Two inmates are found dead at the Attica Correctional Facility.
Yes, you know, that Attica.
It’s right up the road from where I am. I’m sad to say I know a little about the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which runs the place. Let’s just say that what I do know does not inspire confidence that these two deaths will receive any meaningful attention. For the most part, there’s no one minding the store.
Why is that? Our collective attitude towards prisons and the imprisoned is, at this point, disgraceful. There are a lot of people in prison or who have been in prison, there’s no end in sight because occasionally encouraging rhetoric aside, bureaucratic trends are inexorable, and in the public consciousness all these millions of people are the equivalent of the untouchables in India, human detritus we lock away and ignore. To death, it sometimes boils down to.
A few months back the largest hunger strike in American prison history took place and essentially wasn’t reported, except around here and we don’t have a lot of readers at Lawyers on Strike. We also did a lot of follow up commentary on the ugly Central Park Five fiasco. The victims in that case have not, so far as we know over here, been compensated for their horrifying ordeal, and of course they were completely innocent in the matter.
So let it not be said that we don’t care about prisoners because they are all guilty lowlifes. We don’t care about them when we know they are innocent, either.
If we cared there would be an ever increasing public clamor until the Central Park Five were treated fairly. If we cared whether inmates lived or died there would be an increasing public clamor until we knew why two human beings in our custody are dead at the Attica Correctional Facility, and if there is any correctional facility on earth where the unexplained deaths of inmates should generate some public interest it would be Attica.
Dostoyevsky, who not coincidentally wrote Crime and Punishment, is reported to have said: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
Now if, tomorrow, two more inmates turn up dead at Attica, or at Clinton or at Upstate or whatever, will anyone give a shit then? What will it take? A dozen turning up dead?
We are in trouble. Pamela Anderson’s hairstyles receive more attention than tens of thousands of prisoners in the nation’s largest state, a state whose corrections department has - and though this is a stunning fact it, too, is nevertheless largely unremarked upon - been under federal court supervision for years, staging a hunger strike. Public officials aid and abet rapists by prosecuting their victims and no one cares about that, either. Prisoners die in custody and there’s a blurb or two in the news then we go back to the TV.
If you toady for power long enough and consistently enough you facilitate rape and murder and ultimately mass killing. This is always how it happens, in the prisons and among the weak first. Read this. It is not the musing of some neo-Nazi. It is the considered and deliberate opinion of the former leader of the liberal party in Canada. The supposedly more humane political party in what is arguably supposed to be the most humane country on earth. And of course he now teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
What this demonstrates is that the descent into barbarism we are experiencing as a society is not an accident. It is calculated and intentional and practiced by the leaders we elect and endorse. We have chosen and are choosing the direction we are taking.
The media is a big part of the problem. But so are we.