Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Prisoner and the Pauper: An Inmate's Home is His New Castle

When a small Midwestern town cheers the arrival of 1,200 criminals and cordially invites them to stay for a year or more, you get the feeling that something just ain't right.

Here's how the story goes:

The good people of New Castle, Indiana, a Rust Belt community of 18,700, is finally going to have its prison filled to capacity. The prison, a joint venture of New Castle Mayor Tom Nipp and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, was built in 2002 with the hopes of bringing new jobs to the economically strapped area. Of course, New Castle prison jobs were based on the promise that the facility would quickly fill. But apparently the citizens of the rest of the state did not cooperate, for five years later, Indianans had only committed enough serious crimes to inhabit New Castle's new castle to half capacity. Looking to nip this epidemic of Hoosier wholesomeness in the bud, Mayor Nipp roused Governor Daniels to round up some ruffians, and after a deal for some Californian non-conformists fell through, Daniels hit pay dirt as Arizona agreed to send 1,260 tanned inmates their way.

"There's no end to the positives that will come with this!" exclaimed Nip, noting the approximately 230 jobs that will be created by the influx of southwestern recruits of ill repute. "Hey, we're all about getting jobs to this town," agreed Shawn Edwards, a New Castle resident who works at one of the town's few thriving occupations—home repossession. Meanwhile, no less of an authority than J. David Donahue, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, was sent to speak to the New Castle Rotary Club to calm the fears of the town's few skeptics. "They wanted to know if any [of the Arizona imports] are sex offenders or gang members," Donahue related. "They are not," he repeated firmly, as if to imply the new prisoners were nothing more than mere loiterers or maybe guys with a few unpaid parking tickets.

But exactly what quality of jobs are these? Indeed, in better times, Chrysler Corporation was the town's leading employer, and salaries of $60,000 were commonplace in New Castle. In contrast, the prison jobs start at a measly $9/hr., although if you survive the first ninety days (and despite Donahue's denial, working in a prison IS dangerous), you could then be eligible for up to $11/hr. "They aren't Chrysler jobs," agreed Edwards, in between repos, "but it's better than nothing." And even Randy Rendfeld, the feisty editor of New Castle's town newspaper could write nothing critical. "When someone comes in bringing jobs, and it's not a nuclear waste dump or landfill, it's welcome," Rendfeld shrugged.

As a Catholic, one comes away from the New Castle dilemma with mixed emotions. On the one hand, John Paul II clearly states in his encyclical Laborem Exercens that, "A workman's wages should be sufficient to enable him to support himself, his wife and his children," and even the $11/hr. rate doesn't come close to that. But on the other, as Pope Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum (the first social encyclical), "broken in body and spirit . . . men would have gladly freed themselves from this galling slavery . . . but human respect, or the dread of starvation makes them [work]." In other words, it is still better to give this low-wages job to a family man, for although it might not keep their house out of Edwards' hands, at least it can stop his family from starving. Plus, a family man is more likely to be diligent on the job than some drifter or college kid, who, for that kind of cash, would probably stay at his computer station rather than make the rounds and risk being beaten or raped.

But as pitiful of a place as 21st century American capitalism has made little towns like New Castle, it could be worse. It could be the site of the 2008 Democratic—or Republican, if Rudy G. is nominated—National Convention, in which case they would not only host adulterers, con artists and accomplices to murderer, but would have to pick up their tab too.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Being from New Castle, IN and currently reside here I would pretty much have to agree with your article, except I would welcome Rudy G.
I have been laid-off from the Metaldyne factory (former Chrysler facility), for nearly 14 mo. now.
Jobs here are SCARCE (as they are pretty much nationwide)! Folks here and abroad could pay their mortgage and aford to buy those vehicles that aren't selling now if they had decent paying jobs!
At the age of 52 I have decided to return to college this summer and HOPEFULLY find gainful employment if I have a few extra initials after my name.
I still live our little close knit town. I certainly hope to see it thriving again.
...Teresa