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Prisons - My personal experience


Last Edited: September 29, 2005, 2:32 pm



During the hard, hungry times after my return to civilization following the Y2K non-event I discovered I had a lot left to learn about survival. I’ve told a bit about the Y2K experience elsewhere on this blog, but I’ve never discussed the aftermath here.

The nearest decent sized town to my cabin and everything I held dear was Grants, NM, about 60 miles north. After I settled my mind that I had to move back to town, I picked Grants, mostly because I expected to get a job there, but hoped I could still make frequent enough trips to the cabin to keep the chickens healthy, fed and watered.

But that’s another story.

I was as nearly dead-broke as I’d been since my youth. But I was operating on a number of faulty assumptions. Never had any trouble finding a job in my life, older now with a good job history and an education to be envied by a young person, one of my faulty assumptions was that I’d have no trouble finding work.

Grants is a town about 60 miles west of ABQ, once a uranium mining center, surrounded by Rez of various kinds on all sides. After uranium went away, Grants became a town that re-emerged as a prison center, thanks to the war on drugs. Touristas and prisons.

(Humor.  This sign WASN'T at Grants, though it should have been)

There’s a NM State prison for men, a State prison for women, and a private prison for spillover from the State, plus a couple of thousand federal prisoners.

I’d never thought much about working in a prison facility, but it seemed a reasonable choice. One of my degrees is in English, and though I’d never taught in a formal setting, I’d spent several years during the ‘80s teaching adult literacy as a volunteer, one on one. In my innocence I believed I could be an asset teaching prisoners.

I applied for a teaching position at the private facility because it happened that 60 of the workers there’d been fired the previous week because they’d failed drug tests, or for various other causes. I was new in town and didn’t realize this was a regular pattern, happening every month or so.

However, going there for interviews, going through gates, chain-link tunnels, layers of attitude and ribbon wire just to interview, I experienced a sinking of the spirit with each visit and ebullience each time I exited. As it turned out, the prison system didn’t want a 57 year old with my qualifications, but by the time they made that decision, it was clear to me the feeling was mutual.

I discovered there was nobody much in that town who did want a 57 year old with my qualifications. Eventually I lied about the education, claiming never to have been to an institution of higher learning, so’s to snag a minimum-wage graveyard shift job at a local motel, where I worked a couple of years.

A person can’t reside in Grants, NM, half-a-decade without learning a lot about prisons. Everyone seems to work in one, have a relative in one, sell drugs to people who work in them, or be a prisoner on work release. During those years I became the acquaintance of people involved in all those capacities.

In some later blog entries I’ll be relating some of the experiences involving that pleasant phase of my life, why I believe the prison and criminal justice system in this country is a disaster, why the War on Drugs, I believe, is destroying the institutions of the nation, and why I’ve come to believe Americans are helping to bankrupt themselves for the empty satisfaction of keeping a segment of the population in cages for victimless crimes,

but accomplishing nothing. Zero. Zip, in doing so.



Entry #331


Comment by fxsterling - September 29, 2005, 4:18 pm
my buddy deep in a drunken black out mess up   no one hurt   5 years latter this buddy is soon to get out     he and the state havent addressed   his main problem   this happens all day    most have this problem   jails are hotels for many the boys cllub for others il. pest gov is headed to a 5 star one with his buddy from enron   we pay they relax
Comment by Rip Snorter - September 29, 2005, 4:49 pm
thanks for visiting the blog fxsterling, and thanks for the comment. Good luck to you, and to your buddy.

Tell him to hang in there. There's at least one American, old and pretty much a has-been, who sympathizes.

dphillipsComment by dphillips - September 29, 2005, 9:49 pm
I feel you! The flip side of that coin is...I'm an English teacher (the end of my 8th year) at THE YOUTH DIAGNOSTIC AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER/a.k.a., YDDC, on Edith & Candelaria, the Youth Correctional Center. Yes, gangs abound and the majority of the residents are only interested in contraband, gang activity, and don't give a pigs' ass about education!

Prior to my employment at YDDC, I was a high-school English teacher in New York City, a celestial heavenly body compared to where I'm working, now.

Correctional officers -- known as JCOs -- are humiliated, discouraged by the Administration (including Santa Fe) by a watering-down of their authority: residents actually curse JCOs, authority figures, say all manner of evil against them. When I arrived in 1997, there was a different administration who felt that residents should be held accountable for their actions, and disciplinary measures were taken for the safety and the security of the facility. Now, if a JCO or a teacher looks at a resident cross-eyed, the resident is ready to sue -- or their family will attempt legal action.

Finally, our facility has lost some fine correctional officers and some great teachers because the system has worn them down to shreds...and there is absolutely nothing left but the hems of their discarded garments as actual reminders that they have passed through!

Comment by Rip Snorter - September 29, 2005, 11:41 pm
Thanks for the comment dphillips.

I doubt you could overstate the situation you describe. The awful part of the equation is that the public schools are only a milder version of what you describe. I did some substitute teaching in Grants to supplement the motel wages. Frankly, it left me with a flatline view of the entire public education system in New Mexico. Wouldn't know where to begin to attempt to salvage it.

One of the aspects of the entire lottery discussion I find amusing is the frequent kindly references to the educational benefit spinoffs. My viewpoint is that there's no amount of money that can be thrown at the public education system that would make a scratch in the seamless surface of failure it represents. The problems are too systemic to the entire American culture.

However, that's neither here nor there, as it pertains to the War on Drugs and the adult correctional system that's risen from the seed. I appreciate your comment, but I'm uncertain, having read it several times, whether you intended it to speak to that particular facet of the blog entry. My personal thought is that the War on Drugs is the lifeblood of gang activity. That, were it not for the War on Drugs driving the profits into the stratosphere, much of the gang revenues would dry up. That presupposes the feds would be out of the picture and that, if the pursuit of drug offenses was considered a priority for the State, it would be a priority measured against crimes involving victims. Better yet, in my view, if an adult wants to use recreational drugs, a local health center provides, first, careful counsel for the physical and psychological consequences, then pharmaceutical quality drugs at pharmacy prices for any adult who insists on using them. It dismantles a national disgrace in criminal justice, saves an enormous amount of deficit tax dollars, and is founded on principles of personal freedom for adults to make (even bad and regretable) choices for their lives.

I'd be interested in reading an expansion of your views on the issue.

Gracias for the comment, amigo.


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