At the end of 1990, the U.S. federal prison system held about 65,000 inmates. At the end of 2010, it held 210,000. During the same period, the total number of state inmates increased by less than half that rate. One could conclude from this one of two things: either the Department of Justice has been doing something right, or it has been doing something wrong.
As it turns out, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder himself conceded last year that it was the latter, going on to announce new sentencing policies intended to ease those numbers back a bit over the next few years. This is an especially reasonable move in light of the fact that most of the people who receive prison sentences in federal courts aren’t actually criminals in the traditional sense. That is, very few of them are guilty of tying maidens to train tracks or hitting businessmen over the head with blackjacks and mugging them in brick alleyways or anything of that nature; such traditional villains tend to end up getting charged instead by the various states, which have laws on the books to cover outright criminality of the sort that actually entails victims. Rather, the great majority of those locked up in federal custody have been arrested for doing things that would be perfectly legal if the United States really operated under a free market rather than the neo-mercantilist crazy quilt that has been bequeathed to us by, let us say, history.
At the three different holding facilities in which I’ve been collectively cooling my heels lately, the majority of my fellow inmates have been Mexican laborers who are guilty of nothing more than moving from one place where their productivity as measured in real dollars was low to another place where their output was higher, all in accordance with the natural osmosis of the market. In some cases, the “Mexicans” in question were actually raised in the United States from infancy, speak English better than they do Spanish, and are otherwise indistinguishable from the large mass of American Hispanics. But merely by living in the country in which they have spent almost their entire lives, they are subject to arrest and expulsion to Mexico, a country with which they are essentially unfamiliar. If they return to the United States — and of course they do, for here are their families and their lives — they are subject to arrest and federal incarceration for “re-entry.” Many of the “Mexicans” I’ve met are on their third or fourth such charge, with each successive “crime” carrying more and more prison time. Naturally, all of this is done at great expense to the same American public that has allowed this state of affairs to come about to begin with — which is to say that at least some degree of justice is achieved, if only by accident.
Of course, such cases as these are somewhat over-represented down here in the Southwest, where so many Mexicans still inexplicably insist on treading ground that the United States rightfully stole from their country whole generations ago. Nationwide, a slight majority of federal inmates are in for selling drugs. I don’t know what arguments for decriminalization I could possibly voice that aren’t already known by heart to every reasonably bright eighth-grader at this point. Instead I will simply note that if everyone who violated state or federal laws by possessing or selling drugs were to be caught and prosecuted for these crimes, tens of millions of American citizens would be in prison and tens of millions more would be on supervised release. Thus it is that the survival of our nation above the level of a neo-Stalinist gulag zone is entirely dependent on our laws not actually being enforced.
All in all, it is a peculiarly American system that we have created, this constitutional police state.
But who are these “federal inmates,” as they are termed, whom our very Eric Holders now admit have been largely over-sentenced in years past? To follow is a sampling of those with whom I lived in close quarters for a year at the over-crowded lockup in Mansfield, Texas, before being moved to my present location at Seagoville.
Black, as he liked to be called, was a big black guy who lived in my eight-man cell and spent much of his time engaged in elaborate exercises while singing along to rap songs on his radio headset. Insomuch as that he was often out of breath, he would only sing snippets of these, such that I would have to try to work out the particular themes, structure, and subject matter of each song based on these rather occult and half-mumbled fragments. To wit:
“Huff, puff, mumble mumble mumble runneth over, Holy Grail!”
“Make you feel… huff, puff… some type of way!”
I gather that these tunes were very popular, as he sang along to each of them several times a day, even when he was going to sleep:
“Got some… bad bitches with me… too… ZZZZZZ”
Mexican Guy Who Looked Like a Mexican Version of George Stephanopoulos was a Mexican guy who looked like a Mexican version of George Stephanopoulos. I never caught his real name.
Ray Romano was a white guy who looked and talked almost exactly like the comedian and sitcom star Ray Romano. We were all kind of relieved when he made bond and left.
Trucker, as he was called due to having been caught with an 18-wheeler filled with low-grade marijuana, was a Puerto Rican who spent most of the day watching TV and drinking coffee. For a time, I was the only white guy in our 24-man tank, and on random occasions when a random white person would appear on the TV, Trucker would point to the screen and say, “Brown, it’s you!” It didn’t have to be anyone who looked like me, either; it could be Wolf Blitzer or Regis or whoever. One time I was actually on TV after a court appearance, but Trucker didn’t say anything.
Flamboyant Gay White Guy came in one day on some sort of drug charge. When we received our brown bag lunches that day, he looked inside his, saw that there were cookies, and exclaimed, “Yay, cookies!”
Tio was an avuncular, potbellied Mexican who was in on a cocaine distribution charge. At least once a day, Tio would confront me with his thumb and forefinger both extended to form a “pistol” and thereby “hold me at gunpoint” until I raised my hands into the air in surrender, at which point he would nod knowingly and place his invisible gun back in the invisible holster he wore at his side. This went on for months until, one day, I responded by pulling TWO invisible pistols out of the invisible holsters I had begun pretending to wear for this very purpose, at which point he raised his own hands in submission. When you’re locked up in the midst of the federal system’s non-violent pseudo-criminals, every day is a make-believe struggle just to survive.
There’s a good deal of what one might term “conspiracy literature” floating around the various jail units I’ve frequented. Rather than dealing with actual and now-verified conspiracies of the sort one really ought to know something about — the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the CIA’s CHAOS and MKUltra and Mockingbird and (my personal favorite) Gladio — these books tend to dwell almost entirely on nonsense, assigning a great deal of the globe’s secret goings-on to the defunct Illuminati organization that once frightened police inspectors in 18th-century Bavaria but which never accomplished anything of note and which likely fizzled out a few years after its founding. This is unfortunate from an educational standpoint, but for my purposes it’s rather fortunate indeed, as I’m something of an aficionado of bad Illuminati tracts, and I’ve found a couple of choice specimens. Here’s an especially ripe passage from one entitled Illuminati: Fact or Fiction, written from a fundamentalist Christian perspective:
“The Illuminati may have the entire truth, or they may have a piece of it and think they have it as a whole, like a blind man who grabs an elephant’s tale [sic] and thinks that it is an elephant, not knowing he is only holding a small part of an elephant and cannot begin to imagine what an elephant really is, based on the small part that he is holding in his hand.”
I was surprised and a little disappointed when this sentence finally ended; by its own internal logic, there was really no reason why it ought not to have gone on forever. But moreso than the inimitable style in which it is written, what I most appreciated about the book is the section in which the author casts a skeptical eye upon some of the nation’s potentially less credible expositors of Illuminati theory:
“While it is certainly possible that Schnoebelen was a Satanist and high-level Freemason, or even a member of the Illuminati, one has to see his claims of becoming a vampire as completely 100% fraudulent, and his claims of having sex with a fallen angel as highly suspicious and unlikely.”
Having read the passage in question, I am in a position to confirm that it is indeed suspicious.
Bible Verse of the Day: Deuteronomy 23:1
“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.”