For those who have taken a ride in the big house, prison could be described as years and years of unrelenting boredom punctuated by the sheer terror of being sexually violated.
Needless to say, prison sucks. Most prisoners spend their days reading, translating obscure German philosphical texts, and writing political treatises on the cultural contradictions of capitalism. Oh, wait. I was thinking of Karl Marx. Prisoners spend their days dreaming up new ways to stab people.
The United States has the largest prison system in the world, and incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country, including Belarus (No. 3), which desperately wants to be kinown as something other than the world's largest exporter of gravel.
There are 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons -- that's more than 1 out of every 100 U.S. adults. We spend $50 billion a year on the prison-industrial complex. By contrast, San Marino, the tiny European microstate, has just one prisoner, a guy named Gary, but he's "a really good one," according to San Marino's one guard. "He's like 10 of your guys."
Ironically, the United States loves to blabber on about freedom. We're like some 4-year-old kid in a sailor costume, telling all the kids on the playground how great our giant lollypop is, and how we got it because our dad's rich and our mom's really pretty and drives a Volvo. We spread freedom across the earth with the unbounded enthusiasm of Rachel Ray with a tasty tapenade and a fresh batch of sourdough bruschetta.
However, if there's one thing the U.S. seems to love more than freedom, it's a lack of freedom. Why is this? For one thing, politicians are terrified of looking "soft on crime."
Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, during the 1988 Presidential campaign, was famously embarrassed for giving a weekend furlough to a guy named Willie Horton. Horton, whose last words to guards were, "really? Well, uh, all right," walked quickly from the prison while looking back nervously over his shoulder at the guards, who were smiling and waving from an open window. "Have a good time at the movies!" they cried. Twelve minutes later, Horton committed armed robbery and rape.
"Horton raped a who?" Dukakis asked, incredulously. The Bush campaign seized on this, and ran a series of incendiary television ads. The Dukakis campaign was finished, and Bush won in an electoral landslide.
Shortly after his concession speech, Gov. Dukakis broke into Concord Prison in Massachusetts, killed Horton with a broken ouzo bottle and ran from the front gates holding Horton's head by the hair, screaming, "there, you fuckers! Are you happy now?"
George W. Bush, noting the success of his father, decided to become the least-soft on crime politician ever. He executed over 150 people as governor of Texas, including innocent people, juveniles, the mentally ill, mentally disabled, jaywalkers, "total nerds," and the 1997 Texas Rangers, "for sucking ass," Bush said.
If you're going to prison, take heart. I mean, give up all hope. Empty yourself of all emotion and self-identification, and become something like a dried up donkey turd; that's how everyone will see you, anyway.
All your freedoms are about to be ripped from you; your breakfast, lunch and dinner will be of dubious color and viscosity; you'll wear nothing but slippers and a jumpsuit; and you might be stabbed with a dull knife made from a toothbrush and a broken food tray. Other than that, it's not so bad.