From 1998-2006, I was either in jail, on probation, or on the run from law enforcement. My initial crime was less than a gram of marijuana, but as I would soon learn, the system was made for me to fail. I lost my job because I had been arrested, and now I had thousands of dollars in fines I could not pay. My one-year probation sentence was now a 30-day jail stay.
I was released and my “year” started over. After another violation and a 60 day stay, I was a broken man. I was confident that I would never break the chains of probation and incarceration. Eventually, I was able to cut a deal where I would serve the remainder of my sentence in full, and that was the only way out. Overall, I served more than two years across seven different stays in jail all from one single arrest.
I am very open about my time in jail, and have discussed my incarceration in a few college classes. It was a very difficult topic to discuss from my perspective when comparing incarceration in current day America to the American slave trade of the past.
I am a white man, so comparing my situation to the slavery of the past seemed almost wrong. I certainly would never compare my experience to that of someone like Frederick Douglass. I will never know the feeling of being beaten, sold, and considered less human due to my skin color. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t see parallels between the slave trade of the past and the American prison system we have now.
During my incarceration for a small amount of marijuana, I was forced to work on “trash” and “pavement” crews. I was forced to walk until my feet were as blistered as my sun burned skin. When the nurse held me out for three days of work because of the severe burns, the jail added three more days to my sentence. I finally got free from that place with a fresh set of probation, and after a few missed payments, I was locked up again.
I had not committed any new crimes, but I failed to pay the $200 a week probation costs. This time, the judge was “tired of seeing me,” and to be honest I was tired of seeing him. I agreed to serve the remainder of my sentence at the worst place I have ever been.
For six months, I was in a literal hell. I thought that forced work labor and sunburns were as bad as it could get, but I would soon learn about the emotional and psychological torture that is allowed in American jails. The rules changed with each shift change, and each shift seemed more sadistic than the last.
We were only allowed to shower three times a week. We were denied visitations. We were denied educational materials. The food served was often stale or rotten, and they would add sugar packets to pad the calorie count required for each inmate. The commissary items were priced 10 times higher than normal cost, and phone called were priced 100 times higher. We were woken every hour for cell check, as the guards were “required” to open the doors every hour. Guards that witnessed thefts and physical assaults ignored them, and told the inmates to “figure it out” among themselves.
I don’t know why I wrote this. Maybe it was to say legalize it and ban for profit prisons. Maybe it was for my own personal therapy. Stay safe out there.