Social justice activist Colin Kaepernick recently published an online essay titled “Abolition For The People” in which he advocated the abolition of the police and prisons.
Let me say up front that I truly admire Kaepernick’s continuing “knee for social justice.” He has remarkable courage and a profound sense of justice.
Having said that, I don’t think Kaepernick has ever met anyone quite like Lee Lang or Michael Bourg. If he had, he would not see the abolition of prisons as a viable option toward achieving justice.
I do not believe that property offenders and social ills offenders (DWI and drug possession, for example) should be sent to prison. Their criminal offenses can be addressed through community supervision that would produce accountability and rehabilitation.
However, there must be prisons for people like Lee Lang and Michael Bourg.
Lang was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in the 1950s with a life sentence for murder—a sentence at that time which carried an incarceration period of 10 years and six months.
Over the next decade Lang killed four fellow inmates for little or no reason at all. And he always killed in a brutal, methodical manner.
Long before the term “super max” or long term solitary confinement entered the prison experience, Louisiana prison officials were forced to put Lang in a completely isolated confinement removed from all contact with other inmates. It was the only way to shut down that killing machine.
Michael Bourg was sent to prison for armed robbery. He fell in love with what is known in the prison setting as a “galboy.” Bourg and the galboy were white. Four black inmates started making sexual plays at the galboy. One of them called Bourg a “punk-ass bitch,” or something similar. That night Bourg killed two of them in their sleep before they could get out of bed. He killed the third one as he tried to get a weapon out of his locker. Bourg stabbed the fourth one multiple times as he banged on the dormitory door before they guard could get it open and let him escape the assault. He survived.
Bourg was also locked down in deep solitary confinement.
So, what would Kaepernick have us do with Lee Lang and Michael Bourg?
And what would the former NFL quarterback have us do with the violent prison gangs (with tens of thousands of members), child killers/rapists, serial killers, mass murderers, pedophiles, rapists, and killers who take the lives of their wives and children just to be with their Walmart girlfriends.
I know prison like Kaepernick knows football.
I know there are people in prison who have committed violent crimes, and after decades of imprisonment they deserve release consideration.
But there are thousands of inmates—like Lee Lang or El Chapo or a Neo-Nazi gang leader—who are violent and will remain violent the rest of their days on earth. They would pose an immediate, continuing threat to the free community if released.
There are not enough psychologists, social workers, group therapy programs, or diversion programs to treat, correct, or redirect their violent tendencies.
So, again, what are we to do with these people?
Release them from prison with the admonition, “go and sin no more from now on.”
The nation’s prison system is fueled by systemic racism—no doubt about that. Injustice is also a way of life in prison—so much so that it seems to be the natural order of things.
One day, through genetic engineering or Star Trek-like technology or artificial intelligence, society may find a way to deal with human violence besides penal incarceration but that panacea is nowhere in sight.
Abolition of prison is an ideal that a just, humane society must pursue, but never, ever, at the expense of the safety and well-being of the peaceful, law-abiding members of that society.