Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: Rethinking our Prison System

Bad things can happen to good people. Yet, more often than not, bad things happen to dumb people. As a society we all eventually pay the price for stupidity.

A former football player I used to coach would be classified as dumb. Dumb Dumb Dumb.

Shortly after his 18th birthday he was driving home from a party with a well over the legal limit blood alcohol content (which is actually .00 for anyone under 21). He had a couple of passengers in his car when he got into an accident, no one was seriously hurt in his vehicle—unfortunately the vehicle he hit injured two young ladies who suffered some moderate trauma.

Rather than staying and owning up to his horrific mistake, he got back in his car and drove around the corner about a block away and sat there, still and terrified, shaking and mortified, frozen with fear.  Eventually the police found him and promptly arrested him, not for just drunk driving but also for fleeing the scene of an accident.

Dumb. Dumb Dumb Dumb.

I knew “Dumb” fairly well as I was his high school football coach for a season. He had been over to our house a few times as he was also an acquaintance of sorts with my youngest son.  He was a very good kid. Always respectful, very funny and we had to work very hard to bring out any aggression in him on the football field. “Dumb” was a very passive, friendly, funny, and compassionate young man.

A passive, friendly, funny and compassionate young man who made a very DUMB mistake.  A hugely DUMB mistake.  And he paid the price.

“Dumb” was sentenced to four years in state prison after a plea bargain down from five and two strikes on his record; with good behavior this could be whittled down to about two years. This state prison was far from the white-collar country club type…this was of the high security true badass variety.

“Dumb” was thrown in with the worst of the worst of society: Killers, rapists, you name it. The innocent boy from Santa Clarita would soon be no more. He witnessed a murder before his own eyes while in prison.

Now….my tension.

“Dumb” made a huge, colossal mistake from which he will likely never fully recover.  This was his only colossal mistake as had a completely clean record until this point. Yet, as I heard his dad tell me his sentence of four years in state prison, I was flummoxed. I thought to myself that, as a society, are we collectively better off with “Dumb” going to hardcore prison for four years or worse off?

I concluded the latter.

“Dumb” needed to pay a huge price for his error. Agreed. Understood. Yet, now all of us reading this blog are living in a more dangerous society since we have a taken a compassionate, good kid—who harbors no malicious intent to hurt in his heart—and schooled him in the art of prison life; he now potentially poses a risk to society far more dangerous than several years ago.


I do not believe that sentence was fair to “Dumb;” perhaps more importantly, it was not fair to the rest of us in society as well. What once was an innocent kid capable of making dumb choices, is now a, well who knows what? How did he change? Did being around the criminal element for four years help him? Soften him? Maybe. Yet I cannot see how.

We shall see. According to “Dumb’s” dad, “Depressed,” with a nearly seventy five percent return rate for prisoners, the odds are not good.

“Dumb” is set to get out of prison in just a few weeks, the middle of January 2014. Now 21 years old and, according to his father and good friend of mine, “Bulked up and strong like you wouldn’t believe,” he will reenter society not a young boy but a man. It remains to be seen, yet I have a feeling that look of innocence and naiveté in that young boy’s eyes will be long gone. 

To be clear, “Dumb” had to pay a big price for his transgression. Absolutely. It sure seems to me that as a society we can be far more creative in our penal system and not allow essentially harmless citizens to be mentored by thieves and murderers for several years.

Prison is full of two kinds of people: Bad people with malicious intent and DUMB people who harbor no such ill will, just stupid. I would like a separate system for both. 

Would it not behoove us as a society to attempt to make the dumb ones smart rather than our feeble and futile attempts to make the bad ones good?

I realize we have different stratification of prisons, yet, essentially, we throw them all in the same place whether just dumb or pure evil.

Sometimes dumb people just need an education. Perhaps  we are all just too dumb to realize it.