When I was a youngster we would sometimes happen upon a slug, a counterfeit coin. Most that I remember were the same size as a quarter but they had no markings; they were faceless. According to “rural myth” they had the ability to procure a cola. We would optimistically place them in coke machines only to have them trickle down into the coin return.

Can we draw parallels to incarceration? We all have opinions about criminals but for most they are faceless. At times they are simply a problematic statistic. They are seldom associated with families, friends or any sign of worth. Like a coin or even a slug they have another side to their nature. (Excluding sociopaths) As a society we deposit them into the penal machine and expect them to turn into something else. The system is filled with individuals with mental illness, addiction and brokenness. Without treatment they land back on the pavement only to be picked up by someone else once again. Many simply trickle through the system and are even deposited again and again with the same expectation. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

When I was in jail a fellow inmate was released one morning. Within five hours he was back on the range. He was a “speed” addict. He was not addicted to the speed with which he was apprehended but he might as well have been as that was more dependable.

Put the face of a neighbour or fellow citizen on the criminal. Etch on their surface the face of addiction or mental illness and they may catch on a gear within the system and return as something else.

Obviously not all crime is related to illness or addiction but incarceration does little to reduce crime, mental illness or addiction. If we spent the same quarters on treatment that are spent on incarceration for these individuals maybe we could turn the slug into something of value. Just for the sake of argument put aside your belief in retribution.

“Building more jails to fight crime is like building more cemeteries to fight cancer.” Author unknown

17 thoughts on “Slug

  1. What an incredible metaphor. I wonder will we ever find an answer to this problem-the need to keep society safe, the need to have consequences balanced against the absolute need for healing….as behind most crime I believe there is a story- usually it’s mental illness. We need to consider every person in the system as an individual with a story and begin there because turning criminals into hardened criminals rather than reformed human beings is not the way to go. If someone has suffered massive abuse as a child and so projects this learned violence onto his/her world, then this requires long term counselling, or some rehabilitative approach….but if we get stuck on the punishment cycle, this isn’t going to occur. Sure they may have to be in a lock-up situation until changes are detected….but not an ugly prison where they face more violence. It’s just my opinion for what it’s worth. Thankyou again for your wonderful honesty and sharing.

    • Thank you for your thought provoking response. You bring up some great points. We need to separate the crime from the criminal. With an illness we look beyond the vomit and correct the gall bladder. If we don’t treat the underlying condition we are left with misery and a mess. Like you mention some individuals are only hardened by incarceration. I would add that some suffer further abuse and being mentally ill can magnify an already terrible experience. Incarcerating certain people with mental illness can be torture. Corrections Canada’s response to mental illness is often isolation, the hole. For me the hole was in no way therapeutic!
      We do seem to be stuck on the punishment cycle which seldom involves healing for the victim or perpetrator. We do need to keep our streets safe but incapacitation does not have to exclude rehabilitation.

      • Thankyou Brett for your personal insights. I can’t imagine what you have gone through but it seems to have made someone very special out of you, it is every line you write.

      • Thanks again for the compliments. I think I will give up coffee and sugar and read your replies instead, they are just as stimulating. I do believe much of what I have gone through has shaped me. It is hard to be bitter at something that makes you better.

  2. You raise some very good points – I especially liked your quote at the end of the article, I never thought of the problem that way before. We have so much more to learn and to change.

    • Thanks for reading my post and taking the time to comment. The quote came from an inmate publication I read while in jail. I wish I remember the mans name as he deserves credit for the insight. There is much to learn and hopefully change. I don’t have much hope as in our country our response to crime is to put people away for longer. The individuals who could change with some help often are not deterred by tougher sentences as their involvement is intertwined with their problems. People stop and think when faced with losing their hand for stealing bread but when you’re hungry it is not foremost in your mind. I’m not sure why we fail to see hunger as the problem.

      • Sadly it is easier to put someone away and then never think of the problem again…that is so wrong. I try and live by the rule “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” Wouldn’t the same be applied here? Find the cause of the crime and you save a life…will we ever learn? I hope to learn and grow through your articles, change has to start somewhere and it looks like you may be the voice of change!

  3. I like that quote. And I’m thinking why aren’t we the one’s running our countries? Or how do we make those running our countries get this? Big question.

    • Incarceration is an industry, less so in Canada but certainly in the States. In Canada someone is profiting from toothpaste and toilet paper. If we can make money and believe we are reducing crime without the social investment why change.
      In the States illegal immigrants are the new cash cow for the incarceration industry and these corporations are actually lobbying the government on social policy…scary.

      • That’s really scary… and so wrong. I guess rehabilitation (let alone treatment) doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

  4. Great post! I also loved the quote at the end. It’s so true…we need to attack the root of the problem, not the results of the problem.

    • Thanks George. It’s sadly fascinating that so many people can’t see the simple logic in the quote. When we apply our remedy to crime to anything else it appears ludicrous. It is easier to hate the criminal than to separate that individual from the act and as you say attack the root of the problem. Unfortunately our response to crime seems to be deepening on the side of retribution as opposed to restoration.

  5. I find I don’t know where to start, or what to say Brett. I’ve read your words and checked to follow your posts, but I don’t know how to well describe my feelings. I had a close friend, a lover, years back whom was incarcerated for 6 years, doesn’t matter why, he was found guilty and did the time. I’d visit him frequently, it was difficult to watch him, this gentle loving man change, finally he said I don’t want you to visit me anymore. I asked why, he said that in order to become part of his current reality he had to let go of anything that didn’t fit in. He said he didn’t think he would survive if he didn’t do that. I didn’t want to stop seeing him, I didn’t understand, he tried to explain but I never understood. Reading some of what your describing here presents me with a different view. He came out a different human being but he didn’t make it, not really. Your words are well crafted and meaningful. Thank you for that.

    • Thank you for the compliment and your honesty. As you may not fully understand what it is like to be incarcerated I cannot understand what you have dealt with.
      In my letters home I often would mention how it would be easier to put the rest of the world out of my mind. Some men would not go for yard because it only reminded them of what they could not have. My family were a support but also pulled me in directions I was forbidden from going. I would look forward to visits but when you’re left behind afterwards it stings. I think that because I struggled with but maintained relationships I was able to get out with that small part of me that they couldn’t take away. To hold onto your heart in jail is painful but to surrender it to the system is worse.

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