Monday, May 16, 2016
Streets on Fire
The details are sketchy.
Inmates are on edge, tensed. I see many of them, in chains and escorted by two guards, moving between the yards or to the infirmary. A few of them have have casts, bandages, or splints on hands or wrists. When asked, they cover up, saying someone needed an "attitude adjustment."
Violence is in the air.
Santa Rita, one of the big units at the Arizona State Prison Complex, is running an experiment of sorts. They have designated one yard as "integrated."
That means that the races are mixing, that those on the yard agree to non-violence. They have to sign. They are assured that they will be protected from the gangs. The gangs have vested interests in keeping races separate, tensions high, violence an imminent threat, beatings a way of life. When things get hot, the officers tend to disappear.
Those on the integrated yard are now targets of the segregated yards. They tell me there is a "hit list" for those who have signed the pact of integration. These are high stakes positions, and many of the men in the workshops are afraid, but strong in their convictions.
Men who refuse to mingle with the integrated yard now boycott the workshops.
Men who come to the workshops become targets for the gangs, the OGs, the soldiers of organized enforcers. The gangs make money on the old ways.
I don't claim to understand the extortion and politicking that is threatened by prisons becoming more integrated and humane, but I do see parallels out here in the free world.
The old ways die hard. Lines drawn in the sand, divisions that perpetuate systems of power and subjugation go down fighting.
The Arizona Department of Corrections doesn't help matters much. In fact it has ramped up book banning and made it a project to shut down education programs. Literacy, and the widening effects it has on tolerance and ability to entertain other points of view, has gotten the bum's rush. Inmates learning to communicate rather than wage race war gets no help from the state.
So the tensions rise.
Good men get caught in the middle, hoping for someone to help, to tell the story.