Mayor Tanko McSwain of the McMurto District ran a pretty tight ship, but he could never come to grips with the problem of homelessness. Since the 2008 recession homeless people had overrun the District. Some were schizophrenics and other folks with mental health problems, and some were people who refused to work, but many were families in which the breadwinner had lost her job in the latter part of the last decade and had never found work after that.
McSwain had proposed a bond issue to create subsidized housing, but it failed overwhelmingly. For a year he tried to run a program in which homeless people rented from McMurto District landlords with help from the government, but that program collapsed, awash in corruption. The District’s few homeless shelters were inadequate to house the vast number of homeless people in McMurto District.
The District’s voters simply didn’t want to have their tax dollars spent on down-and-outers. They considered the problem intractable, as indeed it seemed to McSwain after the defeat of his bond issue. “It’s their own fault,” commentators explained. “If they can’t find work in McMurto District, they should go somewhere else.”
This thinking had gained traction with the Common Council, which soon put forth a bill to round up all the homeless people and deport them to the nearby Arrington District. That bill nearly passed, but when the Arrington District Common Council considered a bill to round up all its homeless people and deport them to McMurto District, the two Common Councils both agreed to back off.
The idea hadn’t died, though. Next Tuesday, the McMurto Common Council would consider a bill to deport all of McMurto’s homeless to Cuba.
McSwain knew he had to do something. So he hit upon a radical idea: he would criminalize homelessness.
“The homeless are a great blight on our district,” he proclaimed. “They clutter our streets and our subway shops. They bother us while shopping with their begging and their unpleasant aromas and clothing. They are bad for tourism.”
McSwain proposed a bond issue to build several prisons throughout McMurto. The idea picked up widespread support, and the Common Council abandoned the idea of sending the homeless to Cuba.
Prisons were expensive, though. So McSwain had a number of radical ideas to cut costs. The most radical: no guards.
“Let them escape!” McSwain bellowed. “Where will they go? They’re homeless! Arrington District? Great! Otherwise, they’ll just hang around downtown and we’ll arrest them again. It’s cheaper than hiring guards.”
Without guards, the new prison couldn’t have common bathrooms and areas for showering. “In prisons, common bathrooms are the principal breeding ground for new crime,” McSwain said. “So in our prison, each prisoner will have his own small bathroom and shower area. No criminal activities there, believe me!”
Another cost-saving maneuver was the elimination of kitchen facilities. Instead, each prisoner would have his own stove, oven, refrigerator and sink. “Why should the people of McMurto pay to feed these criminals?” McSwain asked. “They can feed themselves.”
Most prison sentences meant that the prisoner’s children were sent to foster care. But not sentences to McMurto’s newest prison. “We will not overburden our foster care system with the children of these criminals,” McSwain declared. “We won’t allow them to evade their responsibilities as parents just because they received a prison sentence for their homelessness.” Instead, children of the homeless would be housed with their parents in their prison apartments.
The most controversial part of McSwain’s plan was its indefinite-sentence provision. Homeless people would be imprisoned until they found homes elsewhere. Civil libertarians howled, but McSwain held firm. “Homelessness is an ongoing crime,” McSwain argued. “Homeless people will be imprisoned until they no longer are homeless.”
The people of McMurto District went wild over McSwain’s proposal. The bond issue passed two to one, and McSwain was hailed for his cost-cutting measures. In short order, most of McMurto’s homeless population was arrested and placed in the new prison system. Children were placed with their parents and enrolled in local school.
Like many other prisons, the new prisons had job training and GED programs for its prisoners. Eventually, many prisoners obtained jobs through the prison program, and were able to find housing elsewhere. At that point, they were declared no longer criminally homeless, and their records were expunged.
“Those homeless criminals have felt the Wrath of McSwain,” the Mayor declared, to the great approval of the people of McMurto District. He was reelected four times, and his prison system eventually became known as The Wrath of McSwain.
Eventually, many other Districts, seeing how well McSwain’s system worked, adopted The Wrath of McSwain themselves. McSwain’s technique soon became the nation’s principal approach to homelessness, and also became popular in other countries as well.
Many years after McSwain’s death, the phrase transmuted to “The Wreath of McSwain,” for reasons unknown to history.