Ending Violent Crime Cheaply & Permanently: A Vision of A Society Free of Violence by Manitonquat (Medicine Story) is an astonishing little book — one I might have had trouble believing if I hadn’t already stumbled elsewhere across some of the statistics mentioned. It is self-published as well: surprisingly short but very concise and readable. The second half of the book, in fact, is a Spanish translation of the first half. The blurb on the back says in part:
A report of a successful, long term prison re-entry program run by an elder of the Wampanoag Nation, based on over three decades of experience. The author has presented his ideas in Germany, Italy, Denmark and other European countries. American cannot afford to continue wasting its human capital. This book offers a better, cheaper, more effective way to deal with violent crime.
As an introductory example, the Native American author notes that before the coming of the Whites there were no prisons or professional criminals in North American tribal societies. Nor were there any lawyers or police (i.e.: specialists in socially sanctioned violence), because there was no need nor desire for them. This is not to say there was no violence — clearly there was — but when someone committed an act of violence against another, the response was based within the community, and was oriented towards figuring out why this act had occurred, how to make sure it did not happen again, and how to compensate the victim:
The wrongdoer would be brought to a circle, perhaps a council of chiefs and elders, perhaps of the whole community. The circle would hear all who wanted to speak, because what happened affected the whole community. A decision would be motivated not by a desire for revenge, not by a desire to punish, but by a desire to restore the balance and harmony of Creation, and the need to heal the community, including the victims and the perpetrators. (18)
Some of the book’s statistics are both shocking and depressing: it costs US taxpayers $16 billion a year to incarcerate all our prisoners, and the number of prisoners is growing almost exponentially (21) — indeed, there are certain segments of the population that consider a prison sentence an honorable rite of passage into manhood (67). Each prisoner requires about $25,000-$40,000 per year, and due to the incredible recidivism (habitual relapse into crime) rate — up to 85% for first time offenders and young people — it usually takes 20 to 30 years to rehabilitate an offender (21).
This is not cost effective! Worse, as a Harvard law professor is quoted as saying, “The fact that we are spending $7 billion a year to incarcerate black males and less than 10% of that amount educating black males is a clear indication we have our priorities backward” (22). I think the author is correct in referring to prisons as “vaults of shame” (28).
The author also points out something so eminently reasonable that I find myself surprisedly wondering how we could have missed it: if you take medication and it does not work, you do not just take more and more, under the assumption that that is all you need do to fix the problem. Instead you stop taking the medication, so you can pause and check to see what’s going on, to try and figure out a new way to fix the disease or condition. This makes absolute sense and is an accepted part of medicine. Why then do we not do the same when it comes to social issues — especially the problem of our booming prison industrial complex? Why haven’t we paused to review what is going wrong, and try to figure out a way to cure this social issue which is consuming more and more of our desperately needed materiel and personnel?
While reading this slim tome I was reminded of parts of Boggs & Kurashige’s The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, especially the parts concerning how desperately we need to change our educational process. I have been very fortunate in receiving an excellent education, but I can also remember several years of schooling where I desperately wished to be anywhere but there. I can’t help but wonder if I’d have found school more exciting and fascinating, and wanted to go further in my learning earlier in my life, if from the very beginning I’d been exposed to a more indigenous perspective on teaching. As the editor of Ending Violent Crime Cheaply & Permanently notes,
If a student shows no interest, nothing is said. When a student starts showing sincere interest, information is given, but only sparingly, really only enough to tantalize. This means students get more and more interested, start seeking out information on their own, and change their mind set to be much more receptive, since that is the only way to get more fascinating information. The only test is experience, and results, and service to others. (4)
Speaking from personal experience, I know how well this technique works. It was only when I felt coerced or mocked by teachers that I dug in my heels and sullenly refused to participate — and what blithering idiot decided that children learned best in a constant environment of derision? Emphatic shame on them! On the other hand, those teachers who sincerely loved their subjects — who encouraged with joy, and offered tantalizing snippets of fascinating information — those were the ones I invariably busted my chops for. As the author notes within one of his teaching stories, “we know that a path is correct when there is fun attached to the activity” (11). This is how I know this path is right for me: I love learning and sharing the wonderful new things I learn — but only with those who wish to hear.
Later edit: the numbers in brackets at the end of some of the sentences are the page numbers in the book from which I am quoting. Sorry for any confusion!