Saturday, April 26, 2008

prison blues

One Man's Hands
One man's hands can't tear a prison down
Two men's hands can't tear a prison down
But if two and two and fifty make a million
We'll see that day come round
We'll see that day come round.
Pete Seeger (born 3 may 1919), activist, poet, songwriter

one of the radio programs I enjoy is the bbc’s ‘world have your say’ (whys)which airs weekdays on our local npr station. thursday’s program tweaked my interest. unfortunately, I was in the middle of something which entailed my full concentration, so I only caught bits of the program. the topic concerned the alarming rate of imprisonment in the u.s. – the u.s with 5% of the world’s population has almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. for every 100,000 people the u.s., 751 people are in prison. compare that to 151 in the u.k., 88 in germany, or 63 in japan - the country that comes closest to the u.s. is russia with 627.

when f came home from work thursday I asked him if he heard the story, he hadn’t but he gave me the head’s up to an article in the times the day before on the same topic. between, whys, the times piece and the news that wesley snipes received a three-year prison sentence for failure to file his tax returns I have prison on my mind. are we surprised the u.s. leads the way?

I find it deeply disturbing that the u.s. has such an extraordinarily high incarceration rate. the times piece points out that the u.s. hasn’t always had such an alarmingly high rate – in fact, from 1925-1975 the rate remained stable (110 people in prison per 100,000) then in the late 1970s the country decided to ‘get tough on crime’ and declared a ‘war on drugs.’ the result of these two movements has been locking up a whole lot of folks for nonviolent crime. “The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks…..In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.” (nytimes)

in america prisons are big business ; according to another piece in the times, I learned that last year the 50 states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. vermont, connecticut, delaware, michigan, and oregon spend as much or more on corrections than they do on higher education. along with characterizing the u.s. as having a thriving military-industrial-complex, we can consider there is another complex in the u.s - a prison-industrial-complex commanding incredible resources. oh yes, isn't capitalism interesting and isn't it interesting what the nation chooses to spend our money on?

the u.s. isn’t an equal opportunity incarcerator - getting locked up in the u.s. depends a good deal on where you live, the color of your skin, and your access to money.

johnny cash singing folsom prison blues @ san quentin

photo: rosie & tsuki inside looking out ~ april 2008


Squirrel said...

Pete Seeger is around Nyack a lot~ this was his boyhood home ( for 4 or 5 boyhood years anyway) and this is where he became interested in environmental causes--he lives upriver now and is largely responsible for really cleaning up the Hudson so we can fish & crab again.

Sing Sing is also just upriver and it is full to capacity--
there are bigger prisons upstate--but NY claims to need more and more prison space.
California has a huge prison system with lots of labor programs-- The Calif. system is growing in a scary way.

I actually thought Snipes had done something wrong besides failing to file-- wow that is harsh!

love the pic.
like my ID pic, aint I handsome?

mzjohansen said...

That is one fabulous photo!

Unknown said...

great Cat shot--cats rule.

Great topic -- a fascinating one

Check out the book Catch me if you Can-- altho it was a good film ( Hanks, Dicaprio) The actual story is much longer and the author goes into details on Prison Systems he has served time in--The Swedish system is very easygoing, while the French jail nearly kills him. Falconer and Stone City are other decent prison stories, although they are novels.

Anonymous said...

I do try to romanticize my plight-- but it's difficult.
Snipes will go to some white collar country club prison with yoga classes and a state of the art fitness center.
meanwhile I paid my taxes but rxsmoked a doobie--and here I am.

dennis said...

Dennis likes the picture very much.

Steve Reed said...

The key to this whole issue is in the last line of your post -- the disparity between those who serve time and those who don't. The number of people sentenced to prison is appalling enough, but the inequality is truly shocking. And it's because the wealthier among us can afford to game the system and get free.

Colette Amelia said...

My you are on fire with this one...yes indeed could it be because so many prisons are privately operated?

What is it going to do to have mr. Snipes in Jail...surely he could just pay the taxes and a fine?

I guess the good thing about having lots of prisons, it takes the burden off having housing for the poor.

Barbara said...

The sad truth is that for many Americans life in prison is a lot better than life outside. The big problem is most offenders don't stop with the first offense: recidivism rates are on the rise.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

squirrel - did you see the documentary on seeger that pbs aired earlier this year. it was fantastic. when we lived in CT we went to one of the clearwater music/environmental festivals - it was so exciting! pete is one of my lifelong 'heros'...

prison crowding is horrendous. seems that we just can't build them fast enough....what's that say?!

I must say you appear quite fetching in your id pic!

z - merci - I enjoyed the movie CMIYC, didn't read the book, nor the others you mentioned...I noticed cheever wrote falconer and from it's description it seems quite interesting - I'll have to check it out. couldn't quickly find info on stone city. cats definitely rule (and dogs drool - but I love those canines anyway)

dws - sorry about your plight. re snipes even if he is sentenced to a so-called 'country club' prison his freedom is taken away from him, not to mention his ability to be with the people that he loves and cares about and that love and care about him.... personally, people who dismiss being incarcerated at a so-called country club prison DON'T HAVE A CLUE....yes it isn't the same as being incarcerated at a place like sing-sing or marion, put it is imprisonment and people are denied basic human rights!

steve - yes, I agree --for me, the last line is the key!

ca - yes, what is the point of putting snipes in jail! excellent question. in the u.s. the system doesn't really fully embrace the notion that there is a duty to house or provide truly decent housing to the poor...

barbara - if it is true that "life in prison is a lot better than life outside" what is that saying about life in these united states?

years ago I spent over a year doing research and leading various classes in a prison - yes, it could be considered one of the so-called 'country club' prisons (of it was a minimum to medium security prison) and I have been blessed (yes I consider it a blessing) to have been able to meet many folks over the years who have served time in other types of facilities (and quite a few from hard core places); I'm sorry no matter how difficult their lives were or how poor they were on the outside, every person I have ever met would have rather been living life outside!

the point is there are serious problems with criminal 'justice' system in this country....but this is symptomatic of other very serious problems - the entrenchment of hegemonic systems of inequality, injustice, racism, etc. the issue of recidivism has a lot to do about not providing real opportunities for people to find ways of making a living and finding meaningful lives and individuals who 'grow up' in families and communities that have been shattered by dysfunction, hate, mental illness, etc.

I have some interesting stories from the time I spent working 'inside' about how inmates were treated and considered as essentially subhumans by the staff who theoretically should have been there to help the inmates 'rehabilitate' -

yes to paraphrase colette I probably am on fire with this issue....sorry.....

WAT said...

Yes, with those high statistical levels of incarceration, I wonder if we'll ever see those sad lonely walls! EEK! I SURE HOPE NOT!

Wow, Wesley Snipes got messed up big time! He'll probably get off on good behavior though. Might be karma, because he is frequently named as the asshole that knocked Halle Berry on the side of her head, and made her go deaf! She has never said who though, but he is the prime suspect.

L.M.Noonan said...

It's very hard to be surprised by any single news item these days, howevere I was surprised to read that particular set of figures. I'd also like to hear mr snipes reasons for not paying his tax? perhaps they are politically motivated...