A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Violence Is A Disease And U.S. Prisons Are Sick

"I will use the terms disease, illness, and pathology to refer to any force or process within an organism or species that tends to bring death or disability to the organism, or extinction to the species.  Violence in all the forms just mentioned is, by that definition, a manifestation, form, or symptom of pathology or illness, at least as much as cancer and heart disease are, for it is a force or process within members of the human species that tends to bring death, disability, and potentially even extinction (self-extinction) to them."

James Gilligan,  Preventing Violence (Prospects for Tomorrow)

Mr. Gilligan also writes:  "Punishment does not prevent violence, it causes it, in addition to being a form of it."  The standard logic is that if someone acts out violently, they should be punished and that this will somehow deter that person and others so inclined from acting out again.  Besides this the assumption is that the person who commits a violent crime is "bad" or worse "evil" and deserves abuse and violence for what he or she did.  It is an "eye for an eye" philosophy that goes back thousands of years.  So we have made abuse and violence a part of our "justice" system.  Except it isn't justice and it just does what all abuse situations do, forms a cycle that repeats and repeats ad nauseum and makes very difficult situations much, much worse.

Treating the violently ill with punishment instead of treatment is stupid.  It didn't work thousands of  years ago and it definitely doesn't work now.   Once again we have made our puritanical ideas the basis of unjust laws that punish the sick, set a lousy example for others to follow, keeps the recidivism rate high, keeps families broken up, brands former inmates for life and exacerbates the problem instead of solving it.  Even the United Nations rejects our methods of "justice" as Mr. Gilligan writes again, "the U.S. criminal justice system was condemned in May 2000 by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and has many times been found in violation of the U.N.'s Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners."

I've heard arguments against the "disease model" for addicts, but I remain firmly on the side of supporting it, not only for addiction, but for people who habitually respond to problems with all kinds of violence.  There is no place within communities where there aren't elements of these illnesses.  Our culture is full of these sicknesses within individuals.  Our jails and prisons are filled with sick people who are being treated as if they are bad people.  They are not.  And we, in communities all over the U.S., who supports this system by ignoring it and doing nothing about it, perpetuate it.  Generations of families are affected by people being incarcerated.  People all over this country.  The totally blameless children are thereby punished, too.  And how many of these families already had to live in poverty or with cross addictions, illness, violence and a lack of education?  And how many were homeless, mentally ill with psychosis, or war veterans?

All this actually goes beyond stupid into the realm of insanity and, for people who support our legal and prison system, who claim to be rational and intelligent, it is just plain irresponsibility.  The results have been in for so long and they are that violence in response to violence creates more violence.  The only alternative to the reward/punishment system is a compassionate system and it saddens me that so many Americans find that just too hard to swallow.  What they need to do is to substitute the word "sick" for the word "bad" or "evil" in order to find again their hearts.

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