I don't condone murder, but as a result of the sentencing of Aaron Hernández, the former professional football player, I've had some thoughts about the punishment that those convicted of murder in our society receive.
To begin with, I am against the death penalty. It is an immoral thing to do to take someone's life, even if that person murdered another person. But Hernández's sentence of life in prison I now think is also immoral under present prison conditions. Indeed, I would argue that it is a form of torture.
For the rest of his life, Hernández will be subjected to constant and daily physical and emotional examinations. He will be subjected to abuse by prison guards and by other inmates, including physical and sexual attacks and possibly even murder. American penitentiaries are known not for rehabilitating prisoners, but for brutalizing them. There is little, if any, public oversight of these institutions that are now run more by private corporations and not by state governments.
If you don't believe that our prisons have become torture chambers, please read Jimmy Santiago Baca's A Place To Stand, the story of Baca's imprisonment for selling drugs in Arizona. You can also see a recently released film based on Baca's memoir. His experience in prison exposes the brutalities by both inmates and guards. Baca's experience is not unique; these conditions exist throughout the American prison system.
In effect, Hernández has been sentenced to a lifetime of abuse and torture. Yes, of course, he needs to be punished for his own actions against other human beings, but we in turn do not need to brutalize him and dehumanize him in prison. Prisoners, irrespective of their crimes, have to be treated humanely and with respect as human beings created in the likeness of God.
On the cross, Jesus turned to one of the other crucified prisoners and forgave him. We need to forgive Hernández and other prisoners and truly attempt to rehabilitate them. These prisoners, including Hernández, should be treated with respect and should have an opportunity to re-humanize themselves. They should be allowed educational opportunities and work experiences and should be able to go outside their cells, allowing them the sense of being people again, and to interact with others outside the prisons.
Hernández, given his athletic background, could under supervision be allowed to work with inner-city youth in athletic programs, for example. He and other prisoners need as much time as possible to interact with their families and even be allowed, under supervision, to have family visits, including conjugal ones. I don't claim to have all of the answers as to how we can humanize prisons, but to me, the bottom line is that we cannot turn around and treat prisoners like Hernández for their brutal crimes by in turn brutalizing and torturing them. This is wrong, and it is immoral.