Doing time

When you walk into a jail, you move from a space where no one has enough time to a space where the residents have far too much time.  Everyone is waiting.

One way to make time pass faster in jail is to change how much you sleep.  Some of my clients who ask for sleep medication report sleeping poorly, but others are sleeping fine and just want to do more of it.  One guy complained he was only getting 7 hours instead of his usual 12.  Another asked if we could give him a medication to help him sleep 24 hours a day until his court date.  (I explained that this is called a coma, so no.)

Jail is especially cruel to insomniacs.  One of my clients pointed out that someone sleeping 4 hours a night instead of 8 has a sentence that’s effectively 25% longer.

The problem with passing time in jail is not just that it’s miserable.  It’s also all the time you miss.  Your high school prom.  Your daughter’s first words.  Your father’s last words.  There’s lots of time for your employer to give up on you.  Time for your girlfriend to find another man.  The holidays and birthdays.  Every night and every morning knowing your loved ones are going about their lives without you.

I hadn’t realized how similar jail is to time-out for adults until I heard how many of my clients use that to explain their whereabouts to their young children.  “You know how we put you in time out when you do something wrong?  Mommy made a mistake, and she can’t leave until the judge says so.”

Except that time-outs are not as popular as they were.  I keep hearing about parents who use “time-ins.”  Toddler is throwing things?  Rather than banishing her to her room, remove her from the scene and go spend time together somewhere else (say 5 minutes cuddling on the couch).  Probably harder for parents, as it means staying with a child you may be totally frustrated with.  But for some kids, it seems to work better.

And timeout is no deterrent for the kid who enjoys being sent to his room because he can just play there. I know a few of these in the jail — young men whose friends from the neighborhood are mostly locked up too.  They spend their days joking and romping, and the lack of responsibility is enough to make up for the terrible food and the difficulty of obtaining marijuana.  Jail time isn’t a big deal to them, by their own admission.

I wonder what time-in would look like as an alternative to jail.  I recognize that community service, etc. would not work for a lot of my clients because they can’t get away from the things that keep tripping them up: their addictions, their lack of job skills, and their lack of life skills in general.  But I think an adult time-in could look like Norway’s Bastoy Prison.  Rather than remove all the elements of normal life, they recreate normal life – not the wheeling and dealing on the streets that likely made up the prisoners’ lives before, but a life based on work and responsibility.  Prisoners shop for groceries, cook their own meals, maintain their dwellings, and work in the farm, bicycle shop, stables, or timber workshop.  Critics call it “cushy,” but it has the lowest re-offense rate of any European prison.



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