Ironic or Hypocritical?

by Mike Powers

I sincerely hope that you never have to take a Sex Offender Rehabilitation Program, because, well...for all of the obvious reasons, not the least of which being I don’t want to see any more innocent victims of a terrible crime. In the event that you DO, however, you will discover that a key component of the program is the exploration of empathy as a primary tool in the fight against future criminal activity. If I, as a sex offender, can successfully embrace the compassion and understanding I must have to put myself in the place of a potential victim of my crime and feel the shame, anger, and pain they face in dealing with the aftermath, then I will be so much closer to making the right moral decision up front, and there will be no crime.

I would like to state that I unequivocally support this theory of treatment, and while we aren’t to discuss our faith as part of our treatment, there is no doubt that this philosophy is much akin to the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would want them to treat you.” However, it sure would be nice if they could intergrade the different components of the criminal justice system on this unit so that they would all be in one accord on this whole compassion/empathy vibe they are trying to teach us in the program.

The reason I bring this up, beyond the terrible treatment of prisoners on this unit that I’ve extensively documented in these pages, is an incident that occurred while I was walking to breakfast chow this morning at 4:45AM. We were walking down the sidewalk, trying to avoid the puddles left over from last night’s rain, and Lt. Lewis, whom you have recently been introduced to in my stories, was screaming at the top of her lungs for the men to stop walking outside the yellow line. Loosely translated, this would read, “Don’t exercise your God-given common sense that as provided to even the lowest animal forms to walk AROUND bodies of water instead of going on with wet clothes and shoes.” And in the midst of this harangue, one unfortunate soul a few people ahead of me in line had the temerity and brazen audacity to reach across the span of the sidewalk and shake his friend’s hand in greeting. Lewis threw an apoplectic fit. “Yawls wanna’ go ‘round holdin’ each other’s hands and get marred like a couple newlyweds in heat or sumnin’, yawls need to find sum udda sidewalk to do it on, ‘cause this heyah’s MY sidewalk, and I will NOT be havin’ yawls playin’ patty-cakes on MY sidewalk! You understand me?” On and on she went as we tried to make the final turn and get into the relative safety of the chow hall where stone-cold pancakes and watered-down syrup awaited us. (As an aside, there’s just no experience like trying to spread nearly-frozen butter on a cold pancake at five in the morning on a rainy morning. I can hear some butt-head out there saying, “Next time, don’t commit a crime.”) I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, because I thought, “If only our therapist was here this morning to hear this fine example the TDCJ has rendered in the lessons of compassion and empathy!” How would she react? Would it even strike her as ironic? As inconsistent? As inhumane? Or has the incessant drone of uncivil discourse on the state prison unit become so commonplace that it isn’t even noticed anymore? Has it blended in with the landscape of razor-wire fences and treeless fields?

When I was growing up, one of my favorite movies was “Escape from Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood. Later, along came “Shawshank Redemption”. These movies found a place in the canon of the heart because they featured convicts with compassion lived out in a brutal environment governed by cruel men. But the fiction has become fact. In a system eerily reminiscent of the World War II concentration camps run by the Nazis, otherwise humane and responsible citizens have been programmed to dehumanize and degrade their fellow human beings just because they’ve been convicted of a crime. How this might affect the psyche of prisoners is unfathomable. Why spend almost $100,000 per prisoner for all this therapy only to have it wrecked every time they leave the session by heartless, uncaring prison guards? What’s the point of employing all these social workers and therapists if all their worthwhile efforts are undone in a matter of moments upon returning to their cell blocks? It’s wasted money, it’s wasted effort.

Have you ever encountered a mean dog? There are people who rehabilitate these poor animals. They spend hours upon hours showing these creatures love and kindness so that they might see there are people who won’t kick them or starve them. But imagine that if, after hours of this kind treatment, the dog was walked back to its kennel by someone who was yanking its tail and pulling its ears. All of the love therapy would be out the window. The dog even has sense enough to see through the charade. At best, the beast might learn that it can only hope for kindness, but it better expects the worst from every human it encounters. Otherwise, it will be in danger. It’s very hard not to take away the same message from TDCJ therapy programs. Yes, there might be a rare and precious soul out there that tries to exercise some understanding of the hell most offenders have gone through before turning to crimes, but it’s best to expect that other people in this life are cruel and careless. And if by some accidental chance, you find out otherwise, well, so much the better.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be the message sent or received. I’ve been so blessed in this life to know that there are families, friends, communities out there that are full of love, concern, compassion. I can remember, when the ill-treatment comes my way, all the wonderful people I’ve known in my life. And until Texas decides they need to put some of those people to work in its prison system, I’m afraid a lack of empathy and compassion will be the fruit reaped from the seed that is sown.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez