Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

For Carl

Having cute kids doesn't make you innocent.  A rich and powerful wife, on the other hand...
As a parent, I have found it sad to explain many a truth to my kids. Those moments when they finally realize that there is no Santa Claus. It's hard to be the one with the long sharp needle in hand, bursting the bubbles of happy innocence.  People sleep on the streets at night, in the winter.  The US has enough bombs to blow up the entire world.

I specifically remember the time when Edie read a book with a character who was sexually molested by her father. She was truly confused, "I don't understand what this means." If Foucault didn't convince you, well, there's a conversation that brings home the power of words to construct and deconstruct. All the words in the world still couldn't make this imaginable.

However, when my kids started to ask and learn and understand about the police and criminals and prison, no sharp needles were needed. The idea that justice is not blind - that race, class, social position, economics and good old fashioned luck figure into who gets punished and who doesn't - wasn't a big surprise. They had learned that already, at school, at home, on TV.

As obvious and elementary as this reality may seem, I still find this truth remarkable every time that I stumble over it.

Current case in point, is the not-so-lovely husband of Cristina, Princess of Spain, the King's second daughter.  Inaki Urdangarin was not born into nobility, but his family is wealthy and he was an Olympic athlete, so that's pretty close. They were married in 1997 and have 4 children.  Apparently, after a few years of official events and cocktail parties, Inaki got lost in the world of the rich and famous.  He began to consider the money that was given to him by the government and charitable groups to organize sports events, to be his very own pocket change.  A few fake receipts, off-shore bank accounts, lies and secrets. Court documents allege that he and his business partner stole 6 million Euros ($8M) between 2004 and 2006.

You probably won't be surprised to discover that while stealing a drill set from Home Depot constitutes Larceny Six and can put a repeat offender behind bars for several months, there is no jail time associated with stealing 6M Euros from low-income children. The trial is still going on, but it looks like his only punishment will be that he has to give back the money.  He's also been cast out from the Royal Family (no more official events!), although he and the princess remain married. Honestly, I kind of like the idea that, in lieu of incarceration, thieves could simply give back what they stole and say they are sorry.  In jurisdictions that use systems of community mediation to address crime - think juvenile courts and small towns in VT - this type of resolution is the norm. But it is clearly unjust to only offer this type of sentence to rich, white guys.

Inaki's main line of defense is that he didn't know about these shady deals.  He claims that his business partner acted alone. Nice guy, huh? Steal from the kids then turn on your friends. Well, his business associate will have none of this and is working with the courts to demonstrate that Inaki was an active participant in the schemes.  But, even if he didn't know, that usually is not a viable defense.  In the book I just read about the divergent paths of two kids from Baltimore, The Other Wes Moore, one of the protagonists gets life in prison with no parole for his role in an armed robbery in which an off-duty policeman was killed.  The fact that he wasn't the trigger man didn't soften the blow: if you're in the mix, you're guilty.

For the Spanish people, it seems that the exculpation of the Duke is just one more straw on the camel's back.  The greedy bankers, who lied and cheated, have been bailed out by the government.  Examples of political corruption abound. Meanwhile, cuts are being made to social services and education and unemployment soars. Spanish cynicism about government and power runs deep. Inaki's crimes, stealing from charities and taxpayers, are much more than financial transgressions. His sharp needle has burst the bubble of State Legitimacy for millions of Spaniards.  A bubble, barely inflated after years of war and fascist rule, that suggests the government, personified in the Royal Family, is dedicated to the public good. How can you give that back, Inaki?