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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Scaring straight just might work after all

Except for death, the worst thing that can happen to a person is going to prison. Not jail, but prison. Scaring people “straight” might be an aggressive means of preventing crime, but it’s not totally impractical.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a lot about how all hope is diminished the second a person realizes the exact time and second a person is scheduled to die. This understanding could be from him nearly experiencing death himself when he was scheduled to die via a firing squad, and five minutes before the rifles were supposed to go off, the Czar said “just kidding,” and let him live instead.

Whatever made him understand this idea of hope, the fact is that he knows that a man without hope is essentially dead, and prison takes away any hope a person can ever have. Stop staring at your phones and go read “The Idiot” and you’ll understand what he’s talking about. You can buy the book for a nickel or download the PDF for free.

Scare tactics have been around for a while and there’s a group in Milwaukee that helps instill hopelessness for anyone bound to life on the streets. The Phenomenal Men’s Support Group, or PMSG, has a program called Cell on Wheels, which is essentially a mobile vehicle that is a near replica of a prison cell.

The group travels around showing everyone just what it’s like to be in prison, without actually being in prison. It’s the closest thing they’ll experience without having to don the orange jumpsuit. The men who run it were in prison at one point and want to show everyone how awful it really is, specifically to kids who have yet to drop out of school.

The replicated cell is poorly lit, with a bunk bed, a toilet and a worn down piece of aluminum foil that’s reflective and acts a mirror. It’s filthy, and is one step above a trough urinal, which acts as a person’s living quarters.

The group was founded 15 years ago as a support group for addicts and alcoholics, but now also acts as a scare tactic for kids who are considering dropping out and might be pushed toward living a life of crime.

It’s a necessary scare tactic and we need more like it. No matter how deep in debt you get from school loans, or even if a kid doesn’t think he’ll even go to college, every level of education is necessary. No matter how awful the job market will get, education is important. Even if a kid stops after high school.

Quick easy cash on the street, no matter how convenient, isn’t worth that chance you’ll get caught and get shipped off to the pen.

“Given the dropout rates across the country I would begin by showing people what they can expect their lives to be [like] if they don’t graduate and how it only becomes incrementally better with a high school diploma,” Michael Polakowski, UA associate professor of government and public policy, said.

Though scare tactics have come and gone, they’re very necessary and the approach by PMSG just might have nailed it on the nose by giving kids a real life image that is likely to stay with them a whole lot longer—especially when that decision to drop out enters their head.

“The problem with all programs of this sort is that they are extremely short-termed. Your response to the scare tactic may impact you for a short period of time, but in the long term you will resort to the routine and activities that are normal to you,” Polakowski said.

Cell on Wheels will hopefully inspire others organizations to start similar programs and be something that is a long-term deal so kids will see just how important education truly is.

Graduating high school and going to college isn’t just about having enough knowledge so you’re a delightful guest at a dinner party who makes great conversation. Getting an education keeps you off the streets and away from crime.

Scare tactics like Cell on Wheels are extremely beneficial and necessary for kids everywhere. I hope this program continues and others start popping up so we can continue this trend.

Watch all the “Oz” you want, but to get a real feel for prison, Cell on Wheels delivers.

Follow Daniel Geffre on Twitter.

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