Tag Archives: American prisons

Informed Discourse Absent in Prisons by Michael Newman

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Breaking Free Poets

For more from Breaking Free Poets, visit https://breakingfreepoets.com/ and read About Breaking Free Poets by Michael Newman at https://straightfromthepen.com/writings-straight-from-the-pen-2/

Our society is in a collective moment of reckoning with the sins of our past- at least those of us willing to be honest are. Centuries of harm caused by colonialism, slavery, racial oppression and a western world dominated by the interest of white men have culminated into a barrage of modern-day resistance movements and widespread critical discourse on these themes.

One space where this discourse is distorted- if present at all- is within the walls of American prisons, especially male prisons. Here, the historical plagues of racism and misogyny are endemic; centuries of racial hostility manifest into extreme segregation, and a violently toxic masculinity poisons the seeds of any debate about women’s rights or roles in society.

It is predictable, even if ironic, that communities of people deemed expendable by society would exhibit the symptoms of the society’s most virulent illnesses. A vast majority of prisoners experienced adverse childhoods in poor, racially segregated pockets of America and many were also witnesses to, or victims of domestic violence. But like any guilty party, America attempts to bury the evidence of it’s most egregious sins, rather than confront them directly. But prisons aren’t burial grounds- not permanent ones, anyways. 19 out of 20 prisoners will eventually return to the society which deemed them unfit.
The lack of exposure to conversations about topics like racism and hyper-masculinity is just one more obstacle to add to the catalogue of stumbling blocks in the path to healthy reorientation and reentry to society.

Outdated and outright appalling narratives about women and ethnic groups are still dominant themes in prison culture. Over- incarceration and overcrowding in prisons has led to unsafe environments and the prioritization of security to the point of apathy towards educational pursuits, leaving little will to address issues like these, which derive from lack of exposure to informed discourse. From the correctional regime’s perspective however, information is the enemy- any force that would empower the population would also make them more of a risk.

If the system’s purpose is to administer “justice” on the behalf of the public, then they are doing a great disservice to the public by sheltering prisoners from intellectual growth with increasingly prohibitive measures. The lack of access to local resources like guest lecturers and volunteer educators leaves a prison population isolated from cultural debates and community engagement which could provide purpose for their lives. These are the types of discussions we need to have if we want to produce anything resembling “justice” within a prison, and build communities of formerly incarcerated people who are ready to make a better future for all of us.

Michael Newman,
co-founder, breakingfreepoets.com
mike@breakingfreepoets.com

Early Warning Codes

Prisoners shout various Early Warning Codes to forewarn others.  I recently learned that at some Georgia prisons, the Early Warning Code is “Twelve,” which I learned on Quora.com.  At one prison, other men used Top Rock or Bottom Rock to indicate where the staff member walked (top or bottom tier).

The reason an inmate may shout that (12) is because, for instance,  that a correctional officer or staff member enters a living area at the “12 O’clock” position, or that “12” is just one of the many “Early Warning Codes” used.

Staff may exhibit the same behavior, after getting used to prisoners using the Early Warning Code to let others know they’re on the prowl.

http://www.tattnallcountyga.com/georgia-state-prison.cfm

In the early Eighties I was at the Georgia State Prison (GSP) in Reidsville (The Great White Elephant), where the first version of “The Longest Yard” was filmed that starred Burt Reynolds. We used “Fire in the Hole” as our Early Warning Code to forewarn others that a correctional officer or staff member was entering the cellblock/living area.

Several staff members would walk in the door and shout, “Fire in the Hole.”

That may be because, in 1982, a federal monitor said that the Federal government had declared the prison as the most dangerous prison in the United States. Vincent N., the Federal Monitor appointed to monitor the prison for compliance with a Federal lawsuit (Guthrie v. Evans), made the claim of which I still challenge as factually incorrect.

I was an inmate representative in reformation process, voted in by my peers to represent the Whites for mediation during racial and legal disputes (to help resolve issues without killing each other and to help get the prison in compliance with the court orders).

I said, “How can we be the most violent prison when more people got killed in the New Mexico prison?”

“That was during a time of riot,” he said. “We’re talking about a time of non-riot. During a general run of the prison, y’all had thirty-five inmate-to-officer attacks, fifty inmate-to-inmate attacks, and six-murders.”

I suspect that because of the extreme level of violence, most staff members did not want to walk up on prisoners doing something illegal or unauthorized, which would require an un-favored response that may result in another staff assault.

In the past, one correctional officer had been robbed and killed by prisoners.  One prisoner removed a watch from his arm as he lay dying on the floor from a heart attack.

During my four-year stay at GSP, a male correctional officer was raped by a prisoner, of whom the prisoner had put a knife to his throat and pulled him into the cell, where the unthinkable happened.

The era of violence at that prison ended. Reorganization resulted in the reduced violence, as the more dangerous prisoners are more closely monitored and controlled.

But I am sure there are still those who will shout whatever the trending “Early Warning” signal may be for a staff member entering the area.

https://www.quora.com/In-prison-inmates-yell-12-to-alert-other-inmates-when-an-officer-is-present-Why-is-the-number-12-used-when-they-alert-each-other-or-does-this-only-happen-in-Georgia-prisons/answer/Wayne-T-Dowdy

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