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Silenced Protest
December 14, 2010 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Last Thursday, thousands of prisoners in Georgia's state prisons went on strike - refusing to leave their cells or do work. It could be the largest prisoner protest in history, yet it is going unreported by the mainstream media.

So far, outside of a few local reports, the biggest news organization to pick up on the strike has been a brief article in the New York Times, who covered it under their technology section because the protest was organized with contraband cell phones.

Here's an excerpt from the prisoners' demands:

A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Prisoner leaders issued the following call: "No more slavery. Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!"
posted by BZArcher (108 comments total) 112 users marked this as a favorite

 
So glad to see this on the blue.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:13 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


It will be difficult to get access to information about what's really going on until phone & visitation privileges are reinstated. Some people on a GA prison forum have talked to their loved ones inside and apparently it got pretty crazy in some of the facilities (and likely still is). Although as of this morning they haven't started shooting anyone yet, which is a good sign. If any smuggled cell phones are left they're likely being kept turned off to conserve batteries since they won't have access to power. Expect a wishy-washy press release from the DOC in a couple days, it will take longer for the inmates' side of the story to get out based on the nature of covert prison communications.
posted by hamida2242 at 12:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


If these people wanted rights, they shouldn't have committed crimes in the first place.

Whaddya mean, "inalienable"? I never said they were aliens. These are bad people, and they deserve whatever they get.

"Rehabilitation"? Now you're just making words up.
posted by Zozo at 12:16 PM on December 14, 2010 [31 favorites]


Also, the problems which led to at least 2 of those demands (phone, meals - and probably health care as well) are as a result of privatizing those services.
posted by hamida2242 at 12:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


Oh, Zozo. You just went there.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 12:18 PM on December 14, 2010


"Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

-John Adams
posted by clavdivs at 12:18 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Conditions in US prisons are one of those things where (with any luck) people a hundred years from now will look back and wonder what the fuck was wrong with us.
posted by theodolite at 12:19 PM on December 14, 2010 [26 favorites]


I wonder what the fuck is wrong with us right now.
posted by enn at 12:19 PM on December 14, 2010 [92 favorites]


or, these people have grievences by the right even as prisoners.
posted by clavdivs at 12:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can see how this is scary to prison officials and politicians. The inmates have refocused their mindsets from warring factions within the prison to seeing the real enemy and uniting against it. The fact that they aren't paid anything for working is really criminal, and not remotely rehabilitative. I hope more light on this story results in good news.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


While I agree that this story has been shamefully ignored (just more proof, as if more were needed, that prisoners are treated by the American establishment as non-humans) the NYT did do a non-cell-phone related story. It's a fair story, but it is ridiculously short. This should be front-page news.

hamida2242: it will take longer for the inmates' side of the story to get out based on the nature of covert prison communications.

From The New York Times article: Several inmates, who used cellphones to call The Times from their cells, said they found out about the protest from text messages and did not know whether specific individuals were behind it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:22 PM on December 14, 2010


Next week: Joe Arpaio adds prednisone and SSRIs to the prisoner's food.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:23 PM on December 14, 2010


This should be front-page news

Yes — if there are really several thousand workers participating, that's big news; there are very few strikes of that size in the US anymore inside or outside of prisons.
posted by enn at 12:26 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]




A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.


I guess their misunderstanding of the 13th Amendment could be explained by the lack of educational opportunities.
posted by The World Famous at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Conditions in US prisons are one of those things where (with any luck) people a hundred years from now will look back and wonder what the fuck was wrong with us."

Because, surely, in two hundred years, when the Earth's population is 100 billion, we will have moved way past issues like over-crowding, lack of access to nutritious food, medical care and an educational infrastructure related to self-improvement. More likely, futuristic gulags will probably be used to house and slave-drive criminals and other undesirables because resources will be so scarce in that time that we won't possibly be able to afford the very lowest underclass any valuable luxuries such as excess electricity and fresh water. Also... I'd rather be in an American prison than most other prison systems in the world if, for nothing else, the rule of law (which actually exists, flawed as it may be, believe it or now). Get off your fucking high horse. The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:28 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


They have set aside their differences,” said Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther leader and adviser to the prisoners, whose 27- year-old adopted son is incarcerated at Macon State prison.

“You have blacks, Mexicans, whites, Muslims, Christians, Rastafarians, you name it. They are all united and they are conscious that they are united around their common interests.”
posted by Feisty at 12:32 PM on December 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


Don't these guys know that only millionaire ballplayers are allowed to strike anymore?
posted by telstar at 12:35 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


> The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.
> Conditions in US prisons are one of those things where (with any luck) people a hundred years from now will look back and wonder what the fuck was wrong with us.



US prisons are much better than, say, Angolan prisons. But much worse than, say, Swedish prisons. Either way, it doesn't matter. Focus on the laws we have here and the positive changes that could be implemented to reduce recidivism rather than perpetuate the prison industry. I don't think it does much good to argue that it's worse or better elsewhere. Talk about what's wrong and what can help, rather than make generalizations or projections.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:36 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd rather be in an American prison than most other prison systems in the world

Damn right! It's not like the US would send prisoners to foreign countries to be subjected to torture and inhumane conditions oh wait...
posted by auto-correct at 12:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


"The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters."

'[Joe] Arpaio set up a "Tent City" as an extension of the Maricopa County Jail.[31] Tent City is located in a yard next to a more permanent structure containing toilets, showers, and an area for meals.[32] It has become notable particularly because of Phoenix's extreme temperatures.

During the summer of 2003, when outside temperatures exceeded 110 °F (43 °C), Arpaio said to complaining inmates, "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents, have to wear full body armor, and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."[33] Tent City is criticized by groups contending that there are violations of human and constitutional rights.[34] Those critical of Arpaio also point out that the vast majority of inmates within Tent City have not been convicted; rather, they are merely awaiting trial.[35] Arpaio's claim that these inmates committed crimes, they argue, reflects Arpaio's contempt for the American Constitution and the explicit right it grants to a "presumption of innocence."'

posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [43 favorites]


Also... I'd rather be in an American prison than most other prison systems in the world if, for nothing else, the rule of law (which actually exists, flawed as it may be, believe it or now).

I believe the phrase that has become my guiding light these days is, "I think we can set the bar a little higher than being less oppressive and corrupt than a totalitarian dictatorship".

The fact is, when these folks get out, I'd rather have them with some amount of social skills and usable trades and not a just burning coal of hate developed through years of mistreatment. (See also: I'd like veterans to come back functional human beings and not abandoned folks with untreated trauma and great training in the use of weapons).

High horse or not, we can consider rehabilitation and humane treatment a smart, long term investment in safety and security.
posted by yeloson at 12:39 PM on December 14, 2010 [64 favorites]


If Ronald Reagan were still president he'd fire all of those strikers and they'd never get those jobs back.
posted by three blind mice at 12:40 PM on December 14, 2010 [21 favorites]


Whoa, gagglezoomer.

I don't know what "third world dictatorships" you're talking about ("tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters"? Seriously? I can't even think of an example that that would apply to, apart from maybe Sudan or Chad and even there things aren't so clear cut), but the US prison system is nothing to be proud of. In any other country in the world you'd be much less likely to be in prison in the first place, especially if you don't happen to be white.
posted by col_pogo at 12:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Also... I'd rather be in an American prison than most other prison systems in the world if, for nothing else, the rule of law (which actually exists, flawed as it may be, believe it or now). Get off your fucking high horse. The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.

I'd rather be in a prison pretty much anywhere in northern Europe than in one in the American South. Or most US states. And the fact that we're not a fucking third world dictatorship means that our prisons shouldn't be hellholes. But they are.
posted by Jim Slade at 12:45 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Get off your fucking high horse. The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.

No, it isn't. The US is a very wealthy democracy which has inexplicably chosen to address it's drug problem by incarcerating a larger percentage of it's population than any country on Earth; wasting billions of dollars and years of people's lives without doing anything at all to solve the problem. We can do the tent cities later, if you like.
posted by steambadger at 12:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [52 favorites]


Gagglezoomer, I don't think you ought to boast about your jails being better than the ones in most third-world countries.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Get off your fucking high horse.

Sounds like you're on the high horse, along with your ax-grindy clarion call to love it or leave it.
posted by blucevalo at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


steambadger: The US is a very wealthy democracy which has inexplicably chosen to address it's drug problem by incarcerating a larger percentage of it's population than any country on Earth;

I believe we also have the largest number of prisoners, too. As a percentage of total population, but also as a raw number of incarcerated people.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:55 PM on December 14, 2010




The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.

No, but it does have companies that build and run prisons who also lobby quite successfully for harsh immigration and drug laws (and police enforcement) in order to fill those prisons. All for the sake of profit.
posted by entropone at 12:57 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


We can do the tent cities later, if you like.

Done that already.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:59 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


the mainstream media. --- This phrase raises the hackles on the back of my neck. Besides, there's no such thing any more.
posted by crunchland at 1:00 PM on December 14, 2010


Hey, what's wrong with prison labor? My alma mater was fully furnished by prison made furniture. Those were some comfortable chairs. They should be proud of their work. Fucking unions.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:05 PM on December 14, 2010


Permit a bit of cynicism on my part, but most of our prisons were seldom if ever decent places, and while it would be wonderful if things could be made much better, right now we have 100,000 homeless veterans, men who have served in our military. We have thousands of people living lord knows where having lost their homes through defaults. We have unemployment that simply is not going away and when people find work they all too often an not get a decent wage to live on. We have an extension of unemployment benefits ONLY because the GOP wanted to continue the massive tax breaks for the very wealthy. And so I doubt that fixing our prison system (hell, we don't fix our school system) is not likely to get high high place on a state's agenda, esp. when so many states are verging on bankruptcy.
posted by Postroad at 1:07 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get off your fucking high horse. The US isn't a third world dictatorship with tent cities full of innocent freedom fighters.

Wait, are you the same gagglezoomer who posted on the blue about horrific birthing-mother shackling and the prisoners' rights movement in the US? What happened between 2006 and today?
posted by theodolite at 1:09 PM on December 14, 2010


And so I doubt that fixing our prison system (hell, we don't fix our school system) is not likely to get high high place on a state's agenda, esp. when so many states are verging on bankruptcy.

Then, I guess there is no point in making a noise about this. Alright folks, let's get back to the threads about Julian Assange.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:10 PM on December 14, 2010


Gosh, no love here, I guess. But then again, what did I expect with a comment that had a good cherry pick quote right at the end that everyone could cite and ignore the rest?

The main thrust of my argument was actually in responding to a comment about how, in hundreds of years, we will look at the US prison system as some sort of archetype of barbarism. I'm not so obtuse that I think our drug laws or prejudicial judicial system aren't a problem.

Comparing our prison system to Sweden's, come on! If Sweden had 300 million residents and a GIGANTIC prison population more representative of the US cross-section (dozens of ethnicities, gangs, religions, races, etc.), I imagine their prison system would suck as well. Cue citation to article someone once got arrested in Sweden with a kilo of coke and a Bowie knife.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:12 PM on December 14, 2010


> Gosh, no love here, I guess. But then again, what did I expect with a comment that had a good cherry pick quote right at the end that everyone could cite and ignore the rest?

Eh, the rest was kind of a dystopian masturbation and at best a derail from the topic of the post.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


If Sweden had 300 million residents and a GIGANTIC prison population more representative of the US cross-section (dozens of ethnicities, gangs, religions, races, etc.), I imagine their prison system would suck as well.

So. Our prisons suck because "those people moved in"? There goes the neighborhood!
posted by yeloson at 1:15 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jails and prisons and the criminal justice systems in the US have become huge industries that care noting about rehab or any other civilized treatment of prisoners. They find a ready market of taxpayer willing to hand over billions every year to build and run this system. People who think everyone behind bars is 'bad' and who don't care what happens to them because they have swallowed the barbaric cred that the 'deserve what the get' in order to avoid having any responsibility for what happens in their name.

The justice and prison systems in this country are not working. In fact every measurement show they are making everything they touch worse. For that we are paying many, many times what other and far more successful civilized countries are paying for justice. The industry is an incestuous swarm of judges, district attorneys, bail bondsmen, sheriffs, police chiefs, MADD, booze distributors and politicians all making millions supporting each other and pushing corruption deep into every community in America. It has no intention of reducing crime because that is what it lives on. It has no intention of putting itself out of business. Success is less crime and fewer prisoners. The system we have produces the very opposite and has done so forever.

I hope the inmates and the staff in this conflict remain safe. We should contact our local news outlets and ask them direct questions about why this is being ignored by them and their networks. But most of all it is way past time to hold every politician at every level personally responsible for the rot that passes for law enforcement and justice in this country.
posted by WagonTyre at 1:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


And so I doubt that fixing our prison system (hell, we don't fix our school system) is not likely to get high high place on a state's agenda, esp. when so many states are verging on bankruptcy.

It doesn't have to cost money. Just stop locking people up for minor drug offenses. In fact, wouldn't fewer prisoners save money?

You want cynical? I'll give you cynical: Our prisons are in the shape they are because we have corrupt politicians who take money from private prison companies and corrections unions on the one hand, and who will, on the other hand, turn a blind eye to any injustice whatsoever so long as they can't be called "soft on crime."

Every politician who tells you that it's about money or about law and order is a liar, and those pronouncements should be a leper's bell warning you that they are not to be trusted.
posted by tyllwin at 1:18 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Next week: Joe Arpaio adds prednisone and SSRIs to the prisoner's food.

Sorry, that's not compatible with Arpaio's new "make the prisoner watch as a week's worth of meals is fed to stray dogs" punishment plan for anyone that dares make eye contact with a CO.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2010


The full text of the thirteenth amendment (emphasis mine):
"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
So as The World Famous alludes to, there's nothing unconstitutional about the situation.
posted by pwnguin at 1:21 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love how the standard conservative refrain has become "Don't complain! We're not quite a third world dictatorship! Be happy with what you have!"

Sometimes I wonder if these people ever listen to themselves talk.
posted by Avenger at 1:22 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey, I was working on a post about this! Sometimes it's good to be scooped.

This strike has been accomplished by bringing together prisoners regardless of race, religion or gang affiliation.* So far, things are peaceful - although there have been reports of guards beating some participants at Telfair State Prison. At Macon State, heat has been turned off, and temperatures are in the 30s. Hot water has also been turned off.

From the Irish Times link above: They object to a monopoly on money transfers from their families to them, held by the private company J-Pay, which takes a 10 per cent commission. Global Tel-Link, another private company, charges $55 a month for once weekly 15-minute phone conversations between prisoners and families.

Remember Attica?** Let's not have another one. Let the Georgia State DoC know that people are paying attention; their phone number is 478-992-5246.

*And can you imagine how terrifying prison officials find this?
** You know what prisoners in Attica wanted? Better food, better living conditions, better educational and rehabilitative opportunities. Good to know we've made so much progress.
posted by rtha at 1:23 PM on December 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'd rather be in an American prison than most other prison systems in the world

Are you poor and black? Then just wait, you'll get your chance.

(I urge everyone concerned about the state of the American criminal justice system to read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Comparing our prison system to Sweden's, come on! If Sweden had 300 million residents and a GIGANTIC prison population more representative of the US cross-section (dozens of ethnicities, gangs, religions, races, etc.), I imagine their prison system would suck as well.

Ah yes, "Swedish social democracy works because Swedes are all white and polite, unlike our unruly and disrespectful brown populations."

Yes, we've heard this before.
posted by Avenger at 1:24 PM on December 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


I love how the standard conservative refrain has become "Don't complain! We're not quite a third world dictatorship! Be happy with what you have!"

It's what makes America the Greatest Country on Earth!
posted by yeloson at 1:25 PM on December 14, 2010


Another day, another depressing thread on MeFi detailing the hopelessness of trying to be part of a moral and just society in America.

Doesn't anything good ever happen in this country anymore?
posted by photoslob at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2010


I had an awesome lunch today.
posted by crunchland at 1:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have one uncle (let's call him Uncle Jailbird) who has seen the inside of a half dozen county prisons in Georgia, as well as ones in various other states like Texas and Pennsylvania, all for non-violent offenses. I've been hearing about prison conditions first hand since I was in elementary school, and got a bigger taste when I worked as a legal assistant and visited prisons and courtrooms all over the Atlanta metro area.

Prisons in the state of Georgia vary by the county level, but almost all are terrible and have gotten worse over the last two decades. There have been dramatic budget cuts everywhere, and faced with cuts to education and cuts to prisons, most local governments pick prisons every time they can.

My home county, Clayton County, has had some of the worst cuts due additionally to embezzlement by the former Sheriff. In addition to the conditions described in the linked article, there is just an overall shortage of stuff, from cleaning supplies, to medical equipment, to basic personal items. Upon admission, each prisoner is issued a disposable knife, fork, and spoon to use for the duration of their stay. If yours breaks or someone steals it, too bad. You'll be eating with your hands until release.

In addition, there is a grievous amount of mistakes having to do with release dates and parole expirations. It's very possible to get arrested for violating parole and tossed back in prison without a trial even long after your parole period is up. Also, for a lot of the smaller towns in Georgia prison work supports a large portion of the local economy, thus making tossing non-violent offenders in prison a tough habit to break.
posted by Alison at 1:30 PM on December 14, 2010 [12 favorites]


"Ah yes, "Swedish social democracy works because Swedes are all white and polite, unlike our unruly and disrespectful brown populations."

That is such a disingenuous response. My comment had nothing to do with "brown people" (whatever those may be). If you don't think prison gangs, which are primarily based on race/religion/ethnicity, are a huge problem, you've never studied the prison system. But its so much easier to play the race card.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


> If you don't think prison gangs, which are primarily based on race/religion/ethnicity, are a huge problem, you've never studied the prison system.

The thing about that is, you're missing out on a salient aspect of this story by arguing about something that barely even qualifies as hypothetical. Disparate groups comprised of different races/religions/etc are banding together here to fight a common enemy. That's the story here, not whether US prisons writ large are better or worse than other countries, nor some idea about 100 billion people in the future. Your continued insistence here is dragging the thread into meaningless fighty territory.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:40 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Has everyone in this prison been convicted or are some being held while on trial? Or is that the difference between a jail and a prison?
posted by spicynuts at 1:42 PM on December 14, 2010


> Or is that the difference between a jail and a prison?

Jails can house both those awaiting trial and those who have been convicted. Lower level misdemeanor offenders are usually sentenced county jail time, while felons get sentenced to state and/or federal prison. Often, due mainly to overcrowding, felons serve time in county jails while awaiting space in a prison, with the county receiving money from the prison system responsible.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The great irony with (and obstacle to reforming) American's prison situation is that so many people seem to think that our prisoners actually live in luxury. "They got it made; they have cable TV and telephones in their cells, and they get free meals!" If this sounds like an exaggeration, come talk to my coworker who I just told about this story.
posted by manguero at 1:48 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


It may very well be that Sweden's prison system in less odious than ours in part because their population is relatively homogeneous; but I'll bet you big money it has a lot more to do with the fact that the Swedish rate of incarceration is an order of magnitude smaller than ours.
posted by steambadger at 1:51 PM on December 14, 2010


I've said this before, most of the problems in this country can be traced back to the privatization of the prison system and subsequent effect of turning prisoners into a form of profit. It's driven a drug war which has nearly bankrupted us, turned our police officers into militarized combat units, created entire economies, legislation, and driven the way we are governed, all based around keeping people behind bars. It's helped to institutionalize racism, and completely eroded the way the average person looks at things like personal freedom and whether or not people can make a mistake and learn from it. And now, apparently, its shown how much the main stream media is willing to turn a blind eye to a story to maintain the status quo.

So good for them! I hope that somehow this forces more attention onto the subject, eventually we're going to need to solve this prison problem or it's going to completely devour this country.
posted by quin at 1:56 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


If you don't think prison gangs, which are primarily based on race/religion/ethnicity, are a huge problem, you've never studied the prison system. But its so much easier to play the race card.

Yes, racial strife is totally why there's no heat in winter or minimal ventilation in the summer.

...perhaps we should see if this is also the source of climate change?
posted by yeloson at 2:00 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Zozo, the notion that "these are bad people, and they deserve whatever they get" is IMO very primitive and callous logic. Grow up and learn to accept the complexities of life, human nature, fate (i.e. the situation to which you were (un)lucky enough to be born), and work on being a compassionate conservative, or at least an informed one.

Peace!
posted by nikoniko at 2:04 PM on December 14, 2010


So as The World Famous alludes to, there's nothing unconstitutional about the situation.

Well all that the 13th makes clear is that this procedure is not slavery. It still might be unconstitutional under the Eigth Amendment (cruel & unusual / excessive fines, with the second being a lot more likely than the first).
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


privatization of the prison system and subsequent effect of turning prisoners into a form of profit.

That goes back to the Civil War by the way
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:13 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


US prisons and penal policy are a disgrace; as a resident of California I find them particularly embarrassing. The candidates in the recent contest for attorney general did, to their credit, make some attempt to grapple with the idea of reform, but there's a long way to go. As a European I have to caution you that Sweden's model prisons are also somewhat exceptional; the US did not invent the idea of prison overcrowding, abuse or coercion. Penology is something I've always found interesting and I'm sad to say that current or relatively recent conditions in multiple European nations would...disturb many of you. Very few nations treat convicted criminals well or take the concept of rehabilitation truly seriously.

It's going to continue being a problem until there's a serious effort to move past finger-pointing. Of course, there is always going to be a disparity between left and right. Right wingers stereotypically favor maximally harsh penal systems, and say political correctness and a corrupt legal industry embolden or even reward criminality. Left wingers stereotypically blame inequality to the point of making excuses for crime, and blame drug warriors and a prison-industrial complex. However, both sides have made numerous compromises over the years. Democrats who are historically pro-union tend to avoid grappling with the fact that the biggest union lobbies are often those of police and prison guards, and that their membership accounts for a high percentage of public spending in many states and a high volume of political donations to candidates who play ball (trial lawyers are the other big funding bloc on the left, at least out west). Republicans who are historically anti-union and claim to be against big government are in favor of anything in uniform, and perfectly comfortable complaining about state attacks on freedom while simultaneously demanding more powers for the police and more prisons for the perps.

America is very hard on prisoners, in many states taking away voting and other civil rights forever and imposing all sorts of other post-release conditions which seem almost deliberately chosen to maximize recidivism. But supporters of prison reform have little to say about the problems of criminality; you can only blame the system so much before running up against the fact that some people go to prison because they are violently aggressive and a serious danger to everyone they come into contact with. Whatever the individual cause may be, some people present an immediate existential threat which can not be easily mitigated. And I think the prisoners deserve more effective advocacy than someone such as Elaine Brown can provide. I personally think the ACLU reform project is the only one with sufficient standing to effect real change; most pro bono/legal advocacy groups seem to be limited by their state of origin, and religious ministries' good intentions are sometimes at variance with sectarian interests.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I find it fascinating when people trot out the old "at least we're not a totalitarian regime" trope, because it's almost always said when someone points out that our behavior is, in fact, on par with a totalitarian regime.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:14 PM on December 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think you should read Zozo's comment again with a little more Hamburger Helper.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:15 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also the US is perfectly capable of operating a nationwide network of racially-mixed prisons without gangs or sexual abuse, very little violence, and next to no guard brutality. I should know, because those facilities are where I did my prison sentence.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2010


But it is virtually impossible to run our prisons the way we run military prisons, unfortunately.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2010


Hiding From Goro: "Also the US is perfectly capable of operating a nationwide network of racially-mixed prisons without gangs or sexual abuse, very little violence, and next to no guard brutality. I should know, because those facilities are where I did my prison sentence"

You can't just end the story there. How were these institutions able to avoid these problems?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:18 PM on December 14, 2010


But it is virtually impossible to run our prisons the way we run military prisons, unfortunately.

Can you talk a little bit about why? I know next to nothing about military prisons.
posted by rtha at 2:20 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This story is getting some play here in Georgia; Atlanta Journal and Constitution: 1, 2; Augusta Chronicle. Unfortunately it is unlikely to get very far; the comments on the last story are pretty typical of the attitudes here in GA (and to some extent here on MeFi apparently) toward prisoners.
posted by TedW at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2010


nikoniko, I'll work on my compassion if you work on your reading comprehension.

Peace!
posted by Zozo at 2:23 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, for a lot of the smaller towns in Georgia prison work supports a large portion of the local economy, thus making tossing non-violent offenders in prison a tough habit to break.

Slavery was a "tough habit" for Georgia to break too. Case in point, it apparently hasn't broken it yet.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:27 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


You can't just end the story there. How were these institutions able to avoid these problems?

A better way? It already exists.

Surprisingly, the US already operates a nationwide network of virtually rape-free and gang-free prisons. I've done time in two of them. Sexual assaults in the military prison system are almost unheard of compared to federal & state systems. I was in one of the larger facilities and nobody could even remember when the last one was, or if there even was a first one. There weren't even any rumors or tall tales, and many a con can spin a good yarn. Their way of doing things prevents the conditions which cause the problem from occurring in the first place. Even fights were only about as frequent as you might see in a Navy bar-room (maybe even less frequent, depending on the bar).

We were never beaten, unless we were fighting and even then only sometimes. The beatings were always short- seconds in length, just enough to get the message across and only for as long as it took to get the cuffs on, with only maybe one or two shots for emphasis. Mostly they just cuffed us, and as gently as you can when you're cuffing up someone with their face in the concrete. Sometimes you'd "accidentally" hit yourself on the wall or floor as you were being restrained, but it never got taken too far. They never used dogs or tasers on us, words usually sufficed and when they didn't fists (and sometimes gas) were all that were necessary. Even boots were rarely used.

I was beaten only twice over the course of a couple years and change, and both were as the result of fights in which I struck the other man first. To say I started them is not entirely accurate, though. In prison, the fight starts with the insult- everything else after that is just jockeying for position.

With such a peaceful place, there was no need for violence to enforce the social structure. There were very little resources to be hoarded or fought over, so no economy could develop among us, and thus precluded the need to form a gang in the first place; since there was nothing to be gained and no violence from which we needed to protect ourselves. Since there was no economy, and we had so little property (save that which available to all from the facility) nobody could get in debt. In prison, when you owe, you will bleed. We had a lot fewer privileges & amenities than guys have in civilian prison, but because of the way the military runs it (which is vastly different than the civilian system), we were a lot better off than guys in civilian prison.

We had less allowed us than those in state prisons, yet we were more free. In a way, liberty had been traded for security, and it was a bargain at twice the price.

Then why don't we run all prison like the Navy does?

The military system works they way it does because both the men and the Machine are vastly different from their civilian counterparts.

Firstly, the men. Military inmates are not what you'd call career criminals; they are never brutal, ruthless predators; because a predator is not going to join the military in the first place. Or he'll be denied entry, or kicked out too soon to do any major crime. A guy who will rape you to prove a point, or kill you over some cigarettes won't be able to stop himself for blowing up over some minor shit in boot camp. Neither would he voluntarily go somewhere where a hick with a funny hat tells him how to polish his shoes. Once military inmates get out, they have a chance at a life, because they have some education, some treatment, some skills, and the majority are white; so they don't have to face the quadruple-whammy of a record, an addiction, being unskilled/uneducated, and racism.

This is not to say that there were no bad men in there. On the contrary, I regularly took my meals with my boy Mark, who killed two people with a knife. His crime was actually pretty similar in many ways to OJ’s (except there was no car chase or lengthy trial), although by the time I met him the OJ jokes had worn thin and were no longer used. Also many of the hands-on sex offenders had some pretty horrific rap sheets. Demolition Man cracked a guy’s skull with TV (which is why we called him that since Stallone did that in the movie), another guy had raped and blinded an off-duty police officer- and then there was the SEAL who committed a bloody murder and then gone to the gym with the weapon in his gym bag and still covered in blood. He could not be socialized (and was utterly insane) so he stayed in seg all the time, heavily medicated. One time I was on the work detail that had to clean his cell after he covered it in his own excrement (a common thing for the mentally ill to do in prison). Another guy in seg did that more than once, and told the camera that he was “the Shit God.” The name stuck.

The Machine itself is the other key difference in the military. The Navy guys weren’t career jailers- they were just doing a rotation at the facility in between rotations on ships or whatever. So since they weren’t from the area (had no connections to the town) and didn’t stay long enough to get bitter/jaded, they never went corrupt or abusive, and didn’t bring drugs or other contraband in for us. None of them were sadistic or brutal physically- there were those who tried to throw their weight around, but they were just playing at being RDC’s- drill instructors (usually they were guys who had tried out for DI but didn’t make it). The joint kept those guys in the orientation tier, because the Navy does phased socialization.

Essentially when you go in, the first thing they do is keep you in isolation (and not 23hrs, either- full 24/7) for a few days to see if you’re a suicide risk or mentally ill, and also to see if you’ll buck up on guards. If you don’t, then you go to the orientation tier where it’s more strict and you have no privileges, with the abovementioned guards running it. This will determine if you can follow rules and get along with other inmates. Only after this are you sent to a main tier- in this way, cons who will cause too many problems or pose a danger can be easily identified before they get to a place where they can cause any serious damage, and get put in psych programs/on medication. Many of us in there were on medication or in group therapy (not me though, although I was in the drug program), the facility knew that if someone does something bad, they probably have some issues which can at least be addressed, if not outright treated.

This was for everyone, and done whether you wanted to or not- in this way, the problem of guys not taking advantage of programs or seeking help because they’re worried about being seen as weak is avoided.

The facilities were kept in good repair, and when one started to get run down it was renovated in a timely fashion. There was never any overcrowding, in fact the only time I even had a celly was when we had to take guys from a different prison in while it was being renovated at the same time one of our tiers was closed for renovation. Staff-to-inmate ratio is critical in keeping a safe prison, and overcrowding ruins the ratio.

The very things which make the military system safe and effective are the reasons why state prisons probably will never be run that way.

To solve just the overcrowding issue in California alone, 92 prisons would need to be built, to house inmates while the existing prisons either receive major overhauls or are demolished entirely. At the very least, 25-45 would need to be built to bring the existing prisons under 200% capacity.

Rotating guards is not feasible in the state prison system, not unless there is a radical change in the very concept of what it means to be a prison guard, and whether it is to be considered an actual career. Getting any kind of meaningful change past prison unions is likely not possible in today’s world. Take a look at Califas to see the power prison unions hold.

The other things are not feasible unless there is either a massive increase in money spent on the prison infrastructure and Machine as a whole (which tends not to actually get spent on what it needs spending on), or a massive decrease in the amount of people we cage. The main thing I hear is ending the Drug War, or legalization, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the system, its very essence makes it resistant to change, to toning it down. If you start keeping kids out of the system, eventually enough guys will get released that we'll have to start shutting prisons down. A prison will create a thousand or two thousand jobs in a community. Oh, we never build them in our community, but close enough so that guards can commute. You shut that down and you're taking jobs away from Americans, no politician is going to do that. No corrections union is going to allow that. You build a prison, you're creating jobs, you're tapping a vein of funding, of tax revenue. No politician or union can resist that.

What if you decriminalize the dope game? A police union isn't going to like that. Look at the control they have over people as a result of the Drug War. Look at how far they've been able to push the limits, it will be very difficult to scale those limits back. If you need less cops due to no Drug War they might not just lay them off; or just cancel a police department. Are they just going to hang it up, and turn in all the machine guns, masks, and tanks?

The Drug War needs to end- and I hope it does- but I fear that if it does, they will find a new War.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2010 [375 favorites]


Oopsie, I elided a sentence:
[...can not be easily mitigated.] Effective prison reform needs to begin by identifying society's interests in having a penal system, and then advocate human rights policies on the basis that they serve these interest more effectively than an abusive penal system does.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:31 PM on December 14, 2010


And if you're wondering if the government can be blamed for much of the racial strife and institutionalized gang warfare in prison, you're pretty much right .
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:32 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I also think that the reason the military prisons run better is that the inmates are still in the military and as such live not too differently than if they were in regular barracks (aside from leave time, of course). Also, many of those sentenced don't have dishonorable discharges waiting for them at the end of the stint, but can re-integrate into the military as a ranking member (albeit with much more limited career options). There's far more incentive for them follow orders.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:37 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy Shit Hiding From Goro that's one of the most engaging comments I've read on this site in years.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jails can house both those awaiting trial and those who have been convicted. Lower level misdemeanor offenders are usually sentenced county jail time, while felons get sentenced to state and/or federal prison. Often, due mainly to overcrowding, felons serve time in county jails while awaiting space in a prison, with the county receiving money from the prison system responsible.

In addition to that, many states are now taking offenders out of prison and putting them back into county jails to "solve" overcrowding issues and also to push those guys back onto the county so they are on the county's budget and not the state budget. This is partly what's happening in Cali, they were ordered to reduce their prison population by 40,000; and to comply with that they are shifting guys to county facilities or out-of-state, for-profit facilities.

You didn't think they were just going to let guys out, did you?
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2010


a predator is not going to join the military in the first place. Or he'll be denied entry, or kicked out too soon to do any major crime. A guy who will rape you to prove a point, or kill you over some cigarettes won't be able to stop himself for blowing up over some minor shit in boot camp

Hiding from Goro, but you totally lost me here. I've read too many stories about servicewomen who were raped by their fellow soldiers to buy any of this.
posted by artemisia at 2:39 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


2nd looking forward to a really fascinating comment/story from Hiding From Goro. No snark - I'd really like to read how a military prison is run.
posted by ctmf at 2:39 PM on December 14, 2010


Uh, yeah. F'ing preview: how does that work?
posted by ctmf at 2:41 PM on December 14, 2010


I also think that the reason the military prisons run better is that the inmates are still in the military and as such live not too differently than if they were in regular barracks (aside from leave time, of course).

Not really.

Also, many of those sentenced don't have dishonorable discharges waiting for them at the end of the stint,

Yeah, we did.

but can re-integrate into the military as a ranking member (albeit with much more limited career options).

No, we didn't.

Interestingly, I was in (well, I was sentenced at least) before the Forever War started, when sentences were a lot harsher. In 2010 though, you're right, sentences are far lighter than they used to be. For example, one of the guys caught killing civilians and cutting off fingers for trophies is being let back in after less than a year in prison. I know a guy who got 48 months + Dishonorable for conspiring to sell $32 worth of E pills. I know that person like the back of my hand, as it were ;)
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Hiding from Goro, but you totally lost me here. I've read too many stories about servicewomen who were raped by their fellow soldiers to buy any of this.

Some scumbag shrimpdick who'll rape a trusting female co-worker when he thinks he'll get away with it in Iraq is way different from a guy who will rape another man in front of his friends for taking the last chocolate milk, knowing he'll be caught.

You have to understand that my use of the word "predator" was based on a very narrow definition of the word in an extremely lengthy forum discussion; and that long thing I posted is copy-pasted from there.

In our context, I definitely agree that said shrimpdick is a predator, as is anyone who sexually assaults another person.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:49 PM on December 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Hiding From Goro, if you aren't doing so already I hope you'll consider writing or lecturing on this subject professionally. This kind of informed, pragmatic and honest analysis is exactly what's missing from most public discussion; I learned far more from those few paragraphs than I do from many articles in sociology, political science, or legal journals.

One matter I was curious about was how prisoners who were socialized occupied their time; whether there is work done for some benefit to the Navy, or whether all effort is directed inwards towards running the prison itself. Are there things to occupy free time, besides the basics of conversation and exercise - educational resources, for example, or useful libraries? And following on from your remarks about how many criminals would never be taken into the military in the first place, I wonder to what extent the military prison system relies on its occupants' meeting basic standards of literacy and cognitive development.

Of course, your time and inclination to share already constitute a free gift to us, so when and how you want to answer, if at all, is up to you. Thanks again.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't anything good ever happen in this country anymore?

Sure it does, we've just kinda fallen into the established news patterns that have been imprinted on our retinas for quite awhile... bad news gets more eyeballs and more attention and riles people up more. Good news is dismissed as fluff and "human interest" pieces.
posted by edgeways at 2:54 PM on December 14, 2010


Also, atermisia, I don't know if you're military/ex-military, or your loved one/family members is/are; but I'm in both camps and guess what. It's even more common than you think, and when we hear it, it ain't from no sanitized news story.

Like I said, peacetime military justice is different than wartime. I saw guys get life sentences for rape based on the accusation alone- no evidence, no witnesses, no nothing. Life. That was in peacetime. These days there's a story every other week about someone getting it "in the sandbox" and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of concern. Afghan kill-squad guy is doing CCU for a few months and going back active duty- back to Afghanistan! It's bananas.

But supposedly those of you who are allowed to vote voted in a President who could stop all this Bush-era insanity.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 2:59 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hope you'll consider writing or lecturing on this subject professionally.

Hook it up then. You know how many times someone has pitched me for a documentary or whatever, only to take everything I say (or write) and then try to copyright & monetize it? I run across posts I made on that other forum and other places all the time where someone is trying to get some ad revenue.

Being not-broke is a nice dream, but while I dream big I live real. So better that it all gets out and people can learn about prison than nothing.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 3:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I update this more or less often though.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 3:11 PM on December 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Rewarded for failure:
Police, Prisons, Military and Republicans.
posted by onesidys at 3:14 PM on December 14, 2010


Zozo, forgive me for taking what you said literally. But plenty of people would/do write such things all the time (alien jokes included) without any sense of irony or sarcasm...
posted by nikoniko at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2010


Rewarded for failure:
Police, Prisons, Military and Republicans.


Don't forget banks. (Although "Republicans" probably covers it, really.)
posted by Marla Singer at 3:31 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


nikoniko: "Rehabilitation? Now you're just making words up" was a big giveaway.
Poe's Law strikes again
posted by Marla Singer at 3:34 PM on December 14, 2010


Slavery was a "tough habit" for Georgia to break too. Case in point, it apparently hasn't broken it yet.

Indeed. Modern American prisons = slavery, which was supposed to be abolished in 1865.

Check out this wikipedia page for all the stats, yikes!

posted by weezy at 3:45 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Poe's Law indeed. Guess I'll be wearing the dunce's hat from now on :-/
posted by nikoniko at 3:49 PM on December 14, 2010


slavery, which was supposed to be abolished in 1865.

yo check my links, son
posted by Hiding From Goro at 4:48 PM on December 14, 2010


Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

That conviction loophole has pretty much meant that slavery in this country has never ended. Not sure if that helps the inmates legally, but they do have a good point.

Another good read (previously) is Slavery By Another Name. the previously link contains a chilling excerpt from the book that has plenty of parallels to the way things are now.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:59 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


they are never brutal, ruthless predators; because a predator is not going to join the military in the first place. Or he'll be denied entry, or kicked out too soon to do any major crime.

I found your comment very interesting, but I am a little confused. The guys you served with committed major, violent crimes, so apparently the 'weeding out' process did not do its job.

I can understanding how you became friends with the guys you served with, but I don't understand how you differentiate them from civilian prisoners serving time for similar offenses. I'm just wondering on what do you base your knowledge of civilian prisons and prisoners?

I'm just curious because I'm becoming involved in prison activism professionally and in a volunteer capacity, fwiw.
posted by vincele at 5:31 PM on December 14, 2010


Does anyone know if Sen. Jim Webb is currently aware of this? In the past, he's been a strong advocate of prison reform.
posted by indubitable at 6:05 PM on December 14, 2010


hiding from goro: Surprisingly, the US already operates a nationwide network of virtually rape-free and gang-free prisons. I've done time in two of them. Sexual assaults in the military prison system are almost unheard of compared to federal & state systems. I was in one of the larger facilities and nobody could even remember when the last one was, or if there even was a first one...

goro, I'm certain I've encountered this comment elsewhere. Cursory googling points to a defunct SomethingAwful thread referenced here

Hiding from Goro posted a remarkable thread about the abysmal state of the criminal justice system. Given that the format of LF's new place is unmoderated and looks as though it is going to follow the FYAD model, I think that it is a shame for all of this great info to go to waste.

but of the complete original, nary but Google cache remains.

Has the rest been paywalled by SA? If not, is there any chance of getting an updated link?
posted by kid ichorous at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2010


Found it here.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2010


is there any chance of getting an updated link?

Got you covered, boss. They started out copy-pasting my old stuff while I was traveling, but I show up after a couple pages. It's current to 12/14/10 and I update regularly.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 9:08 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


One matter I was curious about was how prisoners who were socialized occupied their time; whether there is work done for some benefit to the Navy, or whether all effort is directed inwards towards running the prison itself.

Most work is done inside the prison, we were largely self-sufficient. Although there were outside working parties on occasion. The one I got got assigned to was renovating the offices of the Blue Angles stunt team. That was one a lot of guys tried to get on because a lot of their staff is civilians who would give us candy/ice cream/cigarettes. The pilots were dicks; but we chalked it up to us being inmates (and them being pilots) instead of more general personality flaws on their part, though.

Are there things to occupy free time, besides the basics of conversation and exercise - educational resources, for example, or useful libraries?

In Hawaii, you wake up, clean for like an hour, then go out and salute the colors (flag). Then you clean clean clean till breakfast, then clean clean clean till lunch. We're talking like 12 guys cleaning a room maybe 300 square feet. So you're basically just moving a rag around, trying to talk quiet enough to your buddies that they cant hear you (because no talking). It's never dirty because it gets cleaned for hours every day. Then "quiet time" which means you can sit at these card tables and talk quietly or read educational materials. Some guards wouldn't let you talk.

After dinner you can play cards or watch TV for 2 hours, theres also recreation call where you can go outside and run or lift weights and listen to radio-only walkmans for one hour. Then its inside for quiet time and maybe TV if they're cool until lights out. They also had us strip and wax the floors of the entire building once every two weeks, and polish and buff the floors of the the whole building twice a day. Sometimes you worked in the kitchen washing dishes, like I did for most of the time I was there, and the cooks were cool and would turn on the radio and let you talk to the other prisoners working the kitchen. They would come in and rip your bed apart looking for contraband all the time, so that ate up a lot of time, your bed had to be made a certain way or you got busted- basically like boot camp.

In Cali, there wasn't any of that; they tossed your cell every once in a while, but everyone had a job like kitchen, night janitor (I did both of those), day janitor, groundskeeping, stuff like that. They also took us in chains to do work on other bases or parts of Miramar- I was with a crew that renovated the offices of the Blue Angles stunt team; didn't see any planes or pilots but their civilian secretaries gave us candy/ice cream and let us smoke cigarettes when the guards left for a while. That was awesome, we all got segregated though because the guards smelled teh smoke- it was worth 3 days of seg for a smoke though. After a few days the female secretaries would wear extra perfume/skirts a little shorter than normal to get attention from the cons. The long timers liked it, I guess after 5-10 years anything looks good.

I read a pretty wide variety of books inside though, everyone did. The library in Cali was small but had a good selection, even if it was weighted in favor of military-related books (unsurprisingly). I got a book one time about the controversy surrounding SUV's, you know like fuel economy, safety, how they were marketed and such called "High and Mighty," that was pretty interesting. You get your buddies reading the same books you read too, so you can have something to talk about. Makes for some interesting scenes, like washing a mountain of dishes with another con and vigorously debating CAFE standards, crash compatibility testing, and so forth. Guards were observing this and didn't know what the fuck. I actually wound up getting that book after I got out, too.

My favorite book I got in there was about letters, you know like how the symbols used by ancient people evolved into the letters and sounds we use in English; that shit was nuts, totally fascinating. Also talked about how words migrated from different languages, or English just jacked them for itself. I tried to take it with me when I got out, I tore off the cover where it was marked so I could steal it, but it didn't work. I was surprised at how interesting I thought that book was, I actually bought a lot of similar books online after I got out. If I ever went to college I'd probably study that stuff- language, not like a foreign language but like the history/evolution of language; linguistics type stuff.

And following on from your remarks about how many criminals would never be taken into the military in the first place, I wonder to what extent the military prison system relies on its occupants' meeting basic standards of literacy and cognitive development.

Well there's exceptions to every rule, a couple are always going to slip through the cracks (especially in the peacetime military). Some of the guys in Cali, we used to wonder how they even made it through boot camp. One guy, we used to call him Rain Man, was handicapped to the point where he was barely functional. I'm talking about imaginary friends, secret messages from Ozzie Osbourne, sucked his thumb, literally unable to tell the difference between sarcasm & reality, rocked back and forth all the time, rubbed his dick on dishwashers, jacked off in public... the whole 9 yards. A guy like that, you figure the Navy is as least partially to blame for his crimes, because by letting him in and passing him through boot camp they are certifying him, in a way. A guy like that in the civilian world is never going to be left unsupervised, but because he had a uniform on, people thought maybe he's weird but he's OK because the Navy is essentially vouching for him by letting him wear it. We never could figure out how they ever found him competent for trial, let alone military service. Nevertheless, he was an integral part of our operation in one job I had, working on the Dragon, which was a huge industrial dishwasher/sanitizer/dryer. He might not have been very good at anything else, but more often than not the whole Dragon crew depended on him.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:01 PM on December 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


And as far as the card games... buddy you haven't seen competitive sports until you've seen a game of spades in prison.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know if Sen. Jim Webb is currently aware of this? In the past, he's been a strong advocate of prison reform.

Yeah, it was relayed to him at the same meeting they told Sen. Bernie Sanders about income inequality and tax policy; to much the same effect.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 10:07 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hiding from Goro's absolutely dead-on about the power of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. And about the anger and yelling that occurs in California when a prison is threatened with closure (as many will be this budget cycle). Here's a for-instance, from the Central Valley town of Ione (wherte the Preston Youth Correctional Facility is on the chopping block).
posted by blucevalo at 9:41 AM on December 15, 2010


And as far as the card games... buddy you haven't seen competitive sports until you've seen a game of spades in prison.

Smile.

Me: A weekender inexplicably plunged into the general population. I had acquired the nickname "Newlywed", because I was engaged at the time.
Partner: An enormous gentleman doing a year for some sort of minor carnage.

M: "Wait, what'd you just play?"
P: "Newlywed, I'm a fuck you up you ask me that again."
M: "Sorry."
P: "Never mind. Just watch the fucking board."
posted by steambadger at 9:44 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only place where slavery still legally exists in America is in its prisons. It is written in the constitution. Amendment 13:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Personally I think that these prisoners have good reason to be upset, as it is widely believed that the correctional system in the United States is a huge mess. With any luck this will get some more coverage by the news media.
posted by mister-m at 11:13 PM on December 15, 2010


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