As we grow up, we start to define ourselves by the ways we differ from those around us – friends, family, local society, tv characters, book characters, etc. For many adolescents and adults still seeking our self-definition, music provides a bridge to the life we see for ourselves in the future. The Indigo Girls were one band who helped me begin to build my bridge to nowhere and to everywhere.
The bridge must be long enough and strong enough to support the connections I aim to maintain with the spaces, places and faces who accompanied me on the first 18-year leg of my journey. This sense of humanity is incredibly precious to me and as soon as it was tested during my college years, I knew I would never end up taking some of the risks I had hoped to take (namely smarty-pants types of Robin-hoodesque crimes). For years, I avoided being finger-printed, “just in case” I was someday put in a situation where I “had” to commit a crime for society’s well-being, or to save/protect my family.
Lisa Guenther talks about the social connections I was intuiting during that initial self-discovery phase. She discusses this social personhood in terms of her philosophy studies and the interrelationship with the experiences of prisoners in solitary confinement. She mentions one of the longest to be confined in solitary, Herman Wallace, whose story is the subject of a recent documentary.
As a person who is an enthusiastic hugger, likes to grab your arm when I am excited about an idea, and frequently asks for multiple opinions about how an experience felt among friends: I would go completely bonkers in regular jail or prison! In short time, I would be in a catatonic state were I to ever be put in solitary confinement.
I agree with Guenther that these practices, affecting over 80,000 U.S. citizens, amount to inhumane and torturous treatment. I hesitate to sound the doomsday alarm, however, I do hope you consider reading a little bit about solitary confinement. Think it over, roll it around in your mind and consider if that is something you think is a worthy punishment for something as simple as forgetting to return your lunch tray properly (one of the examples). We all make simple mistakes like forgetting to clear our dinner plate; criminals made big mistakes to land them in prison, but to further torture them is more than unpalatable, it is cruel.
When Amy Ray and Emily Saliers serenaded my coming of age, I imagined a world full of open-minded people just like me. With our shared mind, we created a utopia beyond belief. While real life has taught me that my “utopia” may well represent my neighbor’s “hell-on-earth,” I still believe there are basic standards due to all humans, no matter what your ideal society looks like. While some argue that solitary confinement is a necessity for managing prison populations, that difficult end does not justify these means. Employing people to inflict cruel punishments is toxic to our society; supporting systematic alienation of 80,000 people from human contact is unconscionable. It is that simple.
What seems simple to me is often the most difficult for me to put into words that get other people’s heads nodding along. The Indigo Girls point out that the hardest lessons to learn are those that are the least complicated. I’m gonna keep singing my song of compassion and humanity right along with these talented songwriters, musicians and humanitarians.