The Land of Punishment

Why are Americans so set on dishing out punishment and so little interested in helping those who need help to break from their unhealthy behavior? As I have mentioned before America is a nation full of prisoners.

NPR had a program yesterday about a young man who stole some of those bright orange constructions barrels and made a huge roadside sculpture that landing him in trouble with the law. The construction company isn’t pressing charges but the jurisdictional government is prosecuting him. Our government is about punishing people by putting them in jail.

Does jail really straighten people out? My experience working with addicts says no it only makes them worse. The more you jail people, the more you try to shame them and make them feel guilty. Does shame and guilt change behavior? No it makes them feel bad about themselves and therefore they often get worse and serve more time.

Most people in prison have trauma and pain from their childhood. Many have been physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abused as children and are punishing them for their dysfunctional ways is just further abuse to those with already fragile mental and emotional health.

Many parents primary intervention is punishment. Punishment is also the themes of school discipline and a guiding force of most religious philosophy. The idea I suppose is to punish them until they act the way we want them too or until they learn to act appropriately. These parents and our institutions seem driven by control and lack the compassion necessary for to assist troubled people towards health.

People who have trauma as children often turn to acting out as a way to be in the world. Adults often act out because others acted out on them as children. They have no models for healthy interactions in their community. These trouble people understand the harsh world they grew up in and they figured out how to survive. They use their survival mentality to scrap for life in ways most of us will never understand.

How can we change our thinking from punishment to nurturing, from prison to compassionate care? My sense is, we need more people with open hearts who have compassion and are willing to act with kindness and caring towards those in need.