CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The word "penalty" is originally from the Greek poine. When, sometime in antiquity, it drifted into Latin, it became poena. Then, the Old-French-speaking Normans defeated the Germanic-language Saxons in 1066 but Merry Olde England soon assimilated them and evolved the synonym-rich English we speak today.
Most religions demand "penance" for transgressions.
Another derivative word is "penology." My unabridged Random House defines: "penology n. 1. The science of the punishment of crime, in both its deterrent and reformatory aspects. 2. The science of the management of prisons."
My first interest in such was piqued during my tenure as a young lawman. It took me inside city and county jails, military prisons, prison farms and even the gray-walled "big house" at Leavenworth, Kan. During the next 40 years, I interviewed, researched, pondered, drafted, and many times rewrote my 2008 novel, "Two Five (and the Penis Dialogues)" which is set in a "new kind of prison." It is an epic of over 200,000 words that takes a satirical (often biting) look at the unconscionably inequitable and unequal criminal justice system in America from detecting criminals then arrest, forward through attempts to achieve rehabilitation or at least sociable compliance. The "dialogues" are primarily exchanges between inmates in quarters and their responses during group therapy. They explore the machismo (male self-claimed superiority) mentality and otherwise aggressive behavior which leads many men into trouble with the law.
Thus, it is not from a position of total ignorance that I comment on the Aug. 4 Sunday Gazette-Mail Perspective by David A. Love, "The Inhumanity of Solitary Confinement." I note that he is connected with an organization which aids exonerated death row inmates and their families, and I applaud such efforts vigorously.
Now, lets's talk about those who were rightfully convicted and not only thump their chests at guards and other prisoners alike, but also continue, while incarcerated, to commit assaults, rapes, robberies, maiming and even murder? What about those hapless confinement officers whose job it is to keep order and to protect well-behaved prisoners from these incorrigibles? -- including those like Mr. Love's ultimately exonerated who, put inside, are then victims of both the law and the lawless? How would he obtain civilized deportment from inmates who, by boasts and deeds, "don't give a damn about anybody or anything" and are serving life without possibility of parole? Ask any teacher or principal how many students they have encountered who habitually ignore the rules and laugh at any punishment they might have the power to mete out. Prison wardens do not have the expulsion option.
Many among the "machisimo" are inherently pathological control freaks. When they are not in absolute control of others in their presence -- when others challenge their commands or refuse their will -- they panic internally and act out violently. Especially among sexual abusers of males or females, sexual gratification is secondary to having dominance. The best law enforcement schools teach how to recognize such personalities and instruct NEVER to yield to them because they more they get, the more they crave.
People like Mr. Love speak of empathy, compassion and cruel and unusual punishment. So it is that here in West Virginia, we have entirely eliminated the death penalty. I agree that once is too many times for an innocent person to be put to death. But, as I argued to the Gazette editorial board 15 years ago, a person wrongly convicted of a second murder has to be the unluckiest SOB who ever walked, and death should be a jury option in second offenses. Perhaps then, some inmates who have nothing to lose would think twice before inflicting "capital punishment" upon others.
As with parents who use "tough love" to help their children become responsible, productive, law-abiding adults, prisoners who have never learned how to behave need to be shown there are progressively better rewards for doing right and progressively stronger penalties for doing wrong.
Taking away some people's Jell-O for a week just does not work. Mr. Love never does tell us what will.
Cook is an author, artist and inventor who lives in Hurricane.