Help criminals pay society back

After teaching for two years in an African village with no running water or telephones or TV/radio channels as a Peace Corps volunteer, I returned home and soon enough found work as a GED teacher in the Trumbull County Jail , also for a few years.

At the jail I noticed a very real connection between “The Princess and the Pea” and county inmates.

The contrast between African village life and our hyper-spoiled American culture was startling enough because African villagers rarely complain, but the difference was even further heightened by the incessant whining of inmates at the jail:

“They (COs) won’t even give us batteries for the (cable) TV remote.”

“The only spice we get for our food is salt and pepper.”

“We have to put our uncomfortable mattresses on the floor, and there are spiders in this building.”

“And we have to pay $50 a night to stay here.”

“We’re human beings so we should be treated as human beings.”

I agree.

From now on let’s treat a convicted criminal as an average human being and not like a spoiled American princess deserving of never-ending entitlements. It’s jail, not a Holiday Inn.

More than 100 billion human beings have lived and died before this “soft” modern era. So the average human being never experienced indoor plumbing, hot showers, soap, toilet paper, effective medicine, comfortable clothing, ergonomic shoes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mattresses, or a wide variety of fresh foods, let alone a vast array of electronic entertainments.

Furthermore, inmates in the Trumbull County Jail enjoy much better living conditions than billions of human beings currently living in Third World countries.

“It’s unfair ” because most poor villagers actually follow the law and work hard every day to contribute to society.

This is why the recent hostage situation at the jail really got under my skin.

What good has David Martin or Kevin Johns or Richard Ware contributed to our society? The three of them have committed multiple heinous crimes against society and therefore have impinged heavy costs on society. Remarkably, it may not be too late for them to start contributing.

These criminals have claimed society’s news outlets make them look bad, but their actions alone, exposed to the light of day, make them look horrible. Responsibility for one’s actions appear to be a foreign concept to them.

But we could give them a brand new chance to look good. Society can open up a voluntary “work prison” system with cable TV remotes and better living conditions, only if inmates agree to work every day to pay society back.

Instead of a toothless punitive justice system, let’s switch to a restorative justice system where both criminals and victims actively work together to heal the wounds inflicted on society.

This system requires criminal remorse and no excuses.

For some extreme criminals who have openly confessed to brutal murders, such as David Martin, restitution seems an impossibly tall order. David Martin murdered Jeremy Cole execution-style in 2012.

Under a restorative system -because it would be impossible to restore Jeremy Cole’s life – Martin would be required to work full time for the duration of his natural life to at least symbolically acknowledge his wrongdoing and provide a financial cushion for the hole he left in the Cole family.

In other words, a hostage-taking, unrepentant David Martin sitting on death row with no remorse is of no use to the Cole family or society; whereas a repentant David Martin who works hard to repay his debts to society can help to heal the wounds he has inflicted on society.

A restorative system would require remorse with serious consequences for refusal to work and thereby provide for the needs of victims. In essence we should have two prison systems; one system could be a little nicer for inmates who work (example – recycling 100% of America’s garbage). If David Martin has even a semblance of remorse for the evil deeds he has deliberately done, he would not refuse to work and pay off his huge debts quietly.

Repentance would make Martin look good in the media. Besides, a restorative prison system could pay for itself.

However, no work equals no repentance equals no parole no fun.

Those who refuse to work would end up in a military-style prison camp such as the one in Maricopa County (AZ), infamously created by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Inmates in Arpaio’s prison live in military tents, eat military rations, and still must work every day. Arpaio famously defends his system, “If it’s good enough for our men in uniform, then it’s certainly good enough for convicted criminals.”

Herman is a resident of Warren. Readers can email him at