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Questioning the Belief in Rehabilitation: The Shawshank Redemption and Reflections on Turkey’s Justice System

Behind closed doors in prisons, a form of oppression that most people are unaware of, have not seen, or heard of continues to persist in Turkey. Innocent individuals who have not committed any crimes are placed in prison on the pretext of being guilty. Now, they are subjected to a second punishment with unjust and cruel reasons, such as the belief that they have not been rehabilitated, that they may commit crimes when they are released, or that they cannot prove they have separated from an organization. Some members of Turkish parliament are trying to raise this injustice through written parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Justice, but unfortunately, many other politicians are not even aware of this issue. When I see the soullessness and lack of conscience in the rejection decisions, scenes from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” come to my mind.

In the 1994 film “The Shawshank Redemption,” the question “Do you believe in rehabilitation?” appears in three different scenes. Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), who was sentenced to life imprisonment, becomes the recipient of this question during the 20th, 30th, and 40th years of his prison life. Parole Boards pose the mechanical question “Do you believe in rehabilitation?” to Red every ten years as part of a system. Red responds, “Yes… absolutely… I can say that I’ve changed… I’m no longer a danger to society…” Yet, the parole boards are highly political, and they are not concerned with whether Red has changed or integrated into society. Therefore, they do not allow him to be released or to serve the rest of his sentence in a system where he can adapt to society.

The real hero of the movie, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a successful banker, is wrongfully sent to court on a murder charge. Andy sincerely asserts his innocence, and there is no definitive evidence that he committed the crime. The prosecutor is eager to pin the murder on Dufresne. The trial judge is also highly political and says, “You don’t seem like a cold-blooded killer, Mr. Dufresne… but looking at you chills my blood…” and sentences Andy to two life imprisonments. Another actor, who is political and even religiously political, is the prison warden, Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), who says, “I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible.” While systematically managing the torture of prisoners through the hands of the guards, Norton is also making a million-dollar retirement plan through his corruption network.

Andy Dufresne spends about 20 years at Shawshank Prison. When he escapes by crawling through a half-mile-long sewage pipe, he exposes the corrupt system consisting of the Prison Warden, the guards, and the Parole Board to the public eye. The Prison Warden commits suicide, the guards are arrested, and the members of the Parole Board are replaced with a younger team that includes a woman. This new team confronts Red and asks, “Do you think you’ve been rehabilitated?” Red replies, “I think it’s a meaningless question… Maybe for politicians… Rehabilitation?… The most absurd thing I’ve ever heard… So, son, sign those papers and don’t waste my time… Because, if you want the truth, I don’t give a damn…” and he is released.

“The Shawshank Redemption” is a highly impactful film for understanding the distortions in the Criminal Justice System. The film effectively explores topics such as how the prison system is managed through religious political figures, how human freedom is disregarded, and how the corruption wheel operates through religious symbols. While watching this film, it is impossible to ignore the distortions in the Criminal Justice System in 21st-century Turkey, especially the injustice in the parole system. Especially when considering the fact that people with no criminal record are sent to prison.

This injustice, the placement of innocent individuals in prison as if they were guilty, the second punishment under the guise of good behavior, the collective abuse of discretion by competent authorities, the refusal to answer questions from the parliament on human rights and freedoms, and the absurdity of claiming that innocent individuals will commit crimes in the future through the nonsense of “information requiring verification” all lead to the withholding of the right to parole for innocent individuals. Those who enforce this injustice, those who are complicit, or those who remain silent about what is happening should remember that this is not only an injustice in the eyes of the public but also in the eyes of justice, and it will surely have consequences.

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Nurullah Albayrak is lawyer and columnist at TR724.com

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