John K. Taber jktaber at dhc.net
Sun Mar 7 09:50:45 PST 1999

Doug Henwood wrote:
>John K. Taber wrote:

>>In those days when the State was pissed at you it let you
>>know it.

>But the U.S. state has 1.8 million people behind bars. Based on present
>rates of incarceration, a black male born today faces a 1 in 4 lifetime
>chance of going to prison - prison, where you go after conviction for
>serious crimes, not merely jail, where you go while awaiting trial or after
>conviction for minor offenses. Then it was extraoarindary spectacles of
>public cruelty. In Foucault's time, "liberal" penal practice had come to
>emphasize ritualized scrutiny in the name of rehabilitation. In the U.S.,
>we've evolved to ritualized private cruelty on an industrial scale,
>sustained in public opinion through mediatized bloodlust.

Oops. Just so nobody misunderstands, my remark concerns the individual savagery of ancient executions. I quite agree with Doug about our penal system.

I've been appalled by our penal system since I first read anything about it in 1980. I was researching the use of prison labor for data entry and computer programming for a paper I wrote opposing several so-called computer crime laws. I stumbled onto some Quaker testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on our prisons. That was an eye opener.

In 1981 I was reading the 3rd volume of the Gulag Archipelago, and had just finished the uprising at Karaganda when Santa Fe exploded. My eyes went from book to newspaper, and from newspaper to book, and I couldn't tell which was which for a while. Some time after, I thought the only difference was scale. At Karaganda some 3000 people were killed. At Santa Fe about 50. But it was horrible. At both places, the ordinary prisoners took out their anger on the snitches. At Santa Fe, they killed the snitches by burning holes in their heads with blow torches. Solzhenitsyn discretely leaves the method of killing of the "bitches" as he called them unsaid.

Sometime in the 70s I think one of the Rockefellers was governor of Arkansas, and appointed a reform warden at Cummins Prison Farm. The warden uncovered the graves of murdered prisoners, so many that it became an embarrassent to Rockefeller, and the warden was fired. I think that was the basis of the Brubaker movies, and Cool Hand Luke.

But let me hasten to add I have not delved harder, and am no expert on it.


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