Don’t forget the humanity of those in prison

Published 2:37 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Steven Flatt and Justin Sizemore have helped remind us all that people in jail are still people.

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They are not faceless criminals; they do not deserve to be dehumanized. They are sons and fathers, mothers and daughters. They have made mistakes, as everyone has, and they are dealing with consequences for those mistakes. But they are still, above all, people.

Flatt and Sizemore were on work detail, picking up trash along Chrisman Lane in Boyle County last week, when they found something they never expected to find: a loaded .22-caliber gun.

Many hear the beginning of this story and flinch. They imagine where the story might go next — a wounded or dead road crew supervisor, a pair of armed and dangerous criminals fleeing through residents’ yards.

But such an outcome is only really found in movie scripts.

In reality, Flatt is a dad who is looking forward to seeing his 5-year-old son when he finishes his sentence in two months. Sizemore is serving time for a gun charge and a robbery charge, and he’s using that time as he should — to improve himself. “I messed up, sure. But I’m trying to do things better,” he said. “You’d never think someone with a gun and robbery charge would return a gun. But we did.”

Flatt and Sizemore reported the gun to their supervisor, Marty Madox, who had never in nearly three decades of supervising roadside cleanup crews seen such a thing. Madox took care of the weapon appropriately and the two inmates are getting some extra phone time and pizza for doing the right thing.

We don’t think Flatt and Sizemore are all that unique for doing what they did. After all, they’re hardly the only inmates in the Boyle County jail who have families they want to get back to, or who are looking forward to living life on their own terms once they get out. There are probably many other inmates who would have done the same thing faced with a gun on the side of the road.

But their story did help highlight the humanity of people who are incarcerated. It’s all too easy to forget and ignore that humanity these days, as it has been forgotten and ignored so often for decades.

Collectively, we’ve come to view jail as a trash can for people we think are bad. We imagine criminals to be unredeemable people who can be thrown into jail and we never have to think about them again. That way of thinking is deeply flawed and harmful.

Almost all of the people sitting in jail today have good qualities in addition to whatever flaws might have put them behind bars. And almost all of them will be out of jail and part of society again some day.

If we treat them like trash and ignore them, they will eventually be back on the streets anyway, but highly likely to return to the crimes that put them in jail before.

If instead we treat them with compassion and help them develop into stronger people, as Flatt and Sizemore appear to have done, we will all benefit when they are released.