It’s an old joke, but one that still makes me laugh. From, well, just about everywhere on the Interwebs…
IN PRISON you spend the majority of your time in an 8×10 cell.
AT WORK you spend most of your time in a 6×8 cubicle.
IN PRISON you get three meals a day.
AT WORK you only get a break for 1 meal and you have to pay for it.
IN PRISON you get time off for good behavior.
AT WORK you get rewarded for good behavior with more work.
IN PRISON a guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you.
AT WORK you must carry around a security card and unlock and open all the doors yourself.
IN PRISON you can watch TV and play games.
AT WORK you get fired for watching TV and playing games.
IN PRISON you get your own toilet.
AT WORK you have to share.
IN PRISON they allow your family and friends to visit.
AT WORK you cannot even speak to your family and friends.
IN PRISON all expenses are paid by taxpayers with no work required.
AT WORK you get to pay all the expenses to go to work and then they deduct taxes from your salary to pay for prisoners.
IN PRISON you spend most of your life looking through bars from the inside wanting to get out.
AT WORK you spend most of your time wanting to get out and inside bars.
IN PRISON there are wardens who are often sadistic.
AT WORK they are called managers.
OK, all fun and games, right? No one thinks that there is much to this comparison. Usually.
Then I read this article about Chinese prisoners who, as part of their confinement, are forced to play…wait for it…World of Warcraft. Seriously.
Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.
“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”
This included, by the way, physical punishment for not making enough money in the virtual environment to please the guards.
My first reaction was to make the work vs. prison comparison (they make all the money off of my work…I have to sit at a computer for hours at a time…lots of other witty comments would follow). But the more I read, the less funny I found any of it. The minimizing of the prison experience, be they in Chinese WoW camps, Sheriff Joe’s Arizona tent city or a hidden facility used for extraordinary rendition, is to dehumanize the people who live through it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some seriously damaged people that we don’t need in our society. But there are also a lot of people who live through an experience far worse than they deserve. And some of them, like it or not, are innocents. I’m not saying I’m leaving my day job to start a prison reform campaign, nor am I suggesting I have any idea how to repair the system.
But I will think a little more about those jokes we started with.