A day late but not a dollar short, Episode 20 of Tales from the Dropbox has some great ear candy to take you through the day. I’m a day late after my iPhone had a seizure forcing me to reexamine the philosophical underpinnings behind a company that can produce genius technology and then introduce a seriously flawed operating system that drives the user to violence. Oh well… lengthy into today!
Saw a news story today that caused me to pause. Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik won part of a human rights case against the Norwegian state with a court upholding his claim that some of his treatment amounted to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Breivik, a right-wing extremist, killed 77 people in 2011 including dozens of young center-left political activists in an attack on the island of Utoya in July 2011. Earlier that same day, he set off a car bomb in the capital, Oslo, killing eight people. Breivik had challenged the government over his solitary confinement, which saw him kept alone in his cell for 22 to 23 hours a day, denied contact with other inmates, and his only communication with prison staff was through a thick glass barrier.
This news story raises two questions of some import: what actions can a government take that a civilized society will tolerate in the punishment of its murderers and, as a consequence of that choice, what other constitutional rights of a people is a government willing to ignore until challenged?
In Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855 (S.D. Tex. 1999) the court, in assessing the Texas prison system, noted: [i]t goes without question that an incarceration that inflicts daily, permanently damaging, physical injury and pain is unconstitutional. Such a practice would be designated as torture. Given the relatively recent understanding of the primal necessity of psychological well-being, the same standards that protect against physical torture prohibit mental torture as well-including the mental torture of excessive deprivation. In the eloquent words of Judge Thelton Henderson:
We thus can not ignore, in judging challenged conditions of confinement, that all humans are composed of more than flesh and bone-even those who, because of unlawful and deviant behavior, must be locked away not only from their fellow citizens, but from other inmates as well. Mental health, just as much as physical health, is a mainstay of life. Indeed, it is beyond any serious dispute that mental health is a need as essential to a meaningful human existence as other basic physical demands our bodies may make for shelter, warmth or sanitation.
Madrid, 889 F. Supp. at 1261. (37 F. Supp. 2d 855 at 914.)
As the pain and suffering caused by a cat-o’-nine-tails lashing an inmate’s back are cruel and unusual punishment by today’s standards of humanity and decency, the pain and suffering caused by extreme levels of psychological deprivation are equally, if not more, cruel and unusual. The wounds and resulting scars, while less tangible, are no less painful and permanent when they are inflicted on the human psyche.(Id. at 914.)
Before the court are levels of psychological deprivation that violate the United States Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It has been shown that defendants are deliberately indifferent to a systemic pattern of extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation. These deprivations are the cause of cruel and unusual pain and suffering by inmates in administrative segregation, particularly in Levels II and III. (Id.)
The court concluded: Texas prison inmates continue to live in fear-a fear that is incomprehensible to most of the state’s free world citizens. More vulnerable inmates are raped, beaten, owned, and sold by more powerful ones. Despite their pleas to prison officials, they are often refused protection. Instead, they pay for protection, in money, services, or sex. Correctional officers continue to rely on the physical control of excessive force to enforce order. Those inmates locked away in administrative segregation, especially those with mental illnesses, are subjected to extreme deprivations and daily psychological harm. Such practices and conditions cannot stand in our society, under our Constitution.(Id. at 941.)
And this state – a prison system where inmates are tortured – is precisely where things stand today. So, what is the acceptable level of torture for inmates convicted of mass murder?
As a nation about to go to the polls in a general election – consider your options for President in light of this mostly irrelevant political issue (prisoner rights is a political nonstarter). If we as a nation are willing to accept the torture of prisoners what other constitutional rights will the next President conveniently abrogate in the land of the free?
Here is what you’ll find in Episode #20:
- T-Rextasy – “I Wanna Be a Punk Rocker” (T-Rextasy EP)
- Spoilers – “Punks Don’t Die” (Stay Afloat EP)
- Woodpigeon – “Canada” (T R O U B L E)
- Sweden – “Oh, Dusty” (Oh, Dusty)
- Hurricane # 1 – “Has It Begun (Imitating Life) (Find What You Love and Let It Kill You)
- The Coathangers – “Perfume” (Nosebleed Weekend)
- Woods – “Creature Comfort” (City Sun Eater in the River Of Light)
- Tokyo Police Club – “Losing You” (Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness (Part 1))
- Face to Face – “It Almost All Went Wrong” (Protection)
- Adult Books – “I Don’t Think I Can Stay” (Running from the Blows)
- Culture Abuse – Jealous” (Peach)
- The Dandy Warhols – “Semper Fidelis” (Distortland)
- Parquet Courts – “Outside” (Rough Trade Sessions)
- Paradise Found – “All Go Home” (Paradise Found)
- The Julie Ruin – “I Decide” (Hit Reset)
This uphill battle I’ve been fighting my whole life …you’ll figure it out and know that you got time before you figure it out…