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L. Neil Smith's

Number 874, May 29, 2016

Conservatives are collectivists—right-wing
socialists—to whom there are many issues
(national security, for one) more important
than the health, well-being, and rights
of the individual.

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Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman
A Book Review by Eric Oppen

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

It is said that here in the United States, we have the second-highest rate of incarceration, per capita, in the world. A lot of this is because of the endless, mindless War on Some Drugs. Too many "conservatives," forgetting that there were no drug laws and no drug problem before they were made illegal, wake up at night in a cold sweat, trembling with fear because someone, somewhere, might be getting high. And too many "liberals" forget their liberalism when confronted by the fatally seductive idea that the dysfunctional behavior that distresses them so about their favorite kinds of people is the fault of evil drugs, and, if the drugs could only be somehow got rid of, Utopia would result.

However, their madness has price tags that they, themselves, do not pay. Besides the slaughter of brown-skinned people in the Third World, and the destablization of their societies, many of our fellow citizens being locked up and having their lives effectively destroyed over the possession and sale of these substances, is on their hands. Each of these victims of the failed, insane Drug War has a story, and this particular victim was able to tell hers.

Piper Kerman, on the surface, is an unlikely person to be found serving time. She was an upper-middle-class young woman, a graduate of Smith College, and could have easily entered into the life of a typical such person: a good job somewhere in the urban Northeast, a good marriage, and an uneventful, affluent life. Instead, she sought adventure, and found it in the arms of another woman, who turned out to be involved in a drug-smuggling operation. On one occasion, Kerman knowingly transported a suitcase of laundered money across international borders for her lover. Eventually, though, she broke up with the woman, found a man she really liked, and all seemed well. Then the Feds came knocking on her door.

Kerman considered fighting the charges, but was advised that if she did so unsuccessfully, she could easily be sentenced to a great deal more time than she would get if she pled guilty. Accordingly, she pled guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking, and got off with a sentence to a year in Federal prison.

The practice of coming down much harder on defendants who try to fight the charges instead of rolling over and showing their bellies is, unfortunately, extremely common in our so-called "justice" system. How this differs from things like threatening a defendant's family ("We know you have relatives in Germany/Russia/China/North Korea") or other tactics used by dictators' secret police escapes me completely.

After arranging things as best she could for her absence, Kerman entered Danbury Correctional Institution, a minimum-security Federal women's prison in Connecticut. While this was no Alcatraz, much less a Turkish prison a la Midnight Express or the Gulag, it was still a shock. Kerman was surrounded by women she would have never met on the outside, and she had to learn how to get along with them, with the penalties for errors being anything from a spell in the SHU (what we'd call "the hole,") to being beaten, with fists or a padlock in the toe of a swung sock. Luckily, she found some people who were willing to take her under their wings, and she began figuring out the rules for this new world she was in.

Many of these women were the basis for characters in the television series based off the book, but their real-life stories and personalities are often quite different. There was 'Pop,' the Russian wife of a Mafiya kingpin, on the tag-end of a fifteen-year sentence; "Pennsatucky," the hill-bred former crack addict hoping to clean up her life and re-connect with her family; Allie B., the cheerfully lecherous bisexual who couldn't wait to get out to get high and get laid, and many others, of all colors, ages and conditions.

Some people commenting on this book have sneered that Kerman emphasizing that she had friends of all races was liberal self- congratulation. These people are not aware of how racially polarized American prison life is. In most prisons, particularly the rougher ones from which some of these women had come, blacks hang with blacks, whites with whites, and Hispanics with Hispanics. Cross-racial friendships are strongly discouraged, and when trouble is brewing, you stand by your racial brothers however you may feel about them personally. It has been speculated that this is encouraged by the authorities, to keep their prisoners divided among themselves and less likely to unite in a common cause.

Along with some other "educated" women, Kerman was trained as an electrician, despite having no background in that trade at all, and learned how to do wiring and repair electrical problems. For this, she was paid less than fifty cents an hour, while the cheap earphone radio she longed for in the commissary cost $42.00 (on the outside, you could get one for $7.00 or so.) The prices for the goods sold the prisoners, combined with their absurdly low payscales, strike me as exploitation of the very purest ray serene. The hardest-hearted caricature of an old-time boss would never dare treat the workers who patronized his company store so. But they're prisoners, so hey, what's the problem?

Although she always felt a little like an outsider, Kerman made friends, adjusted to the ways of the prison, and served relatively easy time. She was a yoga enthusiast, and managed to get some of her fellow-unfortunates interested enough to practice with her. And even though some of the prison authorities treated her well personally, she never forgot which side she was on, always siding with the prisoners against their keepers.

After being yanked out of Danbury to testify in the trial of another person who'd been involved with the ring she'd been peripherally with, her date of release finally came. Not having been in prison for too long, and with a good support system and a job waiting for her on the outside, she apparently re-adjusted to free life very quickly.

Reading this, I wondered just how much taxpayer money went to pursuing Kerman and the others involved in this trafficking ring, and how much it cost to keep them locked up. Danbury is probably less expensive to run than a maximum-security prison, but I've been told that it is still much more expensive to keep a woman there for a year than it would be to pay her way for that same year to an elite college, with extra left over for partying.

The War on Some Unpopular Drugs has debauched the Constitutional protections that Americans once took for granted, torn apart and destroyed thousands upon thousands of people's lives (ex-convicts are at a dreadful disadvantage in the job market, and their family ties often do not survive their imprisonment) caused the slaughter of uncounted foreigners and Americans alike, and has damaged our societal fabric in countless ways. But the servants of the Mindless Moloch demand their human sacrifices. While many of their victims are poor folk "of color," they play no favorites, and will gleefully latch onto a middle-class or wealthy white who makes the mistake of getting caught with these substances.

When the tale of America's decline and fall is written, the War on Some Drugs should take a prominent place in the list of causes. It's as if Prohibition, and all the damage it did, wasn't nearly enough, so the Mad Mullahs of Statism wanted to do it again and keep it up this time.

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