Source : Google photo of Jimmy Carter carrying his bag
Synopsis : We are remembered positively or negatively or not at all depending on how we have behaved all our life. So what we leave behind does matter to the living who may stop and say a silent prayer over your tomb stone someday and say He was a good man who was so humble , so helpful to others and so kind hearted .
In the deserts of Arabia when you meet a Bedouin, he will greet you with Salam alei kum and offer you water or tea while sitting in the shade of a date palm tree where his camel also gets to drink water and rest. If you are young and need his protection because the desert can be a dangerous place for someone traveling alone, he cannot deny it. His faith prohibits it.
There is a congeniality among them that prevails against all odds and is observed. Their life is harsh because the desert is very unforgiving so they are required to be congenial toward the strangers they sometime meet who may need their help.
They can also be brutal toward their rivals so there exists inter-tribal animosity in some parts that may lead to bloodshed over water source which is not a trivial matter in the desert. You may have seen the movie Lawrence of Arabia and know about some of the desert rules and etiquettes.
I have seen the good nature of people in many parts of the world where the simple people are found to be the most hospitable people on earth who will give you shelter and food if you need and who will come to your help without any strings attached if you need it.
I have also seen this good nature in people in small towns of Algeria where they invited me in seeing that I was getting soaked in rain, dried my clothes and gave me hot coffee and shared their meal with me. I have seen this in very poor farmers there who knowing that I had not eaten the whole day while working with them in their fields put eggs and cheese in the hood of my Arab gown ( called djellaba).I was overwhelmed with their kindness and hospitality everywhere.
During the war in Vietnam when I was working there as a volunteer agronomist, I was often stopped on the road by farmers who would insist that I share their food and drinks with them and they protected me from harm by giving me warning of some impending peril that may have saved my life many times.
So I start to think why some people in some parts of the world are so gentle and nice to strangers while in other parts they are not. What makes those poor Bedouins share their food and water in the desert where such things are so rare? What made those poor Vietnamese farmers share their food and water with me when there was a terrible war going on and the life was so insecure?
If you go to Japan today, you will be overwhelmed by their courtesy and hospitality they will extend to you without even knowing you and a poor taxi driver in Hong Kong invited me to his dwelling in the slum of Sheung Shui to share a meal with me there.
I have seen the goodness of people in Sicily where they showered their hospitality on me and where the kids shed tears when I was leaving and I am still so impressed when a man came out of his house in a small town in California and invited me to share his Thanksgiving meal with his family. I have many such experiences all over the world but I also have some bad experiences in some parts that makes me write this blog today.
In some countries people are nice to strangers because of their faith that teaches them to be so but I think it is more than the faith that makes people congenial and hospitable. I think it is a part of their culture and it naturally varies from country to country.
In some countries people are naturally suspicious of strangers and will ask all sorts of questions before they can decide whether to be nice to you or not which may have something to do with their political system they live under. You will never be received by anyone in North Korea because people there are so afraid of meeting strangers and are required to report them to the authorities while in more open societies where people live under democracy may not behave that way.
But once in Bulgaria during their repressive communist rule, I was well received by the tourist agency late at night in Sophia when they arranged for me to stay with a family and a taxi driver broke all the rules to bring me back to the hotel in Varna where I had forgotten my overcoat and still managed to bring me back to the airport. He drove up to the plane that was ready to taxi out and convinced the pilot to take me on board even if I was so late. Such kindness and hospitality can warm anyone’s heart and make his faith in humanity grow.
Then I go to India where I give gasoline to a scooter driver who had run out of gas. He takes it and starts his scooter without even saying a simple Thank you and rides off. It has happened many times there and not only in Ranikhet. Yet India claims to be a country of courtesy and hospitality but perhaps with some strings attached.
So I started to think that the courtesy, congeniality and hospitality to strangers becomes a part of the culture in some countries where their religion plays a great role in it even if their political system is repressive.
In more open societies like in India, you find people who rarely say thank you for the help you give them unhesitatingly although I am sure there are many decent people there.
The good nature in people is always moderated by one sterling quality they all have that is called humility. When the Prime Minister of New Zealand sits next to you in a cramped economy seat in a flight, I call him humble. When the Pope washes the feet of a Muslim girl, I call him humble. When Jimmy Carter carries his own bag, I call him humble but they are very important people who give us all an example of great humility that we should practice but how many of us do?
The padres here in the Philippines make the appeal from their pulpits all the time to be humble, to be compassionate toward the needy and be gentle and be helpful to others but who listens? The avid church goers here are some of the meanest, toughest and nastiest people found anywhere but why is it so?
My wife always keeps bottles of water in the ref for anyone who comes to our gate to their great surprise because here no one gives them water or anything and won’t even open the gate for them unless they know them because people are so mean and paranoid about strangers.
A delivery boy came the other day from a great distance to bring us a package and kept on saying Thank you M’am , God bless you when my wife gave him cold water. He was so dehydrated riding his bike in the heat of the day but then my wife is a very kind woman who extends such courtesy to strangers all the time.
You will find very mean and arrogant people who are paranoid and very suspicious of anyone who greets them just to say hello so they never get to meet their neighbors. They also happen to be very lonely and isolated because of their self-imposed wall that they can’t break down.
So I start to analyze this nature in people and draw some conclusions. I think people who come from poverty and get some education, get a good job and build a nice home, buy a car and live in a fancy gated community become a victim of their material success and become very arrogant. This happens in India and in many countries.
They are also very paranoid as if their hard earned success will slip away somehow through their fingers because believe it or not, it happens to many who lose their homes, cars and other material things because they borrow money to live a lifestyle they can’t afford so the banks take it all away when they fail to pay the mortgage.
A simple farmer does not have much to lose because he is so poor. He will readily offer you food and drinks to show his hospitality. But to say that poverty makes people more friendly, hospitable and congenial towards strangers is to say that the poor people are better than the middle class which may be stretching the truth somewhat. The poor people suffer more from crime and drug addiction, joblessness, low quality of life, poor food and living conditions than the middle class.
The high cost of living, the pressure to live a better life and the social cost of living the way they do makes them more prone to be more cynical, suspicious and afraid of strangers than the most and yet I find the poor people in Algeria and Vietnam were so nice.
So what it comes down to is that inherently the poor people of this world are more humane as you find almost anywhere in Africa who will readily trust you and offer you their hospitality but that changes where they struggle to survive in vast slums that blight almost all the major cities of this world. Their priorities are then determined by the degree of their struggle.
The unfriendly middle class and their paranoia is a symptom of the fragility of their status especially if they live beyond their means and try hard to protect what they have gained. The arrogance and rudeness in them is just an added layer of body armor they put on to hide their low self-respect.
The poor farmers do not go hungry because they are self-reliant and grow their own food but this is not true in the slum dwellers who have to struggle to earn their bread every day. This constant struggle for survival wears down the values they had when they were farmers.
I appreciate humility in a person that sets him apart from others. Such people are very approachable and are naturally friendly like Jimmy Carter. The power and his position did not go to his head like it does in some politicians these days.
But I do not appreciate the arrogance in anyone no matter who he is and least of all in a monk because by the nature of their vocation, they must always be humble yet we found a monk in Canberra who was so arrogant. We were surprised and disappointed in the monk.
We all are given a chance to leave behind our legacy in this world when we depart it but how many of us leave a positive legacy behind? How many of us stop to think for a minute what others think of us or do we care? Apathy, intolerance, suspicion, arrogance, ignorance, bigotry, religious fanaticism, racism, hateful behavior, paranoia, mistrust of people are all symptoms of a stress related life people live and act accordingly.
So I conclude that I would rather be a poor farmer buried under the shade of an oak tree where people may stop someday and think of me as a good person who gave food to others when he had so little and gave shelter to others in his hut. That is the legacy we should all aim for. Shouldn’t you ?
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography:
Source : Google photo of a very crowded jail in the Philippines
Synopsis : We often see simple ordinary people thrown in jail for minor infractions in many countries so they suffer needlessly and come out with trauma that bedevils them the rest of their life . The punishment given to anyone should be proportional to the offense so a reform in the penal system is needed to help those who have served their term to re assimilate into their society to live a productive life.
There was a time in the United Kingdom of Great Britain where a child of 10 years of age was tried and convicted of a crime for stealing a loaf of bread because he was hungry and was ordered to be transported. Did you know what that word meant in England in those days? It meant that a convict was sent to Australia on a rickety slave ship that took over a month to reach Australia in the company of other convicts charged with dubious crimes surviving often on just a loaf of bread and water .
Now you can imagine how the bread can turn into a moldy lump during such a long sea voyage with some added vermins thrown in for taste but the convicts had no choice but to survive their horrendous ordeal not knowing what awaited them at their destination. It was better for them not to know because the penal colony of Australia in those days was barren with absolutely no facilities to house and feed anyone let alone undesirables from England so the convicts were put to work to cut stones and make bricks to build shelters first.
It was worse than slave labor for even the children because no one was spared from working. No one could run away because where could they go? It was a vast continent where only the native Australians managed to survive based on their survival skills honed over centuries but they were not eager to help the new arrivals and watched them with suspicion.
So from the Botany bay where they landed, the colony spread toward other coastal areas giving rise to towns and cities later but it took them hundreds of years to do so while the convict ships kept arriving with more people including women and children. Never in the history of mankind a colony was established with the sweat and tears of white people so far from their homeland but that is how Australia was established.
There is a family name called Everingham that has multiplied and spread all over Australia now but once in a while they all gather somewhere to greet each other and remember the first Everingham who had arrived there as a convict for some frivolous misdemeanor centuries ago.
The United Kingdom at that time found it convenient to transport all their undesirables to Australia because their jails were already full and building new jails cost a lot of money so it was a cheaper solution and gain a foothold in a new continent called Australia. It was a wild gamble but it paid off handsomely when they discovered gold and precious gems there later by accident. So they sent men , women and children to fend for themselves and the prostitutes who were so poorly equipped to do so in a far away and strange country.
The governor general of the penal colony was the judge ,jury and executioner rolled into one so many convicts were flogged or even hanged for some infractions because he was supposed to uphold the law and order and somehow make the colony profitable for England so he was relentless in pushing the convicts to work harder and start planting crops for food . This was really hard for them because back in England they were not farmers and did not have the skills to grow their own food. What did children and prostitutes know about farming or doing hard labor to cut stones and make bricks?
This bit of history is the background over which I want to paint the story of crime and punishment now and see where we have arrived since those days and where we are going in the future .
There are millions of common people all over the world who are incarcerated for simple crimes like jaywalking or stealing a loaf of bread or selling cigarette somewhere without a permit so nothing has changed since the Everinghams arrived in Australia. The penal system and the facilities to jail the convicts varies from country to country but the size of the incarcerated people all over the world keeps on growing .
In the United States alone , it is estimated that over two million people are behind bars and more are being jailed daily so more jails are being built to accommodate them where the government relies on private contractors to build the jails for them and maintain them . It has become a very big business for the private contractors to build jails all over the country because they make huge amount of money and are happy to turn the whole country into jails if that is what makes them rich.
In other countries like here in the Philippines, the government has little or no money to build new jails so they keep pushing new arrivals into cells that are already overcrowded with no room to spare for the new inmates. It is like over crowded rats in a small room leading to frequent fights for survival so the jails have their gangs that rule over the inmates. They are brutal and violent who can kill someone with impunity because they are there for life so who can punish them more?
The gang lords can carry on illegal drug smuggling, trade in contraband and run the prison anyway they want so the new inmates either submit to their will or be forced to do so by threats, beatings and sexual assaults so by and large the inmates accept the rules just to survive there. The old crooks just laugh when they hear someone say that he was framed and is innocent. The warden and the guards do the same. Why are you here if you are innocent? Their belief in their justice system is unshakable.
There is a story about a fellow who was a very educated person and was jailed for some bank fraud so the warden hired him to do his book keeping because the man was a talented accountant who kept a very good record of all the bribes the warden was taking and stashing it away in some banks. This ledger was kept by the warden in a safe after each entry but one day the convict was released after his term ended.
When the warden opened the safe, he found a blank ledger because the accountant had departed with the real ledger in his hand that he used to find all the money of the warden in banks, withdrew all of them using fake ID and real passwords etc. that he managed to get while in prison and then handed over the ledger to the police. When the police came to arrest the warden, he shot himself. This is perhaps just a story for the movies but such cases do happen in prisons.
In some countries where racism is widespread, the people of dark skin bear the brunt of the penal system and suffer the most. If they are released after sometime then they bear the scar of their prison life the rest of their life and try to survive as best as they can. Some are so traumatized by their brutal experience that they fail to overcome and adjust to the society again.
So now I come to the analysis part of this blog and ask why is it that people are still incarcerated for minor misdemeanor like jay walking or stealing a loaf of bread when he is hungry? Why women are separated from their children and their home for a simple breach of law that perhaps they did not know anything about?
Did you know that there are thousands of obsolete laws that the police in many countries still use to jail people because there has never been a serious attempt to reform the penal system? The common people may not know all the laws they must obey all the time so they can get into trouble very easily so they are arrested over minor traffic violations or some such things , booked at the police station and finger printed where they take the mug shots and create a dossier on that person. This dossier is constantly updated each time the person is arrested on some frivolous charges that may not even be real.
The police dossier on a person is like a stain on his or her reputation so it may prevent him to get a college education or a job later because the employer may want a police clearance. This stain no matter how unfair is like indelible ink that can’t be washed away.
In some countries , there are some courageous people who have tried to make jails better for the inmates but they are so rare that I must tell this story just to show you what is possible if there is a will. This story should inspire all the jail wardens to reform their system.
There is a very infamous jail in Delhi called Tihar where many convicts were kept in abominable conditions. Prison riots were common due to the poor quality food and living conditions where hard core criminals are kept with others jailed for simple crimes. This changed when a female jail warden took the job and went about improving the jail and its living conditions almost immediately. She sorted out those people who could learn a trade like carpentry, baking or cooking etc. and provided them with training.
The convicts then started to bake bread, cakes and various other things that were sold outside and the profit was distributed among the convicts. Others made bags, wallets etc. that were also sold and the profits shared . The warden dramatically improved the quality of food for all the inmates , made sure that they all had some physical activity through sports and made Tihar jail as the model for all the jails anywhere . The released inmates who had acquired some skills in baking and other things got some loans later to set up their own business and prosper.
The lady warden was acclaimed as the best warden for improving the jail and the conditions for the inmates and was given many awards but it did not sit well with others in the penal system who were green with envy and blocked her further promotion to the extent that she was prevented to go to the White House where President Obama had invited her because he had heard what she had achieved.
She had shown that the jails do not have to be hellish where the people suffer needlessly. She had shown a way to train them and get some skills that allowed them to set up their own business when they were let out so that they could support themselves and their family.
This story could be emulated everywhere because the vast majority of people in jail are released after serving their term but find it hard to live a normal life somewhere with a good job and raise a family.
There was a time when a person charged with a simple felony or misdemeanor was given a fine and a warning and let go. The serious offenders were given stricter punishments after a brief verification of facts so Emperor Akbar ordered their execution. He kept a monstrous elephant in Fateh Pur Sikri that was trained to step on the chest of a convict to crush him. During the monarchy, the crime rate was low so people lived in peace.
Then came the notorious justice system and zillions of laws for the common people to obey so they started building massive jails using tax payer’s money . The courts now have a back log of cases pending due to the massive corruptions in their system that the lawyers take full advantage of to keep a guilty person out of jail. This is their bread and butter so they want the cases to languish in courts for years. This brings enormous grief to the litigants in terms of time and money spent who only want a quick justice but the system does not allow it.
Once a court sends a man to prison, his ordeal really starts where he is abused by other inmates.Women are not spared either in jails where the hard core female inmates do the same as their male counterparts. The Ashley Judd movie the Double jeopardy is worth watching where the story of a female convict wrongly put in prison who gets her revenge when she gets out is graphically shown with superb acting.
I think the jails serve a purpose to keep really bad people there who have committed serious crimes but the ordinary people should not be treated this way and should be allowed to go after paying a small fine or a warning so that they can continue to live their life. This means that the penal system has to undergo a very serious reform to reduce the number of people incarcerated and reduce the tax payers burden.
The reform must start in the judicial system where a speedy justice should become normal and where the greedy lawyers must be told to speed up the process and not delay. There is nothing more depressing than the courts where you see hundreds of black gowned lawyers milling around like vultures looking for their next kill.
Most people are simple folks who are law abiding so they should not be punished this way for simple mistakes. We all make mistakes and hopefully learn from it. The justice system should after all be fair and should focus on those people who are by nature bad and do bad things.
I hope that someday all jail wardens will follow the example of that lady warden in Tihar who so impressed President Obama.
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography:
via Etienne Dinet