In the final weeks of a six-month prison sentence for protesting remote-control murder by drones, specifically from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, I can only reflect on my time of captivity in light of the crimes that brought me here. In these ominous times, it is America's officials and judges and not the anarchists who exhibit the most flagrant contempt for the rule of law and it is due to the malfeasance of these that I owe the distinction of this sabbatical.
As I share in the perspectives gained from residing in the federal prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota, it is important to disclose that as a political prisoner sent up on trumped misdemeanor charges for a few months, my situation is not the same as my fellow inmates! All nonviolent "offenders", most by far are prisoners of the war on drugs and most are serving sentences of many years. I also try to avoid the temptation to exaggerate the hardships and privations I've suffered here. Certainly, doing time in a minimum-security camp is easier time than in most other kinds of jails. If basic necessities are barely met, they are met. I am in good company and time is passing with little drama and without fear. For me, these months have been more a test of patience than of courage.
Still, this is a hard place to be in many ways and it would be wrong to minimize what people suffer here. Among these are the basic humiliation of being numbered and then counted at intervals through the day, frequent shakedowns, random frisks (stranger's fingers fumbling with a lacerated heart, Solzhenitsyn remembered) and strip searches, separation from family and friends, severely limited visits, intercepted mail and interrupted phone calls, incessant noise and overcrowding, petty rules arbitrarily enforced.
The regime here is one of omnipresent and unrelieved bureaucracy. What I am experiencing over a few months as inconvenience and minor irritation, cumulative over years can amount to a crushing and ruinous burden.
"A concentration camp is the complete obliteration of privacy," wrote Czech novelist Milan Kundera. It is "a world in which people live crammed together constantly, night and day. Brutality and violence are secondary, and not the least indispensable characteristics."
At Yankton and in camps and prisons like it, the federal government has achieved the complete obliteration of privacy as the drug war has increased America's already bloated prison population seven-fold over the last twenty years. No country locks up more of its citizens for such long sentences as the United States and it can be said, too, that the government is taking strides to extend the obliteration of privacy to the general population.
What the government has not been able to accomplish by locking up suspected drug users and dealers by the thousands is any reduction in addiction or in the sale and use of illegal drugs. There is little doubt that jailing drug-related "criminals" causes more and not less drug use and crime and yet the so-called criminal-justice system is expending an increasingly greater fortune in human and material resources on prisons, contrary to the ends of public safety or rehabilitation.
Before he retired, President Eisenhower warned of the emergence of a self-perpetuating "military-industrial complex" producing weapons and provoking conflict for the sake of ensuring a market for more weapons. Likewise, America is increasingly in the grip of what some call a "prison-industrial complex," building and filling prisons for the purpose of ensuring fodder for more prisons.