The Hell of American Punishment

Inferno: An Anatomy of American PunishmentYou are afraid all the time, and there is good reason to fear. You are alone with enemies all around you. No one cares about you. You can be attacked where you are, but it is more dangerous when you must move in the open. Groups roam the territory looking for victims. You cannot hide. Your only weapon is yourself. There is no authority to call on that you trust. Over and over you ask, “How did it come to this?” But it has come to this and for the foreseeable future.

Who are you? Where are you? You are not a soldier or a spy on some mission in a foreign land. You are not an undercover agent. You are not under siege. You are not a survivor of a civil war. You are not an explorer in some alien jungle, though in some ways you are. You are an inmate in an American prison. You belong to a peculiar version of hell, one that the American separation of church and state has imagined for you.

What did you do to get here? Perhaps you had too much dope on you when stopped or sold some of it to the wrong person to feed your habit. You have never been violent, but now you are surrounded by vicious inhabitants who enjoy hurting other people. Your chances of getting out of here in one piece are limited. They will depend on your wits and some luck, not the help of others, and if you do get out, there is nothing waiting for you — no job, no family likely to help, no skill set for use in an economy that has passed you by and that will reject you anyway for what you have become. There is nothing to do where you are, but if you try to do something useful, predators will come after you. The lowest common denominator rules here. Most of all, you should not be the only person asking, “How did it come to this?” — a question with many answers.

—Robert Ferguson
Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment

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