There are many things that children say when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up. Children will say that they want to be an astronaut, or that they want to be the president of the United States. (The fact that an over two hundred year life of the United States have yielded but 44 presidents does not seem to hinder teachers in grade school from telling large groups of children that they could be president if they wanted to be president.) No child, as far as I am aware, has ever said that they hope one day to live their life in prison.
The brutal reality that many people face, however, is that this is exactly the case. A thief in Harare, Zimbabwe, told courts after he was arrested for theft that he would rather just be in prison than try to make it out on the street.
What is life like when you are living on the streets? I cannot speak from firsthand experience but I have known people in such circumstances and it is never pretty. A person does not know where they are going to sleep at night. Will they find shelter in the evening, or will all of the beds at local shelters be taken by the time they get there? Will they be able to find or afford food that day, or will it be more of a fast day for them? How many trash cans will they have to search to find a half drunk bottle of water?
Life in prison is another matter entirely. There are many gruesome challenges that a person must endure while in prison however they know exactly where they are going to sleep at night, and they know exactly when they are going to receive their next meal, even if it happens to be a meager crust of bread or Nutraloaf. There is a matter of being stabbed by a fellow inmate but this is probably also more preferred to living on the streets and not knowing if one is going to freeze to death at night for lack of shelter.
It sickens me that we have reached such a state in society that people would rather commit crime after crime and hope to “win” the prison lottery than to take measures, difficult as they are, to get themselves off of the street. Should we take measures to make more services available to help, or are there people who are just beyond such help and would rather be cared for by a panopticonic set of prison masters that gaze and analyze their every move?
“Three hots and a cot” is the old street saying that getting arrested once-in-awhile can be a good thing if you’re homeless. There are at least three people in our extended neighborhood who are living on the streets. One is camped out at a bus shelter. Another outside a liquor store. The last one is stationed across the street from the courthouse.
There’s a gentleman I pass every day when I go to pick up the mail for the office that, if I am correct, sits out and holds his sad pleading sign all day long. I wonder if he would go for three hots and a cot over his current situation.
I just recently watched Shawshank Redemption (for the first time). If there’s any question as to why a person would choose prison over freedom – that movie answers it completely. At least from the ‘lifers’ perspective. When one has spent 10 – 15 – 30 years in those so-called protected walls, it’s not hard to imagine why one would do that. Morgan Freeman called it ‘institutionalized’. Fairly good description, I thought.
The population that goes in and out – just for 3 hots and a cot do remain a mystery to me.