PRISON by Leonard J. Berry


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Most of us have never been in prison. We know conditions are bad, the Atticas and Rahways have communicated that much, but the distance between TV reports and grasping the true reality of the horror is the disparity between experienced and unexperienced worlds. Others, like Sam Melville and George Jackson, have issued sincere manifestos condemning American penology. But we suspect that these men were exceptions, that their very articulateness has somehow exaggerated or skewed the situation. The purpose of Berry's 24-hour documentary -- from reveille to night lockup -- is to sear our middle-class brains with the raw evils which daily infest what we criminally persist in calling correctional institutions. The effect is scorching. Anyone who can remain unmoved by the evidence of this book -- interview testimony from ordinary inmates and keepers across the country -- is surely no better than the worst prisoner. The regimen is ""loneliness, isolation...spiritual castration, wide-spread homosexuality, forced labor...ceaseless regimentation...physical violence, insanity, deprivation."" The psychology is crippling: ""Jail strips you of everything. You really don't even have your mind anymore. They strip you of that,"" says inmate Bertha Waters. ""If you rebel, ain't nobody gonna hear you scream. You can scream top of your voice, ain't nobody gonna hear you scream,"" says inmate John Knight. ""Prisons do punish, they really do,"" says Berry. No reforms are offered; no appeals to moral conscience are made; no indictments are handed out. The agony of people in American prisons speaks for itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1972
Publisher: Grossman