Jonathan Swift Revisited

by Matt Olson

After the fun of a very violent early childhood, I became a transient pacifist. I learned the fundamentals of nonviolent resistance, and I relished the opportunity to tell anyone, anywhere,  about how some cop or other beat the hell out of me, just for the sport of it. The 60's were particularly fun in that way. Opportunities were plentiful.

It was during that time that I developed the strange delusion that there was something deeply wrong about the Death Penalty (DP) and our penal system in general. I am sorry. I was wrong. I turned into the wind and came about to a better course as a result of years with the Liberal Arts. Check out this bit of Liberal Arts learning.

In 1729, a satirist named Jonathan Swift-- probably as good as John Stewart or Conan O'Brien-- published (anonymously) an essay that is these days called "A Modest Proposal." The official title is actually "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland  from Being a Burden on their Parents or Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick [sp}."

Here is the Proposal gist: Little kids can't be put to work until they are about 6 years old, and you can't sell them as slaves or servants until they are 12. There are just too many street urchins, especially Catholic ones, around. The solution is that poor people sell their babies and younger kids. A financial drain becomes a source of revenue. The rich and wealthy buy these kids--actually their meat,  and eat them. Swift wrote

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."

 Win Win. Everybody's happy, and American influence is sweeping the planet. Swift must have been a hoot at lunch or out for beers after work. How could a man with such common sense be called a "satirist?"

Here's the deal almost 4 centuries later: The USA keeps more people in prison than does any other nation on the planet. It's a fact in the land of the free and home of the scared. We have more personal weapons and incarcerated lifers than we ever hoped for, even in our fears late, late at night. This system will bankrupt the USA long before Social Security runs out.  Long before these fuckers figure out that Medicare for Everybody is right. Long before we join the other sane nations. We ought to figure this out soon--might have to. The other nations that do what we do, especially via the DP, are the nations we condemn and call "evil." Check it out.

So here is my plan: Let's kill them now. This isn't a Swiftian Modest Proposal, in part because hardened criminals are probably too old and tough to eat. My motives are not exactly Swiftian. On the other hand, we can make money on the proposition, save the taxpayer, do some public good, and develop both useful products and commercial space. Please hear me out.

First, there's the financial part. Long-term prisoners cost you and me around $40 K each year per prisoner. Remember, we have more of them than any other nation. Lifers cost more because they get old and need medical care. DeathRow inmates drive the costs through the roof because of all their whiney appeals. This adds up a bit. Billions and Billions each year. We can do better. First, we could write a law that allows one appeal. One. Easy solution, and I don't even have a degree in Law.

All of you sensitive types and sociology majors should be up, out of your chairs!  You should be making awful gestures and accusing me of some kind of racism or racial insensitivity. Last check, 41% of DeathRow inmates are men (mostly) and women who are from racial minorities. There is clearly a systemic racism in this process. It is residual evil. I do not disagree.The better news is that 59% of the people we want to kill are White! Lots are horrible White Trash or terrifying socio/psychopaths. Half empty or half full? Come on! 

We're not in the business of killing first-time offenders or people who merely evaded their IRS obligations here. We want the death row gang, three-strike losers, and inmates who are just plain awful, all about killing or maiming other inmates. Sure, there will be some mistakes at first, but all good plans get adjusted later. That's how science goes.

The other thing we keep in mind, and the data say so, is that these awful predators tend to pillage their own neighborhoods. If African American criminals did crimes in a Bright White Suburb, they might get noticed. Same the other way. If we purge the system of long timers, we do a favor to their neighborhoods. Of course race permeates everything in the USA. This plan can't be construed as racist because local residents, businesses, and neighborhoods benefit from the harvest. More money to keep, spend, and invest in our safer neighborhoods. This is the economic stimulus that could help. Quick-draw your data to show otherwise.

The second part is the problem with actualizing the DP. The drugs used for lethal injection are expensive, and they seem to be in short supply these days. Cheap, replacement death drugs have left a trail of horrible suffering--stuff that makes public Saudi beheadings look merciful.  Electric chairs are misbehaving and setting people on fire. Thank goodness there is no state death penalty statute that prescribes drowning. In March 2015, Utah re-introduced the firing squad as death penalty, partly because of the death drug problem. The lovely, tolerant people in that state may have solved the problem. 

Here is the idea: We don't have to hire firing squads. There are millions of NRA members and other gun enthusiasts who dream of shooting a felon. I know, I know. The dream is that you blow away a midnight intruder who might do terrible things to your spouse, your children, and your pets. On the other hand, what if one could buy a lottery ticket in a special lottery, where the winner gets to hunt and kill Charles Manson or that Boston Marathon bomber guy, or some other famous felon? Isn't that almost better than than the deviant fantasy about the home intruder where, in the end, you shoot one of your own kids who was up looking for something in the fridge? 

This is a money maker. We taxpayers don't even have to buy bullets. They have plenty. The real enthusiasts will bid hundreds and thousands of dollars to stalk and shoot high profile criminals. I'm sure we can set up some kind of Ted Nugent hunting compound where we turn the inmate loose and he or she can hide in the bushes temporarily. Of course, as in Nugent's manly hunting adventures, there is a big fence all round so that the prey can never really get away. Eventually, even the worst hunter will be able to herd Charles Manson or the Boston guy into a fenced corner and get off some successful shots.

The third part is a beauty. Some long years ago, a company called Milorganite was born. Mil is for Milwaukee... the organite is for human poop. The founders had a scheme for turning human sewage into fertilizer, and it has been a monster success. Seems to me that if this company can turn human shit into a useful product, they or a comparable company can turn shit humans into a useful product too. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that they might  be processed into a product that we can use for snacks or body wash or something like that. But fertilizer? Why not? At least we won't have the problem of disposing of the criminal bodies that get hunted and shot by  patriotic sportsmen. Better yet, rotten people who have tormented and tortured their neighbors will finally contribute something to the community. 

Finally, as the criminal community is gradually eliminated, we'll have some empty spaces. Some of those former prisons may just become tourist attractions. Alcatraz prison closed decades ago, yet people still pay between $30 and $100 to go out to the island and look at the empty prison. Of course, not every prison is as fun as Alcatraz. Some can be converted to strip mall space, artist lofts, and the like. Better yet, the industry on the rise is Eldercare. Lots of former prison space could turn into Senior Assisted Living overnight. No renovation needed. No updates necessary.