What does the large scale industrial prison complex in the U.S.A reflect about who and how we are being? As a collective, we’ve created it and perpetuate it. This morning, this question was front of my mind. Earlier this year, I made a point of watching the HBO series that ran from 2002-2008, The Wire. The show takes place in drug-infested Baltimore, Maryland. Woven throughout each season is “The Game.” By the end of the five seasons, the show has introduced viewers to “The Game” as played – with a mixture of willingness and submission- by drug dealers, police, politicians, civil servants, educators and journalists. What if the game is really a prison, and we are all in it?
We have, in the USA, the highest incarceration rate in the world. Many of our prisoners suffer from mental illness and/or substance addiction. A significant number of prisoners of both genders have been – before entering prison – subjected to intense abuse and serious trauma.
This morning I was thinking about what it says about our society that we have all these people locked up (more than 2 million people). They are locked up in places unlikely to restore their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I was wondering if our industrial prison complex somehow mirrors a general disposition that is woven into USA culture – knowing that this is a very sweeping statement. I’m referring to a disposition rooted in anger, fear, the need to shame and blame and a tendency to be unforgiving.
And we – those coming from communities much less likely to have our folks end up in prison – look at all these prisoners and think they are our bad bunches. They are different from you and me. Yet, in the watching The Wire, I saw all sorts people from all sorts of backgrounds hustling, playing The Game in ways – even those with good intentions – that drew upon dishonesty, greed, the need for status, fear of who-knows-what. They blame others, they shame others, they seem intent on increasing their power by diminishing the power in others.
The Game. The Game is a prison and we’re in it, day-in and day-out. And from this prison we collectively create the literal bars of our national Industrial Prison Complex. What if the USA industrial prison complex reflects a collective reluctance to stand consciously in the anger, fear, the need to shame and blame and be unforgiving that dominate our relationships with our selves and each other? What if too many of us feel like if we try and leave The Game, our lives will fall apart and the thought is more scary and more oppressive to us than staying in The Game?
What if too many of us are like the prisoner who commits a petty crime immediately upon leaving jail, or even before he or she is released, in order to stay in prison? Why? Because they have been behind bars so long that it is familiar and comforting. They know the rules, they have routine, it is hard to imagine who or what will catch them if they start to stumble when they step outside the prison.
What if the USA industrial prison complex is a big, out-there-for-all-to-see, reminder of something alive within us – the people who comprise the society in which it exists?