Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kindness Breeds Reform

A better model for the current penal system


Our gang of travellers marches onwards, looking for all the ingredients needed for the antidote to the Liquid of Petrifaction . They found the Woozy who is now accompanying them as they were not able to pull his three hairs from his tail. The antidote said you must have three hairs from a Woozy’s tail, but did not tell you how to get the three hairs out of the tail.
the Shaggy Man

As they head towards the Emerald City Ojo tells the Shaggy man that he must look for a six-leaved clover and being a green object he will only find it in the Emerald City. The Shaggy Man warns Ojo that it is against the law to pick a six-leaved clover. He urges him to wait and get Ozma’s consent, but Ojo is so anxious to find the cure for Unc Nunkie that he disobeys and picks one and hides it in his basket. He feels the law is stupid and believes Ozma will not know.

But Ozma does find out by means of the magic picture and Ojo is arrested the moment they arrive at the gates by the Soldier with the Green Whiskers. He is whisked off to prison, with the Shaggy Man shaking his head in sorrow.

            Instead of entering the Emerald City as a respectable traveller who was entitled to welcome and hospitality, he was being brought in as a criminal, handcuffed and in a robe that told all he met of his deep disgrace.

         Ojo was by nature gentle and affectionate and if he had disobeyed the Law of Oz it was to restore his dear Unc Nunkie to life. His fault was more thoughtless than wicked, but that did not alter the fact that he had committed a fault. At first he had felt sorrow and remorse, but the more he thought about the unjust treatment he received--unjust merely because he considered it so--the more he resented his arrest, blaming Ozma for making foolish laws and punishing folks who broke them. Only a six-leaved clover! What harm could there be in picking it? Ojo began to think that Ozma must be a very bad and oppressive ruler for such a lovely fairyland.

        The little Munchkin boy was so busy thinking these things--which many guilty prisoners have thought before him--that he scarcely noticed all the splendour of the city streets. 

 He arrives at the prison where the jailer Tollydiggle removes his handcuffs. Ojo was astonished that he was not locked in in any way and when Tollydiggle went to prepare his dinner he made a point to stay put and not to explore. He did not want to betray her trust by looking like he was trying to escape.

           “Why is the prison so fine and why are you so kind to me?” he asked earnestly.

            Tollydiggle seemed surprised by the question, but she presently answered.

              “We consider a  prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways--because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and not be sorry he had done wrong. Ozma thinks that one who has committed a fault did so because he is not strong and brave; therefore she puts him in prison to make him strong and brave. When that is accomplished he is no longer a prisoner, but a good and loyal citizen and everyone is glad that he is now strong enough to risk doing wrong. You see, it si kindness that makes one strong and brave; and so we are kind to our prisoners.”

            Ojo thought this over very carefully. “I had an idea that prisoners were always treated harshly, to punish them.”

         “That would be dreadful!” cried Tollydiggle. “Isn’t one punished enough in knowing that he has done wrong? Don’t you wish, Ojo, with all your heart, that you had not been disobedient and broken the law?”

Ozma of Oz
Ojo is tried and goes before Ozma--who is not a cruel and heartless leader--but a kind and gentle Ruler. She explains that “I suppose a good many laws seem foolish to those people who don’t understand them, but no law is ever made without some purpose and that purpose is usually to protect all the people and guard their welfare.”

She goes on to explain that a six-leaved clover is an ingredient used in magic charms and transformations. That so many witches and wizards were using their powers for evil and not good that she forbade everyone except Glinda the Good and the Wizard (who will only use their magic to benefit the people and make them happy) from doing magic. The law was there to protect the people from committing evil--if they can’t get the ingredients, they can’t do black magic. Simple as that.

Ojo is truly repentant and is set free to continue his quest. Ozma will allow him to gather what he needs so that Dr Pipt can work the charm and then she will take his magic powers away.

I am always very moved by the passage about the role of the prison. As someone who is anti-death penalty I think it has something valuable to say. As Sister Helen Prejean says, “Everyone is worth more than the worst thing they ever did.” I definitely think people should be punished for their crimes, but our modern penal system breeds hatred and darkness. If any of these people are expected to get out and become a productive member of society then we need to change how prisons work. I am not saying they should be a joyride or a holiday camp, but humane treatment would be a start. So many prisoners are in solitary confinement which can have seriously damaging long term psychological effects. Prisoners need access to books, educational training (such as getting their GED) because low literacy rates and high  conviction rates go hand in hand. They need someone to help show them the goodness that is in them--perhaps long buried and forgotten. They need to be able to be helped to make restitution to those they have harmed.  

I am part of an organisation called LifeLines which writes to prisoners on death row in the United States. My pen friend and I have been writing for five years. This man is truly one of the dearest friends I have ever had--he is a candidate fro redemption and could very well, if released, become a productive member of society. However, I fear he may never have the chance.

Our overcrowded prisons in the UK and US tell us something different must be done. Kindness breeds reform.  Baum knew that back in 1913 when he wrote the book. Have we learned nothing since then?