"The humanity of a society can be judged by the treatment of its prisoners." Winston S. Churchill
I wrote a couple of pieces for this blog in May and June of 2009 that dealt with prisons. The first article was about a new prison that a community in Montana self-funded in an effort to bring an economic boost to their small town. The folks in Hardin, Montana, followed the "Field of Dreams" philosophy that "if you build it, they will come." Unfortunately, the state decided that it didn't need a prison in Hardin, and the brand new, ultra-expensive structure was sitting empty while some shysters from Texas were partying-down on the profits that they made from promoting that boondoggle.
At some point in that article I noted that Arizona had prisons owned by private corporations, and those seemed to be working well. Several readers immediately took me to task and explained in lurid detail that Arizona's private prisons are cesspools of abuse against convicts as well as against staff. I have since learned that the lobbyists for their private prisons slather their money all over Arizona legislators. It must be a highly lucrative business.
In a follow-up post I wrote about Marcia Powell, a 48-year-old woman who was serving time for prostitution, a victimless crime, at the prison in Perryville, Arizona. She was left outside in a holding cage and essentially forgotten for four hours when the temperature was over 100 degrees. There was no shade and no water. She was dead by the end of the day.
I also used that post to write about Officer Brent Lumley who had been overpowered and killed by inmates at that same prison a dozen years before. In memory of Officer Lumley, some of his co-workers started an underground newsletter called The Lumley Vampire that provided the inside scoop on what was going on in Arizona prisons as well as those nationwide. It was called the Vampire because it was printed in secret, late at night, and then placed on employee car windshields. The prison officials were able to quash the printed version, so then it was taken to the Internet where it eventually reached a much wider audience.
The reason that I am taking this walk down memory lane today is that I have just received a response to the old post on The Lumley Vampire. It was actually the fifth response that I have received in the two-and-a-half years that the article has been up on the Internet. This response is from a reader who chose to remain anonymous. She states that she is a former resident of the prison at Perryville. Her remarks follow:
"I was incarcerated in the Perryville Women's Prison on the Santa Cruz Unit for two-and-a-half years. Because of overcrowding, they put beds in laundry rooms, classrooms, side rooms, and two condemned kitchens! I was one of many minimum custody inmates who were housed with high-mediums (murders, rapists, child molesters) because they had nowhere else to put them.
In Arizona the summers reach 115-118 plus degrees and the only source of cooling is swamp coolers. During the summer monsoons, the power goes out and we are locked in our rooms with no air and no windows, for hours! My whole pod (48 of us) did not have working toilets so we had to use an outhouse - after we finally banged on the doors loud enough for the CO's (correctional officers) to pay attention and unlock our doors.
My first Bunky was four months pregnant with twins and she started to cramp. Finally they took her to the hospital where she lost one. Six hours later she was back in our room. The same night she started cramping again and was told to lay down (because) it "was normal." She started to bleed and after three hours of banging for help, they came in just as she caught her second baby in the toilet. All that I could do was wrap her up in a towel and hold onto her until medical took my screaming / sobbing Bunky and her still-born daughter out of our room. She was back by morning.
I'm home now, but those two-and-a-half years will take a lifetime of therapy to make the nightmares go away. I wish that I could be a voice for the ones who will never leave there."
There are those who would scoff at this woman's remarks about life in hell, saying that she must have committed a crime and thus got what she deserved. I wonder, though, if inflicting experiences that will require a "lifetime in therapy to make the nightmares go away" does anything to strengthen us as a society. Does swift and ugly retribution make us better, or is it a way of pleasuring ourselves by kicking the shit out of someone while they are down?
Somehow that just doesn't feel like something Jesus would do.