I'm in a private prison now, after spending a couple of years at the notorious sinkhole Tehachapi. It's run by a company called Geo — not, I'm pretty sure, the GM subsidiary that made those annoying little runabouts, but a global security firm doing its small part in alleviating California's prison overpopulation problem. Personally, I don't understand how shunting prisoners hither and thither at all addresses the problem, but I guess that's why I don't determine public policy. That, and I'm not an utter nincompoop. Call me crazy -- you wouldn't be the first -- but trying to get at the root of the problem and implementing long-term, bottom-up solutions rather than employing cheap, transparent sleight-of-hand tactics in order to dupe and divert the voters seems a little more sensible. But I probably wouldn't be the first to accuse politicians of trickery and hucksterism.
Life in a Geo-facility is a lot like doing county jail time. There's not a lot to do and there's substantially less drama and violence then at mainline CDCR facilities. It's mostly just sitting around watching a common TV, reading, playing cards, or working out on the tiny, underequipped yard.
Before I tell you the primary differences between Desert View (my current digs) and (say) Tehachapi, I'd like to assert that the following observation is completely objective and in no way colored by my own feelings or experiences. To wit: CDCR officers are the worst people in the world. PERIOD. Limber up your imagination and conjure in your head the worst group of people you can. Nazis? Pfah. Mere mischief-makers in comparison. Serial killers? Dilettantes and dabblers. CDCR guards put the path in sociopath. Orcs? Closer, but for sheer viciousness and savagery not even J.R.R.Tolkien's imagination could conjure a match for these fiends. In fact, if you mated an Orc with a serial killer, indoctrinated it in the principles of National Socialism and removed half its brain, you'd have your basic CDCR guard.
Geo guards, by comparison, are Care Bears. CDCR guards communicate via baton and pepper spray. Geo guards use the power of speech and are (mostly) polite and friendly besides. CDCR guards sit around all day waiting for some poor fish to walk by with his shirt untucked so they can descend on him en masse and beat him into submission, and they will happily pull overtime if they see any headbusting opportunities on the immediate horizon. Geo guards are just running out the clock so they can get home to fire up the Xbox or start partying. If they weren't guarding us they'd be making change at the 7-Eleven or spraying shoes at the bowling alley or handing out towels at the gym.
Had CDCR guards not answered the call, though, they'd be torturing puppies or volunteering at the hospital to tell small children that their parents are dead.
To illustrate, I offer the following true accounts of locker searches at both Tehachapi and Desert View, respectively.
Guard (picks up CD): Modest Mouse? What is that? Some kind of gay shit? (Breaks CD in half.) What else you got in here I can have?
And then there's …
Guard: (Picks up CD): Dude! You like ska? Awesome! (Forgets about search, engages me in 20 minute conversation about various Orange County bands.)
But while I relax ’neath the benevolent pages of mother Geo, I can't help but be reminded of that tired old sci-fi plot wherein the hero is delivered from peril into a seemingly safe haven, there fed, washed and fussed over, only to later discover his saviors intend to eat him or harvest his organs or convert him into fuel. Maybe that's what's going on here and why the powers that be feel we don't contribute to the official prison population count. Maybe we are being fattened for slaughter and consumption by the rest of the prison system. If so, they're really going to have to work on increasing the portions. I feel the current state of my musculature would require substantial pounding and marinating before I was at all palatable. I would guess that a year of dense, rich, high-fat, high calorie foods would result in some real nice texture and marbling of my flesh — a quality product. And why not take some cues from those savvy beef engineers over in Kobe and make with the daily massage? It might sound extreme, but have you tasted Kobe beef? Just sayin'
I've been in worse places, certainly — San Quentin comes to mind, but at least there I could stay drunk. At the Q they have a real laissez-faire attitude toward popular inmate diversions like wine production, gambling and stabbing. Very Wild Westy in its way and hardly a dull moment, although you may wish for one from time to time. I haven't had a decent slug of toilet wine since leaving there. At Tehachapi the cost was too great — one bust I witnessed cost the vintners two TVs, several jars of coffee and a new pair of Nikes. Here, security is too tight, the dorms are too wide open, and the Geo-guardlings are pretty much constantly milling about like nervous broody hens, hence my current lamentable condition of utter sobriety. Don't get me wrong — I'm glad to be shed of the old zip-a-dee-doo-dah and everyday spent tweak-free is another building block re-assembling the old me, the one I liked — but the occasional snifter of vin du toilette, purely as a restorative, would be welcome.
From 1994-1998 I was in prison in Colorado and after two years of exemplary behavior I was shipped to what they call an "honor camp." There were 96 inmates in the entire prison and my cell had its own separate bathroom/shower with a locking door. We went swimming, played golf, went to the movies, and were dropped off in town in the morning to go to work or school. When we drank, we had real store-bought booze and we drank it over ice like gentlemen.
When I look back on those days after over six years in the California prison system, they seem like a beautiful dream — did I really do time in a place where the cafeteria was all-you-can-eat and with a selection of hot and cold beverages including soda pop and cocoa? But while I feel like I'd happily sell my soul to be back there, at the time I wanted out just as bad as I do now. As Buckaroo Banzai so wisely said, "No matter where you go, there you are," which, now that I think about it, is completely meaningless and not really applicable. More to the point is, "A cage is a cage," which is all me, though I'm sure some sage or other has said it or some more florid variant at some point in the past. Certainly it's been a recurring literary motif, and for good reason.
Prison is no good for anyone. You'd think — I would anyway — that after 300 odd years of modern correctional practices somebody would realize that it's not working and that a paradigm shift is in order, like when we went from disemboweling people for reckless eyeballing of their betters to locking them up for most non-capital crimes. The only truly effective correctional model is that in which the offender is permanently removed from society, those who committed crimes so heinous they've forfeited permanently their right to ever again breathe free air. It's simple and effective — you've proven you can't play well with others so you don't get to. It's a timeout writ real large. But for anyone with a parole date it is a pointless, ineffective, self-perpetuating exercise in futility.
I don't personally have any solutions, but might I suggest we enlist the talents of some of these bright young up and comers currently engaged in devising new and exciting ways for people to get laid via smart phone? Newsflash: young people and microbes and everything in between have been managing to locate properly corresponding genitalia for literally billions of years and will continue to do so with or without your apps. Refocus your efforts in a socially responsible direction and figure out a way to get me out of here.