Denial Is a River in Gotham City, Maine

Posted on March 22, 2011


Author: Stan Moody

Syndicated Columnist, Leonard Pitts, recently published a piece, “Telling the truth that no one wants to believe.” It strikes at the heart of what ails America as we lurch from one political extreme to another.

Government’s role no longer is the protection of and promotion of the general welfare of its citizens but the defense of our pathologies – rebuilding Gotham City in our own images. In a word, government is intent on redefining reality for an angry and dissatisfied citizenry.

Pitts begins by referring to his essay in this way: “This will be a futile column…It will be a useless essay, written for one reason only; to protect the writer’s mental health. If the writer did not write it, you see, there is a great danger that his head would explode.”

His reference point was the recent measure in Florida that would make it more difficult for non-violent felons who have served their time to regain their right to vote. Inasmuch as African-Americans and Hispanics comprise a disproportionate share of the incarcerated (70%), you might call this bill the Republican Majority Assurance Act.

An otherwise innocuous bill becomes a gateway measure to codify beliefs such as that expressed by one blogger, “Did it ever occur to you that black men often choose the criminal path as their vocation because they see it as a get-rich-scheme that requires less work ethic…?” Back in the eighth grade, that probably occurred to many at a time when our most challenging obstacle was that of raging hormones.

Another blogger wrote, “Don’t become a felon, and you need not worry.” Wow! That’s a home run for the moral majority getting the world ready for the Rapture!

As a writer of newspaper columns, I got to thinking about the denial that flows through the criminal justice system in our nation.

The greater good of incarcerating the mentally-ill and homeless for cluttering and dirtying the sidewalks is to provide them a place to live after defending themselves without friends, family or defenders. It is a form of urban renewal, rendering our streets safe for shoppers.

The greater good of locking up druggies, sex offenders, drunk drivers, blacks and Hispanics, abusive husbands and “rag heads” is to protect the children of Gotham City, whose career-preoccupied parents must depend on others to keep their kids safe. The visual reminder of our failures is tucked away in the open sewers of overcrowded jails and prisons in numbers unmatched by any other nation on earth.

Our departments of corrections have justified themselves on the grounds that theirs is a dangerous job altruistically motivated by keeping both prisoners and the public safe. In fact, high recidivism rates have taught the public that it has more to fear from released prisoners than it does from potential first-time offenders.

At Maine State Prison, there was recently dedicated a memorial to fallen heroes of corrections in honor of Warden Richard Tinker, the only staff member to have died in the line of duty. He died on May 14, 1863, from a stab wound to the neck. Otherwise, only 12 others have died while employed by the prison in its 127 year history – none in the line of duty; all by natural causes, suicide and accident.

The memorial is a reminder that prison employment is not only a noble profession; it is allegedly a dangerous one.

In due respect to descendents of the good Warden Tinker, keeping the Maine public safe would be the most boring job in America but for the excitement of the half-dozen or so prisoners who have met with suspicious deaths in the Maine prison system over the past 5 years! They died of a thousand abusive nicks.

Yet, the River Denial flows on.

The War on Drugs has less to do with drugs and more to do with competition among law enforcement agencies for the cash flow from confiscated property.

The Sex Offender Registry has less to do with the fear of creeps lurking around schools and more to do with masking the reality that the worst sex offenders are close friends and family members.

Rape shield laws have less to do with protecting the privacy of rape victims than they do with prolonging the myth that all who allege rape are equal.

Yes, Mr. Pitts, we hear you. Count mine among America’s most useless essays.