[Ppnews] Facebook Caves to the Prison-Industrial-Complex

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 18 13:55:58 EDT 2011


http://www.counterpunch.org/hartman08182011.html

August 18, 2011


A Blow to Prisoners' Rights


Facebook Caves to the Prison-Industrial-Complex

By KENNETH E. HARTMAN

In a decision setting back prisoners' rights and helping to advance 
the interests of prison bureaucrats and their guard union allies, 
Facebook announced plans to work with the California Department of 
Corrections and Rehabilitation to shut down pages set up for 
prisoners. Spokespersons for the Department claimed that prisoners 
were using their Facebook pages to "stalk victims" and "conduct 
illegal activities," and that this was all related to the increased 
incidence of cell phones found inside the prisons.

What a load of crap!

I'm one of the prisoners with a Facebook page that will be shut down 
to appease the shrill hate groups that continue to try and own the 
public debate about prisons, about crime and punishment, and about 
what kind of justice should be practiced here in the Land of the 
Free. It's past time to address some of this fear mongering head-on, 
even if my keepers surely won't appreciate it.

The prison-industrial complex is a huge jobs engine for unionized 
public employees. Governor Andrew Cuomo spelled it out it accurately 
when he withstood intense lobbying pressures and closed a couple of 
prisons in New York, "I'm not running a jobs program, putting a lot 
of people in prison to give a few people high paying jobs." This is 
the fundamental truth about prison. The people who profit off of 
mass, disproportionate incarceration know that a reckoning is coming. 
Crime is at historic lows. State budgets are upside down, like the 
rest of the country. The majority of people in prison are not 
monsters. The public's safety is not the issue. The threat is to the 
paychecks of public employee unions.

For the past quarter of a century, the playbook has been simple, 
direct, and frighteningly successful. Play the fear card, mention the 
word "victim," and shut down rational debate. It's unclear to me how 
anyone could "stalk their victims" through Facebook. This is a 
perfect example of dragging a particularly stinky red herring across 
the trail, something prison bureaucrats are wont to do.

For an interesting case in point, during a recent interview on Los 
Angeles public radio station KCRW's excellent public affairs program 
"Which Way L.A.," host Warren Olney repeatedly asked California 
prison chieftain Scott Kernan how allowing men at Pelican Bay to wear 
a warm hat during the winter could be a security threat. (This was 
one of the legitimate demands of hunger strikers.) Bossman Kernan 
never really answered the question and, instead, kept rambling on 
about how dangerous these "offenders" are and how these issues 
impacted "victims." Interestingly, both prisoners and victims of 
crime have been commodified into roles in support of the 
prison-industrial complex.

The prison system has two great fears: The first is that the rest of 
society will learn that prisoners are, in actuality, fellow human 
beings who deserve to be treated in a humane fashion, and the second 
is that what really goes on in these places might be exposed to the 
cleansing light of public scrutiny.

To prevent the first of their fears from being realized, the prison 
system has upended basic civil rights and created a de facto no 
information zone around prisoners. When I came to prison more than 30 
years ago, I could write to anyone in the media through confidential 
mail. Any reporter with legitimate credentials could come inside a 
prison and interview any prisoner. Today, I can only contact the 
media through closely censored mail and recorded, monitored collect 
phone calls. And reporters, on the rare occasions they manage to slip 
through the fences and get into these places, are strictly forbidden 
from interviewing any specific prisoner.

For the great rip-off of society to continue, it's imperative for the 
public to continue to be hoodwinked into believing that the prisons 
are incredibly dangerous, filled with slavering beasts ready to go on 
a killing spree at the first opportunity. Nothing ruins this sham 
more than the taxpayers getting a good look at prisoners in the 
flesh. We don't have horns or tails, and the vast majority of us 
aren't even in prison for a violent crime. The rationale, such as it 
is, for preventing the press, in a supposedly free country, from 
directly interviewing prisoners is it could cause discomfort to a 
victim. Invocation of the "victim" is, again, used to justify 
virtually any depredations of both civil rights and common humanity.

More frightening to the system than the public finding out prisoners, 
generally, aren't the embodiment of evil, is the possibility that 
what actually goes on inside will be revealed. What is imagined and 
what is reality are so far apart as to be wholly disconnected. The 
guards have invested heavily in promoting the perception that death 
stalks them everyday in these places, and their bureaucrat allies 
(just about all of whom started out as guards) happily sign on to 
this fiction because it provides the perfect excuse for why the 
system is such a dismal failure.

What really goes on inside the prisons is horrific treatment, 
provoked and encouraged racial violence, constant violations of 
constitutional rights, and so much more it could fill more than a 
hundred of pages of small print. In fact, it does, and anyone can 
read it in the decision of the three-judge panel that found 
California's prisons so deficient and inhumane it ordered a massive 
downsizing of the system. (Plata, et al. vs. Schwarzenegger, et al. 
and Coleman, et al., vs. Schwarzenegger, et al. Case 
2:90-cv-00520-LKK-JFM, Document 3641, filed 08/08/2009) This was 
necessary because the judges knew the special interests (guard union, 
contractors, suppliers) had bought so much in the state's political 
process that there was no other viable way to achieve change.

In my thirty-plus years of imprisonment in California, the rate of 
incarceration went from around 100 per hundred thousand to close to 
450. The rate of parole failure went from less than 25% to more than 
70% during the same period. Similar numbers can be found in the rest 
of the country. For comparisons sake, the incarceration rate of other 
industrialized countries is less than 100, and the world average, 
including all of the repressive countries, is less than 200. 
Recidivism rates run at about 35%, everywhere else. This country has 
the highest incarceration rate in the world, bar none.

To put it into another perspective, with less than 5% of the world's 
population, we have fully 25% of the world's prisoners. This is the 
prison nation.

Numbers can be mind numbing, but it's important to see and 
internalize what all of this means. All across the country, as the 
various states wrestle with diminished resources and shrinking tax 
bases, decisions are being made about priorities; interests are 
competing for the dollars left in the smaller pie. The prison 
bureaucracy is vigorously advocating for cuts in funding for poor 
children, for disabled people, for seniors, in its desperate attempt 
to keep the imprisonment gravy train on track.

But that's not the full extent of it, not by a long shot. To tilt the 
scales in favor of more prisons and less social welfare spending, the 
system will trot out the same hoary tropes it's used during the past 
generation of unchecked expansion. This Facebook nonsense is right 
along with the standard fear mongering tactics of the prison 
bureaucrats and their guard allies. I've seen worse in my time 
inside, up to and including incitement to violence to overturn 
unfavorable court decisions. Watch out for some extremely dangerous 
prisoners finding themselves on the other side of the fences.

When the inevitable tragedy occurs, all the rest of us will be tarred 
with the same outrage. Someone's grieving mother will plead for 
retribution while the newsreaders tut-tut in sympathy. Mock outrage 
will spew out of red-faced politicians in thrall to the 
prison-industrial complex. The guard union will magnanimously put up 
the many millions needed to pass the poorly written initiative that 
results in tens of thousands of pathetic drug addicts and troublesome 
mentally ill homeless people receiving long life sentences. No less 
than United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a 
Republican and no flaming lefty, described this state of affairs, in 
regard to California's infamous three-strikes law, as "sick."

The prison system has a unique hold on the political process that 
renders it almost invulnerable to the kind of fundamental reform 25 
years of dismal failure should have demanded. The Democrats won't 
criticize their public employee union allies, and the Republicans 
remain wedded to the concept of keeping the disempowered classes down 
and disenfranchised through mass incarceration. The prison 
bureaucrats and their guard union allies have cynically, and very 
successfully, played the two ends against the middle.

Neither side of our dysfunctional dyad is willing to propose remedies 
to what is obvious to every independent observer: there are too many 
people in prison for too long, costing society way too much money.

Facebook's craven decision to appease the prison-industrial complex 
has nothing to do with protecting crime victims or stopping criminal 
activity. (Let me assure you, we knew how to conduct illegal activity 
before Mark Zuckerberg "invented" Facebook, before even Al Gore 
"invented" the internet.) It's all about trying to keep the public in 
the dark about how their billions of dollars have been wasted behind 
the electric fences, out of sight and beyond accountability.

My 1,300 "friends" and me didn't threaten anyone. But the prison 
system and its allies pose a genuine threat to society. The sooner 
the public wakes up and realizes this the better off we'll all be. 
Until then, be afraid; be very afraid of people claiming to be protecting you.

Kenneth E. Hartman's memoir of prison life, 
"<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1934633941/counterpunchmaga>Mother 
California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars" (Atlas & Co. 2009) won 
the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award. He is currently at work on a memoir about 
hitchhiking through the '70s. For more information, please see 
<http://www.kennethehartman.com>www.kennethehartman.com or contact 
him indirectly at 
<mailto:kennethehartman at hotmail.com>kennethehartman at hotmail.com




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