America’s Prison System Represents a Tribute to Marxism

By · Monday, February 9th, 2009

During the more than 21 years that I’ve served in prison thus far, I’ve read a fair amount of books on political philosophy. As I read the work of Karl Marx, I was struck by how the American prison system models itself on Marxist principles. Prisons, I am sure, are as close as we come to a communistic system in the west.

From what I recall reading, Karl Marx advocated a system of government in which the people should subject themselves to serve the needs of the state. Those who climbed to the top levels of state leadership, supposedly, would have the wisdom to determine in what type of career each citizen should work. The state would dispense clothing and food rations, each according to needs. Marx did not believe in the concept of private property, as he felt convinced that distinctions should not exist between those in the populace.

Although such Marxist concepts diverge from the individualistic principles of America, they are the rules by which I have lived since my imprisonment began in 1987. When a person is locked inside the prison system, administrative rules extinguish his identity. Prisoners become part of the mass. Registration numbers replace prisoner names.

Prison administrators issue clothing, precise amounts for each prisoner. We receive three pairs of pants, three shirts, three pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, and one pair of shoes. We cannot accumulate extra clothing or blankets without subjecting ourselves to sanctions for violating rules as promulgated in the code of prohibited acts, as my article describes.

Regardless of a prisoner’s size or preference, all men will receive the same portion and type of meals. Administrators will assign prisoners where to sleep and with whom to share cells without concern for compatibility issues. As one counselor I knew liked to say, “we are required to provide you with a cell to sleep in, though that requirement does not entitle inmates to choices.”

The staff in prison assigns work details and schedules according to the needs of the institution. Despite the degrees I earned from Mercer University and Hofstra University, for example, administrators have assigned me to jobs cleaning toilets, scrubbing industrial boilers, washing dishes, and mopping floors. When I asked my unit manager for permission to change jobs so that I could have more time to prepare for the challenges I would face upon release, she told me “I don’t care what happens after your release. My only concern is maintaining the institution.”

As a consequence of the Marxist infrastructures that sentencing laws and prison administrators create, few prisoners devote themselves to preparations that will help them emerge as successful, contributing citizens. Instead of committing to adjustment patterns that require discipline and work that leads to personal development, many prisoners respond to the rigid infrastructure with adjustment patterns that continue the cycle of failure, as recidivism rates show. They play table games; they engage in contraband hustles; they look for activities that assuage the pains of confinement.

America needs prison reforms that will encourage more prisoners to earn their freedom through merit. Rather than measuring justice through the number of calendar pages that turn while a prisoner languishes in a cell, reforms ought to include clear pathways prisoners may take to reconcile with society. They should earn gradual increases in freedom as access to meaningful incentives for academic and vocational accomplishments, for community service and contributions, for maintaining disciplinary records free of misconduct reports and nurturing supportive networks that will help them transition into law-abiding citizens.

Through my article Strategy for Successful Prison Adjustment, I describe how I thrived through a 45-year prison term. Appropriate prison reforms would encourage other prisoners to adjust productively, lower recidivism rates, and make our enlightened society safer. Those are reforms worth working toward.

Be Sociable, Share!
Topics: Prison reform · Tags:

Comments are closed.