Thursday, June 21, 2007

Prison culture

I just watched this series on a prison in California that focuses on hardcore gang members and leaders. Yet I always find the word "gang" to be rather misleading. Usually it just conjures up some image of a rag-tag group of thugs who just engage in street fights and turf wars. But these gangs are really more like super mafia or highly organized networks of crime. They are responsible for drug trafficing, high stakes robbery, violent crimes, assassinations, and the like.

Warning: Although it is a National Geographic show, it does have a bit of potentially graphic visuals.

Lockdown Gangland Pt 1

Lockdown Gangland Pt 2

Lockdown Gangland Pt 3

Lockdown Gangland Pt 4

Lockdown Gangland Pt 5

I found these videos pretty amazing. In spite of having this extremely tight security prison, with former Navy Seals acting as some of the guards, you have some of these inmates able to continue carrying on their work from within the prison itself.

Not only that, but the actual organization and discipline of some of these guys is actually amazing. Without wanting to sound too cliche, you wonder what these guys could do if they could use their powers for good instead of evil? That these guys would be able to be that ingenious and that disciplined to carry out not just crime outside the prison, but to have power struggles within the prison.

Even the "footsoldiers" who are just gang members have such discipline that they cannot get into a fight without permission from the upper ranks.

It eventually leads to the question of the death penalty. Much of the argumentation against it is that we now have prisons that attempt to reform the prisoner. But what about situations like this? When you have such hardened criminals, they not only resist reforming their lives, but actually go to prison to learn and hone their skills better, and continue to carry out extremely violent crimes from within the most secure parts of the prison.

A question is what happens to those who do leave their gangs. They are still serving life without parole. Still, those who have reformed have less of a case for the death penalty.

I won't go into costs, since I don't want to put a price on a man's life.

It is a difficult question. While I support the death penalty, on an emotional level I would never want to have to be on a jury deciding that myself. It is a difficult question in which you have to wonder if the concept of justice has been lost. What about the value of the life of the person who was murdered? From a religious standpoint: would it be better for a person to serve justice in this life so that they don't have to in the next? Difficult questions, but ones we need to look at intellectually rather than a strictly emotional level.

I would see the death penalty as being something only to be used in repeat murders or in cold blood. On the average, I don't think it would be necessary. However, what about these extreme cases, like those mentioned in the above, or those in the supermax prisons? And I especially ask this in light of the afterlife and God's justice.


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