My sobering prison experience

Ted Hamilton

The inmates cross the yard. Some have their hands stuffed in the pockets of their jackets. Others keep their heads down and keep a quick pace, looking like they do not want to be noticed. Some of the people are in for drug-related chargers, others for rape and a select few are here for murder.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s Correctional Reception Center is the processing point for prisoners of 66 counties in the state. It is here they will be finger printed, strip searched and, finally, given a number.

It is also here that an average, law-abiding citizen can have a surreal experience.

I toured the facility Tuesday, thinking I would see some cells and walk away with a story or two. What I came away with was a humbling – and at times unnerving – experience. When people talk about prisons there seem to be two trains of thought: That everybody deserves to be there, or that the system is rigged and most people do not deserve to be incarcerated.

I am of the thought that victimless crimes are, well, not crimes at all. Someone soliciting prostitution, smoking pot or doing coke is not committing a crime worth punishing them for. If nothing else, they are already punishing themselves by shortening their lives and harming their health. So what if they want to smoke pot? Unless they come to the government looking for a handout because they decided to get high, who cares?

Our prisons are overflowing with people, many of whom have not done anything other than hurt themselves.

On the other hand, walking around a facility with rapists, murderers and people who commit domestic violence is a sobering experience. Like it or not, there is a true place for a prison in society. It is not just a place where the Obama regime can lock up malcontents, but to protect everyday citizens from those who may not be fit – or in cases ready – to join society. No matter how you look at it, murderers and rapists do need a place to be rehabilitated. Prisons have the power to do this.

Some may argue that our prisons focus too much on punishment and not enough on rehabilitation. From what I saw, at least at the CRC, our institutions do good work in both areas. Does it work by putting the fear of God in an inmate? Sometimes, but sometimes that is what needs to be done.

One of my best friends served a year in a state penitentiary for a crime that was not his fault. Regardless, he was not on the greatest path when he was institutionalized. Prison changed him and helped him to become a better person because of it. While touring CRC, I heard stories from inmates saying they could not wait to get out and change their lives. There are few people who want to go back to prison once they have been there.

One of our biggest problems as a nation is putting people in prison who truly do not belong there – the drug users, drunks in public, etc. One victimless mistake does not mean someone should have to spend years amongst murderers, rapists and child molesters – that is beyond cruel and unusual punishment.

Ted Hamilton is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].