This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 1/22/98
Page B4, Opinion; Copyright 1998 by Beth David

People are housed at the Ash Street Jail, not animals

It's bad enough that the corrections officers and the sheriff have stopped thinking of them as people. But when a Standard-Times reporter asks about "poking the animal in the cage," and an editorial uses similar terminology, then these guys don't stand a chance.

Yes, yes, I remember my science and biology classes. I know what a mammal is. I also remember a social studies class or two, with a few ethics and philosophy discussions along the way. When taken all together, a very clear consensus forms: There is a threshold for behavior that no human should go below.

Sheriff Hodgson and his COs have crossed below that threshold. It doesn't matter what the inmates did or tried to do. The behavior of those in charge is in question now.

Forget about how it could happen to your father, brother, or college buddy. Someone else covered that. Forget about how it must be illegal. The lawyers will undoubtedly sue somebody. Forget about pampering criminals, or not pampering criminals. That argument will go on forever.

Concentrate on the effect this behavior has on citizens of a country that boasts about the rights of the accused. A country that says "innocent until proven guilty." A country that prides itself on punishing according to the severity of the crime.

The scary part is that so many people out here are applauding Sheriff Hodgson. They revel in the details of this mean-spirited abuse of power being played out so pridefully on Ash Street. They tell me that the inmates stunk up the place, so let 'em lie in it.

Well, these people aren't exactly famous for the sophisticated way they handle frustrating situations. If you lock 'em up for days at a time, then you shouldn't be surprised when they freak out. (Makes you seriously consider the intellectual capacity of a guy who would be sheriff.)

As for finding "shanks" and escape paraphernalia and using this as an excuse to treat people worse than dogs ... well, duh. It's your job, boys!

If these people would stay in jail peacefully, without complaint, what would we need COs for anyway?

So Sheriff Hodgson eliminated two free programs and one costing $8,000/year. Now he's got a riot risk, so he has to hire more COs to "beef up" security. His COs and visitors (we still don't mention the inmates) are suddenly at risk. So, how much did we save, exactly? Yeah, thought so.

Congratulations on your brainstorm, Mr. Hodgson.

Sheriff Hodgson says this is all part of his grand master plan to keep them OUT of jail. So he prevents them from showering, does everything in his considerable power to push them to the edge of emotional collapse, and then shuttles them off to court. I bet they're all making very special impressions on judges lately. Yup, that should work, too, Sheriff Hodgson. Good show, man.

I guess we'll just have to wait until some poor guy gets a nasty disease, or dies. Of course, he'll have to be a middle class white guy dragged in on the Weekend Special. If not, he'll just be written off as one of those animals that needed poking.

They're people, Sheriff Hodgson, not animals. Sure, people act like animals sometimes; just watch yourself and your COs. Thing is, we're supposed to incarcerate the ones who act like animals. Instead, we've given you government jobs with great pay and great benefits.

Do you love your jobs, men? Do you sit at the dinner table and say, "What a great day at work today. We didn't let those SOBs out even for a minute! No visitors at all. We even gave 'em envelopes but no paper to put inside. Hah! We didn't even haul water with buckets because the boss is still on a tear. You should've seen those guys in their cells. Pacing all around, just like ... animals in a cage"?

The real animals aren't locked behind the bars at Ash Street. They're the people holding the keys.


Beth David owns YASNY designs in Fairhaven