Perpetuating Crime, Consolidating Power, 1999
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The Beyond the Book Series PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER THE RACE & CLASS LOGIC OF MASS INCARCERATION AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT An Inside Look at America's Growing Prison Industry TOPICS DISCUSSED • Playing the Race Card In what ways have racism and classism been used by politicians to help shape public policy debates and define the government's priorities? Prison Guard Brutality How prevalent are things like sexual assaults, beatings and racial antagonism in prisons today, and why haven't they been stopped? • HIV Behind Bars What is the condition of health care in prisons, and how does poor treatment there affect people on the outside? Forgotten Slave Labor If prisoners want to work, and administrators say it aids in rehabilitation, then what's the problem with bringing jobs into prisons? • Today's Banned Books Why was your book banned in certain state prisons, and how did you go about fighting that censorship? Prisons are a means of social control, but in more ways than may you think. Arthur Stamoulis, Common a Michigan prisoner that had ordered Courage Press: Hi, and welcome to it from us. The mail room at the another edition of Common Courage prison he was at claimed that the Press's "Beyond the Book" series. My book incited violence. At that point name is Arthur Stamoulis, and today I'll the prisoner appealed that claim be interviewing Paul Wright, one of the through his administrative system of editors of Prison Legal News, speaking appeals and PLN later appealed the to us from a Washington state prison. censorship to the Director of the Today we're going to be talking about Michigan Department of Correcthe issues brought up in the book Paul dons, a fellow named Dan Bolden. put together with Dan Pens and Daniel At every step of the way the censorBurton-Rose, called The Ceiling of ship was upheld. America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry. Paul, thanks for being PLN retained Ann Arbor lawyer Dan Manville to represent us in this long with us. suit to get the book removed from Paul Wright: Thanks for having me, the banned book list. In February Arthur. 1999, Dan filed a class action suit on AS: Most of my questions today will be behalf of Prison Legal News, Common about the issues raised in the book, but I Courage Press and two Michigan do have one first question about the book prisoners, seeking to lift the ban on itself. The Ceiling of America was The Ceiling of America. Apparently banned for a while in Michigan state Michigan prison officials felt that prisons. Could you tell us a little bit they were not going to be able to about the ban—why there was one and prove their case, because approxihow it got lifted? mately five or six weeks after the lawPW: Sure. Basically, Michigan prison suit was filed in federal court in Ann officials claimed that The Ceiling of Arbor, they decided to settle. The . America incited violence and riots settlement of the lawsuit included against staff and as a result, they damages to Prison Legal News and placed the book on a statewide list of Common Courage Press, removing banned books. People may have the book from the statewide banned thought that banned books and book list, and informing Michigan banned book lists were things of the prisoners that the book was no longer past, specifically of Nazi Germany in banned and that they could purchase the 1930s. However, such lists are it from either Common Courage or alive and well today, and unfortu- Prison Legal News. nately, The Ceiling of America made it That's kind of a nutshell version of onto one of those lists in Michigan. the history of the lawsuit. As far as We found out about it when Prison the real reason why the book was • Common Courage Press, 1999 Legal News sent a copy of the book to banned—which for the record doesn't An accompaniment to co-editor Paul Wright's The Ceiling of America from Common Courage Press. 2 PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT advocate violence or rioting, as that people are crediting the prison immigrants that are living high off prison officials claim—I believe this expansion with what is in fact simply the hog, as it were. All of these is part of the overall trend of the last the fallout of having a relatively good notions are pushing a specific political model, which is one of greater five or ten years by prison officials economy at this time. hepolitical repression and a tearing t around the country to restrict AS: Do you think that rehabilitation is a flow of information to prisoners. Thisaway of the social welfare net. major goal of today's prisons? includes in particular any radical cri- PW: No, I would say that as both a So, that said, as far as actual prison tiques of the criminal justice system, h tend ten to vary across con ditions , tthey where people question the state of practical and a political matter, rehaaffairs that leads to one out of every bilitation has pretty much completely the United States, but for the most 150 Americans being locked up dropped off the radar screen of the part, American prisons are violent, purpose of prisons. I would say the brutal, dehumanizing and overcrowdbehind bars. purpose of prisons today is virtually ed pits of misery. I don't want to be AS: The traditional argument in favor entirely that of punishment and overly melodramatic or anything, but of locking people up, in favor of more human warehousing. that's pretty much the daily routine prisons, longer sentences and harsher of American prisons. Some of the conditions, is that prisons act as deter- AS: There's a strong feeling throughout stuff we describe in the book gives rents which help reduce crime. In fact, people an inside look of what's going after the explosion in the number of prison in prisons. We aren't speaking of Anti-prisoner attitudes sensationalist oners in the past ten or fifteen years or examples to traumatize so, it seems as if today crime rates may aren't the result of any people with or anything. We lay out actually be beginning to drop. What crias a matter of fact what a daily reality natural thinking tique do you have of the deterrence arguis. ment that we so often hear? process. They come For one thing, medical care is virtualPW: The deterrence argument doesly nonexistent. Prisoners die from about from years of n't really have much of an effect, what in every other circumstance bombardment about would be treatable illnesses. There is because as a practical matter most people who commit crimes don't what to think by the racism of the most virulent type, that think they're going to get caught. If infects the criminal justice system at mainstream media. they don't think they're going to get every step of the way, and we have caught, the punishment is immaterinumerous cases of prison guards and al, and for a certain number of peo- much of America that prisoners get what employees being members of racist ple, especially those who commit, say, they deserve. I think that a lot of people hate groups and openly acting on for example, crimes of passion or for who say stuff like, "Lock 'em up and their beliefs. We have the exploitathose who are mentally ill—and the throw away the key," have very little don of prisoner labor, where prisoners mentally ill make up anywhere concept of what prison is really like. are forced to work for little or no pay between fifteen and twenty-five per- Could you describe what daily prison life and even private businesses are cent of the number of people in is like and how that translates over a exploiting the labor of prisoners. And prison today—deterrence just isn't a period of years? we point out the fact that, as far as factor. It's just not something people PW: Yes. One thing I'd like to say the American Constitution goes, are thinking about or are concerned though as far as the attitude that prisoners today are literally slaves of about. many people have that you describe the state. Slavery wasn't abolished, it And as far as'why crime rates are is, the reason that they think this was just limited to prisoners. dropping, I believe that has more to isn't because of a natural conse- These are pretty much the daily realido with the improved economic situ- quence of their thinking process. ty of American prison life. And as far ation. Numerous studies have shown Rather it is the carefully inculcated as impact over the years, I think that there's a direct linkage between crime notion that comes after years of borncommon sense would say that it's a rate and the economic situation. The bardment about what to think by the • bit much to expect to subject people better the economy is doing, the less media. Many people think that to this type of conditions for years on crime there is. One famous study prison is a country club. This is one end and then have anything positive shows that for every percentage point of the right-wing myths that's been to come out of the experience. It usurise in the unemployment rate, a year propagate d , right up there th with tthat h later it would lead to a five percent of the welfare queen and illegal ally doesn't happen. AS: You talked a little bit about the rise in the homicide rate. So I think COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT 3 media and right-wing people, maybe As I said, one of the problems that obvious and open forms of racism by even mainstream people, trying to push we have is that prisoners are largely American politicians. Pretty much, a certain view of prisons on the serving as propaganda models to racism is something that permeates American public at large. Your book divert questions and attention away all levels of the criminal justice sysclaims that with the fall of communism, from the failing of the American tern, as it is employed especially the U.S. government and corporate social system. People aren't asking against poor people of color. You see media have largely abandoned what the why the United States doesn't have a its manifestation in obvious and notbook calls "the Soviet boogeyman" and public housing policy, because, of so-obvious ways. have embraced the boogeyman called course, we do—it's just called prison. is, crime. Could you please explain what They're building public housing. One of the most obvious of them of course,, federal mandatory minio purpose a "boogeyman" serves and why Prison cells are built for poor populadons, This translates into almost mum sentencing drug laws, in which they're needed? crack cocaine is much more harshly every area of public policy. PW: We see this as embodying the punished than possession of similar fact that the ruling class in t he AS: Do you think that politicians and amounts of powdered cocaine. United States has largely succeeded the media have used racism and classism Perhaps not coincidentally, poor in ensuring that poor and working to convince people to be more concerned black people tend to be arrested at a class people view the other poor and working class people as the biggest threat to their existence, and this can be applied at different levels. When politicians talk about criminals, it's basically understood that they're talking about poor black people. lot higher rate of possessing and using crack cocaine than white people, so the result is this burden of the enormous mandatory sentences which, we're talking about ten years in federal prison for possessing five grams of crack cocaine, falls largely on minority populations. As I mentioned earlier, working people and poor people are made to resent people on welfare and poor immigrant workers, and this also includes the criminal defendant and Seeing how this translates into reality prisoners. And what this does is, is just a matter of looking at the numrather than leading people to quesbers. In a large number of state prison tion why it is that they don't have systems, such as Illinois, Virginia and health care as a matter of right, why other states, eighty percent of the it is that public schools are woefully prison system consists of blacks, for inadequate, why they don't have jobs with crime than things with like educa- example. Black men constitute paying a living wage, their attention tion or health care, which you men- approximately six percent of the popis focused on the myth of the country boned? ulation of the United States, but they club prisoner, for example. Yes. This goes back to Richard make up approximately fifty percent PW: PW And this also goes to the Nixon's social roles,of 1968 campaign the wheremore I think than 3,000 prisoners on his advisors, either death row in America. So, obviously, too, that prisons play as ait tool was one o ofoof social control. Prisons aren't just Ehrlichman or Haldeman, who said something is at work here. I'm not a meant to control the one person out that the key to winning the 1968 statistics expert, but I think it's pretty of every hundred and fifty who's inobvious election was to talk about racethat while statistically it's unlikely here. The example of the prisoner is not appearing to do so. And one of that this is a random occurrence. meant to control the other hundred the code words that entered the AS: Do you think that the prison system and fifty who aren't in prison and let political lexicon is that when politi- would change dramatically if a large them know that, yes, this could hap - cians are talking about criminals, percentage of white, suburban people pen to you. One of the ways to ensure basically it's widely understood that were in prison—if people involved with that this is an effective example is to they're talking about poor black peocorporate crimes were prosecuted, for make sure that the conditions of pris- pie, just as it comes down to when oners are always worse than the worst they talk about welfare, it's largely conditions on the outside. And so we assumed they're talking about black have kind of a symbiotic effect here people. where, as conditions for poor people And this is a case where the more on the, e outside worsen, so, too, do le, coded subtle, de d rac ism oof tthe last few conditions for prisoners on the inside decaes d has replacedd earlier, more worsen even further. l COMMON COURAGE PRESS • example? PW: Yes, but that goes to the crux of the matter of how prisons are used as tools for social control, and that type of thought that rich people don't commit crimes. They do commit crimes, even violent crimes, but the 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM 4 PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT should say, returned to prison for fact is that as a general matter, these and possession. people do not come toIt's prison. Atparole violations, it's important to interesting that the same media every step of the way, crimes commit- forces that demonize drug use by poor understand that the vast majority, ted by the wealthy and by corpora- people are willing to forgive Bush. somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty percent, of all parole violations are met with either decriminal- They usually usua focus f th that on the f th fact ization, lax or non-enforcement of possessing and using cocaine is a tions are what are called technical the laws that exist or the diversion of felony punishable under the federal violations. In other words, the person these violations into the civil justice laws of this nation and under the hasn't committed any new crimes or system or the administrative justice laws of the state of Texas, but if criminal acts. system where they just aren't treated George Bush did it when he was Instead, they're being returned to as criminal matters at all. younger, so what? It's done with a prison for violating the terms of And that's one of the things that wink and a nudge, and gets termed a their parole, and this could include basically middle-class people would- "youthful indiscretion." In the mean- everything from getting married n't stand for—this type of aggressive time, thousands upon tens of thou without their parole officer's permislaw enforcement or criminal penal- sands of prisoners languish in state sion, to moving to a different county ties and sanctions. This is seen in the prisons, over which he has control, or address without notifying their fact that about thirty years ago mart parole officer, to being in possession juana use was largely punished by of a beer and all kinds of other prison and jail sentences, but as madthings that would essentially be nonAt any given time, juana use by the middle class crimes or at most trivial offenses. approximately two increased, penalties and punishments Still in some states like California, a for it decreased. There's a clear correthird of new prison admissions every million people are lation there in terms of the crimes year in that state are parole violaimprisoned, but that are committed by the wealthy tors. Most of them are just technical and middle class resulting in less punparole violators. another five to seven ishment while those committed by million are on parole AS: Prison officials often claim that conthe poorer class result in harsher puntrol units and control unit prisons are ishment. and probation. necessary to help crack down on violence AS: The alleged cocaine use of Texas within prisons. Is this the case, and if governor George W. Bush has been get- not, why are control units so popular ling a lot of press recently. And, while for similar youthful indiscretions. among prison administrators? there are a lot of editorials speaking out Those cases still get termed serious against the so-called "politics of personal felonies, and no mercy is to be PW: One of the most frequently ,, destruction, very few are focusing on shown. I think that's the hypocrisy cited lies by prison officials is that what media critic Norman Solomon calls that's been largely ignored by the cor- control units house what they call the worst of the worst. And yet, the "politics of prison construction." porate media. when you ask them, "OK, who are How do you feel about all this? AS: Many politicians are arguing that the worst of the worst?", they then PW: Well, the most obvious thing high rates of recidivism are evidence that have a hard presentina time t, concrete here is, as I mentioned earlier, that prison life is getting too easy. What's examples of who exactly is in the the enforcement of criminal laws is your take on parole violations, repeat control unit. While it sounds ood gt, largely a matter of class in this coun- offenses and stuff like that? for them to say that control units are try. George Bush, Jr. currently as governor of Texas presides over the sec - PW: At any given time, approxi- used to house prisoners who have ond-largest prison system in the mately two million people are impris- attempted to escape, who prey on oned and jailed, but another five to other prisoners, who assault prisoners United States. Texas has approxiseven million are on parole and pro- and staff, the reality is that that isn't mately 140,000 prisoners, and I think ma it one of bation. That means they're still under who is in control units. on a global scal e this makes the third- or fourth-largest prison sys- state supervision and are literally on a At any given time, approximately six jai at percent of the nation's almost two tems in the world, not just in the short leash back to prison orjail the whim or discretion of their parole million prisoners are being held in United States. No question is being given to the fact that, of those many officer or probation agent. While segregation and control units. They thousands of Texas prisoners, many of there has been an increase in the are kept in these units for long perithose are in prison for cocaine use number of prisoners, or parolees, I ods of time, where, it's important to COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • www.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT 5 emphasize, they are deprived of all Legal News, you're very involved in ruling, Lewis v. Casey, did was to human contact and sensory stimula- this question. What sort of access do largely reverse the first ruling and say, prisoners have to legal redress and the "Well, prisons don't really have to tion. legal system and information about how provide lawyers or law libraries, just th typifies a conO o the th things that One of some means of getting into court, and the law could work in their favor? trol unit is that the criteria for being the this includes having someone help , placed in one isvery ve vague. Typically, PW: Yeah, well, that's one of m most prisoners are placed in control problems. Prisoners' rights of access you fill out the question-and-answer s units not for violating any prison dis- to the courts is in pretty bad shape form. That fine. ciplinary rules, although in some and getting a lot worse. Prisoners The result is that we've already seen cases they're sent there straight from have never had that much access to a number of states limiting those court. The purpose of control units is either information or to an ability to prison law libraries that had provided largely to control agitators and dissi- seek redress in the court, but it's corn- prisoners with court access. Based on dents within the prison system, as it pounded by the fact that, starting off this, Arizona and Idaho are in the were. The people who frequently with the get-go, anywhere from sixty process of doing it, California is populate these control units happen to eighty percent of the prison popu- attempting to do it, and a few other to be jailhouse lawyers and organizers lation is illiterate or functionally illit- states are going for it. And this has and prisoners who were respected by been compounded by the fact that in other prisoners and have potential 1996, Congress enacted the Prison leadership roles within the prison Litigation Reform Act, which, in population. addition to making it more difficult to get relief in court, had the more AS: What are jailhouse lawyers, and Prisoners' rights of profound impact of severely limiting how exactly do they play into this quesaccess to the courts is the fees that attorneys who take on tion? and win prisoner civil rights cases can PW: Jailhouse lawyers are prisoners,i n pretty bad shape and get paid. What that's done is made it usually self-taught, who know how to virtually impossible for the small, sole g isetting a lot worse. file briefs and ,pleadings in the court practitioners who have typically done system, either challenging their crim prison litigation to take these cases final convictions or their conditions on without going into bankruptcy. So of confinement. Jailhouse lawyers the result is, very few lawyers are now usually aid other prisoners in filing taking on the run-of-the-mill prison materials in court. erate, and then of the prison popula- cases that they used to, even though tion that is literate, many of those even then it was difficult to get couno how h e play IIn terms of they th pl into the th lack the ability or inclination to be sel to take cases. system, typically jailhouse lawyers are able to file materials on their own This resented by prison officials because Tens has been even further cornbehalf in court. most prison officials tend to see any pounded by the fact that also in type of challenge to conditions of One of the things that has happened 1996 Congress passed restrictive confinement as something that is that there's been dealt a kind of a funding on the Legal Services directly challenges their authority. one-two punch by the court and by Corporation. The Legal Services This also goes into the fact that, for Congress in terms of the ability to Corporation is a nonprofit group the most part, there is no account- find lawyers or any other means of founded by Congress for the purpose ability in the American prison sys- getting into court. First off, the of providing legal services for lowtem. Activities by prison officials, Supreme Court issued a ruling in income people. And among the even if they violate state or federal 1996 called Lewis v. Casey, and what restrictions that Congress put on the laws, are extremely rarely prosecuted this did is, it made it virtually impose Legal Services Corporation is that in the court system, and only occa- Bible for prisoners to challenge sys- they can't provide funding to any sionally is liabili ty found in t he civil temic denial of court access. Another groups that represent prisoners. In justice system. And to the extent Supreme Court decision twenty years other words, if the group represents that civil liability does occur, more ago called Bounds v. Smith established a single prisoner, they lose all their often than not it's been as a result of the principle that prison officials had federal funding. So pretty much the activities by jailhouse lawyers. Hence to provide prisoners with either a law combination of actions by the the resentment. library or attorneys to assure their Supreme Court and Congress has Prison court access rights. What the second basically assured that what was an AS: Obviously, as an editor of i COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT 6 already bad situation is only getting virus and not even know it, and as a that people don't think about. consequence they don't even seek AS: I want to talk a little bit about the worse. treatment. AS: I was hoping you could talk a little section of the book about work in prison. bit more about health care in prison, and Then the problem for those prisoners The argument in favor of bringing in especially about the condition of prison- who are eventually diagnosed with jobs is that they help prepare people for HIV is compounded by the fact that life outside through training, rehabilitaers who are HIV+. once they've begun receiving treat- tion and so forth. You also mention in PW: One of the chapters we have in met, specifically the protease the book that a lot of prisoners really The Gelling of America is called merit, inhibitor treatment, they require a want to take these jobs. The book says "Dying for Attention,"" and what that that many are on waiting lists for up to a does is lay out as rather typical of the strict schedule of taking the prescribed medication and any interrup- year just to get this type of work. So situation prisoner health care in the tion to the schedule or delays in what problems do you see with bringing state of Washington. The state of receiving those medications every jobs into prisons? ' really Washingtons ' health care isn't day results in the virus developing PW: Well, the biggest problem is any better or worse than in prisons immunity and drug resistance to the that prisoners are literally slaves of elsewhere in the country, but rather, treatment. Frequently this is one of the state, and that as prisoners, we this is the typical norm, and the typiaren't being adequately compensated cal norm on this issue is pretty bad. for our labor. In other words, I don't In general, prisoners receive very subhave a problem if prisoners are paid standard health care. at least a minimum wage and get to Many of the doctors who provide Prison labor- is keep the minimum wage. No problem the care have had their licenses susessentially creating there. The problem arises when prispended or are otherwise unlicensed d pen or have been disciplined for every- a Third World labor oners are paid literally pennies an hour to do the work, or on paper thing from raping their patients in they're paid the minimum wage to model right in the teir civ h civilian practices to gross perform labor and then the state incompetence and neglect in the heart of America. comes around and takes eighty or treatment of their patients. That's a ninety percent of it back under varicommon thing. So unfortunate ly , ous guises. That's where the problem doctors who can't ' practice anywhere lies. else find employers in prison systems around the country that are eager to the problems that even prisoners who One of the things that I see prison hire them. Not surprisingly, this are getting protease inhibitors in labor doing is essentially creating a translates into abuses and neglect prison face. Due to mismanagement Third World labor model right in the and malpractice occurring behind and incompetence by the, prison heart of,Atnerica. One of the canards prison walls, but this time prisoners medical staff, they aren't getting the here is that proponents of prison are the victims. So that's a pretty medications in a timely manner, with slave labor claim it prepares prisoners the result that they do develop drug- for jobs after release and so forth, but dismal situation. As far as prisoners with HIV, they resistant strains or treatment-resis- there's a lot of problems with that. For one thing, many of the prisoners tant strains of the HIV virus. wi a the ssame face all a pro bl e ms with that are employed in these jobs are their medical care as as other prisoners One of the reasons people on the on life without parole. They're never do. The only difference is that HIV, outside should be concerned about getting out of prison, so what's the if not properly treated and managed, this is that most prisoners, including point of developing job skills without can be fatal a lot quicker in prison those with HIV, are eventually fair wages there? Secondly, virtually than it is outside prison. The prob- released back into the community. So all the jobs that are being done in lems are a lot more serious with this what we have is prisons actually actprison are low-wage, labor-intensive disease. One thing that is typical is ing as kind of an incubator for danjobs which are basically only being prisoners with HIV in prison are fre- gerous new diseases and illnesses. ' quently diagnosed only within a And this is nothing new. In fact, that done in prison or overseas. So you ve matter of months before they die. was the role that prisons played back got essentially sweatshops in American prisons competing with And that's because very few prisons in the eighteenth, nineteenth and have mandatory testing. So prison- earlier part of this century. So it's sweatshops in Central America and ers may be affected with the HIV kind of a historic role, but it's one South Asia. _ COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT 7 One of the typical examples is gar- due to prison overcrowding, there that's happening in prison. ment-making. That's one of the aren't a lot of jobs available in the Its not that prison slave labor is so things that has caught on in first place. Secondly, of the jobs that great, and the slaves are clamoring to American prisons. Yet the most obvi- are available, in some states they pay be exploited. It's just that the availous question is, How many prisoners nothing, in other states they pay able choices, either total unemployare going to get out of prison and get minuscule wages. ment or jobs that pay substantially a job as a garment-maker and are I'll give you an example. Here in less, are so unattractive. So that's going to be able to support them- Washington, prisoners who work for kind of, I think, why the slave jobs selves and their families making gar the state in for example the prison are so popular. ments on the outside? You know, it's laundry, the prison kitchen or as janijust not happening. That's one of the tors, we earn $0.42 an hour. Prisoners AS: One of Dan Pen's chapters about prison labor makes reference to the Coal problems. who work for private businesses,, on Rebellion of 1891 . Could you The other problem, which people on the other hand, can earn anywhere Creek briefly explain what that historical event the outside should be concerned between $5 and $6 an hour. Of was all about and what hopes there is for about, is that prison slave labor does course, those prisoners will see up to something like that to happen again put downward pressure on wages and eighty percent of their wages deduct- today, not so much in a physical sense, jobs outside of prison. What happens but more in its spirit of solidarity ? is, every job that comes to the prison PW: Well, historically prison slave has essentially been taken from the labor has been kind of in the crux of free-world community. It comes American history. The nation was F down tothe te point orom of businesses. b In most states, private literally founded on penal servitude, a business perspective, why should businesses renting which later spun off into chattel business owners pay a worker on the slavery. So one of the things that outside, say ten dollars an hour, when out prison labor is the happened after the Civil War was they can pay a prisoner fifty cents an ep itom e of we welfa re that the Thirteenth Amendment hour for the same work and on top of was enacted. What the Thirteenth that not have to offer any type of capitalism. Amendment did was ban slavery, benefits, not have to pay unemployexcept when the person had been ment compensation, not have to pay convicted of a crime. So this led to worker's benefit insurance, not have essentially the creation of a new to offer medical or health insurance or even offer vacations or sick days ed from their take-home pay, and it slave class. Many of them had off? may only be $1 or $1.50 an hour. But recently been black slaves and just the net result is that the choice pris- were imprisoned and enslaved One of the other advantages is in oners have is between the job that again. th most states , businesses — this is the pays a take-home salary of, say, $1.50 The dominant form of prison in the epitome of welfare capitalism—busian hour versus tthe jo b that pays a late nineteenth century and the early nesses are getting free rent, they're h take-home kesa salary off $0.42 $0. an hour. part of this century was what was getting industrial space for free. They And in this sense, this is what I mean called the convict leasing system. aren'tt paying utilities. A lot of their when I say the state has created a sort Under this system, prisons literally auxiliary costs are being picked up by r World labor bor mo de l in the leased their prisoners out to private Third the state. So the only people who are United d Sta States. benefitting from this are the business businesses, who could then exploit owners. I don't believe that the pub- It's like the maquiladoras that you can the labor of prisoners, usually under lic in the form of the taxpayer is ben- go to, these sweatshops in Mexico or very harsh, brutal conditions, for efitting in terms of receiving any tan- South America where you have ten- their own profit-making purposes. gible benefits, and I don't believe the year-old girls working on sewing In Tennessee, the form this took was prisoners are benefitting from this machines. They're being paid $5 a that prisoners were used for both coal arrangement, either. However, it does day, and all the girls are very happy mining as well as to quarry granite remain popular with most prisoners. to be there and they think that $5 a and stone. Miners in Tennessee day is great. Why is it great? Because became pretty upset over this AS: Why is that? the alternative is not having a job at because, as I mentioned earlier, they PW: This goes back to the Third all or having a job that pays, say, $1 a used the prison slave labor to exert World labor model. Inside prisons, day. And that's the exact same thing downward pressure on the wages of COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM 8 PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT free people. That's exactly what was to the military industrial complex of just the criminal justice issues that are affected by this. happening there. So the miners, in a the United States. fit of outrage, burned down the One of the things that seems to mark AS: It seems to me that the only prisonprison stockade and freed the prison the liberal left in this country is the ers we on the left often hear about are ers. And I think they did it twice, in willingness to support political pris- Mumia Abu-Jamal and perhaps Leonard fact; they didn't just do it once. They oners in other countries, yet not to Peltier. What do you think people on the did it twice in the space of two years support political prisoners in this outside should be doing to help prisoners in the 1890s. country. The result is that while in general and then, sort of dividing that. I think that back then there was a lot South Africa's apartheid regime has question, what do you think about the more awareness and solidarity among fallen and all the political prisoners notion that political prisoners deserve organized labor than there is now. In held by the apartheid regime for try- more support? terms of something like the Coal ing to destroy it have been released, PW: I'll answer that in stages. As far Creek Rebellion happening now, I in this country Ray Luc Lavasseur as what can be done to help prisonthink that it's unlikely largely and his co-defendants Tom Manning, ers, I don't look at it like that. I see because organized labor in this coup- Jaan Laaman and Richard Williams that as kind of a social worker-type try is pretty much AWOL from the are still in prison and languishing question. That's kind of like being in class struggle business, which is why Germany in 1943 and saying, "Well, it is faced with declining membership what can we do to make life nicer for and a diminished political influence. prisoners in Auschwitz?" I think Why does the United So while we're seeing an increase in that's kind of asking the wrong questhe number of businesses employing States lock up one out tion. prison slave labor—and there's curof every one hundred I think we need to get down to the rently legislation pending in roots of the matter, which is, Why Congress which would dramatically fifty of its citizens? does the United States have a policy increase the exploitation of prisoner That is way out of of incarceration where one out of slave labor by private businesses— organized labor doesn't seem to show whack with the rest of every hundred and fifty citizens is locked up? The United States is far much inclination to get involved on the world. out of whack with the rest of the this issue in any meaningful sense. wor in terms of both the huge numworld AS: Raymond Luc Lavasseur has a cou- ber of people it incarcerates, as well ple of chapters in your book which talk there with no hope of release in the as the length of time it incarcerates about how prisoners have been met with foreseeable future for their similar them. That's something that needs to of in difference an and even hostility by most actions against the apartheid regime. be exposed and dealt with. Until it is, lleft. e ta first f Could lib C ou you talk the liberal This has been met largely with I think everything else is largely irrelwho is because, I R Lavasseur aabout b w h Ray silence and indifference by the liberal evant. That's like saying the prison hi even d b left in the United States. That's at camps in Auschwitz have a really name, and then discuss whether or not great band. That may be so, but it the political prisoner level. e ' right? you think hhe's ignores the underlying policy issues. PW: I think Ray knows what he's As far as the liberal and the left response to. the issue of crime, this is I think that's the key question—the talking about, because for one thing, an issue that has been largely domi- fact that the United States has he is a political prisoner. The United nated and shaped by the right-wing embarked on what criminologist approximate ly States currently holds 150 to 200 political prisoners. And ideologues and the corporate media, Elliott Curry called "the most thorpretty much. A left response to the oughly implemented social experiby political prisoners, I mean people issue of crime has been largely absent. ment in its history," which is mass who are in prison because of their But then, I think this is also a thing incarceration. That's what needs to acts against the Unite d States corpofound in all sectors of public policy. be dealt with. So on the one hand I rate and military industrial complex. Radical critiques of criminal justice think that's the main thing, and peomemb of the Ray was a member th U nite d policy are sorely lacking, but then so pie can probably deal with that. Freedom Front, which was a group are radical critiques of economic That's the most important thing. At e that bbetween the 1970 s and an mid- organization, health care provision, a smaller level part of the problem is 1980s carried out a series of bombings schooling and other issues. Those are that prison officials aren't accountand other attacks on everything from also sorely lacking, too. So it's not able to pretty much anyone with the apartheid eid regime of South Africa COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT 9 regards to what happens in prison. individual prisoner, in both Leonard ware and systems, have just been But then, the bigger question there is Peltier's case and Mumia's case, switched over for prison and policing. again that prisons function largely as which puts them in kind of a differ- We see this in everything from body they are meant to, so admistrator ent category, I think, than political armor to, as the Pentagon loves to accountability remains, as I say, a prisoners such as Ray Lavasseur, who call it, "less-than-lethal weaponry." were members of the United Freedom This is everything from pepper spray smaller issue. Front or prisoners like Albert to shock batons to incapacitating As far as the whole issue of political Washington or Sundiata Acoli, who foam and similar stuff. prisoners, I think a large part of the were members of the Black I think it's also a matter of simp le reason that people in this country are Liberation Army. They're kind of in a uncomfortable about suppo supporting different category. And it seems that economics that the companies that were drinking at the military induspolitical prisoners in the United as far as the American left is con States as opposed to, say, in Central cerned, they'd just as soon ignore the trial complex trough are also the p America or elsewhere—I mean,, it other political prisoners and ensure com anies that are best situated due to their large size and the product almost seems a given that the farther that they pretty much remain buried away a political prisoner is the more in the concrete tomb known as the lines they already have to make the switchover into civilian law enforcelikely he is to get support from ment needs, whether it's prisons or Americans—and I think that comes police and jails. That's at the one down to having to confront hard level in terms of the hardware and issues of dealing with the politics of The Wall Street resistance. Most of the political pris-stuff like that. financial firms that oners in the United States today Less commonly seen is the fact that were activists and still are activists the Wall Street financial firms that bankrolled the who actively opposed imperialism, bankrolled the Cold War are also Cold War are now who actively imposed the colonizanow bankrolling the building of the tion of Puerto Rico and the oppresAmerican prisons. These are the ones also bankrolling sion of black people in this country. that issue the bonds that make pristhe building of Many of them were members of ons. They are also the ones that are armed groups which actively resisted funding the private prison industry American prisons. the racist and imperialist policies of and providing the capital for that. So it's pretty much the same old players the United States government. And I from the Cold War business era. just think it gets down to the basic American prison system. They're just revamped and just doing point that most Americans are AS: The introduction to the Ceiling business in the prison system, too. uncomfortable dealing with the fact section on prison profiteering makes the that there are people who have gone claim that many of the companies AS: The one problem with private prisbeyondd marching marc around in circ l es involved with the prison industrial com- ons that seems to have gotten at least with signs protesting the policies. plex are all old players from the military some media attention in the last year or They actually took steps beyond that industrial complex. Could you explain a so has been the high number of escapes in the form of bombings or bank rob little bit about the connections between from private prisons. beries, stuff like that, to protest busi- the two? PW: Yes, that's one that's pretty ness as usual and change things for One of the things that's hapmuch the only thing that really seems PW: the better that way. pened is that as the Cold War wound to concern the corporate media and It's interesting you mentioned that it down, it wasn't just the propaganda politicians. seems that the only prisoners, the machine that needed a makeover and What are some of the other probonly political prisoners, getAS: 7 a shift to a new who enemy. This also hap- terns with privatized prisons that people political support in the United States pened in the corporate military sector should know about? are Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu- as the American military limited its Jamal. It is perhaps no coincidence g rowth and funding. The U.S. gov- PW: Pretty much the problems with 0 that these are prisoners who claim ernment has actually spent a billion privatized prisons are the problems they are innocent of the charges they dollars in, as they call it, "civilianiz- with prisons in general. They've been were convicted of They don't claim ing" military weapons. So what's hap- characterized by mismanagement, responsibility for those actions. And pened is that, what was previously a corruption, brutality and high levels in both cases, these were or would lot of military equipment and hard- of violence. That's not to say that the have been acts of self-defense by the state prisons are any better or any difCOMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM 10 PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT ferent. The difference is that when it better. Rehabilitation in this country the common thread here? So anyway happens in a state- or government- at best was paid a little bit of lip ser- on the one hand you have that. run prison, no one makes any profit vice in the 1970s, but it's never really As far as something like sexual off of it, whereas in private prisons taken off or been given any serious assault, that's very common, especialthe company that owns the prison financial and political commitment. I sexual assault on women prisoners has a financial incentive to cut cor- And the state bureaucracies also have Y by staff. It's probably not much of an ners and ensure that, well, they have a vested interest in ensuring that an incentive to cut corners. I won't there's a high prisoner recidivism rate exaggeration to say that it seems a lmost as if prison employees see havsay they have an incentive that because, again, for them, more pristhings don't run smoothly. They do oners translates into more perks and ing sex with female prisoners as part of their job description; it's that wideewant things to run smoothly. But this bigger bureaucratic kingdom. spread. This is despite litigation and they have a financial incentive to cut AS: The Ceiling of America states corners and in turn that leads to a that "active racism, brutality, corruption token attempts at reform and so on, greater likelihood that mayhem in and other criminal misbehaviors are an an ongoing problem. the form of escapes will occur, which integral part of any prison system." Then the other problem is sexual seems to be the big concern for the How prevalent are things like sexual assault of prisoners by other prisoners. non-prison community. And of And that's also a big problem, especourse there is the stuff that concerns cially in maximum security prisons the prison community, which and one that pretty much no one's includes inadequate medical care and even trying to address. I'm also a inadequate safety and security within board member of a group called Stop the prison perimeters and stuff like California prison Prisoner Rape, and one of the agenthat. The corner-cutting makes that that they have is namely halting officials in particular das almost a certainty. the practice. There just isn't a lot of play the race card like attention paid to it. AS: Your book seemed to make the argument that private prisons even have a financial incentive to stop rehabilita- Lion in order to make sure that people stay imprisoned. Do you think that's a finely tuned violin. COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM And this comes back to the common thread of, OK, what role does racism and what role does sexual assault play in the prison system? I would say that true? it plays an integral role. One of the PW: To an extent it is in the sense assaults, beatings and racial antagonism things that you've got is, if you've got oresthat prisoners are seen as a commodi - in prisons today, and what sort of pur- a. system of institutionalized pp sion and one in which the niceties of ty and as a commodity the private poses do they serve for prison officials? the bourgeois state have been corn prison a financia l incentive — ell, as to how common it all pletely dispensed with, where brute, has , to use an analogy, com- PW: Well, well, I guess, l is, it's fairly common. In The Ceiling naked force is what rules, there's very hote parethe e private prison to a hotel. of we givee several examples little in the way of velvet lining to A o o America h the incenti ve of Th hotel The h owner has of organized racism by prison staff. this iron fist, and that's one of the seeing that every room is filled as freprison owner. The private prison And by that, I'm not talking about things that prisoners have to deal quently as possible. So, too, the priArchie Bunker-type couch bigots. with on a daily basis. So racism serves vate This is a ' case where we're talking to divide the prisoners. owner wants to see that every bed in his prison is filled. One way to do about members of the Ku Klux Klan, And there's further conditions. For similar that, especially if you have a declin- the America n Nazi Party aand simi people are example, I would say California extremist groups. These ing intake rate of new prisoners, is actively employed in prison systems prison officials in particular play the ensure that your old customers come across s the country. In the book as race card like a finely tuned violin. back. The customers in this case California prisoners are divided into P iv well wg e as in our ma azine we ggive being prisoners, and the repeat being numerous examples from around the different ethnic groups, everything the recidivism rate. So that's where country where racist prison employ- from Hispanics to blacks and whites they have a financial incentive. ees are acting out on their beliefs. It's and Native Americans and Asians, But I don't entirely put the fault not of• isolated to one state or one area. and then, within each racial group this with private prisons, because, It's t s literally across the country. You they're further divided even more, again, it's not like the state- and gov- have to ask yourself, you know, what's where, for example among Hispanic ernment-run prisons are doing any prisoners, there's divisions between PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT northern California Mexican prisoners, southern California Mexican prisoners and Mexican prisoners actually from Mexico. And while everyone's squabbling among themselves, prison officials have largely free rein. The racist cast and the racist practices of the administration divide prisoners and allow prison officials to have their way with us. Another use of sexual assault that's pretty much a tool of literally terrorism, and that's one of the things, too. The American left in this country is quick to denounce it as such when it's used in Serbia or Bosnia, but when it's happening in American prisons, and they could have a bigger impact on things if they wanted to, it is met with silence. Sexual assault comes in, as a tool used in keeping prisoners compliant and submissive to the established order of things. AS: In April 1999, an appeals court ruled that a prison guard, Edward Nazis—and I don't use the term loosely, I'm talking about card-carrying members of the National Socialist White People's Party that are recruiting other members, other prison employees, to their group. They're more intent on keeping them employed than they are about doing anything else. Their response is to attempt to censor the publication that exposes their hiring and employment practices without changing their hiring practices. So I think it gets to the point where you can give prison officials the benefit of the doubt and say, "Well, you know, The racist practices of the administration divide prisoners and allow prison officials to have their way with us. Kuhnel, couldn't be fired from his job just because he flew a Nazi flag from his home. It would seem to a lot of people on the outside that, even if allowed to keep his job, a person like that would be ostracized by other prison officials and so forth. Do you think that's the case? • • maybe it's just a few bad apples," but then when it gets to the point where you see it at a systemic and institutional level across the countryPW: No, it's not the case. In fact, Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members people like that thrive in a prison and other assorted racists and white environment. The May 1999 issue of supremacists are on the payroll and Prison Legal News had an extensive doing very well—then you have to exposé on the number of Washington start to question, well, maybe this is " prison guards that are currently more than just benign indifference. I employed and are members of the Ku think that's the case. Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups. And AS: There's a large section towards the despite having a proven track record end of your book about things prisoners of threatening and harassing not just are doing to improve their conditions. the prisoners, but other staff members Your book claims that most prisoner who are minorities, not only do they demands before things like strikes and keep their employment, they seem to even rebellions tend to be very reasondo very well in the DOC. able: But if this is the case, why aren't The Washington Department ppriso of n officials simply meeting prisoners' requests? Corrections response to this issue of Prison Legal News was to censor the PW: As far as why the reasonable magazine. It seems that they're more demands of prisoners aren't met by intent on continuing to employ COMMON COURAGE PRESS • 1-800-497-3207 • 11 prison officials, I think this comes down to a few simple facts, as I mentioned earlier, that prisons are largely ruled by brute, naked force, without much regard to anything else. The crux of the problem is that I think most prison officials, not all of them but probably a majority, simply don't see prisoners as even being human. They see us as largely subhuman and little better than animals. And if you get to that point, why should you give a beast anything? And then, at the level of power and domination, it comes down to this thing of, from their perspective they see it as one of not yielding and not giving in to any demands, regardless of how reasonable or common-sensical they may be, simply because that would subvert their position of domination. And this goes back to what I meant about prisoners being the slaves of the state. Literally, we are slaves in every sense of the world; legally and politically our status is one of slavery. That's the thing of being unable to negotiate or make any demands or anything like that—any type of organizing on our behalf is illegal. We're pretty much given the legal and political status of mute beasts. That's kind of what our legal and political status is. The reality is different in that, unfortunately, I'd say political awareness among prisoners is low, and a lot more could be done. But to the extent of even a donkey, if you push a little too hard it will get stubborn and kick the master. So that's kind of what happens in prison. AS: When we began this interview, you spoke a little bit about what some prison officials' response to your book was. In Michigan they tried to ban it. They tried to block people from actually reading it. What reaction have prisoners had to your book and to your magazine, Prison Legal News? PW: All the prisoners I know that have read The Ceiling of America have WWW.COMMONCOURAGEPRESS.COM 12 PERPETUATING CRIME, CONSOLIDATING POWER: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL WRIGHT Our goal in putting out The Ceiling of America isn't just to tell people, "This is what's going on in prison, and boy, does it suck." Instead, our aim here is to raise political awareness and let people know not just that things suck, but why they suck. been enthusiastic about it and have And in general, with Prison Legal benefitting from this state of affairs really liked it. I haven't gotten any News, we also get a good response and, more importantly, what can we, negative comments or feedback from from the prisoners who subscribe. essentially the prisoners, do to any prisoners, actually from any non- We're a small publication. We have a change it and bring about change for prisoners either, for that matter. In little under 3,000 subscribers in the the better? So, that's what I think fact, the most common remark I get context of this going to prisoners. But makes it popular among the politicalis, When's the next one coming out? in the larger context I mentioned ly-inclined prisoners and non-prisonearlier, some of the things we deal er activists to get PLN and read The I take that as a good sign. with has been a illiteracy rate of sixty One of the things that contributes Ceiling of America. I think it's that to eighty percent, which kind of limo America A getting ge t to The Ceiling of very same factor that makes both the its how many people will ever subprisonsuch a goodd response among pr scribe to PLN or will ever get a copy book and our magazine so unpopular ers is just because—while at a lot of of The Ceiling of America. And then among prison officials. levels we aren'tt providing new inforbeyond that, the other big problem AS: Unfortunately, that's all the time mation, we aren't giving prisoners we confront is that of political apa- we have. I'd like to end with a quote th d daily rea lity — I news , this is their thy,' which is just as prevalent behind about The Ceiling of America from think that at one level it's important one of this country's leading activists and for prisoners to know that someone bars as it is outside of prison. educators, Angela Davis, who said, is accurately reporting our daily real- One of the things we consider both ity to the world at large. I think The Ceiling of America and Prison "Burton-Rose, Pens and Wright have there's some self-affirmation there, Legal News to be are very much tools compiled a powerful collection of essays in the sense that a prisoner can read of activism. In other words, our goal that eloquently call upon us to consider this and, for example, he gets to the in putting out The Ceiling of America the human costs of the growing punishsection on the shoddy prison med- and in publishing Prison Legal News ment industry. This is a much-needed ical care and he can dutifully nod isn't just to tell people, "This is wake-up call to an increasingly incarcerhis head and say, "Right on, this is what's going on in prison, and boy, ated society." Paul, thanks for helping to exactly what's happening." I think does it suck." Instead, our goal here is put together such an important book, that's one of the things that's impor- to raise political awareness and let and thanks for being with us. tant in the positive prisoner reaction people know not just that things suck, but why do they suck, who's PW: Thank you, Arthur. that we've gotten. Common Courage Press PO Box 702 Monroe, ME 04951 Rhonda Brownstein, Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, on The Ceiling of America: "This remarkably lucid book not only illuminates the nature of the imprisonment beast, but exposes the social, political and economic forces responsible for its care." Daniel Burton-Rose, Dan Pens & Paul Wright's The Ceiling of America is now available through Common Courage Press and Prison Legal News.