The High Desert State Prison was supposed to save Susanville, CA, bringing jobs and money to the ailing town. And it did. But the costs were devastating.

It is March 1999. I’ve come home because the new High Desert State Prison needs teachers, and I need a job. At 8 a.m., I stop at the BP for the weekly paper: the first thing I notice is the place is full of prison guards. They’re buying cigarettes and gas, stirring whitener into coffee. Each is decked out in full uniform, army green suit and parka with the California Department of Corrections gold patch, shiny black boots, belt hung with batons and pepper spray. Most are young and beefy; all have the soldier hairdo, trim mustache, crisp creases—these guys would pass any inspection.
Two more walk in. I should feel safe, but I don’t. These uniforms are about keeping people in line. It feels more like a Central American border crossing than a gas station convenience store in rural America. The young man with the ponytail apparently doesn’t like the scene either; he walks in, then pivots coolly right back out.