All of Us Prisoners

There is a tool which is used to help people figure out if their relationship is abusive called “The Power and Control Wheel.” It works like this: physical and sexual violence are considered to be the rim, then the spokes of the wheel divide it into eight regions:

  • Using Economic Abuse
  • Using Privilege
  • Using Intimidation
  • Using Emotional Abuse
  • Minimizing, Denying and Blaming
  • Using Isolation
  • Using Children
  • Using Coercion and Threats

The ways that the Washington DOC uses each of these as a tool to dominate incarcerated people could easily be an essay (or book) unto itself. The trouble being that those who need to know about and understand these abusive practices most are invested in the continued abuse of people in prison themselves. The reason prisons, as a institution in society, are perpetuated is because people in positions of power benefit from their continued existence. Politicians get reelected for being “tough on crime,” corporations have exclusive contracts that allow them to have monopolies selling goods and services to prisons and the people in them, survivors of crime get sold a bill of goods when it comes to punishment and rehabilitation while police, prison guards, judges, and prosecutors enjoy job security and the benefits of government jobs. The public get to believe children are being protected, when in reality they are getting taken from a possibly unstable home life and placed in uncaring draconian “group homes” and “community resource centers” that are in fact little more than jails for children who have committed no greater crime than not having a stable relationship with their parents whatever the cause (death, criminalization, absenteeism, etc.).

People are subject to these systems of state sanctioned control because they do not meet some arbitrary measure of “respectability.” They are not seen as normal enough, they are not rich enough, they are not citizen enough, hetero enough, able enough, Christian enough, smart enough, pleasant enough, pretty enough, adjusted enough, white enough. Then, they are blamed for not being all these things that they have no control over.
Somehow this makes it okay in society’s eyes for them to be brutalized by police, sent to prison, or even outright murdered in the streets. It’s not okay.

Yet, that is the perception created by the observed facts, and perception shapes reality.
This afternoon I was laying on my belly in the grass out at yard. It’s been a couple weeks since the grass was cut so it’s starting to get a healthy length to it. (As opposed to the anemically short length most lawns are “tamed” to.) Lying there, with my head pillowed on my hands, I could shut my left eye and open my right, and see nothing but a tangled wall of grass. Knots and snarls with little beetles and bugs crawling about in search of love, laughter, and lunch. Conversely, I could open my left eye and close my right. The bustle of activity so close to the earth suddenly disappeared, replaced with the slow swaying of the tallest grass stems just starting to go to seed, daisies peppered the yard with color and fluffy clouds passing overhead completed the Elysian sight. If not for the 40 foot brick wall topped with razor wire in between.

See, this is what the DOC, and society as a whole is forgetting. No matter how nice a day it is, never mind if we were allowed to pursue our own studies or be left alone to seek the simple pleasures, there’s still that 40 foot high wall and men with guns who will shoot anyone that tries to go outside it. There is still a heavily armed police force in every city across the country and even more heavily armed army reserves who can be called on by the governor. We are ALL still in prison. The government’s perspective is that they have to control every little thing and if they can’t absolutely dominate a thing, it scares them. They are so lost in seeing the bustle of activity an inch from the ground that they’ve forgotten the overriding facts of the larger picture. This leads them to enforce domination, abuse, and oppression in literally all the ways.

The existence of the prison industrial complex in America makes prisoners of everyone; it just so happens that some of us are incarcerated.


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