A Country Called Prison: Mass Incarceration And The Making Of A New Nation, by Mary D. Looman & John D. Carl
I must admit that my feelings about this book were considerably mixed and that my own approach to crime and punishment is very distinct from the authors. That said, this book did reveal at least some reason as to why organizations that represent those who work in prisons have often been so down on prisons and those who work with prisoners. There are a wide variety of approaches among the prison staff, and those whose views are closest to my own when it comes to questions of security and the well-being of the public are closest to the approach of the guards or administrators of the prison, rather than to those whose defective beliefs about good and evil and desire to exculpate people of the moral responsibility for their deeds leads them to look at the rate of crime in the United States and blame society and not the people who actually commit evil themselves. Even so, the authors demonstrate enough concern with the people caught up in the prison culture that this book retains value even for someone as critical of its approach as I am.
This book is about 200 pages long or so and is divided into seven chapters and other supplementary material. After a preface and acknowledgments, the authors begin the book with a discussion of the country called prison (1) and what makes it a country (2) in terms of its population and its shared culture and language as well as peripheral status within the United States as a whole. The authors talk about the people who live in the country called prison, which includes a large minority population as well as various broken families who grow up acculturated to the prison life and the way of thinking that gets one put in prison (3). The author examines what life is like in the country of prison, which is a pretty grim life it must be admitted (4), as well as what happens when one visits America from that country and finds oneself cut off and estranged from its ways (5). The last two chapters of the book contain discussions by the author on how one can emigrate from the country of prison to mainstream American culture (6) as well as how the country of prison can be assimilated into mainstream culture itself (7), followed by a summary of leftist proposals to try to deal with prison life.
Again, as should be noted, my feelings about this book are highly mixed. There are some aspects of this book that I found to be deeply touching, such as the way that the author discussed her own successful attempts to help a woman who had been imprisoned acculturate to life on the outside, which included helping her to get identification, clothing, and medical care. The author notes that abused and neglected children are typically set up for prison life by failing to learn vital lessons in how to get along with people in a peaceful fashion, showing that prison culture maintains itself generationally. In fact, a book like this could be profitably read in combination with the works of Solzhenitsyn as a way of looking at the zek culture from the point of view of a kindly but clueless bureaucrat with a defective moral worldview but a great deal of sympathy for those caught up in a cruel prison system. Admittedly, there is one big thing that the author and I do agree on strongly, and that is the desirability of prison not being used so widely as a means of punishment, for while there are great wrongs that deserve punishment, there is a lot of harm in taking nonviolent offenders and from a young age subjecting them to the corrupting influence of trusties and the criminal class in an atmosphere of intense deprivation and the immense losses of one’s life that result from frequent and lengthy imprisonment.