Sugar Land’s Bitter History
In the 1980s, Reginald Moore worked as a prison guard at the Jester State Prison Farm in Texas. The image of the black inmates working under a white overseer on the prison farms would haunt Moore, who is black himself, long after he retired, in 2003.
June 4, 2019
America’s Growing Gender Jail Gap
In the course of recent efforts to dismantle mass incarceration, a glaring fact has become clear: while today far fewer men are going to jail than before, the number of women getting incarcerated has stayed stubbornly high. And as a proportion of the US prison population, women are increasing.
May 7, 2019
The War We Aren’t Debating
It’s a social policy that, many experts agree, has failed miserably since it was introduced more than forty years ago, tearing apart families and communities across the United States, consuming tens of thousands of lives abroad, and squandering huge sums of money. Yet hardly any national politician is willing to challenge it, and it’s been completely ignored during the 2012 presidential campaign. I’m speaking of the war on drugs.
October 22, 2012
Immigrant Detainees: The New Sex Abuse Crisis
The PBS show Frontline, documenting harsh conditions in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detention facilities, recently [told the story] (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/lost-in-detention/) of an immigrant whom it called “Mary.” During a routine traffic stop in Florida, police discovered that Mary’s visa had expired. They sent her to the Willacy Detention Center in southern Texas; there, over the course of three months, she was repeatedly raped by one of her guards. Finally, unable to endure further abuse and told by other detainees that she would face retaliation if she complained, she stopped fighting deportation and asked to be sent home to Canada, leaving behind four young children who were born in the US. It has now been two years since she has seen them. Perhaps the worst part of this immensely distressing story is how unexceptional it is. There is abundant evidence that rape is a systemic problem in our immigration detention facilities—for women, for men, and, as the Women’s Refugee Commission has documented, for children.
November 23, 2011
Werner Herzog on Death Row
A documentary film is often part stunt, part lab experiment, and the way a documentary filmmaker pursues his or her story will always involve a bit of amateur sleuthing, as well as improv. That such scriptless adventures have attracted a great director like Werner Herzog is curious but not alarming. Good documentary films can be made cheaply and we seem to be living in an abundantly golden—or at least copper (penny-wise)—era of them. Herzogʼs latest film, *Into the Abyss*, much like his 2005 documentary, *Grizzly Man*, uses the camera as a geiger counter to locate some of the more toxic elements of the American cultural psyche as seen through the questing mind of a pseudo-squeamish European: here the setting is small town Texas’s well-traveled road to death row.
November 10, 2011
China's Political Prisoners: True Confessions?
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s ankle-deep heap of porcelain sunflower seeds bewitched recent visitors to London’s Tate Modern. But in early April Ai’s strong criticisms of the regime led to his disappearance somewhere in Beijing. On June 22, eighty-one days later, he reappeared at home. Not freed: reappeared, which can mean something closer house arrest. A lifeguard at my local pool in London announced to me that Ai had been freed, and I fear that is what the “Sinologists”—as the China specialists in the Foreign Office like to be called—may have told Prime Minister David Cameron before his meeting on June 27 in London with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. They may also have mentioned that, according to the government’s official press agency, Ai “confessed his crimes”—though it should be noted no formal charge was ever brought against him.
June 30, 2011
A Deceptive Amnesty in Cuba
The Cuban government has announced it will release fifty-two political prisoners who have been locked up since 2003. The announcement is certainly good news for the prisoners and their families, who have been through a very difficult seven-year ordeal. But we’ve seen such negotiated releases before.
July 9, 2010