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Of friend and foe

United States
Race
Prisons
Barbed wire

Niels Kliim under a Creative Commons Licence

Sustained by support from the outside, Brandon Astor Jones faces enemies daily within the prison walls.

More than two decades ago a friendly family in Britain began corresponding with me. The matriarch’s letter of introduction was both warm and instructive. Over the years she, her husband and their two daughters have made seemingly endless positive impressions on me and how I have come to see this world we all are privileged to live in. I have had more than a few so-called ‘friends’ before I came to this prison who soon disappeared out of my life. In fairness to those friends, I must admit that I did not know how to be a friend either.

The L family wants to remain anonymous so I will refer to them as the Ls: the Ls have always been both friends and teachers in my life and for their entry into it I have always been grateful. They have taught me to love people, without conditions.

A few months ago I asked Mrs L if she knew very much about European prisons. I went on to explain that I wanted to write, at length, about this prison and make it easier for anyone who wanted to tell the difference between US and European prisons in the process. She went online for some research and eventually wrote me a letter on 28 November 2014. She downloaded an essay from the Guardian archives. Written by the well-known columnist Erwin James on 1 December 2013, it was titled, ‘Why is Sweden closing its prisons?’ The article included a colour photograph of ‘[a] cell in Kumala prison, Sweden’s most secure institution’.

The cell in the photo could pass for a really small hotel room: it has a large, well-stocked wooden bookcase; a very large window with drapes; the bunk appears to be wooden as well – it has a shelf-type headboard-top; to its left there is a wooden desk which has a large computer screen and/or television screen; there is a wooden armchair; and in the foreground there is an upright wardrobe. There is a sink with a mirror and small shelf below it and a small rug on the floor. Wow? Yes.

Here in the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison’s G-unit the only chair in this cell is the toilet, which is only 33 centimetres off the floor; the cell’s wall-to-wall dimensions are 2 metres ×1.8 metres there are four coat-hooks on the wall directly above the toilet (what an absurd place for coat-hooks), a sink, a bunk and a wall-cabinet. Of course, everything I have just listed in cell number 80 is steel.

The only time I can sit in a chair is when and if I go to the visiting rooms. Needless to say, all of the prisoners (young or old) have back problems because we rarely, if ever, sit in/on anything designed to give support to a human being’s back.

****

If you are a prison administrator who actually wants to treat prisoners humanely you better not let anyone know how you feel. If you do, in due course you will be transferred to a site or post where you can reconsider your folly.

You see, in Georgia the State Legislature is racially controlled by a small group of people who use state prisons to play and live out their ‘Gone with the Wind’-plantation fantasies.

Moreover, because African-American men, in many of Georgia’s prisons, are disproportionately represented and because the small but powerful group of legislating Caucasian-Americans are hell-bent on the daily exercise of their total domination of people of colour inside Georgia’s pseudo-antebellum-like-prison plantations, racial subjugation is an enduring, centuries-old familial goal.

Wow! What a long sentence the above paragraph was! Nevertheless, their fantasy-goal, to them, is very real. It requires insight, information and courage to contest them, every day. Why? Well, for one thing, it is in their blood; and, if you listen quietly – when they talk among themselves and think you cannot hear them – the words ‘job security’ justify every thought and deed they can muster.

If, to my disclosures you ask, ‘Well, Brandon, what happens when prison administrators like a warden or corrections commissioner turn out to be Black?’ I would only direct your attention to President Obama’s tied-political-hands, because some – not all – of the racist White Congress persons will not let him do more than a few things that need to be done in America. Consider too, that near the end of last December (2014) – to give even more credence to my point – it was discovered that 11 years ago a man who, at this writing, is a Republican Congressman, was asked to speak at a Ku Klux Klan gathering. He admits that he did indeed speak at the gathering, but that he ‘didn’t know that it was a Klan’ gathering. The organization was then headed by David Duke, one of the most notorious haters of Jewish and Black people on the planet! I should note too, that he once ran for public office in the State of Louisiana, where he got more than 2 per cent of the votes.

****

The truth is that Criminal Justice is an industry (put another way, misery is an industry) in Georgia. Every day, even more draconian schemes are being devised to extract more money from prisoners’ families and friends – 90 per cent of whom are among the state’s poorest people. If you doubt what I am saying, consider this: ‘Probation’ in Georgia has recently bloomed into a multimillion-dollar industry. If that does not give you pause, then the following should.

Of America’s 51 states, Georgia’s citizen population numbers are in the medium range, yet Georgia has more people on probation than any other state. Some probationers are quickly finding themselves in what amounts to a Probationary-contemporary debtors’ prison. In essence theirs is a ‘no money, no freedom’ world.

Meanwhile, a small group of fat-cats are calling the shots by telling their legislative underlings what state projects to fund; and, equally, if not more importantly, what not to fund.

For example, if there is an excess of (let’s say) $2 million left in the state prisons’ budget (remember, Georgia has 40 of them) that means there will be a lot of new metal-detectors – despite the fact that the newness has not worn off the batch that were purchased 2 years ago.

However, the plastic food trays that we prisoners eat out of are at least 8 years old. They are completely worn out – so much so that they can never be sanitized again no matter how much you wash them and scrub them inside and out in boiling-hot soapy water. I should also note that new trays would be cheaper than metal detectors, but purchasing new food trays would be a sign of humanizing G-Unit prisoners – and of course that must not be done.

Rehabilitating, educating and humanizing prisoners – in the eyes of those politicians and prison administrators I know of – would be met with so much violent resistance that an onlooker would think America’s prison systems were at war with one another from within: each prison’s administrators inciting violence among all prisoners.

It is shameful how many Americans of every ethnic background continue to be silent about what they know is going on in US prisons.

I close in gratitude to the L family’s many gifts.


PLEASE WRITE TO ME:

Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA.

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