MAN CHOOSES PRISON OVER POVERTY (from 2006)
This essay was originally published in the USBIG NewsFlash in September 2006.
I was struck by a report in the Associated Press reported on October 12th that a 63-year-old Ohio man intentionally had himself convicted of bank robbery. Timothy J. Bowers sought a three-year prison sentence to bridge the gap until he becomes eligible for full Social Security benefits. Bowers had lost his job making deliveries for a drug wholesaler more than three years ago and had been unable to find anything but minimum wage labor, which he could not live on. So, finally, he went to a bank, handed the clerk an envelope and demanded that she put cash it in. He then walked straight to the bank’s security guard, confessed, handed him the envelope filled with only $80 in cash, and calmly waited for the police.
The court-ordered psychological evaluation pronounced him sane and competent to stand trial. Judge Angela White gave Bowers the three-year sentence he asked for. According to the AP, “Prosecutors had considered arguing against putting Bowers in prison at taxpayer expense, but they worried he would do something more reckless to be put behind bars.” Arguing against tough sentencing is an ironic position for American prosecutors well known for locking away petty criminals.
This is an isolated incident. It is hardly a repeat of the Irish Potato famine when there were stories of large numbers of people getting themselves arrested to avoid starvation. But still, I think it says something about the low-wage labor market in the United States today. U.S. prisons are not easy, pleasant, or kind places to be under any circumstances. America is not in a famine; by some measures, it is the richest country in the world. What does it say about the jobs we offer the underprivileged when a sane person can choose prison over labor market?
-Karl Widerquist, New Orleans, LA, September 2006