Jean Valjean, Call HR

A little while ago as I write this (23 August 2009), blogger buddy Tony reported that, in his native Great Britain:

… prisoners in police cells will soon be given a questionnaire to rate the ’services’ provided.

He commented:

They’ll be calling them guests next. Sometimes I just wonder about my country’s sanity.

I could ask how there’d be any question about the sanity of a nation that spent eight years following Dubya around like a lost puppy. But I won’t.

Because Tony’s news snippet, and his response to it, called to mind an earlier controversy over the treatment of the imprisoned in these Untied States – where the sentiment appears to be “do everything short of actually killing them to make them disappear”. And this was before Guantanamo.

A sentiment that Victor Hugo, and his character Jean Valjean from Les misérables, knew well …


[First published in the late, unlamented Felloffatruck Publications blog, 13 February 2008]

So I heard on National Public Radio this morning, as I was trying to make the transition from log to commuter:

In Washington DC today (13 February 2008), prison guards are walking the picket lines.

Because the prisoners are losing their jobs.

Seems like there is a part of We the People’s national government that has violated its guiding principle of “tax not and spend like crazy”. Besides the Environmental Protection Agency, that is.

Thanks to budget cuts in the Federal prison system, according to the NPR report, some 6500 inmates working in prison industries are expected to lose their jobs in 2008.

And as a consequence – some investigative reporting was required here, although it’s unclear whether the investigation was done by NPR reporters or by the guard’s union for inclusion into the press release that the NPR reporters read; after all, NPR has its own [ahem] “self-sufficiency” issues to deal with –

As I was saying. As a consequence, prison violence is increasing, both inmate vs. inmate and inmate vs. guard.

Naturally, this result is not without its fans. A politician from Michigan – Michigan, no less; the politicians must be the only people from there who still have jobs – crowed about his ability to insert into law a provision that Our Government ensure that We buy from a private business rather than its prison factories, whenever the private business can quote Us a lower price.

So instead of buying Our Government’s office furniture from Sing Sing, We buy it from Beijing.

And we damn our convicts to Hell, and make damned sure they know it. We have all been here before, haven’t we, Victor?

In that 19th century that spawned Victor Hugo and Les misérables, Justice, in Europe anyway, entailed sentencing people to hard labor for petty crimes (I always wondered what the market was for broken rocks). Or to death. Which surely would ease the mind of that Michigan politician.

The custom of sentencing petty criminals to draconian punishments died out early in the history of colonial America. Though not, I’m told, for the moral reasons that now dominate the debate over capital punishment, but for the purely practical reason that there were too many jobs to be done, and too few hands to do them. The punishment for stealing a loaf of bread was to be put to work so that (oh, incidentally) you could acquire the means to buy – or grow and make – your bread. And if all else failed, there was always the frontier.

Capital punishment is still legal in these United States (only We and Japan, of all the major industrialized nations, have not abolished it), though We are loath to use it. Life imprisonment, we’re told, is actually cheaper than execution.

But if We’re unwilling to kill our prisoners, we seem to be unwilling to let them live, either. We complain that there are too many criminals on the streets, then complain about having to pay for places to get them off the streets. We say we want them to become productive citizens instead of criminals, and then prevent them from learning useful trades in prison, or working in them after they’re released. So, like Jean Valjean, they’re not only given no effective choice but to return to a life of crime, they’re given ample motive (vengeance) to do so.

Which seems an odd situation for a nation that, especially these last eight years, has gone out of its way to call itself Christian.

Maybe what We really would like is to create a situation in which those who have been convicted of crimes knock themselves off. Saves money and time. And We didn’t do it.

In which case, the solution to the problem is staring us in the face.

All we need to do is release all the prisoners and give them cars. Better yet, motorcycles.

We lose nearly 50,000 people a year on the highways of America.

And nobody really seems to notice.


PS. In the same post that contains the prison comment, Tony writes about the apparent UFO obsession of the Brit Department of Defence.

Yes, Yanks, that’s Defence with a C, not an S. Poor John Bull’s going to have to learn to spell that word correctly, or find himself taking orders for landscaping. Or maybe he really does plan on protecting Old Blighty with a modern version of Hadrian’s Wall.

Anyway. Tony asks, if UFOs are a real concern, how come scientists and the media aren’t saying more about them? Well, I reckon I know why the scientists are silent. But, the media? I can only presume that the UK version of the TV channel that calls itself, with rapidly disintegrating justification, History, airs different programming than the US version – which, on some days, seems to this Amoeba to be all UFOs, all the time. Probably to the great jealous wrath of the Weekly World News tabloid.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2008, 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. Thanks for the mention 🙂
    Must point out a couple of things, though. I wouldn’t say the ‘nation’ followed Dubya for 8 years, just our pathetic government. The majority of Brits were furious.
    Now – ahem – draconian laws. Britain had the MOST draconian, but the Assize records of court cases show that they were rarely enacted. It was the stick behind the carrot. Brits had an intense hatred of standing armies – that’s why our regimental system is even today still based on local militias. So without an army to keep the peace (the local Medieval sheriff had to form a posse if he wanted to chase anyone) we used such laws as deterrance. When they were occasionally enacted to make a few examples, they were terrible, but usually if a thief could get someone to speak up for him of a higher class, he got off with a reprimand. It got so riduculous that a thief’s employer would ask his landlord to speak up for him, and the landlord would ask the local gentry and the local gentry would ask the local lord, and you found the peasant in court getting a character reference from an aristocrat.
    Now – UFOs 🙂
    I love alien abductions, mainly because the occasional abductee has experienced an abduction with a researcher in the car, and guess what? Nothing happened. But the abductee was still certain he’d been taken up to a flying saucer and interferred with – swap culture and it’s identical to a fairy abduction leaving a changeling.
    Now, one vital element of such abductions is that the abductee has lost time and he’d travelled many miles from where he was first grabbed. So, how many times have you been reading a book, your mind has wandered and you suddenly go back to the book, only to discover that you’ve continued to mechanically read the words? Could this be the same process a fantasising abductee goes through, but he’s mechanically continuing to drive?
    Even the possibility is pretty scary – and I’m sure worthy of a bit of research. May cut down on accidents.

  2. I could go on for hours on a few of the topics you covered here. Suffice it to say I cheered in places and loved it to bits!

    I worked in the prison system for a few years (before I came to my senses) and wow, what a screwed-up living nightmare. I’d be the first to say that many of those folks don’t deserve much better after what they’ve done, but HOW does this help society in general, and the nation, if they’re treated this way so that all they can do on getting out (often to make room for others coming in) is to go on a crime rampage because they don’t have the skills — job or social — to make a living on the ‘outside’. As I said, I can go ON and on.

    It IS a crying shame about the many lives lost on roads every year. Why are cars able to go 200 mph anyhow? If the automobile industry can make cars smart enough to parallel park for us and call for help when we crash, why can’t it make them smart enough to *not* run if someone doesn’t have a seatbelt on, or if someone is too drunk to focus his/her eyeballs? Etc, etc.

    Yes I wonder a lot of things too…beyond British spellings even. LOL
    Great post!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s