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“Young Man Given Two Years in Kingston on Four Different Changes,” Toronto Star. June 30, 1917. Page 02.

On four distinct charges of theft, Arthur N. Drowen, a young man of about 20 years, was to-day committed to Kingston Penitentiary for two years, hard labor, by Magistrate Denison. The charges against him include the stealing of a number of drills and other tools from the Canadian Rumley Co., Limited, for whom he formerly worked; razor, sweater and handkerchif from Frank C. Connors; two paris of micrometers, one pair of calipers and other articles from Harry Albins; and coat, best and electrical supplies from Charles A. Branstone.

In the latter case a charge of breaking into the premises was also included.

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“Union Man Gets 3-Month Term – Toronto Organizer Sentenced at Guelph for Intimidation,” Toronto Telegram. June 29, 1934. Page 04.

“Guelph, June 29 (Special) – Max Federman, Toronto union organizer, was sentenced here to-day to three months at hard labor in the county jail for intimidation.

Federman, organizer of the Fur Workers’ ‘International’ Union, was charged in connection with visits paid to the plant of the Popular Cloak Co. here, a subsidiary of the Superior Cloak Co. of Toronto.

The manager of the plant told of Federman coming into the factory and telling Many Guziker, head of the fur department, that he must quit, and that the union was ‘not going to allow any fur shop in Guelph.’

‘We’ll have to put one of you in the hospital so others won’t come here,’ he was alleged to have said to Guziker.

The manager said he asked Federman if he was ‘trying to racketeer.’ Replying to a question by Federman’s counsel, he declared his shop was non-union and didn’t want any union men. He told the court that he had been attacked in Toronto on July 1 last year.

The threat was alleged to have been made on Federman’s first visit to the plant on June 12, but nothing was done until he returned to Guelph on June 26. On that day, Guziker said, Federman accosted him on the street and advised him again to quit his job and come back to Toronto. He had never been a member of the Fur Worker’s Union, but had been in business for himself, Guziker said.

‘Union officials have no business to come to Guelph to intimidate anyone,’ Crown Attorney Kearns declared.

‘It is not the words which made a threat, but the understanding which results,’ Magistrate Watt stated. ‘If union officials use threat to try to dictate to concerns it is going too far.’

‘I’m afraid they may beat me up,’ Guziker told Crown Attorney Kearns.

Constables Blingworth and Smith told of visiting the plant last Tuesday and seeing seven Toronto men hanging around. Federman refused to answer questions until threatened with arrest on a vagrancy charge, after which he said they were going to declare a strike in the local plant on Wednesdy morning.” 

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Ben Shahn, “Waiting outside relief station, Urbana, Ohio.”

Gelatin silver print photograph, 1938.

Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 2011. #2.2002.3031.   

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“IF ANYTHING CAN MAKE ENCHANTMENT TERSE, it is the German compound noun. Through the bluntest lexical conglomeration, these words capture concepts so ineffable that they would otherwise float away. Take the Austrian art historian Alois Riegl’s term, KunstwollenKunst (art) + wollen (will), or “will to art”—later defined by Erwin Panofsky as “the sum or unity of creative powers manifested in any given artistic phenomenon.” (Panofsky then appended to this mouthful a footnote parsing precisely what he meant by “artistic phenomenon.”) A particular favorite compound of mine is Kurort, literally “cure-place,” but better translated as “spa town” or “health resort.” There’s an elegiac romance to Kurort that brings to mind images of parasols and gouty gentlemen taking the waters, the world of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. Nevertheless, Kurort’s cocktail of connotations—mixing leisure, self-improvement, health, physical pleasure, relaxation, gentility, and moral rectitude—remains as fresh as ever. Yoga retreats and team-building ropes courses may have all but replaced mineral baths, but wellness vacations and medical tourism are still big business.

What continues to fuel this industry (by now a heritage one) is the durable belief that leisure ought to achieve something—a firmer bottom, new kitchen abilities, triumph over depression. In fact, why not go for the sublime leisure-success trifecta: physical, practical, and spiritual? One vacation currently offered in Sri Lanka features cycling, a tea tutorial, and a visit to a Buddhist temple, a package that promises to be active (but not draining), educational (but not tedious), and fun (but not dissolute). The “Experiences” section of Airbnb advertises all kinds of self- and life-improving activities, including a Korean food course, elementary corsetry, and even a microfinance workshop.

Of course, moral and physical uplift do not have the sole claims to leisure, and certainly not to pleasure. The chaste delights of the wellness vacation do not appeal universally. In Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy, Sylvia Tietjens (perhaps the most diabolical bored wife in English literature) prefers the filthier pursuits of social climbing and ruining her doltish lovers. For her, the genteel health resort is enraging rather than soothing. “How rotten it must be for her,” she imagines her friends sympathizing, “to be shut up in a potty little German kur-ort when the world could be so otherwise amusing.” Yet even Sylvia is not immune to the allure of the self-improving retreat, or at least the social esteem it can bestow. At one point, Sylvia decamps to a convent to make a show of trying to get right with the Lord, and perhaps also her husband. For those who can afford it, a spot of leisure done right can be the necessary corrective to life’s wrong turns.

Danger: Relaxation Ahead
The Tietjenses are English landed gentry, and so it would not surprise a midwestern American moralist like Thorstein Veblen, the disapproving theorist of the so-called leisure class, that someone like Sylvia would approach leisure with entitlement and cynicism. Leisure has always made middle-class Americans (and their bourgeois counterparts throughout much of Europe) rather anxious.

In Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States, Cindy Aron notes that though the American middle class invented the modern vacation as a social institution, they were also wary of its hazards. If industry and work were fundamental to the success of both individual and nation, leisure could expose America to “moral, spiritual, financial, and political danger.” As the middle class cohered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vacationing became an institution shot through with contradiction. The hard work and industriousness that helped define the middle class seemed to entitle its members to vacations (as well as other consumer goods betokening self-conscious respectability, like pianos), but at the same time, vacations embodied the very opposite of what the middle class valued. The wellness vacation was one solution to this quandary. From the mid-nineteenth century, Saratoga Springs, Cape May, and a host of other destinations became associated with good times that were restorative to both body and soul. The nagging question nevertheless remained: How could you enjoy leisure without jeopardizing commitment to work? “This tension pervaded and shaped the history of vacations in the nineteenth century,” Aron writes. Indeed, it determines our own attitudes toward leisure to this day.

The social ascendancy of the middle classes, and especially the upper middle classes in America and Europe, is essential to this story. While some of these people may have pined for the splendor of aristocratic life, the members of the bourgeoisie mostly savored the knowledge that their material comforts were earned, not given. They embraced personal virtue as the key to challenging the aristocracy’s traditional place at the center of political and cultural life, and developed elaborate patterns of consumption and social rituals to enact this moral superiority: athenaeum memberships for men, Italian lessons for women, park promenades for the whole family. A ceaseless drive toward self-improvement undergirded these leisurely pursuits. Even when the duties of bureaucratic paperwork and homemaking were done for the day, the impetus to self-improve remained constant. Thus did the bourgeoisie distinguish itself from the parasitic leisure class excoriated by Veblen.

Today’s middle class still proudly embraces this moral distinction—and none more fully than those near its upper end. In fact, the ceiling of the self-identified “middle class” seems to keep creeping upward, not because the very wealthy feel any special solidarity with schoolteachers and postal workers, but because to join the “upper class” would be to join the ranks of the useless and the idle. The victory of bourgeois values is so complete that much of the world’s elite has embraced them. The Trumps, for instance, owe their class position to inherited wealth, but they—especially Donald and Ivanka—still brand themselves as successful workers for the status and self-esteem that it imparts. Both have produced (“written” may not be entirely accurate) entire books about how hard they toil and how good they are at it. These people may be obscenely rich and control more than their fair share of resources, but they will have you know that they are darn productive.

Maybe this is why some of the only people in America who could feasibly enjoy that thing we call a “work-life balance” end up bragging about how they renounced it. Together with Marissa Mayer and Victoria Beckham, Ivanka Trump is part of a rarefied coterie of hyper-elite working mothers whose financial fortunes and powerful networks would allow them to take extended maternity leave—in fact, not to work at all, not even at child-rearing or homemaking—but who ostentatiously return to work within a few weeks after childbirth. While it should be up to each family to determine how much parental leave is necessary, it is as if these very publicly announced returns to the workplace somehow validate the outsize wealth of these women, both to themselves and to the rest of us. These are only a few extreme examples from our peculiar cult of busyness, in which energy-intensive but culturally feminized tasks like childcare, along with private biological needs like sleep, are cruelly recast as leisure in order to be devalued. These women will make body and family bend to accommodate the demands of work. The idle rich they emphatically are not.”

– 

Miya Tokumitsu, “Did the Fun Work? Relaxation as Fitbit app.The Baffler. No. 35. June 2017.

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“Democracy, as I understand it, broadly refers to participation in political power by the governed. A state is democratic to the extent that the people have a say in its operations, a workplace is democratic to the extent that workers have some control over management decisions. (Almost no workplaces are democratic.) Democracy is also often held to be what is known as “a good thing,” on the theory that people probably deserve to be part of the decision-making processes that affect important aspects of their lives. When decisions are made by unaccountable forces, without popular input, and people are subjected to the will of the state without having any control over it, this is called “authoritarianism.” It is commonly considered to be worse than democracy, and has a somewhat dubious track record.

I hope you’ll excuse the patronizing civics lecture. I wouldn’t have thought it necessary. But, there are, surprisingly enough, a number of people who do not subscribe to the belief that democracy is good. In fact, they believe we may even have too much of it already, and should probably cut back. The populace just has too much of a say in things, and must have its influence curtailed. Benjamin Wittes and Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution condemn the “cult of democratization” that gives voice to the “ignorance and irrationalityof voters. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, James Kirchick concluded that the rise of Jeremy Corbyn is a “reminder of the perils of too much democracy,” and worries that about increasing use of the phrase “the people,” “that expression beloved of Third World tyrants and increasingly adopted by leaders in advanced industrial democracies” (also, we should note, beloved of James Madison). Bret Stephens, the New York Times’ new conservative affirmative action hire, worried about the problem of “reckless voters” being seduced by dangerous populists. A libertarian philosopher, Jason Brennan, has written an entire book called Against Democracy.

Obviously, ever since there has been democracy, there have been those who want to get rid of it. Plato saw in it the seeds of despotism, and as Noam Chomsky has often pointed out, there is a long antidemocratic tradition in American political thought. This runs from the Founders’ desire to check popular control to Walter Lippmann’s belief that “the public must be put in its place” and the “bewildered herd” ought to be kept “spectators” rather than participants, a sentiment reiterated in the Trilateral Commission’s conclusion that democracy needed moderating, because “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Wherever there is concentrated power and wealth, those who possess them will naturally wish to ensure a lack of interference from those who do not possess them.

But it’s somewhat extraordinary just how open some commentators are in their embrace of elitism and their disdain for the participation of ordinary people in the political process. Brennan’s Against Democracy advocates “epistocracy,” the rule of the knowledgeable, asking why a majority of the stupid “should be allowed to impose its incompetent governance” on a smart minority. Business Insider’s Josh Barro, who has proudly embraced elitism, says that “the public should be kept away from policymaking.” James Traub, in a Foreign Policy article entitled “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses,” said that “mindlessly angry” voters of left and right are undermining those who believe in “reality”: “Did I say ‘ignorant’? Yes, I did. It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them. Is that ‘elitist’? Maybe it is. Daniel Bell comes to the extreme conclusion that “the uncomfortable truth is that the best (perhaps only) way to reduce the political influence of ignorant voters is to deprive them of the vote.”

Each of these writers insists that their position is driven by empirical evidence, showing that voters are “objectively” bad at making decisions. Their preferences are incoherent (the classic “lower taxes with more government services” demand) and their knowledge of policy is, on average, negligible. There’s a lot of the well-worn Jay Leno-type “X% of voters can’t find the U.S. on a map” type material. Then there’s a lot of use of the word “populism” as a pejorative, as if anything that appeals to large numbers of people is inherently suspect.

But, and this should hardly need to be said, the fact that you don’t like something does not make it “objectively” bad. James Kirchick, for example, bases his case that there is “too much democracy” on the fact that Jeremy Corbyn did well in the British election. But he doesn’t actually make an argument for why voters shouldn’t be allowed to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. He just says that he doesn’t like Corbyn (for a series of bizarre reasons including Corbyn’s alleged enthusiasm for Argentine fascism), and therefore Corbyn shouldn’t have been one of the available options. The people have made the wrong decision, thus they shouldn’t have been allowed to decide at all. (Luke Savage has previously written about how the elite hatred of democracy often occurs when democracy seems to be tending toward left-wing policies like single-payer health care.)

Of course, this logic, if accepted, doesn’t just justify curtailing democracy slightly. It’s a call to eliminate it altogether. After all, if people are only given choices when they make the choices you want them to make, this isn’t some kind of “partial” democracy. It just leads to fraudulent plebiscites of the kind run by dictators, where you accept the vote if you agree with it and discard it if you don’t. Actual democracy means—and again, I can’t believe I have to say this—that people have the freedom to make decisions that you think are bad. “This was a bad choice” is only a case for taking away the freedom to choose if we don’t believe in the freedom to choose to begin with.

Many of the arguments against democracy depend on carefully fudging important distinctions, or attacking irrelevant positions. “Professional and specialist decision-making is essential, and those who demonize it as elitist or anti-democratic can offer no plausible alternative to it,” say Wittes and Rauch. Since nobody actually advocates that there should be no “specialist decision-making” in any part of the government, the point is misleading and irrelevant. Likewise, Lee Drutman says we must give up “on the deeply held belief that American democracy can be solved by giving citizens more opportunities to participate by emailing Congress or voting, and an end to thinking all would be better if more people would just ‘get informed on the issues.’” But this isn’t a deeply held belief at all; hardly anyone holds it. Who honestly thinks that “emailing Congress” would “solve democracy” or that “all would be better” if people were a little more informed? Nobody. Those who advance these positions are dishonestly caricaturing the democratic position, yet still arguing that “epistocrats” like themselves should be entrusted with unaccountable power. That’s one of the contradictions with the pro-“elitist” position: such people argue that they know what people want better than the people know it themselves, but they’re unwilling to actually try to fair-mindedly understand what people say they want.

This is a serious problem with the defense of elites: it assumes that there are no rational reasons why people dislike being ruled by a small political class, and that there is no legitimate critique to be made of the policy consensus adopted by that class. Yet a huge explanation for the rise of populism is precisely that people do not like the world the elites have made: a world in which they live precarious economic existences under a grossly unequal system. To believe that being angry about this is “mindless” is to assume the conclusion one is supposed to prove: being dissatisfied must be irrational, because elites must make good choices, because the choices made by elites are good by definition. Never do they wonder whether, instead of “expertise” and “merit” being the criteria by which people come to inhabit the halls of power, it might be something else (say, social class).

In their paper, Wittes and Rauch offer an extremely telling look at what leaving more things to elites would look like. Wittes and Rauch openly advocate the return of corruption and smoke-filled rooms, saying that “the curtailment of backroom horse-trading and pork-barrel spending stripped legislators of important tools to make deals and build coalitions.” They believe that voters should have less of a role in party primaries, since the current system “empower[s] disruptive and extreme outsiders at the expense of more compromise-minded party regulars.” (Democratic Party regulars, of course, have long had an extraordinary disproportionate amount of nominating power through the superdelegate system, but apparently Wittes and Rauch think even this is not exclusive enough.) They lament that, even though Donald Trump was manifestly unqualified to be president, the Electoral College could “never seriously conside[r] performing its original failsafe function” to prevent him from taking office, since this would be seen as some kind of impingement on voter sovereignty.

As an example of a government institution that functions without popular oversight, Wittes and Rauch cite the intelligence agencies. They believe that the history of the CIA and NSA, whose policies are made without any substantive input from the public, shows that many parts of government are best left to experts. Of course, they couldn’t really have chosen a worse example. The story of these two agencies is a story of everything that goes wrong when parts of the government are released from the constraints of transparency and popular oversight. As Tim Weiner documents in his history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, the agency’s track record is an appalling litany of international crime and financial mismanagement. The agency has squandered billions of dollars on projects of dubious worth, and has engaged repeatedly in illegal subversion of foreign governments, often without authorization from the president or Congress (whom they have lied to). The CIA has given arms to terrorists, tried to assassinate foreign heads of state, collaborated with Nazi war criminals, tortured people at black sites (sometimes to death), and fabricated intelligence. What’s more, precisely because oversight is left to “experts” instead of the public, there has been almost no accountability as the CIA has violated law after law (both international and domestic, including spying on American citizens in direct violation of its charter). Likewise with the NSA: Wittes and Rauch cite the NSA’s reforms after Edward Snowden’s revelations as evidence that it adapts to public opinion. But the Snowden story actually illustrates the core of the problem: because nothing the NSA does is ever subject to public scrutiny, a single individual had to take illegal action in order to bring the agency’s behavior to light. Relying on individuals to break the law is not a workable way of ensuring accountability. Wittes and Rauch think the “success” of the intelligence establishment shows that insular, invisible government works. In fact, the intelligence establishment is a case study in the failures and atrocities that result when small groups of people are christened “elites,” handed large sums of cash and total legal impunity, and allowed to go forth and do as they please.”

– Nathan J. Robinson, “Democracy: Probably A Good Thing,Current Affairs. June 27, 2017.

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“To understand the reasons for the spread of control units, we must determine what function they serve, what it is that they achieve. We will examine what is claimed about control units by prison officials and compare those statements with what is known. We will analyze three specific claims repeatedly made by prison officials all over the country and reported in any media coverage of control unit issues:

  1. Control units contain the most violent prisoners, the “worst of the worst”, who have proved too violent to be held at other prisons.
  2. Control units reduce violence at other prisons by isolating the most violent prisoners.
  3. The reduction of violence allows security at these other prisons to be relaxed.

The first claim is the major one, on which the other two rest, so we will concentrate on it. The facts of Marion show that the claim is false. Federal prisons used to be given a security rating from one through six, one being the least secure and six being the most secure. In 1984, Marion was the only level six prison in the federal system and prisoners there were supposed to have a corresponding level six rating. However, a 1984 report by consultants hired by a Congressional oversight committee stated that eighty percent of prisoners at Marion did not deserve that level of security (Breed and Ward, 1984). In fact, prisoners are sent to Marion for a variety of reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. For example, the U.S. District Court ordered a cap on prison population and as a result, so many prisoners convicted of felonies in the District of Columbia have been moved to Marion to relieve overcrowding that they constituted seventeen per cent of Marion’s population in 1990 (Lassiter, 1990: 80). Virtually all of these prisoners are Black.

There is, however, a trend to be seen. Prisoners have been transferred to Marion for writing “too many” lawsuits, for protesting the brutality of the prison system, or for angering prison officials in some other way. In addition, among the many political prisoners who have been in Marion, American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, Sekou Odinga, member of the Black Liberation Army, Alan Berkman, Tim Blunk and Ray Levasseuer were sent directly to Marion from court (Can’t Jail The Spirit, 1989; O’Keefe, 1991) thereby disproving the claim that prisoners at Marion have been violent at other prisons.

The Prison Discipline Study initiated in 1989 by the Prisoner Rights Union of Sacramento, California, investigated the question of which prisoners were most often disciplined and how (Prison Discipline Study, 1991). The report showed that solitary confinement was the most common disciplinary action. Included in this report were testimonies by prisoners that those of them exhibiting personal integrity are singled out for brutal treatment. Respondents to the survey described this group as: “those with principles or intelligence”; “those with dignity and self-respect”; “authors of truthful articles”; “motivated self-improvers”; those “verbally expressing…[their] opinion”, “wanting to be treated as a human being” and/or “reporting conditions to people on the outside.” The study shows, therefore, that a practice such as sending prisoners to control units, which is based on arbitrary and subjective judgments by guards and other officials, will target prisoners who are most likely to be challenging the prison system.

In fact, the BOP’s own rules for determining who gets sent to Marion are far broader than the “violent at other prisons” line given to the media. In the aforementioned “one through six” security rating system, prisoners were assigned their security rating on a number of factors: Type of Detainers, Severity of Current Offense, Projected Length of Incarceration, Types of Prior Commitments, History of Escapes or Attempts and History of Violence (Breed and Ward, 1984: 35). Although this rating system is obviously broader than the “violent” formula and open to a certain amount of interpretation, the finding that four out of five prisoners at Marion did not have the required level six rating meant the BOP had to find another, vaguer system. They have therefore revised their rules and now classify institutions as minimum, low, medium and high security. Prisoners must be “high” security to be sent to Marion, which is determined by pre-commitment factors such as severity of offense. In addition, prisoners at Marion should have a “maximum” custody rating, which is determined by post-commitment criteria such as “disciplinary record” (Dove, 1991). Having revised these rules, the BOP changed the classification of everyone at Marion to “high-max” (Dunne, 1991).

It is admitted at the highest level that a prisoner’s political beliefs are basis for assigning that prisoner to a control unit. In a letter to Congressperson Kastenmeier, the then Chair of the Congressional subcommittee that oversees the BOP, Michael Quinlan, the Director of the BOP, stated:

“A prisoner’s past or present affiliation, association or membership in an organization which has been documented as being involved in acts of violence [or] attempts to disrupt … the government of the United States … is a factor considered in assessing the security needs of an inmate” (Quinlan, 1987).

We may ask what constitutes “association” with an organization, or what is meant by trying to “disrupt” the government. In a case brought by a prisoner in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at the California State prison in Sacramento, Chief Justice Karlton made it clear that prisoners are sent to the SHU for reasons that have nothing to do with discipline. He noted that the plaintiff, who was challenging the prison’s forbidding him to practise his Native American religion, was in the SHU for being “an associate” of a prison gang, the Mexican Mafia and that “given that [he] is in the SHU by virtue of his status rather than as punishment for a particular act, there is no apparent way for him to work his way out” (Sample v. Borg, 1987).

As a last point in our argument against the claim that Marion contains the “worst of the worst” we note that for this to be true, all or most prisoners who satisfy their criteria must be at Marion. For example, Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican Nationalist, is in Marion for “conspiring to escape”. Since he is there, then other prisoners who “conspire to escape” should be there as well as all the prisoners who actually try to escape, as well as all the prisoners who actually *do* escape and are apprehended. Are they? There are prisoners at Marion who have assaulted guards (not in itself an indication of violence if the guard had been harrassing and abusing the prisoner). Are all prisoners who have assaulted guards, or even killed guards, at Marion? Obviously the answer is no.

Finally, let us address the two other claims made by officials about control units.

Prison officials claim that Marion, Pelican Bay and the other control units reduce violence in the rest of the prison system. Since we have shown that the control units do not hold the most violent prisoners, this cannot be true and there is no evidence that it has happened. Moreover, all the evidence points to the opposite being true. Most of the prisoners will be released at some stage either back into the general prison population or into society. It is known that control unit conditions produce feelings of resentment and rage and mental deterioration (Korn, 1988). Prisoners will have been so deprived of human contact that it will be hard for them to cope with social situations again. The inhumanity of control units cannot reduce violence, it can only increase it. Evidence includes the high level of violence at Marion during the period before the lockdown, when controls were being tightened but not yet to the extent of completely physically incapacitating prisoners. The tighter controls certainly did not have a calming effect on the prison. In addition, the guard deaths of 1983 occurred in the Control Unit itself.

The claim that control units allow security to be loosened at other prisons is also invalidated because of the truth about which prisoners go there. And again, there is no evidence that the situation in other prisons has improved. Furthermore, Marion has been the model for the numerous state control units [10]. A delegation of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Administration of Justice which visited Marion in May, 1990, cited the need to “develop a more humane approach to the incarceration of the maximum-security prison population. This is particularly true because the Federal Bureau of Prisons serves as a model for state prisons and for other countries in the world.” (Lassiter, 1990: 80) Incredibly, similarity to Marion is now a defense against suits brought to contest inhuman conditions at other prisons (Reed, 1992). The existence of Marion has not improved conditions at other prisons; its example has dragged them downwards toward greater brutality.

Having disposed of the official claims regarding the purpose of control units, we turn to the true function. Ironically, this was clearly stated by Ralph Arons, a former warden at Marion, who testified in federal court:

“The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large” (Whitman, 1988: 25).

(Notice “revolutionary *attitudes*” not “actions.”)

This is born out by the large number of political prisoners who are, or have been at Marion and by the Prison Discipline Study. That control of dissent, protest and liberation movements is the true purpose of control units is also shown by history, most especially the history of the early seventies. In September 1971, the prisoners at the state prison at Attica in upstate New York rebelled against the inhuman and racist regime there, declaring their solidarity with all oppressed people and demanding their rights. The rebellion, and the consequent brutal murder of thirty-nine prisoners and hostages by New York State Troopers, under the orders of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, rocked the nation. The whole prison system was at boiling point. Despite the recommendations of the official report into the Attica rebellion that prison conditions be humanized, the response of the New York Department of Corrections was to plan a control unit in which to isolate prisoners such as those who lead the rebellion ( Kaufman, 1971). It was never built, due to resistance led by Martin Sostre, a Puerto Rican prisoner who had run a radical bookshop, groups supporting Puerto Rican political prisoners and POW’s and a defense group headed by Angela Davis (Buhle et al., 1990). Even corrections experts judged the planned prison to be too brutal and to be counterproductive to the purported purpose of violence control (Tomasson, 1971). However, not long after, in 1972, the Control Unit at Marion was initiated.

Starting in the early seventies, around the time of the opening of the Control Unit at Marion and the Attica rebellion, the prison population in the U.S. started to increase rapidly. Concurrently, there has been an increase in the proportion of prisoners who are people of color. We will document these developments in the next section but mention them here since they lead us to interpret the proliferation of control units in the United States as an attempt to suppress the increased likelihood of protests and dissent.”

– 

Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, “From Alcatraz to Marion to Florence: Control Unit Prisons in the United States.” This article was written in 1992.

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