I love puppies! As a single mother of four small sons in the ’60s, I bred toy poodles to work my way through college. I once had nine adorable puppies scampering around my kitchen. It was bliss. So I was glad to see Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial on August 28 supporting stronger regulations for Pennsylvania’s puppy mills. All creatures, four-legged and two-legged should be treated kindly.
Yet, contrast this concern for canines to the article buried on page 17 of its August 26 issue citing the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics report that 88,000 adults held in U.S. prisons and jails are sexually assaulted each year. One in five prisoners are raped in the first day of incarceration, by both staff and other inmates, with woman more likely to be victimized.Every day without standards is another day of anguish among prison rape survivors, risking public safety and the costs of medical treatment, investigations that could have been avoided.
Because we dehumanize people in prison, we accept this Rape Culture as justified no matter the crime, injustice or possible innocence. Yes, there are very bad people who need to be locked up. But 70% of those behind bars are non-violent offenders.
Rape in prison is the stuff of comedians, and cop shows regularly threaten suspects with prison rape. A journalist told me editors believe that 90% of Americans feel harsh treatment and rape of prisoners is justified, so the media is not interested in exposing the horrors of this system, which is structurally and systematically toxic to all. Nor are editors interested in prisoners who, despite the environment, manage to transform themselves, which I learned early while promoting Sagewriters’ books. To allow them a human face would mean we’d have to come out of denial and do something about it. Recently, while advocating for a prisoner who was being psychologically tortured, I was told sarcastically by a DOC staff person, “We have over 40,000 prisoners and we don’t have time to think about their humanity!” A retired DOC administrator once told me, “Just because we run prisons doesn’t mean we believe in them.”
So does keeping our moral (and financial) blinders closed about the 2.3 million people behind bars mean that each year we taxpayers are funding the rape and torture of 88,000 victims, our fellow Americans. What does this do to our souls? Are people in prison not human?
Of course puppies are much cuter…