In 2012, after serving over 15 years in the dilapidated and thoroughly inhumane state-run institutions of the Florida Department of Corrections, I found myself staring through the mesh-plated windows of a transport bus at the gleaming razor wire that surrounded my next home: Blackwater River Correctional Facility, a private prison in the Panhandle owned by the GEO Group… and I was thrilled.
No more un-air-conditioned, hot-box dormitories, no more meager servings of disgusting food, no more mentally ill cell mates, abusive staff, shabby laundry, inadequate supplies. No more misery. I had arrived in the land of milk and honey. Sweetwater. Arctic-level AC, hot edible food, ESPN, movies on the weekends, rec every day, a roll of soft toilet paper once a week. This was more like it. This was living!
Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Four short years later, I was back on the bus. Tears in my eyes, utopia in the rearview, headed back to that from whence I came. Another filthy, sweltering, state-run facility. Word was they were turning the privatized paradise into a psych camp and apparently I wasn’t crazy enough to stay.
Upon my return to the prison system I grew up in, it was evident that much had changed while I was away. New secretary Julie Jones had curtailed most of the staff abuse by installing cameras and audio in confinement units. The food was better, supplies were given out more frequently, motivational slogans were painted on the walls, and the department had changed its name from the Department of Corrections to the Florida Department of Corrections in an effort to distance itself from its own bloody, 150-year history. But even with all these upgrades, the state-run facilities were still ramshackle hovels compared to their outsourced, for-profit counterparts.
So I was blown away when I read a USAToday article in August of 2016, detailing how then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates planned to phase out all private prisons in the Federal system once their contracts expired. She said that companies like GEO “don’t provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources as the Federal Bureau of Prisons…”
Was she really saying that my beloved Blackwater, with its edible food and air conditioning and ESPN was not up to Federal standards? And if so, how cushy was Federal prison? But as I read on, I began to understand. The Obama administration, along with the Loretta Lynch DOJ and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle didn’t want to be tethered to those who would seek to profit from the exploitation of human captivity. These are people who lobby to keep archaic mandatory minimums in place, donate millions to candidates who will keep the “war on drugs” going, who need fathers removed from homes so their at-risk sons and daughters will one day fill empty prison bunks, who have a vested interest in high recidivism and overcrowded jails… it’s their bread and butter.
It was no surprise to see GEO Group stock plummet 38 percent when Ms. Yates made this announcement. Nor was it much of a shocker when, six months later, the Trump administration immediately rescinded the order upon moving into the White House, causing the stock to soar again. After all, these same prison profiteers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Make America Great Again war chest, plus a million the same year lobbying Congress, targeting appropriations bills. And it looks like their palm-greasing is already paying huge dividends with this immigration crisis. Nothing spells profit like selling poor refugee detainees international phone cards at gouge-level prices.
Bernie Sanders nailed it: “It is an international embarrassment that we put more people behind bars than any other country on earth. Due in large part to private prisons, incarceration has been a source of major profits to private corporations. We have got to end the private prison racket in America.”
Today, I’m grateful for the gnats dive-bombing my food in the chow hall, for my lumpy, plastic-covered mat, for the lukewarm water fountain, even for the triple-digit July sweat rolling down my back as I pen this essay. I’d rather write about the struggle from here in the trenches than from some plush, privatized luxury box. Especially one that is owned by the very people who are betting that the land of the free will remain the world’s leading incarcerator.
3 thoughts on “‘An international embarrassment’”
I’m trying to leave a comment and having difficulty.
(I’m occasionally a victim of censorship due to supporting prison reform, single payer health care, Palestinian rights to govern their own country, correcting the false depiction of the Black Panther Party, climate change to be addressed responsibly, the criminalization of professional lobbying, strict banking deregulation… well, you get the picture)
Hoping this goes through:
Hey, man, great post.
Privatization of everything on the planet in order to profit financially is despicable. We see it not only with our prisons, but with war, immigration policy, our water, our food supply, our health care – everything. It’s even affecting some fire departments. Poverty has been criminalized. Sadly, the people who scream the loudest in support of this parasitic system of profiting on misery are knuckle-dragging flag-wavers who profess to love the U.S. Constitution.
Well, if they’d do a bit of research they’d discover that the Constitution declared “the commons” be provided to all people – which means no profiting. Water, access to nutritious food, shelter, health care and access to information (the only way to have democracy is with an informed populace) should be available to everyone. Modern capitalism is a plague that rewards and encourages parasitic behavior while often punishing compassion and generosity.
We need to be silent, accept our personal circumstances, feel compassion for all beings and begin to transform this barbaric system we’ve built with blind greed into a civilized society that takes care of the less fortunate.
(If it shows up twice, I apologize)
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It would be fine if your thoughts had showed up twice, considering how your concerns are pretty much neglected by our sold-to-the-highest-bidder system of capitalism.
Yes, there are good things that only a market economy can do well. But not when it comes to those things for “the common good.”
BTW, I consider myself very well read (and have since I entered college when I was 16; I’m now 65, so that’s almost 50 years of devouring books and almost everything else in between). Yet the concept of government (or whatever name we give to that provider of “the common good”) being the provider for “the common good” had never been described to me as you have.
So, THANK YOU for GREATLY ADDING TO MY EDUCATION!!!
I also reviewed your list, for which you often get censored, and I have to say that you and I share a huge amount of convictions when it comes to so many of those issues.
So keep up the battling and the protesting and the shaking at the gates of those in power.
I happen to seek to humbly but with great conviction follow one of the greatest shakers at the gates, Jesus, the Anointed One. And of course we know what happened to him as a result. He was crucified, handed over to the brutal Roman power by those most threatened by Jesus–the Jewish leaders, who would do ANYTHING to protect THEIR temple (funny how that temple by then was called “Herod’s Temple”–yes, that Herod the Great, by ancestry, an Edomite [traditionally opposed to all things Jewish], who basically acted as a Jewish impersonator, who bought the tolerance of the Jewish leaders by lavishly adding to the Temple rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity), and it really was by then THEIR temple, because it no longer really was God’s anymore, unfortunately. And same with Jerusalem, THEIR holy city; they would do anything to protect that as well. Sad that both things they would lose, to the Romans, within 40 years, just as Jesus predicted it would happen given their rebellion again God!!
How sad that they were threatened by this humble itinerant Rabbi/teacher and healer who hailed from what the Jews considered to be a “bad neighborhood,” basically most if not all areas in the region of Galilee. Threatened by a guy who had worked as a blue collar worker most of his life.
Fortunately (in my book), he was more than just a carpenter or even Rabbi and healer, for he was in fact the Creator come in the flesh, and setting up his dwelling among us humans, so that we would be able to see the shinning glory of the Eternal God. And that’s why not even the forces of truest darkness, the deceiver and accuser of all who seek to follow God, could keep him asleep in the grave. Instead he rose back to life within the third day, just as he had promised.
I’m sure glad, because in him I have found life’s greatest privileges–to become a learner in his school of how to love, how to live for the other, and at the same time find the greatest personal fulfillments imaginable–communion with the Eternal One.
Sorry, I get carried away with those things which are dearest to my heart. My wife Kelly, who is Sir Malcom’s editor, publisher, and marketing assistant, just told me you write in your blog with great conviction at length re: those things dearest to your heart, so maybe we share that also in common.
I didn’t initially set out to take up this space for expounding on my personal convictions. I truly wanted to primarily affirm your thoughts and convictions in response to Sir Malcom’s post here. Keep on ratting those gates!!
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Thank you for your kindness and appreciation. These are things that are disappearing in today’s greedy, possession-obsessed society. I’m a born gate rattler.