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by Fred Munch

The superior courts in California hand out life sentences like candy at Halloween. In doing so, they’ve filled the numerous state prisons with multitudes of the aged and infirm. If only the taxpayers could fathom the folly of creating and sustaining these forever prisoners, they would use their votes to reform this draconian system. To that end, I want to take them on a tour of a so-called “soft” prison, where I’m serving a ridiculously long 40-years-to-life sentence. So let’s get started.

Welcome everyone. On behalf of the throngs who call this concrete monstrosity their home, I thank you for visiting today. We’ve invited you here to see your tax dollars at work.

First stop is the dayroom where the doors of 11 six-man dorms open into it. As you survey the scene, you might be wondering why there are so many wheelchairs and walkers lined up like a parking lot along the walls of the bottom tier. You should be incredulous at this sight as I was upon my arrival. Count them and you’ll come up with a total of 18, meaning that out of 66 inmates who reside in this “pod,” 27 percent of them cannot convey themselves a significant distance without the aid of a mechanical device.

Next, take a walk with me to the dining hall. Look around and you’ll see a wheeled procession of the disabled and their helpers. Also, note the many others who walk with canes or hobble along stooped over with wizened faces and long white beards.

As we stand in line waiting for our food trays, gaze out over the hundreds of seated diners and you can’t help but notice the sea of bright yellow vests adorning 30 percent of them signifying impairment of one kind or another — “HEARING,” “MOBILITY,” or “VISION” — printed in bold black on the back of their vests.

This is why I’ve brought you here, to see for yourself the confounding spectacle that’s been puzzling me now for many months. Isn’t this the effect of the decades long tough-on-crime policies such as the war on drugs; three-strikes laws; gun and gang enhancements; declining use of clemency and early parole release; conservative political climate whereby lawmakers and candidates strive to be the toughest; sentences so harsh they amount to death by incarceration?

We should be asking for someone in authority to explain how a feeble old man in a wheelchair could possibly pose a threat to society and needs to be locked up until his dying day. Why can’t the $75,000 it costs per year to care for him be allocated to benefit future generations and address the root causes of crime?

In their book, The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences, authors Mauer and Nellis argue that a life term is “inhumane and counterproductive.” They are given to prisoners in the U.S. at a rate five-to-ten times higher than Canada or Europe. In California, lifers make up 14 percent of the prison population, which is a 132-percent increase from 1992. This negates the notion of forgiveness and redemption.

With its excessive punishments, the California injustice system has created a permanent class of offenders who will have to be supported through the duration of their old-age afflictions and resulting exorbitant health care costs, thus perpetuating a massive prison-industrial complex. Progressive legislators in Sacramento recently crafted a bill to require a statement of expense to be attached to each sentence. It was defeated by a wide margin.

If a miracle happens and I am able to walk out the doors of this old folks’ home with all my faculties, I’m resolved to use my last years to speak out against the insanity behind these walls and razor wire fences. I’ll be asking my fellow citizens to imagine all the schools, parks, daycare centers, free lunches, and pay raises for teachers that could be paid for with the billions wasted each year on this debacle of dead ends.

Fred Munch is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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