Tag Archive: prison
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Prisons, Rape and Survival
Tom Cahill, a former president of Stop Prisoner Rape, was arrested during the Vietnam War for civil disobedience. An ideologically unsympathetic jailer put him in a cell with known sexual predators, telling them he was a child molester, and that if they “took care of him” they’d get extra rations of jello. For the next twenty-four hours Tom was gang-raped. He has never fully recovered from this.
Prisoners are at increased risk of sexual violence if they are gay, transgender, young, small, or mentally ill; also if they have been convicted of nonviolent crimes or if they simply don’t seem street-smart—in other words, if they’re perceived as relatively unable to defend themselves.
But that picture may not be wholly accurate. Even 10 years ago, there were accounts that the hell hole that is prison may be somewhat overstated:
In all my years behind bars, I’ve never seen a murder, a stabbing, or a rape. I believe some prisoners try to brag how tough prison is to make themselves look tough. They romanticize their prison experience by telling their friends and family how brutal prison was and how they had to fight for their lives every day.
…Of course, violence does happen in U.S. penitentiaries, but with over 1.6 million Americans locked up these days, the chance of being one of the few hundred inmates who are killed or seriously injured is slim.
- James D. Anderson, 1997
Despite this somewhat muted view, Anderson agrees that the weak suffer more than the strong and offers prescriptions to cope:
For the most part, even for the wrongly convicted sex offender, if you don’t owe debts from gambling or drugs, and if you stay away from the homosexuals, keep your head down, don’t bother anyone, and don’t act like a wimp and whine about your wrongful conviction, you won’t have to worry about prison violence. There is very little chance that you will be killed or even stabbed. But, if something does happen and you need to defend your good name, be a man and do it. In prison, your good name is all you have. If trouble comes your way in prison, you have to deal with it on the spot. Where are you going to run? You’re in a cage.
His is compelling if somewhat controversial reading.
In all my years in prison, I’ve observed hundreds of prison guards and only a couple could be considered normal. The typical male guard I have encountered is not someone you would consider a winner. He is usually a skinny geek (or is extremely overweight), is undereducated, has no ambition and is sadistic. His idea of success is a monthly state paycheck, a trailer home, a 12-pack of beer, and nightly TV. The typical female prison guard is homosexual, physically unattractive, overweight, and more masculine than most male prison guards. She’s mad at the world for not being born a man and she takes her penis envy out on prisoners.
It’s still there
Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men’s penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.
“I’m tempted to say it’s one huge joke,” Oleko said.
“But when you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it’s become tiny or that they’ve become impotent. To that I tell them, ‘How do you know if you haven’t gone home and tried it’,” he said.
Perhaps they could regain their mojo by joining the Japanese Fertility Festival
The obstacles are real.
I was amazed to read the comments at the end of this thread where a number of people offered the black community a ridiculously simplistic prescription to the problem of massive incarceration of black men: get your act together.
So I’ve been motivated to pull out a relevant quote from a 1998 article in The Atlantic entitled “The Prison-Industrial Complex.”
Sixty to 80 percent of the American inmate population has a history of substance abuse. Meanwhile, the number of drug-treatment slots in American prisons has declined by more than half since 1993. Drug treatment is now available to just one in ten of the inmates who need it. Among those arrested for violent crimes, the proportion who are African-American men has changed little over the past twenty years. Among those arrested for drug crimes, the proportion who are African-American men has tripled. Although the prevalence of illegal drug use among white men is approximately the same as that among black men, black men are five times as likely to be arrested for a drug offense. As a result, about half the inmates in the United States are African-American. One out of every fourteen black men is now in prison or jail.
The truth is that going into poor communities, which are disproportionately black, and sweeping up the drug dealers is pretty easy work for cops. It’s a lot easier than hunting white dealers down in universities and suburbs. And for those charged with possession, it’s not hard to imagine that someone with “a good background” is more likely at getting off with rehab and a second chance than someone whose prospects in life look pretty crap either way.
The drug war has ravaged law enforcement too. In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined. In Baltimore, where we set The Wire, drug arrests have skyrocketed over the past three decades, yet in that same span, arrest rates for murder have gone from 80% and 90% to half that. Lost in an unwinnable drug war, a new generation of law officers is no longer capable of investigating crime properly, having learned only to make court pay by grabbing cheap, meaningless drug arrests off the nearest corner. – The Wire’s War on Drugs
This is a reality that equates to discrimination if one group suffers more than another. The cops don’t need to target black men but if they’re the easist arrests becasue they do their business out in the open, the effect is the same.
It seems that the old “PC” thinking was to acknowledge there were problems. The new “PC” thinking is that minority groups should be empowered by getting them to take responsibility for themselves and to “stop making excuses for them.”
What BS. It’s not either or. Of course people should take responsibility for themselves. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge obstacles which systematically work against certain groups.
What I Learned in Jail Last Night
After taking away my beer, the cute-but-weathered strawberry-blonde lady cop who arrested me put me in a van with two other quality-of-life violators: an old homeless Polish man named Bogden, and a seventeen-year-old black kid named Kevia. Both were arrested for “outstretch”: taking up more than one seat on the subway, or lying down on the seats.
We sat in the van for two hours while officers tried to round up another “body,” as they’re called, for the night’s sweep. “Doin’ a big sweep on quality-of-life offenses,” I heard the baldheaded, babyfaced male cop tell someone on his cellphone. He talked with my arresting officer:
“Billy’s officially ruined the unit. It’s ovah. It’s completely ovah.” He shook his head.
“He’s the only what who really believes in what we do, though,” the lady cop sighed.
In Full: What I Learned in Jail Last Night