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LETTER: So-called prisoner 'benefits' bleaker than they appear

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | 7:31 p.m. CDT; updated 4:16 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joseph Sparks' commentary, "Everyone should enjoy prisoners' benefits," used colorful examples with an easy enthusiasm to illustrate his argument, but his concepts don't pan out in real life.

I have an example, too. A young mother I spoke with in jail one Christmas Eve told me her child was with her sister, and she – for some reason – had been unable to be with them.

She was alone in town and homeless. It was very cold outside. So, she deliberately stole some items from a convenience store to have a safe, warm place to stay with meals.

Within two days, she was weeping for the loss of her child and her freedom, horrified by the ramifications of her decision. It would take months to run her through a legal system that would stigmatize her for life and burden her with a monetary debt.

But not to worry, right? Prisoners live the high life! Many, many jails and prisons have no access to the outdoors, and often the sun cannot shine into the windows because of the high surrounding fences.

Perhaps they will be stacked three high in a gymnasium with no privacy and with extremely bright lights shining 24 hours a day. Many are forced, with no recourse, into association with others who want to smoke, do illegal drugs and be involved in gang activity and sexual acts.

Since physical safety is a constant concern, who, then, has the time or energy to nourish a healthy emotional and mental life? Often, with so many inmates to be monitored, access to libraries, books or classes is difficult to organize or cancel. So many lie on their cots all day and all night with nothing to do and nothing but their own thoughts and screaming environment with which to "improve" themselves.

Mr. Sparks, please: Do you really think a homeless person or a high school student would choose such an environment, even with the security of three hot meals, a bed and medical care? Do you?

The United States is probably the most generous country in the world when emergencies arise and when people are in need. Perhaps your sentiments would be better placed had you called upon our communal conscience to participate even more within our own families, neighborhoods, churches, jails and halfway houses.

When is a gift not a gift? When we are regulated as to what, when and how much. Personally, I give by choice, as a free individual, according to how I perceive the circumstances and whether they seem appropriate to what I understand is true and good in life.

All of this requires thought, consideration, perceptive abilities and personal love for others. If I'm forced to give my money, I lose all of that, and the recipient loses all of that and more.

In the end, to provide for all in the manner you described would require not just the schools, but also our country, to be under a prison system. Then, I suspect, even you might be weeping for release after two days.

Julia Williams is a small business owner in Columbia. 


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Comments

marvin saunders July 7, 2011 | 4:15 a.m.

Julia you are speaking of county jail.Prisons is what Mr.Sparks is talking about & what he said was true.Sure there is a danger but if you know what to do no danger will come to you i know this for a fact.Why didn't the girl go to a church,shelter,etc etc.She made a bad choice.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Stephens July 7, 2011 | 9:35 a.m.

Marvin Saunders, you are sadly mistaken if you believe that "if you know what to do no danger will come to you." Trouble has a way of finding even the most cautious person. Sometimes it is through prior actions or even affiliations. The young lady may have attempted to go to the places you listed but you fail to recognize that these places have a limit on the number of people that they will accept for the evening. Additionally, some of the social service agencies that provide relief often run out of funds. What's worse is that the entities such as the City of Columbia's social services office is threatened with cuts despite the demonstrated fact that the needs of those in our community has increased due in part to the economy.

(Report Comment)

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