I sort of already knew that incarceration was more of an industry than a public service in this country. Which means I was none too surprised to learn that, while the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, we have almost 25% of the world’s prisoners.*
Here’s a coincidence. Did you know that, while the 19th century produced only 5% of all books ever written, it claims nearly a quarter of the total number of words penned throughout the entire history of literature as we know it?
I know. Shocking. Take minute if you need to. Take a breath. Let it sink in.
The thing is, you go through life, sort of knowing that something is out of joint, but not really paying much attention. Then you get the cold, hard facts.** Numbers don’t lie.
Over 90% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, largely pertaining to drugs. This particular facet of cracking down on crime, the so-called “war on drugs” is destroying entire communities.***
Similarly, nearly 90% of the words I look up in the dictionary while reading Le Père Goriot were unjustly put there. If I find one more synonym for “variety of serving utensil” in the Larousse, I’m giving up. Honoré, dial it down a notch. I don’t care how shabby the furniture was, nor how uncomfortable the lighting. I’m also not too concerned about the state of Parisian streets in 1819.****
Look, we all want to throw blame around. Personally, I’m gonna go with self-serving political agendas, a total misunderstanding of how sustained poverty effects community building, and the serialized novel.
*Yes, NPR, my check is in the mail. Please tell Ira Glass to make me stop feeling so guilty. I’m just driving along here in the traffic, trying to get to work.
**To be clear, the drug related statistics I’m referring to are true to the best of my knowledge.
*** I was not kidding about NPR – there was a fantastic interview on Bob Edwards weekend with the maker of the film “The House I Live In,” Eugene Jarecki.
****Although, some people are, and that’s cool.