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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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2007: Working confinement

2007: The California Department of Corrections employs 54,000 people, the largest state agency employer.* The California Correctional Peace Officer Association is one of the most influential political forces in the state.

Actions for Self-Determination:
  • 1992: Catherine Sneed founds the Garden Project, which couples employment of the formerly incarcerated with counseling, stewardship of the environment and community. Members learn to grow and produce food that is subsequently distributed throughout communities impacted by incarceration.
  • 1999: California Prison Moratorium Project works with local residents and United Farm Worker organizers in two different successful campaigns against private-prison proposals in Farmsville and Imperial County, California. They cite environmental issues that would harm farmers and claim that the prison would aggravate racial and class inequalities and bring about the high rates of domestic abuse and violence recorded in military, police, and prison guard households. Though they eventually lose a third fight in Delano, the group delays the building of the prison and draws attention to the effects of rural prison building.
  • 2008: Tamms Year Ten, a coalition of prisoners, ex-prisoners, families, lawyers and artists comes together to protest the Tamms supermax prison, where every prisoner is held in solitary confinement (one-third of the inmates have been there over a decade). Their work follows another Illinois group, the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown.
  • 2009: Minnesota becomes the first state to "ban the box" (which asks job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a felony) for government jobs. All of Us or None of Us continues a national movement of formerly incarcerated people to ban the box and reinstate voting rights.
  • 2011: Protesters in the tens of thousands occupy the Wisconsin Capitol in protest of a bill seeking to limit the right to collective bargaining by public employees.
Discussion Questions:
  • Listen to this audio documentary about guards who execute inmates. What are some of the effects of being a prison guard? Compare and contrast their experience with veterans and with inmates once they've "returned" to society.
  • Politicians frequently speak about a strong middle class. How does a strong middle class benefit communities? How does prison proliferation erode the middle class?
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