By: Ward Allan Yont
During an era of such deep division in our country, we should all regret the timeliness of the following words. Undoubtedly, many will. The disturbing trends of addiction, social injustice, [domestic] violence, racism — even teen suicides and mass shootings — are all portentous signs of a malignant condition lurking within the underlayers of our individual and collective identity. Some would argue it’s not just “lurking” anymore. And because the prison population is merely a cross section of the ails of our society, it should be no secret why the U.S. is the global leader in incarceration [rate].
Given the rather ambitious nature of our secular [Western] culture, many of us are heavily influenced by “outer world” affairs. This orientation is woven into our approach in most all matters. Even issues we recognize as being [mostly] internal, such as our emotional well being, for example, we often seek remedies that can be described as being “separate from” or “outside of” ourselves — even to a fault.
The wide range of medications and addictions that plague our nation are all symptomatic of this concern. Likewise, we tend to focus upon the need for change only after [a] condition has grown to injurious or intolerable levels — at which point we’re “behind the curve” and desperately seeking solutions. We then demand convenience and expedience, which only highlights our continued negligence over the matters at hand.
This model of thought also has implications within criminal behavior.
 “Because of social and cultural conditioning, people often find it impossible to release their stresses in healthy ways and therefore choose — consciously or unconsciously — to get sick as a way out. Their illnesses may be physical or mental, or it may manifest itself as violent and reckless behavior, which may appropriately be called social illnesses” (The Systems View of Life, Capra/Luisi, 2017, p. 332).
One of the more provocative terms that’s found its way into the topical spotlight in recent years is “Mass Incarceration.” Yet many are hard pressed to give an account of all that it entails. We often hear beguiling statistics that attest to its presence in our justice system, yet rarely do we hear of any palatable ways to get the numbers [back] down without resorting to the even more controversial measure of simply “letting convicted criminals go free” to help bleed out some of the overcrowding.
This issue has attracted the attention of several activist groups and other similar-minded voices (bless their well-intending hearts) to rally for systemic resolve under the banner(s) of several “Justice” movements. However, when formulating workable solutions, it becomes both prudent and necessary to discern exactly what it is we endeavor to achieve so as to avoid coming across so absurd as to annul and dismantle our entire justice system — which, by no mere coincidence, happens to be the vision of many such groups.
There’s really no doubt or argument against the fact that the U.S. leads the world in incarceration rates. With some 2.3 million of its residents currently behind bars, and another 6-7 million with documented encounters with the law and/or punitive obligations still pending — i.e. parole, probation, community supervision, etc — admittedly, this does seem to be “a lot” of men (and women). But then out of roughly 10 million people incarcerated of a 7.5 billion global population, the U.S. alone, with its deceitfully scant (not even) one-percent of a 330 million and growing population, constitutes an eye-opening 25% of all incarcerated people in the world.
This causes many to fix their gaze upon the illusion that there must be more systemic corruption and malfeasance in the U.S. Justice System than there are felonious acts being committed by offenders. And this simply isn’t true.
Because we are thinking, reasoning, contemplative, and sentient human beings, there’s perhaps nothing more fundamental to the understanding of our conscious affairs than the basic principle of Cause-and-Effect. This is often referred to by Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” However, like any of the intellectual tools we’ve come to embrace, it can be usurped to serve our subjective whims if we allow it to.
In general, subjective thinking is more internally (emotionally) involved. Inasmuch, we’ve already formed an opinion or belief, then we tend to seek only evidence to support that belief. Although subjective thinking may not be entirely wrong, it doesn’t always represent the most accurate truth. Therefore, it cannot be relied upon to form sound conclusions.
The opposite of subjective thinking is critical or “objective” thinking, where we’re removed from a situation enough to have a clearer perspective.
Although there may be a wide range of unjust factors that may contribute to a person’s incarceration — wrongful accusation, racial profiling, corrupt prosecutorial practices, and the like — generally speaking, most offenders are not in prison be-CAUSE there are 2.3 million other prisoners locked up, with another 6-7 million “on paper” with the system. Generally speaking, most offenders are not in prison be-CAUSE there is money being made by free enterprise corporations bidding for service contracts with the State to house, feed, sell goods to, or employ inmates — commonly referred to as “privatization.” Nor are most offenders in prison be-CAUSE of the militarization of the police force…be-CAUSE the justice system is all screwed up…or be-CAUSE of Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump, [or Biden].
In general, offenders are in prison be-CAUSE we knowingly and willfully broke the law — often times repeatedly — and got caught doing so. Everything that happens after that — the astronomical numbers of people incarcerated, the alarming percentage of recidivism, and any subsequent policies, laws, and actions implemented as measures to help quell crime — is merely an “effect” of people having broken the law.
Let’s not forget that social, civil, and criminal laws are established as a minimum standard so that those who’ve imposed trespass or harm might come to know that they have done so. These are not high reaching standards. They are the least we can do to protect the virtues of our livelihood: peace, harmony, prosperity, and joy — or more politically correct,  “the unalienable Rights [to]…Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776).
Disparity within this design is often the result of drawing sweeping conclusions based upon exceptions as though they are the rule. However, exceptions, by principle and definition, do not dispel the validity of things that are generally true. They only challenge the integrity of things that are believed to be absolutely true.
Further, those desiring to pursue workable solutions often focus their pleas for compassion to be more directly, if not solely upon governmental entities — legislators, judges, prosecutors, police departments, and the vast array of constituents that comprise our Criminal Justice system. And with [our] very immediate desire to be free, it’s no surprise that this is a very popular position within the prison community as well. However, the exercise of compassion should be a shared venture between two [opposing] parties, with the burden of first concession upon those whose means and methods have shown to be in direct contrast with the greater good. Otherwise, an enabling dynamic inevitably ensues — which will more nurture a condition than correct it.
From [this] enlightened perspective emerges the realization that “correction” in the true spirit of the word is really what we’re seeking in the ongoing quest for liberty, equality, and justice — not so much [just] punishment alone.
Almost every prisoner understands the direct part we’ve played in creating the circumstances of our crimes. We do. Only a great many wish for a lesser sentence based upon this acknowledgment alone without compromising the likelihood of repeating the offense.
In the presence of sound reason, one must ask what would it prosper any [of us] to simply be released [back] into society if we haven’t adequately addressed the reasons for having been arrested in the first place? Where could we possibly go that we wouldn’t simply relive the very dysfunctions and pathologies that led to our initial criminal behavior? Our return would be inevitable, if not also expeditious, not to mention the regrettable impact of our [new] crimes upon society at large.
Blaming “the system” for not adequately rehabilitating its residents also has diminished credence in the recognition that there is no psychotherapeutical model whose designs are not largely dependent upon the willingness and commitment of the subjects, themselves, in order to prosper sustainable results. Inasmuch, none of us need another class or counselor to remind us that drugs and crime are bad. What is needed, however, is the willingness to refrain from our vices and pathologies for the sake of [our] individual and collective livelihood.
The only ones who get to have the responsibility of their thoughts and actions thrown into question are the criminally insane — those unable to organically discern the difference between right and wrong.
 “A defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct by reason of insanity if at the time of such conduct the defendant was suffering from such a mental disease or defect as to not know the nature and quality of the act or that the conduct was wrong” (A.R.S. Sect. 13-502).
One of the main reasons that America stands out so far from other nations in incarceration is be-CAUSE, even if through fault of our own, we were born into a dysfunctional secular culture with a voracious appetite for immediate gratification and external reward. Some call it Capitalism. Others call it Addiction — a willful, self-inflicted condition. In all too many ways, they are one and the same. Yet no matter what we call it, it’s a condition that does need correcting.
 “This glorification of material consumption has deep ideological roots that go far beyond economics and politics. It’s origins seem to lie in the universal association of manhood with material possessions in patriarchal cultures” (The Systems View of Life, Capra/Luisi, 2017, p. 372).
Sadly, the illusion of the American Dream is being vehemently pursued at the expense of ethics, morals, family, friends, freedom…and all too often, human lives. It’s become a frenzy of immortality in many ways, notwithstanding the vast and ungainly drug trade that has fashionably inundated nearly every city and town in our country.
Now that [we] humans have overtaken the planet of the ability to survive it physically, in doing so, we’ve unwittingly created a condition that diminishes our capacity to survive it internally — both emotionally and psychologically. This pertains to any of us whose personal identity is now collapsing under the weight of the influences of Western culture — though none more so than Americans.