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A Country Called Prison #3

The Unknown's picture

           Chapter 2 examines what elements make a group of people a country, and specifically why the US prison system matches such designation. Shared common language, views, principles, social behaviors, terrain, historical factors, and a feeling of shared culture bring inmates together and draw them into a country-like system. Inhabitants of a prison create a national identity and develop a social personality that arises from shared experiences within the “prison country.” Inmates are forced to assimilate into the prison’s culture in order to survive physically, mentally, and socially. The beliefs, language, social norms, ethics, and code of behavior within the prison system do not fit those of the United States or another country outside prison walls. Carl and Looman describe how the difference between prison culture and US culture is embodied in the difference between survival and confinement on the one hand, and choice and liberty on the other. Naturally, upon release from prison, inmates are often confused about their new identity outside the prison.

            The US prison population increased by less than 1% in 2009, the slowest rate since 2000 (16). When a person enters prison in the United States they essentially stop being US citizens. In truth, they could be compared to the millions of undocumented immigrants who enter the United States every year, people who live in plain sight but are not a viable part of US society. The 1981 movie Escape from New York portrays a culture that evolved through a prison environment (23).

            The material culture of the Country Called Prison consists of razor-wire fencing, shirts that have “corrections” or “inmate” stamped on the back (24). Culture establishes a framework for social cohesion and mutual support. 

            Mary is an intake psychologist, which means she meets people as they are going into prison. People who are entering prison for the first time are normally scared and unsure of what they are expected to do. Some hide their fear, acting calmer than anyone should upon going into prison. Others show their distress with an angry tone and derogatory statements. On occasion, people collapse and burst into tears in Mary D. Looman’s office (25). She continuously tries to support new inmates as they learn to manage their emotions, but she also explains to them that crying and showing fear and uncontrolled rage will likely cause them problems in prison.

            Over all, White men are the oldest group in prison and Hispanic womyn are the youngest (26). In relation to property offenses, Whites have the highest percentage of new admissions to prisons, with burglary being the largest category (27).

            Depending on the group, drug and property crime accounts for nearly half of people being sent to prison (27-8). The crimes that people generally fear most-robbery, murder, rape-in total make up less than 20% of those who were went to prison in 2011, irrespective of the racial category (28).

            About one third of new femelle commitments to prison were for drug crimes, compared to 21% for their male counterparts (29). For comparison purposes, 68.5% of males go into prison for a nonviolent offense, while 81.6% of womyn incarcerated in 2011 were nonviolent offenders (29).

            If all the people who are currently under some kind of government supervision-via parole, probation, prison, and local jails-are taken into consideration, that number increases to more than 6.9 million (31). When one compares the number of people under supervision by the criminal justice system to the population estimates of countries around the world, relative to country size, the U.S. correctional system ranks 101st out of 239 countries in population size (31). The U.S. correctional system is larger than many countries, including New Zealand, which is 125th, Norway, which is 11th, and Denmark, which is 113th. The fact that 1 out of every 33 people, or approximately 3% of the U.S. population, is under some kind of supervision for criminal activity at any particular time (31). In spite of recent small reductions in prison populations, the total number of people who populate the Country Called Prison is bigger than the populations of half of the countries in the world.