If you are the type of person who doesn’t dwell on dreary details, you rarely consider prison unless it is to wish that an infamous cretin be sent there. Until I came to prison, I hardly thought anything of it. Bad people are stored in prisons until they achieve the correct amount of … something … ripeness? Penance? Correction?
No, prison isn’t a place the average person thinks about. That kind of subject is what experts are for; criminologists, lawyers, lawmakers, crime victims, people who say they are advocates for crime victims, police union representatives, police admimistrators, law enforcement technology providers, corrections officials, lobbyists representing private prison operators, subcommittees, party wonks; anyone but common citizens.
This lack of consideration is, I believe, why our country is the global leader in lock ‘em up and forget ‘em.
The prison system in the United States became the world’s largest because it was founded upon those age-old policy nuggets: demagoguery and political correctness. Conditions have improved in the last few decades. We have finally decided that prison rape and murder are slightly more distasteful than education and healthcare for inmates, but just barely.
I bet you didn’t know that political discourse among inmates resembles your Facebook page. Or that even before Drake shocked white democrats, there were more than a few black Trump supporters behind bars. Or that there were less fistfights in prison sparked by political differences than there were at political rallies, believe it or not. Racists are tolerated with far more grace in prison because survival in here often relies on racism – another of prison’s unfortunate features.
I was disappointed in similarities of opinion between inmates and free citizens. I imagined that the oppression would result in a healthy distrust of the powers that be. I was wrong. For instance, many inmates of all backgrounds parrot the president’s immigration stance even though it is obvious Trump Hotels couldn’t be constructed or operated without an army of immigrants.
An old Mexican-American man on my unit was offered parole if he would renounce his U.S. citizenship and move to Mexico. England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries called this practice ‘transportation.’ The old man agreed. I might too, if I were fluent in Spanish. Instead, I’ll parole into a population full of people meaner than many inmates I’ve known, without a say-so in politics.
I look forward to greater freedom but wonder how my country, if my country, is going to come to its senses. Right now the people are at war and want to punish anyone who doesn’t think like them. The irony is that the warring factions do think alike. Both sides hate each other. It isn’t a way to improve anything. The hatred guarantees that the country will plot punishment’s pendulumn swing every two, four, six, or eight years, to the benefit of the winners alone.
What other result can a two-party-entrenched system bring? Another generation locked up and forgotten.