Let’s face it; this is not a perfect world.  Otherwise we all would be able to coexist in harmony and there would be no need for prisons, but is every prisoner a criminal? This question is not meant to be a convoluted riddle for the corrections professionals mind to ponder. Nelson Mandela’s life and death must cause us to question the guilt or innocence of inmates.

If the word political is placed in front of the word prisoner does it change the dynamic of the title at all? Moreover, does it exonerate the individual from the so-called crime if the offense raises attention to a high moral atrocity?

Most often, a political prisoner is locked away from public view because of the spotlight they are placing on a societal flaw. Usually the flaws consist of some form of cultural, race, or economic bias. The names of such political prisoners are now etched in our collective minds and the history books of our children.

Such names as Mahatma Gandhi, a fragile little man that stood firm on a platform of non- violence in the face of the might of British Rule in India. The arrest of this tiny giant of a man occurred due to the crime of sedition in 1922.  He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. The British government wisely prevented his martyrdom by releasing him in 1924 due to an appendicitis affliction needing surgery.

If Gandhi’s teachings had an impact on anyone, they certainly encouraged The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, champion of the civil rights movement and political prisoner,  toward a policy of nonviolence.

Dr. King went to India to study Gandhi’s principles in 1959.  Upon application of his nonviolent practices, he was imprisoned in Albany, Georgia in 1962. Hindsight shows us that numerous incarcerations for a political cause were a necessary evil to amplify unjust local laws that infringed on civil rights. This then results in a criminal transforming himself into a crusader with the assistance of laws not designed to protect life and property, but to attempt to break a man or a movement’s spirit.

Imprisonment for political purposes can indeed create crusaders, martyrs, legends, and even heroes. Oddly enough, even unsung heroes can develop on the opposite side of the bars as well. Unsung heroes like Christo Brand.

Who is Christo Brand?

Mr. Brand was the jailor of the greatest political prisoner of them all, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. What would make a 18-year-old man risk his career, his freedom, and possibly even his life to befriend a prisoner age 60? Quite possibly, he conjured the spirit of Pontius Pilate, and saw “no fault in this man”?

Christo Brand considered the totality of the circumstances of Mandela’s incarceration and put his life on the line to support and comfort the leader against apartheid in South Africa. In addition to smuggling more edible foods to strengthen Mandela’s body, Brand managed to bring in the political patriot’s infant granddaughter to encourage his spirit to stay strong.

Overall, the penal system takes care of the incapacitation of individuals who refuse to adhere to the laws of the land. It serves the purpose of retribution on behalf of the public and the victims within society who have been violated. Incarceration is an adequate deterrence to crime for the general public or the common citizen.  In ideal cases it may also provide rehabilitation to an individual to reenter society.

However, history has shown that the system has fallen short was when it is used as an attempt to silence the voice of the masses by incarcerating a public-appointed leader determined to put an end to a societal injustice. So indeed a political prisoner cannot be looked upon as a criminal, but depending on  generations of the population who can be impacted, a political prisoner could someday be called Mr. President.

Dean Higgs is a Briarcliffe College Criminal Justice student currently studying correctional studies under Professor Peter Curcio. Mr. Higgs is a former Interior Communication Electrician for the United States Navy Submarine Division. He has a degree in Occupational Studies from Briarcliffe College and is currently studying at Briarcliffe College to complete a Bachelors Degree in criminal justice. He is currently employed as a complex systems technician for Tyco Integrated Security, an international electronic security firm.