The Apathetic Nature of Complacency

Written by: Robert LaBarr
Edited by: Cody Stuhltrager

Day by day I lose more motivation to do anything. Television is getting old, reading and
writing is getting old, listening to music is getting old, sleeping is getting old and playing
video games is getting old. I haven’t seen the sun or gotten any fresh air in over a week. I
splurge eat. I haven’t had any exercise in weeks. I feel like I’m getting lazy and sleep-in later
and later everyday with naps throughout the day. I have aches and pains, from laying around,
all over my body. Muscle atrophy is setting in. Each day is a resemblance of the prior one. I’m
losing track of what day of the week it is, let alone the date. Some days I don’t even get
dressed. I look a mess and haven’t had a haircut in over a month. Apathy and complacency
are taking over. Perhaps you can relate, but there are differences between you and I. Most
notably, I’m locked in a prison cage for 23 hours a day, under imposed quarantine since
March 29th, the same day I learned via the local news that multiple presumptive cases of
coronavirus at SCI-Phoenix had been positively confirmed. So, now I’m away from my loved
ones with the pandemic right at the front door. Of course you might say, “Well, you’re in
prison; you did something wrong, so you deserve what you get.” And then I would remind
you that I’m also a human being and in need of love, forgiveness and redemption, just like
you. And being in prison, especially at a time like this, is nothing I would wish on anyone.
This is not a time to place judgement on anyone, but rather it is a time to acknowledge how
interconnected we all are and a time to inventory our morals and underlying values. I’m
talking about our morality of helplessly locking people in cages during a crisis. If anything,
this pandemic highlights how inhumane, and expensive it is to incarcerate people in the US.

Warehousing human beings in cages is in itself a major human rights violation. Prisons are a
breeding ground for germs, bacteria, disease and now the coronavirus. Having people live in
such close quarters is an ideal environment for a pandemic to spread. Now with Covid-19
spreading like wildfire it brings into question, what are we REALLY accomplishing by locking
people up in such dire circumstances? Imagine being locked in a cage for 23 hours and 20
minutes a day, in close quarters with people who may have the virus. You don’t know how
many are infected. You do know that if you get infected yourself, you will not receive quality
medical care. All of your meals and medication are delivered to you through a 5″ x 14″ slot
in the door, much like a zookeeper delivers meals to a caged animal. You wonder if the people
who are handing out life sustaining sustenance are also transmitting death. You’re allowed
out of the cage for 40 minutes per day, with 6 other incarcerated people, to use the bathroom
without your roommate in the cage, phone, kiosk and shower. You’re confused from the lack
of communication. Anxious from boredom and the unknown. In fear of what is to come.
Stressed from worrying about your loved ones. You can’t go anywhere. You can feel the
avalanche is coming, and you hope to somehow survive the oncoming storm, but you can’t
get out of the way. You’re in the center of its path, rooted there by widespread apathy and
the ever-present and all too real threat of state-sanctioned violence. It’s a traumatic, helpless
feeling that no human being should ever have to go through, regardless of what they did!

Never mind the psychological games of appeasement: staff members distributing “free” cable
cords; psychologists committing malpractice by handing out brochures on how best to deal
with tough times in prison, trying to convince one to accept incomprehensible, unacceptable
conditions—”we’re all in this together; don’t forget how much we care about you.”

I for one rarely lose sight of just how much they care, and anytime I do, I am promptly
reminded by the free cable and free phone calls and the generous portions of prison food, all
of which is aimed at nothing but placation. Each is a pacifier, used to try to distract you from
what is REALLY being done to you, atrocious oppression! It is all designed to engender a false
sense of security. The disingenuous care is all about creating the illusion that humane “care”
is being given in an inherently cruel and unusual environment.

The institutional quarantine brings about its own brand of inhumane treatment, but under
normal everyday operating conditions the treatment is no better. We are subject to random
strip and “cell” searches. You’re recognized by a number, not your name. The noise is so
deafening at times it gets to the point you can’t concentrate. You’re forced to work as a slave
for .19¢ (cents) an hour, per the 13th Amendment and a form handed out by the employment
coordinator/overseer of the institution called a, “Notification of work assignment
placement.” On the form it says, “A medically cleared inmate must accept any work/school
Assignment regardless of the amount of compensation Offered in return. No inmate has a
right to be assigned or Continue in any specific work/school assignment.” You’re locked in
the assigned cage given to you for 14 hours a day. Typical medical care is what one would
expect an indigent person to receive; e.g. people who have major medical problems(such as
Hepatitis C, hernias, knee, hip, & shoulder replacements, cancer, diabetes, and/or
cardiovascular problems) have to go through hoops and fire to get the necessary treatment
they need. They prescribe ibuprofen and other NSAIDs for any and all ailments. I understand
prison should be no day spa, but I also know we shouldn’t be treating people less than
human. The focus should be more on reconciliation and restoration, not retribution and

We make up roughly 5% of the world’s population, but hold about 25% of the world’s prison
population. In the US, over 2 million people are locked up. In Pennsylvania alone, there are
more than 50,000 people incarcerated in state prison, and that doesn’t include the thousands
of people warehoused in county jails. It costs $42,000 a year to warehouse someone in one
of PA’s 27 state prisons, and almost double that for an elderly person, which PA has a large
population of. Due to this, PA allocates over 2 billion dollars a year to its Department Of
Corrections (DOC). In contrast, PA spends only about $10,000 a year to educate a child.
You’re probably asking yourself how we got here. Well, it’s due in part to fear mongering by
politicians who have pushed for the policies and excessively long sentences that — all in the
name of public safety, deterrence and justice — have led to the problem of mass
incarceration. This makes no sense when you put into perspective that it has been proven
that jailing more people does not increase public safety. We are no safer as a nation today
than we were at the inception of mass incarceration in the 1980’s, when we had only a few
hundred thousand locked up, yet we continue to incarcerate at a historically unprecedented
pace. Rationally thinking, if locking people up created public safety, shouldn’t we be the
safest nation in the world? Well, we’re not! So, is locking more people up really about public
safety, or something more cynical?

Deterrence via longer sentences is another tactic that has been proven ineffective. Most
people when they commit crimes don’t know the amount of time they’re facing and/or don’t
know the exact crime they’re committing. So, they’re not so much deterred by the amount of
time, but rather by the possibility of being caught and the conditions of being incarcerated.
With many crimes going unsolved, people who commit crime, for the most part, don’t think
they’ll be caught.

So, the deterrent effect of excessive sentences would be stronger if people knew the chances
of apprehension were greater; as it stands, such sentences merely perpetuate the initial
harm and compound the problem of mass incarceration.

The draconian sentencing structure that is in place is designed to coerce people into
accepting plea bargains, which in turn allows the legal system to dodge the expense
associated with jury trials. Nationally, 97% of cases are pled out through the plea bargaining
process. The way it works is in many cases people are overcharged so that way they are
facing more time according to the sentence structure. Most charges carry with them
mandatory sentences. This in turn preempts the discretion of judges when sentencing a
person found guilty at trial: they are forced to give a person a predetermined amount of time
in a cage. Prosecutors and lawyers use these mandatory sentences as a way to force people
to take plea bargains. They tell you if you take the risk of going to trial and are found guilty
you will face way more time than if you pled out. If you have a quality lawyer, which in most
cases people don’t, you get a better deal (if you want to call it that). The criminal legal system
evasively operates this way to lock up as many people as possible. If only half of cases were
brought to trial the system would financially collapse on itself. The danger in all of this is
people are pleading to charges they’re not guilty of, whether they’re over or under charged,
and in some cases are completely innocent.

So you’re probably asking why some people want the system unchanged. Well, these people
— politicians who advance their careers by being “tough on crime”, and big corporations
involved with the DOC — are those who create policies to keep people trapped in the system
in order to capitalize on the suffering of the imprisoned and their family members. These
corporations — Aramark, GlobelTelLink, Securus, Keefe, JPay, Access, and others —lobby
politicians & provide funding for their campaigns. In return, once in office, politicians create
& lobby for laws & policies to lock people up for excessively long terms. To incarcerate people
the taxpayers foot the annual bill of $42,000 per person, while these corporations
monopolize the markets of those incarcerated and make hundreds of millions of dollars off
some of the poorest people in the country.

In addition, the criminal legal system creates a lot of jobs: Judges, Lawyers, Prosecutors,
Police Officers, thousands of employees in the DOC, not to mention the utility of the slave
labor of those incarcerated. For rural areas with little opportunity (which describes the
location of many of PA’s new prison projects of recent decades) mass incarceration and the
hardship of the imprisoned equals economic influx. Unfortunately, there are special interests
who are in positions of power to keep the status quo going in order to benefit only
themselves, not everyone. It works all in the best interest of people employed by the system
to keep it going, while the average person suffers from the amount of money being allocated
to the current system when it could be better used elsewhere. It’s easy to get away with
because of the unsympathetic cause of people who are incarcerated. We’re easily demonized
by people who control the narrative, which just happens to be the same people who want
things to stay the same. So, it begs the question, are they really trying to put an end to mass
incarceration? Well I challenge you to not drink the juice anymore, and remove the
proverbial blind fold of deceit and open your eyes to what is REALLY going on!

Apathy & Complacency are common place when speaking about mass incarceration. Many
people flat out just don’t care and/or don’t think it affects them, just like covid-19, because
they can’t see how it directly impacts them. But, it DOES! If you pay taxes; have trouble
getting medical coverage; have kids in public school; have college debt; worry about crime
in your neighborhood; would like a portion of your hard earned tax dollars, $2 billion worth
of which PA spends in caging people, to be spent on something to improve your quality of
life; and/or care about anyone who one of these things may affect, then you’re DIRECTLY
IMPACTED by mass incarceration.

When all of this is over and we start our “new normal” we have a chance to start some new
beginnings. The truth is, many people are going to struggle to get back on their feet, if they
ever do. The government is going to be strapped for cash and looking to save money in any
way they can, thus cutting corners wherever they can. The economy is pretty much in
shambles and it is going to take some time to rebound. There are going to be some social
norms people have become accustomed to during their lockdown that will carry over to their
new norm, e.g. ordering groceries online; having social gatherings more often & working
from home on the zoom app; on-line classes; exercising at home; etc. With some people
finding new ways to deal with things, the question is, what is going to change about the mass
incarceration problem we have in this country? Are we going to simply continue to pump
billions of dollars into a broken system w/o getting effective results while not providing
justice for everyone involved? Can we afford to keep doing this when money could be better
allocated in other areas of needs such as a deteriorating infrastructure, children’s education,
medical coverage for all, etc.? If you’re tired of the way things were & are, and you want them
to change, you can make it happen by becoming civically engaged. You have more power than
you think! Educate yourself, learn the truth & allocate your resources to changes that align
with your morals. The time for Apathy & Complacency is over. Hopefully, together, we can
eliminate the monarchy of harm & politics that keeps the status quo going, along with the
corona (crown).

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