Prison and racial segregation: why a Jewish guy eats with the Aryan Brotherhood

From a 2009 Southern Poverty Law Center report, David Arenberg describes his life as a Jewish guy inside a heavily racially segregated state prison where he faces violence and even death if he doesn't eat with the Aryan Brotherhood. Arenberg uses the essay to jump into a harrowing view into the rise of serious, politicized neo-Nazi skinheads in prison -- guys who make the Aryan Brotherhood look like moderates.

Not that there's anywhere else I could eat. The prison yard is broken down into five distinct racial categories and segregation is strictly enforced. There are the "woods" (short for peckerwoods) that encompass the whites, the "kinfolk" (blacks), the "Raza" (American-born people of Mexican descent), the "paisas" (Mexico-born Mexicans), and the "chiefs" (American Indians). Under the strict rules that govern interracial relations, different races are allowed to play on the same sports teams but not play individual games (e.g., chess) together; they may be in each others' cubicles together if the situation warrants but not sit on each others' beds or watch each others' televisions. They may go to the same church services but not pray together. But if you accidentally break one of these rules, the consequences are usually pretty mild: you might get a talking to by one of the heads (who, of course, claims exemption from this rule himself), or at worst, a "chin check."

Eating with another race, however, is a different story. It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you'll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you'll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don't have any play.

This makes it difficult for me, of course, to fit into the chow hall. Jews, as we all know, are not white but imposters who don white skin and hide inside it for the purpose of polluting and taking over the white race. The skinheads simply can't allow me to eat with them: that would make them traitors of the worst kind — race traitors! But my milky skin and pasty complexion, characteristic of the Eastern European Ashkenazi, make it impossible for me to eat with other races who don't understand the subtleties of my treachery and take me for just another wood. So the compromise is that I may sit at certain white tables after all the whites have finished eating. In exchange, I must do free legal work as directed by the heads (Jewish lawyers, even jailhouse lawyers, are hard to come by in prison) and remit to them a portion of the legal fees I collect from everyone else I do legal work for on the yard.

David Arenberg Reflects on Being Jewish in State Prison (via )


  1. It is really sad that such places exist in this world. I it is not helpful to say that, but how DOES one respond?

    1. Well, barring America’s largest prison consortium from taking Congresscritters to lunch in the Bahamas so they can extoll the evils of legalizing pot would be a small start.

    2. Such places don’t just “exist in this world”, they are created.  This kind of racial hostility is deliberately cultivated by the prison system – that is: the guards and prison managers.

      The reason is simple and ancient: As a prison manager, like any other autocrat, you know it is easy to rule a population which is divided against itself.  Your subjects will busy themselves with horizontal conflicts, jockeying for position and power amongst each other.

      If the population stops competing and fearing each other, then they all begin to look upwards.  They start to think about competing against you, their common enemy.  This has been seen in many prison uprisings – from mass hunger strikes to insurrections – in which racial groups which were supposed to hate each other worked together to overcome the terrible conditions they all found themselves in.

      So, as any autocrat would do, you sow racism.  You exacerbate racial tensions, push people into situations where they’ll inevitably disrespect each other.  You encourage horizontal conflict to avoid vertical conflict.  Works every time.

      Sure, some people might get hurt, killed or terrorized every once in a while on account of the color of their skin, but the important thing is that order is maintained.  Preserving “law and order” means, in a very literal way, preserving a racial order which many people in the US believe we had abandoned decades ago.

      1. According to the article, the racial divisions serve the interests of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB), because it segments the internal drug market.  Mexican-American gangs have better and cheaper drugs, so the AB would lose out in a “free” market.  Therefore, they forbid white prisoners to purchase from Mexican suppliers, using violence to punish non-compliance.  

        The race-ideology is a cover for economic interests, but the prison management has little to do with it.  That’s what Arenberg says, at least …

        1. Criminals form these gangs, true, yet the gangs couldn’t thrive if prison policies didn’t leave them room to flourish. In this article we see gangs openly flouting their power by establishing segregated spaces. Management isn’t blind to this, they’re allowing it to go on. It’s a failure on all levels, from tough on crime politicians who overpopulate the jails but don’t allocate sufficient funds to run them, to management that throws their hands up in the air and outsource law and order to criminal gangs, to guards who finds it more convenient and safe to play along with gang leaders.

          1. There is only so much order you can establish when (necessarily) unarmed guards patrol in the common spaces. 

            To expect “integrated” common spaces is asking alot.

            Unless you have a supermax situation where all prisoners are isolated, prisoners will always have some degree of control.

          2. There are prisons where gangs are marginal players, so it can be done. Just because it’s not desirable for guards to be authoritarian
            control freaks, still doesn’t excuse prisons where gangs have this much
            control. If gang members don’t want to associate with others, fine, that’s their choice. But they should not
            have the power to force everybody else to follow the gang’s code of

          3. Then pay your taxes and elect representatives that pour more money into prisons and pass fewer 3-strikes laws and less draconian drug laws.

          4. @Petzl:disqus  Yes to electing representatives that pass better laws.

            No to pouring more money into prisons, the Prison Industrial complex is highly corrupt and very very wealthy, lack of money is not the issue.

            Their reach and power to influence government needs to be diminished, not increased.

            The USA needs to reduce its prison population, not increase it.  It already imprisons more of its own people then any other country in the world.


      2. So, if there weren’t “autocrats” exacerbating racial tension, these racial divisions wouldn’t exist in American prisons.

        Yeah, no.

  2. It really is amazing how one’s world view, religion, ideology, personality, and any other individual traits are swept away in prison, where you are just seen as another member of your race.

    Everything breaks down to physical appearance, which seems primitive and often brutal. 

     I wonder if humanity will every move past racial divisions, sometimes it seems insurmountable.

      1. No it’s not. Although it has earlier analogues, race is a modern invention. And prisons are hardly anywhere to discover how people are wired, only how people face brutalization, and how institutions legitimize brutalization.

          1. Race is not the same thing as racism. Racism is, unfortunately, very real. And entirely unfounded, because race is mostly a cultural invention.

        1. Do date, no culture or society is totally lacking of those who stereotype, whether it be racial motivated or otherwise. We are wired to see differences, and it is those who skew higher on education and intelligence that are least prone to see (or consciously believe in or act on) racial distinction – this group also happens to generally be underrepresented in prisons.

          It is quite a sad circumstance, however something tells me that racial tension in prisons now would also have to be an improvement from how it was a generation ago.

          1. and it is those who skew higher on education

            Funny that this assumption is also a display of a kind of prejudice.

          2. Point taken. I’m not trying to be elitist however, it’s not a comparison of Ivy-league vs. State, it’s a consideration that prisoners trend towards less educated (minimally educated, more likely) and that minimally educated Americans would tend to be from environments where there’s less racial integration and more racial tension. 

            To be fair, there’s certainly a lot of racism on the well-educated but similarly racially homogenous side. I’m sure a gathering for Fortune 500 CEOs wouldn’t be most progressive environment either. However wealthy, privileged racists are usually in a position to avoid contact with other racial groups, whereas in prisons everyone is mixed together, with the added factors of aggressive and violent personalities.

            You’re right that it’s upbringing and exposure that woud most determine racial thinking. Education and intelligence have some correlation, but that doesn’t imply causation. 

        2.  “race is a modern invention.”

          No it’s not, that’s PC bunk. Different races evolved through roughly 200 thousand years of evolution. While Asians, Europeans, and Africans, etc are all humans, they are all also different races. Dogs are all genetically the same too, but no one would say a Chihuahua and a St Bernard were exactly the same. There are thousands of examples of variances of the same species throughout the animal kingdom, and humans being higher mammals are no different.

          1. First off, while there were once significant difference between human populations, those differences have thoroughly diluted by the expansion of Homo sapiens sapiens.

            Second, the fact that there are differences in blood types, skin color, hair texture, epicanthic folds, incisor shape, and genetic diversity doesn’t mean that the differences form races. Races are socially constructed from the *most superficial* differences, and by erasing every intermediate variation, and by ignorance of genetics, blood types, etc. Historically, Africa has the greatest genetic diversity, while African people were generally grouped into only one-to-three races. Europe has much less genetic diversity, but European people were also grouped into one to three races.

          2. “No it’s not, that’s PC bunk. Different races evolved through roughly 200 thousand years of evolution. ”

            I thought the “Out of Africa” theory suggested that modern non-African humans are all mostly descended from groups that only left Africa about 60,000 years ago (there may have been some earlier migrations but I believe their contribution to modern genetics is thought to be much smaller). 

            Anyway, when people say that race is a construct, I think they’re mostly talking about the specific racial categories that you mention–“Asians, Europeans, and Africans”–not to the general idea that there are statistical group differences in certain genes and physical traits depending on the geographic region of one’s ancestors. The point is that there is nothing particularly “natural” about dividing people into Asians/Europeans/Africans, it’s fairly arbitrary to take all the geographic variation in human genetics and split it into these three categories, and the popularity of these divisions is mainly due to pseudoscientific ideas about “race” from the 18th and 19th centuries.

          3.  The differences between different human “races” are negligible compared to those between various dog breeds. There’s no human race that’s five times as big as others, or extra fluffy, or anything like that.

            Moreover, the commonly assumed races are crap. If you really want to divide humanity into different races based on subtle differences in physical characteristics, you end up with at least 23 races, and most of those are black. Skin color is just one of many different features that varies among humans. It has been picked for a *cultural* division of races because it’s easily visible, but it’s entirely arbitrary. Why not use eye color or hair color? Why not use bone structure?

            What few people realize is that “Caucasian” actually includes Indians and Somalians. They differ from other “races” not by skin color, but by bone structure, longer straighter noses, different cheekbones, stuff like that. But even then, there are some populations that have some Caucasian features and not others. What race are they? It’s far too fuzzy to use it as any kind of meaningful subdivision.

            And then there’s the simple fact that genetic diversity among Africans is far, far larger than that among the entire rest of the world’s population. Europeans, Asians and Native Americans are far more closely related than two random Africans.

            Race as it is commonly used is an entirely cultural invention. People look different, therefore we assume that they are different. But apart from some slight differences in pigmentation and maybe subtle details in bone structure, they’re completely the same.

        3. The idea of “white man’s burden” may be new, but the underlying principle is not.

            If all prisoners were white ( or brown, or black ), then the prisoners would divide themselves along other lines.  They would still form tribes, and there would still be conflict and exclusion.  We have a built in need to distinguish ourselves from “the other” – us and them.  Family, clan, tribe, party,region, nationality, race, creed, color, football team, college.  Us or them, inside or outside. 

          1. There’s a pretty big difference between choosing to associate yourself with a tribe–whatever the pressure–and having that choice made for you because of your ancestry. I mean, that’s kind of the point of the article.

          2. Yes, but if you don’t group people into subdivisions based on single superficial physical attributes, how do you know who’s on your side and who isn’t?
            /sad sarcasm/

      2. We are wired to categorize and label, which is not necessarily the same thing as hating people because of these arbitrary tribes and categories.

        1. I tell a person that I ride a bike and he immediately hurls abuse at me because of the perceived behaviour of other people who ride bikes. Hatred on the basis of arbitrary categories is common in our society.

          1. Non-commercial driving is an extremely antisocial behavior.  Drivers must be self-loathing deep inside.  It makes them angry and lash out at those who remind them that they don’t have to pollute, cause “accidents”, drive suburban sprawl, etc to survive.

          2. Full points for the “tribalism” and “hatred on the basis of arbitrary categories” demo.

          3. Haha. Irony much?

            Lifelong bike rider here. I’m 34 and I’ve never had a driver’s license. But, seriously, get over yourself.

      3. If this is such a hard-wired characteristic of humanity, then how come nobody stabs me when I share a sandwich with a Latino friend?

        I even know people who used to be in prison.  Not only do they not stab me, but they share their sandwiches too!  It is not the people, it is the prison.  The atmosphere of racial tension is no accident.  It’s imposed from above just like all the other rules of prison, and once prisoners are free, the vast majority of them leave it behind.

        1. The prison authorities must have very sad supernatural powers.

          They can magically impose an atmosphere of racial tension upon the inmates.

          Yet they cannot similarly impose an atmosphere of civility or brotherhood, which would obviously be in the prison’s best interest, making it a safer and more fun place to work.

          1. nothing magic about fostering and encouraging division for control.  It is easy to manipulate and exasorbate these tendencies.

            prisoners are emprisoned and do not have the freedoms we take for granted, many of them already have violent tendencies.  take those two factors and imposing the utopian civility you suggest becomes difficult.  the can impose order and better prisoner safty though, many prisons do, but that is more expensive to maintain those types of systems, hence the cheap dirty way win.

          2. No, that would make it a safer and more fun place to be imprisoned. And it would enable the inmates to unite against the guards.

          3.  So, if prisoners were not at each others throats and there was not a culture of tribal/racial hostility among each other, it would be less safe place for guards to work.

      4. No. Not everyone in this world is racist, therefore it is not integral to the human psyche to be racist.  It may be the default, but *it can be trained out.* Some humans do better, therefore we can do better. Not everyone in the Milgram experiments agreed to shock the participants. Some Germans sheltered the Jews and Gypsies at great personal risk. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu weren’t born with fundamentally different brain structure than the rest of humanity.

        Technically yes all learning is rewiring, but I don’t think that’s what you meant. Direct rewiring is not required.

    1. Primitive, brutal conditions in prison? You were expecting refined and thoughtful criminals?

      1. You were expecting refined and thoughtful criminals?

        You mean like the author of the article? And the hundreds of thousands of other people who are imprisoned for minor drug “crimes” or for doing things that you’ve done but never been caught doing? Your mindset seems like it would fit in rather nicely.

        1. To be clear, Mr. Arenberg was found to be guilty of “driving under the influence…fraud, forgery, identity theft and vehicle theft” Not “minor drug crimes” (which, to be clear, I agree should not be crimes). 

          Prison conditions are awful and must be improved, but Mr. Arenberg is a real criminal who deserved to pay a debt to society.

          1. We can see that he has done some (very) stupid things and commited theft.  So you are alright with  him being placed in a location where he suffers a loss of  basic human rights?  Your prison system is starting to make the gulag and other classical punishments look positive.  The threat of harsh physical violence due to a perceived slight of the so-called social norms informs us that by the measure  ‘prisons are a reflection of the society’  your society is very, very broken.

          2. Prison is a reflection of certain facets of society, just as are the crimes committed within it.

            The tragedy in this case is that both prisons and the crimes committed reflect the worst tendencies, when you would hope that an enlightened society would find expression through a reformative and constructive prison system.

          3. “starting to make the gulag… look positive.”
            I highly recommend you read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. US prisons have very very far to fall before they even come close to the horrors of the gulags.

          4. I just think as a member of society I don’t need him to serve the needs of the Aryan Brotherhood for his sins.

          5. Mr. Arenberg is a real criminal who deserved to pay a debt to society.

            As a member of society, I don’t feel that this has accomplished any sort of debt- paying.  Without knowing the details of the vehicle theft, I’d say that if his crimes were non-violent, he should have gone to a halfway house and gotten a job so that he could literally pay his debt.  That plus drug counseling and whatever other intervention would restore him to society.

            Punishment, let alone the torture camps that we call prisons =/= paying a debt.  They’re just vengeance facilities.

          6. I’m curious. In which way does this “repay a debt”?   

            Sounds more like American rationalization of revenge fantasies to me. 

            Not that much above Vendetta, in my eyes. 

          7. “fraud, forgery, identity theft and vehicle theft”

            That sounds like petty junkie crap, not likely the work of ‘a real criminal who deserves to pay a debt to society.’

          8. Well, without details of the fraud he engaged in, it’s hard to judge how petty or sophisticated it was. When so many grand crimes are committed with apparent impunity, it is tempting to overlook smaller crimes – but I’m not sure that it is always helpful to do so.

          9.  Well… depends how big the fraud was.  (Bear in mind that “identity theft” is mostly code for “money theft”, invented by the banks to avoid being liable for anything.)

            But since he wasn’t a banker or Wall Street guy, the chance that the fraud was serious is pretty low.

            This kind of barbaric “lock them in a box full of monsters” approach should have been obsolete decades ago.

          10. Mr. Arenberg is a real criminal, but I really wish people would stop pretending that “pay your debt to society” means “suffer until we think you’re scared enough to go straight”. Mr. Arenberg isn’t “paying a debt”. He’s not being made to undo the harm his crimes caused. He’s not doing community fucking service. He’s being punished. Maybe that’s a good thing and maybe it’s not. But this “paying a debt to society” line is bullshit. Words mean things.

        2. I hope you don’t think that most people in prison are harmless weed smokers who got busted by The Man – and refined and thoughtful people to boot. Most of the criminals I have known – and that’s quite a few – are violent, dishonest, and totally self-centered. How on earth would distrusting prisoners make me fit in well in prison?

          1. Of course, many of the people in prison deserve to be in prison.

            However, there’s no denying that the strict drug laws and certain 3-strikes laws have jailed many, many nonviolent offenders and have ballooned prison populations to a ridiculous extent. America is #1 in prison population per capita.  Our rate is 7x that of England, 3x that of Iran.  Something is wrong.

            The fact is most people in American prisons nowadays are nonviolent drug users who got busted by The Man.

          2. Then I suppose Americans must be exceptionally violent and nasty.  The US has more prisoners per capita and in general than any other nation (with the possible exception of North Korea).  So your theory is that Americans are hyper violent sociopaths?

        3. Not everybody in prison is a violent sociopath.  But there are enough of them in there to make prison a nightmare and to enforce their reign of terror. 

      2. Ah, the “what did you expect” attitudes that tolerate violence and rape among “lesser” humans. It’s okay! It’s their nature!

        1. How else would we have such a large body of straight-to-video post-apocalyptic prison island films?

      3. Brutal conditions in prison have less to do with the prisoners than the state which puts them there.  There are lots of prisoners who belong in prison.  And there are lots who don’t.

      4. Timothy Leary said he found the same 24 gangs everywhere, the ones at Harvard spoke better english than the ones at Folsom prison.

      5. I expect the same horizontal struggles inside the prison to exist here out in this larger prison. Our social masters like the keep the drug wars, and war with terror, so those of us below them can fear each other. And the ones who really matter, the ones running the long cons, can be assured they’ll never end up in jail. 

  3. Sooo, how does such a prison help make the inmate a productive and useful citizen after their term is done?

    1. Let me recommend “Newjack”, by Ted Conover, for a look into what it’s like to be a prison guard. It’s more about babysitting dangerous people with extremely limited resources and apathetic guards than it is about rehabilitation.

      1.  Newjack is a great book, and an example of what real journalism looks like: Conover tried to interview guards to write about Sing Sing, kept getting stonewalled, and finally decided to just get a job and work there for a year.  And he’s not a physically large or imposing guy.  Truly impressive.

      2. Second the recommendation…I read that when I was doing research into prisons for proposed RPG.  Unlike him, I gave up that project when it started looking like a bunch of work.

    2. The first step is wanting to do that.  Our current prisons system has yet to take that first step.

  4. I understand that prisons in the US are places to put miscreants, often violent people.  But what is the excuse for abandoning civilization at the gates?  Seems counter-productive. 

      1. Even before they were privately run, there was political pressure to make them more punitive, less rehabilitative.  And punitive is probably cheaper.  

        1. I thought more punitive was more expensive?

          I mean they can and do cut back on food and medical care, but the supermaxes and the communications management units are more expensive, aren’t they?

          And forced labor/prison industry also costs more than it collects, doesn’t it?

          1. And forced labor/prison industry also costs more than it collects, doesn’t it?

            Than they net from the forced labor? Usually. Than they bilk taxpayers for? That particular trough has never been more lucrative.

          2. “I thought more punitive was more expensive?”

            In the long tun, it most definitely is. But try telling that to the political caste (or their fickle constituency), whose most foresightful members can *maybe* think ahead to the next election cycle, tops.

          3. On second thought, you’re probably right, punitive is likely more expensive, especially if you consider long term society costs of damaged individuals vs. people who are more productive on release.

          4. Not to many prison gangs in supermax prisons.  Even the lesser level of control that would be required to tamp down on the prison gangs would cost more than leaving them in control of prisoners lives.  So the violent assholes are in control

          5. Not really. This was covered by a PBS Frontline special a couple of months ago: capital costs are one-time expenditures, labor costs go on and on, especially if you include employee health care and pensions.

            So, as Frontline documented in a feature on California prisons, they do nothing to increase the number of prison guards as the prison population increases, and instead quite literally, explicitly, and intentionally outsource the maintenance of daily order inside the prisons to the leaders of the racial gangs, and the guards help those gangs enforce mandatory membership.

            From a crime-prevention angle, this is ridiculously counter-productive — if you weren’t a racial gang member when you went into prison, you will be when you come out, with that hanging over you on top of your felony conviction; you have few remaining career options OTHER than crime. But it’s cheap!

        2. “punitive is probably cheaper.”

          It’s not even. It just makes “fiscal conservatives” happy.

          1. What the?…it doesn’t make me happy at all…oh, you mean the hypocrites who call themselves fiscal conservatives. Here’s my test for ideological doublespeak: if someone says I’m an X, they probably aren’t. If some says I’m X”, it’s even money.

    1. They put him in solitary confinement for his own protection, make more money doing it, and thereby destroy his sanity?

      Just speculating.

  5.  The only experience I have with prison is that I live in a town that has one.  I see all kinds of guards at the gas station where I stop to get a coffee most every morning, they are changing shifts at 6am.  I find them all to be unfailingly polite, friendly and humorous.  I don’t suspect these (mostly) guys of being sadists. They seem like normal people, (at least as normal as anyone is at 5:30 am). 

    Here’s the punchline.  They all still work for the state of WA. They have some kind of oversight and control.  They are not there to make a profit for a company.  So… privately run, for-profit prisons?  Completely fucking stupid idea. 

    1. they make their pay check from caging and enslaving americans, which simply going by the arrest beakdowns and numbers that we’re currently incarcerating is mostly composed of non violent, white collar and drug offenses.  i’m sure some SS officers were nice to their children and neighbors as well, i’m betting it didn’t help much at their trials.

  6. For a whole book on a Jewish guy’s experience in prison I can recommend Jimmy Lerner’s “You Got Nothing Coming: Notes From a Prison Fish”. And for an American’s experience in a South Korean prison, try Cullen Thomas’ “Brother One Cell: An American Coming of Age in South Korea’s Prisons”.

  7. What would happen if the laws were changed so that prisons had a financial incentive for prisons to rehabilitate prisoners, like tying some percentage of funding to the number of prisoners who reoffend upon release?

    I know there’s probably something wrong with the idea; I’m just not seeing it.

    1.  I think the problem is it’d fall into the same trap No Child Left Behind did, end up taking money away from the prisons that actually need it most.

    2. Politician A: Let’s do the sensible thing (as you’re suggesting)
      Politician B: My opponent, A, believes criminals deserve cupcakes. I think they should be beaten with sticks like the scum that they are.  Willie Horton.

      I wish I were exaggerating, but I don’t think I’m off the mark.  

      1.  Only thing you missed was Politician B having a fancy meal with prison lobbyist C

      1. I think that it’s supposed to magically create spontaneous manners. I haven’t observed the phenomenon in real life for some decades now.

        1. there’s been some pretty serious societal shift since the great man’s time. even further shift in our exponentially increasing criminal class.

          also, there are some women..turn keys and nurses, most of them were every bit as corrupt as the men.

          1. Current case in Baltimore:

    1. Ask trans womyn who have survived men’s jails and men’s prisons. Some have been raped while awaiting trial. Sometimes the threat of rape is used to extort guilty pleas. Add in the reality that trans people can sometimes be arrested for being trans, for walking while trans, and/or for using hormones…

      “One study of California prisoners found that 59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    2. This is one example of why I am not a Heinlein fan. “Heinlein fan” is a dealbreaker attribute for me. Male Heinlein fan; Back off as soon as I can. Female Heinlein fan; Run like hell.

      1. Well yeah he tried very hard to make armed rational anarchism work in The Moon Is a harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, and it is easy to see where his arguments break down. We are not a smart species and don’t always act for the greater good.

        1. True, but that doesn’t impinge on the value of the work. 

          It’s the job of SF to explore odd societal ideas; the value of 1984 is in no way lessened by the fact that human psychology doesn’t actually work quite like that.

          1. “Human psychology doesn’t actually work quite like that.”

            And yet plenty seem to see it as a how-to guide…

          2. I thought that and then I read Homage to Catalonia; all of those “slightly ridiculous but I’ll let it slide because it furthers the plot” machinations of the state happened directly to Orwell when he was fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

          3. I wasn’t thinking of those when I wrote it; I think anyone who’s had to deal with a bureaucracy finds the plot terrifyingly plausible.  I was thinking of the final monologues and motivations of the elite; that’s not really how actual dictatorial megalomaniacs think.

      2. I have a similar to reaction to people who judge harshly strangers based on their taste in science fiction.

        1. If you include Ayn Rand in the category of science fiction, it can sometimes be a tell. 

          1. Ayn Rand may be the only author to write SF by accident.  An SF author changes a fact/variable/underlying condition of society and then explores the consequences.  While Rand did in fact change an underlying fact of society, it’s not the one she thought she was changing.

      3. Have you actually read Heinlein?  If Starship Troopers doesn’t get your military sci-fi rocks off, you probably just don’t like the entire genera.  As for Heinlein’s beliefs, the guy was a liberal or an anarchist by today’s standards.  He was a democrat most of his life, progressive all of his life, and only reluctantly became a weak “conservative” because he was disgusted by the lefts tendency to give the Soviet Union a high five.  He was writing allegories about racism when the US still had Jim Crow Laws.  While his attempts to be gender progressive occasionally come off has hamfisted, the dude was writing before the sexual revolution and making a fair shot at it.  The guy was writing about a co-ed military as a good thing a solid 50 years before the US got around to implementing it.

        If you can’t function around Heinlein, you probably just can’t function around people who don’t hold the exact same beliefs as you.  Heinlein was dully middle of the road with some confused anarchist leanings.  He would have personally beat the shit out of Santorum for being a racist, women hating piece, sexually repressed,  religious nut ball, piece of shit if he was still alive.  

        If you would dismiss a woman because she likes Heinlein, one of the must influential authors of sci-fi in history, it says far more about you than it does about her.

        1. If you would dismiss a woman because she likes Heinlein, one of the must influential authors of sci-fi in history, it says far more about you than it does about her.

          All my female coworkers who had to deal with him wanted to tie him up in a pillowcase and throw him off a bridge.

  8. I apologize in advance for maybe sounding stereotypically anti-american, but… whenever I read stories like these, about the American justice and (especially) prison system, I count myself lucky to be European.

    It’s not that all’s fine and dandy here, of course not. But when compared to the outright Barbarism of American prisons and sentencing, I take a hundred Anders Breivik-style criminals going to supposedly plushy, hippy-dippy correctional facilities every day.

    1. Not all of them are plush and hippy-dippy.  This 2005 report to the European Commissioner for Human Rights makes it sound like France has a lot of the same problems as the US, or did eight years ago:

      “75. It is true that some things I saw during my visit were deeply distressing and shocking. They are largely the result of problems of overcrowding, which deprive a large number of inmates from being able to exercise their basic rights.

      “76. Unsanitary cells, toilets and washing facilities in a bad state of repair, limits on the number of showers that prisoners are allowed to take each week, poor-quality bed linen and blankets – these were virtually constant features during our visit. It was difficult for me, in early 21st-century France, to hear prisoners complaining about the insufficient number of showers and the fact that they were not allowed to have a shower every day, even during the summer, when there are often periods of intense heat. The lack of measures to provide protection from heat was also mentioned on numerous occasions. I feel that it is important to find ways of improving the situation without further delay

      The causes sound similar too, grandstanding politicians deciding to add increasingly punitive measures combined with severe underfunding of both prisons and the justice system more generally.  Pushing against that is hard since criminals are not a very sympathetic group.  In the US  they are also literally powerless politically because except in Maine and Vermont incarcerated felons are not allowed to vote.

      1. Felony disenfranchisement is one of those issues that I cannot possibly understand how it is still considered constitutional

        1. The 14th Amendment forbids states to deny people the franchise but also includes the clause “except for participation in rebellion, or other crime”.

    2. You’re right. It’s a very common political football that gets used here, that often results in insane conditions and treatment.
      This is from This American Life, about former Congressman Rostenkowski and his change of heart on the matter.  Which sadly occurred not while he was in office, but when he was incarcerated.

  9. Brutal. There ain’t no place for a little chinaman like me so I guess I better straighten up and fly right.

  10. The writer’s story is pretty chilling and of course, as an educated and articulate author, it’s easy to identify with him. However the most disturbing element to my mind is the final paragraph. He describes that the victory that he achieved against the Aryan Brotherhood is that he now identifies as Jewish, when previously he did not. But surely a victory against the ideology of the Aryan Brotherhood would be a rejection of racial identification rather than embracing it?

    1. A victory against the ideology of the AB is what you make of it – if it’s an Ashkenazi Jew self-identifying as Jewish, or Nordic-extraction people reclaiming their traditional culture in a non-violent, non-hateful way, or a woman going to university, or whatever. It’s not about ignoring your ethnicity or culture or gender or whatever – it’s about those qualities not being used as a basis to oppress you, about there being no way for these ideals to hijack government and society as a whole.

      1. Yeah, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand it, and I certainly don’t mean my observation as a criticism of the character of the author. It just has a bit of a 1984 feel to it;

        “But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

  11. This should be an eye-opener, as well, for those who believe that the solution to all social problems is MORE government.
    Where can you find a place with more government control than in prison?
    Yet, for all of that control, social wrongs, violence, and separate uncontrollable power structures prevail more than the vast majority of American Society.

    1. Where can you find a place with more government control than in prison?

      There’s virtually no control in prison; that’s the problem. It’s a libertarian paradise in which the strong eat the weak.

    2. If I had to be imprisoned anywhere I’d probably pick one of the most socially democratic, “big government” countries in the world: Norway.

      I’d prefer that over Libertarian’s favorite place: Singapore, where you can still be “caned” and hung for drug crimes.

      1. I am pretty sure that caning and hanging people from drug crimes is the polar opposite of libertarian.

      2. Huh?  Libertarians don’t like Singapore, except for the food and (for some people) the weather.  We get annoyed enough about being called “Republicans who like to smoke pot” (some of us were “Republicans who objected to the Vietnam War draft” or “hippies who understand economics”), but a dictatorial government that restricts free speech and kills drug dealers is pretty much the antithesis of libertarian.  If you want to tag us with liking Somalia, there’s at least some excuse for that, but the kind of Libertarians who like highly-regulated societies tend to pick Switzerland or something.

  12. Mixed race people who look nothing like any of the races of which they’re comprised must have the hardest time. I’m talking about the black/white/native kid that looks inexplicably Arab or Mexican to others. I wonder who I’d be forced to eat with.

    Probably just the black folks, once wind of the exact quantum of my heritage was made public. After all, that one drop rule still kind of exists.

    But then again, I wonder if it’s the same in women’s prison.

  13. Race dominates behaviors and actions in prison.. Nothing is done without first considering race; eating, working, recreation, programming and all things considered to be either a privilege or necessity is ruled by race. Then it comes down to majority rules, minority follows. It’s a hierarchy that is easy to follow but deadly if not done right. Just one glimpse at the chow hall can tell you who runs the yard or if it is a split control situation.

  14. This guy is complaining about having to eat at odd hours and give part of his billings to the boss? Is he at a prison or a law firm?

  15. Interesting. The last time my younger brother- who has had his fair number of brushes with the law, though usually over minor, regulatory bullshit- was in jail (in South Mississippi), he ended up being protected by the African-American contingent in the prison; the Aryans were not welcoming and were apparently down right threatening. This despite his being quite white, mind you. He was in jail pretty briefly, fortunately- he was in on a bench warrant, and my parents levied up some money to get him out- so I don’t know how he would have ended up fitting into the racial dynamics.

    Of course, such an anecdote doesn’t prove anything one way or another, nor does it really challenge the pretty clear racial divisions within prisons (and, I would add, within the much larger outside world of crime and underclass). It does point to the fact that these divisions and barriers are not impermeable, even in the tightly constrained world of a prison (where everything is excaberated and intensified, as a matter of course).

    1. Of course jail is different than prison.  A larger percentage of “in and out” types like your brother and a greater degree of transience means that it is more difficult for gangs to control everything.  And since there are more “regular people” and they get out more quickly, there is more political will to DO something to protect the prisoners from each other than in a penitentiary.

    2. In California prisons, the Black Guerilla Family – the non-religious Marxist group founded at San Quentin but now at many prisons in the West – has had a number of non-AA members, including several Jews. Interestingly enough, from what I understand, their members – when they get parole – are less likely to reoffend than members of any other prison gang/organization.

  16. So much digression here. Can I please just point out that race is NOT a real thing? As much as the concept of race defines a lot of people and there are a lot of people that use race as a factor in making all sorts of decisions, it’s not actually a real thing. Human beings are way, way too genetically diverse to be grouped into a few categories. Race is almost completely a product of history and perception and control, and isn’t a scientifically valid way to define people. We would have to have hundreds or thousands of  ‘races’ to group people properly. Skin color isn’t race. Not even close. Sorry, not much to do with the article. 

  17. Such fantastic writing about such an interesting topic. I hope David writes much more about this. The only way this insanity can continue is if its easily ignored, and writing like this makes it very hard to ignore it.

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