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Nor Iron Bars a Cage

Short story By: churchill
Science fiction

Ted stops at Joe Cools for a drink, and sometimes meets up with Maxine, a woman who claims to come from Mars. Tonight they discuss jails..

Submitted:Feb 20, 2007    Reads: 208    Comments: 2    Likes: 0   


Ted: Joe Cools is my favourite watering hole - the ideal venue for unwinding en route to home. From time to time I bump into Maxine, a woman who claims to hail from Mars.

We often chew the fat on matters of the day. She has a maddening habit of not understanding the basic concepts you and I take for granted - this sometimes gets me riled but it can get me to thinking ...

Ted: This O.J.Simpson - they should have put him away for life!

Maxine: Put him away where?

Ted: It's just an expression, my dear space-woman. 'Putting him away" means sending him to jail.

Maxine: (frowning) I take it "Jail" is a place of safe keeping.

Ted: Sometimes I find you exasperating. A jail is a place you get locked up in when you've been a bad boy and you need to be straightened out.

Maxine: (brightening) After a period of being bent?

Ted: Precisely. But you're right. A jail is a place where a prisoner can be kept safely so that he can't harm law abiding citizens. Don't you have jails on Mars.

Maxine: Not really..we do have hospitals, though.

Ted: What do you mean "hospitals"?

Maxine: So when you go to this jail I suppose they teach you how to be law-abiding?

Ted: Hardly. No, although our government refers to the Prisons Dept as 'Correctional Services', jail is a place where the convicted man will be given a cell, be fed three times a day, exercise for a bit, but basically sit along with other prisoners for a period, say two years, and then be released.

Maxine: But shouldn't the idea be to keep him from harming other people? If you just let him sit, wouldn't he still be a threat to people, once he gets out?

Ted: (thinking) Ye..es..but they do give the guys some training in breaking rocks and such. You see, its important that society gets its revenge for the crime that's committed. The man must serve time in order to repay us for what he has done.

Maxine: But how can he repay if he can't earn money?

Ted: I don't mean repay in money. No the chap has committed wrong and we want him to learn his lesson by sitting out some time and maybe doing some hard labour.

Maxine: Ah, so they do teach prisoners?

Ted: Nahh! "Learn his lesson" doesn't mean he goes to school.

Maxine: Oh..

Ted: Don't look so puzzled!


Maxine: Well then, doesn't running jails.. cost a lot of money? Maybe you think he's repaying a debt when he's actually costing you money.

Ted: Don't be ridiculous Maxine, the cost of running jails is just a fact of life - you'll always have criminals. The government just has to budget a certain amount every year for running our 2270 jails and you can stand on your head, a prisoner costs $150 per day to house and feed

Maxine: I suppose if the system works, that's OK. Is the number of prisoners dropping?

Ted: No it's actually rising, but as I say, that's life.

Maxine: But shouldn't you aim to have fewer criminals in the future?

Ted: (testily) Of course, but this isn't an ideal world. We need to build more jails every year - they say prisoner numbers will rise from

2m to 2.2m this year alone. You can't fight the run of play.

Maxine: That doesn't sound good.

Ted: Well, you see, our cops are getting more foxy by the day and we've now got these Special Branch people - they're nailing people left right and centre.

Maxine: So the crooks are getting hammered?.

Ted: Right on. These people are experts at white collar crime, they chase drug smugglers, sort out government corruption. They're very specially trained

Maxine: So there are lots of jails?

Ted: Too right. Sometimes we can't cope with the numbers - then the President announces an amnesty and we let a lot of them go. If we had more tax money, we could build a jail a year - that would keep our feathered friends from being too crowded.

Maxine: Is that why they're called jailbirds?

Ted: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you could say so

Maxine: If the prisoners are all together, I suppose crime is all they think and talk about.

Ted: Sadly I think you're right.

Maxine: Sounds like if you release them they'd go back to committing more crime. Aren't these jails filled with people who have committed crime more than once ?

Ted: They say so. But once again it's something we just have to live with. It's the same all over the world.

Maxine: But if the prisoners could somehow pay for their own upkeep, it wouldn't matter that you have to keep building more jails. Couldn't the prisoners go out and build some roads or more jails or something?

Ted: That's a nonsensical idea - they don't have the skills. Anyway they'd just escape. And, they'd be displacing good law-abiding citizens from their regular work.

Maxine: What about training programmes. Couldn't you try to use the prisoners' talents?

Ted: What talents? They don't have any!

Maxine: Uh?

Ted: My dear Martian lady, you do come up with impossible ideas. On Earth our jobs are quite specialised. Jailers are jailers because the personalities are suited to that type of work. They're certainly not teachers.

Maxine: But couldn't you send some specialist teachers to jails?

Ted: We don't have them to spare. Even if we did, that would cost more money.

Maxine: Doesn't sound right to me.

Ted: What?? These guys get good treatment. It's a fair system, man.

Maxine: Fair?

Ted: I can just see the Martians in charge! "Come and get your no-cost training in jail". Unemployed guys would just have to heave a brick through a window to get some free schooling.

Maxine: Would that be necessary? Breaking a window I mean?

Ted: In our society you've got to learn the rules and abide by them. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Maxine: Sounds to me like the prisoners are costing a lot more than lunch.



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