SECTION SIX

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COLUMN FIFTY-TWO, OCTOBER 1, 2000
(Copyright 2000 Al Aronowitz)

STOP THE PRESSES! I WANT TO GET OFF 

or

WEBS, WASPS AND WHIPLASH WHILE CRUISING THE O-ZONE
 


PART 4: BEHIND THE WALLS

The community of the walled prison is much the same as life in the big
city. It's a hot, explosive environment 24 hours a day. You have to be
careful what you say and do. It's a little like living in a thimble
that's being held over a Bunsen burner.

The prisoners run the walled prisons. They do everything, from the
cooking to much of the counting.  

I'm not talking about the prisons where federal and state courts send
the lawyers, doctors, preachers, financiers, and politicians--the scum
who are able to buy time in the country club prisons. I'm taking about
the walled prisons, where the system puts the disenfranchised---the
have-nots.  

To sentencing judges, the "haves," with money for the connected
attorneys, are prime candidates for rehabilitation. The "have-nots,"
the poor with no connections or resources, end up behind the walls,
where they learn how to hate. Regardless of the fact that serious,
assaultive criminality, the most painful violence, crosses all economic
levels, those with money end up in the country clubs with unlimited
visits from loved ones who can bring in lunch. The poor fill the
end-of-the-line prisons where the word "rehabilitation" has as much
substance as cow shit in the springtime.  

If the word "shit" continues to appear in this story about the PDI
it's because shit is the one substance that immediately comes to mind
when I think back to life inside the walls. The custody, treatment,
medical, religion, and recreation departments of every prison I have
ever been in, visited, or written about have been for the most part
supervised by guards who have failed at life in the free world, have
earned a GED, qualified with an eighth grade education, and gone to
work for the government. People I have shared this observation with
tell me there are exceptions to this statement. A couple have told me
about good guards. They could be right. Out of the many I have known,
however, I only met one.  

The preachers were the worst guards. Many a prisoner, weakened
physically and emotionally by the stress, has learned the hard way that
you don't talk to anyone with a guard's classification. Preachers of
all denominations are classified as guards. They even get guards' pay.
They'll betray you faster than a guard with ulcers.  

Never tell the chaplain anything you wouldn't tell a guard.  

This observation, I should add, has come to be accepted by a minimum
of 90 percent of the prison population worldwide--that every prison
preacher, be that preacher a representative of the Baptist, Catholic,
Lutheran, any and all of the Christian groups that make up world
Christianity, is a guard first and a representative of all that Jesus
of Nazareth held most dear second. Without exception they have
obligated themselves to the state. They ALL report to the "Man." They
agree to do so when they take the job. Their livelihoods, not just the
food on their family tables, even their children's health insurance
depends upon the state. They follow the rules or they are out.  

It was hard to imagine that a group claiming to be devoted Christians
could condone these conditions, condone the brutality, condone the lack
of official concern.  

The more I distance myself from an otherwise painful period in my
life, the less painful it becomes. Consciously or unconsciously I
suppress the pain and misery, the sadness, the lonesome times, the
fear. On the top of the memory heap are the successes, the victories,
beating the chaplains, ripping off the test answers for the college
entrance exams for the prisoners who needed that college acceptance to
make parole and would never have been able to pass it on their own.  

I still feel a rush when I think of how we broke into the chaplain's
office to find that our suspicions were true---he had been intercepting
mail from free world people at the Church of the Larger Fellowship
(CLF) who had been sending us our books about Unitarian Universalism
(UU).
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