In the Belly of the Beast
By Gary Callahan, Prisoner of the Drug
I have just suffered a transfer to what is referred by the
Bureau of Prisons as a "low security" institution.
I ponder my surroundings, and ask myself, is this particular
hellhole the new design? Is this currently the rageand
rage should be the operative wordin the federal system?
It is warehousing people, literally, in long open dormitories
separated into the minimal sized space for two men, about 82
square feet to be exact. These are called cubicles and one has
to see it to believe it. Our living space is similar to cattle
stalls, with five foot walls on three sides that slope down on
the open, fourth side. Four long rows of these cubicles fill
the warehouse and if you sleep on a top bunk you look over lines
of huddle forms, like casualties in a military hospital. If one
could lift the roof, the comparison to sardines would be inevitable.
Is it the economy scheme, an experiment to see if the U.S.
Bureau of Prisons can compete with the threat of privatization?
A privatized prison built on this same schemethe word
scheme is significantis now operating in Taft, California
and consistently beats the government in its minimal expenditures.
The guards at Taft must be selling toilet paper by the sheet
to do this, and it is putting the Bureau of Prisons on notice.
Can it mean the death knell of BOP expansion?
There is a quality of cynicism in this overly eager competition
between the government, the same government that passes its massive
volumes of overly punitive statues, and commercial enterprise
panting hotly to capitalize on this exploding industry. It is
the warehousing of humanity on an unprecedented scale.
The nickname of this particular facility, located on an abandoned
bean farm in one of the poorest corners of the South, is "The
Slave Ship." One walks into the central compound and looks
across at three vast, square, gray, human warehouses. On the
far side is the ubiquitous UNICOR factory, of course, and endless
amounts of humans hustling out to work for the Man.
About 520 men exist in each of these warehouses and each building
has two stories, divided into four wings, each wing separated
by offices which employ a large number of minor bureaucrats who
each make around $50,000 per year. A college degree is not required,
nor skills of any kind . . . It's a gravy traina troughand
buckets of taxpayer's money is sloshed into it. You can hear
the slurping miles away.
Tension is high, there is very little to do and the food is
consistently poor. It is mass economizing, mass imprisonment,
more-for-less economy. The next step down is the simple concentration
camp along the lines of Stalag 17 and doubtless, as the drug
war grinds on, stalags and gulags will replace the more expensive,
traditional prison and the more expensive concept of enlightened
and humane treatment.
Each stalag will have a UNICOR factory firmly attached, to
keep that certain kind of stockholder fat and sleek. Where else
can men and women be worked for high profit by paying them a
quarter and some change an hour, sans benefits and obligations
of any kind?
Perhaps it is the time of year, the cold, iron gray sky. Maybe
it is the general rudeness of many of the staff here, the uneasy
feeling that were they issued .22 caliber pistols and the proper
instructions, they would begin systematic purges of this despondent,
I suppose it could be the dreary fact that I have already
been locked up for nearly a decade, and as far as I am concerned,
the government has gotten its godforsaken pound of flesh. And
yet I have twice that long to do before my "debt",
for a nonviolent and comparatively minor drug offense, is paid.
The years stretch out ahead of me and threaten in a real sense
to change the essential being that I am, something I have tried
very hard to hang on to.
I once marveled at how Germany could have produced the kind
of mindset which sent so many millions of people into the camps
and the ovens, but now I know. With an acute sense of loss and
horror I realize that this is not a phenomenon peculiar to that
time and place. It is rather a recurring human theme, and one
that is alive and well in the USA at the end of this shameful
Come one, come all and welcome to the gulag, welcome to the
Land of the Free. Least you feel safe, or read this with a sense
of self-righteousness, think long and hard about your children
and of the slave ships being built to house them not long from