Monday, October 8, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 33


Nonviolent offenders pay prisons

Richard Whitrock

There are times when I have to ask myself just what it is that's wrong with humanity. Today is one of those days.

While I am writing this column, I am preparing to take a trip to visit my uncle. I will be driving North for four hours along I-45 to a little town called Teague,
where I will have just two hours to spend with him before having to drive back. Then it will be a month before I can see him again.

My uncle is in prison. Not because of any violent crime, not because he poses a continuous threat to society and not even because he has bad luck. He is
there because the prison system in America is atrocious enough to exist solely on the basis of profitability.

Several years ago, I believe it was 1995, my uncle made a mistake. Drugs and greed worked their particular kind of horrible magic on his life in a way he
spent many years correcting. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. In the year 2000, my family life was ripped apart because he was sent away for seven

He had been off drugs for more than three years at that point, and offered restitution to the company he was said to have wronged. In prison, he could not
earn the money to pay back what was gone. He was not in any way a violent offender, and his days of drug abuse were far behind him. The best way he
could right his wrong was to stay in society and pay them back. The judge did not agree.

It is a sad state of affairs when a nearly 40-year-old man with Multiple Sclerosis has to serve seven years of his life -- 84 months he will never get back -- in
a place where his life is in constant danger from the violent offenders he must live with. All because the judge decided that was the only way to pay for his
crime. In asking myself why, I have come to one horrifying conclusion.

I have never been to jail. I have never been to prison, either. I thank God each day for the ability to say those things, and live my life in such a way that I will
never have to either. Several people who I know, however, have. 

Why is it that they force the inmates to buy many of the things they need at exorbitant prices? Because they can. Why is it that they feed and clothe them
with the cheapest possible items? Because they can. The prisons are there to make money, and the only thing they understand is how to make a profit
margin grow.

There is absolutely no reason for many people to be in prison. I believe prison should be there for those who pose a continued threat to society, not
because money can be made off of them. Not only do we spend tax dollars to care for people who would otherwise hold jobs and pay taxes themselves,
we also have to give our loved ones the money it takes just to keep in contact.

Stamps must be purchased from prison, as well as all other items used to keep in contact with family. It is a privilege to be able to do so, but one that they
make the inmates and those who support them pay dearly for.

How can such greedy people exist? How can people be so blind they cannot see just how useless it is to send these nonviolent offenders behind bars
when the prisons are so overcrowded as it is? Just what is wrong with humanity?

Whitrock, a freshman university
studies student, can be reached at

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