Ireland and South Africa reject the `natural’ inevitability of eviction

“Yet many of these issues, I found, could not really be thought through, and some of them, I believe, cannot even be focused unless we are conscious of the words as elements of the problems.”         Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

The weather in the United States these days is terrible. Virginia and the Bay Area, in California, are threatened by tsunamis, while Hennepin County, in Minnesota, faces the prospect of monsoon. These are not meteorological events. They are eviction tsunamis and monsoons. While the figures of speech portray the intense destructiveness of the eviction situation, from coast to coast, they also provide a bit of an alibi, in that they naturalize the precipitous rise in eviction across the United States and beyond. Evictions are not natural events, they are created by humans, individually and in corporations. Likewise, skyrocketing rents and rates of eviction are not natural events; they too are created by individual landlords and, often, by corporate landlords. To the same degree that climate change is created by human action and especially `economic development’, so is eviction. Recently, Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court, separately, rejected the `natural’ inevitability of eviction and chose to promote the right to decent housing as a fundamental element of human dignity and the right to dignity.

In September, with winter approaching, Scotland temporarily froze rents and halted evictions. At the same time, in Ireland, with an equally bitter winter approaching, a third of renters reported they spend 50% or more of their income on rent. Rents in Ireland are “doubling, tripling”, according to Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice. In October, the Irish government decided to follow Scotland’s example and halted all evictions between November and March of next year. While landlords have claimed they are being `forced out’ of the market, tenants and their allies welcome the respite. Everyone recognizes that a five-month halt to evictions will not resolve the severe affordable housing shortage in Ireland, at least it will provide a momentary respite and a modest recognition of the humanity and dignity of those most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, in the case of Rycloff-Beleggings (Pty) Ltd v Ntombekhaya Bonkolo and Others, the Johannesburg High Court ruled that a group of working people’s access to work and right to dignity had to be considered when adjudicating an eviction notice. The case involves waste reclaimers who have been living on an `undevbeloped’ stretch of farmland that lies between a residential complex and a business park in the Midrand section of Johannesburg. In 2018, the owners of the land, Rycloff-Beleggings, decided they wanted to `develop’ the land, and so issued eviction notices. The city offered a site with no possibility of developing waste reclamation economies, and so, in May 2019, the residents sued, demanding to either stay put or be placed somewhere where they could continue to work. On October 4, Judge Greg Wright agreed and gave the city until March 2023 to find appropriate site for the community. Anything else “would leave them at risk of not being able to maintain their dignity and care for their children.  It would be unfair and therefore unconstitutional to uphold the other parties’ rights while the reclaimers go hungry. Furthermore, the rights of children are paramount in cases involving children such as the present one.” If people are on the land, it is not `undeveloped’. If people live in a neighborhood, it too is not undeveloped.

At one level, both Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court chose to respect  the “indivisibility of all human rights”. While the Irish protections only last through the winter and the South African decision is only one court, the examples are illustrative. First, evictions can be stopped. Second, every human being and every community of human beings has the right to dignity. Third, eviction is not a natural, inevitable event. We can stop evictions. Finally, many descriptions and analysis of the housing crisis focus on large numbers, but we must also remember that every eviction is a housing crisis, and every housing crisis is an affront and an assault on all human rights. Scotland, Ireland, and the Johannesburg High Court acted in the name and service of human dignity and decency. Who will follow their example?


(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic credit: The Irish Times)


In Ireland, the Dóchas Centre is a dumping ground for women living with mental health issues

Dóchas Centre

In Irish, dóchas means hope.  Every year, Chaplains who serve Ireland’s prisons issue a Chaplains Report. Usually, these reports are fairly modest, tame even, describing the situation in the various prisons. These reports seldom make news. This year, however, the Chaplains reported that the situation in Irish prisons has become dire, and the direst prison is the Dóchas Centre, nestled in the larger Mountjoy Prison, in Dublin. According to Ireland’s Department of Justice, the Dóchas Centre is a “closed, medium security prison for females aged 18 years and over. It is the committal prison for females committed on remand or sentenced from all Courts outside the Munster area.” The Chaplain’s report is more succinct: Dóchas has become “a dumping ground” for women living with mental health issues.

According to the Dóchas Centre Chaplain, “Most recently a prisoner was remanded to the Dochas Centre after having spent over a year in a psychiatric facility. The prisoner was clearly unwell and confused to the extent that after a few days in custody the prisoner wanted to know what hospital she was in. From as soon as she arrived in the Dochas Centre the prisoner remained in bed all day. Prison was obviously not the place for that prisoner, yet the prisoner had been charged, arraigned in Court and remanded to prison. After considerable intervention by the Governor and Health Care Staff, the prisoner was removed back to the psychiatric facility that she had come from …. While Staff were dealing with this prisoner two other prisoners on the same landing were even more difficult to deal with: both were self-harming and both were violent. Both of the prisoners had been treated for mental illness before coming to prison. One of the prisoners had been brought to the Dochas Centre infected with Covid 19. The other prisoner was returned to the psychiatric facility where she had been a patient. That prisoner however was returned to the Dochas after she behaved in the same violent way that she had behaved in when she was being held in the Dochas previously. Obviously she had been referred to the psychiatric facility for specialist treatment. How was she expected to receive that treatment when she was returned to the Dochas? This is a clear example of the Dochas being used as a dumping ground.”

While the Chaplain states repeatedly that the staff at the Dóchas Centre are doing the best they can, the best they can was never meant to address the needs of women living with mental health issues: “The Prison Service is too well aware of how prisons are constantly being used as the dumping ground for other agencies’ problems. Offenders whose offence is rooted in mental illness invariably get sent to prison because the State cannot accommodate them elsewhere. This imposes a duty of care on the Governor and his Staff which the normal exercise of their duty was not designed for. Prison Officers are not trained to handle psychiatric cases …. Covid has preoccupied all our thinking for almost a year. Hospitals filled to capacity are part of everyday discussion. At this time of terrible fear and anxiety in the community, no one is going to be surprised to hear that the Central Mental Hospital has no bed space available either. The difference however is that the CMH had no available space before the Covid 19 pandemic. Most prisons have prisoners suffering from mental illness who have been waiting for a bed in the CMH for over a year.” According to the Chaplain’s Report, the situation is “soul destroying. No one seems to care.”

The Chaplain concludes, “Government could find the resources to rescue the collapse of the banking system. Government could find the resources to pay workers to stay at home during the pandemic. Government could find the resources to protect the vulnerable from a life of addiction, homelessness and petty crime. Government instead sends the weakest and most vulnerable in society to prison at the cost of the tax-payer and the fabric of society.”

There are currently 3866 people held in prisons in Ireland. According to the Justice Minister, over 1700 prisoners are awaiting mental health and substance abuse services. Across Ireland, close to half of all those living in prisons are waiting for treatment. In the Dóchas Centre, bedridden women, dumped and abandoned by the State, stare at the prison walls and imagine they’re being helped. In Ireland, today, dóchas means hope. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Irish Examiner)

The agony of Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar

Savita Halappanavar died, or was killed, because an Irish hospital refused to perform a medically necessary abortion until they were absolutely positively sure the fetal heartbeat had stopped. The life of the mother was of no concern. Savita Halappanavar spent more than two days in agony, and died, or was killed, in agony.

The agony of Savita Halappanavar is a commonplace globally, according to the UN’s  The State of World Population 2012, released today. From Poland to Armenia to Uganda to Swaziland to India to Nicaragua to the United States, and all points between and beyond, pregnant women, women in childbirth, women die in agony, thanks to criminalization, stigma, public policy and more.

They die in agony like so many prisoners, begging for care, screaming for mercy. They receive neither. Why? What is a global culture of women-dying-in-agony? A little over 50 years ago, Frantz Fanon had an answer to that question: “Le colon oubliait singulièrement qu’il s’enrichissait de l’agonie de l’esclave.” “The colonist forgot strangely enough that he was getting rich on the agony of the slave. In fact what the colonist was saying to the colonized subject: “Work yourselves to death, but let me get rich!

The agony of Savita Halappanavar is part of the ongoing global crisis of the wretched and the damned: women. Slavery has not ended; it has simply changed clothes for the new season. Colonialism has not ended; it has moved the furniture around. The colonists continue to forget strangely enough and continue to enrich themselves on the agony of women.

(Photo credit 1: The Irish Times) (Photo Credit 2: The Journal)

The blood and distress of Olayinka Ijaware and her two children

Olayinka Ijaware is a young Nigerian woman who has been living in County Waterford, in Ireland, for the last four years. She is the mother of two children, aged five and seven. Until quite recently, Ijaware was pregnant with a third child. Then she suffered a miscarriage.

Early Tuesday morning, August 16, the Gardaí, or Irish national police, showed up and `escorted’ Ms. Ijaware and her two young children to the Dublin airport, where she was `prepared for deportation.’ Olayinka Ijaware is an asylum seeker. According to the State, she is a failed asylum seeker. According to her, her attorneys, and her friends and supporters, she is in the process appealing the decision, and so is still an asylum seeker.

As she was being `prepared’, Ms. Ijaware complained of pains and bleeding, the result, she explained, of her recent miscarriage. She was taken to hospital. She was seen by doctors. The doctors said she should not fly if she was suffering vaginal bleeding. Witnesses say she was bleeding and in deep distress. The Gardaí disagree. And so, Olayinka Ijaware and her two children, two children who basically know only Ireland, were shipped back to the airport, to `prepare’ for deportation.

Magically, and without explanation, the flight was cancelled. Ijaware was told to report to the Gardaí next week, for deportation.

The date and time of Ms. Ijaware’s miscarriage is being debated. That she was bleeding at some point that night is not debated. That she and her children were taken in the very early hours of the morning, without warning, is not debated. That currently the Irish government is conducting a mass deportation of so-called asylum seekers is not debated.

The full name of Ireland’s national police force is An Garda Síochána na hÉireann. That means “Guard of the Peace of Ireland.” The Gardaí are the Guardians, and Ireland is Ireland. But what is the peace? What is the peace when women’s blood and distress count for nothing, for less than nothing if the women are Black?

What is the peace of Ireland? Ask Olayinka Ijaware. Ask the children of Olayinka Ijaware. They know.


(Photo Credit:

When the State cares enough to kill and maim the very best

Members of Mr. Ward’s family

In Ireland, today, the court heard about a 15-year-old boy who was “institutionalized” in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit. Special Care. A Special Care Unit is a place in which the State can imprison children who are “troubled.” For their own welfare and safety. Ireland has three such units: Ballydowd, Coovagh House, and Gleann Alainn.

The court today heard that the boy has been diagnosed as living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He has trouble with `regular’ classrooms. He spent much of his time at Ballydowd “detained for long periods of time by himself.” How the State care for `troubled’ children? Isolation. And now, according to the boy’s parents, attorneys and psychologists, he is “unfit for mainstream education”.

Two years ago, on August 31, 2009, the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, issued a report stating unequivocally that Ballydowd must be closed. That report was a follow-up to a November 2008 report in which Ballydowd was deemed “no longer fit for purposes.” From practices to material conditions, the place was a disaster, and a danger to children.

The government pledged to close Ballydowd, and move the children to a nearby facility. In 2010, Ballydowd had twelve beds. In the most recent HIQA inspection, on October 27, 2010, Ballydowd housed seven children, four boys, three girls, all between 13 and 16 years old. And now, the Republic of Ireland claims it cannot find decent and adequate places for seven children who may or may not require “special care”.

In Australia, the State’s special care often proves fatal, especially for Black residents.

Consider the story of Mr. Ward, an Aboriginal elder. In January 2008, Mr. Ward, 46 years old, was taken on a 220 mile ride across the blistering Central Desert to face a drunk driving charge. Mr. Ward was a respected Aboriginal. He  had represented the Ngaanyatjarra lands across Australia as well as at international fora. The two people who drove Mr. Ward worked for a subsidiary of G4S. They did not see an Aboriginal elder nor a statesman. They saw “a man in his 40’s, 50’s, Aboriginal with a dark skin. He was dirty.”

They threw Mr. Ward into the back of a Mazda van, into the security “pod” with metal seating and no air conditioning. All male remand prisoners are considered dangerous, or “high risk”. The fact that Mr. Ward was known to be cooperative and congenial was irrelevant. For his own safety and welfare, he had to go in the back. The trip took almost four hours. The temperatures that day were 40 degrees Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Mr. Ward died of heatstroke. He died with third degrees, presumably from where he touched the metal floor of the van. Mr. Ward cooked to death, slowly and in excruciating pain.

There was no possibility for Mr. Ward to survive that trip. There was no working panic button. There was no means of communication between the security section and the drivers in the cabin. He had one small bottle of water. He was destined to the death he suffered. It is Australia’s form of special care. It must be, because Australia pays a hefty price, literally, for the G4S services.

Again, every aspect of this story had been publicly described in earlier studies. In a 2001 government study, identical Mazda `pods’ were described as  “not fit for humans to be transported in.” They were seen as “a death waiting to happen.”

In the intervening decade, there have been other major reports, two in 2005, in 2006. To no avail. In 2008, Mr. Ward was dumped into the oven of the back of that Mazda. In 2009, G4S was awarded the contract for prisoner transport.

When asked about the implications of Mr. Ward’s story, Keith Hamburger, the principal author of the 2005 report, responded, “That’s a matter of great concern because this is not rocket science, we’re dealing here with duty of care.”

Duty of care.

Duty of care is a legal concept that ensures that people should not cause one another unreasonable harm or loss. But what is “unreasonable”?  Ballydowd is still open and consuming  children. G4S continues to ferry prisoners across the desert. Why? Because they have been deemed not “unreasonable”. Where is justice in that measure of reasonable and unreasonable suffering?


(Photo Credit:

The child prisoners of St. Patrick’s haunt Ireland


In Ireland, today, Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan issued a report, entitled Young People in St. Patrick’s Institution. St. Patrick’s is a men’s, and boys’, prison for children and adults between the ages of 16 and 21. It is the only place in Ireland that `accommodates’ male prisoners aged 16 and 17, whether they have been sentenced or are awaiting trial. The boys of St. Patrick’s come from all over the country.

The report describes St. Patrick’s Institution as follows: “St. Patrick’s Institution is a closed, medium security prison managed by the Irish Prison Service, which holds remand and sentenced young people between 16 and 21 years of age. Adjacent to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, the Institution’s main buildings are part of a Victorian prison complex dating back to 1850 and were the site of the women’s prison before becoming a place of detention for young offenders.” Women and children first, or, in this case, women first, then children, both subjected to a male adult prison regime.

As is so often the case with Victorian prisons still in use, St. Patrick’s has been criticized for a long time, for decades. The 1985 Whitaker Report called for St. Patrick’s closure, arguing that it was too old and dilapidated to repair, arguing further that it contributed to further juvenile delinquency rather than rehabilitation. That was over 25 years ago. In July 2007 the Irish Penal Reform Trust issued a new report, The Whitaker Committee Report 20 Years On: Lessons Learned or Lessons Forgotten? It described the earlier report as  “the most detailed and thoughtful analysis of Irish prisons to date”. There was much discussion of lessons learned, forgotten, suppressed, ignored. The 200 Years On analysis described deteriorating conditions. The prison was going from very bad to much worse.

Today, Wednesday, February 9, 2001, that prison still houses child prisoners, still does harm to them, their families, and their communities, still defines the Irish state.

According to today’s report, every aspect of St. Patrick’s denies and offends the particularities of the prisoners as children. For many, contact with family is difficult because the prison is far from home, and so getting there is expensive and time consuming. Remand prisoners are allowed five fifteen-minute visits per week. Sentenced prisoners are allowed two half-hour visits. Imagine the family that will travel hours for a fifteen-minute `interview’. Then imagine the child.

Meanwhile, maintaining and developing healthy relationships with family and friends is made almost impossible by visiting conditions and regulations that prohibit intimacy or privacy.

Children can’t be children, parents can’t be parents.

When the children’s wing, the B-Wing, is overcrowded, either the boys are dumped two to a bed, or they’re moved to C- and D-Wings, where adult prisoners are kept. Again, this includes children who are remand prisoners.

The food is terrible, the educational facilities are outmoded and archaic, the health facilities are decrepit, there is little attention to rehabilitation and reintegration in any way that is attentive to the needs of children, of adolescents. The boy’s in jail, he’s treated like a man.

Finally, there’s `the pad’, or special observation cell. The prison administration claims this is only used to protect the prisoners. The prisoners see it as solitary confinement: degrading, punitive, silencing. Putting an adult in long term solitary confinement is torture. Placing an adolescent in a `seclusion room’, without explanation, without … anything, is as well. `The pad’ teaches the young that they must not complain, they must not whimper, they must just tough it out and get through. If they have problems, especially mental health problems, they must be silent. They must not seek help. They must learn to shut up. That is the lesson of solitary confinement when administered on the young.

None of this is new and none of this is news. The conditions of St. Patrick’s have been known for longer than any of these children have walked the earth. This is what it means to be a child in the care of the modern State.



(Image Credit: The Ombudsman for Children, Ireland) (Video Credit: The Ombudsman for Children, Ireland / YouTube)

Children are disappearing, into the night, into the fog

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes silently. Sometimes `without notice’. That children are disappearing is not new. Children asylum seekers and children of asylum seekers have been disappearing into detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, and elsewhere. In Australia, imprisoned children of asylum seekers are disappearing into the tortured self mutilation that must serve as a kind of escape from their current everyday circumstances.  Children of incarcerated mothers are disappearing in South Africa, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. Children in schools are disappearing into seclusion rooms, aka solitary confinement.  In the United States, children of undocumented residents are disappearing, shipped like so much baggage, back to Mexico and parts unknown, often on their own.  In Jamaica, girl prisoners disappear into prison fires that were altogether predictable and preventable.  None of this is new. We have discussed this and more before. The events are not new nor is the failure to take responsibility.

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’.

In England, an inquest opens today. It’s the second time around for this inquest. It concerns the death in custody, in August 2004, of Adam Rickwood. Adam was 14 when he was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, a private prison run by Serco, the same people who run Yarl’s Wood in the UK and all the immigrant detention centers in Australia, most notoriously Villawood.

When Adam Rickwood, who had never been in custody before, refused to go to his cell, he was `forcibly restrained’ with `a nose distraction’, a violent and invasive chop to the nose. Hours later, he was found dead, hanging, in his cell. At the first inquest, in 2007, the coroner refused to let the jury decide if the restraint constituted an assault.  It took thirteen years of struggle on the part of Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, before the first hearing took place. Dissatisfied with the complete opacity of the system, she continued to push, and finally, finally a second inquest has been ordered. That starts today. Adam Rickwood would be thirty years old now.

Meanwhile, across England, there are 6000 children whose mothers are incarcerated, and, basically, no one officially knows their whereabouts. According to the Prison Advice and Care Trust, or PACT, they are “the forgotten children.”  According to PACT, the mothers of 17,000 children are in prison, and of those, 6000 are not in care nor are they staying with their fathers. They are `forgotten.’ Children are disappearing, some into the night, others into the fog.

At the same time, in Ireland, eleven unaccompanied children asylum seekers went missing last year.  Six have yet to be found.  Between 2000 and 2010, 512 unaccompanied children seeking asylum were `forgotten’. Of those, only 72 were ever found by the State. Forgetting children is not an exception, it’s the rule, when the children are children of color, children of asylum seekers, children of the poor, children in prison.  Children of strangers, children of neighbors are disappearing, into the night, into the fog.

In the United States, Phylicia Simone Barnes is a 16 year old honor student from Monroe, North Carolina. In December, she was visiting Baltimore, thinking of attending Towson University, a local university. Phylicia went missing on December 28. There has been little, very little, media attention, despite the efforts of family, the Baltimore Police Department, and the FBI to draw attention to this case.  Why? Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi thinks he knows the reason: “”I can’t see how this case is any different from Natalee Holloway. Is it because she’s African-American? Why?” When teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared, on holiday in Aruba, there was a `media frenzy.’ For Phylicia Simone Barnes, who is Black, there is fog. She is a forgotten child.

Christina Green was born on September 11, 2001, to Roxanna and John Green, in West Grove, Pennsylvania. She was one of the 50 Faces of Hope, faces of children born on that fateful day.  Like Phylicia Simone Barnes, Christina was a star student, an engaging child, bright, mature, `amazing’. She was killed on Saturday, in a volley of gunfire apparently directed primarily against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

What becomes of hope when a Face of Hope is lost? Children are disappearing, sometimes spectacularly, amidst blazing gunfire, sometimes through a policy of practiced omission and amnesia.  In the moment, the route of spectacle or silent lack of notice seems to matter. But in the end, they are all forgotten children, and they haunt the days and ways of our world.


(Photo Credit:

Those who recall the future were never meant to survive

Marta Candeloro was abducted on June 7, 1977 in Neuquen. She was then taken to the Secret Detention Centre “La Cueva.”

On January 30, 1972, British soldiers opened fire and killed thirteen men in a peaceful civil rights march in the Bogside neighborhood of Derry. That day is called Bloody Sunday. Next Tuesday, thirty eight years later, the British government will release a report that states the killings were unlawful.

Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask the survivors. Ask those who remember.

Ask Kay Duddy. Kay was 25 years old then. Her brother Jackie was 17, a textile worker. He was shot dead as he fled across the Rossville Flats car park. He was the first person killed on Bloody Sunday. “We put Jackie’s 50th birthday in the paper and I thought, `That’s all we can do for you now, a wee memorial in the paper, people will say a prayer for you on your 50th birthday when we should have been out partying with you’. It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you.

Ask Regina McKinney. She was the third child of Gerry McKinney, 35, a wrought-iron worker and dance hall manager. He and his wife had eight children. On that Sunday, he blessed himself and put his hands in the air when confronted by soldiers. Then, one of them shot him dead: “Mammy never got over it. It took 25 years for her to even start to come to terms with it.…These men took away everything….My daddy was shot with his hands  up. I was proud the way my father died, that he had his hands in the air, that he had nothing in his hands, that he did not retaliate. To me he was a hero….The only thing I want out of the report now is for the men who were shot to go down in history as innocent. I think that is the only truth we need. The soldiers are going to have to stand before God.”

And ask Kate Nash, now 60 years old. She was the oldest daughter in a family of 13 living in Creggan on Bloody Sunday. Her 19-year-old brother William was shot dead at the Rossville Street barricade. Her father Alex went to comfort his dying son. He was shot and wounded. According to Kate, her mother laid the blame on her father’s shoulders: “She blamed my father because he survived. She wanted my brother back, not her husband. My father accepted that blame and carried it until he died.”

It is the everyday things, the wee family things that get you. Thirty eight years is a long time. Ask those who have waited, ask those who wait. Ask those who remember and those who cannot forget.

Ask Paula Luttringer. On March 31st 1977, Paula Luttringer was 21 years old and pregnant. She was kidnapped by the Argentine police and held, for five months, in a secret prison. While there, she gave birth to a daughter. She was then abruptly released and forced to leave the country immediately or face further violence. She fled to Uruguay and then to France. That was thirty three years ago. Thirty three years is a long time.

In 1995, Luttringer returned to Argentina and began to use photography as a way to explore the memories of the State violence committed against her and other women. El Lamento de los Muros (The Wailing of the Walls) emerged, a photographic essay, an archive of memories. Pete Brook, who has interviewed Luttringer, notes: “I have twice heard people urge Paula happiness in that she survived. Paula is unequivocal; having survived does not make her happy, living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors would make her happy. The violence once it is done, cannot be undone.”

The violence, once it is done, cannot be undone. Happiness would emerge from living in a world in which people didn’t have to be survivors, in which people don’t have to remember they were never meant to survive.

Estella Jackson remembers she was not meant to survive. Estella Jackon is 60 years old, a convicted killer, and a prisoner in Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in Oklahoma, the largest women’s prison in the state. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other state in the United States.

Estella Jackson chose when there was no choice: “I didn’t have a choice in what I did. It was either kill or be killed. And I chose to live”. Now the hardest thing now is explaining her life to her grandchildren. She says it’s hard to explain to children that she took a life because there were no choices and because she chose to survive. For Estella Jackson, the hardest thing is the painful memory of her grandchildren’s future, a memory in which it’s not clear they will know she chose to survive.

Herbert Murray remembers he was not meant to survive. Herbert Murray was a young man convicted by a jury for having robbed and murdered a blind man in New York City. The judge thought Murray was innocent, but had no choice, according to the mandatory guidelines, and so sentenced Murray to prison for 15 years to life. That meant after 15 years, Murray could come up for parole. He was denied repeatedly. Why? Because he claimed his innocence, he could not demonstrate remorse and so remained in jail. This is called “the innocent prisoner’s dilemma”.

And what of those who cannot remember?

New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility has the first prison unit for the cognitively impaired. The average age of its residents is 63. Everyone suffers from dementia. Many, maybe most, live with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Edward Sottile directs the center. Recently he was asked how prisoners with dementia, who don’t remember their own histories, can be rehabilitated. Dr. Sottile smiled a Hippocratic smile and replied that he had the same question and his solution is to do the best he can, to provide humane and compassionate care.

Remorse, remorse of conscience, remorse of mind is grief, sorrow, torment, painful memory. Ask those who remember, and those who cannot, they were never meant to survive, for they recall the future.


(Photo Credit: Prison Photography / Paula Luttringer, The Wailing of the Walls)