What do you talk about with your friends? What interests you? Sports? Traffic? Talking about cars or hair styles? Do you enjoy ordinary, everyday chatting with family, with friends and neighbors? Are you pretty good at getting a conversation going with somebody?
Whatever it is, please insert a little something in each of your conversations. It’s just a small thing, a tentative step to get folks thinking, perhaps, about something that we usually — definitely — do not wish to talk about.
While you are at a bridge game, or while you are sitting in a support group. Perhaps you are in a Bible study in one of the 41 churches in Rappahannock County.
Maybe you and your friends are just chatting about what’s on TV, or what is doing with the NFL these days.
Maybe the World Series is your topic; or whether the Nats will go all the way next year. Or maybe you and a pal or two are talking about which is the best pickup truck, or the best pizza between Amissville and Sperryville.
Well, here’s a request that you change the subject, if only for a minute. I hope you will work into the conversation a mention of the fact that our country is leading the world — by an enormous margin — in the numbers of people we lock up.
There are more than 2 million behind bars; another 4 million are under some sort of “supervision” by authorities — that is, on parole or probation. Yes, we have 6 million people — most of them men, an enormous portion of them of African descent — under control of some sort.
If you are a caring citizen of these United States, you might like to know that your country is all alone in the 700 Hundred Club. Not the religious TV show, but the leader in incarceration. We are the only large country in the world that locks up more than 700 persons per 100,000 of population.
Some comparisons: Cuba, 510 per 100,000; South Africa, 294; China, 172; Canada, 118; Russia, 470; Mexico, 211.
Talking about this with others will almost certainly get you some funny looks. It may sound as if you are bringing up politics, but this is not a political issue.
Few people spend time thinking about what we have become over the past few decades: The world leader in putting people away — often for long, long times, often for trivial offenses.
A large part of the huge incarceration rate in the U.S. is the creation of a prison industry — private companies whose bottom line depends on keeping people behind bars.
We like telling ourselves that this is the best country in the world, don’t we? And sure enough, here in Rappahannock we are living in what is easily one of the best places in this great country. The United States is, after all, still the place that people around the world admire and want to emigrate to.
But how long can we we claim greatness when we have such a commanding lead in putting people in prisons and jails?
Hope it will not hurt your popularity to mention this among friends. Maybe you will provoke some thinking; maybe you will be a pest. Take the risk.