Imprisonment – An Extreme End of Social Media (Putting Entire Haiti behind bars!)

Exploring over the Internet I recently landed over the subject of incarceration around the world and rather landed myself into trouble of loosing two consecutive nights in sleeplessness. For here I am (we are) selling Open Governance, Social Media, Government 2.0 to a generation with social consciousness, and thinking how sweet the generation would be tomorrow when our kids could possibly talk to the premiers, and there in some dark cellar is a man, disconnected even upto 23 hours everyday round the year without any contact to anything living. And the number is not few thousands or even few hundred thousands. There are an estimated 9.5 million people put under incarceration under different international or national laws of various off-line silos that we call countries.

That’s the size of entire Haiti put behind

America ranks number one in rate of incarceration with an average of 756 imprisonments in every hundred thousand inhabitants. It houses the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2½ million within its prison walls. Also note that American prisons are arguably better equipped than anywhere else in the world and the figure of 9.5 million inmates above does not count the number of humans serving terms in countries which are not open about sharing incarceration data. For example, China.

While I am sure there might be substantial reasons for the
incriminated to be behind bars, but it is hard to assume that more often than not such “pariahs” are not a product of policy force-fitting or misuse of power by those who are incumbent. And with figures like 9.5 million, is there any estimate on how many innocents are behind bar at this point of time? In a discussion with my friends last night, it came out that it’s because of the example set by such an incarcerated population does the remaining 6 billion outside function with integrity.
Or almost with integrity. But an unanswered question was “do we really refer to the number of prisons, or number of inmates” before signing checks on behalf of our organization? Isn’t this model from an old school of thought.

Are we close to an Answer?
Prisons are primarily meant to
quarantine dangerous individuals who can either potentially harm the society in future or have already done harm and serving a term to avoid further damage. So is it okay to keep them inside and yet open an internet based social connection so that they can keep up with the world? For example allow a twitter connection to those who want to use the channel to communicate with people outside. While it is not tough to imagine the ruckus that such an idea would lead to in the short term, but there seem significant reasons to believe that in long term giving prisoners a chance to interact with the world through new forms of
social media should do the mankind good. All communication can be monitored, which actually happens for everyone else afterall!

Government 2.0 is about evolutionary, then why continuing to deny such a significant percentage of human population from a threshold of neat social media where stresses could be lowered simply by passing time reading views and contrariwise. Why completely kill a chance of recovery for some who were originally not made of a criminal mind. Another angle that one must not overlook is that fact that laws of the land, legal frameworks and constituents of punishments are the slowest of systems to evolve over centuries purely because of
the nature of such an infrastructure and a need of fine print to be in strict compliance. Where as things like technology, life style, fashion and social intelligence evolves much faster with every passing generation. Why to subject a thief of evolving modern social era to a primitive theory of torture by subjecting social denial.

Lastly, is it out of place to raise a question to the Govloop Community that treatment to inmates can really be considered for a review in the light of Government 2.0?

Besides resorting to imprisonment – an extreme end of social media does not seem to be watertight. How else can we ensure integrity from a common man. Any answers?

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Srinidhi Boray

Awesome article. Wonderful analogy of dealing with an inconvenient truth. States are running out of money to maintain prisoners. At this time there are discussions that might be reprieve to many prisoners.


In Gov2.0, I am yet to gain conviction that we are still fighting for basic liberty and principles, the fundamental caveats that makes people discuss without feeling vulnerable. What open governance really means, when it strives to achieve transparency and accountability.

Srinidhi Boray

I do not see anything anti-american or speaking ill of the fine officers, and certainly where I have livd and experienced much safety and respect, like wise in Singapore and Dubai.

“you for maligning the law enforcement officers and judicial system of this country as well as all of the free world”

Srinidhi Boray

But, yes access to free use of social media and cell phone poses a danger. As evidence has shown in the recent times in Washington DC and many other places that prisoners have misused this.

Checkout recent article on Nalini in Indian prison, who participated in Killing former Indian Prime-minister Rajeev Gandhi had illegal access to a mobile phone.



Arvind Nigam

Hmmm pretty strong views from Harlan. Perhaps @Harlan you should read about Genetic Algorithms and the benefits of ‘herd mentality’ when a population naturally choses to follow a path that majority took. All actions, including yours getting angry with my writings (perhaps this is herd mentality from you too) is a part of evolutionary basics which calls for reactions, discussions and decisions.

I do appreciate that talking about a sensitive issue like this is bound to rake up some strong views but I simply don’t see respecting the “judiciary” or “ego” of the incumbent as a reason to justify the torture of ~ 9.5 m people who are incarcerated worldwide. It’s only that they committed a crime, so they are turned in.

The number is quoted from wikipedia which according to me is a very trusted source. Correct me if I am wrong in the figures, however.

Seriously, there have been countless discussions on whether criminals are “born” or they are “made”. There is a need for us to “see” some contrariwise views, and only then an effort from us can help us understand what forces people to commit such crimes. The law enforcement guys r gr8 and honorable officers and I have never mentioned a word against them. Don’t write crap just because it inconveniences you to read the terrible situation out there. The question is raised on the paradigm of society that “processes” the convicts in a framework that’s older than the time we are living in.

Thanks @Srinidhi. I do believe if Government 2.0 is round the corner then why leave the incarcerated behind? I think this is a serious topic before expo20 guys and pretty much every other stake holder in the society.


Arvind Nigam

And @harlan until last I read it in english “change” is always about evolution. Sometimes evolution takes a hard route also, which leads to resetting of social imbalances adn is often termed as a revolution in positive tone.

@srinidhi recently there was a millionaire prisoner in brazil who carried out a full-fledged extortion business from inside. Simply because a few officers and he connived for easy money. This is something which depends on quality of monitoring, but yet again I too feel that the ruckus in short term is a possibility 🙂


Srinidhi Boray

Arvind, I value Harlan and his immense experience and his open vocalization on this forum. And, I am certain from his discussions that many times he has referred to reform in contracts.

And, yes when Nietzsche said god is dead, people wanted to bludgeon him.

I think we need different metaphors probably.

When I saw the “prison”, my mind alluded to conformism as you both discussed like in herd mentality. This conformism is much exploited as discussed in the Lucifer effect. So to me “prison” or silos allowed for the other to take the Lucifer position.

Arvind Nigam

Ya apparently there is a communication gap. Saw his pretty hard comments on posts by others too. Because he is referring to typos as means to fulfill his agenda, I presume this as a kind of blindness to different opinions, coz he is not ready to believe even the number of people behind bar today.

Anyway, I do respect his views but IMHO unfortunately those views belong to a bygone era. The question that is raised n my article is about whether these imprisoned individuals having a secure online connection to social media is a worthy discussion for our generation or not. And I see that is pretty much happening her coz gov 2.0 is about ground up!

@Harlan perhaps u need to sit in oblivion for a few weeks to understand whether social disconnection via incarceration is a torture or not. I would impress that you can convince others only with more suave. Mind it helps.


Arvind Nigam

Trust me @harlan you do evolve your technique of changing diapers, tyre every time you do it. And the more you do it, the better it gets.

Tx for your feedback though.


Arvind Nigam

Hmmmm, one can only guess what’s going on these days coz the jail of PoWs happened not very far back in time. And at least there is some accountability in US. God know what happens inside China!

Adriel Hampton

Harlan, I guess I’m pretty put off by the tone of your public discourse. Social media, like much human activity, seems to run on principles of reciprocity – like, when I watch you repeatedly style your arguments in a bullying tone, I don’t really feel like expending energy answering your questions.
The Golden Rule and that idiom about flies and honey are byzantine, but they work just as well today as they always have.

Srinidhi Boray


Arvind is the best guy who can help you with your questions, checkout his social-networking model. Similar to Ning. Also, at this time he is offering a free launch for the site.

He is young CEO of bublingideas


Arvind Nigam

Hey @harlan relax, just simply relax! 🙂

When I was writing this piece I knew there will be strong disagreements because hey “are we are trying to give life back to the people who stole life of others?”. Is that how we are gonna justify the terror this guy meted out while stealing a bank in NY? What are you trying to say Arvind…?? (bla bla)”.

I completely understand you PoV but the only example that I have in support of my argument is Finland, the first ever country to introduce “Internet as the fundamental right of citizens”. The crime rate in Finland is near-zero and like I am trying to premise on this article, perhaps in Gov 2.0 the question of how prisoners being left out completely requires an address.

Sometime minority arguments are correct. That happens in large corporate houses also. Decisions by teams are not always the best ones, coz the group tends to go with the path of least resistance and lowest risk.

Tx @Adriel, tx @srinidhi for support, I do see what this topic can cause, already 🙂


Srinidhi Boray

You are right Harlan, social media has amplified extreme expressions. It is the emerging way, one likes it or not. People have more affirmations and many times despite lacking experience (that is not considered anything negative especially in the Internet world) will make very bold approbation seeking statements. 20 years back, I was thought to be quite brazen. now I am overcome by more confident younger people.

I used to get offended when I shared something good, especially younger people would say that is good for you. The concept of us and we and such usage of language is not in fashion today. I have offended many traditionalist too when I was much younger and still continue to do so.

But yes, some moderation in use of language is always better.

In my school I remember, I had a good english teacher, a britisher type. He asked one of the student how is it in tundra region. Student replied it is damn cold. This enraged the teacher, he clamped on the students ears until the student realized and said it is very cold 🙂

Whenever I recall this, I laugh recoiling, damn and cold. I realized later that damn was a curse.

Srinidhi Boray

Arvind I am sure you help Harlan realize a social-networking business plan he has. He already has a client, you might of great help.

Please understand Arvind, So far I have been fired umpteen number of times from projects over 7 or 8 times. This is DC, not California, it is very traditional in many ways. It has been a muffling experience to have any open conversation in the past 7 years. The only things that has attracted me to Gov2.0, is about hoping to make accountability and transparency work. That exists in much theory and not in realty.

I am preparing for the worst outcome 🙂

Arvind Nigam

Wow! We have stumbled on another cool topic about similarities between traditional & new media – social media – which probably will help us see the near zero probability of things worsening down the line. That will comfort u @srinidhi on all this beyond “hoopla”.

I will try to write this sometime soon! And I will do justice to the topic of social media around prisoners too coz I do see a lot of value in it. For example the awesome candles, mats and hand made products that we see outside today are done by fingers behind the bar.

Why can’t we use tech to keep us socially connected with them beyond the products they make?

@harlan I will respond to your question of ROI, on your piece shortly. Off to work now.


Srinidhi Boray

Well after a while of dabbling with social social social, one will want quite life, healthy solitude where noise is not amplified, and then after quite quite quite, one wants to amplify anything noise, even a falling grain of rice.

Into The Wild

Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1990, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.

Tragically he died in Alaska, he was found in the abandoned bus.

Arvind Nigam

Oh, I love ‘Into the wild’ – Emile Hirsch and specially the Guitar, the music in the movie. As a side-note, @srinidhi I was a hard rock guitarist at college, playing Metallica, Steve Vai, Floyd and all… so I can easily relate to the F-word language too. ha ha.

It’s a normal lingo that we rock-stars & hardened men are used to. Of course things have changed drastically for me a lot..:-) lol – and I am happy about it.

To relax now with some good guitar too, you can watch the following tribute to Pink Floyd I made a couple of years back and the cover lead of ‘Comfortably Numb’ that I played at college.

Raise the volume!!!!!!!!!!!

Srinidhi Boray

Harlan, Although I empathized with his story and similar such reclusive habits I had myself developed, I do not advocate this especially to young children. In the end, I realized that all human beings are designed to be social animals. I had begun to speak to my shadows. My self imposed isolation was not anywhere near like that of McCandless. But experience was similar. Unfortunately he was ill – equipped to deal with his situation, and despite his wanting to return back to society he failed and he died eating some wrong plant. But a very touching story, and literally he turned from a super-tramp into a monk.

This story is good for children to learn, that isolation although good sometimes, one must not push to extreme, rather learn to live with people. Facebook was an anathema to me, although I count myself to be among the first in India to be dealing with Internet, that means x.25 dialing days in 1991.

I have slowly learnt to be a social animal. But yet still not completely comfortable 🙂

My kismet brought me back to DC to my home, to live with people alive and kicking.

Caryn Wesner-Early

To me, it depends largely on whether we expect the prisoners to return to society. An education in using the Internet, including social media, seems to me a valuable part of resocialization. One reason for recidivism (and I’m quoting a class I took in 1982, so things may have changed since then) is that the former prisoners are still trying to function in the world they left to go to prison. If someone had a 20-year sentence, they went in in 1990 – before the Internet, before regular people had cellphones, and so on. They’ll have a very hard time fitting into 2010 without a lot of preparation, and social media is part of it.

That said, if they’re in for life, it’s probably not worth the cost or the risk to train them in, and let them use, the Internet.

Arvind Nigam

Well said Caryn; while my insight to life within prisons is only through movies, but I do believe that there is strength in the argument that I placed before the forum. We do have a responsibility towards all living beings, and prisoners too are a part of the society.

– Arvind