Dirty Boots: A Column of Critical Thinking, Border Crossing, and Noblesse Oblige

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be incarcerated right now within one of Alabama’s prisons, especially after reading William Thornton’s article last week on al.com, which proclaimed our state’s prison culture to be “dog-eat-dog” and shared this as evidence:

The two-and-a-half-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department of Alabama’s men’s prisons documented a bleak picture –convicted perpetrators of violent and non-violent crimes crammed together in understaffed, outdated facilities, where sex, drug abuse and violence create a world of animalistic nihilism. That atmosphere of beatings, coerced and extorted sexual contact, along with constant, mind-numbing vigilance has also been catalogued in an ongoing court case involving how Alabama treats its inmates.

The article also shared that 95% of inmates will return to society and may suffer recurring trauma from the conditions they experience while serving their sentences.

The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified in 1791, forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.” As a people, we have known better than to treat human beings like this for hundreds of years. Of course, prison sentences are meant to be unpleasant, removing a person from friends and family and from mainstream life as a punishment that should fit the crime. However, in 21st century Alabama, we have multiple inhumane situations where unguarded or barely guarded inmates are locked in a world dominated by violence, killing, rape, coercion, and fear so constant that inmates have trouble even sleeping or bathing.

My chagrin over this is doubled by the fact that I have no idea what I, as an ordinary Alabamian, can do to help. Advocacy groups push constantly for reform legislation and improved funding, but neither of those long-range efforts will help the inmates who will get raped tonight or beat up tomorrow. The Justice Department also investigated and exposed the severity of the conditions, but I can’t imagine how many people were abused or tortured during the two-and-a-half years that their staff studied the situation.

What I’m left to ask is: if trained professionals, lawyers, judges, policy wonks, advocates, and legislators can’t stop this . . . what can an ordinary person do? Since I don’t know the answer to that question, all I can do here is remark that I hope our pangs of conscience and our sense of morality will lead us Alabamians and our state leaders to do what is necessary to relieve this suffering that results from the unabated cruelty and degradation, which current conditions allow.


“Dirty Boots: A Column of Critical Thinking, Border Crossing, and Noblesse Oblige” posts will be published regularly on Tuesday afternoons.

To read recent posts, click the date below:

April 30, 2019

April 23, 2019

April 16, 2019

April 9, 2019

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March 26, 2019

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