We Will Never Learn and I Have Proof

I’ve made this joke many times, that I’ve wanted to title my books We Will Never Learn and I Have Proof, but I’ve never wanted to more than with this one. I’m giving my book a final read before sending it to my editor, where it will go on to copy editing. It’s a chance to step back, and reflect on what the book says as a whole.

This book covers so many areas: criminal justice, mental health, poverty, health care, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn how we, as a society, have handled very difficult problems in these fields for the past 150 years or so.

But what I’ve learned, as so many historians learn over and over, is that we keep doing the same terrible things over and over. It’s most striking in the area of criminal justice, where I read about the same appalling practices that John Oliver covers in his show Last Week Tonight.

I’ve probably posted these sentiments before, I’m sure I’ve written posts with this title before, but I’m just really feeling it now. I’m going over what I’ve written about prisons full of teenagers and poor people, and the bail system, and it’s just appalling. What upsets me most is, I don’t know how to turn it around. I have no suggestions. Well, no realistic suggestions, but I’ll post about that when my book comes out.

I’ve certainly made my book sound appealing, haven’t I??

Tomorrow is my birthday, and this is a present from a friend!

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “We Will Never Learn and I Have Proof

  1. First, happy birthday for tomorrow!

    Second, I am sure there must be other people who have felt the way you do, about the criminal justice system. Therefore, some of them must have been academics who studied how to make things better. Plus, I know there are other countries who have made things better. Maybe not perfect, but better. I know we in Canada still struggle with our system. In our case, there are proportionately far too many indigenous people in the system, which shows systemic bias. But we admit this is a problem and there are people thinking up ways to make it better (unfortunately, none of them are in positions to effect solutions, but one day they will be.) So there are examples of how to make changes that make things better, but likely only a few have been put into practise. This is because most governments lack the political will do make changes of any sort, never mind changes that could be beneficial to a group of people who have transgressed against ‘good’ members of society. Most governments treat the prison system as a monolith and don’t look at the individuals caught in the system, partly because it takes time and effort and also because they don’t want to humanize the people in the system.

    Here’s an example I just thought of – having prisoners rehabilitate dogs by training them so the dogs can get adopted. Every time I have seen a show about this, I weep for how wonderful it is for both the prisoners and the dogs. It also shows that positive change can be effected. Another incredibly simple change they could make would be to have yoga classes in the prison gym, instead of what they do have which is testosterone boosting weight lifting. Anyway.

    Ultimately, people have to want to make these changes and the population benefitting doesn’t tend to be the kind of people others want to help so the changes don’t get made. Prisoners need advocates who really care about them and their situations and those are hard to find.

  2. Happy Birthday — that’s from me and eight kitties here on the north shore of Long Island.

    Your friend found a way to get around the U S Post Office ban on packages wrapped up in string. But it looks like that’s going to be a very hard package to unwrap. Make a nice cup of tea, put on a Terry Gross podcast, and have at it.

    Good thing you are taking such care with your fact checking. I was just alerted to an error — a very teeny error — in my garden book (I mislabeled a small illustration of a banana plant as a bamboo) by the chairperson of a horticultural awards committee. That mistake knocks my book out of consideration. Bummer. Thing is, I KNEW it was a banana plant when I drew it, but when I put in the text I just lost track of my mind and called it bamboo.

    It’s always the easy stuff that slips you up, the stuff that you think you don’t have to think about. Like how I put Austria instead of Australia in one of my other books. I haven’t made THAT mistake since I was 7 and there it is, in print, for all the world to see.

  3. I meant to add: Bail reform is easy, and doable, and would go a long way to even things up in the criminal justice system.

  4. Yes, bail reform. But we’ve had this problem since the 19th century, with the same problems and injustices, that were pointed out again and again and again, and here we are, 150 laters, and the problem remains!!

    I feel your pain about the banana plant. I am SO sorry. I’ve fact checked about 3/4 of my book, but I had to go back to the first chapter to check something and found TWO errors. In a chapter I already checked. And is short.

    Julia, you hit the nail on the head. Twice. First, yes, these are criminals, they kinda have it coming to them, people think, and we have other problems to fix. And I love the show Pitbulls and Parolees. Life changing for the participants.

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