The studio had been dormant, preparation time for some major life changes that have commenced, until just a few weeks ago when I began the next series based on the Die Prügelstrafe studies. Some themes within those small compositions: stripping-down, controlled destruction as mark-making, corporal punishment; led me to think about justice in current times. I had also experienced some troubling emotions over recent disparity in sentencing within our courts, for example:
Homeless man, Roy Brown, gets 15 years for stealing $100 is an example of a citizen failed by society in Louisiana, who claimed his hunger and need for detox were reason enough to steal from a bank.
Conversely, Bank Employee, Michele Lauryn Osteen, Steals $100K from Trusts, Gets a Year and a Day in Prison is, of course, the sad tale of a banker pilfering from children and the infirm, put away for a leap year.
When working on the Die Prügelstrafe series in 2010, I had been battling my own demons of substance dependency muddled with depression and anxiety. Having experience with prescription drug addiction in my twenties, I was able to identify the primary problem holding me back (one never forgets the withdrawal symptoms after long-term benzodiazapene abuse,) and seek help with working on the secondary problems the former medicated.
I am, however, by all measurements of society, a privileged man. I am educated, conscious of my surroundings and just plain lucky to have both of those working in my favor. Had I been living elsewhere, a city such a Shreveport that lacks a city health care program for the uninsured, or were I affected with schizophrenia, or stigmatized with homelessness, my situation today might be rather different.
Of course, I feel nothing but disgust for outcomes like Osteen’s, or that of Igor Poteroba: Former UBS Investment Banker Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 22 Months in Prison for Insider Trading Scheme. It seems that people categorize white collar crimes as non-violent. Is simultaneously robbing millions of people, and subsequently attempting to defraud the federal government, really non-violent? It would seem to me that the quantity of carnage, the subsequent pain experienced by the victims, would suggest violence, perhaps as it should in the case of Paul Allen.
In 2009, Paul Allen was convicted of defrauding $3,000,000,000.00 (three billion if you feel dazed by all those zeroes,) from investors and corporations, causing 2000 employees to lose their job when the company he led then folded. The loss of capital investment from numerous other small players, middle-class investors indirectly connected to his actions, surely spread his violent greed in corners of the country far removed from a Manhattan courtroom. His sentence, for pink-slipping a whole company and playing a large part in the mortgage crisis that nearly brought down the United States economy this past decade, was just under six years. His sentence is not even half of what Roy Brown received for threatening to harm the single bank employee he stole one slice of paper currency from.
What would jail be like, being trapped, being a schizophrenic drug addict, a homeless man, or even just someone desperate for healthcare, and spending a significant length of time behind bars? My own neurotic mind would begin counting each day to my release, fashioning a makeshift tool to create a tally, four lines down & one across – a hash marked into the wall each day I slept beside it.
Yet, my own violent experiences played out in the safety of my studio coerced me to pick up a knife and cut something rather than punish my self. I had been, for several years, trapped and confined within the darker parts of my memory. In those moments my desires to escape led me to sharp decisions.
Still, no one escapes violence, we need just turn on our internet and reload the news. We are surrounded. It is our disproportionate actions as we enforce the rules of justice that perpetuate the violence we seek to squelch. This is prevalent in cases of bank fraud, drug sentencing, treating minors as adults, stigmatizing sex offenders for life – each hall of justice continues the traditions of flagellation. It is about time our nation re-examine the criminal justice system, and furthermore, the failures in our education and social systems that lead so many to believe violence and crime are appropriate tools for escaping their problems.