A World of Speculation

A compelling article about an unpeasant topic is at Legal Affairs, “The Problem of Prison Rape”:

ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I visited the home of Edward Tuddenham in Austin, Tex. He showed me to a seat in his study, where the walls were adorned with American Indian weavings and his framed Harvard Law degree. Tuddenham is one of a handful of lawyers representing Roderick Johnson, a 35-year-old African-American who is suing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state’s prison system. Johnson alleges that corrections officials were complicit in his 18-month ordeal of rape and sexual servitude, turning a blind eye to his plight and, according to his legal complaint, taking “sadistic pleasure” in his torment.

It’s to easy to turn our backs on what happens “inside,” to throw away the key and imagine that the people in the cells go into suspended animation or something. Some people, apparently, even think it’s funny:

While San Francisco was honing its rape-prevention protocols, the state’s attorney general, Bill Lockyer, was joking that he “would love to personally escort” Enron CEO Ken Lay “to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, ‘Hi, my name is Spike, honey.’ ”

While humor about conventional rape has always been taboo, jokes about prison rape remain common. A recent 7-Up ad, eventually pulled from the air, depicted a spokesman handing out 7-Up in prison. When he accidentally drops a can, he says, “I’m not picking that up.” Later, the spot shows the spokesman sitting in a cell, being hugged by an inmate. “When you bring the 7-Up, everyone is your friend,” he says nervously. “Okay, that’s enough being friends,” he adds as the cell door slams. The insinuation of what’s going to happen next is clear–and it’s played for a laugh.

If a woman were victim in either of these examples, neither Lockyer nor 7-Up (nor its ad agency) would survive. Texaco was basically closed down for less cause than 7-Up’s ad.

Criminals need to be held accountable for their actions, and if prison is required, so be it. There is no court, however, sentencing prisoners to an undocumented, arbitrary and cruel punishment, possibly including a slow and painful death, at the hands of their fellow prisoners.