Ain't No Prison Like The One I Got
June 2, 2013 6:49 PM   Subscribe

On The Tamms Poetry Committee: "One of the artists' initiatives was "photo requests from solitary." Prisoners on solitary would request photos and professional photographers would then shoot the request and send the photo back. The gallery of prisoners requests is surprising and poignant."
posted by artof.mulata (24 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
He asked for an image of "my mother standing in front of a mansion, or Big Castle, with a bunch of money on the ground."

And that's exactly what they gave him.

That would be hilariously awesome except that the request came from "a man with a serious mental illness" whose mother had died the previous year. "Because he had no family and no visitors, he was hopeless and desolate." He'll presumably be spending the rest of his life in supermax solitary confinement.

These photos are such a small thing, but the prisoners are so grateful, grateful just not to be forgotten.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:01 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Solitary confinement is torture. Of course they're going to ask for things like "fog" and "stained glass" and "stairs". Their brains are so starved for normal symbol and meaning they're forgetting what they look like and going slowly insane. Like when a blind man forgets what color looks like. Except with everything.

This reminds me of all the "success" stories of introducing drama or knitting into prison and how reforming it is. If you offer a prisoner knitting or staring at a wall and dying inside he'll cling to those needles like a man drowning.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Tamms Year Ten on the outerwebs.
Idiot move to forget this. Sorry!
posted by artof.mulata at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dude, that is awesome. That comment beats the whole post hands down.

Let's agree to all organize against solitary confinement. If courts are on record that something is worse than death, probably we shouldn't allow it to be done in our names.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

So I had this bookmarked for my first FPP, but it fits here:

Lawyers have an ethics code. Journalists have an ethics code. Architects do, too. According to Ethical Standard 1.4 of the American Institute of Architects (AIA):

“Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors.”

A group called Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) has taken the stance that there are some buildings that just should not have been built. Buildings that, by design, violate standards of human rights.

99% Invisible: An Architect's Code looks at whether SuperMax prisons, and other institutions designed to remove human beings from socialization or "meaningful activity," violate the human rights statute of the AIA's code of ethics.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:07 PM on June 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

Yeah man. If I'm ever called for jury duty for any criminal proceeding I'll pretty much have to vote not guilty no matter the crime or the evidence. There's no way I could ever explicitly have the guilt on my conscience of sending a man to the sadness factory, even at the expense of implicitly creating another victim of crime.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 7:08 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, nothing personal, but I'm not sure you should be serving on a criminal jury.
posted by box at 9:06 PM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Hmmm I'm not sure how to take that. You clearly disagree with me but you've provided no reasons for doing so other than phrasing it as a witty retort. I seem to get this sort of thing every now and then and I don't understand why people think it is productive or engaging.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 9:22 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If harsh prison environments produce hardened prisoners, then we clearly need to make the environment more abusive? If aberrant behavior results from an abusive environment, then people who act like that ought to be locked up in an abusive environment?

If the government's job is to protect citizens, then a person in custody of the government, i.e., a prisoner, ought to be as safe as a person can be. Right? I'm completely serious. Prisons as they exist, are pretty much monuments to hypocrisy.
posted by Goofyy at 10:28 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Metafilter has an uncanny knack for taking sound policy proposals and pushing them about 300% too far.

Many people in prison are there for doing things that should not even be considered crimes.


Many non-violent, low-risk offenders should be dealt with in some way other than incarceration.


Solitary confinement is too often employed, and prisoners' rights to personal safety are too little safeguarded.


I'll pretty much have to vote not guilty no matter the crime or the evidence. There's no way I could ever explicitly have the guilt on my conscience of sending a man to the sadness factory, even at the expense of implicitly creating another victim of crime

...Wait, what?

If you want a productive and engaging response, consider this: could you agree, behind a veil of ignorance as to the station you will inhabit in life, to be sent to the sadness factory if you committed a violent crime in exchange for physical safety from the sort of people who would get sent to the sadness factory?
posted by lambdaphage at 11:55 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't see it that way, Goofyy. In a sense, they are the ultimate expression of a systemic approach to violence as a corrective or punishment.

Vengeance itself plays a big role, I think, especially when The State is involved. Attacking a prison guard is attacking The State. Notice the following quotes from Wikipedia's Thomas Silverstein page:
"Silverstein filed a lawsuit alleging his decades of solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In 2011, the lawsuit was thrown out by a Denver judge, who found that Silverstein's conditions were not "atypically extreme.""
Think about that for a second, not "atypically extreme". What does this say? It's not harsher than any of the other SuperMax prisoner treatment. So, therefore, it must be ok. Not asking the deeper question on whether this is cruel or unusual punishment.

A question then: Has anyone brought cruel and unusual charges against solitary?

And what is this?
...Silverstein used a ruse to get Clutts to walk ahead of him and positioned himself between Clutts and other officers. He stopped outside the cell of another inmate, Randy Gometz, and Gometz passed a homemade prison knife known as a shank, to Silverstein and unlocked Silverstein's handcuffs using a homemade key. Silverstein then attacked Clutts, stabbing him several dozen times. Silverstein later claimed that he murdered Clutts in retaliation for Clutts's deliberately harassing him.[4] A few hours later, Silverstein's friend Fountain, also an Aryan Brotherhood member, used the same strategy to kill another correction officer at USP Marion, Robert Hoffman.

The events surrounding the murders of Correction Officers Clutts and Hoffman inspired the design of the federal supermax prison...
Think about this flimsy excuse. They didn't say "here were some poor security procedures that we need to correct..." it's "punish and revenge" It's not even discipline at this point anymore. There is no rehabilitation, no attempt at... "CORRECTIONS"... This is a different beast than even that Utilitarian Puritanical Work Ethic Philosopher Bentham would have even considered. I mean, they literally could have said "alright, next time, THE WHOLE GROUP OF OFFICERS STICK TOGETHER AND DON'T LET A PRISONER SEPARATE THEM" But instead let's spend billions on stone cold torture and madness.
posted by symbioid at 12:02 AM on June 3, 2013


What do you suggest we do with a prisoner who kills three other people while in prison, including a guard in full view of several other guards? I mean what do you practically do? Why isn't the lesson to be learned here just in fact that "there is no safe way of transporting this prisoner that will reliably work with real human beings in the real world? We tried moving him in handcuffs with multiple armed guards, and someone died [NB: the third!] as a result." How many other exploits in the protocol does someone like Silverstein get the chance to try to find?
posted by lambdaphage at 12:26 AM on June 3, 2013


Your statement seems to imply that people get sent to prison in order to create physical safety for the rest of society. While that may be strictly true there is something deeper going on.

The highest statistical cause of criminal behavior is poverty so in my view the people who get sent to prison are usually those that commit crime as retaliation against the state (stealing for example). The second highest predictor of crime is recidivism due to institutionalization.

So my refusal to support the incarceration system is not in tension with a veil of ignorance argument. Sending a person to prison creates a life long criminal and supports the prison industrial complex. If you really want to reduce crime work to eliminate poverty through economic egalitarianism. In my view refusal to subjugate the poor would make my random role of the die second birth better under a veil of ignorance argument, not worse. Especially since there are a whole lot more poor people than rich ones.

Btw a good primer on the philosophy of prisons is Michel Foucalts' Surveillance and Punishment. His argument is that the law system serves at the pleasure of the prison system and that "delinquency" (ie recidivism) is a feature supporting the prisons and the state. Truly eye opening read.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 1:02 AM on June 3, 2013


These people aren't, "victims" of (insert trite socially, "responsible" rhetoric), but criminals who have chosen to commit acts of such utter and repeated inhumanity, they can no more be permitted to exist amongst greater humanity.

Having said that, these prisons are not the answer - if, as a species, we were capable of removing self-serving romanticism and mysticism from a basic biological process (human life), euthanasia may be.
posted by Nibiru at 2:21 AM on June 3, 2013


No criminals are inhuman. You can trot out a very few examples of very human violence, but that doesn't explain the massive number (at least 80,000) of folks in solitary.

Many prisons are inhumane. There's no due process for putting someone in solitary, it's just a thing the corrections system does on its own, and when the cells are open, you find someone to put in them. People are put in solitary confinement for absurd offenses, for instance they are "certified" as gang members for reading about the racial element in American incarceration.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:52 AM on June 3, 2013

Yeah if you can't enter a guilty verdict, you don't belong on a jury. Luckily they ask you about this beforehand. Jurors are not to concern themselves with punishment, only with the defendant's guilt or innocence.

Solitary is horrible. Glad Tamms, at least, is a thing of the past.
posted by agregoli at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2013

Anotherpanacea -

Of course criminals remain biologically members of the human race irrespective their crimes, however, those who repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously treat other human beings with a lack of essential humanity no longer have the right to be treated as such in my opinion.

Again, we romantise and mystify human life and, as a consequence, bestow great rights upon each individual by virtue of their mere existence - however, with rights comes responsibility...perhaps we've forgotten this simple equation in our quest for an ever-more, "enlightened" society.
posted by Nibiru at 7:09 AM on June 3, 2013


What do you mean by "highest statistical cause"? It's my understanding that different types of crimes have very different motivations, such that predictors of robbery may not be predictors of homicide and vice versa. I'm puzzled by your belief that robbery is motivated by a desire for retaliation against the state. Hardly any robberies are committed against the state itself; the victims of robberies are disproportionately other poor people. Do their interests not count?

But since you literally said "no matter the crime", let's consider homicide. Are homicide rates explained by poverty? When you examine longitudinal data, the evidence seems very thin. This NIJ report examined eight cities and found a positive relationship between poverty and homicide in only three; in the other five, the relationship was non-existent or negative. The authors also found no link between income inequality and homicide.

The findings of that report are corroborated by other data. Homicide rates in the US over the 20th century bore no relationship [pdf, figures 1 and 4] to economic indicators.

This is unsurprising when you consider the motivation of a typical homicide. I quote from Pinker (2011):
In an influential article called “Crime as Social Control,” the legal scholar Donald Black argued that most of what we call crime is, from the point of view of the perpetrator, the pursuit of justice. Black began with a statistic that has long been known to criminologists: only a minority of homicides (perhaps as few as 10 percent) are committed as a means to a practical end, [emph. mine] such as killing a homeowner during a burglary, a policeman during an arrest, or the victim of a robbery or rape because dead people tell no tales. The most common motives for homicide are moralistic: retaliation after an insult, escalation of a domestic quarrel, punishing an unfaithful or deserting romantic partner, and other acts of jealousy, revenge, and self-defense.
This also explains the sky-high homicide-by-dueling rates among European male elites well into the 19th century, despite the fact that they were the richest people around. In sum, I see little evidence for the view that poverty is the "highest statistical cause" of at least one very important type of crime.

And yes, I've read Discipline and Punish, and once took a class on Foucault taught by a scholar who was quite sympathetic to his work. I thought it was a book of potentially interesting ideas undercut by sloppy scholarship, quantitative naivete and obscurantism, but that's just me. Does it have a bearing on your point about the relationship between poverty and all types of crime?
posted by lambdaphage at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Silverstein went to prison for fifteen years for doing three armed robberies with a prior for armed robbery. He was almost 2/3rds through his time at Leavenworth when he killed his first victim. What was so hopeless and inhumane about that?

Further, there is an unfortunately non-zero number of people who commit similar or more depraved acts long before the criminal justice system gets in touch. What do you want to do with people who demonstrate themselves to be a danger to others and make good on that danger once incarcerated? Besides attribute it to late capitalism or whatever?

I'm generally sympathetic to calls for prison reform, but Silverstein's case seems almost like an unintentional counter-example.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:20 AM on June 3, 2013

Jury nullification. I don't have to justify my verdict only deliver one. I deliver not guilty.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2013

The trouble is, no one who would do this to a man is fit to be in a position to do this to any man.
posted by Goofyy at 1:28 PM on June 3, 2013

Well, ishrinkmajeans, I hope you're never on one. Our jury system isn't perfect, but I don't find your methodology to be a solution. At least if you triggered a mistrial, it would start the process anew, with jurors who hopefully take it more seriously.
posted by agregoli at 5:00 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're the one who decided "Metafilter" is all about total prison abolition.

I had hoped that favoriting your first comment about this would serve to indicate that the point was well-taken-- I shouldn't have taken ishrinkmajeans pars pro toto.

But ishrinkmajeans really is pars pro majori parte, if you will. Judging from their comment vs. box's reply, you might estimate that 4/(4+7) > 1/3 of MeFites are down with total prison abolition. Now, tiny sample size &c. &c. &c. and I would be very surprised if it were really that high, but four people in favor of jury nullification for literally any criminal trial is no less surprising.

As I've made clear already, I agree that solitary confinement is abused and should be subject to stricter oversight. I haven't heard, though, what we should do if we simply abolished it, both in terms of ensuring the physical safety of other prisoners and guards and providing incentives not to, you know, kill people. If you kill three people in prison, maybe you should be emotionally devastated?
posted by lambdaphage at 9:34 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jury nullification. I don't have to justify my verdict only deliver one. I deliver not guilty.

You may not have to formally justify your verdict to a court, but obviously it requires just as much moral justification as any other decision you might make. Which is still lacking after it was shown to you that poverty explains hardly anything about the causes of most murders.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Yunupingu   |   Traumatized by tonight's episode of Game of... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments