Punishing Criminals: A Solution that is a threat to our Nation
It seems that the idea of punishment instead of addressing problems rationally is an opinion losing ground in our prison systems. Why? It is too expensive and it doesn’t work. Recidivism is rampant, young lives destroyed, lives that could be helping make America great.
I have said that progressive thinking is about finding solutions, and that the desire to punish comes from a source that creates irrational behavior that worsens our situations.
What is this source? It isn’t something that people choose, it is something that a violent universe thrusts upon them. Coping with the deprivations and traumas of such a universe is what keeps us alive as a species, and deprivations and traumas are the source.
Traumas and deprivations that we can’t handle cause us to move into a panic and when we can’t find a resolution this panic becomes a helplessness that has to be transmuted into false goals representing needs that could not be met. This keeps hope alive and hope of this kind saves our bodies and minds from burning out from the panic which has become an intolerable stress on our vital organs.
The desire to punish comes from a reaction to something that has already happened and can’t be “fixed”. It is an irrational reaction to felt helplessness that doesn’t fix problems. It is also a desire to have a symbolic power over the perceived source of the unfortunate event. This perceived source is most often seen as some person who acted instrumentally to help cause the event.
Punishing people does not “fix” them, it does not change what happened, it only helps those feeling helpless to feel they “did” something about the “problem”, a problem that in reality they never saw, understood, nor addressed.
What is that problem? That problem, if the event was due to the intentional actions of an individual or individuals, is what I call a “pained need” a sense of vital need that was overwhelmed by feelings of panic and helplessness. This pained need is the real problem and the cause of what the individual or individuals did, unless it was purely out of a misconception or ignorance.
Actions that seem voluntary and cause bad results are often what is called “evil” and by a strange irrational symbolic twist the person who performed the action is also seen as “evil”.
Having the concept of things or people being evil is an expression of our sense of helplessness that brings us to the desire to punish, which is an irrational attempt to change what occurred in the past.
It must be said that seeing the concept of evil and its cousin concept of punishment as irrational does not fix the problem of crime, but it helps us to begin to focus on things that might actually help heal and empower those that suffer from intense pained need.
The ideas brought up so far to cope with crime and prison over crowding have been more about morphing the direction of behaviors such as forms of retraining, or learning job skills. This can help, but it doesn’t go deep enough, and since most of us deal with some degree of pained need in our lives there is actually a struggle against seeing the problem and addressing it in meaningful ways.
Emotional intelligence education has been proposed and it is useful but only addresses our rational control of emotions, our ability to empathize with others, and our ability to see ourselves as others see us. This is a way to morph the underlying problem and it’s good, but still it leaves untouched the underlying problem of a pained need that has not been felt let alone resolved.
The challenge for societies, now forced to look more deeply within our social and psychological structures, usually because of dwindling resources, space and time, is the challenge to go where it feels like survival NOT to go, into the original helpless painful experiences that afflict everyone. No room then for creating scape goats out of people suffering more than us, or out of those unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or out of those who just happened to be in some group that society sees as likely criminals.
Those wanting to punish panic at the thought of having no place to put their anger and rage over past events when the very idea of punishing to fix problems is seen to be ineffective and too costly to society.
The cure is to feel the original pained need in its context of helplessness, this alone can educate us that the original need is now a loss and push individuals into grieving processes that can eventually free everyone from the force of those pained needs. This means not just those guilty of criminal acts, but those who have suffered from them as victims. This means a new identity for each that transcends being guilty or being a victim, a transcendence that I call love.
This was what I believe to be the intent of sayings attributed to Jesus in the Bible. These statements may not have been a conscious attempt to say what I am saying here, but they are interesting to note. The “Lion of Judah” was certainly not in love with punishing attitudes or the hypocrisy lying behind them. Abusers were once victims, and victims in many ways become abusers themselves whether this abuse is recognized as criminal or not. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those that have sinned against us.” is hardly a statement made by a modern conservative, and it is hardly indicative of a punishing attitude, the same attitude that is proving too costly and ineffective in solving our crime problems.
The problem of pushing people to feel what it was once survival NOT to feel is what needs to be addressed before we can make real progress. Fortunately forms of “comfort” stemming from rational, creative and empathetic approaches can slowly open up pained need from the least painful to the more painful. They must be applied in a limited time frame and together in order to get around the automatic defences against feeling panic and helplessness. Much research needs to be done into this proposed approach before it is as effective as it needs to be, but it is a beginning.
You have to feel the hurt that happened to you before you can know what you lost by it. You have to grieve the loss and let it go before you can forgive from your heart all involved, even yourself. You have to forgive before you can be free to change who you are for the better, and add a blessing to the world around you.
Brother David Mitchel Sotelo