The [prison] system does everything within its power to sever any physical or emotional links you have to anyone in the outside world. They want your children to grow up without ever knowing you. They want your spouse to forget your face and start a new life. They want you to sit alone, grieving, in a concrete box, unable even to say your last farewell at a parent’s funeral.
If an inmate swears at a guard, fights, or hides contraband like cigarettes or candy, . . . she’s kicked out of the tents and sent to lockdown — a tiny cell, ten by twelve feet, that houses four women, instead of the two it was built for. There’s no TV, no phone, and no AC. Even though most of these women have drug problems, programs like NA or AA are considered “privileges” forbidden to those locked down. The only way to get out of lockdown is to volunteer for the chain gang . . . and accept the conditions on the chain — cleaning Phoenix streets, painting the center strip of miles of highway, and burying Arizona’s indigent. The accusation of “cruel and unusual punishment” is quashed by the argument that the chain gang is purely voluntary. After all, if you prefer, you can spend the whole year in lockdown.
Prison is like high school with knives.
Imprisonment itself, entailing loss of liberty, loss of citizenship, separation from family and loved ones, is punishment enough for most individuals, no matter how favorable the circumstances under which the time is passed.
Imprisonment is a way of pretending to solve the problem of crime. It does nothing for the victims of crime, but perpetuates the idea of retribution, thus maintaining the endless cycle of violence in our culture. It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions — poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed — which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.
The greater ignorance toward a country is not ignoring what its politicians have to say; it is ignoring what the inmates in its prisons have to say.
I was kind of excited to go to jail for the first time, and I learned some great dialogue.
The notion that a vast gulf exists between “criminals” and those of us who have never served time in prison is a fiction created by the racial ideology that birthed mass incarceration, namely that there is something fundamentally wrong and morally inferior about “them.” The reality, though, is that all of us have done wrong.
Each one of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. No one is just the crime he or she commits.
While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. . . . I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. . . . No dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.
Indeed it seems plausible to me to divide my life into two parts, before I saw those photographs (I was twelve) and after.
This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.
What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe.