dispatches from a prison cell
Our justice system is broken. Our politics are broken – particularly around issues of social justice, racial inequality, and mass incarceration – but more broadly too, on issues of the environment, health, and economic disparity. Now, I know that’s not news to you. But it is worth talking about, until we start doing the right thing more often, for way more people.
I’ve spent the past five years behind bars – a long time for me, but nothing relative to many I’ve met inside these walls. And it’s made me really angry. Even furious at times. It’s also made me feel sad, energized, humbled, optimistic, pessimistic, uncomfortable, appalled, fearful, overwhelmed, worthless, loved, vulnerable, miserable, humiliated, uplifted, joyful, and grateful. Yeah, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
I’d been meaning to put some thoughts on paper (so to speak) for a while, but when eight people overdosed at my prison in 2019, something in me broke loose. I couldn’t not write about it. It made me sad – and yes, angry. After that, the thoughts just kept pouring out.
In 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic, George Floyd’s murder by the police, the widespread protests that followed, and the politics of an election year have provided plenty more fodder to write about. Those are things that all intersect with prisons, prisoners, and the dysfunctional justice system we’ve allowed to flourish for too long.
It’s therapy for me, I suppose – better than yelling at my TV, or ranting at my cellmate. And since no real publication has given me a weekly opinion column (yet), I figured I’d just stick these ‘dispatches’ up here.
In the middle of 2020, Prison Legal News gave me a little gig contributing articles there, for which I’m grateful. Those are linked here too. If you’ve never heard of PLN, I’d encourage you to check it out and contribute if you can. I learn an awful lot from them.
I hope the essays you find here give you a better picture of what life is like for those of us in jail or prison. I hope they make you a little more aware of the systemic injustice in our justice system. Feel free to let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for taking a look, and for taking the time to want to know more. Hope it’s enlightening, entertaining, energizing, or some mashup of all that. Happy reading.
by Daniel A. Rosen
“This is an industry that profits from human suffering.”
— David Fathi, Director, ACLU National Prison Project
Starting with math may be a bad idea, but numbers help tell this story: In Virginia, keeping the average prisoner behind bars costs taxpayers about $30,000 per year; in some states like New York or California it’s twice that much. Prisoners over 50 years old with chronic health problems cost taxpayers as much as $150,000 a year. Yet experts have long agreed that most criminals “age out” of committing new offenses by then.
Prisoners are also worth a lot of money – there’s a price tag on their heads of many, many thousands of dollars – to those who profit off of punishment. In Virginia alone it’s a billion-dollar-a-year economy ripe for profiteering…