FLINT - A Michigan jail inmate is suing to get pornography in his jail cell. Not having it, he says, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The lawsuit itself doesn't surprise me. If I were a jail inmate I'd probably sue my captors every week about something just to annoy them and to give myself something to do.
What did surprise me was this sentence in a news story: "The Michigan Department of Corrections tells The Detroit News that prisons allow some pornographic material, though it's banned at the jail."
Say what? Why would the state let inmates in prison - where the really, really bad people go, including rapists and other sex offenders - have porn?
I understand that, from a certain point of view, having such materials might contribute to an, um, calmer prison atmosphere. But prisoners aren't in the Big House to enjoy the freedoms they had on the outside. They're in there to be punished. And having Playboy, Penthouse or worse delivered to you doesn't sound like punishment to me, unless of course we forced them to read the articles, which are horrible. Or so I'm told. Ahem.
You could poll 100 Americans - male, female, Republican, Democrat - and I'll bet not a one would describe a lack of access to porn as cruel or unusual punishment.
And even if it were, a little cruel and unusual punishment is tit for tat, if you ask me.
Take the guy filing the lawsuit. He's in jail awaiting sentencing on a bank robbery charge. He didn't get away with it because he left a trail of footprints and money that lead police straight to him.
But the people he traumatized in that bank that day were certainly subject to cruel and unusual treatment. They'll probably have nightmares for the rest of their lives.
So I'm all right with no centerfolds in the joint. In fact, I'd like to see the Department of Corrections highlight that particular consequence in a marketing campaign: "Hey fellas, if you go to prison, guess what you'll never see again? Think about that." And I'll bet many guys would think about it. And as a result crime would drop. Yet another way women make the world a better place.
I'll tell you what, though: Prisoners are lucky I'm not in charge. I'd not only do away with girlie magazines and films, I'd make a lot of the other perks of incarceration a little more unbearable.
For instance, it's always bugged me that inmates get to watch TV. I hardly have time, so why should they? It's probably unrealistic, though, to entirely do away with the boob tube so I'd at least limit their options. There'd be no watching football or basketball - in fact no sports of any kind. On channels like ESPN I'd have a blank screen with the words, "Sorry, dude, guess you shouldn't have knifed that guy."
I'd also eliminate all crime, cop and lawyer shows on grounds that criminals don't need any more ideas.
I would, however, let them watch all the "Judge Judy" they want. I figure most inmates are in prison to begin with because they never had anyone to give them Judy-like lectures when they were growing up.
I'd also get rid of all the weights in prison. Half to two-thirds of all prisoners who are released end up committing crimes again, so where's the sense in helping them get bigger and stronger? If they need exercise, maybe we could start a nice prison yard Zumba program or maybe some yoga. Or better yet, since the idea of prison is punishment, maybe we go with a workout regime led by Jillian Michaels, that scary, intense woman on "The Biggest Loser." She'd set them straight and get them in shape.
Last but not least, I'd do something about prison food. It's probably not great as it is, but it's probably not horrible either, given the recidivism rate. It could always be worse.
Specifically, I would suggest that each and every night we feed inmates "angel steaks," which were pressed meat hockey pucks that they served us regularly in the cafeteria of my dorm at Central Michigan University back in the early '80s.
I don't know what was actually in angel steaks - no one did, although we were pretty sure they weren't ground up angels - but to this day they're still the scariest thing I've ever eaten. Yes, the ACLU would be sure to complain. Serving angel steaks nightly to inmates would indeed constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
But like I say I'm all right with that.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.