Prison, Prison Everywhere


There’s this phenomenon where, if something’s on your mind, it’s what you see everywhere you go. That’s how this prison thing has been for me. Why did I never notice before how the word prison comes up all the time, everywhere?

I open my little neighborhood newspaper and there’s a story about a local guy, a recovering addict who spent time in prison, just published a book called “Sobriety: A Graphic Novel” (Hazelden Publishing). The next week, there’s a story about a local woman who just published “A Mother Load of Addiction“. When her children were young adults, people would ask what they were doing. “I would say that my daughter was at college at St. Thomas and my son was at St. Cloud.” What she did not add was that her son was not at St. Cloud State University, but was serving time at the nearby state correctional facility for a drug-related holdup.

In my Sunday paper there’s an article about an old law that requires drug dealers to buy a tax stamp from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Inside editorial by a judge who writes about mass incarceration, “There’s a problem, yes. Is it proof of racism? No. Are there solutions? Yes, but they shouldn’t involve an end to punishment.” The following week there’s an article about prison phone reform. “They’ve got the monopoly, so they charge whatever they want,” said one Minnesota mother, struggling to stay in touch with her imprisoned son.” Not me, but it could have been. Today there was a question in the advice column from a woman worried about her mom’s ex-con boyfriend being around her 18-month-old daughter. The columnist’s advice? “When it comes to baby proofing your house, I would put access to ex-cons at the top of the list.”

I turn on the radio in my car and it’s Back to the 80s day with Grand Master Flash’s White Lines (Don’t, Don’t Do It): “A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time. He got out three years from now just to commit more crime. A business man is caught, with 24 kilos. He’s out on bail and out of jail and that’s the way it goes.” It’s a great tune, by the way.

I go to a party and everyone is laughing about the show Orange is the New Black. I’ve only seen the first season since I am old-school and still get Netflix DVDs. Hilarious! people say. Yes, it is funny, but not so much when you have an actual loved one behind bars. I didn’t see the end of the last season coming…it was really upsetting.

A local university announces it has a law professor named Mark Osler who has been chosen to join a team of experts screening 18,000 prisoners who applied to have their sentences commuted through Obama’s new drug clemency program.

I go to the Arrow Awards show. This is an hour and a half of British TV commercials and public service announcements that have won awards for creativity. Most of them are hilarious and I look forward to this bit of escapism every year. But then there is this one, where an ex offender is talking to a potential employer and you can hit the “skip” button.

I pick up a pile of old New Yorker magazines in the business center of my building—I like to cut out the cartoons and mail them to Vince, although they don’t always get through. In one, there’s a very long but fascinating article about the “alternatives-to-incarceration” industry. This is where private companies get paid to hound people who’ve failed to pay their parking tickets, for instance, piling on more and more late fees and fines until they’re on the verge of losing their homes.

These are just the prison references I come across in my home life. Work offers many more.

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