I’m an American, raised in the rugged West, where individual freedom is a stridently championed ideal. I love freedom. I love our vast, sweeping swath of the continent with its jagged mountains and windswept plains, its crystalline beaches and soggy bayous. I love the ideal of freedom. But more than that, I love the actual manifestation of freedom in individual lives. And maybe I’m just crazy, but I think it’s a self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal and have a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So I look around as our raging culture wars strive to subject every conceivable minority opinion and practice to an utter abnegation of freedom and wonder where we went wrong.
I saw an article today relating the disturbing truth that our nation, populated by approximately 4.4% of Earth’s inhabitants, holds approximately 22% of Earth’s incarcerated inhabitants. We’re shockingly, staggeringly non-free by any comparison to average freedom rates across the world. So what went wrong? Did all the freedom we have get out of control? We pride ourselves on liberty – did we just seize too much freedom, express it in a way that was harmful to our neighbors, rob and kill and assault and rip off way more people than our civilized neighbors? Is that why we’ve had to lock so many people up? Is the point of our sadly overstuffed jails that humans just can’t handle as much freedom as the freest nation on earth affords them?
Sadly, no. How many of those incarcerated persons are locked up for harming others? According to The Sentencing Project, “Overall, nearly three-fourths (72.1%) of federal prisoners are serving time for a non-violent offense and have no history of violence.”
So let’s get this straight. Our nation’s prisons are full of people who have harmed no one. They simply exercised their right to personal freedom and possession of personal property. For this crime of being free, they’ve been incarcerated. If you look at incarceration rates worldwide, America is one of the least free nations in the world. We’re a nation with the right to be free as long as you go along with the crowd. Use your freedom in your own way, and it will be taken away from you. But is that real freedom? Doesn’t that mean no one is really free? If you’re free to either conform or be locked up, you’re not free!
I love America. I love the freedoms that we’ve lost. This Independence Day, as I go in to work, I won’t be celebrating. I’ll be mourning, remembering and honoring all our unjustly locked up citizens. I’ll grieve the lack of freedom in their lives. I’ll grieve the death of their American dream. I’ll look around at everyone blowing up fun stuff and drinking beer to celebrate and wonder if they remember when their government poisoned to death hundreds of their fellow citizens for choosing to exercise their right to drink beer, or if they remember that even now their government is sentencing countless others to a cruel death by long incarceration for choosing to incinerate a plant.
This Independence Day, I’ll honor people like Shona, who was brave enough to exercise her freedom to use the only natural cure she had for the horrifying condition of Crohn’s Disease, and had our freedom-quashing government rip away her eleven-year-old son and slap her with a lawsuit threatening thirty years imprisonment. Because she’s a “free” American. I find it incredibly sad that “free American” is an oxymoron.
So a happy Independence Day to all those locked up unjustly by one of the world’s great criminal organizations against human rights and freedoms, the American government. I was raised in the West. Freedom runs deep in our veins. Tyrannical governments don’t have a history of prevailing for long in these parts. I don’t think our modern tyrannical government will fare much better. I’m hopeful that this nation, currently one of the least free civilized nations on Earth, will one day remember her birthright and peaceably rekindle Lady Liberty’s torch.
Until then, I stand with my incarcerated brothers and sisters who refused to give up their freedom and paid the price. Their souls are free. I hope one day their bodies may likewise leave the shackles of unjust American repression. Happy birthday, America. May the gift of freedom be given to you once again.