Incarceration Culture

activist, author, former political prisoner

Camille Marino
February 18, 2018

Two mentally ill, 12-year-old girls attempted to murder their friend in an effort to appease a fictional internet character called slenderman. I know nothing about this character and, for purposes of this commentary, it doesn’t matter. The facts are simple. At least one of these girls was diagnosed with schizophrenia (passed down through her father’s genes) and the second pre-pubescent shared the delusion that they were acting at slenderman’s direction; if they failed to kill the third friend, they and their families would be in danger of being murdered by the mythological figure. Both girls were tried as adults, facing 65 years in prison. Both were found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to mental institutions for up to 25 and 40 years, respectively. Their victim survived the attack.

Does society even raise an eyebrow that our judicial system can take 12-year-old children, potentially usurp their entire lives, and lock them away from society? Last year, the Supreme Court found it to be cruel and unusual punishment to sentence minors to life in prison without parole. A number of youthful offenders, after already spending decades in prison, were sent back to court to be re-sentenced. The fact that this was even an issue in the United States of America speaks volumes. We are a society that routinely takes children, locks them away inside the prison-industrial complex for life, and throws away the key. Whether or not the 2 girls who are the subject of this essay were mentally ill or not is largely irrelevant to me. In this country, children commit murder at at alarming rate. Yet we fail to recognize that those children are a product of our society — a culture that glorifies death and violence, criminalizes some forms of sexuality and expressions of love, and literally feeds their babies diets of milk siphoned from the bodies of incarcerated cows and flesh torn from their murdered bodies. Honestly, what do we expect?

We lock children away for life for murder; children who needed help but received none. We lock away women who couldn’t find relief and were forced to kill their abusive partners. We lock away those who blow up the infrastructure that profits from the death of our planet. We lock up drug addicts who need help. We lock up the mentally ill who need help. We lock up people of color for not being white. We lock up the poor — white, black, or green — for not having the money to defend themselves. We lock up animals for life in their own penitentiaries to sustain the paradigm. And we lock up dissenters who dare challenge the inherent injustice in our america — land of the enslaved and home of the elites. Because the one thing all of these victims have in common is that their oppressors profit from their incarcerations.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a body composed of legislators and corporate lobbyists. The corporations that range from the agri-industry to big pharma to privatized prisons to the probation industry work with these legislators to pass laws that decimate living wages, privatize schools, sell prisons to the highest bidder, and, of course, classify effective animal rights activists as terrorists (AETA). This is fascism. It is a corporatocracy. It ensures that the individual will remain indentured to globalization or be penalized with incarceration for dissent.

Last week we saw another school shooting with 17 kids dead that’s dominated mainstream media coverage. And the 19-year-old perpetrator will likely go to prison for life (more profits for the prison industrial complex), if not be given death by the state. On that same day, how many innocent civilians were murdered in the Middle East by our drones and carpet bombs? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it happens every day without mention in the news. And never a word about the millions of imprisoned animals executed so we can eat their bodies (more profits for the agri-terrorist industrialists).

Society as a whole does not blink when we lock each other away for our sins — being poor, being black, being sick. How can we expect them to care when we obliterate every other species on the planet as a matter of course. The only option for some of us is to resist the paradigm in which we are all imprisoned. And dissent, no matter how futile it may seem inside a culture focused on video games and the inane tweets of the idiot oligarch-in-chief, is the only thing that remains pure — that remains vital in a world where institutional injustice is clung to by most as the american way.

The day we yield to oppression is the day we become complicit in the crimes of the oppressors.


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