Jail’s brutality begins with a vibe similar to after-school detention. Slowly you feel your life slipping away – tick tock, tick tock – as a mind-numbing boredom sets in.
Of course, detention is half an hour and jail is months, sometimes years. Then add on the anxiety of possible murder and rape. And of course the claustrophobia of being crammed into a small space like a bunch of sardines during flu season, while your wife or girlfriend is out there meeting less-incarcerated men and you get a real sense of the brutal vibe in here.
Here’s how it works: they start you off in a room with nothing, and leave you there for hours. Finally they put you in a room with TV and you are so grateful, you do everything you’re told just to avoid the boredom of total isolation.
Showering in jail is a unique experience. In North Fraser, there is a single-person shower on each of the three levels, kitty-corner to the guards’ hangout or bubble, as it is called. The shower has a see-through, opaque wall for semi-privacy. I really like the one-prisoner-at-a-time design and the super-visibility of the maximum-security shower system – it made being naked around convicts a bit less terrifying.
They then moved me from North Fraser to Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, from maximum-security to medium-security. The shower system here at Fraser is a bit less secure, I’m guessing because the prisoners are a bit less brutal, or it could just be because it’s an older design. The shower room is next-door, but not visible to the guards’ bubble. There used to be a door in the doorway but it has since been removed – design flaw. There are four shower stalls.
To avoid awkward convict silences, shower room talk seems to be centered on tattoos. Tattoos are the only type of property they can’t take away from you. I happen to be sporting an Anarchy tattoo, made of an M.C. Escher-style impossible triangle optical illusion. When prisoners ask me what it symbolizes, I tell them it means No Rulers. Most people think that anarchy means No Rules, but the Greek morpheme archos indicates it’s an absence of rulers that underlies the word’s true meaning. Our rulers try to warp the true meaning of anarchy so that we don’t even have a word to describe a world where they don’t exist, in order to delay for as long as possible the transformation from an archic to an anarchic state.
Socialism is another word whose definition is warped by rulers in order to perpetually delay human evolution. In an article called “The Soviet Union vs. Socialism“, Noam Chomsky explains how “Socialism” has traditionally meant “the liberation of working people from exploitation” but has come to mean ‘government-run bureaucracy’ by both right-wing and left-wing rulers. The right-wing rulers besmirch socialism to try and confuse it with communism, to make people believe that a world without exploitation isn’t possible. The left-wing rulers co-opt socialism to make people believe their authoritarian communist nanny-state is as close as humanity will every get to exploitation-free living. Jail and communism have a lot in common. They both promise and partially deliver the necessities of life and demand in exchange that participants give up their freedom.
In Fraser, you get food, shelter, employment, cable TV beamed into your room, medical, dental, and occasionally access to the pool table and gymnasium. All you have to give up is your privacy, your autonomy and your humanity.
I’m sure there are those who tolerate jail or communism when the alternative is death by exposure or starvation. There are many who learn quickly how to make the best of it. A few even make some money while they are in here. Apparently, Heroin is a very popular black-market item, as is tobacco.
Jail is a far cry from exploitation-free. Prisoners in BC who work six or ten hours per day in the kitchen, the laundry, or the palette repair workshop make from $1.50 – $6.00 per day.
Prisoners in Alberta make $0 per day – I think that qualifies as a form of slavery. It certainly provides the Captains of Industry the incentive to build more prisons and write more laws. According to Mussolini, “fascism” should actually be called “corporatism”, because it is the perfect merger of state and corporate power. Nowhere is that merger more visible than in the prison industry.
Apparently, prison building is the most profitable business in the US. How long before the need for profits creates another Monowitz (the type of work camp/ concentration camp that exploits prisoners for the maximum amount of labor for the minimum amount of expense)? What makes us think we are immune from those conditions?
The corporate CEOs and owners of IG Farben and the work camps at Auschwitz got a slap on the wrist at the war trials, and they have just as many politicians in their pockets today as they did back in the 20s and 30s. The CEOs of Bayer are so big, the police are afraid to investigate them, even if Bayer happens to be on the shortlist of suspects for the anthrax terrorism of 2001.
Laws are just “spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak” as Proudhon put it. Lawyers are those “One skilled in circumvention of the law”, according to the Devil’s Dictionary. The more lawyers you have, the more laws you can get away with breaking.
I’m a socialist and an anarchist; I truly believe in a world without exploitation and a world without rulers. I believe the first step toward that world is to begin to clear up the misconceptions about words like “socialist”, “anarchist”, “fascist”, and “corporatist” – about what those words really mean.
The second step is to begin to live our lives the way we wish to see the whole world live their lives – by sharing power and wealth, learning to work by consensus, giving everyone a veto, profit sharing, and by working towards recreating a world where the necessities of life are provided to everyone unconditionally. For a sustainable society to exist we need both liberty and love built into the system. As Bakunin put it, “liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality”.
David Malmo-Levine is a Vancouver marijuana activist incarcerated at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, BC, for his establishment of the Vancouver Herb School. Please click here and here for more information on David’s case.