Letters to the Editor

Do criminals deserve prison rapes? Plus: Funeral parlors, drugs and Dubya; faking depression.

By Letters to the Editor
Published August 30, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Rape as a disciplinary tactic



Prisons (and undoubtedly male rape) are dark corners in
American society. Most would like to keep it that way. But as our prison
population grows (thanks to the "war on drugs") and as education
and rehabilitation programs decrease, we must face that a large segment of
our population is being socialized to be animals. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in
the world, including the recently surpassed South Africa. I'd be curious to
know if there are any such comparative studies done on prison rape. Is this
an American phenomenon?


-- Alexandra Poolos

Who cares who rapes who? The inmates of these prisons are not wrongly convicted angels; they are hardened criminals. I say whatever tools the guards, wardens and
prison systems have to keep the prisoners in line should be theirs to use.
If prison rape is such a tool, then I really don't care what happens to
them. I personally would like to see all maximum security prisoners
terminated so that the taxpayers dont have to carry that burden anymore.

-- Douglas W McNeil


Surely it is madness to house
nonviolent offenders -- often the casualties of our "war on drugs" -- with
dangerous and predatory prisoners and then to release these wounded men
back into the larger population without any treatment at all. If
violence begets violence, how can we possibly justify this? It seems
that our prisons are factories of violence, producing potentially
violent men from nonviolent offenders, who are then exported right back
onto our streets.

-- Jane Elizabeth Dougherty

Christian Parenti seems to have accepted without question the homophobic
mind-set of the criminal subculture he was reporting about. If being the
object of Wayne "Booty Bandit" Robertson's sexual desires meant
that Eddie Dillard "was reduced to a psychologically broken, politically service
'punk' ... jailhouse chattel, to be sodomized, traded and sold like a slave,"
does Parenti mean for readers to draw the conclusion that homosexuality is
degrading? If Dillard's involuntary introduction into gay life left him
"psychologically broken," what are we to say about those who choose
such a role voluntarily? If "subordinate status" in a homosexual relationship
deprives an inmate of his manhood, does this mean that one-half of gay men
are less than men?


Sarcasm aside, I believe prison staff should neither encourage nor tolerate
homosexual conduct among inmates. But if there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, the question remains: Why
did Eddie Dillard resist? Why should we sympathize with his homophobic
resistance, rather than with the "transgressive" actions of Wayne
Robertson? And what would the victim of Eddie Dillard's assault with a deadly
weapon -- the crime that put Dillard within range of Robertson's unwanted attentions
-- say of Dillard's claim of victimhood?

-- Robert Stacy McCain

Gaithersburg, Md.


Austin, we have a problem


The question is not simply whether George W. Bush used illegal drugs
when he was younger. The question is: Does he not see the hypocrisy of
his hard-line stance against today's youthful offenders? The young people he commits to jail
terms under his "zero tolerance" for drug use will have records that
will follow them all their lives. Does he notice that his "zero tolerance"
will prevent these youthful offenders from profiting from their
mistakes as he profited from his? Is he mean-spirited, trying to score
points with his Texas constituents, or is he just a hypocrite?

-- Lois Erwin

Waldwick, N.J.


While Americans have stated that they are interested in the previous drug use of Presidential candidates, they have by no means made clear that they consider it to be a large issue in the election. If it were, it might be difficult to find any viable candidate, fiven the generation from which many of our leaders sprung. This article comes across as particularly hypocritical given Salon's previous slant towards liberalization of drug laws. It appears that only when a conservative candidate has stained his record in this way is it worth of coverage in Salon.

I was particularly intrigued by the Washington Times' asking "If Mr. Bush once sampled cocaine recreationally ... how is it that he can advocate harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders?" I'm disappointed that that the obvious response to this question, that perhaps harsh drug sentences might not be the answer to America's drug probem (which may just be a problem of criminalization), was omitted.

Gov. Bush obviously has to come out "tough on drugs" to woo the religious right in this election, but, as one who has indulged, there is the possibility that he may be the one to end our country's failed war on drugs -- which his competitors, especially Vice President Al Gore, have strongly precluded should they be elected.


-- Andrew Grossman

Political editor, the Dartmouth Review

I think Salon misses the real point: that after years of
conservative pundits roiling over the past of that "draft-dogging,
pot-smoking" Clinton, it's nice to see George W. Bush Jr. getting his deserved share.

It was the family-values Republican Party that made such a big deal of
Clinton's marijuana use. Now, these self-elected cultural controllers want to
hypocritcally support a candidate who did hard drugs like cocaine, not just pot.

-- Keith Vick

Austin, Texas


Much more interesting than G.W. Bush's alleged cocaine use was his reaction when asked about the Kansas evolution law. He hemmed and hawed and -- like Elizabeth Dole and Steve Forbes -- converted it into an issue of state's rights. They all seemed to think that the
Kansans had made a justifiable decision.

The Kansas Legislature justified its decision by saying that "since nobody
was around to see the creation, there is no evidence showing how it
happened." I wonder how many of the death row inmates George W. signed
death warrants for were convicted on eyewitness evidence.

-- Charles Dowd

Who is Eliza May?



I won't argue the political merit of Eliza May's accusations or the likelihood that outlets like Salon will pursue the story in a manner that, even if it leads to nothing, will still sully George W. Bush's reputation. That Salon presents left-leaning articles by Joe Conason and others as "News" (while keeping token conservatives like David Horowitz comfortably behind "Opinion" labels) is, I think, abundantly clear. I do want to take issue with how Salon presented Robert Bryce's "Formaldegate," an otherwise excellently written piece cheapened by its presentation.

What is most on my mind is the downward spiral the story presents concerning Bush's actual culpability, which should have been presented up front. Note the progression: The home page headline carries direct accusations against Bush by a "whistleblower" (who, like priests and children, seem always to be believed, unless they're attacking Bill Clinton); the subhead on the story says it may just be a political attack; in the eighth paragraph we learn that no one is accusing Bush, directly at least, of anything; and by the time we get to the link to the story's third page, May is being called a "scandal-monger" (my quotes, not Salon's).

Many people will probably never read Robert Bryce's story. But the impression left by the headline and it's "above the fold" placement (not to mention the sick, emotion-laden anecdote he closes with, my only complaint about Bryce) will remain. That impression is the worst kind of sleazy, news-bite titillation, nearly impossible to dispel even with good reporting.

-- Scott McKim

Burbank, Calif.


Robert Bryce somehow cannot find space in his article to mention that the
Eliza May that is now litigating with Bush was, until just last summer,
the treasurer for the Texas Democratic Party.
You would think this biographical tidbit would be relevant, especially
given that Bush's supporters claim presidential politics appears to be
playing at least a supporting role in this litigation. What a most
curious omission.

-- James A. Cooley

Austin, Texas

Debunking depression


As a veteran of many teen mental health organizations, I have seen
antidepressants horrendously misused. Even the most
abysmally malformed neurotransmitters need not keep a person who uses a
combination of medication and self-honesty from becoming a productive member
of society.

I have seen people with incidences of sexual abuse, mental illness, and
every horrific thing that could happen to a fragile child overcome their
past and create relatively happy lives. Thus it enrages me that people who
are blessedly free from mental illness hide under the cloak of depression.
Why are there so many healthy people who claim depression? I think it is
because my generation (I'm 19) has lost the truth older
generations knew: Life is hard. Thinking that life will be the endless
joy of a Doublemint gum commercial, we don't know how to handle ordinary life.

-- Lillie Wade

Dr. Burton refers to a patient discussed in a recent New York Times article and expresses his doubts around her condition. Just one question: What if he's wrong and this
woman reads his article? Is his casual observation not irresponsible, if
not at least inconsiderate?

-- Richard Boaz


Phishers of men

I would like to express my support of the kind of vital outreach Gefiltephish is doing. I know how important that transition time of the late teens and early 20s is. It is the time when the question,"Who am I?" speaks loudest and must be answered. For me, at that time, the question broke me away from my secular Jewish roots and plunged me into Eastern mysticism, and even a close brush with the Moonies. Had I run into Rabbi Skaist, my path might have been different.

Today I am seeking out my Jewish religious roots, or rather, trying to grow some in the first place -- not because Judaism is inherently better than Eastern or any other religions, but because God exists everywhere, and I feel drawn to look at my own culture first. The face of Judaism is changing, though. Here in Berkeley it seems that many people are looking at Judaism and Buddhism together as a combined path, and many books, retreats and Jewish meditation centers are springing up. But the new Orthodox movements, such as the Lubovichers, also seem to be thriving and offering a straight-up-the-center viewpoint, replete with uninhibited emotion and spirituality that is missing in most Reform and Conservative temples. This approach can help people find out what being a Jew is at its core -- and from there both the Phishheads and the rest of us can either stay there or go on to practice spirituality in whatever form seems truest.

-- Ethan D. Feldman

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