By Clinton Walker
Unless you’ve been living in the remote jungle of the Amazon where the wild sounds of nature’s creatures have overpowered the tweets of Twitter’s little blue bird and the squabbling of the CNN’s and Fox’s, then you’ve heard the vile, xenophobic, and outright racist depictions of migrating people by nativists of this country.
Patriotic American extremists are stewing with fear, inflamed by paranoid rhetoric, of their great country being overrun by foreign actors who are raping their women, terrorizing communities with gang violence, and functioning as the source of America’s drug problems. We are told to look yonder and ignore the truth that most sexual assaults in the United States are committed by U.S. born citizens, that the most notorious gang in America has always been law enforcement, and that the main traffickers of drugs are greedy pharmaceutical companies (i.e. Purdue and the opioid crisis).
Consequently, the sole solution to the reality of migration is to install barriers and is expressed by ritualistic chants of BUILD! THE! WALL! BUILD! THE! WALL!
Building the wall, largely recognized as Trump’s Wall, is self-explanatory when speaking of the literal act, but what the deed represents is something much more sinister. The wall, once constructed, instantly becomes an ambassador for fear of effective change under the guise of security. It becomes a symbol of gluttonous aims for future profit and an agent of barbarity by way of an untroubled heart towards the desperation of others. Once built, the wall becomes a coded proxy for the refusal to confront social conditions created by the capitalist customs of the very people who insist the wall be built.
While in the moment, the border wall is being built under the false pretense of a national emergency by the President’s own admission, unfortunately in Pennsylvania, the ideological representation of Trump’s Wall has already managed to actualize itself in the form of a prison security company called Smart Communications.
Smart Communications is based in Florida and acts as a fence between those who are incarcerated and their loved ones. All incoming mail and photos to any Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) prison must be sent to the processing headquarters of Smart Communications. There the material is copied and the original is discarded. The copied version is then forwarded to the designated institution for distribution. This process was swiftly adopted as a supposed preventative measure to eliminate drugs from entering DOC facilities by way of the facility’s occupants.
Considering that Pennsylvania is a state that Trump won and a state that built the first U.S. penitentiary, it should come as no surprise that Pennsylvania is the first state to erect such a barrier using Smart Communications. Mirroring the sentiments of a wall that creates despair in migrants, Smart Communications operates as an instrument of isolation, cruelty, and demoralization. It functions as a tool to promote powerlessness by engaging in a Forest Gumpian phrase of psychological warfare where, when concerning the grade of output, like a box of copied corresponding chocolates, the confined individual never knows what they are going to get.
Since the inception of Smart Communications in Pennsylvania, the readability of copied material is challenging to such a degree that one almost needs an interpreter to read or understand its contents. The psyche of incarcerated individuals is strained with every blurry scan of photographs received from loved ones, thus amplifying anxieties of a fading support system. The delivery of a birthday, anniversary, or “thinking of you” card that has been converted to a mere flimsy xerox of itself can correlate with sensations of the thinning of a once strong and sturdy bond. And when only a fraction of the return address is present on a copied envelope, the message is clear: your contact is limited and your connections can be cut.
In its collective impact, Smart Communications has been experienced as a soft act of DOC terrorism due to the intense level of anxiety created by its methods and the poor quality of its operation.
The DOC has chosen fear mongering and a level of inhumane treatment to address problems that in many instances have been orchestrated or participated in by DOC employees. Since Smart Communications has fenced boundary lines across the PA prison population, a number of prison employees have been caught smuggling drugs into prison facilities. Ironically, the drugs smuggled in by prison staff are the exact drugs that DOC officials claimed caused harmful effects on prison staff, instigating the new policy in the first place. These smuggled drugs are the drugs Smart Communications was assigned to keep out of PA prisons by focusing a watchful eye, not on prison employees, but on prisoners’ societal relationships. The falsehood can almost make someone who is an opponent of this egregious policy secretly cheer for its continuation, if only because it so clearly exposes how the DOC has carefully manufactured a practice to reinforce and incentivize the fear of drugs, and then present themselves as the dedicated problem solvers.
The smuggling of contraband by opportunistic government personnel is no aberration, but is the inevitable result when authorities choose to respond to problems on a shallow level such as building a wall, whether that wall be one surrounding a country or a country’s penal undesirables. What if the DOC took the initiative to acknowledge the underlying cause of prison social issues, correcting the circumstances within prison borders before it brought forth the effects without? There is a simple but important question that needs to be asked here, and that is: What exactly is making individuals want to escape reality through the use of drugs in the first place?
It would be to the benefit of the PA DOC to confront the wage-fleecing where millions of dollars are being made by outside companies through cheap prison labor. These wages barely allow the combined purchase of a phone card to connect with loved ones and food items to balance the serving of small proportioned or inedible meals. With such wage disparity, I imagine one can conclude how the motivation to sell drugs for monetary gain is developed, even if one stands in complete disagreement with it. Under such circumstances, the DOC would do better if it directed its attention to outside drug and alcohol programs; inadequate mental health care; and the trauma brought on by sexual harassment, rape, discrimination, and racism, all of which occur often in an overcrowded prison system. These elements all contribute to the want, need, and abuse of drugs within Pennsylvania prison confinements.
It cannot be disputed that there is a drug problem plaguing the compounds of the DOC and that this problem has made the job of DOC employees more difficult by the day. Prison staff, and especially prison guards, take on the duties of operating in a stressful and hostile, albeit to a degree self-inflicted, environment. That stress has been heightened due to the closing of mental institutions around the country whereupon the commits were relocated to state prisons and state employees are now obligated to handle mentally ill patients. Further adding to those stresses today, prison employees are tasked to manage the erratic behavioral episodes brought about by potent synthetic drugs.
That kind of pressure and tension should not be tolerated. There is a definite need to confront those conditions strategically, preemptively, and at times, excessively; however, the argument here is that attention should not come in a vacuum, nor consist only of mounting restrictions on an already burdened population.
The United States currently leads the world in the most people incarcerated, therefore leading the world in the most barbed wire fences erected and concrete slabs built. Yet, in spite of the “out of sight, out of mind” method, public concerns of criminality are reoccurring. Such an unwavering gaze on barriers of restriction has brought this country into the realm of insanity, with insanity defined as one who does the same thing over and over again but expects different results.
With prison being a concentration of the macrocosmic issues infesting America, there is an urgent need for government authorities in their appropriate capacities to no longer approach conditions with a profiteer’s unconcerned, non-acculturating, Make America Great Again manner. All blockage producing seclusion is a scoundrel to the doctrine of humanism. Wherefore, the customary practice must see its end, and a great destination to strike at is the impulse of Smart Communications.
Clinton Walker is a an avid reader, a writer, and a poet. His poetry has been published in Apiary Magazine. He’s also a self-proclaimed singer, though many who have heard his vocals would strongly disagree. Though he’s had few opportunities for academic achievement, he takes pride in the fact that he’s been able to develop a strong mental strength and character despite the horrors, hardships, and assaults of the prison system. Originally from Philadelphia, he’s been serving a Juvenile Life Without Parole sentence for the last 19 years.