B. Gordon Wheeler, C—27181
California Institution for Men
CIM—II A-Yard 1—BH-103—L
P.O. Box 368
Chino, CA 91708-0368
What is the crime problem as I, an incarcerated criminal, perceive it? What can be done to improve the safety of the average citizen's life? What is wrong with the present system?
What, in light of modern science, would be a more rational and efficient way of dealing with transgressing nonconformists?
MONUMENTS TO STUPIDITY by
B. Gordon Wheeler
Few words arrest the attention of you, the law—abiding citizen, more quickly than "crime," "violence," "revenge," and
"injustice." You abhor crime; you adore justice; you boast that you live by the rule of law. Violence and vengefulness you repudiate as unworthy of civilization, and you assume this sentiment to be unanimous among all human beings.
Yet crime continues to be a national disgrace and a worldwide problem. It is threatening, alarming, wasteful, expensive, abundant, and reportedly increasing! In fact, some of you claim it's increasing faster than the growth of population,
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/2 faster than the spread of #MeToo supporters.
Included among the crimes that make up the total are those which you commit, you law—abiding non-criminals. These are not in the tabulations. They are not listed in the statistics and are not described in crime studies. But your crimes help to make the recorded crimes possible, even necessary; and the saddest part is that you do not even know you are guilty.
Perhaps your worst crime is your ongoing ignorance about crimes; your easy satisfaction with shocking headlines and candid accounts of lurid cases; and your smug assumption that it is all a matter of us "bad guys" being apprehended and caged by your
"good guys." Pitifully, even the assassination of one of
America's most beloved presidents failed to change your thinking —-— or non—thinking —-— about crime. You still think of it as Lee Harvey Oswald's crime (with or without accomplice).
Respected and dignified authorities solemnly accumulate Volumes of evidence to prove that he and he alone did this foul deed.
Your part in it is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
By your part, I mean the encouragement you give to criminal acts and criminal careers, including Oswald's, your neglect of preventive steps such as had been recommended for Oswald long before he murdered President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and your quickly subsided hysterical reactions to sensational cases; the
Las Vegas massacre, Marjory Douglas Stoneman school shooting,
Pulse nightclub killings, and others. I also mean your love of
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/3 vindictive "justice," your generally smug detachment, and your prevailing apathy.
Shortly before President Kennedy's death, another young leader, who also had a young wife and children, was also shot from ambush by a man who also used a telescopic rifle. It was soon forgotten. How many of you today even remember the name
And how many of you remember the names of any of the
Columbine victims, or Sandy Hook victims, or Reno's IHOP victims, or Amish school children killings, or any of the thousands of other people in this country who have been murdered, maimed, kidnapped, raped, robbed, or beaten every hour since Kennedy's life was stolen from him? Who among you heeds the cries of alarm from behavioral scientists, public officials, governmental lawmakers, and even from U.S. Presidents? Commissions are appointed, books are written, research is funded... but your basic attitude remains unchanged.
What is wrong with this picture?
Why don't you care? And if you do care, some of you, why don't you care more intelligently and effectively?
My purpose in writing this, the first of ten essays, is to examine this strange paradox of social danger, social error, and social indifference. I do so from the standpoint of one who had dedicated his life to the breaking of the law... and who, as a consequence, has surrendered more than two-thirds of his life to
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/4 imprisonment in many of Californiais crossbar hotels.
Monuments to stupidity are the prisons that dot the American landscape—-— stupidity not so much of me and my incarcerated brethren as of you, the law-abiding citizen. What a mockery of behavioral science is your prison discipline, your amassing of social iniquity in prisons, the good and the bad together in one stupendous potpourri. How idiotic of you to think that you can prepare men and women for social life by reversing the ordinary process of socialization: silence for the only animal with speech; repressive regimentation of men and women who are in prison because they need to learn how to exercise their activities in constructive ways; outward conformity to rules which repress all efforts at constructive expression; work without the operation of economic motives; motivation by threat of punishment rather than hope of reward or development of productive activism; cringing rather than growth in adult responsibility; rewards secured by the betrayal of peers rather than the development of a higher loyalty.
Carpenters, engineers, scientists, health care experts, and other professionals revise "common sense" methods which were the best they could do--- until they learned better. The common sense way to travel, for instance, had been to walk or to ride an animal. Engineers discovered better ways by the use of uncommon sense. The common sense time to go to bed is when it gets dark; the uncommon sense of artificial illumination has changed all that. Crime problems have been dealt with for far too long with only the aid of common sense. Catch us and lock us up; if we hit you, hit us back. This is common sense—-- but_it does not work!
——- And The Blame Goes To... ——-
When there is a great cry for help arising from the crime lsituation (perhaps better called the "social safety problem"), you tend to think in terms of the basic postulates and procedures that have guided you in responding to previous cries for help.
But when you do, one great difficulty immediately arises:
You have no idea which culprit should be treated!
Upon whom or what should you focus your diagnostic lenses?
In theory it is public safety you want, and justice, whatever that is. In theory it is crime that you don't want but crime you have and injustice you have, and where shall you look for the remedy? Whom shall you blame for the injustice of practical justice? Who "lets" public safety deteriorate as civilization and scientific discovery increase?
All of you in approaching problems of daily living, problems in your families or in your occupations, try to find the most expedient, the most effective, and the most sensible thing to do about these problems. You sit and ponder them, you confer, and you consult. You put your heads together in little quarterback huddles —-— or big ones —-— several times a day. You try to decide what can be done and how best to do it. Families do it; engineers, doctors, military leaders, plumbers, businessmen and women, and salespersons do it. So do schoolteachers, bankers, merchants, railroad officials, and government officials.
Everybody does it. Everybody, that is, except your representatives in the juridical system.
In juridical circles one does not ask what will work or what will be useful or what will be the most economical or the most efficient. All "principles" but one are disregarded; one asks only "What is legal?" What will comply with the fantastic, distorted historic notion of abstract justice as expressed in precedent? How shocking this principle of changelessness must be to those who look constantly for improvements through change in a dynamic world!
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that it was so laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since."
How can I describe the reactions of behavioral scientists to the
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/7 principle that there must be no change in a procedure no matter how ineffective and obsolete it has become?
Behavior, both orderly and disorderly, can be and has been scientifically studied and appraised. The disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, ethnology, anthropology, and genetics can be and are constantly being applied to the behavior of human beings. Believe it or not, there truly is such a thing as behavioral science.
But if you scarcely believe this, the courts believe it not at all. Research studies in the field go on daily in thousands of places. Many facts and principles have been discovered; more are constantly being discovered. But the findings are of little interest to the legal establishment; no question of justice is involved.
-—- Justice -—-
I read that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was always outraged when a lawyer before the Supreme Court used the word
"justice." He believed it showed that the lawyer was shirking his job. The problem in every criminal case is what should be done in this situation. Contrary to popular belief; it does not advance a solution to use the word justice. It is a subjective emotional word. Every litigant thinks that justice demands a decision in his or her favor.
I want to demonstrate the paradox that much of the laborious effort made in the noble name of justice results in the exact
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/8 opposite. The concept of justice is so Vague, so distorted in its application, so hypocritical, and usually so irrelevant that it offers no help in the solution of the crime problem which it exists to combat but results in the exact opposite-—- injustice, injustice to everybody. Socrates defined justice as the awarding to each that which is due him (or her). But Plato perceived the sophistry of this and admitted that justice basically means
' a clear note that has been power, "the interest of the stronger,‘ repeated by Machiavelli, Kalsem, Marx, on down to Justice Holmes.
Contrast the two ways in which the word is commonly used.
On the one hand, we want to obtain justice for the unfairly treated (how people of color are treated by cops, for instance); we render justice to an oppressed people; we deal justly with our neighbor. We think of justice in terms of fair dealing and the rescue of the exploited, and we associate it with freedom and social progress and democracy.
On the other hand, however, when justice is "meted out," justice is "served," justice is "satisfied" or "paid," it is something terrible which somebody "sees to it" that somebody else gets; not something good, helpful, or valuable-—- but something that hurts. It is the whiplash of retribution about to descend upon the naked backs of we transgressors. The end of justice is thus to give revenge to some, pain to others.
What is it that defeats and twists the idea of justice in its legal applications? Is it the trial court system? Are we,
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/9 all of us, to think of our courts as reflections of our civilization, bulwarks of public safety, tribunals for the insurance of fair and objective judgment? Should we revert to some earlier process of investigation of the alleged offender?
Or is it that people confuse justice with the elimination of dangerousness from human behavior? Is protection from crime something obtained with the aid of justice or in spite of it?
The paradox is that we all extol justice as a principle when it is working against someone we do not like. Contrary to the superfluous diatribes of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi,
Jeff Sessions, and others, justice was not invented to protect the weak but to protect the King's peace; it was belatedly applied ——— in some measure ——— to the protection of (some of) the King's subjects.
Simply stated, justice is not a collection of principles or criteria... Justice is the active process of the preventing or repairing of injustice.
Why is it that able minds of some two hundred and fifty years have turned against the concept of justice and denigrated it? How account for the wide gap between justice according to the philosophers (a superfluous if not entirely irrelevant term) and justice according to the people (a vital necessity of their lives)?
Unhappily, all of us, caged and uncaged alike, must admit that, in practice, justice does not mean fairness to all parties.
To some people --— cops, judges, prosecutors, prison guards, and others --— the law is an inexorable, inscrutable Sinai——- the highest virtue is to submit unquestioningly. But to others, my self included, law and the principle of justice should embody the plasticity and reasonableness of eguity which, in essense, bids bs bs merciful bb bbs weakness bf human nature; bb think less about the laws than about the men who framed them, and less about what they said than about what they meant; not bb consider the actions of the accused so much as his or her intentions, nor this bs that detail ss much ss the whole story; bs ask not what s man gs woman is now but what bs bb she has always bs usually been. is bids bs remember benefits rather than injuries; bb bs patient when ws are wronged; bb settle_s dispute by negotiation and not by force.
Justice? The very word should irritate the thinking public.
No surgeon expects to be asked if an operation to remove a cancerous tumor is just or not. No doctor will be reproached on the grounds that the dose of penicillan she has precribed is less or more than justice would stipulate. It is equally absurd to invoke the question of justice in deciding what to do with a woman who cannot resist her propensity to shoplift or with a man who cannot repress an impulse to assault somebody. Granted, this sort of behavior has to be controlled; it has to be discouraged; it has to be stopped. But this, to the thinking person, is a matter of public safety and amicable coexistence, not of justice.
Granted, doctors do not like to be assaulted or robbed or defrauded any more than district attorneys do. But the question doctors might ask is not what would be just to do to this dangerous individual, this dishonest woman, but, as in the case of a patient with compulsions, what would be effective in deterring them! That he or she has broken the law gives lawyers, prosecutors and judges a technical reason for acting on behalf of society to try to do something that will lead them to react more acceptably, and which will protect the environment in the mean time. And this is exactly what your present system based on the concepts of justice and precedent fails to do.
What is your system of justice that does its job so poorly after hundreds of years of trial and error? (No pun intended.)
Who is responsible for the continuation of an ineffective, expensive, "unjust," and barbarous method of dealing with criminals that produces only more crime?
You should not jump to the assumption that criminals are the obvious subjects upon whom your attention should be focused.
For who are we? Do you mean, really, the convicted criminal?
Knowing that most of us are never convicted, do you perhaps mean to say the accused offender? But do you want to exclude the potential offender, whose crime might be or may have been prevented. And if you're seeking all the potential offenders, you surely must include yourselves.
Crime is everybody's temptation. "The moral man,’
Freud, "is not he who is never tempted, but he who can resist his temptation." It is easy to look with proud disdain upon we who get caught-—- we stupid ones, we unlucky ones, we blatant ones.
But who among you does not get nervous when a cop car follows closely? Who among you does not make some "adjustments" to income tax statements? Some of you law-abiding non—criminals pilfered over two billion dollars’ worth of merchandise in 2016 from the stores you patronize. Over a billion dollars was embezzled by employees last year (2017). One hotel in New York lost over 75,000 finger bowls, towels, and other items in its first 10 months of operation. The Claims Bureau of the American
Insurance Association estimates that 75 percent of all claims are dishonest in some respect and the amount of overpayment more than
$3.5 million a year.
But, you point out, even if it's true that many of you are guilty of committing these petty crimes, they are at least
"semi-respectable crimes” ... and everybody does it! The real
,problem, you say, is the genuine evildoer: kidnappers, drug pushers, burglars, rapists, gang—bangers, and killers. You claim you do not do the terrible things we do. It is me and my criminal brethren that cops, prosecutors and judges should crucify. You claim that with liberals who give no thought to the plight of victims, and psychiatrists who get us "off" by calling us "insane,' and Supreme Court rulings that protect our ll
"so-called rights, it is no wonder crime is increasing in the
I am not endeavoring to make the reader feel uneasy or vaguely guilty about his or her past derelictions. All of you do the best you can and, if you have made mistakes you deplore, you repent. You make such restitution or propitiation as you can.
You will try to do better; you must go on. But you should not displace your guilt feelings to official scapegoats (me and my incarcerated brethren) in blind vindictiveness.
And there is one crime all of you keep committing, over and over and over again. You commit the crime of damning some of your fellow citizens with the label "criminal." And having done this, you force us through an experience that is soul—searing and dehumanizing. In this way you exculpate yourselves from the guilt you feel and tell yourselves that you do it to "correct" the "criminal" and make all of you safer from crime. You commit this crime every day that you retain your present stupid, futile, and abominable practices against detected offenders.
But, but... "Doesnit anybody care about the victims?" cry some demagogues, with melodramatic flourishes. "Why should all the attention be given to the criminal and none to those who have been raped, beaten, robbed, maimed, kidnapped or killed?"
This childish outcry has an appeal for the unthinking. Of course no victim should be neglected. But the individual victim has no more right to be protected that those of you who may become victims. Every member of society wants to be better
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/14 protected. And you are not being protected by a system that attacks "criminals" as if we were the embodiment of all evil.
Many of you believe that the law is so occupied trying to do something fierce but legal to us that it neglects the persons we offended. In this, I believe you are right. The law neglects all of us——— and the more fiercely, the more ruthlessly, the more inhumanely my criminal brethren and I are treated, however legally, the more certain you are to have more victims.
Of course victims should not be forgotten in the quest to capture and deal with their victimizers, but neither should the next victim be forgotten—-- the one who is going to be raped, maimed, beaten, robbed, kidnapped or killed so long as the vicious cycle of evil for evil and Vengeance for Vengeance perpetuates the revolving—door principle of penal justice.
—-- Penology's Unrepentent Revolving Wheel —--
ARRIVAL ... we're dumped at the reception center, stripped, showered, deloused, dehumanized, fingerprinted, and photographed with a large black and white identification number placarded across our necks. The process is reminiscent of calf branding; when the hot iron is withdrawn, the calf struggles to his feet and staggers off in the direction indicated by his stony-faced handlers. Strangeness envelops us——— and then comes the inevitable reaction: a dreadful place, a dark and comfortless abode of guilt and wretchedness, with its towering walls, steel bars, sadistic watchful guards, and most of all... LONELINESS!
ROUTINE ... but life goes on --- even in penitentiaries --- and we become accustomed to clanging bells, shrieking sirens, regimentation, lack of privacy, loss of initiative, deprivation of individuality, menial work-—— but, soon, there comes the sign of ADJUSTMENT.
PROGRAM PARTICIPATION ... despite our relatively high age,
40 percent of us become active in some phase of the Recreation
Program; 23 percent of us become involved in some phase of the
Education Program; 20 percent of us become aware of the Religious
Program; and, 12 percent of us take advantage of the Vocational
Training Program ... we seek something to keep us occupied--— and some of us even admit to ourselves we would like to better ourselves as we realize that everywhere, every minute --- like the air we breathe --- there is the threat of violence lurking beneath the surface. Unlike the air, it is heavy, massive, as oppressive as a black man's life in 1940's Montgomery, Alabama.
It permeates every second of everyone's existence... the threat of sudden, ferocious annihilation. It is as grey and swift and unpredictable as a Great White and just as unvocal. There is no letup from it--- ever! Then, in time, we all become aware that we have now completed enough of our sentence to be eligible for parole. Parole! At night, alone with our thoughts in the darkened cell, some of us vow that if we are granted parole, we will make good!
PAROLE DENIAL ... Eighty-five percent of us are turned down
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/16 by the Board of Paroles, a panel of "law—abiding" citizens appointed as payback for political favor by the governor——- and no one seems surprised by their decision ... our prison record has been good, our program participation has been excellent and sincere—-- and the numbing feeling, after denial, soon dims and is succeeded by action ... we decide there is another way to serve this sentence. We decide to request assignment to Prison
Industries—-— where we will be paid 30 to 90 cents per hour. We reason that we will, at least, have a bit of money to make the rest of our sentence more tolerable ... but being assigned to
Prison Industries has its disadvantages, too; and, soon, there comes a noticeable--—
DECLINE IN ACTIVITY ... working in Prison Industries prevents us from participating in recreational activities, church functions, even browsing in the make—shift library ... the rigid prison schedule is further upset by the even more rigid Prison
Industries’ schedule. It erodes our desire to participate. We simply work, eat and sleep ... and occasionally riot just to reinforce our very existence. BUT—--
TIME PASSES ... and then -—- suddenly! -—- we realize that the day of our release is approaching, so we begin our--—
RELEASE PLANNING ... writing letters to friends and family members outside, seeking help ... receiving replies that are often vague and not too encouraging, so we seek help elsewhere and, of course, in the quiet of the night, on our bunks, we get
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/17 grandiose ideas of what we can do with the two hundred dollars the state will give us upon release ... and, finally, we decide to take advantage of---
ADMINISTRATIVE HELP ... we learn that we must return to our last officially listed place of residence--- even though we protest that we've not lived there in years! Still, it is the policy ... and we complete an employment form for a possible job secured by someone who insists that the prospective employer will have to know about our criminal past ... and we are fitted with clothes and a bus ticket (the cost of which is deducted from the two hundred dollars) to the place we often donlt want to ever see again ... and the day comes for--—
RELEASE ... we have served our time--- but now, we are told that we must abide by the same rules outside as those we had followed inside ... but we are eager to leave the violent prison environment, so we sign the release agreement, and go out into the free world to encounter---
PUBLIC REACTION .. apathy and prejudice, indifference and ostracism, and futile sympathy: "I'd like to help you, but..." and we react ... first there is discouragement ... then resentment and, sometimes, anger--- and then, occasionally, despair ... and even panic ... and, finally, desperation. And it begins---
DETERIORATION AND RECIDIVISM ... our resistance is lowered by discouragement-—- and there is an eroding of our resistance to
STUPIDITY/Wheeler/18 temptation--- "To hell with Freudl") ... but we still hang on while we watch how "normal people” are permitted to live ... a good job, and friends, and family—-- and simple luxuries like decent clothes and transportation ... and, inevitably, because we are human, envy arrives to haunt us ... and, meanwhile, even those of us with families become aware of the burden we have become to them: hiding our past, explaining our presence after such a long absence--- and we finally decide we're going to get some money for independence ... and we commit another crime and, of course, we get cracked!
And back to the penitentiary we go ... and it begins once again ... and-—-
PENOLOGY'S UNREPENTENT REVOLVING WHEEL spins round and round ... and those about to be released keep hoping that they will somehow be able to escape the judicial systemls £i§ed
What, then, really is the crime problem? Each one of us wants the highest possible degree of physical safety. We all want freedom of action, but since some of us abuse this privilege and impair the freedom of others, officials have had to set up some rules to "keep the King's peace." Long ago this was done: the King set them up, and you have accepted them and restated them in your terms. In substance it was agreed that you shall each have your freedom under God and the King and the law; BUT
Certain people, ideas, beliefs, conceptions, and social customs must not be treated with disrespect. (Others may be.)
Certain persons must not be killed or injured. (Others may be.)
Certain persons must not be taken as sexual partners, and certain methods of sexual gratification must not be indulged in.
(Again, there are exceptions.)
Certain objects must not be used or removed by others than the owners because they are someone else's property. (But one may borrow, and if one is powerful enough, one may take.)
Certain services must not be demanded from servants, employees, or subordinates.
These ambiguous stipulations and prohibitions were all tied up with penalties and sanctions for violation with intent (mens reg.) A minor transgression is usually considered to be a private affair between the offender and the offended and is regulated mainly by civil law. But a major crime injures not only the offended individual but the whole community; the social order itself is affected. The offender's management therefore becomes a public ritual of theatrical character. In a kind of morality play, a villain is suspected, captured, exhibited, subjected to trial by ordeal, and duly executed or sent to the dungeons. This is to show the truth of the scripture that the wages of sin are death, and for centuries, this was the wage commonly paid.
It is a well-known fact that relatively few offenders are caught, and most of us arrested are released. But you make a
' as it is called, on the few of fetish of wreaking "punishment,' us who happen to be caught and convicted. You believe this
"controls crime" by deterrence. The more valid and obvious conclusion, however —-- that getting caught is thus made the unthinkable thing —-- is overlooked by all but we who are caged.
You shut your eyes likewise to the fact that the control performance is frightfully expensive and insufficient. Enough scapegoats must go through the revolving door to keep the legend of punitive "justice" alive and to keep your prisons and jails, however futile and expensive, crowded and wretched.
Then, when some whisper reaches you that prisons and jails are horribly cruel and destructive places, and that no creature fit to live should be sent to them, you only remark calmly that prisons and jails are not meant to be comfortable, which is no doubt the consideration that reconciled Pontius Pilate to the prfactice of crucification.
—-- End of Essay #1
Can it be that society secretly wants crime, needs crime, and gains definite satisfactions from the present mishandling f it?
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