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Archive for August 25th, 2016

Israeli think tank: Don’t destroy ISIS; it’s a “useful tool” against Iran, Hezbollah, Syria

According to an Israeli think tank that does contract work for NATO and the Israeli government, the West should not destroy ISIS, the fascist Islamist extremist group that is committing genocide and ethnically cleansing minority groups in Syria and Iraq.

Why? The so-called Islamic State “can be a useful tool in undermining” Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Russia, argues the think tank’s director.

“The continuing existence of IS serves a strategic purpose,” wrote Efraim Inbar in “The Destruction of Islamic State Is a Strategic Mistake,” a paper published on Aug. 2.

By cooperating with Russia to fight the genocidal extremist group, the United States is committing a “strategic folly” that will “enhance the power of the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis,” Inbar argued, implying that Russia, Iran and Syria are forming a strategic alliance to dominate the Middle East.

“The West should seek the further weakening of Islamic State, but not its destruction,” he added. “A weak IS is, counterintuitively, preferable to a destroyed IS.”

Inbar, an influential Israeli scholar, is the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank that says its mission is to advance “a realist, conservative, and Zionist agenda in the search for security and peace for Israel.”

Habib Battah shared this link of Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Extremism begets extremism?

Head of a right-wing think tank says the existence of ISIS serves a “strategic purpose” in the West’s interests|By Ben Norton

The think tank, known by its acronym BESA, is affiliated with Israel’s Bar Ilan University and has been supported by the Israeli government, the NATO Mediterranean Initiative, the U.S. embassy in Israel and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

BESA also says it “conducts specialized research on contract to the Israeli foreign affairs and defense establishment, and for NATO.” (That’s No research: Ideological propaganda)

In his paper, Inbar suggested that it would be a good idea to prolong the war in Syria, which has destroyed the country, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing more than half the population.

As for the argument that defeating ISIS would make the Middle East more stable, Inbar maintained: “Stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests.” (Again, what interests?)

“Instability and crises sometimes contain portents of positive change,” he added. (Like what positive changes?)

Inbar stressed that the West’s “main enemy” is not the self-declared Islamic State; it is Iran. He accused the Obama administration of “inflat[ing] the threat from IS in order to legitimize Iran as a ‘responsible’ actor that will, supposedly, fight IS in the Middle East.”

Despite Inbar’s claims, Iran is a mortal enemy of ISIS, particularly because the Iranian government is founded on Shia Islam, a branch that the Sunni extremists of ISIS consider a form of apostasy. ISIS and its affiliates have massacred and ethnically cleansed Shia Muslims in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. (And massacred every other religious sects, Christians or Muslims)

Inbar noted that ISIS threatens the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the Syrian government survives, Inbar argued, “Many radical Islamists in the opposition forces, i.e., Al Nusra and its offshoots, might find other arenas in which to operate closer to Paris and Berlin.”  (Yes, propaganda for spreading fear in Europe)

Jabhat al-Nusra is Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, and one of the most powerful rebel groups in the country. (It recently changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.)

Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based militia that receives weapons and support from Iran, is also “being seriously taxed by the fight against IS, a state of affairs that suits Western interests,” Inbar wrote.

“Allowing bad guys to kill bad guys sounds very cynical, but it is useful and even moral to do so if it keeps the bad guys busy and less able to harm the good guys,” Inbar explained.

End the use of private prisons for profit: Justice Department still pondering on this issue?

In Israel private prisons are thriving. Every day, Israel round up “administratively” a dozen juvenile Palestinians for two main reasons:

1. Humiliate and rob them of their dignity, as done in all racist states

2. To supply new clients for the profit-making private security companies

The US Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

(The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those, even the ones that are privately run. Nor does it apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals Service detainees, who are technically in the federal system but not under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons.)

From an article testimony of Shane Bauer as a private prison guard for Mother Jones

“Inmates Run This Bitch”

Have you ever had a riot?” I ask a recruiter from a prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
“The last riot we had was two years ago,” he says over the phone.
“Yeah, but that was with the Puerto Ricans!” says a woman’s voice, cutting in. “We got rid of them.”
“When can you start?” the man asks.
I tell him I need to think it over.

I take a breath. Am I really going to become a prison guard? Now that it might actually happen, it feels scary and a bit extreme.

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners.

As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates.

Private prisons are especially secretive.

Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeat legislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts.

And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison?

CCA certainly seemed eager to give me a chance to join its team. Within two weeks of filling out its online application, using my real name and personal information, several CCA prisons contacted me, some multiple times.

They weren’t interested in the details of my résumé. They didn’t ask about my job history, my current employment with the Foundation for National Progress, the publisher of Mother Jones, or why someone who writes about criminal justice in California would want to move across the country to work in a prison.

They didn’t even ask about the time I was arrested for shoplifting when I was 19.

When I call Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, the HR lady who answers is chipper and has a smoky Southern voice. “I should tell you upfront that the job only pays $9 an hour, but the prison is in the middle of a national forest. Do you like to hunt and fish?”

“I like fishing.”

“Well, there is plenty of fishing, and people around here like to hunt squirrels. You ever squirrel hunt?”


“Well, I think you’ll like Louisiana. I know it’s not a lot of money, but they say you can go from a CO (corrections officer) to a warden in just seven years! The CEO of the company started out as a CO”—a corrections officer.

Ultimately, I choose Winn. Not only does Louisiana have the highest incarceration rate in the world—more than 800 prisoners per 100,000 residents—but Winn is the oldest privately operated medium-security prison in the country.

I phone HR and tell her I’ll take the job.

“Well, poop can stick!” she says.

I pass the background check within 24 hours.

Two weeks later, in November 2014, having grown a goatee, pulled the plugs from my earlobes, and bought a beat-up Dodge Ram pickup, I pull into Winnfield, a hardscrabble town of 4,600 people three hours north of Baton Rouge.

I drive past the former Mexican restaurant that now serves drive-thru daiquiris to people heading home from work, and down a street of collapsed wooden houses, empty except for a tethered dog.

About 38% of households here live below the poverty line; the median household income is $25,000. Residents are proud of the fact that three governors came from Winnfield. They are less proud that the last sheriff was locked up for dealing meth.

Thirteen miles away, Winn Correctional Center lies in the middle of the Kisatchie National Forest, 600,000 acres of Southern yellow pines crosshatched with dirt roads. As I drive through the thick forest, the prison emerges from the fog.

You might mistake the dull expanse of cement buildings and corrugated metal sheds for an oddly placed factory were it not for the office-park-style sign displaying CCA’s corporate logo, with the head of a bald eagle inside the “A.”

At the entrance, a guard who looks about 60, a gun on her hip, asks me to turn off my truck, open the doors, and step out. A tall, stern-faced man leads a German shepherd into the cab of my truck. My heart hammers. I tell the woman I’m a new cadet, here to start my four weeks of training. She directs me to a building just outside the prison fence.

“Have a good one, baby,” she says as I pull through the gate. I exhale.

Mother Jones Senior Reporter Shane Bauer (pictured above in his prison uniform) has previously reported on solitary confinement, police militarization, and the Middle East. He is the co-author, with Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, of A Sliver of Light, an account of his two years as a prisoner in Iran. James West

I park, find the classroom, and sit down with five other students.

“You nervous?” a 19-year-old black guy asks me. I’ll call him Reynolds. (I’ve changed the names and nicknames of the people I met in prison unless noted otherwise.)

“A little,” I say. “You?”


  • These include 34 state prisons, 14 federal prisons, 9 immigration detention centers, and 4 jails.
  • It owns 50 of these sites.
  • 38 hold men, 2 hold women, 20 hold both sexes, and 1 holds women and children.**
  • 17 are in Texas, 7 are in Tennessee, and 6 are in Arizona.

“Nah, I been around,” he says. “I seen killin’. My uncle killed three people. My brother been in jail, and my cousin.” He has scars on his arms.

One, he says, is from a shootout in Baton Rouge. The other is from a street fight in Winnfield. He elbowed someone in the face, and the next thing he knew he got knifed from behind. “It was some gang shit.” He says he just needs a job until he starts college in a few months. He has a baby to feed.

He also wants to put speakers in his truck. They told him he could work on his days off, so he’ll probably come in every day. “That will be a fat paycheck.” He puts his head down on the table and falls asleep.

The human resources director comes in and scolds Reynolds for napping. He perks up when she tells us that if we recruit a friend to work here, we’ll get 500 bucks.

She gives us an assortment of other tips:

Don’t eat the food given to inmates;

don’t have sex with them or you could be fined $10,000 or get 10 years at hard labor;

try not to get sick because we don’t get paid sick time.

If we have friends or relatives incarcerated here, we need to report it.

She hands out fridge magnets with the number of a hotline to use if we feel suicidal or start fighting with our families. We get three counseling sessions for free.

I studiously jot down notes as the HR director fires up a video of the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, who tells us what a great opportunity it is to be a corrections officer at CCA.

Once a guard himself, he made $3.4 million in 2015, nearly 19 times the salary of the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. “You may be brand new to CCA,” Hininger says, “but we need you. We need your enthusiasm. We need your bright ideas. During the academy, I felt camaraderie. I felt a little anxiety too. That is completely normal. The other thing I felt was tremendous excitement.”

I look around the room. Not one person—not the recent high school graduate, not the former Walmart manager, not the nurse, not the mother of twins who’s come back to Winn after 10 years of McDonald’s and a stint in the military—looks excited.

“I don’t think this is for me,” a postal worker says.

“Do not run!”

The next day, I wake up at 6 a.m. in my apartment in the nearby town where I decided to live to minimize my chances of running into off-duty guards. I feel a shaky, electric nervousness as I put a pen that doubles as an audio recorder into my shirt pocket.

In class that day, we learn about the use of force.

A middle-aged black instructor I’ll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He’s the head of Winn’s Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison’s SWAT-like tactical unit.

“If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?” he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, “I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit.”

Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. “If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him,” he says, pacing slowly.

“If a inmate hit me, I’m go’ hit his ass right back. I don’t care if the camera’s rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he’s gonna have a very bad day.”

Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. “If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don’t supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I’ll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him.”

He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.

“I’d probably call somebody,” a cadet offers.

“I’d sit there and holler ‘stop,'” says a veteran guard.

Mr. Tucker points at her. “Damn right. That’s it. If they don’t pay attention to you, hey, there ain’t nothing else you can do.”

He cups his hands around his mouth. “Stop fighting,” he says to some invisible prisoners. “I said, ‘Stop fighting.'” His voice is nonchalant. “Y’all ain’t go’ to stop, huh?” He makes like he’s backing out of a door and slams it shut. “Leave your ass in there!”

“Somebody’s go’ win. Somebody’s go’ lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!” The classroom erupts in laughter.

We could try to break up a fight if we wanted, he says, but since we won’t have pepper spray or a nightstick, he wouldn’t recommend it.

“We are not going to pay you that much,” he says emphatically. “The next raise you get is not going to be much more than the one you got last time. The only thing that’s important to us is that we go home at the end of the day. Period. So if them fools want to cut each other, well, happy cutting.”

Andrew Bossone shared this link. August 18 at 10:28pm ·
In the wake of critical reports, the deputy attorney general told officials to reduce or decline to renew deals with contractors.|By Chico Harlan

When we return from break, Mr. Tucker sets a tear gas launcher and canisters on the table.

“On any given day, they can take this facility,” he says. “At chow time, there are 800 inmates and just two COs. But with just this class, we could take it back.” He passes out sheets for us to sign, stating that we volunteer to be tear-gassed. If we do not sign, he says, our training is over, which means our jobs end right here. (When I later ask CCA if its staff members are required to be exposed to tear gas, spokesman Steven Owen says no.) “Anybody have asthma?” Mr. Tucker says. “Two people had asthma in the last class and I said, ‘Okay, well, I’ma spray ’em anyway.’ Can we spray an inmate? The answer is yes.”

Five of us walk outside and stand in a row, arms linked. Mr. Tucker tests the wind with a finger and drops a tear gas cartridge. A white cloud of gas washes over us. The object is to avoid panicking, staying in the same place until the gas dissipates. My throat is suddenly on fire and my eyes seal shut. I try desperately to breathe, but I can only choke. “Do not run!” Mr. Tucker shouts at a cadet who is stumbling off blindly. I double over. I want to throw up. I hear a woman crying. My upper lip is thick with snot. When our breath starts coming back, the two women linked to me hug each other. I want to hug them too. The three of us laugh a little as tears keep pouring down our cheeks.

“Don’t ever say thank you”

Our instructors advise us to carry a notebook to keep track of everything prisoners will ask us for. I keep one in my breast pocket and jet into the bathroom periodically to jot things down. They also encourage us to invest in a watch because when we document rule infractions it is important that we record the time precisely. A few days into training, a wristwatch arrives in the mail. One of the little knobs on its side activates a recorder. On its face there is a tiny camera lens.

On the eighth day, we are pulled from CPR class and sent inside the compound to Elm—one of five single-story brick buildings where the prison’s roughly 1,500 inmates live. When we go through security, we are told to empty our pockets and remove our shoes and belts. This is intensely nerve-racking: I send my watch, pen, employee ID, and pocket change through the X-ray machine. I walk through the metal detector and a CO runs a wand up and down my body and pats down my chest, back, arms, and legs.

The other cadets and I gather at a barred gate and an officer, looking at us through thick glass, turns a switch that opens it slowly. We pass through, and after the gate closes behind us, another opens ahead. On the other side, the CCA logo is emblazoned on the wall along with the words “Respect” and “Integrity” and a mural of two anchors inexplicably floating at sea. Another gate clangs open and our small group steps onto the main outdoor artery of the prison: “the walk.”

From above, the walk is shaped like a “T.” It is fenced in with chain-link and covered with corru­gated steel. Yellow lines divide the pavement into three lanes. Clustered and nervous, we cadets travel up the middle lane from the administration building as prisoners move down their designated side lanes. I greet inmates as they pass, trying hard to appear loose and unafraid. Some say good morning. Others stop in their tracks and make a point of looking the female cadets up and down.

We walk past the squat, dull buildings that house visitation, programming, the infirmary, and a church with a wrought-iron gate shaped into the words “Freedom Chapel.” Beyond it there is a mural of a fighter jet dropping a bomb into a mountain lake, water blasting skyward, and a giant bald eagle soaring overhead, backgrounded by an American flag. At the top of the T we take a left, past the chow hall and the canteen, where inmates can buy snacks, toiletries, tobacco, music players, and batteries.

The units sit along the top of the walk. Each is shaped like an “X” and connected to the main walk by its own short, covered walk. Every unit is named after a type of tree. Most are general population units, where inmates mingle in dorm-style halls and can leave for programs and chow. Cypress is the high-security segregation unit, the only one where inmates are confined to cells.

In Dogwood, reserved for the best-behaved inmates, prisoners get special privileges like extra television time, and many work outside the unit in places like the metal shop, the garment factory, or the chow hall. Some “trusties” even get to work in the front office, or beyond the fence washing employees’ personal cars. Birch holds most of the elderly, infirm, and mentally ill inmates, though it doesn’t offer any special services. Then there are Ash and Elm, which inmates call “the projects.” The more troublesome prisoners live here.


Medium-security prison for inmates serving 50 years or less
  • Inmate population: About 1,500
  • 75% black, 25% white or other
  • Average inmate age: 36
  • Average sentence: 19 years
  • Average time served: 5.7 years
  • Daily rate charged to state per inmate (2015): $34


  • Violent crimes: 55%
  • Drug crimes: 19%
  • Property crimes: 13%
  • Other: 13%

We enter Elm and walk onto an open, shiny cement floor. The air is slightly sweet and musty, like the clothes of a heavy smoker. Elm can house up to 352 inmates. At the center is an enclosed octagonal control room called “the key.” Inside, a “key officer,” invariably a woman, watches the feeds of the unit’s 27-odd surveillance cameras, keeps a log of significant occurrences, and writes passes that give inmates permission to go to locations outside the unit, like school or the gym. Also in the key is the office of the unit manager, the “mini-warden” of the unit.

The key stands in the middle of “the floor.” Branching out from the floor are the four legs of the X; two tiers run down the length of each leg. Separated from the floor by a locked gate, every tier is an open dormitory that houses up to 44 men, each with his own narrow bed, thin mattress, and metal locker.

Toward the front of each tier, there are two toilets, a trough-style urinal, and two sinks. There are two showers, open except for a three-foot wall separating them from the common area. Nearby are a microwave, a telephone, and a Jpay machine, where inmates pay to download songs onto their portable players and send short, monitored emails for about 30 cents each. Each tier also has a TV room, which fills up every weekday at 12:30 p.m. for the prison’s most popular show, The Young and the Restless.

At Winn, staff and inmates alike refer to guards as “free people.” Like the prisoners, the majority of the COs at Winn are African American. More than half are women, many of them single moms. But in Ash and Elm, the floor officers—who more than anyone else deal with the inmates face-to-face—are exclusively men. Floor officers are both enforcers and a prisoner’s first point of contact if he needs something. It is their job to conduct security checks every 30 minutes, walking up and down each tier to make sure nothing is awry. Three times per 12-hour shift, all movement in the prison stops and the floor officers count the inmates. There are almost never more than two floor officers per general population unit. That’s one per 176 inmates. (CCA later tells me that the Louisiana Department of Corrections, or DOC, considered the “staffing pattern” at Winn “appropriate.”)

In Elm, a tall white CO named Christian is waiting for us with a leashed German shepherd. He tells the female cadets to go to the key and the male cadets to line up along the showers and toilets at the front of the tier. We put on latex gloves. The inmates are sitting on their beds. Two ceiling fans turn slowly. The room is filled with fluorescent light. Almost every prisoner is black.

A small group of inmates get up from their beds and file into the shower area. One, his body covered with tattoos, gets in the shower in front of me, pulls off his shirt and shorts, and hands them to me to inspect. “Do a one-finger lift, turn around, bend, squat, cough,” Christian orders. In one fluid motion, the man lifts his penis, opens his mouth, lifts his tongue, spins around with his ass facing me, squats, and coughs. He hands me his sandals and shows me the soles of his feet. I hand him his clothes and he puts his shorts on, walks past me, and nods respectfully.

Like a human assembly line, the inmates file in. “Beyend, squawt, cough,” Christian drawls. He tells one inmate to open his hand. The inmate uncurls his finger and reveals a SIM card. Christian takes it but does nothing.

Eventually, the TV room is full of prisoners. A guard looks at them and smiles. “Tear ’em up!” he says, gesturing down the tier. Each of us, women included, stops at a bed. Christian tells one cadet to “shake down bed eight real good—just because he pissed me off.” He tells us to search everything. I follow the other guards’ lead, opening bottles of toothpaste and lotion. Inside a container of Vaseline, I find a one-hitter pipe made out of a pen and ask Christian what to do with it. He takes it from me, mutters “eh,” and tosses it on the floor. I go through the mattress, pillow, dirty socks, and underwear. I flip through photos of kids, and of women posing seductively. I move on to new lockers: ramen, chips, dentures, hygiene products, peanut butter, cocoa powder, cookies, candy, salt, moldy bread, a dirty coffee cup. I find the draft of a novel, dedicated to “all the hustlers, bastards, strugglers, and hoodlum childs who are chasing their dreams.”

One instructor notices that I am carefully putting each object back where I found it and tells me to pull everything out of the lockers and leave it on the beds. I look down the tier and see mattresses lying on the floor, papers and food dumped across beds. The middle of the floor is strewn with contraband: USB cables refashioned as phone chargers, tubs of butter, slices of cheese, and pills. I find some hamburger patties taken from the cafeteria. A guard tells me to throw them into the pile.

Inmates are glued up against the TV room window, watching a young white cadet named Miss Stirling pick through their stuff. She’s pretty and petite, with long, jet-black hair. The attention makes her uncomfortable; she thinks the inmates are gross. Earlier this week, she said she would refuse to give an inmate CPR and won’t try the cafeteria food because she doesn’t want to “eat AIDS.” The more she is around prisoners, though, the more I notice her grapple with an inner conflict. “I don’t want to treat everyone like a criminal because I’ve done things myself,” she says.

Miss Stirling says she sometimes wonders if her baby’s dad will end up here. She doesn’t like doing chokehold escapes in class because they bring back memories of him. He cooked meth in their toolshed and once beat her so badly he dislocated her shoulder and knee. “You know that bone at the bottom of your neck? He pushed it up into my head,” she says.

Senior Reporter Shane Bauer can be reached by email at

Have a scoop for Mother Jones? Send it here.

If he ends up in this prison, another cadet assures her, “We could make his life hell.”

As we shake down the tier, a prisoner comes out of the TV room to get a better look at Miss Stirling, and she yells at him to go back in. He does.

“Thank you,” she says.

“Did she just say thank you?” Christian asks. A bunch of COs scoff.

“Don’t ever say thank you,” a woman CO tells her. “That takes the power away from it.”

“Ain’t no order here”

Most of our training is uneventful. Some days there are no more than two hours of classes, and then we have to sit and run the clock to 4:15 p.m. We pass the time discussing each other’s lives. I try mostly to stay quiet, but when I slip into describing a backpacking trip I recently took in California, a cadet throws her arms in the air and shouts, “Why are you here?!” I am careful to never lie, instead backing out with generalities like, “I came here for work,” or “You never know where life will take you,” and no one pries further.

Few of my fellow cadets have traveled farther than nearby Oklahoma. They compare towns by debating the size and quality of their Walmarts. Most are young. They eat candy during break time, write their names on the whiteboard in cutesy lettering, and talk about different ways to get high.

Miss Doucet, a stocky redheaded cadet in her late 50s, thinks that if kids were made to read the Bible in school, fewer would be in prison, but she also sticks pins in a voodoo doll to mete out vengeance. “I swing both ways,” she says. She lives in a camper with her daughter and grandkids. With this job, she’s hoping to save up for a double-wide trailer.

She worked at the lumber mill in Winnfield for years, but worsening asthma put an end to that. She’s been hospitalized several times this year and says she almost died once. “They don’t even want me to bring this in,” she whispers, leaning in, pulling her inhaler out of her pocket. “I’m not supposed to, but I do. They ain’t takin’ it away from me.” She takes a long drag from her cigarette.

Miss Doucet and others from the class ahead of mine go to the front office to get their paychecks for their first two weeks of work. When they return, the shoulders of a young cadet are slumping. He says his check was for $577, after they took $121 in taxes.

“Dang. That hurts,” he says.

Miss Doucet says they withheld $114 from her check.

“They held less for you?!” the young cadet says.

“I’m may-ried!” she says in a singsong voice. “I got a chi-ild!”

Outwardly, Miss Doucet is jovial and cocky, but she is already making mental adjustments to her dreams. The double-wide trailer she imagines her grandkids spreading out in becomes a single-wide. She figures she can get $5,000 for the RV.

CCA Facilities

At the end of one morning of doing nothing, the training coordinator tells us we can go to the gym to watch inmates graduate from trade classes. Prisoners and their families are milling around with plates of cake and cups of fruit punch. An inmate offers a piece of red velvet to Miss Stirling.

I stand around with Collinsworth, an 18-year-old cadet with a chubby white baby face hidden behind a brown beard and a wisp of bangs. Before CCA, Collinsworth worked at a Starbucks. When he came to Winnfield to help out with family, this was the first job he could get. Once, Collinsworth was nearly kicked out of class after he jokingly threatened to stab Mr. Tucker with a plastic training knife. He’s boasted to me about inmate management tactics he’s learned from seasoned officers. “You just pit ’em against each other and that’s the easiest way to get your job done,” he tells me. He says one guard told him that inmates should tell troublemakers, “‘I’m gonna rape you if you try that shit again.’ Or something; whatever it takes.”

As Collinsworth and I stand around, inmates gather to look at our watches. One, wearing a cocked gray beanie, asks to buy them. I refuse outright. Collinsworth dithers. “How old you is?” the inmate asks him.

“You never know,” Collinsworth says.

“Man, all these fake-ass signals,” the inmate says. “The best thing you could do is get to know people in the place.”

“I understand it’s your home,” Collinsworth says. “But I’m at work right now.”

“It’s your home for 12 hours a day! You trippin’. You ’bout to do half my time with me. You straight with that?”

“It’s probably true.”

“It ain’t no ‘probably true.’ If you go’ be at this bitch, you go’ do 12 hours a day.” He tells Collinsworth not to bother writing up inmates for infractions: “They ain’t payin’ you enough for that.” Seeming torn between whether to impress me or the inmate, Collinsworth says he will only write up serious offenses, like hiding drugs.

“Drugs?! Don’t worry ’bout the drugs.” The inmate says he was caught recently with two ounces of “mojo,” or synthetic marijuana, which is the drug of choice at Winn. The inmate says guards turn a blind eye to it. They “ain’t trippin’ on that shit,” he says. “I’m telling you, it ain’t that type of camp. You can’t come change things by yourself. You might as well go with the flow. Get this free-ass, easy-ass money, and go home.”

“I’m just here to do my job and take care of my family,” Collinsworth says. “I’m not gonna bring stuff in ‘cuz even if I don’t get caught, there’s always the chance that I will.”

“Nah. Ain’t no chance,” the inmate says. “I ain’t never heard of nobody movin’ good and low-key gettin’ caught. Nah. I know a dude still rolling. He been doin’ it six years.” He looks at Collinsworth. “Easy.”

The inmates’ families file out the side entrance. A couple of minutes after the last visitors leave, the coach shouts, “All inmates on the bleachers!” A prisoner tosses his graduation certificate dramatically into the trash. Another lifts the podium over his head and runs with it across the gym. The coach shouts, exasperated, as prisoners scramble around.

“You see this chaos?” the inmate in the beanie says to Collinsworth. “If you’d been to other camps, you’d see the order they got. Ain’t no order here. Inmates run this bitch, son.”

A week later, Mr. Tucker tells us to come in early to do shakedowns. The sky is barely lit as I stand on the walk at 6:30 with the other cadets. Collinsworth tells us another prisoner offered to buy his watch. He said he’d sell it for $600. The inmate declined.

“Don’t sell it to him anyway,” Miss Stirling admonishes him. “You might get $600, but if they find out, you ain’t go’ get no more paychecks.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t actually do it. I just said $600 because I know they don’t got $600 to give me.”

“Shit,” a heavyset black cadet named Willis says. He’s our main authority on prison life. He says he served seven and a half years in the Texas State Penitentiary; he won’t say what for. (CCA hires former felons whom it deems not to be a security risk; it says all Winn guards’ background checks were also reviewed by the DOC.) “Dudes was showing me pictures,” says Willis. “They got money in here. One dude in here, don’t say nothin’, but he got like six to eight thousand dollars. They got it on cards. Little money cards and shit.”

Collinsworth jumps up and down. “Dude, I’ma find me one of them damn cards! Hell yeah. And I will not report it.”

Officially, inmates are only allowed to keep money in special prison-operated accounts that can be used at the canteen. In these accounts, prisoners with jobs receive their wages, which may be as little as 2 cents an hour for a dishwasher and as much as 20 cents for a sewing-machine operator at Winn’s garment factory. Their families can also deposit money in the accounts.

The prepaid cash cards Willis is referring to are called Green Dots, and they are the currency of the illicit prison economy. Connections on the outside buy them online, then pass on the account numbers in encoded messages through the mail or during visits. Inmates with contraband cellphones can do all these transactions themselves, buying the cards and handing out strips of paper as payments for drugs or phones or whatever else.

Miss Stirling divulges that an inmate gave her the digits of a money card as a Christmas gift. “I’m like, damn! I need a new MK watch. I need a new purse. I need some new jeans.”

“There was this one dude in Dogwood,” she continues. “He came up to the bars and showed me a stack of hundred-dollar bills folded up, and it was like this—” She makes like she’s holding a wad of cash four inches thick. “And I was like, ‘I’m not go’ say anything.'”

“Dude! I’ma shake him the fuck down!” Collinsworth says. “I don’t care if he’s cool.”

“He had a phone,” Miss Stirling says, “and he’s like, ‘I don’t have the time of day to hide it. I just keep it in the open. I really don’t give a fuck.'”

Mr. Tucker tells us to follow him. We shake down tiers all morning. By the time we finish at 11, everyone is exhausted. “I’m not mad we had to do shakedowns. I’m just mad we didn’t find anything,” Collinsworth says. Christian pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and reads off a string of numbers in a show-offy way. “A Green Dot,” he says. Christian hands the slip of paper to one of the cadets, a middle-aged white woman. “You can have this one,” he says. “I have plenty already.” She smiles coyly.

“We are going to win this unit back”

“Welcome to the hellhole,” a female CO greeted me the first time I visited the segregation unit. A few days later I’m back at Cypress with Collinsworth and Reynolds to shadow some guards. The metal door clicks open and we enter to a cacophony of shouting and pounding on metal. An alarm is sounding and the air smells strongly of smoke.

On one wall is a mural of a prison nestled among dark mountains and shrouded in storm clouds, lightning striking the guard towers and an enormous, screeching bald eagle descending with a giant pair of handcuffs in its talons. Toward the end of a long hall of cells, an officer in a black SWAT-style uniform stands ready with a pepper-ball gun. Another man in black is pulling burnt parts of a mattress out of a cell. Cypress can hold up to 200 inmates; most of the eight-by-eight-foot cells have two prisoners in them. The cells look like tombs; men lie in their bunks, wrapped in blankets, staring at the walls. Many are lit only by the light from the hallway. In one, an inmate is washing his clothes in his toilet.

“How are you doing?” says a smiling white man dressed business casual. He grips my hand. “Thank you for being here.” Assistant Warden Parker is new to CCA, but he was once the associate warden of a federal prison. “I know it seems crazy back here now, but you’ll learn the ropes,” he assures me. “We are going to win this unit back. It’s not going to happen in an hour. It’s gonna take time, but it will happen.” Apparently the segregation unit has been in a state of upheaval for a while, so corporate headquarters has sent in SORT officers from out of state to bring it back under control. SORT teams are trained to suppress riots, rescue hostages, extract inmates from their cells, and neutralize violent prisoners. They deploy an array of “less lethal” weapons like plastic buckshot, electrified shields, and chili-pepper-filled projectiles that burst on contact.

I get a whiff of feces that quickly becomes overpowering. On one of the tiers, a brown liquid oozes out of a bottle on the floor. Food, wads of paper, and garbage are all over the ground. I spot a Coke can, charred black, with a piece of cloth sticking out of it like a fuse. “I use my political voice!” an inmate shouts. “I stand up for my rights. Hahaha! Ain’t nowhere like this camp. Shit, y’all’s disorganized as fuck up in here.”

“That’s why we are here,” a SORT member says. “We are going to change all that.” (Not the end of the article)

Have a scoop for Mother Jones? Send it here.

Was there an art for democratic debate? To claim that it was lost?

Democracy thrives on civil debate, but we’re shamefully out of practice. He leads a fun refresher, with TEDsters sparring over a recent Supreme Court case (PGA Tour Inc. v. Martin) whose outcome reveals the critical ingredient in justice.

Michael Sandel Political philosopher. Sandel teaches political philosophy at Harvard, exploring some of the most hotly contested moral and political issues of our time. Full bio

Filmed Feb. 2010

One thing the world needs, one thing this country desperately needs is a better way of conducting our political debates. We need to rediscover the lost art of democratic argument.

If you think about the arguments we have, most of the time it’s shouting matches on cable television, ideological food fights on the floor of Congress. I have a suggestion.

Look at all the arguments we have these days over health care, over bonuses and bailouts on Wall Street, over the gap between rich and poor, over affirmative action and same-sex marriage.

Lying just beneath the surface of those arguments, with passions raging on all sides, are big questions of moral philosophy, big questions of justice. But we too rarely articulate and defend and argue about those big moral questions in our politics.

1:25 So what I would like to do today is have something of a discussion.

First, let me take a famous philosopher who wrote about those questions of justice and morality, give you a very short lecture on Aristotle of ancient Athens, Aristotle’s theory of justice, and then have a discussion here to see whether Aristotle’s ideas actually inform the way we think and argue about questions today.

So, are you ready for the lecture? According to Aristotle, justice means giving people what they deserve. That’s it; that’s the lecture.

you may say, well, that’s obvious enough. The real questions begin when it comes to arguing about who deserves what and why.

Take the example of flutes. Suppose we’re distributing flutes. Who should get the best ones? Let’s see what people — What would you say? Who should get the best flute? You can just call it out.

Michael Sandel: At random. You would do it by lottery. Or by the first person to rush into the hall to get them. Who else?

2:49 (Audience: The best flute players.)

 MS: The best flute players. (Audience: The worst flute players.)

 MS: The worst flute players. How many say the best flute players? Why? Actually, that was Aristotle’s answer too.

But here’s a harder question. Why do you think, those of you who voted this way, that the best flutes should go to the best flute players?

3:17 Peter: The greatest benefit to all.

MS: The greatest benefit to all. We’ll hear better music if the best flutes should go to the best flute players. That’s Peter? 

MS: All right. Well, it’s a good reason. We’ll all be better off if good music is played rather than terrible music. But Peter, Aristotle doesn’t agree with you that that’s the reason.

That’s all right. Aristotle had a different reason for saying the best flutes should go to the best flute players. He said, that’s what flutes are for — to be played well. He says that to reason about just distribution of a thing, we have to reason about, and sometimes argue about, the purpose of the thing, or the social activity in this case, musical performance.

And the point, the essential nature, of musical performance is to produce excellent music. It’ll be a happy byproduct that we’ll all benefit. But when we think about justice, Aristotle says, what we really need to think about is the essential nature of the activity in question and the qualities that are worth honoring and admiring and recognizing.

One of the reasons that the best flute players should get the best flutes is that musical performance is not only to make the rest of us happy, but to honor and recognize the excellence of the best musicians.

the distribution of flutes may seem a trivial case. Let’s take a contemporary example of the dispute about justice. It had to do with golf.

Casey Martin — a few years ago, Casey Martin — did any of you hear about him? He was a very good golfer, but he had a disability. He had a bad leg, a circulatory problem, that made it very painful for him to walk the course.

In fact, it carried risk of injury. He asked the PGA, the Professional Golfers’ Association, for permission to use a golf cart in the PGA tournaments. They said, “No. Now that would give you an unfair advantage.”

He sued, and his case went all the way to the Supreme Court, believe it or not, the case over the golf cart, because the law says that the disabled must be accommodated, provided the accommodation does not change the essential nature of the activity.

He says, “I’m a great golfer. I want to compete. But I need a golf cart to get from one hole to the next.”

Suppose you were on the Supreme Court. Suppose you were deciding the justice of this case. How many here would say that Casey Martin does have a right to use a golf cart? And how many say, no, he doesn’t? All right, let’s take a poll, show of hands.

How many would rule in favor of Casey Martin? And how many would not? How many would say he doesn’t? All right, we have a good division of opinion here. Someone who would not grant Casey Martin the right to a golf cart, what would be your reason? Raise your hand, and we’ll try to get you a microphone.

What would be your reason?

7:01 (Audience: It’d be an unfair advantage.)

MS: It would be an unfair advantage if he gets to ride in a golf cart. All right, those of you, I imagine most of you who would not give him the golf cart worry about an unfair advantage. What about those of you who say he should be given a golf cart? How would you answer the objection? Yes, all right.

7:23 Audience: The cart’s not part of the game.

MS: What’s your name? (Audience: Charlie.)

MS: Charlie says — We’ll get Charlie a microphone in case someone wants to reply. Tell us, Charlie, why would you say he should be able to use a golf cart?

7:39 Charlie: The cart’s not part of the game.

MS: But what about walking from hole to hole?

Charlie: It doesn’t matter; it’s not part of the game.

MS: Walking the course is not part of the game of golf?

Charlie: Not in my book, it isn’t.

7:55 MS: All right. Stay there, Charlie.

Who has an answer for Charlie? All right, who has an answer for Charlie? What would you say?

8:06 Audience: The endurance element is a very important part of the game, walking all those holes.

MS: Walking all those holes? That’s part of the game of golf? (Audience: Absolutely.)

MS: What’s your name? (Audience: Warren.)

 MS: Warren. Charlie, what do you say to Warren?

8:25 Charley: I’ll stick to my original thesis.  

MS: Warren, are you a golfer?

Warren: I am not a golfer.

Charley: And I am. (MS: Okay.) (Laughter)  

You know, it’s interesting. In the case, in the lower court, they brought in golfing greats to testify on this very issue. Is walking the course essential to the game? And they brought in Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. And what do you suppose they all said? Yes. They agreed with Warren. They said, yes, walking the course is strenuous physical exercise.

The fatigue factor is an important part of golf. And so it would change the fundamental nature of the game to give him the golf cart. Now, notice, something interesting — Well, I should tell you about the Supreme Court first.

The Supreme Court decided. What do you suppose they said? They said yes, that Casey Martin must be provided a golf cart. Seven to two, they ruled.

What was interesting about their ruling and about the discussion we’ve just had is that the discussion about the right, the justice, of the matter depended on figuring out what is the essential nature of golf.

And the Supreme Court justices wrestled with that question. And Justice Stevens, writing for the majority, said he had read all about the history of golf, and the essential point of the game is to get very small ball from one place into a hole in as few strokes as possible, and that walking was not essential, but incidental.

there were two dissenters, one of whom was Justice Scalia. He wouldn’t have granted the cart, and he had a very interesting dissent. It’s interesting because he rejected the Aristotelian premise underlying the majority’s opinion. He said it’s not possible to determine the essential nature of a game like golf.

Here’s how he put it. “To say that something is essential is ordinarily to say that it is necessary to the achievement of a certain object. But since it is the very nature of a game to have no object except amusement, (Laughter) that is, what distinguishes games from productive activity,  it is quite impossible to say that any of a game’s arbitrary rules is essential.”

there you have Justice Scalia taking on the Aristotelian premise of the majority’s opinion. Justice Scalia’s opinion is questionable for two reasons.

First, no real sports fan would talk that way.

If we had thought that the rules of the sports we care about are merely arbitrary, rather than designed to call forth the virtues and the excellences that we think are worthy of admiring, we wouldn’t care about the outcome of the game.

It’s also objectionable on a second ground. On the face of it, it seemed to be — this debate about the golf cart — an argument about fairness, what’s an unfair advantage.

But if fairness were the only thing at stake, there would have been an easy and obvious solution. What would it be? (Audience: Let everyone use the cart.) Let everyone ride in a golf cart if they want to. Then the fairness objection goes away.

letting everyone ride in a cart would have been, I suspect, more anathema to the golfing greats and to the PGA, even than making an exception for Casey Martin. Why?

Because what was at stake in the dispute over the golf cart was not only the essential nature of golf, but, relatedly, the question: What abilities are worthy of honor and recognition as athletic talents?

Let me put the point as delicately as possible: Golfers are a little sensitive about the athletic status of their game. (Laughter) After all, there’s no running or jumping, and the ball stands still.

So if golfing is the kind of game that can be played while riding around in a golf cart, it would be hard to confer on the golfing greats the status that we confer, the honor and recognition that goes to truly great athletes.

That illustrates that with golf, as with flutes, it’s hard to decide the question of what justice requires, without grappling with the question, What is the essential nature of the activity in question, and what qualities, what excellences connected with that activity, are worthy of honor and recognition?”

 Let’s take a final example that’s prominent in contemporary political debate: same-sex marriage.

There are those who favor state recognition only of traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and there are those who favor state recognition of same-sex marriage. How many here favor the first policy: the state should recognize traditional marriage only?

And how many favor the second, same-sex marriage?

Now, put it this way: What ways of thinking about justice and morality underlie the arguments we have over marriage?

The opponents of same-sex marriage say that the purpose of marriage, fundamentally, is procreation, and that’s what’s worthy of honoring and recognizing and encouraging.

And the defenders of same-sex marriage say no, procreation is not the only purpose of marriage; what about a lifelong, mutual, loving commitment? That’s really what marriage is about.

So with flutes, with golf carts, and even with a fiercely contested question like same-sex marriage, Aristotle has a point. Very hard to argue about justice without first arguing about the purpose of social institutions and about what qualities are worthy of honor and recognition.

let’s step back from these cases and see how they shed light on the way we might improve, elevate, the terms of political discourse in the United States, and for that matter, around the world.

There is a tendency to think that if we engage too directly with moral questions in politics, that’s a recipe for disagreement, and for that matter, a recipe for intolerance and coercion. So better to shy away from, to ignore, the moral and the religious convictions that people bring to civic life.

It seems to me that our discussion reflects the opposite, that a better way to mutual respect is to engage directly with the moral convictions citizens bring to public life, rather than to require that people leave their deepest moral convictions outside politics before they enter.

That, it seems to me, is a way to begin to restore the art of democratic argument.  

Chris Anderson: From flutes to golf courses to same-sex marriage — that was a genius link. Now look, you’re a pioneer of open education. Your lecture series was one of the first to do it big. What’s your vision for the next phase of this?

MS: Well, I think that it is possible. In the classroom, we have arguments on some of the most fiercely held moral convictions that students have about big public questions. And I think we can do that in public life more generally.

And so my real dream would be to take the public television series that we’ve created of the course — it’s available now, online, free for everyone anywhere in the world — and to see whether we can partner with institutions, at universities in China, in India, in Africa, around the world, to try to promote civic education and also a richer kind of democratic debate.

18:37 CA: So you picture, at some point, live, in real time, you could have this kind of conversation, inviting questions, but with people from China and India joining in?

MS: Right. We did a little bit of it here with 1,500 people in Long Beach, and we do it in a classroom at Harvard with about 1,000 students.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to take this way of thinking and arguing, engaging seriously with big moral questions, exploring cultural differences and connect through a live video hookup, students in Beijing and Mumbai and in Cambridge, Massachusetts and create a global classroom. That’s what I would love to do.

CA: So, I would imagine that there are a lot of people who would love to join you in that endeavor. Michael Sandel. Thank you so much. (MS: Thanks so much.)




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