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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.

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 eleven six-man dorms open into. 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 the 66 inmates who reside in this “pod,” 27% 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% of them, signifying impairment of one kind or another, “hearing, mobility, vision” printed in bold black letters on their backs. This is why I’ve brought you here: to see for yourselves 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 where 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 The Meaning of Life, The Case For Abolishing Life Sentences the authors, Muer and Nellis, argue that a life term is “inhumane and counter- productive.” They are given to prisoners in the U.S. at a rate five to ten times more than Canada and Europe. In California, lifers make up 14% of the prison population, which is a 132% increase from 1992. They negate 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 crafted a bill recently to require a statement of expense be attached to each sentence. It was defeated by a wide margin.

If a miracle happens, and I’m able to walk out the doors of this old peoples’ home with all my faculties in play, I’m resolved to 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, day-care 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 and has written extensively for the Mule Creek Post.

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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