But the prison system had become too big to kill off. The prison employee unions, which now included teachers, nurses, cooks and other ancillary staff, had amassed gigantic war chests that they freely passed out to defeat their opponents. On those rare occasions that reason appeared ready to trump money, out came the crime victims to demand that everyone else pay for their unquenchable revenge. Plus, the system provided too many jobs that paid too much money to downsize.
Then came the Great Recession. All of a sudden, those studies that had sat on shelves in warehouses collecting dust became relevant. Even as the pressure groups cried bloody murder, the realignment began. The big gravy train ran out of coal.
The coming decade will see a nationwide downsizing of prison systems and a return to some sanity in rehabilitative programming. California will lead the way, like it or not. The next couple of years will be rough on prisoners, no doubt, but at the end of it, as the country and the state come to grips with a new, diminished economy, the laws that sentence petty thieves to life in prison will have been done away with, finally.
I'm optimistic about the near future. It feels like I've just about weathered the worst of it, and the pendulum is about to swing back toward a more rational prison policy.
My only gripe is things only began to turn around when the money ran out. It's hard not to wonder what further horrors would have awaited me otherwise.