Friday, January 27, 2012
My tremendous respect for Adam Gopnik, a New Yorker staff writer, is well known by readers of this blog. Gopnik seems preternaturally equipped to take on any topic and make it both new and compelling. He astonishes me with his breadth and depth—writing gloriously, absolutely, but never sacrificing idea to style.
This week Gopnik has a New Yorker essay entitled "The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?" He's talking about process, procedure, and principles here. He is raising the twin issues of common sense and compassion. He is suggesting, among other things, that "the scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life." He is reporting that, for example, more than four hundred teens are serving life sentences in Texas, and that "more than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives." He continues: "Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850."
We have to think harder, after reading this story. We have to investigate our personal prison politics. We have to read again, and imagine:
That's why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded.