Prison Commentary: Human Dignity Violations - Week 2

Course: HNRS 302: Extreme Punishments: Life, Death, & Solitary Confinement
Written: January 22, 2014 
Published: February 13, 2017
© All Rights Reserved

Written during Destiny's junior year of college, Destiny poignantly provides commentary and reflection on readings for the week for a University Honors course titled "Extreme Punishments." Each reading required the illumination of the following 4 structure components: takeway(s), a free-write, a quotation(s) of interest, and a question(s). 

I. Prologue: Welcome to County/ Courtroom 302

Takeaways

  • Prisoners rights vs. vengeance
  • Innocent until proven guilty vs. Reality (the perception of deputies)
  • There is a correlation between race and poverty in our justice system

Free write

This passage provides a personal "behind the scenes" account of Steve Bogira’s visit to The Cook County Criminal House in Chicago on January 20, 1998. The time period covers the interactions of prisoners and deputy officers from booking to bond hearings. The main players are prisoners, judges, state attorneys, public defenders, and deputies. The premise of this reading is that there is a correlation between race, poverty, and injustice in the U.S. justice system (pg. 18, 19, 22).  


One assumption is that correctional officers are overworked, careless, and desensitized. Another assumption is that some judges make their decision based upon time efficiency rather than rational justice. This is not to say that all judges do this. However, it is common practice. Take for example when the Honorable Lambros Kutrubis said, "I'm more concerned with getting people in and out as fast as I can" (pg. 19). Kutrubis's ideology is quite contradictory to the U.S. judges oath of office which states:


“I, XXX XXX, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as XXX under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God” (par. 1).


It is fair and logical to ask, 'how can we effectively address or eliminate injustice in our justice system?’ However, one implication of addressing the problems demonstrated in the article is that millions of jobs would be lost. Simply put, poverty fuels the economy. Judges, correctional officers, state attorneys, and public defendants represent just a small group of jobs that would be cut if poverty and crime rates decrease. Bond payments also are a form of revenue for the government.


This leads to the question: 'Would "the powers that be" be willing to improve our justice system at the expense of cutting jobs and decreasing government revenue?


Quotation

"We ain't required to be concerned about your situation." (pg. 21)


Questions

  • Is justice really being served?
  • After the release of the book, were any of the deputy officers reprimanded for their behavior?

Citation

Cornell University Law School. “28 U.S. CODE § 453 - Oaths of Justices and Judges.” Law.cornell.edu, n.d. Web. 20 January 2014.



II. Critical Mass: Poems and Photographs on Mass Incarceration


Takeaways

  • A mutual exchange of dialogue between the poet and the photographer  
  • Author and poet elaborate on the significance of visual imagery
  • The ethical, legal, and religious ties to mass incarceration

Free write

In comparison to the previous works by the author, this is an interview with the accompanying photographer. The premise of this interview is to provide the reader with an inside view of the author's essential questions, commentary, and reactions to the photographer's images. Simultaneously, the illustrator provides background knowledge of the visual interpretations. The style of the interview is a mutual exchange of dialogue. In short, it is a fusion of perspectives from the photographer and the poet.


The title “Critical Mass” has mathematical, religious, economic, and sociological origins. Themes of personification are present throughout the interview. As an example, the illustrator gives a metaphorical, visual interpretation of vines representing prisoner confinement for the cover photo (para. 4). The illustrator’s analysis of imagery throughout the interview provides pathos. This reminds me of a quote from Walt Disney: “Pictures speak the most universally understood language.” In essence, the imagery gives the words life.


When the poet and the illustrator discussed the poem “Mass incarceration,” I related it to a biblical and historical reference to The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)(par. 6). The words “those who trespass against us” are present in the The Lord's Prayer (stanza 8). This phrase is also present in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.


The etymology of the word “transubstantiation” means the change of one substance to another. This is a direct correlation to the poem titled “Transubstantiation” since the premise of the poem discusses the transformation of being a prisoner to an object or a number.  I articulated the visual interpretation of  the coffee cup to the poem also. Just like a prisoner becoming just an object, the coffee mug begins full, then later disintegrates to nothing--a stained cup--an undesirable object. I did however, ponder on the context of who is acting out the “Black Magic?”


There is a biblical and musical reference with the poem "Exodus: The Movement of the Felons" (para. 13). As a Torah observer, this is a biblical/Edenic reference. It is also a musical reference to Bob Marley's song "Exodus." Marley's song has opening lyrics of "Exodus, movement of Jah(God's) People."


Lastly, there is an artistic reference to Frida Kahlo in the mural by Diego Rivera. Frida is in the mural, along with the rest of the people.


Quotation

“The final photographs accompany Exodus, the closing poem."


Questions

  • Who is performing the Black magic? (pg. 43, poem “Transubstantiation”)
  • What is the connection between niches holding saints and prison cells holding inmates? (pg. 44)
  • Outside of Frida Kahlo, were there any other recognized people in the mural?

III. What’s in a Name: A poem on the Prison Industrial Complex

Takeaways

  • American business and corporations profit from mass incarceration
  • With mass incarceration, the U.S. prison population is predominantly men of color
  • The poem’s title asks the essential questions: ‘What does PIC really stand for? and What is it’s purpose?

Free write

The title of the poem “What’s in a Name: A Poem on the Prison Industrial Complex” references the convention of private organizations and corporations profiting from overpopulating prisons in short periods of time. Although prison industrial complex (PIC) occurs in other countries, the author has a theme of analyzing extreme punishment in the U.S, specifically African-Americans. Instantly, the title sheds light on the economical, political, and legal complexities tied to the U.S prison system. Economical ties are present because it is economically advantageous for American organizations to profit from housing more inmates. Mathematically, the number of prisoners is the “x” or independent variable. While, the “y” or dependent variable represents the capital earned from the number of inmates housed. As “x” rises, “y” rises.


The opening of the poem reiterates the title. This acts as a repeated reference. The author takes a blunt stance with the two words “a mouthful.” This suggest that agenda of  PIC is robust and wide-reaching. Additionally, the author uses personification by giving human-like qualities (a full mouth) to the definition of PIC. The theme of personification is carried throughout the poem.


The second paragraph contrast the first stanza. When the author writes “Think Cookbook,” he implies that PIC actions are deliberate or calculated--like a recipe.


The third paragraph provides the most visual imagery. Here, the author is referring to prison labor. The phrase “Dark meat preferred” is a metaphorical connection to Dark meat as in food, and African-American men. As mentioned earlier, men of color are housed in prison at higher rates than any other race.  


The closing paragraph can be summarized as: When the nation seeks revenge, inmates are treated like meat.


Conclusively, this poem sheds light on the rising number of non-white individuals being incarcerated. Yet in personal reflection, when visiting my father in prison, I see inmates from many other ethnic groups. On a broader domain, PIC involves more than just the mass incarceration of people of color. However, I do acknowledge the the majority of inmates are people of color.

Quotation

  • “Dark meat preferred.”

Question

  • How many senators or what senators have taken donations from organizations/groups that fund PIC?

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