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Monday, August 10, 2009

Southern California prisons on lockdown

A riot resulting from tensions between black and Hispanic inmates at the Men's Correctional Facility in Chino has resulted in all ten prisons in southern California being put on lockdown to prevent further outbreaks of violence. (I'm not sure how the prisoners from the different facilities communicate with each other so well as to be able to coordinate their riots.)

According to the NY Times, during the 11 hour riot, "prisoners smashed windows, tore down gates, and used whatever they could to battle one another." Damage to the facility was extensive, and 250 inmates were injured.

Friction between blacks and Hispanics is growing outside the prisons, too. Whenever they live in the same neighborhood there are tensions. Mass fights have even broken out in various public schools.

But it is in prisons that such conflicts are at their most lethal. Check out one of those A&E or History Channel documentaries on prisons sometime. They're fascinating. Life in a maximum security prison is at its rawest and most elemental. It's pretty much a vision of hell on earth.

The gangs in prison break down strictly along racial lines, as do loyalties.

Is this a vision of life after society collapses? I can understand why Charlie Manson, who had spent over half his life in prisons -- or juvenile detention facilities -- before he committed murders, saw a race war coming. Any large prison population is waging an ongoing race war which the guards try to keep under control.

Outside prison, black and Hispanic gangs often dominate poorer neighborhoods. White street gangs are less common. (You never hear of Aryan Brotherhood types terrorizing suburbia, or even a trailer park.) Inside, whites must join the AB, or the Nazi Low Riders, or any number of other white gangs, for protection, often to keep from being raped. Prisoners automatically regard prisoners of other races with suspicion; there is never any doubt about who the enemy is.

Inmates cannot afford the luxury of political correctness.

Charlie Manson himself has been receiving a fair amount of publicity lately because it's the fortieth anniversary of those infamous murders. He's certainly more famous than most prisoners, but his sociopathy is typical. His mother, an alcoholic, once tried to sell him for a pitcher of beer. (Think he had a strong bond with her?) He committed his first (homosexual) rape at age eleven. And while he had his followers drop LSD, Manson himself never took it, since he viewed the drug as a way of keeping his acolytes more pliable. His attitude towards others is common among many of the inmates, a large percentage of whom are sociopaths.

Seeing the inmates on these documentaries often makes me wonder, have I ever walked by a guy like that on the street but not realized it? That thought almost inevitably leads to another: thank God for prisons.

Another thing these documentaries show is how clever and resourceful the inmates are at communicating with each other, smuggling contraband, and creating weapons. Maybe it shouldn't be so surprising, given that they have nothing to do there but think about ways to circumvent the system. Schooling or not, there is a definite intelligence at work there.

Put a bunch of inmates from a maximum security prison on one desert island, and a group of sociology professors on a similar island, and my money would be on the inmates to survive longer. (Put them on the same island, and the contest would be over in very short order.)

I've seen prison movies as well as documentaries. The movies which come to mind starred Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Steve McQueen, and Tim Robbins. These movies usually feature a noble (white) hero who must battle an evil warden with the help of his friends inside, some of whom are black. Oh, and he might have to (successfully) fight off as one or two bad inmates as well, though they are usually merely stooges of the evil warden.

Ah, the gritty world of incarceration as presented by Hollywood.

First, in a real prison all of those guys would have been someone's bitch. Well, maybe not Eastwood. (I'm not looking down my nose at anyone here; in that situation I would most definitely be someone's bitch myself.) Second, none of those white protagonists would have had black friends inside. No matter what their intentions, had they extended the hand of friendship across racial lines, they would probably have found that what they ended up extending was the ass of friendship. After which they would probably have been stuck with a shiv by the Aryan Brotherhood for their racial disloyalty. I have no doubt that some wardens are evil, but most of the guards and wardens interviewed on the documentaries just come across like normal cops.

And all of those heroes in the movies are inevitably involved in exposing some large-scale corruption. But the first -- and really only -- order of business inside any medium or maximum security prison is simply survival.

If you ever have the urge to commit violence, just watch one of those documentaries first. It'll dissuade you.

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