Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the famously “tough” Arizona Sheriff who is known not only for his anti-immigaration policies- which have led to charges of racial profiling- but for the humiliation he dishes out to inmates. Prisoners are forced to live in tent cities in the desert and are issued pink uniforms, and in other ways are treated disrespectfully.
Many people get quite a kick out of seeing the incarcerated treated harshly; the myth, unsubstantiated by reality, is that prisons are soft places; that prisoners live lives of ease. In reality, they are subjected to overcrowding and a culture of violence.
Not least, there is the epidemic of prison rape; it is estimated that over 200,000 prisoners are raped each year in the United States, often by prison staff. There is little effort to stop this; indeed, it is widely seen as humorous. I know people in law enforcement and this is the general attitude toward prisoners. They are scum and deserve whatever humiliation they receive.
The idea that anyone, no matter what they have done, deserves rape is inhumane in the extreme. But when you consider the fact that many of these victims are young and guilty of nonviolent, petty crimes only renders it the more horrendous. But that is the attitude, at least in my experience.
How foreign this is to sensible criminal justice, not to mention common humanity. The meaning of the word “penitentiary”, of course, denotes a place of repentance. Yet the current structure of the prison system could not have been designed better if the intention was to engender, not penitence and healing, but anger and despair. It is clearly not in the interest of the common good to form ex-prisoners who have been traumatized.
But “law abiding citizens”, of course, love to despise criminals. It makes us feel righteous, I guess. Similarly, prisoners despise those whose crimes harm children. Child molesters, I would assume, feel better about themselves by despising cannibals.
I wonder what it is like for the guy on the bottom, the one so despicable that there is no one lower in the chain of despicability.
You would think that Christians would know better.
Not so. Not long ago a relative, a devout evangelical, posted a meme on Facebook, with pictures of Sheriff Arpiao’s pink-clad inmates and a caption mocking them.
All I could think about was the words of Christ: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do unto Me.”