In an amazing heartfelt action, 6,600 prisoners in a Texas jail collectively donated a huge sum of over $53,000 to the American Red Cross to be used for hurricane relief efforts. The unexpectedly generous inmates asked prison officials to let them donate the money, which mostly was taken from their own small prison allowance of US$95, given to them every two weeks to buy paper, pencils, snacks and personal hygiene items.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, Jason Clark, says over a period of a month, the prisoners willingly gave, in some cases, hundreds of dollars to help those less fortunate.
Charity workers know how tough it can be to get people to part with their cash and donate to charity, so it’s amazing that people considered to be hardened criminals, or the worst of society, voluntarily reached out to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which caused 180 billion dollars in losses and affected 13 million people.
This is not the first time Texas prison inmates have donated money to help after a natural disaster. Following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, inmates donated more than $40,000 to the American Red Cross.
Earlier this year, inmates at an Indiana prison grew 270 pounds of vegetables and herbs that were been donated to a local rescue mission. Fifteen inmates spent hours planting, weeding and growing cabbages, zucchini, bell peppers, cucumbers, green beans and kale. The produce was then donated to the local Kokomo Rescue Mission and was reportedly one of their larger donations this year.
In Canada, more than 130 Canadian charities have benefitted from donations of over $129,000 from federal inmates. Perhaps all this kind philanthropy begs the question, is there something wrong with a system that is putting good people behind bars?
Roughly a third of prisoners serving time in Texas are locked up for the possession of cannabis, or crimes committed due to addictions. Addiction is an symptom of a society that fosters disconnection and alienation, and fails to support the healing of the root cause of our problems. A growing number of experts, including addiction specialist Dr Gabor Maté, cites “emotional loss and trauma” as the core of addiction. Perhaps we are incarcerating good but wounded people, who just need our help to overcome childhood trauma, grief, and a lack of connection.
While it’s easy to disregard or judge those serving time, we need to acknowledge that just because someone did something bad, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Maybe many of the people in prison are, in fact, not society’s worst. Heinous things like wanton environmental destruction, corruption, cover ups, and abuse are perpetrated by supposedly ‘elite’ people – world leaders, and corporate directors. Is this proof that the system failing us?
As we tread the path to creating a better world, we need to examine systems that don’t serve us, and could be transformed. The Dutch are a fine example of a positive justice system. In 2013, a staggering 19 prisons in the Netherlands were closed – because there weren’t enough criminals to fill them. The closure of the prisons followed a steady drop in crime and, with many prisons standing empty, the country began importing prisoners from Norway to fill them. Interestingly, the success in keeping people on the right side of the bars in the Netherlands comes largely from a focus on rehabilitation programs over punishment, and more relaxed drug laws. Their rate of incarceration is extremely low, while the US has a rate of 716 incarcerations per 100,000, which is the highest in the world.
It’s inspiring that in spite of this, and the difficulties of the jail environment, these Texan prisoners are thinking about life outside, and caring about others; wanting to make a contribution to the community. It’s time to ask the question – do they deserve more from us?