Every prison is the same; and every prison is different.
Every prison has its own mythos, (think Alcatraz, Sing Sing, Attica), its own rhythm. hard, cool, tight, relaxed, severe or super max. And every prison is run by class -as in how courts or administrators have classified a crime according to whose interests are threatened.
For example, in every ‘hole” in the State, where all Death Rows are sited, men and women with the worst sentences live the least contentious lives. If they can afford it, (really if their family can), they TV, radio and other amenities -if they can afford it. Some work prison jobs for the glorious wage of around $35 to $50 a month (yes, a month) There, every mind is attuned to the ultimate sentence -death – and against such an immensity, amenities seem trivial.
Yet Death Row is a class (as in classification) and beyond it lies a chasm of classifications that are as maddening as they are mundane – AC (Administrative Custody), DC (Disciplinary Custody), PC (Protective Custody), and beyond.
All are lock-up statuses, all have their distinct rules of what is or isn’t allowed, and all have degrees of repression.
Every major U.S. history book has described America as virtually classless, with rigid class distinctions more a British or European thing. How then can a Nation that claimed classlessness give birth to such institutions that are so riddled with class differentiations?
Because America was never classless, and not only did it have rigid classes, it had (and has), caste, more rigid than stone. Millions of Blacks live in such a caste, as noted recently in Michelle Alexander’s excellent work, The New Jim Crow.
The ruling, wealthy class built prisons and courts to protect them and their wealth from the masses. They have also built the ideological illusion of classlessness, which is maintained through their media. They brayed about freedom, while erecting the most massive prison complex (the prison-industrial-complex) this earth has ever seen.
They built Prison Nation.