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Tales From The Big House: What A Prison Sentence Really Means

Written by Print 

This article was first published in the Idaho Observer.  Reprinted with permission from Randal Steen.

Randal R. Steen, 48, was a union journeyman millwright by trade.  He is the father of four children and four grandchildren.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a non-violent drug offense.  The greatest tragedy of Steen's story is that he did not actually sell, use, or produce illegal drugs.   He went to prison for refusing to cooperate with the prosecution of his son.  Steen was a father willing to sacrifice himself to save his son, who was the guilty party.  Prosecutors were all-to-willing to charge Steen, since high conviction numbers are their priority, and because appearing to fight 'The War on Drugs' is great fodder for political campaigns.  Justice is not a part of the judicial equation in such cases, and 'The War on Drugs' is too often used to mask a war against the Bill of Rights.  For example, the search warrant which supposedly granted the police permission to begin their search was issued 2 days after his arrest, and we'll let that speak for itself.  The fact that both a judge, and a jury, were apparently okay with all of this sadly testifies about what has befallen our liberties and the inheritance of the Founding Fathers.

When I was sent to prison, the judge mentioned just the length of my sentence.  Had he included the entire scope of my punishment, he may have said it differently:

"Mr. Steen, I sentence you to take responsibility for every social ill -- past, present and future.  Each time America runs out of foreign enemies, it apparently turns on itself to find more.  By way of media, politics and indifference, people who break the law, good law or bad, become those enemies and are then responsible for every social malady.  Whether this is logical, you are the culprit.

"You are sentenced to live in a maladaptive, alien environment that defies description.  You’ll be stripped of your work skills, your self worth and your humanity while at the same time face the daily threat of assault, rape, false accusations and unjustified punishment.  You will live like this for the next 15 years.  If you manage to reenter society as a productive person, some will say prison was just what you needed.  If not, others will say 'I told you so'.

"Because of counterproductive prison policies, you are sentenced to live in a world of cruelty and indifference that perpetuates the very behavior it purports to alleviate.  If you share this with those outside of the prison system, you will be called a liar, most won't believe that $millions are spent on the proliferation of facilities that perpetuate harm, not repair it.

"You are sentenced to consume $150,000 to $600,000 in taxpayer dollars for your prison stay.  While lawmakers cite the ever growing cost of incarceration as a public necessity, you will learn that 10% of that amount goes towards your daily needs, while the other 90% pays for a bloated prison bureaucracy immune from any cost benefit analysis.  These tax dollars will be siphoned from school programs, child care, and job training -- all of which do make communities healthy and safe and save $millions in the process.  Despite the media frenzy that portrays society seething with crime, you'll learn that relatively few prisoners represent a danger to our communities.  We're mad at most felons: not scared of them.  So, you'll wonder why the majority of prisoners aren't on home arrest, a logical move that would save millions of dollars and obviate the need for more prisons.

"Practical education programs, universally proven to drastically reduce recidivism, will be almost nonexistent.  In fact, you will be disciplined for possessing more than 10 books.  Therefore, you will live in an environment where recidivism is tacitly encouraged -- a fact not lost on those who want to run prisons for a profit.

"It is true that there are some counseling programs in prison and some people will benefit from them.  Yet, if you attempt to describe the futility of a therapeutic environment placed within an atmosphere of people with dehumanizing policies, you will be told that your intentions are distorted and without merit.

"You are sentenced to bear the wrath of a misinformed society.  While you're experiencing everything I just said, you will be told how easy you have it.  The media will find your Christmas meal more newsworthy than the damage caused by lawmakers who jostle for the next 'get tough' policy at the expense of society's well being.  Your privilege to have this once-a-year meal will be presented as so outrageous, a debate will ensue over which 'luxury' to take away next.  Politicians will focus on violent sociopaths and pronounce their horrific crimes as a yard slide to measure the innate danger and incorrigibility of all lawbreakers, including you.

"Finally, as perhaps the most perverse component of your sentence, I hereby prohibit society from ever listening to you.  Your comments on crime and punishment will be ignored.  You, as well as others, will see the big picture, but few will care about the politics of crime and its role in our growing prison population.  You will know that most prisoners are guilty of breaking the law, but only a few need to be separated from society.  You will know that it is the reporting and sensationalism of crime that has skyrocketed; not crime itself.

"Unfortunately, though, you will one day return to society with firsthand knowledge of our prison system.  Few will care. Most see only the door leading into prison -- not the one leading out.

"Therefore, if your opinion ever gets printed in a newspaper, you will not only be perceived as just another lawbreaker unable to accept the consequences of his actions, but of being manipulative as well.  Society will know this to be so because you broke the law.

"You are hereby sentenced to be a messenger whose message will be forever perceived as tainted, self serving and disingenuous; regardless of veracity and accuracy.

"No one will believe you.  You have been sentenced to be a criminal."


Comments (7)
  • Jean Clink  - Yes

    Excellent. Exactly. Right on. You've got it. Thank you!

  • Chris

    wow, this was amazing, very eloquent

  • Anonymous

    I personally have known Randy Steen for 35 years. He is a lier of the worst kind. He did not sacrifice himself for his son. He thru his son under the bus. He would force him to sling dope for him and go on burgleries with him. He DID manufacture and deal drugs his whole free life. He never paid child support. In fact he stole his sons paper route money when they were young. To include him in the company of people who really are inocent is a joke and a crime in itself.

  • Sarah C. Corriher (H.W. Researcher)

    Ahh! Ex-wives.. aren't they beautiful and lovely people? He must have been a lucky man to have found you, as we now find you patrolling the Internet to kick him while he is already down.

  • Chuck Aurora  - what is "crime"?

    It is worth pointing out that the word, "crime", has been stolen from us by the legal/judicial establishment. It does not mean what they say it does. Laws do not define crime; victimization does.

    A drug user or seller is not a criminal per se. A person who is thrown into a prison merely for using or possessing or selling a substance is a victim. The law is the criminal.

    I think that the semantic distinction is very important, and it tends to put stories like this in a much different light.

  • kenny

    as long as humans let the voice in our heads dictate what we do and how we live no one will ever see the error of their ways or how ridiculous our whole health ,education, and legal system really is

  • darlene fox

    i have always had an interest in animals and an exceptional love especially for cats. although cats are my main focus, i do have a small variety of non related interests also.

    non cat issue things that bug me include our government and how it has become something no longer by the people and for the people, but instead something by the elite and for the big business.

    the money spent on cancer treatment is overwhelming. major pharmaceutical companies depend on it. prevention or merely a cure that may be something as simple as something that can be grown in ones back yard could cost their company billions in losses.

    putting a host of vaccines into just a few inoculations is cheaper for the vaccine maker although it has proven to be costly to the health or even the lives of numerous infants and children receiving those vaccines. and as people try to fight back, they end up in positions to where they infant may not be allowed to leave the hospital after birth or to go to school without said vaccines. parents may even end up as "criminals" who are jailed for refusing their children to be vaccinated. it is not because the government is concerned over your child's health. why is one a criminal if their child becomes ill because you knowingly gave them raw milk yet it is legal for vaccine companies to make numerous adults and children ill due to the use (often mandated) of untested or knowingly tainted or dangerous immunizations?

    big pharm supports government as so government supports big pharm. i tend to believe it is much the same with monsanto, the prison industry and a host of other big businesses. these are some of the biggest criminals in our time yet not only have the go ahead by the government to continue in their crimes against humanity but they also backed and often protected by the government in their crimes against humanity. it's the "you pat my back and i'll pat yours" policy.

    should people be locked up for non violent crime? as i see it, it depends on the crime. someone who breaks into your home and robs you while you are away does not constitute true violence. however, it does have a victim, the home owner who has lost possessions, has suffered financial loss. when there is a victim of the crime, restitution and/or imprisonment seems to be a just punishment in my opinion.

    but drug offenses? i had a friend who went to prison for having a large amount of marijuana in his vehicle. (yes, he was a dealer.) when he was paroled he had to pay a certain amount for restitution. restitution? who was or were his victim/s? apparently the police who "had" to arrested him, the court that "had" to imprisoned him and/or the prison itself that "had" to keep him. where else could have that restitution money have gone? (of course it may have possibly gone to victims of other crimes but in that case, he was not paying restitution but instead being forced to make a donation to crime victims which should have at least been tax deductible.) by being forced to pay restitution when there is no victim involved in his "crime" is extortion which in the end, makes him the victim of his own crime. yet he did not get the restitution money that he had to pay sent back to him.

    the restitution money for victimless crimes obviously can not go to the victim of the victimless crime. so where does it go? like i said, apparently it went to the police who "had" to arrested him, the court that "had" to imprisoned him and/or the prison itself that "had" to keep him. so that means these agencies and institutions are the victims of a crime because they are the ones receiving the restitution. they have enabled themselves to be victims through the passing of laws making certain acts illegal therefore causing them the necessity to spend funds to search out, incriminate and incarcerate the person doing such acts that they have made illegal. it also enables them to receive money from the govt. (our tax money) to search out, incriminate and incarcerate. so in reality, if there is another actual victim here, the tax payer. but i have yet to see anyone receive restitution for the taxes they have had to pay because the law has decided some drugs are illegal without a prescription and therefore have taken your hard earned tax dollars in order to search out, incriminate and incarcerate those who are growing or making, selling or buying, or simply in possession of such drugs... or those just suspected of such activity.

    to make it simple, almost everyone is a victim of a victimless crime, including the person arrested for the crime. the only ones who are not the victims are the ones who collect the restitution money for the victimless crime which technically is a crime in itself but i guess in some cases it is totally legal to extort money from another using reasons that clearly do not exist. it is strangely interesting how some acts are illegal as well as legal depending on who is committing the act.

    addiction to alcohol is treated as a disease yet addiction to drugs is usually treated as a crime. why is alcohol legal yet drugs illegal? especially marijuana. and sure marijuana is legal in some cities and states. well, it's sort of legal. where it is legal in the u.s. it still is considered illegal by the u.s. one may not need to worry about their local or state authorities but they still aren't safe from arrest when it comes to the feds.

    what it boils down to what is right can be wrong as well as what is wrong can be right. it depends on who you know and who you blow. (and of course how many millions you thrown into getting candidates elected into office.)

    by the people and for the people? it is more like bye to the people and forget the people. but who cares? every one is more interested in who will be the next american idol and who will win the next sports cup or championship or title. and that is exactly how are our government wants it.

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