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April 19, 2002
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ACLU files a lawsuit on behalf of black gay prisoner Roderick Johnson against several Texas prisons who ignored his pleas for protection against gangs who "bought and sold Mr. Johnson as a chattel, raped and degraded him on a virtual daily basis, and threatened him with death if he resisted." During one hearing, Johnson was allegedly forced by a prison gang member to appear before the committee in makeup. This invited the alleged derision of the classification committee members: "If you want to be a ho, you'll be treated like a ho." Another member allegedly said, "You ain't nothing but a dirty tramp. Learn to fight or accept the f--king."
posted by ao4047 (72 comments total)

 
Just another example of the sub-human conditions of many American prisons. Want the problem fixed? Begin throwing white-collar criminals in the same prisons. Politicians will fix the problem over night.
posted by fleener at 11:20 AM on April 19, 2002


(exactly what I was thinking... Kenneth Lay is still on my list of people I'd like to see on fire...)
posted by ao4047 at 11:23 AM on April 19, 2002


And he's in jail for writing a $300 bad check. This is not a good system. I'm not gay, and I'm not black, but I'm pretty sure that if my fortunes suddenly reversed, and I was in bad enough financial shape to do something similar, I would have difficulty protecting myself if I were ever imprisoned for it.
posted by yhbc at 11:30 AM on April 19, 2002


fleener - the solution to the problem is not to expose more people to the potentially violent behavior in screwed up prisons. We don't need more people molested, or different type of people molested in order to illustrate the problem.
posted by schlyer at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2002


This sort of thing has been going on for manyh many years and I had come acorss some gropups (on line) trying to help out. The prisons do little or nothing because this sort of thing seems to make it easier for the guards and others involved.
Gay and in the Navy? don't ask etc.
An interesiting (perhaps_) aside: the agggressive convicts who do this stuff are, upon release, much more interested in going back to women rahter than seeking gay partners. Women, by contrast, seem to want a family structure set up so that there is lesbian stuff but they make up little families, with a "man" a mother and some "children"--the power of genes and hormones and a dash of culture.
posted by Postroad at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2002


yhbc - the $300 bad check reference is a bit misleading. He's in jail because that offense violated his parole for a burglary that he never served time for.
posted by schlyer at 11:37 AM on April 19, 2002


Ken Lay did a burglary?

*ambles off to google*
posted by luser at 11:42 AM on April 19, 2002


Point taken, schlyer, but the larger point is still that prisons aren't all full of murderers. People who do much, much less can end up in one, especially with the "three strikes" laws and the removal of any descretion in sentencing.
posted by yhbc at 11:47 AM on April 19, 2002


'Ken Lay did a burglary?

*ambles off to google*"

thank you for making my day... Lay and the hamburglar where meeting, discussing ways to inflitrate the McDs WJC used. Some say it was to nab the secret sauce, but Hamburglar boated when Lay suggested putting 'bugs' into the big mac boxes. It was broken up when Mayor MCcheese was caught behind the drivethrough rumaging for those coffee spoons.
posted by clavdivs at 12:03 PM on April 19, 2002


I don't understand why the prison officials ignored the prisoners complaints since sodomy is illegal in Texas whether a person is consenting or not.

I remember watching Judge Joe Brown on TV and he was threatening some 19 year old with prison, and he told them that he would be a target for sexual abuse in prison because of his age. Judges and prison officials know all about this stuff but they ignore it because they see it as part of the punishment. I remeber reading an ACLU report on the subject and they mentioned some states even put 16-17 year-olds in with the adult prison population.
posted by bobo123 at 12:28 PM on April 19, 2002


Beyond disgusting. What really pisses me off is how many people will respond to things like this by side-stepping the issue- for example, focusing on whether he's technically in there for check fraud or for violating his parole, or making jokes about the Hamburglar. Ha ha! The Hamburglar is funny, ha ha! Why, Ken Lay and the Hamburglar- that's so funny, I forgot we were talking about the repeated, non-stop raping of a human being.

Try imagining this: try imagining what it's like in prison, where you aren't free, where your body and soul belongs to another person or group of people. It's probably real easy for black prisoners to do, it's in their genes- since their great great grand-daddies probably lived the same way, 'cept with a shovel or a hoe in their hands. Imagine a place where the worst atrocities can happen and you can't do anything about it. You can't go to the police, or a crisis center, because there are inch thick steel bars and armed guards to prevent that.
Now imagine what a cock feels like. Actually close your eyes, and imagine the sight, sound, taste, smell- imagine a sweaty, unwashed guy shoving his diseased cock into your throat, into your ass- no condom for you, no lube even, ho ho! Imagine what it would taste like as his rancid semen shoots past your tongue, as you see past tear-blurred eyes the line of prisoners waiting to take his place once he's finished depositing his load into your body. What would it feel like inside your abdomen as the blood of your ripped and torn anus mingled with wet, sticky cum from a line of convicts? What would your heart feel like in your chest as you were held down? How would time seem to slow as you realized that what was happening wasn't a dream, wasn't a joke, but something very real and very awful? Imagine being unable to sleep for fear that at any minute, your body will be grabbed and used like a human toilet, imagine spending every waking moment wondering what godawful diseases could be in your body, wondering if the coda of this inhuman abuse will be a prison doctor telling you of your death sentence for a $300 bounced check. Imagine living like this day after day after day, no rest, no respite. Keep your eyes closed and imagine all of these things.

Oh wait, silly me- why should I care, it's a freakin' gay black man. I'm sure he deserved it, after all he's a prisoner. It's not like he's a pretty little girl in a frilly dress- now that would be something to be outraged about! But a nigger in jail?! Dude, who gives a crap- that's what prison is all about, anal rape- heck, it's right there in the Constitution! Shoulda learned not to bounce checks...
posted by hincandenza at 12:36 PM on April 19, 2002


Lighten up, Francis. The Hamburglar is very funny.
posted by Samsonov14 at 12:47 PM on April 19, 2002


I don't understand why the prison officials ignored the prisoners complaints since sodomy is illegal in Texas whether a person is consenting or not.

What I find disturbing--aside from the obviously horrific treatment this guy got--is that prison officials could be so stupid as to let something like this go on. I'm not surprised that they're heartless, racist, homophobic bastards, but do they not even have enough sense to protect their jobs by stopping this before the ACLU stepped in?
posted by jpoulos at 12:55 PM on April 19, 2002


Wouldn't this fall under "cruel and unusual" quite easily?
posted by Espoo2 at 1:04 PM on April 19, 2002


From what I understand, and particularly in Texas, prison guards just flat out don't get paid well enough to risk their lives by stepping in the middle of something like this.

This is total conjecture, but I think if prison guards were able to make a living wage, this kind of thing wouldn't happen as often. Check the bottom grafs on this page to learn more.

Clairification: I'm not defending the way this guy was treated by any stretch of the imagination; just pointing out a possible cause and/or solution.
posted by andnbsp at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2002


hincandenza - exactly who are you upset at? Nobody in this thread has said anything remotely resembling that its OK to rape a prisoner - be him gay and black or not.
posted by schlyer at 1:20 PM on April 19, 2002


We should all be worried that inmate rape is considered a matter-of-fact part of prison life these days. Jay Leno makes a regular joke of it on his already repetitive monologue segment. But it's true, it is unconstitutional. And it ain't funny. Prison is meant to punish by confinement, not assault. Prison reform is a place where someone who wants to do good can really make a difference now -- I mean, really save and improve lives.
posted by Faze at 1:22 PM on April 19, 2002


andnbsp: From the limited information available, it doesn't appear anyone would have had to risk his life to stop this. Just moving the guy away from the rest of the prisoners would have been enough.

And, besides, the fact is that we spend absurd amounts of money on our prison systems. The problem is that there are simply too many prisoners. If we would come up with some alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders, we could afford to pay guards more. High security is extremely expensive. Do we need to spend that much to lock down some 19 year old shlub who got busted selling pot?
posted by jpoulos at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2002


here's an interesting website on the subject.

the reason that this isn't stopped is that by keeping the prisoners afraid of each other and fighting with each other, the administration, guards, etc. don't have to worry about them organizing.

someone i know spent a lot of time in prison in california and there were 3 groups: the mexicans, the whites, and the blacks. and they'd all fight each other. and if the mexicans and the blacks got into a fight, then they'd lose their visiting privileges, or if the mexicans and the whites got into a fight, the blacks would lose their visiting privilege. racism used to divide and conquer the prisoners.

this same person wanted to visit with his "counselor" in prison (and i used that term loosely) to try and better his life, learn how to get ready to live on the outside. he requested to see her and she put him off for a month. when she finally did agree to see him she said "so, you're the one who wanted to see me so badly." and was basically no help to him.

i don't see how we can even pretend that criminals are being rehabilitated under the current conditions.
posted by witchstone at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2002


What happens is that when conditions improve at prisons to the point where they are humane and manageable, we keep adding more prisoners until conditions degrade to borderline unmanageability, with inmate atrocities a concomitant result. It is an equilibrium phenomenon. Any State AG or prison administrator who tries to hold back the equilibrium is vulnerable to political accusations of being "soft on crime."
posted by anser at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2002


oops, didn't proofread well enough! should read:

"and if the mexicans and the blacks got into a fight, then they'd lose their visiting privileges and the whites would keep theirs, or if the mexicans and the whites got into a fight, they'd lose their visiting priveleges and the blacks would keep theirs. racism used to divide and conquer the prisoners."
posted by witchstone at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2002


If the prisoners organize along racial lines, and fights break out along racial lines - then exactly how is punishing along racial lines considered racism?
posted by schlyer at 1:47 PM on April 19, 2002


Just guessing, but I think he meant that even if not all of a particular group were involved in a fight, all of that group would nonetheless be punished. That's where it becomes racist.
posted by yhbc at 1:49 PM on April 19, 2002


We should stop thinking of our prisons as places of punishment and instead think of them as places to house criminals temporarily so they can't victimize others. Under humane conditions, most people mellow over time; people are less likely to commit crimes as they grow older.

So the ideal solution is to put criminals in humane prisons where they can chill out for a few years while law-abiding people -- and fellow prisoners -- are secure from their depredations.

The poor victim of this abuse isn't the only prisoner to be mistreated like this. What will these chronic victims of sexual assault be like when they get out?

The member of the prison board who saw this guy in makeup and told him to stop being a prison ho -- that bastard should be prosecuted. And imprisoned. Afterward, if he survives, he should be put in charge of a state prison-reform panel.

How can these board members live with themselves, knowing that they are doing such cruel things? How does a respectable person slip into monsterhood?
posted by Holden at 1:56 PM on April 19, 2002


exactly, yhbc, that's what i meant even if i'm not a he. ;-)
posted by witchstone at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2002


I still don't think that would be racist - because in his example the exact same punishment is handed out to either of the other two groups when they act up. Its a bad rule - but its applied the same way to all groups.
posted by schlyer at 1:58 PM on April 19, 2002


Well, then you tell her that.
posted by yhbc at 2:00 PM on April 19, 2002


I think hincandenza's point was to get posters here to really think about what was going on for this man. To make it more personal and real. And therefore to stop making excuses for the behavior of the guards, prison system, etc.

This is the rationale behind the comment about getting white collar workers to experience the same horrors. If the experience becomes personally real for those in a position to fix the problem instead of being seen as someone else's troubles, the problem is more likely to be addressed.

(My only objection to hincandenza's post is that women are regularly expected by their male partners to swallow their "rancid semen.")
posted by Red58 at 2:01 PM on April 19, 2002


schlyer, my, my, how much you have to learn about how the government operates.
posted by fleener at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2002


Lets ammend my last post to say 'the example' and avoid the gender references. :)
posted by schlyer at 2:03 PM on April 19, 2002


fleener - Um, you couldn't be more wrong. I make a living providing consulting services to governments - including 5 prisons. Just because you disagree with me doesn't make me uninformed and naive.
posted by schlyer at 2:05 PM on April 19, 2002


I've actually known a few people who've done prison time and from what they've told me, nothing short of constant lockdown would prevent a certain amount of this shit(regrettable and nauseating as it is) from going on.
Mitchell Smith once wrote that a prison is a "house made out of rules, filled with people who can't obey them." Not to mention a significant number of people who are expert predators who have no qualms at all about using violence to get what they want. Unfortunately, the victims in all of this are the weaker, non-violent inmates who don't deserve this shit at all. Plenty of people joke about prison rape as if it's a form of retribution. If it were rapists and killers suffering this fate, there'd be a grain of truth there, unfortunately that's not how it works out. Usually it's some car theif or check-kiter who cant fight off the 200-pound bodybulder sharing his cell.
Like I said, I'm as nauseated as everyone else about this, but prison is a place where(under current conditions) the law of the jungle is the rule, and I have no ideas as to what can be done to stop this kind of stuff, short of martial law in the prison which could possibly be worse.
posted by jonmc at 2:34 PM on April 19, 2002


Just a touch of reality: black college students are now holding separate graudation ceremonies after fighting to integrate and to have better representation is schools. Race remains and perhaps always will stay so as a standard organizing notion.
Prsons are not in the business of rehabilitating. They merely have spokespeople say they are.
Americans by and large love to know that a person who does bad things will be punished. We get annoyed by the big shots, the white collar types who steal bigtime. On the other hand, we admire them cause they made lots of money and didn't physically hurt anyone.
You will find that white jailbirds in jails not down South do what is here being attributed to a gay black guy in a Texas jail.
posted by Postroad at 2:36 PM on April 19, 2002


i think i am shell shocked from hincandenza's comment. sheesh. I understand your point but the graphical nature just shook me. That is all.
posted by monique at 2:44 PM on April 19, 2002


(My only objection to hincandenza's post is that women are regularly expected by their male partners to swallow their "rancid semen.")
Not everyone's rancid, hopefully
posted by matteo at 2:46 PM on April 19, 2002


The problem is that our system of govt is so large and centralized that we have lost control. Plus, efficiencies of scale and market power for the most powerful nation and market ever, have, in combination with inexorable growth of science and technology, along with the benefits of sanitation that our infrastructure gives, rendered up huge improvements in lifestyle. So we are comfortable.


But we are getting ripped off, people. We are headed for slavehood. We are becoming livestock to corporate interests who control us through our govt and feed us bland, politically correct memes through the TV.



Race is used to divide and conquer. A nation is best when small and homogenous, and thus harder to divide and conquer.
posted by username at 3:13 PM on April 19, 2002


What really pisses me off is how many people will respond to things like this by side-stepping the issue- for example, focusing on whether he's technically in there for check fraud or for violating his parole ...

The reason for his incarceration is relevant. You and others keep claiming it's about a $300 check, but that's not why he's in prison. He made a probation deal to escape a criminal sentence for burglary, then fucked up before he completed probation by committing another offense of any kind.

The particulars of his incarceration don't have any bearing on the barbarity of his alleged treatment, but trying to make this into a wrongful imprisonment issue in addition to an abuse issue is bogus.
posted by rcade at 3:16 PM on April 19, 2002


I know someone who spent a considerable number of years in prison. (He was incarcerated for a felony in Massachusetts.) The only way to protect himself after years of sexual abuse, was to voluntarily request solitary confinement. This means 23 hours a day spent in a small room for ten years, in order to protect himself from the general prison population. (He was about eighteen when he went in.)

Luckily he found a way to protect himself, but it was only after years of abuse that was he allowed to move out of the general population. The fact that a prisoner has to make such a choice is unacceptable. This is disgusting.

I understand the point hincandenza is making by sharing such graphic details, however, I am offended by the "little girl in a frilly dress" comment. This incendiary comment isn't helping your case any. Rape is rape, and no one in this thread is suggesting otherwise.
posted by birgitte at 3:17 PM on April 19, 2002


Incidentally, hincandenza, I think you've set the high mark for the most specifically pornographic comment in MetaFilter history.
posted by rcade at 3:19 PM on April 19, 2002


Postroad - black college students are now holding separate graudation ceremonies after fighting to integrate and to have better representation is schools.

Please point to more information on this.
posted by NortonDC at 3:37 PM on April 19, 2002


You know, given slightly different circumstances, the situation hincandenza described would be my perfect Saturday evening...

I apolgoize for this comment, and I don't want to make light of this case or this general situation, but the preachy and unneccessarily graphic tone of hincandenza's tirade made it impossible to resist. I'm a bad homosexual. Again, apologies.
posted by evanizer at 3:49 PM on April 19, 2002


NortonDC

...Chicano Caucus runs less severe initiation ceremonies for Latino students, and holds a separate graduation ceremony at the end of the year.
(Princeton web site)

google turned up this article

and this article is from the UCLA site
posted by m@L at 4:02 PM on April 19, 2002


don't want to make light of this case or this general situation
Well, you have.

I apolgoize for this comment
Thanks. But you should have simply stayed home.
posted by Marquis at 4:06 PM on April 19, 2002


No shit. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
posted by Ty Webb at 4:19 PM on April 19, 2002


You know I brought this topic up once while derailing one of my very first posts. Prison rape horrifies me, that it's a joke and a commonplace in our culture horrifies me, that people think criminals have it coming horrifies me.

Crime and Punishment, American style, is something that has been distorted and used politically ever since open racism became unacceptable. The republicans began it in 1968 and have run with it ever since, and DLC democrats ran with it in the form of Bill Clinton. Now it has its own lobby: a $50 billion corrections industry. That link is to an NPR story from last Saturday. Think of it: the prison industry is bigger than tobacco and those three strikes laws have been proposed by people with a financial interest in locking up more and more people.
posted by y2karl at 4:48 PM on April 19, 2002


"the situation hincandenza described would be my perfect Saturday evening"

evanizer, my friend, if I ever jump the fence to the "other side" you are the one I would want waiting for me there. You are a sick, sick man, and I like that.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:44 PM on April 19, 2002


Incidentally, hincandenza, I think you've set the high mark for the most specifically pornographic comment in MetaFilter history.

Don't you mean low mark?

Evanizer: you had me laughing.
posted by adampsyche at 7:56 PM on April 19, 2002


evanizer, my friend, if I ever jump the fence to the "other side" you are the one I would want waiting for me there. You are a sick, sick man, and I like that.

If you two ever do become a couple, I volunteer to be adopted as your son, as you guys are the sick, sick parents a guy like me needs...
posted by jonmc at 7:57 PM on April 19, 2002


Can I be the nosy neighbor that you sort of remember from some failed sitcom 15 years ago? This is Nielsen gold, baby.
posted by luser at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2002


"the prison industry is bigger than tobacco" your right. remember when tobacco was bigger then prison...oh, i forgot slavery...so prison...if i have learned anything ,it is that the thin line between crime, time, and what one wroughts is the underlining benchmark to the human ...psyche, look at the chinese philosophers, the legalists, the ch'in reaction, mencius, THE BIG C. Han Fei (my fav)- the slim differentation between vast views on a rigid "class" structure. Born evil-born good. This guy in Texas, i guess i'll pony my two bits. I cant help him. dont know any texas ex-cons(wheww). Im in michigan, here, i could help him out. these things cost money. i got ...46$ to toss in. so maybe a texas friend could e-mail me and we can talk. really, hincandenza. helping this man in 'Print' is one thing (a thing i agree with) "helping" him out with some "self-defence" fromwith-in is another. to me the latter is more relevant. i never apologize for a joke, for if i where in the joint, a more, dumbed down joke could get his"ass" out of the rocker...ever do time? me, naw, nothing real, but enough. (typical though, i have a clean record:) whod Fes anyways.
posted by clavdivs at 8:35 PM on April 19, 2002


jonmc, I am afraid our family portrait is a little too disturbing.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:36 PM on April 19, 2002


Wow, crash, I looked at that pic and I was stunned...It's the Skynyrd road crew!
posted by jonmc at 8:39 PM on April 19, 2002


Reminds me of a sociological study about fourteen people simulating prison. Half of them became guards, and the other half became prisoners. Two weeks into the study they stopped it because the environment became so bad they felt it would permanently scar the subjects.

The prisoners became more violent as though they were rapists, murders or car theifs. The guards treated them with contempt and became abusive. The subjects were students, doctors, homemakers etc.

I'm not defending the situation, but it's certainly not surprising that this would happen. People are willing to treat you violently once the law has found you guilty.
posted by witchycal at 8:49 PM on April 19, 2002


sorry, two week study cut down to six days.
posted by witchycal at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2002


Ha! I knew it.
posted by yhbc at 9:22 PM on April 19, 2002


Seriously, I too was shell-shocked by hincandenza's comment above - which may well have been the point. Prisons can be horrible, horrible places, and there may not be enough graphic imagery in any language to completely capture the reality. As a society, though, if we want our prisons to be anything more than vestibules of sadistic retribution, we should take more care to recognize that everyone in them is still a human being after all.
posted by yhbc at 9:28 PM on April 19, 2002


Ming The Merciless by Gene Wolfe was based on it, witchycal. The link's to another page about the study, not the story. But it's a powerful story.
posted by y2karl at 9:35 PM on April 19, 2002


Why not put all prisoners in solitary, 100% of the time? Give them a cell, an exercise bike that would fit, and allow reading material...

Seems this would be easier to control and safer for the inmates, both. And a better atmosphere to promote repentance (no religious context necessary, I'll settl for a simple psychological one) to boot- you;d probably appreciate people more after not seeing any for a few years, other than occassional check-ups, and daily delivery of food and toiletries.
posted by dissent at 9:38 PM on April 19, 2002


I am offended by the "little girl in a frilly dress" comment. This incendiary comment isn't helping your case any. Rape is rape, and no one in this thread is suggesting otherwise.

Great post until I got to the above. Hin was making a distinction between rape and pedophilia, public perception of each, and common reactions to each. Pedophilia gets people into quite a stir, while prison rape is *hilarious.*

Rape is hilarious if you're in Jay Leno's audience because, among other things, its man on man. Where would comedy be without gay jokes? Imagine trying to pull a man on woman prison rape joke (think guard on inmate) on the same show. Jay would be boo'd off stage. I see two distinct problems here on why people laugh about this.

First, prisoners are "them." They aren't us. Very few people care to realize that they may become one of "them" at any moment. Hell, here in Illinois we had to set 13 death row convicts free on DNA evidence in the last 10 or so years. Hating and despising "them" is commonplace and who other than the ACLU is going to step in to defend their rights?

Secondly, Jay's jokes work mainly on the principle of accepted misandry. Its seen as a man's burden to shoulder the tough lifestyle of prison. No need for intervention or touchy-feely post-abuse treatment because these are men. They can take it and if they don't - well that's their problem.
posted by skallas at 9:56 PM on April 19, 2002


First, prisoners are "them." They aren't us. Very few people care to realize that they may become one of "them" at any moment.

Hence dissent's post--psychological torture=incentive for repentance. Solitary no matter what the crime or degree of offense, criminals deserve to treated in ways we wouldn't treat a dog because they're criminals, faceless, not human.

Instead of proposing something permanently psychically crippling, maybe we could address prison culture. But that would involve looking at something from which we instinctively look away. I would submit that the greatest horrors we commit are those--when we look away, like Poles from trains going to death camps, Serbs from mass murders in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Or when we say "oh, that's the way it is, nothing can be done, it's human nature." Well, rape is human nature, too, but skallas notes, we don't joke about men raping women. We've come that far...

Actually, there is a prison that's doing something about prison rape--the San Francisco jail and with something that approaches the panopticon of Jeremy Bentham.
posted by y2karl at 7:42 AM on April 20, 2002


Just a touch of reality: black college students are now holding separate graudation ceremonies after fighting to integrate and to have better representation is schools. Race remains and perhaps always will stay so as a standard organizing notion.

Postroad, you might find this brief interview with the author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria instructive. (Hint: the short answer is "white racism".)

It's disingenuous to say that race is an organizing notion, as though race is a simple objective fact, when in fact it is simply a social construct that has always been defined and leveraged by those in power to maintain that power. Look closely at how the definition of white once excluded such "obviously white" (to us) groups as the Italians, Polish, and Irish. Many Jews pass as white these days, reaping the obscene benefits of white privilege.

Race will stay a divisive and destructive organizing notion exactly as long as so-called white people embrace their white identity and the racist privilege it grants them -- and no longer. Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity!
posted by sudama at 8:10 AM on April 20, 2002


they've had only three reports of sexual assault in the last 2 ½ years(emphasis mine)

No disrespect, y2karl, but what you're forgetting is that the only thing more ingrained in prison culture than sexual assault is the hatred of snitches.
Like I said, I'm concerned about this too, but it's gonna take alot more than good intentions to solve this problem.
posted by jonmc at 8:15 AM on April 20, 2002


Sudama, you are kidding, right? I ask this because I read the article and it says: Q: In schools, in colleges, and in companies, why are all the blacks frequently sitting together in the cafeteria?

A: Different groups have different needs, and people of color have a strong need for connection and empowerment. What you see in the cafeterias are affinity groups: separate "spaces" that facilitate positive identity exploration, where people can pose questions and process issues.

Particularly for adolescents of color, identity is a very important issue, and they need the support that an affinity group provides. Whites don't always understand this, even though they also benefit from separate spaces for discussing race -- it's an educational opportunity for them.

The shared goal in making affinity groups available is to interrupt the cycle of racism. My emphasis, because those areas seem to say the opposite of what you said. If I misunderstood either you or the article please enlighten me.
Also, is the only kind or racism you recognize "white racism"? What are "so called white people"? Is it wrong for non-whites to embrace their racial idenity?
Your second link to Antiracist News and Commentary fails to explain "white privilege"; I feel like Colin Powell and Tiger Wood have more privilige and advantage than anyone I've ever known, and "Oppose whiteness, embrace humanity" is the most racist troll I've read in a long time.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:52 AM on April 20, 2002


Right on target, Mack. I've always thought that "white privilege" was a poorly chosen and somewhat trollish term and should be replaced with something better.
It just seems to cause a lot of problems, those terms. I can just see a the reaction of a white guy working in a gas station upon being told of his "privilege":

"Oh yes, I'm just enjoying my privilege soo much."

It may be something of an overreaction, but it's plain to me that the phrase alienates more people than it enlightens.
posted by jonmc at 10:00 AM on April 20, 2002


That's the way of the unthinking activist, Mack... Combat racism by becoming a racist.

As Woody Allen says in Annie Hall: "I'm a bigot, but for the left."

That affiliation doesn't get you off the hook.
posted by evanizer at 10:02 AM on April 20, 2002


Whoa whoa...evanizer, I read Mack Twain's comment three times and I still don't see any form of racism being displayed. I wrote this is an editorial last year:

These "barriers" are cultural similarities used to survive in this culturally assimilating country. If you see a group of African Americans together, the reasoning may lie in similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. Minorities do not seek to exclude themselves from the general population, but merely seek a network of friends to grow as individuals and a community.

Minorites, as I mentioned in the A & F thread, would love to be ignored. Instead they are immediately perceived as "minorities" because of their race. Because the majority automatically assume that they, the minorities, are indeed "minorities", the majority gives minorities no choice but to group themselves together to share similar experiences, backgrounds, and lifestyles.

I am not stating the reverse racism doesn't exist. It can be easily proven that some Blacks really hate white people with a blinding passion. But most of them just want a chance at equality and respect. Until then, however, minorities will clump together.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2002


I was agreeing with Mack's assessment of sudama's comment, BlueTrain. And I don't really like calling almost anyone a racist, because I think 'racism' is an action rather than a condition of being. I also think that the conceptions of majority and minority are vast, dumb generalizations. On a macrocosmic level, everyone is some sort of minority. When I walk or ride the bus in downtown New Haven, I become a minority, since I'm white and the majority of the people I'm around are black or hispanic. But when I walk over to Old Campus at Yale, I become part of the racial majority. But I'm still a minority on many other levels (gay, shaved head, stocky, wearing a lace-edged neck cravat). I don't think being a minority is a steady-state, but rather a constantly changing circumstance. I wish people would reconsider their use of these misleading terms.

And I've seen 'racism' and prejudice at work first hand all my life. As a child in a rural area, anti-black attitudes were fairly common, and anti-gay attitudes even moreso. I continue to be subject to occasional anti-gay taunting (although not much, since I am big and slightly frightening), as well as being occasionally insulted and/or picked on for my race. I usually just accept this behavior is par for the course for human beings (mostly the province of young men, regardless of race), as we are, generally, a petty and violent species. I think most people have felt a part of a minority group at one point or other, and those of us who have been part of many have developed a pretty tough hide.
posted by evanizer at 11:36 AM on April 20, 2002


And I don't really like calling almost anyone a racist, because I think 'racism' is an action rather than a condition of being.

I completely disagree, but before I respond, would you care to elaborate?

I also think that the conceptions of majority and minority are vast, dumb generalizations. On a macrocosmic level, everyone is some sort of minority.

We're talking about racial minorities here. I didn't feel like saying, "Blacks, Latinos, Asian, etc" and so I instead wrote minorities. OBVIOUSLY we're all some sort of minority. I truly hope you are not patronizing me.
posted by BlueTrain at 11:48 AM on April 20, 2002


y2karl, thanks for the links about the SF jail and the panopticon, I was looking for info on this recently.

On the subject of changing prison culture, San Bruno jail has started experimenting with meditation courses for inmates, modeled after ones held in some prisons in India (more info and links here.) I don't know how useful this would be in reducing violence in American prisons in general, but I don't see how it could hurt.
posted by homunculus at 3:23 PM on April 20, 2002


Your second link to Antiracist News and Commentary fails to explain "white privilege"; I feel like Colin Powell and Tiger Wood have more privilige and advantage than anyone I've ever known

I must have misread you: Because Tiger Woods is good at golf (-- and allowed to play on historically white courses), racism is no longer a factor in the lives of Asian and African Americans? Colin Powell and Tiger Woods don't have privilege -- they have merit. Colin Powell was a beneficiary of affirmative action.

In any case, I'm talking about white privilege which is the specific set of unearned advantages all whites have access to as a result of institutional and cultural oppression of people of color. Not class privilege; not individual power or success. If you want some more depth re: white privilege, I recommend Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.
posted by sudama at 3:32 PM on April 20, 2002


Why not put all prisoners in solitary, 100% of the time? Give them a cell, an exercise bike that would fit, and allow reading material...

They do something like that in SuperMax prisons. It drives a lot of inmates crazy.
posted by rcade at 5:46 PM on April 20, 2002


It should at least be an option. Getting raped every day will drive you crazy too.
posted by kindall at 9:24 PM on April 20, 2002


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