Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 12 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Prisons: Past, Present, Future

By       (Page 1 of 3 pages)   2 comments
Message Kenneth E. Hartman
Become a Fan
  (3 fans)

When I came to prison in 1980, it was at the beginning of the mass lock-up of Californians that only crested when the economy crested and broke on bad loans and deflated bubbles. The coming decade must surely overturn the terrible decisions made in the previous three.

At the start of my term, prisons were apolitical backwaters. This was well before the creation of the hard conservative movement that swept the country backward to punishment for the sake of inflicting pain.

I was at old Folsom Prison just outside of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. California had been governed by a series of administrations that left the management of the prison system up to professionals. What went on in these places never mattered much unless there was an uprising that left too many convicts dead to ignore.

Social changes that had upended the old order, spearheaded by federal court interventions, were still being adjusted to when I arrived. The older cons told me about the way it was back in the '50s and '60s.

Back then, the guards could exact brutal punishments without fear of penalty. Books were mostly barred, as were visits and televisions; even radios were forbidden. Prisoners lived lives of isolated desperation, part of a hidden society of outcasts.

Of course, very few people went to prison, which was a penalty saved for the most violent and recalcitrant of criminals. By the time you reached old Folsom your prospects were essentially dead anyhow.

Then came the 1970s, the magic years of prison reform. The civil rights struggles of the '60s took a decade to scale the walls into these places. But before it was over, before the forces of repression regained control of the agenda, we had college courses, televisions, virtually unlimited access to books and newspapers, and greatly expanded visiting opportunities, even conjugal visiting for some married prisoners.

This was the state of prison when I arrived at the start of the 1980s.

That decade saw the rise of revanchist conservatism and the election of George Deukmejian, the law-and-order state attorney general, as governor. It was also the time of two nascent movements that ultimately joined forces to destroy the gains made in the '70s: the first, the organization of prison guards into a potent union and the second, the organization of crime victims into very effective pressure groups.

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Well Said 4   Must Read 3   Valuable 3  
Rate It | View Ratings

Kenneth E. Hartman Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Kenneth E. Hartman has served 30 continuous years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on a life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentence. He is the author of "Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind (more...)
Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Prisons: Past, Present, Future

It's Time To Change The Prisons

Bad Things Happen in the Dark

Why I'd Vote for the SAFE California Act

Prop 34: Truth, Indeed, But Not The Whole Truth

Us Against The World

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend