Wednesday, November 25, 2009

For the Men at J.B. Evans Correctional Center

I know I'm supposed to be thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts tonight as I look forward to sitting around a table full of food tomorrow with people I love. And I am, I assure you, well thankful for many things. I'm quite fortunate, indeed, even to be alive, given the life I've lived and the choices I've made while I lived it. So maybe I'll post again tomorrow in a fit of revolutionary love, but tonight I'm talking about prison. Again.

My heart and mind are focused on the men at the J.B. Evans Correctional Center in Newellton, Louisiana, who finally took enough abuse at the private prison that they just refused to leave the yard last Thursday to return to their cells as ordered. Needless to say, all hell -- quite literally -- broke loose. We can only imagine what the SWAT forces dished out by way of "attitude adjustments" because stuff like that isn't exactly covered by the mainstream media. In fact, this is the only mention I could find anywhere in the news about the incident. I wouldn't even know about it if one of my students hadn't written me an email asking if I had any advice for a friend of hers who's worried about one of the prisoners. And now I can't get it off my mind.

Private prisons are a trip, you know. They're profit-making concerns built on the suffering backs of the poor, of addicts, of men, women and even children of color. If you're not yet up on what I'm talking about, check this out:

Sometimes private prison companies will go out in the country somewhere where people are desperate for jobs, build a big prison on spec and then go to the government and say, "We got a whole empty prison out here. You need some cells?" The government, of course, takes them up on the offer and in no time at all, the place is not just full, but overcrowded, with four men in a two-man cell, prisoners living in tents, and three tier bunks in the gym. The result is nightmarish, but these guys -- or women -- should've thought of that before they stuck up the 7-11, right? That is to say, if they actually did something to be there. Because they may not have. Or they may have committed the heinous crime of having a crack stem in their pocket or drinking a beer on parole or showing up at their probation appointment on the wrong day because they moved and didn't get the letter or not having enough money to hire a real lawyer.

Those in the business of wanting to make money by incarcerating millions of U.S. citizens are helped greatly by the fact that 34.5% of 16-to-24-year-old African-American men are currently unemployed because millions of jobs have left the country or just disappeared and because young Black men are statistically less likely to be hired even if qualified for positions. Then, in the effort to make sure that the prisoners will return over and over again (cha ching! cha ching!) -- doing predictable damage on every foray back into the community, I might add -- they make it almost impossible for convicted felons to get jobs after they've "paid their debt to society" (whatever that means). They further ensure a high recidivism rate by making the experience of incarceration as psychologically brutal as possible, as outlined in the following interview with Robert King (who spent 29 years in solitary confinement) and Dr. Terry Kupers:

You don't have to be an old prison movement warhorse like me to get the picture. Over at in sight, in mind, HetGezicht has this to say about her maiden voyage on the good ship Prison Tour.

So my mind is with the men at J.B. Evans tonight. I'll bet they're hungry and cold and physically wounded and scared right now and wishing they were going to be sitting down at table with loved ones tomorrow, too. But they won't be. Still, maybe someone will see this and tell them it's out here in the blogosphere. They may be in hell, but they're not forgotten.


Slava said...

Our group struggles for rights of women-teachers now. After last election in Olkhovski district of Volgograd region (Russia), reelecting head of district discharged 4 principales of village schools, teacher of music from Olkhovka, 9 social workers. We are sure that it is real political repressions.
See our film here:
You can write your comments in English.
Thanx for coexistence!

Changeseeker said...

Welcome to my blog, Slava. I watched your film, but could not understand it because I don't speak the language. Still, it is very moving to see the faces and hear the voices of others in the world who struggle bravely against oppression. Thank you for reaching out to us. Be strong.

macon d said...

Thank you for the reminders in this post, and for the videos. Here's hoping that the winds of change brought in with President Hope will do something to improve the conditions and the system you describe. Do you see any change at all of that sort on the horizon? Or will racist incarceration procedures only get worse? (the continually declining state of the economy for the lower echelons doesn't inspire hope, of course)

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Macon. I think it will get worse. The economy will be used, as will immigration issues, to further increase the prison population which is already ten times what it was only a couple of decades ago. It's about making money. Now that they're investing in private prisons on Wall Street, the sky's the limit. And I don't expect Obama to move in this area because it would mean undermining corporate profits, a veeeeery unwise decision for a U.S. President who wants a second term. Besides, with jobs disappearing every day, "corrections" is a booming employment arena. I do hope Eric Holder will be allowed to take a look at some of the high profile political cases, like Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Troy Davis, and the Angola 3. He's sending signals that this may happen, but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

Glad you posted on this, I'd missed it as I've missed most news lately.

The first time I saw photographs of one of these prisons my first thought was that they were news shots about a movie that must be being made about slavery.

Changeseeker said...

Yeah, PZ, it wasn't hard to miss since there was basically nothing out there on it. Of course. It is slavery, as the Doug Blackmon book says, just "in another name." OT: Do you speak Russian?

Anonymous said...

Russian: no, wish I did.

Anonymous said...

SWAT forces?! Are you kidding me?

The men refused to leave the yard because they felt they weren't being fed enough and returned to their dormitories (*not* cells) of their own volition as soon as they became cold and hungry. There was NO use of force and no SWAT team present, only the normal prison security detail and a few officers from the local sheriff's department and police department.

Changeseeker said...

Well, it's certainly good to know, Anonymous, that J.B. Evans Correctional Center is different from every other private prison in the whole United States. Of course, it's hard to understand (if it's so very different) what could possibly have galvanized a prison population entirely at the whim of guards, sheriffs and cops to act in that way. Humans under the gun tend NOT to act en mass until desperate and tend NOT to become desperate for no reason. I'm just sayin' is all.

Changeseeker said...

I just got a communication elsewhere that "J B Evans has transferred all of their inmates and everyone in their staff has been fired. I wanted to thank you again for your compassion...We mailed [my friend] a copy of your blog and I know that it meant the world to him."

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Anonymous said...

I can tell you, first hand, that the inmates at J.B. Evans were treated with nothing but respect. Not everyone will follow the same code, and some officers were less respectful than others, but never were they mistreated.