The rhetoric and violence on display at Donald Trump's rallies are depressingly familiar to me as a prisoner. The atrocious manifestations of mass incarceration have been fueled by these same fires that feed the Trump rallies, namely, the smoldering legacy beneath the structural surface of the criminal justice system. Contrary to the current "consensus" on reform, the view from this side of the conflict looks more like footage from the Don's carnival.
Here in Tennessee's prisons, especially in the rural facilities, antagonism of the kind whipped up by Trump has been escalating throughout my 18 years of service on a life sentence. I worry daily about the stability of my environment and the safety of both staff and prisoners. While a thus far anemic commitment to criminal justice reform seems to have lowered a strange calm over the struggle to confront mass incarceration, the very type of political dysfunction that helped form the American Gulag gushes out of the mouths of increasingly belligerent guards and disconnected lawmakers alike. Legislators still by in large refuse to repeal the barbaric sentencing laws of the 1990's while spewing out the old tired rhetoric about cleaning up neighborhoods and getting rid of the "blight," or is that the "black?"
Assaults on staff and prisoners continue to rise in this State's overcrowded prison system in spite of Governor Haslam's blithe assurances. The congruity between what I see at a Trump rally on my television at night, and what I see playing out in the legislature, and in the prisons, is uncanny. In all three arenas, the base instincts of men and women, have met with a form of legitimacy. The guards, most of them unabashed Trump supporters, are given a uniform and a dehumanizing set of policies which provide in turn both opportunities to provoke violent conflict and protection from the slightest accusation or blame. And in a staunch red state like Tennessee, legislators enjoy the protection of a scattered rural population shielding them from calls to accountability from the urban islands of blue who suffer worst at the hands of severe sentencing laws.
If you want to see the United States under Trump, look closely at the prisons and the political landscapes of States like Tennessee. Here one sees in plain view what happens when that backward spirit of division meets with a professional interface through which it can express its hatred and bigotry with the appearance of legitimacy.
The lack of surprise I feel when viewing the violence at Trump rallies, and the police brutality videos that have become an almost daily occurrence, comes from the long experience of living on top of the epicenter of hate now called prison; the ancient fault line of division gashed across our nation like an unhealed wound. No, I and my fellow prisoners are not surprised by these scenes because here they have always been routine, and because the memory of injustice called justice lives in peoples bones through generations. In our country, prisons are the place to come see that long-suffering, penetrating stare.
Mass incarceration was not the beginning of something new on the American landscape, but the most recent punctuated historical event in an unbroken continuity of division, hatred, and fear; just as the very real possibility of a Trump presidency is no fluke of history, but the logical outcome of untreated racial and economic wounds and decades of cheap political reliance on scapegoating and fear. If prisons now represent the disturbing physical, legal, and cultural continuity with our past: chains, cages, and codes; a Trump presidency represents an ethos of xenophobia, racism, and the hardening effects of decades of increasing poverty in both rural and urban America.
Is it really so hard to scan our history and look with the eyes of responsibility at the present? Is it a coincidence that just now when we face a crucial political moment that our eyes are averted from the legacy mass incarceration represents by a feint toward reform? Koch brothers my ass.
Confronting Trump and the energy he has mobilized is fundamentally equivalent to confronting the insidious reality of our Prison Industrial Complex, and the legacy of racial, economic, and political inequality which it represents. Failure on either point will result in our American nightmare becoming your American nightmare.
Jacob Davis 308056