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.