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Let's stop being nice to criminals

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Having given the matter serious thought, I am ready to enroll in Rowland Nethaway's campaign aimed at stripping convicted criminals of privileges they are granted because "somebody" says they have a constitutional right to them.

Nethaway is senior editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, and he recently wrote a column that struck a responsive chord in my bosom _ and, I suspect, that of millions of other people who might have little in common save for the facts that (a) they qualify for the title "law-abiding citizens" and (b) they've had it up to here with a criminal justice system that frequently seems to do more for criminals than it does for justice.

"What this country needs," Nethaway wrote, "is a constitutional amendment to take away a fistful of constitutional protections awarded to America's convicts.

"The amendment would say that convicted felons do not have a constitutional right to lounge around in prison watching color television, lifting weights, shooting hoops and getting free room and board in conditions better than those endured by the nation's homeless, working poor and even America's soldiers and sailors.

"America's fighting forces are willing to give up their lives to defend their fellow citizens, their society and their Constitution. If our military men and women can live in tents, crowd into tiny bunks in storm-tossed ships, sleep in water-filled fox holes, trudge over frozen battlefields and wade through leech-infested jungles, why are people convicted of tearing down our society required to receive better treatment?"

Why indeed?

I'm sure that virtually anyone who has served in the armed forces has a horror story or two about mind-jarring rigors endured in the course of protecting _ either voluntarily or by invitation _ a way of life that criminal elements are bent on destroying (for which they are all-too-seldom punished in a manner commensurate with the crime).

I know I do.

In January 1951, spurred by patriotism, fear of the draft or both, young Americans flowed into the Navy's Recruit Training Center at San Diego, Calif., in far greater numbers than the processing system could handle in timely fashion.

The buses hauling the group of which I was a member drove through the base gates as taps played. We were dumped unceremoniously outside a cluster of administration buildings.

We were marched (I use the term loosely) to the chow hall, fed, marched back and told to make ourselves as comfortable as possible in the street because that's where we would spend the night. About midnight, with a cold wind whistling off the bay, rain began to fall.

We survived, little the worse for wear.

The next night, leaving the cold, wet street to newer arrivals (and buses were rolling in by the hour), we were moved inside a building and allowed to sleep on the floor.

It was the third night before we were allowed to sleep in a bed, and we were awakened at 5 o'clock the next morning to be told that we were the lowest form of life on Earth and that we would be fortunate to survive the next nine weeks.

As promised, they were nine tough weeks. We were screamed at and intimidated and pushed around and humiliated and screamed at again. But we survived, little the worse for wear, and then we went out and did our country's bidding.

Can anyone in his or her right mind provide a cogent argument why convicted criminals should be treated nicer than we were?

Nethaway's thesis is that if the Constitution does indeed call for being nice to criminals, then let's amend the Constitution.

He's certainly got my vote.

Bill Youngblood is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.