My hours researching that funky little island, Cuba I have read so many heart wrenching stories of unjust imprisonment. Terrible things humans had to, and continue to endure for simply speaking out, organizing, or looking funny at a paranoid goon. So what, right? I mean sure it’s terrible, but Cuba is a communist country. The US prison system is based in rehabilitation not vengeance. Recent news has me thinking ‘maybe not so much’. Let’s start with a short game of guess which country.
Cuba or the US?
A man was hand cuffed in a shower cell and scalded to death. A fellow inmate was forced to clean up the resulting mess and reported that he gathered chunks of the man’s skin and placed them in his shoes. Source
A man “…was brutally beaten, suffering severe blows to the face and head, one which nearly severed his ear. Taken to the hospital, he lapsed into a coma and died two days later. Source
A woman was “…Kicked in the stomach by prison guards 30 days before her due date, she lost her baby, received no medical attention, and bled to death.” Source
A man “…died weeping and gasping for breath on the concrete floor of his prison isolation cell, naked except for his white boxer shorts.” Source
I won’t keep you in suspense. Cases one and four are US prison systems, two and three are Cuban anecdotes. Surprised? Maybe not. Prison corruption stories have dotted the news over the past year. Riots in Texas, deaths in Florida , reports of mistreatment and abuse in illegal immigrant private prisons, and an informative report by John Oliver I thoroughly enjoyed, are but a few.
But America’s injustices aren’t as egregious. The logic, a bit cold-hearted, sounds something like this. People in our prisons are ‘real’ criminals, not prisoners of conscience or political prisoners like in Cuba. While it’s true, we don’t incarcerate people on political grounds, looking at the recent rise in incarceration numbers certainly causes me to pause. In fact it makes my overdeveloped justice muscle roll on the ground in fatigue, whimpering a little bit.
One out of every 100 people in America is incarcerated for a total of 2,239,751 people. That doesn’t include the populations in privately run immigration detention centers, or youth detention facilities. Then the kicker, 50% of men and 58% of women in federal prison are there on drug charges. Oliver reported this in his story that aired July 2014. That’s a lot of people. In fact the US has more people in prison than any other country on earth. More than China, Cuba, Russia name the country, we imprison more people than any of them.
So sure, maybe we can look the other way, be cold-hearted, even do a little party dance on the inside when a murderous rapist, wife beater that messes with small children for kicks, gets a little of what amounts to vigilante justice. But wait, that isn’t what is going on. Case number four above, the guy, Jerry Washington was his name. He was in for credit card fraud and drug charges. While Darren Rainey the poor man who was essentially cooked in the shower in Case One, he was a mentally ill prisoner serving two years on cocaine possession charge.
These guys weren’t hardened, gnarled, violent criminals. They were drug users, mentally ill people. People that deserve rehabilitation not abuse, not death. So while Cuba’s human rights violations and civil liberties abuses are heinous and wrong, so are ours. The corruption in US prison systems, the factor at the heart of the headlines, is no better than justice Cuban style.