By David Beck-Brown
Goats get a bad rap. In the New Testament book of Matthew, the Good Shepherd divided his goats from his sheep, setting the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. The sheep were given the best of life and the goats were given damnation:
ďÖDepart from me (sic. Goats), ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angelsÖĒ
Shepherds know sheep are more controllable than goats. Goats will test their boundaries, challenging the strength of the barriers that confine them. They jump over the fence, plow under the fence or head-butt the fence until it collapses. They will even find the smallest opening in the fence and wriggle through it. Once the leader succeeds, the other goats will follow, collectively making the great escape. Whatís curious, however, is that after the herd is free Ė they stand patiently at the gate waiting to get back inside.
Iíve been away from the joint for the past few months due to a work-related injury. While performing State service, I literally broke my leg, tearing a ligament to boot. As I complete the mountain of paperwork required for Workmanís Compensation, Iíve been studying the behavior of my seven mature goats and their two kids. They were purchased for organic weed abatement on my property. Yes, Iíve been away from work, but prison is part of my life. For me, seeing similarities between goats and inmates is not a stretch. Goats are always butting heads.
The bucks know the procedures and know just how long to engage in the ritual. Sociologists once did a study involving student behavior on the playground. Children were first observed during recess with no fence around the schoolyard. Their tendency was to play in the middle of the grounds, not straying far from the building. After a fence was installed, the children expanded their activities to the furthest regions of the playground. In other words, they became aware of a boundary and took advantage of all the free space they were given. The fence gave them the protection and security they needed to explore their little world during recess. Prior, with no visible perimeter, they didnít feel safe to venture out, due to possible dangers and too many unknowns. The lesson learned from this study was children need parameters and those parameters need to be clearly given.
Prison can be a familiar place for folks well acquainted with the revolving door of recidivism. Inmates quickly learn the rules, rules that can be confusing. These rules often rely on the interpretation of the officer on duty. Like kids, inmates need parameters and like goats, inmates often get a bad rap. Not all inmates are violent. One woman was sentenced 25 years to Life for possessing two ounces of pot. Yes, thatís 3-strikes in action. California courts are sentencing 14 year-olds to 7 to Life, 15 to Life, 25 to Life, 90 to Life. Of these teens, a mere 0.5 % will ever parole. 99.5 % will remain incarcerated for life. A life sentence is a death sentence. Juveniles need the opportunity to have a second chance.
Many inmates are now serving time for using or selling marijuana. When it comes to illegal drugs, the rich go to rehab and the poor go to prison. Marijuana was once popularly known by its true name of cannabis. However, during the Great Depression of the 1930sís, cannabis was demonized and referred to by the popular Mexican name of marijuana, and since weed. Like today, work was scarce in the 1930s and Mexicans were being deported. Marijuana was said to drive people mad. Law enforcement cranked up the heat by discontinuing use of the 32-caliber bullet and replacing it with the more powerful and deadly 38. ďThatíll stop those deranged marijuana smokers.Ē In 2007, 47.5 % of all drug arrests were for marijuana, the killer weed.
In the 1850s when the Chinese, who used opium, completed the western section of the cross-continental railroad, they were no longer needed in the work force. Following the Gold Rush, opium was made illegal for the Chinese only, yet non-Asians were permitted to use it. Letís not forget the Irish immigrants (and the longest lasting organized crime force in America) for their contribution to influencing the failed alcohol prohibition. Such is a glimpse into the foundation of American drug laws that perpetuate our so-called war on drugs.
We may believe a scapegoat serves society well, even if we lock up a generation of kids. This practice needs to be rethought. I am reminded that the Good Shepherd (he who knew goats) was a prisoner himself. He butted heads with the government and defied the system, despite having been given a death sentence.