Prison Strong, Oprah Rich

I first heart the term “prison strong, Oprah rich” in reference to a military service member deploying to a hostile location. Basically, the free time allows one to lift weights frequently and the bonus money is pretty good.

I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to read Going Up the River, but it probably had something to do with my coworker’s stories about her time working in the prison system as a psychologist. Apparently she was helping a high ranking member of the Disciples through some tough times, and he returned the favor by ensuring everyone in the facility respected her.

Basically, Going Up the River details the recent growth of the prison industry as small rural town’s increasingly rely on this sector for employment. It is surprising how prisons transformed from self-sustaining operations in the earlier part of the twentieth centry into money-making enterprises. In fact, I recently read about Arkansas prisoners working on farms in the past to provide some of their food. These days, prisoners are almost celebrated with reality television shows documenting their every move, and I have to believe this was not always the case. Don’t other countries subject prisoners to hard labor for relatively minor infractions? North Korea, Iran, and China immediately come to mind.

Anyway, the basic premise of the book is that the military-industrial complex created many government jobs during the Cold War, and fear of the Soviets propelled this employment sector. However, once the Cold War ended, a new enemy needed to be created, and crime was a convenient choice. So basically, more and more citizens were transformed into prisoners creating the need for new prisons. Of course, cunning businessmen are never too far from a financial opportunity and private prisons were created. No longer were punishment and reform the top priorities of the correctional system; instead, money and jobs became a large factor.

Several examples throughout the book are used to illustrate these points. Rural towns across the South and Midwest are sustaining jobs through this system as citizens are drawn to the stability of prison system jobs. It does make you wonder what has fueled the growth of criminal activity. I happen to think eliminating the Bible and prayer from public schools was probably a starting point. Granted, poverty and poor family functioning probably also play a role, but the decline of the influence of the church is definitely important.

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