Chapter 21 of Prophecies and Penalties, whippings and prisons

A whipping? Emily Fisher has never attended one, and never meant to. But a man is being whipped because he spat on her, and the community expects Emily to witness justice. But it is not just the whipped man who is “Taking a beating” in chapter 21 of Prophecies and Penalties. And the results leave Emily wondering just what justice she will find among the Children of the New Revelation.

Whippings have gone out of style in this country. We see it as a cruel and barbarous practice. There was a major controversy in 1994 when an American citizen was sentenced by a Singaporean court to be caned, a related punishment. And yet it was a common enough punishment in the early history of the United States, and, at least according to Wikipedia, the last judicial flogging was only in 1952 in Delaware. No, they didn’t whip a corporation; instead, it was a wife beater, a case where the punishment may well have fit the crime.

One of the reasons public punishments such as whipping or the pillory dropped out of fashion in this country was the decline in community identity as people moved around a great deal, towns grew larger, and communities became more socially stratified. Since none of these things happened to the Children of the New Revelation, it is not surprising they retained whipping as a punishment.

Not that our prison system is exactly a humane replacement for whipping. Many of our prisons are overcrowded, leave inmates vulnerable to aggressive gangs of other inmates, and may actually increase the chance that an inmate will commit crimes again when released. Our problems with prisons can be traced back to our uncertainty over whether to use them for rehabilitation or punishment, and our desire to do either or both on the cheap.

The problem of prisons got some attention back in the 1960s and 1970s. There were numerous prison riots, and a great deal of talk about what reforms were needed. Joan Baez once actually performed a song about razing prisons to the ground at Sing Sing Prison in 1972. But as the prisons learned more sophisticated techniques to prevent riots, people’s interest in reforming prisons died out.

Today, the United States has the largest prison system in the world, and incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country. But there is little debate among the general public about the prison system as such. (The issues of racial incarceration rates and the use of private companies to run prisons do get discussed from time to time.) We don’t seem to be interested in asking the important questions. Does our prison system make us any safer? Does it protect us from criminals? Is it humane? Is there something better we could do?


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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8 Responses to Chapter 21 of Prophecies and Penalties, whippings and prisons

  1. danagpeleg1 says:

    Under capitalism nothing is safe for the 99%, for common working citizens like you and me… You ask the right questions. I think that generally speaking, both in-mates and wardens are wounded souls. If we have satellites that can track us and tell us how to get from here to Timbuktu, if we like, we should be able to find a way to truly rehabilitate and heal most people who are jailed, for lack of other solutions (and their jailers too). We also should be able to find a cure for cancer, invent an environmental car and find an effective way to solve conflicts before they escalate into wars. We should have been able to do it by now. But capitalism is capitalism, and if capitalism is not interested in any of these, they won’t happen. I guess finding your way to Timbuktu or wherever is more important… and big jails equal big money.

  2. crimsonprose says:

    I usually add my tuppence worth, but on this one, it’s such an enormous subject, with so many issues, that I am in no way qualified to say bo-diddly. So for once I’ll keep quiet.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      What makes someone qualified to take part in a political debate? There are two separate questions wrapped up in that one:
      – who has the right to speak?
      – what role does expert knowledge or experience play?

      By my rules, anyone who is a citizen (or, in your case, CP, a subject whose liberties extend to having a political voice) has the right to speak.
      Experts and people with experience do not monopolize the right to speak, but they can speak authoritatively to the facts that fall into their expert knowledge or experience.

      Given that, you can imagine my reaction to the numerous politicians in the United States who say, “I’m no scientist, but I don’t believe in global warming.”

      • crimsonprose says:

        I didn’t mean qualified in quite that sense, more that there so many issues and I’m not God. Pull one string, another gets longer, pull that one, another gets twisted. I don’t see any workable solution for a long time yet. Man is not yet wise enough.

  3. L. Palmer says:

    I think there are a lot of societal problems which need to be worked on in order to prevent people from falling into the cycle of going in and out of prison, but that’s a lot more complicated than putting people in a box.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Yes, where DO we start, Laura? Everything from the causes of poverty (over which we have political disputes) to the use of police power (the same), let alone the actual problems of prisons.

      My fictional Children have it easy: a relatively closed and isolated community, with communal property ownership, enforced by an elected theocracy. And yet the average American would regard their method of punishment as barbaric.

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