Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Which makes society safer: revenge or forgiveness?

By Henry Curtis

Denby Fawcett (KITV 4) reported on December 14, 2010 that “Eighteen Hawaii inmates have sued the state of Hawaii and the Corrections Corporation of America. The inmates claimed they were stripped, beaten and kicked by guards in Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. The prisoners said they were targeted after a guard was seriously hurt when he tried to break up a prison gang fight at Saguaro Correctional Center where they are incarcerated. ... Saguaro guards have battened and threatened them regularly after stripping them down to their underwear and hauling them out of their cells, one by one. "The guards are banging their heads on tables, threatening them, beating them, kicking them, punching them," ...Saguaro guards have also told the Hawaii inmates they will kill them or keep beating them until the prisoners commit suicide the stop the pain.”

The problem is that Hawai`i has exported inmates to “low cost” “for profit” prisons which hire minimum wage workers and give them inadequate training resulting in American style Abu Ghraib prisons that are inadequately monitored by Hawai`i officials.

There are a number of ways of handling disputes. These range from

* Ho`oponopono: the ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness,

* Restorative Justice: the perpetrator and their support group, the victim and their supporters, meet in a circle to discuss who was harmed, how they were harmed, and what can be done to rectify the situation.

* Absorption: Genghis Khan, invented the blitzkrieg and had an army of 250,000. If a city surrendered they were absorbed into the Mongol Empire, if they resisted the city was burned to the ground and all captured people became slaves.

* Forgiveness: After WW2 the US rebuilt Europe and Japan.

* Revenge (Comic Book Style): Batman (1989): The Joker (Jack Nicholson) vs Batman (Michael Keaton)

Batman: I'm going to kill you!
The Joker: You IDIOT! You made me. Remember? You dropped me into that vat of chemicals. That wasn't easy to get over, and don't think that I didn't try.
Batman: I know you did. ...

Batman: You killed my parents.
The Joker: What? What? What are you talking about?
Batman: I made you, you made me first.

* Revenge (World Arena): The Treaty of Versailles ending WW1 and causing WW2.

The total dead during WW1 (1914-18) was 10M. The Spanish Flu (1918-19), named that because Spain had a free press and not because the flu came from Spain, killed another 50M-100M.

Following WW1 the US wanted a peace plan, the French wanted revenge, and the English were in the middle. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended WW1, went with revenge. It established that Germany and Germany alone was blamed for WW1. The treaty took away people, land and money WHILE ensuring that the country survived. Thus the German people would know every day for decades that they were being punished. Germany was stripped of colonies, and lost 10% of its factories, 17% of its farmland, and 12% of its livestock.

Germany was forced to pay reparations that were intended to last into the 21st century. As measured in 2010 US dollars the amount of the total reparations started at $785B, then the amount was lowered by the Dawes Plan (1924), Young Plan (1929) and the Lausanne Conference (1932) finally settling at $81B (three years after the Great Depression Started).

Germany was just weak enough to know pain, just strong enough to remain sane, ganged up with the other outcast – Russia – and sought revenge.

Do we want angry bitter gang members seeking revenge OR do we want safe streets and healthy communities. Going with revenge only gets retaliation and the need to spend ever more money “solving” the problem that we created. A police state isn’t the answer, the highest use of illegal drugs occur inside prison walls.

Henry Curtis

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Ah, Henry, you have hit on one of my favorite topics. In many discussions during peace education classes at UH I held that US foreign policy (and no doubt the foreign policy of other countries) was based largely on revenge. I believe it's as true today as ever.

Revenge motivates the retaliation parents receive when the challenge the DOE at an IEP meeting for special ed students. Revenge is what whistleblowers get. Etc.

Yes, we do want the state to do what's right with the prison situation at hand and must seek to avoid revenge. I'm just picking up on it because of your excellent citations of its role in world history.

neither revenge or forgiveness, but understanding.

Since most inmates will be released into the community one day I want them to seamlessly blend in to a civil society. A few years of beatings and humiliation everyday will not likely allow a person to function normally. The sad thing is this circle of life is all too common for families in the lower economic tier. Treat them like human beings when they are in prison and they will behave like human beings when released.

Thank you Henry for posting this. As a Quaker, I am sure that revenge only escalates things. As anyone who has worked in or with the prison system knows, we are honestly only creating tougher criminals when we lock people up - worse yet when we send them away from their home. Kat Brady puts it so eloquently when she speaks about what we KNOW works, and what doesn't work. Imprisoning folks far from home does NOT work.

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