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Prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business. Angela Davis, Masked Racism, 1998
The political prisoner’s words or deeds have in one form or another embodied political protests against the established order and have consequently brought him into acute conflict with the state. In light of the political content of his act, the ‘crime’ (which may or may not have been committed) assumes a minor importance. In this country, however, where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act. Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morning, 1971
Nat Turner and John Brown were political prisoners in their time. The acts for which they were charged and subsequently hanged were the practical extensions of their profound commitment to the abolition of slavery. ibid.
The eternally repetitive routine, the imposed anonymity and the rigid atomization of numbers and cages are just a few of the dehumanizing, desocializing mechanisms. As for the relationship of prisoners to life outside, it is supposed to be virtually nonexistent. In this respect, the impenetrable concrete, the barbed wire and the armed keepers, ostensibly there to deter escape-bound captives, also suggest something further: prisoners must be guarded from the ingressions of a moving, developing world outside. Disengaged from normal social life, its revelations and influences, they must finally be robbed of their humanity. Yet human beings cannot be willed and molded into nonexistence. In reality the facts of prison life have begun in recent years to bespeak the irrationality of its goals. Even the most drastic repressive measures have not obstructed the progressive ascent of captive men and women to new heights of social consciousness. This has been especially intense among Black and Brown prisoners. ibid.
Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo – obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other. Angela Davis, An Autobiography, 1974
There are now thirty-three prisons, thirty-eight camps, sixteen community correctional facilities, and five tiny prisoner mother facilities in California. In 2002, there were 157,979 people incarcerated in these institutions, including approximately twenty thousand people whom the state holds for immigration violations. Angela Davis, Are Prison Obsolete? 2003
On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives. To think about this simultaneous presence and absence is to begin to acknowledge the part played by ideology in shaping the way we interact with our social surroundings. We take prisons for granted but are often afraid to face the realities they produce. ibid.
The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison. There are thus real and often quite complicated connections between the deindustrialization of the economy — a process that reached its peak during the 1980s — and the rise of mass imprisonment, which also began to spiral during the Reagan-Bush era. However, the demand for more prisons was represented to the public in simplistic terms. More prisons were needed because there was more crime. Yet many scholars have demonstrated that by the time the prison construction boom began, official crime statistics were already falling. ibid.
The prison therefore functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers. This is the ideological work that the prison performs — it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism. ibid.
The massive prison-building project that began in the 1980s created the means of concentrating and managing what the capitalist system had implicitly declared to be a human surplus. In the meantime, elected officials and the dominant media justified the new draconian sentencing practices, sending more and more people to prison in the frenzied drive to build more and more prisons by arguing that this was the only way to make our communities safe from murderers, rapists, and robbers. ibid.
Society goes on perpetuating this poisonous air not realising that out of it can come not but the most poisonous results. Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays ***** audiobook 6.57.08, part IV re prison
Year after year the gates of prison hells return to the world an emaciated, deformed, will-less, shipwrecked crew of humanity, with the Cain mark on their foreheads, their hopes crushed, all their natural inclinations thwarted. With nothing but hunger and inhumanity to greet them, these victims soon sink back into crime as the only possibility of existence. ibid.
It had not been like edifying, indeed it had not, being in this grahzny hellhole and like human zoo for two years, being kicked and tolchocked by brutal bully warders and meeting vonny leering like criminals, some of them real perverts and ready to dribble over a luscious young malchick like your story-teller. And there was having to rabbit in the workshop at making matchboxes and itty round and round and round the yard for like exercise, and in the evenings sometimes some starry prof type veck would give a talk on beetles or the Milky Way or the Glorious Wonders of the Snowflake ... Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ said the prison charlie for the third raz. 'Is it going to be in and out and in and out of institutions, like this, though more in than out for most of you, or are you going to attend to the Divine Word and realize the punishments that await the unrepentant sinner in the next world, as well as this? A lot of blasted idiots you are, most of you, selling your birthright for a saucer of cold porridge. ibid.
Now what I want you to know is that this cell was intended for only three when it was built, but there were six of us there, all jammed together sweaty and tight. ibid.
One of the government’s biggest problems was dealing with the militants once they were imprisoned. In the lead up to the First World War the government imprisoned more than 1,000 militant Suffragettes … The government’s response was brutal – force-feeding. Clare Balding’s Secrets of a Suffragette, Channel 4 2018
Only one service has to be maintained for the poor – prisons. Noam Chomsky, lecture Deterring Democracy 1992, Youtube 2.09.17
The US prison population is the highest in the world … Over half of those in federal prisons are there for drug-related crimes. Noam Chomsky, Failed States audio
In the world solitary confinement is considered torture … You go to the maximum security prisons – they are torture chambers. People are confined 23 hours a day in a small room. It drives you insane. Noam Chomsky, Talks at Google 4th April 2014, Youtube 1.02.41
The concept is – it [Obama’s laws] permits indefinite detention of people charged with providing support for enemies of the United States – what’s support? … It’s not a joke incidentally. ibid.