For the longest period of time, I had been unable to execute certain actions to reform habits in my life. For example, I used to speed all of the time knowing that I would get caught eventually and have to pay another fine, take another driver’s retraining course, and raise my insurance premium some more. Without fail, it always ended up happening. I would be driving through a school zone, going 30, scanning the area, thinking, “How fast am-” and, there’s blues behind me.

Most of the time, these were situations where I wasn’t even intentionally speeding, just on auto-pilot, felt like a 40, was actually a 30, and by the time I looked down I was screwed. Three years ago, I was going down a road in the neighboring town heading to work and was pulled over. 40 in a 30. $100 ticket. Then, two years ago, I was going down the same road and pulled over. 40 in a 30. The cop, puzzled, handed back my identification and apologetically asked, “Nick, you got pulled over about 10 feet down the road doing the same speed exactly a year ago. What’s the reason for speeding?” I explained there wasn’t really any reason and that I always think it’s a 40 even though it’s a 30. He laughed and said because it was such a coincidence that it was the exact day and so close in distance, that he’d let me off this time. I was insanely grateful, as I had never got off any previous tickets (except maybe when I first started driving at 18).

I ended up meeting this cop another two times. The same cop. In very close proximity to the initial ticket. I started feeling like I was living in some odd alternate reality with the consistency of location and cop. On the third time, (because I had a previous driver’s retraining course) I would be required to take another driver’s retraining course and potentially lose my license. The cop suggested that I fight the ticket to avoid that happening because for some reason he had a lot of sympathy for me. I took his advice.

I didn’t know what I’d do to convince them that I couldn’t afford the ticket and so I figured I’d tell the truth: I’m an anxious air-head when driving. I always used to worry about the people behind me so I’d speed up as to not hinder their movement. I’d leave for appointments and work exactly on time or sometimes late and would try to beat the time by speeding. With all of these thoughts in mind, I decided I’d start trying to reform my behavior so by the time the court date came around I’d have some evidence that I cared.

So, first, I began allotting more time to traveling between anything. Next, I’d search for the speed limit sign of any road and begin repeatedly saying it in my head, “30 mph, 30 mph, 30 mph.” I’d say it three times, at least, because that’s the amount it usually takes for any human to remember something. Finally, I started specifically chanting, “30 mph” in my head the moment I left my house to go to work and when I left work to go home. I truly felt reformed by the time court came around. I began to plead my case and the District Attorney interrupted, looked at me, tilted her head, and said, “Well, it doesn’t look like you’ve done much to reform your behavior, based on your driving record…”

Even though it hurt, she was right. I drove like a complete idiot for most of my life. So, I owned up to it. I explained what I had done to reform my driving, such as chanting in my head “30 mph,” and allotting more time to travel between anything. She obliged and put me on probation. I felt so relieved. All I had to do was not get a speeding ticket until July (it was a 6 month probation). I ended up making it past probation, effectively not paying the ticket, and have continued good driving behavior since.

I decided I’d start applying the power of threes to every other aspect of my life, rather than just driving. The latest thing I’ve been chanting is “accelerate, accelerate, accelerate.”

accelerate

Bust of Socrates (470-399 BC) (marble)

Back in 2006, a close family friend who was a 29 year old male at the time and a hardworking blue collar plumber got caught up in some harder drugs and decided that his life needed more excitement. So, he robbed a convenient store, stole a car, and crashed that car into a police cruiser upon which he tackled the police officer. In the midst of wrestling the cop, the report says he grabbed his holster and fired off a shot from his pistol, hitting the cop in the leg. He claimed that it went off just due to the wrestling, the cop claimed otherwise, but alas his word is worth nothing due to his previous actions and impairment during the encounter and thus: 11 years with 4 years of probation.

He was just released and allowed back into society. I happened to encounter him as he came by the house just to “see if we lived there anymore.” We talked about all the people who had died while he was in prison. He talked about the shame he’d feel if he requested to go to their funerals in cuffs. I asked him what he did in prison, “I’d lift and fight,” he laughed, “and lift and fight, I gained 80 pounds.” That’s what he did for 11 years: lifted and fought. I asked him about probation. He told me his parole officer said something along the lines of, “Look, your record is this big, I don’t want you out. I want you locked up. So, try me, do anything and I’ll have you back in there immediately.”

My uncle has been a career petty criminal his entire life. He got caught up in hard drugs as well. He has been in and out of prison his entire life. I remember one time, unsure of the date and one of the few encounters with him, I asked him if he was going to stay out of prison. He snarled and explained that he didn’t really want to stay out of prison. He wanted to go back. The outside world didn’t care about him. In prison, he got meals, he could lift, and he had a place to sleep. Outside, he had nothing and nobody wanted to hire him. He was an outcast.

When I was in middle school, I was a trouble maker. I would do stupid things purposely to annoy. I used to drop my books in classes merely to distract from the lesson. I used to sleep during most classes. I threw stink bombs on occasions. However, whenever I got in trouble, if I was supposed to get an in-school suspension, I’d do anything to push it to an out-of-school suspension.

The point of the comparison of a middle school derelict to a career criminal is to illustrate that they are both rebellious to the system. They both would prefer to be in a society that utterly doesn’t try to restrict them (my house and their prison) than to be in a society that pretends to care about them through reform (school and society). In both cases, the perceptibly best avenue of comfort is to be a repeat offender. When you couple this kind of mindset with the innate pre-disposition to criminals or derelicts, it’s a slippery slope that the outcasts take joy in sliding down. It’s a spiral of carelessness and rebellion.

In 2013, 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. The cost of a used The Republic by Plato on Amazon.com is $0.09. Therefore, to equip the entire US incarcerated population with one would cost $199,827. This is excluding the possibility of the amount of unused philosophical texts in colleges and otherwise that could be up for donation. Relatively, though, under $200,000 to allot a population of almost 2.5 million Americans with a book is chump change.

The idea is this: we employ a system where prison populations are broken into groups of roughly the size of a college class (20-25). Each group gets a different philosophical text (which would just rotate between groups so eventually every prisoner would’ve read some large amount of philosophical texts). Prison guards become teachers and mentors. Each week, the prisoners are required to read some reasonable amount of pages (20-30) of whichever text they are assigned. Each group will meet a different day of the week and discuss the reading they were assigned. Every individual prisoner will be required to write and turn in a one page paper (but are encouraged to write more) on their thoughts (and maybe prompts from the prison guards) while reading the excerpt and one page of words that they didn’t understand with the definition of the word. Every week after the first week of their incarceration, they will be required to use at least one of the newfound words in their paper discussing their thoughts on the excerpt. They are given a dictionary, a pencil, and paper to write on. If they fail to turn in a one page paper with their thoughts and a sheet of definitions, then they are not allowed to go outside (recess) until they turn in next week’s paper. Also, as an extra reward, maybe prisoners would be allowed to help do a job around the prison if, for example, they completed a month of turning in papers. Maybe, even, if they complete a year of continuous papers their sentence could be re-negotiated.

Many philosophers and most philosophical texts have themes of rebellion, critiques on society, and lots of introspection. I think the prisoners would find resonance with the philosophers and get the mental wheels turning in the right direction. After a 4 year sentence, they’d have something relatively equivalent to a Bachelors in Philosophy (just without the degree). Rather than vituperative vandals that we cultivate in confinement, we’d have thoughtful, virtuous logophiles of society. This way, we’d have hirable, reformed people rather than the wayward, faithless people that the system currently produces.

learning every day to be perfect,
learning every day their virtues,
advice-given morals not lessons,
weaken the value; the mind lessens.
following these blind rules to pursue
a “faithful” lifestyle, not to be true
sitting in their perch, they sit still,
against everything: fight genetics, kill free will,
obstinate and stagnant, they reprieve,
depressed and anxious, they believe

-n.v.