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

By Sasha Abramsky | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
THE HOLY EXPERIMENT

Just to the north of Moundsville stands one of the most secure high-technology prisons in the United States. From the outside, the State Correctional Institution at Greene, or SCI Greene, in the southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining hamlet of Waynesburg, looks like a quiet place. Pilots who take off from the small airstrip next door could be forgiven for thinking they were flying over a prefab industrial warehouse, albeit one with an awful lot of rolled razor wire on its fences. Visitors staying at the Comfort Inn, Waynesburg's premium hotel, just down Route 21 and up a dumpy hill, generally wouldn't know that behind the screen of trees visible from the lobby stands one of the largest supermax prisons in the country. Wal-Mart, planning to open a superstore adjacent to the prison in fall 2007, clearly assumes that shoppers won't be put off by the store's proximity to thousands of criminals, including the journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and more than 120 others on death row.1

After initial concern from locals, when the prison plan was first floated in the early 1990s, that the facility would endanger this sedate little community, interest subsided when it became clear that prisoners would not be routinely seeping into the nearby streets from the Orwellian-named Progress Drive. (So far, not one has escaped.) Many locals aren't even aware of the prison's existence, a somewhat surprising state of affairs given that it is by far the largest institution in this town of fewer than five thousand nonincarcerated people. The prison, Ta ra Kinsell, the town's thirty-eight-year-old tourism officer told me in the summer of 2005, is largely invisible. “After you've driven by it so many times, you don't even give it another thought. It's just another business.”

When a messy prisoner-abuse scandal erupted at SCI Greene in 1998, with dozens of inmates filing suits alleging routine beatings by guards within the Restrictive Housing Unit—a form of hazing for men just admitted to the unit —the town, like so many others faced with prison-abuse scandals in the 1990s, greeted the allegations with stony silence. Waynesburg College, a (recently turned) fundamentalist Christian campus, hosted no teach-ins, and the com-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction - From Out of Tartarus ix
  • Part One - A Mindset Molded 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Holy Experiment 3
  • Chapter 2 - A Rising Tide of Violence 23
  • Chapter 3 - Using a Sledgehammer to Kill a Gnat 43
  • Chapter 4 - Victims, Fundamentalists, and Rant-Radio Hacks 59
  • Chapter 5 - Reductio Ad Absurdum 73
  • Part Two - Populating Bedlam 89
  • Chapter 6 - Open for Business 91
  • Chapter 7 - Till the End of Time 107
  • Chapter 8 - Storehouses of the Living Dead 129
  • Chapter 9 - Adult Time 153
  • Conclusion 169
  • Acknowledgments 179
  • Notes 181
  • Selected Bibliography 199
  • Index 207
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