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Fighting Mass Incarceration and Public Opinion

May 10, 2008


In a country that adheres to a code of individual vengeance, a tendency toward torturing individuals seems a logical progression. Employing extraordinary rendition, among other techniques, the U.S. currently hides up to 27,000 people in secret prisons around the globe doing God-knows-what to them but . . . relax . . . we are assured by moral arbiters like Bush. Dick Cheney and John Yoo that it’s all legal. Why do they get away with this? Because everybody in these secret prisons or in Guantanamo or Bagram AFB or Abu Ghraib are terrorists, that’s why. You know . . . terrorists.

Worse, the average American believes this crap. A drumbeat of propaganda is rhythmically hammered into American brains through mainstream media mantras presented by well-coifed news-readers, embedded in the back pockets of powerful local, statewide, national, and international corporate mouthpieces. The audience swallows this hypnotic swill wholesale, even if they don’t believe it.

Although mass incarceration has become a useful method for social control of millions, particularly poor people with a special emphasis on people of color, one category of inmate has never been interned in U.S. prisons, political prisoners. There are no political terrorists . . . er . . . prisoners in the U.S. Everyone knows this. The U.S. imprisons no one for political acts or beliefs. In China? Sure. Russia? Absolutely. The U.S.? No!

That’s one reason that it’s so difficult to organize support for political prisoners. Americans believe that if you’re in prison — hell, if you’re merely indicted — you’re guilty! Thus, the steps to torture under the Bush regime were greased with the false lubricant of “the rule of law.” Even the more than one hundred exonerations of death row inmates in recent years haven’t awakened the sleeping populace to the large numbers of prisoners who are actually innocent, predatory prosecutors on the prowl for judgeships and political office and the woeful state of defense representation. There’s no opposition to the life-destroying lengths of American prison sentences. Supermax prisons that bury people alive and drive them crazy are research laboratories for the FBI and CIA on how much prisoners can take until complete disintegration. No U.S. citizen bats an eye at any of this gross inhumanity. Imprisonment and social demonization mark inmates for life whether or not they’re released to the “free” world.

The editor of a local liberal monthly who regularly publishes articles by prisoners, including a few pieces I wrote, asked me what I want to do when I get out of prison. I said I want to alert the public to the horrors of the mass incarceration industry. He said, “Why? Nobody cares about prisoners.” I suppose he’s correct.

California, the state with the largest prison population of all fifty states, has roughly 170,000 men and women behind bars. In response to a lawsuit, a federal three-judge panel was appointed to confront the overcrowding with a target reduction of 40,000 inmates in the next four years. Inmates are dying due to the lack of medical care because there are too many prisoners straining the inadequate health services. No state agency, few legislators or any governor of either major political party has the courage to address this catastrophe.

Recently, I heard a radio interview with the economist Dr. Michael Hudson, from the University of Missouri. He discussed the causes of America’s recent economic collapse . . . war, greed, corporate theft . . . and the rather glum prospects for the near future. I told some prisoners about Hudson’s declarations and stated that soon, if not already, California will be incapable of paying for its 33 prisons, numerous youth facilities and fire camps. They said, “Good! They’ll have to let us out!” I thought, “Hmm-mm.” I then told the same info to a much more politically savvy inmate. She said, “Omigod! They’ll lock the gates, stake out the perimeters with sharpshooters. and these places will become (that’s right) — death camps!” But . . . Nobody cares about prisoners. There are no political prisoners in the United States.

Sara Olson
W94197 506-10-04 Low COAT
P.O.Box 1508
Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508 USA

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