In minimum security, the cook-ups took place on empty top bunk beds. Mattresses were removed, and four or five prisoners would gather around the makeshift table with beef sticks, cheese sticks, squeeze cheese, turkey sticks, dried beans, rice, bags of chips, pickles, jalapenos, packs of tuna, and anything else worth wrapping up in a tortilla. […]
Joyce Mitchell, alleged accomplice to two murderers on the loose from Clinton-Dannemora correctional facility in New York, is hardly the only prison employee to ever have allegedly aided—and had sex with—detainees. From Jeffrey Toobin’s “This Is My Jail” in the April 14, 2014 issue of The New Yorker: Many relationships between guards and inmates appear to have […]
Put another way, the supposition on which our mass incarceration is premised—namely, that it materially reduces crime—is, at best, a hunch. Yet the price we pay for acting on this hunch is enormous. This is true in the literal sense: it costs more than $80 billion a year to run our jails and prisons. It […]
Three of these pieces look at what mealtime is like on the inside, from an examination of chow hall food to stories of inmates’ ad-hoc cell-made meals to an in-depth look at a commissary food that’s both dietary supplement and currency for thousands of inmates. A fourth adds a different dimension, revealing how some of the foods on our own tables are the product of prison labor.
In a perverse tribute to human endeavor, solitary confinement began as a reform. Thinkers in Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries imagined that it might be possible to induce criminals to change from within, especially if they could be kept isolated from one another and from the corruptions of the outside world. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s famous design for a Panopticon—a circular prison with a central “inspection house” that allowed authorities to look into any cell at any time—was predicated on the idea that the prisoner under constant surveillance would internalize authority’s gaze, and cease misbehaving.
When Piper optioned her book to Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds, a number of people were asked to sign over something called “life rights.” In short: Some version of our lives could be depicted on the show, and we each agreed not to sue its creators if, for example, the character based on one […]
Now that we’ve all had a chance to finish watching Orange is the New Black (who am I kidding — we all binge watched it in a day or two, right?), I thought I’d share four pieces that clarify and critique the way prison is represented on the show. The first two pieces cover season one, for […]
I read far and wide during my ten-year bit. I read all of the longest works of the world, the thousands of pages of Proust and Musil and Joyce and Tolstoy and David Foster Wallace. And I could follow whatever interested me at the time. I acquired a taste for Sir Richard Burton’s 19th century […]
“I place a stack of 18 postcards in front of me and write on each of them a question that has been on my mind since I left Pelican Bay: ‘Do you think prolonged SHU confinement is torture?’ I send them to prisoners across the state and 14 write back, all with the same answer: […]