to go to prison (again) than he/she ever was before!

Additionally, if Joe (or Jane) is of one of a few select (read: non-white) races, then his/her chances of going to prison are higher as soon as he/she is born! Oftentimes, this will affect Joe or Jane's self esteem enough to increase his/her chances of "screwing up big time" in the first place.

Fascinating, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's all so true.

And as for the "true psychopaths." (Webster's : {psychopath} - "person suffering from a mental or emotional disorder, esp. one who is asocial and amoral"). These are the arsonists, bombers, terrorists, child accosters, and the like. It seems to me that they tend to float in and out of prison and court on the luck of either the State or the Defendant, and it is likely that those types would also attempt to abuse a system like the one I proposed above. After all, many bombers and child molesters can appear normal, and are often plenty intelligent. But these criminals would slip through the cracks no more than they already are.

So many people are so solidly convinced that we have to be "tough on crime" that the educational measures I discussed will be scoffed away almost as soon as they're read, but frankly, that's moronic. To take all these people, who used to have families, who used to have jobs, who used to have lives, and just throw them down the crapper for good? That's basically what prison is for most people - the end.

I mean really, when was the last time you heard a happy prison story?

Posted by Lance Brown at 08:16 PM
December 11, 1996
On Gay Marriage

I think that someone should be allowed to marry whomever they please. In fact, I don't think the government has any place getting involved in the decision at all.

What is marriage? Webster's says, "A close union." Do we really want the government deciding who we can form "close unions" with? I think probably not. I actually don't want the government having any say in any of my "unions" with anybody.

If we don't want the government deciding who we can work for, be friends with, go to the movies with, do business with, or live with, then why would we want them interfering with the most sacred of human unions, marriage?

Last week I posited that we are each our own little life experiments, and I said, in effect, "The more experimenting, the more results." Well, with marriage, what you have is two people who desire to bond their lives together in a way that they truly believe will be a greater whole than the original parts. They are trying to increase the value of their individual lives by combining their efforts. To me, that sounds like a damn noble thing to do, and it disgusts me to think that our United States government, and many of its states' governments, are taking it upon themselves to ban certain folks from forming this union.

What if they discovered that certain family lineages, or even certain races, exhibited a tendency toward, say, violence, or crime or perversion or something, and they decided to ban unions between those folks?** What if it was your family or race they wanted to stop? Would you be content to accept that a certain group of people had decided you weren't allowed to marry the person you wanted to marry? I think probably not.

Listen, I am not gay, and I have no plans to be. But I say, "Let 'em live! Let them bond. Bonding is good." Like I said before, people who want to marry want to make their lives (and presumably, the lives around them) just that much better. Who is anyone to stand in the way of that?

If you are still opposed to gay marriage at this point, please try this experiment for me: Institute a fifty-year ban on marriage and/or child-rearing in your family. Then write to me, in fifty years, at , and tell me how it turned out. If it's a fun story, I'll publish it here in my column. Good luck.

**6/22/03 NOTE: I didn't mean to imply here that gay people have any of the tendencies I named. Claims of social or genetic inferiority have been the justification for nearly every scheme to ban various marriage combinations throughout history, including the efforts against gay marriage. If someone were to seek to prohibit a given reader in the future from marrying in general, it would almost certainly be based on the same claims that have been used for centuries -- ones that were used against blacks, and latinos, and European immigrants, and lower classes, and mentally handicapped people, and so on.

I posted a brief addendum to this article in 2001. You can read it here.

Posted by Lance Brown at 07:59 PM
December 04, 1996
Leave Everyone Alone

What I think is that everybody is too pissed off at everybody else to get anything serious done. If we could just leave everyone alone to do as he or she pleases, and if we only punished those who hurt others or stole, we would have things just about as good as they are going to get.

I think what we need to make universal is the idea that we are each our own individual human experiment, and not a one of us can unequivocally declare that he or she alone knows the correct or best way to live a life. We have yet to agree upon The Rules, and we may never know The Meaning, so why is everybody always hassling everybody else?

I say, "Leave 'em alone!" Whoever "they" are. Nobody ever got anywhere by picking fights.

So if we're all these individual experiments, wouldn't we get more done if we let everybody do their own experimenting? Humans have shown themselves to be pretty smart on more than one occasion, and some of humankind's greatest contributions have come from perverts, junkies, and addicts of every kind. Nearly everybody's got their own form of self-indulgence or self-abuse, and each of us tries to settle our inner conflicts in our own way.

I think that we can all agree that you shouldn't hurt other people, and you shouldn't take their stuff. If you don't agree, I think you are wrong, and part of an extremely limited minority.

So let's cut it down to two laws: 1.Don't hurt anyone (that includes killing) 2.Don't take someone's stuff.

Let the judge (or better yet, the jury) figure the rest out. Isn't that what they're there for?

Posted by Lance Brown at 07:51 PM