Living organisms are built of cells. Prisons are also built of cells—but if they’re organisms, they’re dying, not living. The nucleus of a prison cell is the human heart, a core of love, fear, pain, boredom and rage.
Call them cages rather than cells. They are schools for car-thieves, perverts, robbers and revolutionaries. After Attica and the MannCounty shootout, prison officials know that the rage and frustration caused by imprisonment can no longer be contained. But the wardens, guards and case workers have no answers. More guards? Better pay? New cages? Therapy? Job training? Education?
Take aspirin for fever, but if it’s pneumonia you’re dead anyhow.
Since the fall of 1969, I’ve taught college courses in composition and literature in all four “facilities” of the Missouri Department of Corrections: the main prison (Jefferson City), the women’s prison (Tipton), the men’s training center (Moberly) and the Intermediate Reformatory (Algoa). This experience has not made me an expert penologist, nor has it furnished me with all the answers to our tragic penal system; but I would like to share some of what I have seen, been told and guessed at.
Also heard: footsteps echoing on concrete and stone; heavy steel gates clanging; voices made hollow by PA systems and bullhorns; the clatter of utensils; heavy rushes of showers and toilets flushing.
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