A couple of months ago, I wrote about a decrease in jail revenue due to the decreasing county jail population, a statistic which had been displayed up to the minute on an electronic sign in front of the jail. The sign, including the little digital prisoner in his striped uniform and ball and chain, has been dark for a couple of weeks now, ever since our new county sheriff was sworn in January 1. I’m relieved. I always thought it was kind of voyeuristic, watching the daily toll of lives torn apart, in chaos. It seems to me the souls in that building deserve some privacy. Only God and their consciences know if they are innocent or guilty and what events brought them there. That’s what prisons are – human warehouses. They don’t need my prying mind.
Why do we do that, peer at car accidents, celebrity meltdowns, and the general wreckage of human life? Conventional wisdom says we do it because it makes us feel better about our own lives. I wonder if there isn’t something else at work, too. Don’t we also watch or read the details of sordid stories and wonder what happened in those people’s lives to bring them to that point, wondering what we’d have done under the same circumstances? Would we have folded under their pressures, or would we have had the strength to make better choices? It’s an unfair question. No one can truly know what someone else’s life is really like, how heavy were the burdens they’ve carried. Maybe we can pretend we do and feel relatively better after all about our own choices. Or maybe, we can simply feel better about our burdens. Dear Abby once said if we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back. I’m glad the problems of those behind the walls of our county jail are not out on the pile anymore. Keep the sign dark.
“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles.” –Charlie Chaplin