Sometimes news comes to me late. I read a New York Times article from February 24th indicating that John Ensign, the disgraced senator from Nevada, had introduced a bill in January to require all low-security prisoners to work 50 hours a week.
The article quoted the philandering senator asking, "Do we want them just sitting in prison lifting weights, becoming violent and thinking about the next crime? Or do we want them having a little purpose in life and learning a skill?"
I suppose the same can be said about our law makers. Do we want them just sitting around uttering platitudes about family values while they simultaneously engage in scandalous sexual affairs with their best friends' wives? Do we want them paying off accusers in order to avoid the legal complexities that could expose them to criminal charges?
The truth is, I am intimately familiar with the types of jobs that open up for prisoners. The same article indicates that the type of jobs Ensign has in mind include "cleaning up after a Fire Department fish fry and maintaining a public park."
For longer than 23 years I've endured the absurdity of America's prison system. While I was studying toward my undergraduate degree at Mercer University, those who worked in corrections insisted on interrupting my study time so that I could perform my job of cleaning toilets. While I was studying toward my master's degree at Hofstra University, a functionary who fancied herself a corrections administrator told me that she preferred me to work sweeping sidewalks.
The ugly truth about America's prison system is that despite the populism that comes with slogans about being "tough on crime" or forcing prisoners to work, the work that I have seen does not prepare offenders for law-abiding, contributing lives upon release. That's the reason my friend Justin Paperny and I launched the Michael G. Santos Foundation. Through the books and literature I write, Justin works with me in helping prisoners prepare for success upon release. We show individuals the discipline necessary to overcome the many absurdities wrought by America's wretched prison system.
Had Ensign not paid off the people he betrayed and avoided criminal prosecution himself, he could have experienced America's prison system first hand.