To get anything from this story you must suspend disbelief because I really have no idea how the political system in the US works. It was just a fun story to write - and as usual, I got carried away with it.
I was there, right at the beginning. On Monday, the first of January, the latest in a long line of new laws took effect however I really was there when the first public utterance of the initial idea was made by someone in a position to actually make things happen. I know this because I’ve since followed Theo’s career.
I’m not suggesting it was originally my idea or that I played even the most ancillary part in bringing the idea to life or anything like that. In fact, it’ll probably never actually be known who came up with the first iteration of the idea, just that a conversation I witnessed turned into a debate, then an election platform right before my very eyes. I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that this all started in a bar either.
What I’m talking about is the 28th amendment to the United States Constitution and to be absolutely clear, I had and have nothing personally to do with its enactment at all either. I’m writing this because the initial idea was so out of right field that it caught and held my attention at the time to the point that I not only remember vividly what led up to this constitutional change, but I recorded every iteration of the idea for posterity, right from Andrew ‘Theodore’ James possibly whiskey-induced rant. A rant made in a bar in a town with a population of four thousand people, according to census data.
I’d say the town has closer to four hundred people but I’m no expert. The census data says four thousand and they should know better than a local farmer. What I’m saying is that this change, only the twenty eighth change in the history of the constitution, began in a tiny town called Pikeville, OH.
“You can’t say that,” was what first brought the pair sitting one and two barstools respectively, down from me at my favorite watering hole in the sleepy town of Pikeville, Ohio.
I had no idea what either had said before that, but now I just HAD TO listen. I love it when someone says something and the person listening tells them it’s not possible to say such a thing. Duh! They just DID say that thing! Now I wanted to know what was said. Probably the ‘N’word or something equally as asinine. Still, they had my attention. I wasn’t doing anything else except drinking a cold beer anyway.
“We’re paying ... that’s us. The taxpayers. Everyone in this bar is getting a couple of pennies a week or whatever, out of their paycheck to PAY to support them and it’s not right.”
“That’s just the cost of being safe, Theo. Your daddy paid it, his daddy paid it and his great great granddaddy paid it right from the first tax. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to say we should bring back slavery. It’s inhumane!”
Okay, they really had me now. I was on tenterhooks after one sentence, impatiently waiting to hear how slavery is paid for by taxpayers. These guys must both be three sheets to the wind if one of them thinks I pay taxes to support damned slavery! My great great great grandfather worked for one of the guys that helped STOP slavery way back when.
“You don’t keep doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done, Jim. Think about Trump...”
“He’s a freaking clown! And YOU voted for him!”
“Yeah, I voted for the guy that has reduced unemployment by ten percent, began to dig into the unfair trade practices that are costing us trillions a year and who cares about protecting our borders. What’d your guy do?”
“I can buy me an authentic Cuban cigar now!”
“Exactly! Yippee,” Theo pantomimed twirling a spinner over his head in celebration. “You don’t even smoke cigars but I get your point, Jim. Eight years in office and you could if you wanted to, buy a cigar from a regime we stopped doing business with because they threatened our national security. The best part, we didn’t even have to give much up to get that cigar deal. What I was going to say was that Trump isn’t a politician and he’s making more beneficial changes than any handful of ‘real’ politicians has, since George W was in office.”
“And what exactly has that got to do with setting all the murderers and rapists free from jail?” Theo’s sparring partner, Jim, wanted to know.
I wanted to know that more than Jim, at this point! That and the slavery thing, of course.
“I never said to let them go! In fact I wasn’t even talking about them. I was talking about the guys who go to jail on embezzlement charges and the like. Did you know that it costs the taxpayers over a hundred grand a year to keep them locked up? I mean EACH prisoner!”
“And I said it’s just the cost of keeping us safe from marauding embezzlers,” Jim said with a grin.
“Come on Jim, seriously. Why can’t we put the care of low and medium security prisoners in the hands of those with money so they can make a little money of their own? You know, like laborers and construction crews and farm hands and data entry or something. You know, the junk jobs that no one wants.
I couldn’t agree with him less there. I’m a farmer and damned proud of it. But as he’d said to the Jim guy, I got his point.
“These criminals you want to unleash on society have a debt to pay. How are they supposed to reflect on their confinement while they’re in the middle of an open field picking weeds?”
I could see that Jim thought he’d scored major points on that one. I could also tell Jim had never spent a minute on a farm in his life.
“What part of, ‘NOT FREE’ did you miss? Ohio, Texas and many other states have had prison work crews since some unlucky sailor got caught flipping off Christopher Columbus on the Mayflower.”
“You mean the Santa Maria. But the guys on our work crews are different. They have to wear those god awful orange suits. If it were me, I think I’d rather stay in my cell, hidden, than be seen in public in one of hose atrocities.”
This conversation was fun to listen to. I’d never heard a real, bleeding heart liberal try to talk to a republican before. No wonder our national debt has gone into orbit, if they’d rather pay to keep a low risk prisoner in air conditioned comfort than to see them embarrassed by their attire.
“I say there would be tons of companies that’d be willing to fork out the cost of feeding, clothing, housing, providing medical coverage and ensuring a prisoner’s continued captivity, in exchange for free work for a period of time. The prisoner could even be offered the opportunity instead of it just happening, if it’d make you feel better. Give them a year off their sentence or something.”
“At the expense of the illegals who’ve always provided for their families by doing the jobs no one else wants.”
“Americans don’t CARE about illegals. They want lower taxes, guaranteed employment and a happy family. Voting trump in proved that!”
“Someone has to care about illegals, Theo,” Jim said, sadly shaking his head at the idea that Theo could be so cold and callous.
“Okay, maybe I misspoke. We care, but not more than we care about our own families. Spending a billion dollars a year to look after someone that steals to make extra cash, wins over worrying about how someone who shouldn’t be in the country in the first place, earns a living. If they get hungry, they turn themselves in and get a free ride home. Easy.”
“And totally humiliating. I’d rather starve than be seen as unable to provide for my family.” Jim said it with a straight face and a tone of absolute conviction.
Easy to say when you’ve never missed a meal in your life, I thought to myself. Not that the hypothetical family couldn’t get handouts from the liberals anyway. Liberals loved, ‘looking after’ the poor and downtrodden no matter how much of the downtrodden’s despair was of their own making.
“Imagine this,” Theo said, seemingly trying a different tack. “John Smith has just been sent to jail for seven to ten for stealing a quarter million dollars off his employer. They only ever recovered two hundred thousand, because John blew the other fifty on hookers. His ex employer isn’t out fifty thousand. They had insurance. It’s the insurance company that’s out the fifty. So the insurance company is magically approved to visit John in jail with an offer. Instead of this particular prison, John can spend three years locked up with the same comforts prison offers, but crunching numbers for the insurance company instead of making license plates. Is there any way that John might be persuaded to say yes? Imagine you’re John. Would you say yes?”
“How many hours a day are we talking about? And would it include Saturdays too?” Jim said, seriously.
“Jim! It’s freaking pris-on! It’s license plates or number crunching. That’s the choice!”
“Well I use a computer all day. I could get much more done than this fictitious John Smith. It wouldn’t be fair for me to have to work as many hours as him.”
“Details, Jim. Big picture, okay?”
“Well GENERALLY of course I’d choose the number crunching. But that’s because I’m good at it!”
“And thoughts of your imaginary crime didn’t count towards your decision?”
“Well no, of course not. You said I had to choose between license plates and data entry.” Jim sounded insulted that Theo had even asked.
“So would thinking about the company you hurt by taking their quarter million make you choose to stamp license plates instead?”
“I fail to see where you’re going with this. It’s never going to happen anyway!” Jim seemed happier to complain than admit he’d still choose the data entry, vis a vis, admitting that Theo’s idea was a good one.
“Where I’m going is that the insurance company spends probably twenty to thirty thousand dollars a year on John Smith and makes a hundred, based on his efforts. In three years, he’s not only paid them back, but made them a tidy profit to boot. They’re happy. John’s happy because he gets out in three years instead of up to ten.”
“Well when you put it like that ... but as I said, no one other than me would ever go for it. You could write a thousand emails to your republican buddy Terrence Powell at the state house and it would still never happen.”
“That’s because my ‘buddy’ is as dirty as his opposition. Unless HE stands to make a bundle of cash, he’s got better things to spend his time doing. Like golfing and overseas trips.”
I kinda figured this Theo guy wasn’t a fan of our state representative. There was quiet at the stools next to me while both men pondered their thoughts and took a sip of their drinks. That’s when I realized they’d had the same drinks in front of them for nearly an hour. There was no way either of them was drunk, unless they’d done that part before I stuck my ear into their conversation.
“Ya know what, Jim?” Theo eventually spoke up. “I’m going to do something about it myself. I know I’ll have to start small. How about mayor Andrew James? Does that have a ring to it or what?
“Who the hell is Andrew James? Your name’s Theo!” Jim said rolling his eyes.
“How many years have we been drinking here together Jim? I’m Andrew Theodore James! Sheesh! But would you vote for me next year anyway?”
“Sure, why not. You get the drinking buddy vote. Just don’t start any wars while you’re mayor, okay?” Jim laughed.
Suddenly Theo was facing me. He’d rotated his bar stool my direction. “Howdy buddy. Any chance you’d vote a auto mechanic in as mayor?”
My eloquent and succinct answer to my new friend was, “Huh?”
I did vote for him as soon as I saw his name really was on the next ballot. Theo had been busy. He won by a landslide. Didn’t hurt that the next day the sitting mayor was arrested in an unrelated matter concerning a twelfth DUI.
So that’s how Theo became mayor. I’ve followed his rise to fame pretty closely since then. Being mayor really seemed to suit him. When he ran for Governor a year after that, his opposition hounded him for being inexperienced, blah blah blah. His open door was the big man himself. An endorsement from THE United States president is all it takes in Ohio, I guess.
Less than a full year as governor. I thought things in government worked in groups of ten. That’s ten years to make a single change. Theo did his non-politician thing and got someone to pay for some sort of mid term referendum. Didn’t cost the state a penny. As a result, before his first anniversary in power, Theo announced that Ohio had its first non state-funded reform system. The icing on the top was the first iteration of the Compensation Custody Agreement.
Democrats point to that as the beginning of the end. I think it was the beginning of greatness. Since I’m just writing about the 28th amendment, I don’t need to remind anyone that Trump’s second term only included thirteen Democrats in positions of real power and just twenty one republicans not in their first term.
Andrew Theodore James was a hit in Washington. Maybe he liked to party, I really don’t know. What I meant by that is that he gained the ear of one Donald Trump. The Compensation Custody Act went national. It had morphed over the couple of years it had existed. What was originally passed in Ohio wasn’t what went national.
The national version covered prisoners – almost all prisoners. Only when they chose that over regular prison, and only most convicts. No murderers or terrorists or anything. Yet child molesters, rapists and even some found guilty of manslaughter in one degree or another were routinely offered alternatives, along with the thousands of lesser criminals.
Rights were almost totally removed for those choosing to serve rather than exist in prison. They had a right to life and that was all. Other than a requirement to be in good health on the day of their release, the only rule appeared to be that the custodian couldn’t intentionally maim or execute anyone with a Compensation Custody agreement. Those that weren’t in health equal or better than when they entered into their agreement, due to mishandling and other shady care practices, were entitled to receive a settlement from the custodian.
So that was the second iteration of the CCA as it had become known. Guess what? People tried to play the system. Go figure. Prisoners would go to great lengths to appear in perfect physical health then rapidly deteriorate as soon as they received their placements. Government being government, they had to put their hands up and promise to fix the system instead of Joe public fixing it themselves.
New rules and protocols were instituted to ensure a full physical examination, done by what I call robotic doctors – the latest thing in healthcare – machines that can find and report the cause of a stubbed toe or a heart murmur were used to determine the prisoner’s health on a scale of one to twelve hundred. If the prisoner went into the program with a score of, say, eight eighty and came out with a score of eight seventy, they would automatically receive an adjusted stipend, prepaid to the government by the custodian right at the beginning.
The government labeled these payments, ‘care deductibles’ or CD’s and the amount varied depending on the type of work being offered. Suddenly the prisoner that stabbed themselves before submitting to the end of term examination found they weren’t eligible for a stipend due to the self-inflicted injury. A lot of unhappy ex convicts rejoined society.
Custodians weren’t as pure as the driven snow either. Before the new regulations took effect, custodians had been guilty of allowing harm to come to convicts with the knowledge that they could prolong justice indefinitely – the convict could potentially die of old age before the custodian had to relinquish a penny in reparations. The government put a stop to that by requiring custodians to bring a predetermined CD and a computer made the decision about how much if anything, to give the ex convict.
All the regulations in the world couldn’t stop some foolhardy convicts though. They’d take the most dangerous jobs available and put themselves at risk time and time again with a twofold reason behind their strategy. Firstly, custodians offered bonuses for surviving dangerous situations, paid automatically at the end of their custody – no worry about courts and delays. Then if the convict was actually injured, the robotic doctor could only report that they’d, say, had a finger amputated X days or months earlier, compare the injury to the line of work the convict had accepted, and reduce the person’s score accordingly. Convicts generally didn’t accidentally amputate fingers with a severe paper cut, for example.
One last common problem was addressed by the government. Digital fraud. The newest and most insidious of crimes, in my opinion. Criminals began to hack their own records to change their CD’s. The government, in all their mighty wisdom and after a bitter battle in Washington, began to issue biochips to convicts. In addition, as a check and balance measure, every convict got a barcode tattooed on their chest, just below the clavicle. Data associated with the barcode is now used to unlock data in the biochip, so convicts had to have both.
Christians were in an uproar about, ‘the mark of the beast’ and it was made clear that only criminals would even be offered the benefits of the CCA and no one was beholden to accept any deal. Enough politicians were in favor of the measure that it was reluctantly allowed to be implemented.
Despite the naysaying of the Democrats (and a few Republicans), unemployment went down even further and the traditional prison system held an all-time low number of convicts. Prisons were closing all over the country as it cost more to keep them open for a small percentage of ‘residents’ than it was worth. Prison staff simply took up employment for corporations and continued their day-to-day activities.
The next iteration of the CCA was nine years later. By this time, there was one traditional prison per state, to house all prisoners who refused the offer of Compensation Custody. There was no distinction between low, medium and high security any longer. All prisoners in the state correctional facilities were under high security and the system was even more dangerous for an inmate than at any time in history. Murderers were housed next door to car thieves, gang leaders next door to sticky fingered accountants. Prison deaths accounted for fifty two percent of American homicides.
The Democrats were in power once again when the change was passed. State prisons were abolished as being too barbaric and dangerous. Only large corporations were invited to offer their services as custodians and the terms of agreements were revisited.
Murderers – I use that example because it’s one that I have a tie to, my son having been shot a year earlier – received life in Compensation Custody with no option of ‘parole’ at the end of a contract. The minimum contract became one year and even shoplifters were now subject to the Compensation Custody Act.
I couldn’t imagine stealing a ten dollar blouse from a chain retailer, being caught and receiving a one year sentence, yet people seemed to not care about the stiff penalty. They did it in droves.
The other change was that while corporations were invited to offer placement to the, ‘worst of the worst’, anyone with fifty thousand dollars to spend could become a custodian to a lesser criminal - with the stipulation that hazardous duty not be part of the custody.