Traditionally, packages for people in prison were tailored to the specific needs and tastes of the particular inmate. Books were high on the list for many as reading provides something to do for people with a lot of time on their hands as well as being a vehicle for the imagination to soar beyond the confining walls of a prison. Some books have been credited with changing prisoners lives – and preparing them for successful reentry into life after prison. If there has been only one good thing about incarceration for some people it has been that they were introduced to reading as a discipline which opened their minds to possibilities they previously never knew existed.
Well, it looks as if that is going to change in New York this year. Apparently, the State of New York has decided to test a new policy which will prevent the friends and families of prison inmates from sending packages of items requested by incarcerated loved ones. Now, people are being forced to order from a limited amount of acceptable items that will be offered by state-approved vendors. Not only will this be a “legal” form of censorship in effectively banning specific books in prisons, even fresh fruits and vegetables and particular clothing appear to be on the list of items which will be banned.
This is despicable.
The New York State Corrections Department instituted this insidiously degrading policy as a pilot program in three prisons this month. According to The New York Times, they insist “it will help officers crack down on recent increases in package-room contraband.”
And plans are to increase implementation of the plan throughout the state system later in the year. It’s sad that few people will even read an article about this tragedy – never mind take action to prevent it. Prisoners in this country might as well be invisible. Usually, the only time corporate media decides to talk about prisoners it is either celebrities who blew “the good life” or dangerous inmates convicted of sensationally violent crimes. Either way, the intent is to make sure there is no sympathy from the general population.
Everyone, including prisoners, deserves clean water, nutritious food and health care. The privatization of prisons has created a situation in which civil servants are less likely to be in a position to protect the civil rights of prisoners, allowing them to be treated as human beings. Violence and cruelty have always been an integral part of the prison experience. This can only get worse when profits are all that matter.
And, with expenses being the only concern of a business enterprise, we’re seeing prisons getting away with detestable practices such as providing disgustingly dirty water that is causing illnesses, providing cheap food lacking nutrition and holding back necessary medications in prison populations around the country.
Obviously, one motive for this is to keep a tight grip on the minds and hearts of people who are already prevented from enjoying many “normal” things in life most of us take for granted.
But, another reason for this reprehensible policy is to allow for the enrichment of heartless business executives who have no qualms about profiting on the misery of fellow citizens. A few corporations will rake in obscene amounts of money procuring a pathetic array of items meant to make difficult lives more difficult – from the price-gouging of frozen “foods” and snacks filled with empty calories which dull bodies to reading material designed to dull minds.
A coalition of organizations has rallied to defend New York State prisoners by denouncing the policy change. The Legal Aid Society, PEN America and the National Supermarket Association have requested state officials to reconsider. New York State Representative Joseph Crowley, as well, has petitioned to at least have the book restriction reconsidered.
This is vile behavior from people who, almost without exception, were given circumstances which made life somewhat easier to deal with than many of the people they are punishing with this policy change. This is shameful and should not be excused with the apathetic “oh, well that’s just the way it is” or worse, the attitude of “well, they probably deserve it, they’re in prison, right?”
“You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you can never imprison my mind.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Is this new policy (particularly the book ban) by New York State an evil response to this beautifully inspirational message?