Once we have considered the scientific, spiritual, and social identity perspectives of defining what a human being is, we move a bit deeper into inquiry about power and economics. This poster was part of a clothesline exhibit at a community forum on incarceration recently:

The simple words speak volumes about how we value human beings. Fundamentally, we value productivity. And “productivity” is very narrowly defined in Western (and other colonialist) societies. Those who are “productive” are seen to be the privileged. Their economic role is in sequestering the wealth of industrial growth model of capitalism (see Joanna Macy’s teaching on The Great Turning). A role of prisons is to control and use the labor of those who do not partake of the privilege, and to profit off the prison industrial complex.

The poster is eloquent in tying those abuses into our mistreatment also of the earth and natural resources. The system directs us to oppress those without privilege as a means to continue to invest in unhealthy, unsustainable systems for short term profit.

Human beings are not production units. This is powerful wording. A society that truly believes this will properly care for those who have been neglected or mistreated; those who are ill, traumatized, or confused; those who are mentally or psychologically challenged; those who make mistakes; and those who by identity are falsely caught in the prison system. Once we come fully into this view, “prisons” will no longer exist in the form we see them now. That role will properly go to schools, hospitals, treatment centers, supported living situations, and retreats.

Through meditation practices, including embodied practices like yoga, the walls we build between ourselves and “prisoners” are understood as false and circumstantial – we are not free. As long as prisons mistreat so many, progress is just an illusion. By seeing clearly how our view must turn toward life-enhancing systems, we begin the transformation.