Grapes of Wrath

Posted: November 25, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , ,

Grapes of wrathIn the movie version of Grapes of Wrath, Ma Joad worries that prison has changed her son, Tommy (Henry Fonda). She asks, “Did they hurt you an’ make you mean-mad?”

Tommy reassures her, “No, Ma. I was at first, but not no more.”

Still she probes more, “Sometimes they do somethin’ to you. They hurt you and you get mad, and then you get mean and they hurt you again and you get meaner and meaner–till you ain’t no boy nor man any Ma Joadmore–just a ole walkin’ chunk a mean-mad. Did they hurt you that way, son?”

The incident is in the book as well, but in a slighter different format.

I’m afraid that there are a lot of mean-mad-s walking around on our streets, men and women who have survived the prison system, but are angry at life and angry at authority after what they’ve gone through. Some men, however, seem to survive prison with good grace and they could say Henry Fondawith Tommy, “No, Ma, I ain’t no mean-mad.”

In my opinion, prison produces far more mean-mad-s than it does good citizens. What’s your opinion?

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  1. Tasha Turner says:

    I’d agree with you. The system is more about punishment than rehab and truly helping early/mild offenders find a better way to live. And once they are out many people won’t hire them so they don’t have much to look forward to. Those that are born with an upbeat attitude and take advantage of education opportunities and other learning options may come out ok but I think that’s the minority.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Right you are, Tasha. One inmate I know is like what your describe — able to overcome his past (drug dealer). He has his own entertainment company and is much in demand as an MC and sales person. He’s offered to go into the prisons and tell guys how to survive when they get out, but the prison system won’t let him do that. “No ex-cons, no exceptions.”

  2. James Inglis says:

    I have to agree with Tasha that the system is predominately punishment rather than rehabilitation. Hopefully incarceration is the final option rather than the first for offenders, but incarceration isn’t going to stop being an option anytime soon. I know we’ve covered specific and general deterrents before but the system still believes in them and is comfortable using it regardless of their effectiveness. The prison system has gone through phases of degradation, human storage, rehabilitation, education and the combination we seem to have now.

    The system, regardless of lip service from those in charge, isn’t about making good citizens and the mood of the public seems to support the perceived safety from offenders that incarceration provides. What should incarceration provide an offender? Incarceration should provide the sentence handed down (including all parole availability), but it should do so in a humane manner, with the personal safety of offenders of paramount importance. Opportunities for change should be available to offenders, not as rewards, but as the normal course of affairs.

    The system removes choice from the day to day existence of offenders, but their free will remains. How they react to the jailers, fellow offenders and incarceration is ultimately a decision they are responsible for.

    • Catana says:

      I can’t agree that people are always responsible for the decisions they make, not in normal life, but especially not in prison. There’s a concept that I think very few people are familiar with — “breaking.” It’s possible for a person’s spirit to be broken even when their body isn’t terribly harmed. Very often, the intended result of punishment, and of various kinds of imprisonment is a broken person who will no longer make trouble.The chances are good that the person will behave under those circumstances, but buried anger will come to the fore after they’ve been released.

      • Ed Griffin says:

        How right you are Catana. I think the psychological damage done to inmates is far worse than any physical punishment. To watch those spirits being broken — it’s hurtful. And really, if there were more and better educated staff, they could help a person change even using their great spirit.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Right, James, Thank you. Add in the prison-industrial complex to the mess with have today. Guard’s unions that want more work, grocers who want to deliver more meat, fish and vegetables, psychologists, teachers, chaplains — all want work and they lobby for it.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      Thank you, James. I typed out a response and it seem to have disappeared. Thanks for your post. I agree. Add in the prison-industrial complex to your mix of ideas and we really have a mess.

  3. Joanne says:

    I have very recently experienced first hand a small dose of what is doled out in prisons daily. I was told to do something that could clearly get me into more trouble and when I refused to comply and politely asked to speak with a manager I was accused of being rude. Non-complicance = rudeness. When I offered a reasonable alternative, it was rejected, probably because they had not thought of it first. I was told to comply or I would not get what I was after. The manager backed this up, creating a feeling that there is no justice in that place.

    I think this has come to be known as a Catch-22 and prisoners are placed in this position over and over and over again. It has happend to me once or thrice and each time it takes a lot to get over it. I do not doubt that it takes a toll over time and can easily create “mean-mad” men and women. One can lose perspective, especially after a very long sentence, and begin to believe that the whole world functions in this unreasonable manner.

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