‘the real problem is our complacency’

S J Culver writes about doing a tour of Alcatraz:

The reasons for ignoring prisoners are easy to understand: they’ve had a hand, sometimes more, in their fate. As my mother will say to me later, at dinner, by way of indicating she’s had enough of this line of conversation: “Well, I don’t know, those were some pretty bad people who did some pretty bad things.” It is true; prisoners are not usually precisely good. Often they are thieves, murders, rapists, embezzlers, terrorists. Yet we continue to think of ourselves as good when we inflict suffering back on these men and women. A start would be for us to recognize the hypocrisy of our own beliefs.

But first, there must be knowledge. I look at the Hornblower Hybrid flier and ponder the missed opportunities at Alcatraz. Here is one of the few social spaces in the country where people with real political power (those who can vote, have disposable income, etc.) seek out information about incarceration; it’s a disappointment that what they get instead is entertainment. The real problem is our complacency, and perhaps it’s bigger than any tourist attraction could hope to correct. We need politicians who aren’t afraid to voice progressive, even radical, stances. We need prominent religious leaders who preach tolerance and acceptance. We need integrated communities so oppression is not so easily silenced. We need citizens who read and listen and who think critically and pay attention.

It feels like we have taken so many steps backward this year, in terms of the public discourse around criminal justice in Victoria – how we talk about each other, and how we talk about people who have done terrible things.

Here’s to a different year next year. And to having the energy to start it all again.