Right now, 6 men are sitting inside a tiny capsule inside an institute in Moscow pretending they are on a mission to Mars. They have been inside their tiny little capsule almost exactly a year and they are past their pretend visit to the red planet and on their pretend way home; they have another 5 months to go before they arrive. Outside, a team of scientists are preparing the equipment the real astronauts will need for the real journey.
In our life times humans will vist Mars. Mars!
All of this is being accomplished by a team of just a few of hundred people, if that.
Imagine what we could do with 6 billion of us working together: imagine the problems we could solve, the poverty we could eradicate, the lives we could improve and lengthen and the planets we could visit. But we won’t, because people suck.
We all know the difference between right and wrong; we learn it as children watching Disney movies and in our bedtime stories and it is hammered into us again and again by society; and we know that, often, the right thing to do is also the most difficult.
A lot of what Hollywood tells us is rubbish, but that one is true, and we all know it.
We all know that the easy choice is seldom the right one and yet, time and time again, when faced with difficulty, we choose “easy” over “right”. But that isn’t the worst thing we do: the really bad thing, the thing that’s making the hot angry tears of frustration and sadness run down my face as I type this, is to tear down others who do try to do what society – we – have told them they should do.
We want to believe that we are good people and so we can’t face being reminded that we aren’t, that we suck. And so, when we see someone else trying to do the right thing, the difficult thing, we throw obstacles in their path, we insult them, we criticise them and we do everything we can to make them fail.
If we see a person trying to rise above the rest we pull them back down because we can’t bear to be reminded that we are not the angels Hollywood tells us we should aspire to be.
Yesterday, after years of fobbing off by the prison service, Prisoner Ben got the news he has been waiting for for 31 years – that he was going to be moved to open conditions in the afternoon. In his excitement and relief, he borrowed a mobile phone from a “friend” and called someone on the outside to let them know the good news. Later on, and I am not going to explore the possible motives here, the friend stashed the phone in Ben’s possessions. He told Ben what he had done after those possessions had been taken away to be searched prior to the move. Inevitably, the phone was found and Ben will not be moving to open any time soon.
Less than 24 hours later, Ben was informed that a tumour he had been told was slow growing and did not require further treatment was not the only tumour he has – there is a second one somewhere that was missed the first time.
In less than 24 hours Ben has gone from the elation of believing his new life was about to start to the crushing blow of, not only the loss of whatever freedom the transfer to open might have given him, but also, potentially, of his life. Ben may die before he is released.
Worse, he is seeing first hand the “compassion” he is likely to receive from the prison service unfold in front of him. One of Ben’s fellow lifers, Big Rinty, is dying from the cancer Ben has been diagnosed with. He applied for compassionate release and was refused: he will die surrounded by guards and, quite possibly, handcuffed to the bed.
Ben did a horrible horrible thing and he went to prison for it, but in prison he has consistently tried to do the right thing, the difficult thing. He has fought for the rights of those who can’t fight for themselves and he has stood up to abuses of power where he found them – and he found a lot of them. And as a result, he has served 21 years more than his original tariff, in spite of not having a single violent act on his record.
Some look at that, and suggest it means Ben doesn’t want to be released and that, if he did, he would stop fighting and do the sensible thing; the easy thing. That he would jump through all the hoops his keepers put in front of him, stop raising complaints with the ombudsman (complaints that are invariable ignored), stop writing his blog and stop shining a light on the reality of prison.
But I think Ben is acting from different motives. I think Ben feels he needs to atone for his crime, that there is nothing he can do to that can ever repay the life he took and so he must do the only thing he can, which is the make the right choice whenever he gets the chance. And that means Ben always makes the difficult choice. He sees that prison officers have too much power and too little accountability and that prisoners and society both suffer as a result and he has decided to take a stand at whatever cost to himself. As a result, he has served 31 years for a crime he committed as a child and for which he received a tariff of just 10 years.
Society needs people like Ben – people who keep on trying to do the right thing however much it hurts them – because the rest of us won’t.
For an impulsive act of love Ben has lost his chance, possibly his last chance, for release. After a lifetime trying to lift himself up and of being kicked back down, this is what he gets. Enough is enough.
Nobody human gets to talk to me today, because humans suck.