American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment

By Sasha Abramsky | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
FROM OUT OF TARTARUS

Moundsville, West Virginia, is a sleepy little town deep in the heart of Appalachia, a ninety-minute drive south of Pittsburgh. The otherwise drab town center is dominated by the crumbling but still formidable visage of the old state penitentiary. Since the mid-1990s, when a new prison was built, the town has hosted an annual Mock Prison Riot, run by the federal Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization and actively supported by West Virginia's congressional representatives, in the dank nineteenth-century penitentiary. Spanning several spring days inside the abandoned cellblocks, common areas, and yard, the mock riot has become a fixture on the social calendar of corrections aficionados from around the world.

“Freeze! Don't move!” Enforcement Technology Group (ETG) sales rep Aaron Dexter barks into an electronic gadget perched in front of him on the central lawn of the old prison, in April 2005. Immediately the public-address system translates the commands into Arabic, the harsh staccato voice amplified as it reverberates off the prison's massive turreted stone walls.

Clad in a T-shirt and gray slacks, the slightly bald Dexter keeps feeding in commands, and the PA system keeps broadcasting them across the yard in different languages. The hundreds of onlookers—mainly prison employees who have driven or flown in from around the country, many shivering in the damp early spring of Appalachia—applaud.

The command-translation machines were developed, Dexter informs me, with funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the shadowy Defense Department organization that has, over the decades, provided seed money for everything from the Internet to state-of-the-art biometric devices to bioweapons-detection technology. They were originally designed to control captured insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay. In all possibility, the brutalized prisoners who turned up in photographs from Abu Ghraib in 2004, some hooded and with electric wires attached to parts of their bodies, others being set upon by attack dogs, others bruised and bloodied from beatings, and still others naked and, under duress, performing various sexual acts, had at times during

-ix-

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