One of the voices in the blawgosphere that frequently comes in useful as a test of sanity is Georgetown Law School adjunct prawf Bill Otis, formerly Chief of the Appellate Division, US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and a host of other cool government posts. Whenever one’s views align with Bill’s, it’s a clear sign that you need to stop binge drinking.
Going to Prison Will Ruin Your Life
…or so say those who urge less prison and more resort to “community based programs” a phrase that means, roughly translated, “Let them run wild while we pretend to monitor them and then profess shock at their next murder.”
Still, trying to take this seriously, is it the case that going to prison will ruin your life? Well, it’s going to create complications, you bet. If you’re honest, you’ll have to tell prospective employers about it. The time you spend there will be time subtracted from your career. Your treatment, everything from diet to clothing to medical care, is not going to be optimal (unless you demand a sex change, in which case you get transferred to the Ritz). Sometimes the treatment can be worse than substandard; it can be abusive.
So does going to prison ruin your life?
Now it’s unclear who Bill refers to when he writes “those who urge less prison and more resort to ‘community based programs,'” since he offers neither name nor link, but he certainly must have someone in mind or else he’s manufactured a strawman, and that would be dishonest. Bill would never be dishonest, but then, he’s failed to provide attribution, and lawprofs would never neglect attribution. It must be an oversight.
Bill then “interprets” his unattributed assertion so nobody misses its true meaning:
“Let them run wild while we pretend to monitor them and then profess shock at their next murder.”
So whoever is arguing for community based programs must be doing so for murderers, since he refers to the next murder, which of course means it comes on the heels of their prior one. I, for one, would be curious to know who is arguing that murderers should be sentenced to community based alternatives, as I’m unaware of anyone who takes this position. Oh, if only Bill hadn’t forgotten to include the link for attribution.
But Bill, always a fair-minded fellow, concedes that prison isn’t a pleasant place. He even concedes that there are some trivial post-release consequences of prison, like having to tell prospective employers about it, but only if you’re honest. And, of course, we all know that criminals aren’t necessarily inclined to be honest, so that’s really a red herring at best.
On the other hand, Bill doesn’t really mention that the former prisoner won’t get that job from the prospective employer, because people are kinda weird about hiring former murderers. And then there’s the inability to find housing for the same reason, or get student loans for an education, or deportation despite their having lived in the United States since they were two months old, and having a spouse and children who are American citizens.
On the bright side, since Bill is talking about murderers, there is no need to worry about the sex offender registry, unless there was a sexual component related to the case as well, like peeing against a wall in public after the murder.
But in fairness, Bill doesn’t argue, as some might suspect he would, that prison is the Ritz (except for Bradley/Chelsea Manning, who didn’t commit murder, but let’s not get technical on Bill), when he finally answers the pressing question:
So does going to prison ruin your life? Ask Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer. And remember her story the next time a defendant or defense lawyer tells you that incarceration is the death knell of a productive future.
Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer? Did she go to prison? Did she commit murder? Well, not exactly. At 110, she is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor, and still plays Bach and Schubert on the piano. How wonderful, but what does surviving the Holocaust have to do with having a productive future after prison?
Putting aside the implications of Godwin’s Law, there seems to be a troubling disconnect between Bill’s grasp of the implications of being a Holocaust survivor and a prison sentence. Perhaps he’s unaware that people who go to prison are the targets of societal disdain and hatred, while survivors of the Holocaust aren’t considered blameworthy for having been victims of the Nazis.
Did Bill miss the day in grade school where World War II was discussed? Is he laboring under the misconception that concentration camps were just prisons the Germans set up to house their many criminals? Is he accusing Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer of being a murderer who, but for her time in prison, would have gone out and committed her next murder?
Every once in a while, the forces of darkness, of harshness, who believe that all defendants are evil and deserving as severe a punishment as society can mete out, comes up with something as shockingly false and idiotic as this, comparing the sentence of an American prisoner to the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. It’s worth noting, as Bill Otis reflects the more forceful voices out there, deemed legitimate voices by some, calling to perpetuate the harshness of our system. Because if concentration camp survivors can go on to lead productive lives, it clearly show that prisoners can do the same.
Remember this the next time a defendant or defense lawyer tells you that incarceration is the death knell of a productive future. And remember that Bill Otis said so.