The famous American Humorist Mark Twain once said, "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." However, very few members of Congress ever wind up in prison, because their fellow members, who are also long-time friends, are on the jury.

The other day I got a very thought-provoking article from a friend over in West Virginia. It advanced the theory that we should put seniors in jail and criminals in a nursing home. The article begins, "This way seniors would have access to showers, hobbies and walks, they’d receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment, wheelchairs, etc., and they would also receive money instead of paying it out.

"They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly, if they fell or needed assistance. Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them. A guard would check on them every 20 minutes and bring their meals and snacks to their cells. They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose. They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counseling, pool and education. Simple clothing, shoes, slippers, pajamas and legal aid would be free, on request.

"Private, secure rooms for all, with an exercise yard, with gardens. Each senior could have a P.C. a TV, radio, and daily phone calls. There would be a board of directors to hear complaints, and the guards would have a code of conduct that would be strictly adhered to.

Now switch gears here because the ‘criminals,’ also known as patients, would get cold food, be left all alone and unsupervised, lights off at 8 p.m., and showers once a week. They would live in a tiny room and pay $5,000 per month and have no hope of ever getting out. It may be a hard life, but at least it would be justice for all."

As I read this, several thoughts came to mind that I would like to pass along to you, with the hopes that a lot of people’s lives, especially seniors, could be made better. While I may be naïve, it is hard for me to believe the last part — about the "criminals" getting cold food, left all alone and unsupervised, lights off at 8 p.m. and showers once a week — is true. While this may be true in a few isolated cases, most nursing homes that I know anything about do a pretty good job. I can buy that part about living in a tiny room, paying $5,000 a month and no hope of ever getting out. To be sure, there are multiple cases of injustice in both of these institutions — prisons and nursing homes. In fact, many books have been written about each one.

When you contrast the benefits and the hardships of each one, there is one simple element that makes all the difference. It’s a little simple word called freedom. The people in nursing homes all across America, and granted there are some limitations, do have freedoms that inmates in our nation’s prisons do not have. I don’t know anyone in a nursing home, in their right mind, who would trade places with any inmate in any prison for any length of time.

Regardless of how you slice it, freedom is one of the most precious gifts we have. Our freedom was won at a terribly high price. Just visit a veterans’ cemetery and you will have a better understanding of what I am saying. Many young people in our country do not really understand the cost of freedom, because they were not around when it was won and preserved. Personally, I believe there is a great threat to our freedom in America today. We must all be vigilante.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit www.bookcaseforeverychild.com. You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)