A few weeks ago I went to prison. It was only for a few hours as part of an excursion at work. It was interesting and a bit mind-blowing. Seeing with my own eyes the everyday life of convicts. Not feeling free to do everything on our mind is one thing – being locked up physically and deprived of our freedom is quite another. For some people prison becomes everyday life following a path of criminal activities – and for those who get caught and face imprisonment there is plenty of time to think about the concept of freedom.
Punishment is one of the pillars of our societies – if you do something wrong you have to pay for it. Both to scare other people off doing the same thing and to remedy the deed done. The importance of realising what you have done and the impact it has made for others is normally made clear when we are very young. Mum, dad or some other grown-up will (hopefully) promptly ‘arrest’ any child hitting another child. Maybe the child will be asked to go to her room to think about it. Or at least say she is sorry and not do it again. An important goal as a parent is to make sure that our children will become law-abiding* citizens who will not get into trouble.
So what if your offspring got involved in something that would get him or her behind bars? What would be your prime concern? How would it affect your son or daughter? Would the shame be the biggest challenge to bear? Or the worry that life will never be the same? Imprisonment is hard for the prisoner but may be as challenging for their relatives, spouses, kids and parents. And the golden standard of normality stands clear – is it possible to move on, get back on track and take up a life to be proud of?
The prison I spent some hours in is a state-of-the art prison in Norway. It is a modern facility with a range of available services like a visitors apartment, workshops to do different craftings, very nice library, kitchens to cook, a garden and much more. It is also invested a lot of money in art-work within the prison-walls, for instance some street-art by the “Norwegian Banksy” – an artist who calls himself Dolk. The prison has been mentioned as the most humane prison in the world. Many would say that this is way too good for people who have done bad things – not worthy of someone who has taken someones life or hurt others badly. Well, if you are close to a victim or a victim yourself you might easily feel that it is right that a perpetrator should endure some hardship, and definitely not being pampered and offered numerous possibilities of personal development. While fully supporting victims needs, it is important to look at the full picture – as we probably don’t support the idea of locking people up and throwing away keys, we are all much better off with convicts who are treated, trained and given therapies.
Surprisingly or not – a humane approach to punishment seems to work. The number of people committing new crime in Norway is lower than most other countries. The main goal of the system is to rehabilitate the criminal and make it easier to get back into society in terms of work, education and social life. Which is something you should be relieved to learn – both as a parent and a convict.
*= only valid for functional democracies
Source picture: f-b.no