I know a lot about prison culture. This is from academic study, intellectual thought of that study, and personally knowing people who have been to prison. I also know a person who was for a short time a prison guard. Some of the most intelligent people I know have not achieved graduation from high school and instead spent their time focusing on immediate survival because the most dire of circumstances were occurring in their lives. They are beautiful human beings who have been forced through a series of situations, both beyond their control and within the scope of their control should they have made wiser choices at the time, to embrace the view of the world that we contain both the capability for doing bad deeds for reasonable reasons, such as feeding one’s own child and providing for their family in ways that they would not be able to achieve by the legally presented choices that are available to them. For some this had to do with race, but always it had to do with economic status. The intersecionality of race, socioeconomic status, and gender made each person’s experience unique in regards to how they interacted within what could be called, “the underworld”.
My time in the underworld was extremely colorful. I met some of the most influential people in my life, individuals who contributed greatly to my formation. All of these individuals committed illegal acts. Many of these individual’s familes knew that they committed crimes in order to make a living and accepted the money in order to live. I take a Kantian view of the law: the law is not inherently moral or ethical just because it is the law. Some of these individuals were my lovers, others were just my friends.
Currently, after devouring “The Jinx”, I tuned into “Oz” on Hbo.go (thank the Buddha for whoever came up with the idea of putting all of HBO’s programming online). Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Harper’s and to my delight, Harper’s Index (an assortment of statistics that reveals a theme about domestic public policy or economic’s or sociological facts) focused it’s first on the American prison system, an institution I personally devote a lot of time to studying both academically and recreationally. Through my journey of “Oz”, I have found myself profoundly questioning the corporate American prison system. While reading Harper’s statistics, I found myself morally obligated to share my feelings and opinions publicly. For example,
- Minimum number of times in 2014 that Rikers Island correction officers broke the bones of an inmate: 98
- Days of solitary confinement a South Carolina prisoner was assigned in 2012 for threatening a prison employee: 41
- Years of solitary confinement he was assigned in 2013 for posting on Facebook: 37
Read those last two statistics again. From this specific example, we can see that this inmate was being made an example of in the second statistic. In the first, we see what is viewed as a routine occurrence within prison due to the culture of violence. What can be derived from these statistics? That prisoner’s having access to the first amendment beyond the scope of the walls of the prison is more dangerous than a threat of violence to one of the prison’s employee’s.
This should be disturbing to any American who supports the first amendment because the discrepancy is between days and years. What is so horrible that a prisoner could tell us beyond inane ramblings of an inmate.
I am unsure what America is attempting to accomplish with the endorsement of a demeaning and violent prison culture given we are the number one nation for locking people in cages. I do believe that we need prisons, yet morally I feel obligated that a society should ensure the minimum number of human beings are confined by chains. Serious crimes that are directly related to harming other human beings are crimes that should be applicable for confinement away from society for a period of time, and these crimes are both directly violent and non-violent yet harmful. I do not believe that there should be a tremendous amount of comfort in prison, there should be bare conditions however they should be humane. If not for the prisoners, I am concerned about the mental health of prison employees working in such dire conditions.
The more disturbing phenomenon in the combination of corporate and prison culture in America is obviously the private prison system. Like Blackwater and other mercenary armies, private prisons are the antithesis to a democratic society due to the lack of government oversight and the inherently disturbing nature of making money off of the suffering of other human beings. In fact, this could be psychologically compared to antisocial personality disorder, known in laymen’s terms as psychopathy. American corporatism at it’s most depraved has already been compared to having antisocial personality disorder, especially given the Supreme Court decision that endorses the legal principle that corporations are persons.
If corporations are persons, and there are private prisons that are owned by corporations, then that means some of these prisons function as dysfunctionally as the violent offenders they house. This is clearly an ethical and moral threat to democratic ideals.