Analyzing the Universal Tactics used by the Prison System.
« Punishment is as old as society », expressed Donald Clemmer (author of « The Prison Community »). But, what is the state of punishment in our world today regarding prison? Better yet, perhaps, the question should be- what are prisons today? Worldwide there seems to be a blueprint that has been executed in prison construction, control and continuance. While from country to country you will find that there are different conditions in the prisons and different means behind them, what can be said for the alleged “most civilized Nation in the world” to be submerged in some of the most brutal prison conditions and tactics across the globe? What is the intent behind it? The answers we encounter may not be pleasant, but they must be faced with reality.
While many texts, articles, studies and stats are used for this writing, the book “Language, Resistance and Revival” by Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh is a heavy influence for it. This book documents the Irish Republican prisoners’ fight to save their culture through the teaching of their language while facing the brutal conditions in North Ireland prisons. To understand this plight the Irish Republicans took on, one had to first understand the politics of prison and the language of resistance- which was broken down in the Foreword by Phil Scranton. And it’s that Foreword which was the source of inspiration for this writing. What Scranton was able to do was build a universal vision for how oppressive regimes use unmerciful tactics within their prisons. What I seek to do in this writing is add to those oppressive methods by exposing what’s going on within America’s prisons, namely Texas (not simply because I have experienced the tactics firsthand, but due to the fact Texas has stepped into the forefront as ground zero for the movement).
Shock Doctrine Part 1 drew parallels between torture tactics used by the government and military in so-called terrorist situations and those being used in modern day prisons- mainly Administrative Segregation (aka solitary confinement- be it a part of a prison or an entire Supermax). Ad Seg remains a hidden part of the American society- a disgraced, mutated creation that lurks in the shadows. What does the existence, and growth and development of such apparatuses mean for the sake of our society? Only you- those who will surely bear the brunt end of it- can say.
COMING TO GRIPS
Phil Scranton does an excellent job in giving the parameters of what prison life is like on the inside. The information he brings shines light to what is universally being felt within these walls- walls that no longer hold the same aims from whence they were conceived. What was once designed to contain and rehabilitate those who broke the law in society is no more. Scranton highlighted a new scheme that has gradually become status quo, that “imprisonment provided the means for removal of those identified as ‘social’ pariahs but also those who were categorized as ‘enemies of the state’”. Instead of being an institute for reform, it is now a utensil used to suppress and dismantle.
What the prisoner goes through is a complete transformation process- one not of moral nourishment, but pure humiliation and malice that renders them to being vitiated humans: “entering prison, the convicted prisoner loses personal identity and civil rights. No longer a citizen, the prisoner wears convicts’ clothes, becomes a number, hands over personal possessions and surrenders movement through space”.
The everyday “space” that people take for granted everyday become monumental objects of obstruction. Scranton notes:
“In prison, the ‘door’ and the ‘clock’, central to the taken-for-granted world of everyday life, are invested with new meaning. The controlling mechanisms of the total institution function at the discretion of others”.
Through these prisons, America makes a profound statement to the world and to its own citizens:
Americans spend $50 billion a year to imprison 2.5 million people- exceeding any other nation.
The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s inmates.
While 1 out of every 42 Americans is now actually in prison, 1 out of every 32 is either in prison or on parole from prison. This means 6.7 million adult men and women – about 3.1% of the total US population- are now members of America’s “correctional community”.
WHAT’S GOING ON, AMERICA?
There’s a virus in the bloodstream of America. America was built on the back of other people’s labor. It’s in its roots and fabric. And in truth, the process has never been alleviated. It has just advanced in the style in which it’s carried out. There’s no greater money than free money, and prison provides that for those with the power in this country (be it financially or judicially); and there’s no greater crime than legal crime, which the 13 Amendment provides.
United States Constitution, 13th Amendment.
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, EXCEPT AS A PUNISHMENT FOR A CRIME WHEREOF THE PARTY SHALL HAVE BEEN DULY CONVICTED, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
This doctrine ushered in the evolution of laissez-faire capitalism to mercantile capitalism, where government begins to regulate business, and industry builds as the motor and impetus for governing. Infact, by 1871, the 41st Congress by way of the District of Columbia Organic Act, established the United States of America as a for-profit commercial enterprise, and it has operated ever since as a corporate entity. Today, in the law books under 28 U.S.C. §3002 (15) (a), it is held that the United States is a “Federal Corporation”.
PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
Profit is the new motive for America’s prisons. It is no longer an institution for reform, rather an Industrial Complex that brings in people and pushes out products. U.S. prison construction and upkeep is a $30 billion a year business. Fortune 500 companies like TWA, General Electric, MCI, Chevron, IBM and Bank of America profit. They are either benefiting from cheap labor, investing directly in new prison-building or designing and selling prison paraphernalia like stun guns, handcuffs, surveillance cameras, cellblock furniture, pepper gas and even restraining chairs.
In turn, prisons make their money back and flip their profits 100 times by making inmates provide slave labor to produce commodities such as clothes (labels like No Fear, Lee Jeans, Trinidad Tees), furniture, office equipment, food crops and livestock. Inmates also pay the high cost of extreme phone rates- six times the normal long distance rate. In Texas, commissary alone can gross up to $40 million annually.
Private prisons are now getting their piece of the pie. Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), created in 1983, leads the way with approximately 61 federal and state facilities in 20 states. After a 10 year run leading the path, the rise in lifers have mysteriously began to manifest. There were fewer than 3,000 “lifers” in 1992. As of 2005 there was 6,431 prisoners serving life sentences, which was a 12% rise from 2004. These private prisons net upwards to $60million a year. And not surprisingly, many CCA staffers have political connections (affiliates who keep them thriving) to which donations flow freely. It’s not hard to tell how these things interrelate.
TEXAS: GROUND ZERO
Texas is home to approximately 125 prisons. Around 150,000 prisoners. In the face of staff shortages (most prisons have just under 3,000 prisoners and should have close to 570 guards [though many don’t]), Texas continues to allow its prison numbers to BOOM while its parole rates plummet.
Behind the razor-wired fences of Texas prisons, there’s 22 that house Ad Seg prisoners. The most of any state. The count is approximately 5,200 prisoners (around 188,000 nationwide).
ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION aka SOLITARY CONFINEMENT aka HELL ON EARTH
What solitary confinement was made for has turned into something even more sinister than its conception. The concept- originally conceived in 1829- was inspired by Anglican and Quaker theology and designed to cultivate penitence and spiritual enlightenment. However, in the process of trying to bend the spirit, man would have to bend his body first.
The model- first established in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia- would be mimicked the world over. As Jeff Tietz, in his article “Slow-motion torture” broke down- “At Eastern State, hallways with 30-foot-high vaulted ceilings led to cells whose low doors forced prisoners to make a penitent’s bow. Inmates spent 23 hours a day in clean, near-silent cells beneath a circular glass skylight known as the ‘eye of God’”. Not much has changed with the white-walled, one shelf, steel bunk, sink and toilet, and huge light fixture set-up. Evenmore with the conditions and tactics.
As Phil Scranton informs us:
“In design the ‘new prison’ was informed by reformers such as Jeremy Bentham, whose ‘panopticon’ design was a radical proposal for mass containment of prisoners held in individual cells. Designed like a bicycle wheel, the hub offered a central observational platform on several levels from which corridors landings reached out like spokes, with cells housing prisoners on either side. The panopticon maximized surveillance while minimizing the number of guards required. Prisoners alone in their cells, silent in work and with little opportunity for association, were placed under constant observation. Surveillance not only monitored behavior, it guaranteed security.”
In the early 90’s in Texas a very similar “new prison” blueprint was laid out for around 10 facilities: Telford, Clements, Allred, Styles, McConnell, Connally, Polunsky, Hughes, Robertson and Michaels (the very first). These prisons- down to the parking lot and tree shrubs- are designed exactly the same.
The Ad Seg building has 6 pods made up of six sections (A-F) totaling 84 cells. Each section has 7 cells upstairs and 7 cell downstairs. Section A-F are designed in a circle-like shape that surrounds a picket in the middle- similar to the bicycle wheel design that allows the picket to observe each section and each cell.
Inmates are housed in these cells 23 hours a day. They are fed in the cells. When they leave the cells they are stripped and handcuffed. They are given 1 hour of recreation a day in either a small caged dayroom area or the outside yard which is a mere concrete box with walls that shoot up 40 feet high. There’s no T.V, no games, no programs, no nothing. Just you versus the clock and the door.
Though all of the 22 Ad Segs are cruel and unusual, these 10 provide the most streamlined repression. As Scranton highlighted:
“While walls are barriers to access, they are also barriers to information. Each prison operates within a custodial network under the governance of a prison service and the state’s justice department. Yet each prison is a product of its distinctive history, reputation and organizational culture”.
As the administrations try to further villainize these men and women with talk of gangs, drugs and violence, they don’t take into consideration the effects of their own guard gangs, psycho-tropic drugs and guard-on-inmate violence. As forensic psychiatrist Dr. Kupers (in the article “Solitary confinement poses a danger to everyone”) notes: “It is stunning how pervasive a known set of serious symptoms in this population are, including massive free-floating anxiety, incessant cleaning or pacing in the cell, paranoid ideas, sleep disturbances, problems concentrating and remembering- many prisoners said they have given up reading altogether because they cannot remember what they read a few pages back- and mounting anger, along with fear the anger will get out of control and they will get into further trouble”.
In her article “U.S. prison conditions far worse than Guantanamo’s” Daphne Eviatar says “most secure federal prisons are actually far more draconian than they are at Guantanamo Bay”. Peter Finn at the Washington post said- “For up to four hours a day, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11 attacks, can sit outside in the Caribbean sun and chat through a chain-link fence with the detainee in the neighboring exercise yard”. Nothing close to the extreme isolation of the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Or even the ones in Texas like the Estelle and Gib Lewis high security.
As the despair rises, so does the mental-illness and even the suicides. In 2006, in California, there were 41 suicides. A 17% increase from 2005. In Texas, in 2006, there were 24. Up from 22 in 2005, according to article “Inmate suicides linked to solitary” by Kevin Johnson. After Kentucky set up a mental health program for those in the state’s 83 county jails in 2004, suicides in the jails fell 47%.
As much as he did for this country, his words are still not taken heed to, but as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated- “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that”. Every nation must develop an overriding dedication to humanity as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Under this new regime, the prisoner’s life turns into a debacle. When Donald Clemmer said that punishment was as old as society, he also added “but when a policeman or prisoner guard in his official capacity as a representative of the governing body punishes man, society itself is involved in its historical, political, economic and sociological vision”.
That vision, as Erving Goffman (from ”Language, Resistance and Revival”) cited, becomes : “territories of the self are violated, and the prisoner is shaped and coded into an object. Thus the self is curtailed, mortified and any expression of defiance receives immediate, visible punishment”.
What unfolds under such a system is inmate vs. guard, and in the wake of that misery, inmates turn against inmates. The rage bred turns into self-hate, then into self-destruction which keeps the prison authoritative concept alive and the prison beds full.
From day to day, prisoners wake and must be vigilant to what is to come. Scranton highlighted the experiences Oscar Wilde had at Petinville and Wandsworth “under a regime of hard labour, virtual starvation and spartan conditions including a bed without a mattress”.
Wilde elaborated- “I look from the door at who’s at the desk and I know whether I’ll have an all right day or a bad day”. Current days are no different as America’s economy fluxuates and the stress and strife of everyday life is emitted from the guards on a daily basis. These guards bring their problems and miserable attitudes into the prison and inflict them upon the prisoners. One Ad Seg units like Robertson where guard abuse is rampant, prisoners often mark the guard’s shifts on calendars to monitor which days good or bad officers may work. To avoid such officers, inmates usually refuse their recreation time or shower just to avoid conflicts with the officers or to keep them from entering their cell to carry out reckless shakedowns.
Officers are instilled with a code in their Academy training. That code consists of the officer being right and the inmate being wrong. That’s reflected in how officers are told to never apologize to an inmate. When officers are asked for something they are told to never confirm what they can or cannot do, but rather to say- “I’ll see what I can do”. Officers are told to never conversate with inmates for more than a couple of minutes. Officers are taught that all inmates break rules and/or have contraband. Even before the officers step into the prison, they have been taught how to be cruel and indifferent. Some take that to heart. In return, the administration will support such actions and do not hold the officer to the professional standard they are bound to (known as the Employees General Rules of Conduct outlined in Article 4413 (401), Section 1.10(b) V.A.C.S). This is an all around Texas creed for as in society they say “Don’t Mess With Texas” and in prison TDC’s motto is “Taking Care of Our Own”.
Today, the words of Wilde still ring true:
“prisoners are introduced to deprivation of incarceration, standing naked for inspection, restricted access to underwear and basic necessities, lockdown and unlock, shared cells, isolation cells, poor food, vindictive guards, the persistent threat of violence, restricted visits, inadequate healthcare, unaffordable telephone calls, mind-numbing boredom”.
The ACLU’s National Prison Project asserts more than half of all prisoners in solitary confinement are either “mentally ill” or “cognitively disable”. Nevertheless, assignment to isolation cells is, by prison officials, without appeal to any authority beyond the correctional system. As detailed in the “Slow-motion torture” article:
“repeated trauma lastingly alters the brain. Anger and anxiety provoke a prehistoric response: the adrenal gland releases hormones that trigger the firing of neurons in the brain’s limbic structures, which react in a host of ways- by ordering the production of more coagulants, so we’re less likely to bleed to death; by increasing muscle strength, so we can stab a predator with more force. When anxiety is chronic, as it is in solitary confinement, the adrenal gland and the limbic structures become more direct, and the limbic structures expand to accommodate the increase in signal volume. On brain scans, enlarged limbic systems light up with abnormal speed and brightness. Simultaneously, activity in the prefrontal cortex-responsible for judgment, analysis, a sense of conscience- decreases”.
Even Charles Dickens (after touring Eastern State Penitentiary in 1842) exclaimed-
“I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain immeasurably worse than any torturing of the body”.
From day 1, the American Government has denied that it had political prisoners incarcerated in its prisons, because to admit they do would admit (according to the definition) they have a “Political prisoner, which is a person incarcerated for actions carried out in support of legitimate struggles for self-determination or for opposing the illegal policies of the United States government and/or it’s political divisions”. The denial refutes this claim and also doesn’t subject them to United Nation resolutions. The system had to turn righteous justice fighters into criminals to protect its own validity and sanctity. As Irish Republican prisoners knew- “The Criminalization of political enemies and the denial of their existence as political enemies is an essential element of a consciously waged psychological war of isolation and destruction”.
Under the rug of Americas most notorious abuses and scandals exist men and women who have received the most horrendous injustices and violations all because they were brave enough to seek and stand up for “the American Dream”. Some of these men and women have been held in solitary confinement for 20, 25, 30 years (like the Angola 3 in Louisiana). More than a hundred men and women are currently imprisoned by the United States government for participating in movements for justice and liberation. They are dedicated American Indian Movement activists like Leonard Peltier, Puerto Rican independentista Oscar Lopez Rivera, former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal and Sundiata Acoli and radical ecological activist -and member of the Yaqui Nation- Rod Coronado. There’s activist like MOVE 9 who have been wrongly incarcerated since 1985 for protecting their home from an unlawful police attack.
As Dan Berger, in his “Building a Political Prisoner Support Movement” article, wrote-
“Political prisoners, if largely unacknowledged, are at the crux of debates over incarceration. Their presence testifies to the ongoing legacy of social problems, which in itself is central to the cycle of crime and punishment. As the anti-prison movement continues to grow in strength and stature, the question of political prisoners demands attention because these movement veterans remain part of the current endeavors for social justice. Their lengthy incarceration, including many with life sentences, speaks to the vengeful mindset governing imprisonment in the U.S. Parole is almost uniformly impossible even after decades of incarceration and despite their having met all the requirements for release”.
When looking at what the government may call “terrorist activities”, compare arrest, conviction and sentence rates of these people of color versus members of terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, White Knights, Aryan Brotherhood, neo-Nazi members. Or versus crimes committed under Jim Crow or under Cointelpro. There’s a vast disparity.
Some of these political prisoners have died in prison due to illness because the system refused to release them. Albert Washington and Merle Africa are two. Others suffer from cancer illness- like Russell Shoatz, diabetic black outs like Robert Seth Hayes. Some were held until there was nothing left but death, then released- like Marilyn Buck. Then there are the old witch hunts to track down activist from the old days to put them where these men and women are- like the $2 million bounty on the head of Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard).
These are not movies or reality shows. These are events taking place right here in American today. These are political witch hunts that take place right under your noses. It’s happened even recently with Occupy arrest. How soon did those stories disappear? The above stories have been going on for 25, 30 years but to the average citizen they are unknown. These men and women have been sucked in by the Prison Industrial Complex and their lives and struggles are testaments to what goes wrong with the Criminal Justice and Penal Systems when they go unchecked.
These men and women, too, are continuously punished for their refusal to relinquish their political prisoner proclamation and their political or historical views. It was the same for the Irish republicans in “Language, Resistance and Revival”: “Our refusal to submit to criminality became more than simply an internal jail issue. The battle against it became a crucial factor in the overall struggle for self-determination”.
As author Fran Buntman expounded- “Incarceration was transformed into a new arena for political resistance that undermined state power by influencing and politicizing events and activities outside the prison walls”. And this, moreso than anything, is what imperialist, colonist, corporate criminals seek to crush the most because as Long Kesh prisoner Laurence McKeown understood- “if we stand together, no one can defeat us, whether it’s in jail or the outside”.
It’s these tactics that render men and women tainted when they return to society. While there are men and women that do return to society and function properly and become productive, the large quantities that don’t, go uncared for- until one backslides, then they are further condemned. However, the conditions that led them to be that way are not disclosed. As Wilde observed:
“The released prisoner is abandoned at the very moment when its society’s highest duty towards him begins”.
Even politicians have acknowledged these effects. While discussing solitary confinement in 2012 infront of the Texas Senate Committee (after it was told 878 inmates were released to home from Ad Seg without any treatment program), Senator Whitemire stated- refuting claims from the TDC Director that these men couldn’t be released to General Population before release-“but you can let them discharge onto the street when they finish their sentence, straight from spending every day for 15 years locked up alone in a cell? Why not give them some life-skills or some faith-based programs or something that can prepare them for then they get out, rather than just turning them loose?”
In fact, Vikrant Reddy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told the committee about a program in Mississippi launched in 2003 which reduced the state’s number of Ad Seg offenders from 1,000 to around 150. Notably, reducing the number of Ad Seg prisoners by 85% not only didn’t increase prison violence, in fact, the number of incident for use of force plummeted. Monthly statistics showed an almost 70% drop in serious incidents, both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff. Not to mention it saved the state more than $5 million annually. While states like Illinois is trying to shut down some of its most notorious supermax facilities (Tamms Correctional Center), Texas continues to seek utilizing Ad Seg and thus far has failed to introduce any kind of “step down” process that is beneficial to the inmates (other than their gang renouncement program which is based on “debriefing” [ie-giving information on their activity and group membership] which only puts the inmates more in harms way)
“The U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice held its 22nd session in late April 2013. A Significant item on the Commission’s agenda was the development of revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). While NGOs continue to push for several key reforms- modifying solitary confinement policies and procedures being chief among them- the U.S delegation continues to frustrate their efforts, leaving the impression that while the U.S. condemns human rights abuses on other countries, it refuses to look at abuses in its own prison system”. (As reported in the Prison Legal news May 2013 edition)
The lives of these men are not cared about- only the furtherance of the System’s goals and objectives at any and all cost.
Prison life, as Wilde added, “with its endless privations and restrictions makes one rebellious”. To come out abused, dejected and rejected, what comes of society? Other than a revolving door for the big corporations that stand behind the Prison Industrial Complex, what overall good is coming from this process?
The Prison Industrial Complex is like a predator in the sea with long tentacles. It lies in wait as prey swims back and forth infront of it. Some it grabs, some it doesn’t. But, as long as the sea predator exist, it is always able to grab something new.
Penology is one of the basic five P’s now used to systematically control the unconscious masses (that prey):
The indifference and stagnation of members in society feeds directly into the problem. For example, “as unemployment on the outside increases, crime and the concomitant incarceration increases”, as Paul Wright (editor of Prison Legal News) noted. He continued- “It may be that before too long, people can only find menial labor intensive production jobs in prison or third world countries where people labor under similar conditions. The factory with fences meets the prison without walls”.
The Prison Communication Activism Research and Education study revealed that “an estimated 4.7 million Americans have lost the right to vote because laws that disenfranchise the imprisoned or the formerly imprisoned. In 48 states prisoners cannot vote; 36 states bar those on parole or probation from voting”. Also- “since 1995 the annual rate of growth in the number of women in prisons or jails has averaged 5 percent, considerably higher than the 3.3 percent yearly average increase for men”.
As Sasha Abramsky (author of “Crime As America’s Pop Culture”) explained:
“We have come to regard arrest, prosecution, and unemployment as fundamental props of our mass culture, thus elevating one of the more unpleasant duties and obligations of the civil society- the prosecution and punishment of those who flout its laws- into a cultural commodity that may, ultimately, come to define what kind of nation, what kind of people, we become”.
We have heard many times that the true measure of a civilization can be found by entering its prisons. This, more than a church or a school, shows the heart of the society and its leaders. From what has been revealed in this writing, what is the heart of America saying?
“A Radical Perspective on Crime” author Jeffrey H. Reiman put it in the most noblest of terms:
“To look only at individual responsibility is to look away from social responsibility. To look only at individual criminality is to close one’s eyes to social injustice and to close one’s ears to the question of whether our social institutes have exploited or violated the individual. Justice is a two-way street, but Criminal Justice is a one-way street. Individuals owe obligation to their fellow citizens, because their fellow citizens owe obligations to them. Criminal Justice focuses on the first and looks away from the second. Thus, by focusing on individual responsibility for crime, the Criminal Justice System literally acquits the existing social order of any charge of injustice”.
Justice and power must eventually connect, so that whatever is just may become powerful, and whatever is powerful may become just. And the people, when they become aware of their power, will have every right to take possession of what is rightfully theirs. Not simply meaning materialistic objects, but the most basic of things: integrity, dignity, equality, justice!
By looking at prison issues we look at the motive of the nation. We often get caught up in the propaganda (#4 on the 5p’s) and point fingers to the atrocities in places like China, North Korea, Russia, the Middle East- but fail to acknowledge what’s going on right up under our noses or in our own backyard.
The masses’ inaction can only be computed as approval, because as Paulo Freire noted:
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”.
Everything that has been described as the “99%” in social terms is susceptible to the tentacles of the Prison Industrial Complex. The Prison Industrial Complex is a virus amongst the bloodstream of America. It is not beyond inoculation. And before this virus completely annihilates that which we call society, I would urge you to move in the spirit of American lawyer Clarence Darrow-
“As long as the world shall last there will be wrong, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever”.
Take back your world before you are ultimately taken aback by your world!
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