CAGED: Eight Prisoners and Their Keepers by Ben H. Bagdikian

CAGED: Eight Prisoners and Their Keepers

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Lewisburg, Bagdikian feels, was the model prison rebellion, just as the prison itself is the landscaped model showplace of the Federal Bureau of Prisons--an expanding ""archipelago"" he considers more invidious and totalitarian than the old-time state pen. In February '72, six months after Attica, the prisoners staged a strike, electing representatives and gathering grievances as democratically as any New England town meeting. The moderate, reformist tone was set by reformed alcoholic, Bible reader, and Krishnamurti meditator Bill Ryan Irwin: ""no violence and no bullshit."" Bagdikian's diagnosis of the pathology of American penology--the travesty of ""rehabilitation,"" the sadism of parole-is much like Aryeh Neier's Crime and Punishment (p. 574). His credentials are tops: a former editor of the Washington Post, he left the paper to pursue the Lewisburg story which eventually went to the courts where the prisoners lost. That the book doesn't consistently arouse the passion and fury it should, may be due to his lapses into overheated melodrama. Still, the news that George Meany sits on the board of the Federal Prison Industries and ""twice a year approves wage rates of nineteen to fifty-six cents an hour"" is hard to shake off. As is the rest of Bagdikian's historical, statistical, and humanitarian onslaught against the federal rehab ""engine."" There remains a basic contradiction: radical-type unionization can't be practiced in the jails--or they wouldn't be jails. The rest of the miserable story centers on the eight men who didn't crack--the reprisals, the entrapment, the hole. Lewisburg was the longest federal prison strike in history, and wholly nonviolent. Bagdikian knows that most prisoners are politically conservative; still the moral is dear: ""Nonviolence doesn't pay.

Pub Date: July 28th, 1976
Publisher: Harper & Row