WaPo Exposes Addict’s Record to Criticize Mass Incarceration Reform

On Sunday this week, The Washington Post published an article titled “A ‘Virtual Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card,’” referring to the reforms in sentencing made in Proposition 47 in California. The focus of the article is on a 36-year-old homeless man in San Diego named James Lewis Radenburg, a non-violent drug addict who finds himself constantly in conflict with the justice system, yet remains free because of new laws preventing prison sentences for misdemeanor offenses.

Radenburg’s star role in the article is used to highlight a criticism of the justice system not heard much since the early 90’s, the revolving door of justice. Reporter Eli Saslow peppers Radenburg’s arrest record evenly throughout the article, making sure to note the quickness of his release on each occasion. Police officers in San Diego supposedly call people like Radenburg “frequent fliers.” According to many in law enforcement, the ability of frequent arrestees to go back on the streets is removing the deterrent effect.

“How can we change behavior when they know there’s no real threat of punishment, no incentive?” -Jan Goldsmith, San Diego City Attorney

Goldsmith’s quote relates to his involvement in San Diego’s alternative drug court, which is an avenue of treatment for offenders facing potentially long prison sentences. In the past, someone like Radenburg would have to face the choice of hard time in one of California’s overcrowded prisons or an extended rehab and treatment program. That less addicts may be seeking treatment is, of course, a problem, but the idea that threat of punishment is the only solution lacks critical thinking.

Saslow’s article briefly covers some of the people affected by the justice system the most, families of the incarcerated, by speaking with Radenburg’s mother. She laments her inability to have contact with her son due to his drug addiction, describing his descent from outdoor adventurer to a hopeless addict. In her continual effort to try and maintain contact with her son, she hired a private investigator. According to Saslow:

“The private investigator had taught her how to type Rabenberg’s name into the San Diego jail database to see whether he was in custody. A few times she had seen his name in the arrest logs and felt some measure of relief. Maybe he would be forced to detox. Maybe he would get help.”

Radenburg’s placement in a jail cell may be of some comfort to his mother, but the point ignores what most families experience when their loved ones are incarcerated: fear, shame, humiliation, and financial ruin. To completely ignore the positive aspects of Proposition 47’s reforms on the families of minor drug offenders appears to be an attempt to support a single viewpoint in the struggle for reform.

While Saslow’s article shows an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of prison reform in California, recent articles in the San Diego Union Tribune and Los Angeles Times highlight the way reforms are helping individuals and families in drastic ways. According to Saslow, the only positive to come out of Prop 47 may have been the throngs of cheering supporters celebrating its passage.

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Fairy Tale Animals Are a Moral Coping Mechanism

I imagine if sheep were self-aware, or had any spec of intelligence beyond an ability to be scared by barking dogs, they could find themselves a comfortable niche within the winter clothing market. The old nursery rhyme, Baa Baa Black Sheep, has us believe that the sheep already does this when it answers, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full,” when asked about its inventory of wool. Besides the needlessly polite quality of this “black” sheep’s language, the entire scenario is preposterous. We’re led to believe by the end of the second line that the sheep is the proprietor of its own wool supply business; however, the third line has the sheep answering, “One for my master,” instantly dissolving the notion that this particular sheep has any agency in this situation.

sheep (Heidschnucke, moorland sheep)

Baa Baa Black Sheep, however, is a fairly innocuous offender when it comes to animal misconceptions in fairy tales. Even though the sheep is overly polite and sophisticated, the presence of a master ties the sheep to reality. The same can not be said for the Three Little Pigs. Never has a tale so callously mocked the position of pigs in society. Not only can a pig build a house of straw, but of sticks, of bricks? Can we not be led to the logical conclusion that these pigs are also going to market and hosting cannibalistic breakfast feasts? These fables make no attempt to portray animals in a realistic way, rather, they are used to placate human guilt over our carnivorous appetites.

Examine the list of protagonists in stories, television and movies where the main characters are animals. In this category we have: cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, deer, rabbits, small fish, etc. These are animals who are prey, animals who live in a constant state of fear and anxiety as a necessity for survival. These animals are portrayed as good natured, genuinely innocent, and very human. Who are the antagonists in these stories: wolves, sharks, eagles, snakes, animals that humans have much more in common with. Why then, is it prey that are always the good guys in our stories. Why do we choose to inflate the dominated members of nature to great heroic heights, and demonize those animals who behave in nearly the same way we do.

The issue is one of soothing guilt. We antagonize our most savage predatory characteristics while also lifting its victims from the cruel natural world. It reflects our inability to deal with reality: suffering, death, violence, even simple food chain systems. In our fiction we make those that suffer most at our hands the heroes. We allow them to become something far more than they will ever be. Pigs across America and the world snort and whine from the pain of confinement and slaughter while their fictional counterparts outwit and charm their enemies. Three Little Pigs and Black Sheep make us feel good because we’ve set these animals free and let them be like us, but in the end we sacrifice nothing.

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Baby Boomers and Music from the 60s

As I laid on the couch late last night, soaked in gin and half-asleep, I stumbled upon an infomercial selling a large selection of hit songs from the 60s. Every song that came up during the presentation would be instantly recognizable by anyone even remotely familiar with Western pop culture. You had the Monkees, the Mamas and the Papas, Steppenwolf, Cream, the Psychodickbeat Hippernauts and countless other acts that have been solidified into mainstream rock music. I have to be honest and say I really love all of this music. I found myself unable to turn off the television as one great song after another played. I’ve never bought anything from an infomercial before, but surely in my drunken state the allure of all this great music enticed me. That was, of course, until they showed the price.

that-thing-you-do-whysoblu-7

It then occurred to me that I was obviously not the target demographic for this infomercial. It was the 30 year older version of myself: still a drunk, a whole lot fatter and perhaps a whole lot lonelier, but maybe a little richer. An older me that pined for days of sweet music and consequence-free fucking on shag carpet (I don’t think I really know what the sixties was really about). An older me that would be happy to spend eight sushi dinners worth of money to relive the feeling of growing up and being part of that long-past decade. When the CD’s finally arrived in the mail, I’d make a night of it, cold-cut sandwiches and plastic bottle tequila shooters. I’d reach my arm around my fat-hairy belly, slip my hand past the worn out elastic of my faded sweat pants, and rub one out as the Beach Boy’s “I Get Around” played over and over again through my cruddy old computer speakers.

I wonder if the post-2000 era of music will be able to produce a hits collection that pleases me 30 years from now. Would it include groups like the New Pornographers, Tame Impala, Outkast and Supergrass? Or would I scoff as artists like Beyonce, LMFAO and Britney Spears scrolled across the screen. Maybe the version of myself from the 60s would dismiss the hits collection I saw on the infomercial as well, thinking all the “better” but less-popular indie bullshit bands of the era were left out. It forces me to think about the bad opinion I have of the baby boomer generation that most likely buys that 60s hit collection in droves, reliving their old memories and thinking the past was greater than it ever possibly could have been. Are they a product of their times or a truly awful generation of selfish pieces of shit like I think they are?

Of course, the question is rhetorical. I have no real love for my own generation, and it would be hard for me to attribute it with much better qualities than what the boomers possess. The 60s music collection is a reminder, however, of a boomer mentality that I don’t see in my own generation, at least not yet. Boomers look at music from the era in such a self-congratulatory and climactic way. Why bother even giving new music a chance when everything great was produced over four decades ago? Sure, we’ll pay $300 to see the Rolling Stones play the same 20 songs we’ve heard hundreds if not thousands of times over the last 50 years. It’s not like the current entitled and lazy generation is making any good new music anyway. We wouldn’t want to giving them a handout.

60s music also represents the we-built-it bullshit of the boomer generation’s mentality. They seem to be a generation completely obsessed with the awesomeness of their own success. They are infinitely proud to have  bootstrapped themselves out of the doldrums of 1950’s America into wealth, status and privilege like the world has never seen, all along the way creating music that the world will never be able to match in passion or creativity. Their obsession with this success is what blinds them to the reality of American life. They’re so intoxicated with their own flatulence that they can’t smell the burning garbage and toxic waste piling up on the streets. They’ve made it in this world, and if everyone else just did it like they did everything would be fine. Meanwhile, their children will be the first generation in a long time to live worse than their parents, and yet the boomers fail to see the irony of their own worldview crumbling beneath them.

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