Rich Lowry: The shame of our prisons

Rich Lowry: The shame of our prisons

When is rape a joke? When it takes place behind bars, and it is men brutalizing other men.Our tolerance for prison rape, considered a subject fit for late-night TV humor, is a great mystery. We profess to abhor rape, to adore personal dignity, to uphold the rights of the downtrodden — yet we sentence tens of thousands of men every year to the most bestial kind of abuse, without a second thought beyond the occasional chuckle.

I’ve thought about this one before. I don’t think there is a magic bullet on this one. There are a lot of factors, most of them about basic humor, at play here.One of the things to remember is that we as people tend to ridicule things that truly frighten us. By turning this fear into a mockery, we build a defense mechanism about it. I joke about buggery. Men joke about buggery. We joke about it all the time, to show that this fear of homosexuality doesn’t control us.

We tell jokes about consentual buggery, but we also make fun of forced sodomy. There aren’t too many places that forced sodomy happens — and prison is one of them. If you are going to take command of this fear of forced buggery, you are going to do it by joking about “prison love”.

I think that there is another major factor at play, though. Part of this mockery is the dehumanization of the victim. By laughing about it, we are telling ourselves that the victims deserve it. We get to treat those that we fear — convicts — to the worst sort of humiliation we can come up with. No one says, “I’m afraid of going to jail and sitting in a jail cell all day.” They say, “I’m afraid of going to a Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.”

Don’t forget that this also dehumanizes the attacker. This helps confirm in our mind that these people that we are putting in prison deserve it. “Of course he deserves it — as soon as he gets in there, he starts buggering anyone who will stand still long enough.” We get to convince ourselves that both the victim and the aggressor are subhuman, that they are animals consumed by base sexual hunger, and we feel better about putting them in prison in the first place.

I’m not saying that this is the way that it should be, only that this is the way that I see it being now. I think that we incarcerate far too many people, and we should never condone rape. Until we change this — don’t drop the soap.

One Comment

  1. Sharon Halliday says:

    Interested in issues of the mentally ill in the correctional services