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August 30 in Pen Pal: A letter from prison







On August 30, Em's family got a letter from Clear Springs Prison, telling them that Em's brother was in the infirmary.

So, today might be a good day to remember that although the United States is home to only 5 percent of the world's population, 25 percent of the world's prisoners are here.1 Yes, one in every four prisoners in the world is in a US prison. Hence the term "prison industrial complex."

And a sizable percentage of those serving time in state prisons are doing so for nonviolent drug offenses: In 2012, the breakdown looked like this:2

violent crimes: 53%
property crimes (includes theft and fraud): 18.3%
drug related (includes trafficking and possession): 16.8%
public order (includes drunk driving, prostitution, etc.): 10:6%
other (includes juvenile offenses): 1.4%

Guess what state has the highest percentage of people in prison. Answer at footnote 3.

In more cheerful news, one of the women I work with at the jail shared a poem she'd made up. It was *awesome* and would make a great song. I told her so and asked her if she would ever consider trying to produce it as a song, when she got out, and she said her husband is a DJ. If her poem ever hits it big, I am going to brag so hard about the day I got to see it.





1Joshua Holland, "Land of the Free? US Has 25 Percent of the World’s Prisoners," Moyers & Company, December 16, 2013.
2E. Ann Carson and Daniela Golinelli, Prisoners in 2012: Advance Counts (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2013), 10.
3If you guessed Louisiana, you are right. If you guessed Mississippi or Alabama, you're nearly right. They're the next two. Source is Carson and Golinelli, 10.

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
yamamanama
Aug. 31st, 2014 12:50 am (UTC)
I was thinking something in the south. We're 47th, by the way.

Also, there are some awesome pictures in my journal.
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 05:10 am (UTC)
I wanted to get to your journal this evening, but I was doing massive amounts of cooking, so I will stop by on Sunday. I think I'm like two entries behind ....
yamamanama
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think you are too.

Were there plantains involved?
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:56 pm (UTC)
No--wild grapes for jelly, processing tomatoes for tomato sauce, and creating a spicy roasted eggplant puree.

And it's Sunday morning! To your journal I come!
yamamanama
Aug. 31st, 2014 02:09 pm (UTC)
That sounds really amazing.
yamamanama
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:55 pm (UTC)
Also, do you remember the entry I made about the Fuller Craft Museum and the judge's sculpture of a jury box with juror archetypes?

He's probably right: there are a lot of people who believe that the mere act of being charged with a crime means guilt, lack of evidence be damned.
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:59 pm (UTC)
I do remember the post about the Fuller Craft Museum--it was the one with the cool boat sculpture--but I think I missed the judge's sculpture and commentary. I think he's absolutely right, though, and it's a mindset the cops have, too. As soon as anyone even crosses their mind as a potential suspect, that person is tainted.
amaebi
Aug. 31st, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)
One of the greater recentish shocks of my life was that a seminary colleague who was then still a cop talked about "catching the bad guys," rather than arresting suspects.

Edited at 2014-09-01 12:13 am (UTC)
asakiyume
Sep. 2nd, 2014 12:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that good guy, bad guy mentality really chills me.
amaebi
Sep. 2nd, 2014 12:22 pm (UTC)
There's a marvelous little passage in a Margery Allingham novel about how a good/normal English police officer fetches and guards suspects. *sigh*
sartorias
Aug. 31st, 2014 03:39 am (UTC)
Ugh, depressing statistics.

But I hope the song happens!
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 05:07 am (UTC)
I hope so too!
sovay
Aug. 31st, 2014 03:56 am (UTC)
If her poem ever hits it big, I am going to brag so hard about the day I got to see it.

That's awesome. I hope it does.
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 05:07 am (UTC)
Me tooooooo.
jordan179
Aug. 31st, 2014 04:12 am (UTC)
One possible interpretation of this is that the American criminal justice system is far better at punishing evildoers than those of most other countries -- that in those countries, the much lower percentage in prison translates to a lot more criminals running free to terrorize the innocent population.
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 05:05 am (UTC)
That is indeed one way to look at this. But if that were the case, we should expect to find *way* less crime in the United States than anywhere else. Let's take intentional homicides as a measure of that (since there are statistics easily available for that). The United States has a rate of 4.7--lower than notorious countries such as El Salvador (41.2) and Honduras (90.4), and disturbed areas, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (28.3). But on the other hand, it's higher than the rate for Japan (0.3), Indonesia (0.6), Germany (0.8), Italy (0.9), the UK (1.0), Sierra Leone (1.9), and Chile (3.1) [ETA: and there are a number of others; I just chose a scattering across continents.]. (Source is this page in Wikipedia, which is drawing on this document from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.)

It's not a perfect heuristic, as a place could have a low murder rate but lots of petty crime, but at the very least, it shows that despite the United States' exceptionally high incarceration rate, there are quite a few countries in the world where you are statistically less likely to be murdered.


Edited at 2014-08-31 05:06 am (UTC)
amaebi
Aug. 31st, 2014 10:56 am (UTC)
I cannot effectively work in prisons because our prison industrial complex appals me. And that's legit, but not a place from which I can be helpful to the imprisoned, who, it strongly seems to me, are best off when they can take their prisonment a given and do the best they can within it. One of many reasons I admire you.
asakiyume
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:45 pm (UTC)
And similarly, I quite understand your reaction. It's kind of like the food pantry problem--intervention at the wrong point. Or maybe not wrong point, but it's an intervention that doesn't challenge the system itself.

I started to follow @prisonculture on Twitter. Her blog has lots of thoughts on, and information about, the prison industrial complex (much of which you probably already know, but her site is interesting in any case).
heliopausa
Sep. 1st, 2014 01:56 am (UTC)
Thanks for including the news of the poem/song - and, echoing amaebi above, I admire you for being there, and helping to bring something good to/out of a bad situation.
asakiyume
Sep. 2nd, 2014 12:48 pm (UTC)
I so very strongly *hope* that I can bring good out of a bad situation.
desmondcoutinho
Sep. 1st, 2014 06:25 pm (UTC)
I had this really long rambling thing about working in prisons and yada yada but then at the end I found what I wanted to say and when I tried posting it said TL DR or its equivalent. So this is the end bit without the intro. It's a song by an Argentinian Poetess Walsh whom they didn't kill. Part of what happened to the disappeared in south american prisons was that babies were taken from mothers in prison and given to officers in the ruling military. It's a poem sung by Sosa her name is I'll add the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wv_-kUkP998 but if that doesn't post it's called como la cigarra. I have enough spanish to understand it without translation. The cicada is supposed to be able to hibernate for generations and then come out one day singing and its about humanity's ability to sing in the same way. And the song is really beautiful too. Yes that's what I wanted to say about prisoners.
asakiyume
Sep. 2nd, 2014 12:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks Desi; I'll check it out.
mnfaure
Sep. 2nd, 2014 07:44 am (UTC)
My first thought was, "Some southern state with a high African-American population," and then I thought, "Or Texas."

It would be amazing if that inmate could get her poem turned into a (successful) song.
asakiyume
Sep. 2nd, 2014 12:50 pm (UTC)
It would be so awesome if she could!
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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