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I picked up the movie Shot Caller at Redbox last night and was a little surprised to find that its subject matter relates to my current personal research interests: white nationalism and the indoctrination of normal white folk. You wouldn't know this from just the tagline "Some criminals are made in prison" or the brief synopsis:

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Plot: This gritty crime drama follows a businessman who is sent to prison for causing the death of his friend in a drunk-driving crash. While incarcerated, he must learn to adapt to the brutality of his new surroundings in order to survive. But even after being released, he remains caught up in the prison's gang rivalries.

The synopsis failed to mention that the gang the protagonist gets caught up in is a white supremacist group, and the focus of the story is the gang's attempt to indoctrinate him and his attempt to resist while doing what he has to do to stay alive in prison and keep his family from harm outside.

The movie doesn't deal too deeply with the intellectual side of indoctrination, though there is a little of that. For example, during a brutal gang initiation scene, the voiceover explains the prison philosophy: "The fact is we all started out as someone's little angel, and then a place like this forces us to become warriors or victims. Nothing in between can exist here. And you've chosen to be a warrior. Now it's up to you to remain one."

Mostly the film shows how violence and threats are used to control gang members and break their will to be good and moral. It depicts high-security prison life where violent criminals are caged together and form tribes based on skin color. This, of course, they do for their own protection from being gang raped or killed as a lone wolf. Eventually the gang gains so much power through violence that it assumes a level of control even over some prison guards, who fear being harmed for not doing as the gang demands.

The movie is cleverly shot in an actual prison using former gang members as extras. It is well-executed thematically. The main actor is amazing to watch as he goes through a terrible transition. The plot is darkly thoughtful and tragic, in a naturalistic Shakespearean sense. While the protagonist is no great moral hero, he does seek a sort of responsibility and redemption for his crimes. We get the sense that it's about an otherwise decent man trying to survive in absolute hell on Earth. Unfortunately the action seems philosophically driven more by emotion and determinism rather than reason and volition. But that's not really the focus, and might be irrelevant considering the context of prison life. Though there is one memorable line about a warrior's best weapon being his mind.

Clearly the creator of this film, Ric Roman Waugh, wants us thinking more about prison reform. His main point is that our jails are designed to break men even more than they already are. Prison doesn't help them become better individuals. It forces them to become hardened tribal animals. It offers an environment where otherwise good men have no choice but to form or join a racial gang to survive.

Shot-Caller-03.thumb.jpg.2ab389482b3440e2173bcdc202fd8d56.jpg

Edited by MisterSwig

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Interesting premise! I'll have to add it to my watch list ;)

Personally, I find prisons to be immoral. They do not offer the chance for inmates to change for the better. They are founded on the principle not of rehabilitation, but retribution. Additionally, with taxpayer funded prisons, you have the dilemma of parasitism... the person in prison is not paying his own way. What is the result? Idle hands are the devil's plaything. The rise of gangs in prisons is a predictable symptom of a broken system which locks a man away for years so that he can "serve his debt to society" alongside other men who, at least half the time, are in there for even worse crimes.

For the really bad prisoners who have committed heinous crimes, have no chance of reform, and show no remorse, the death penalty is warranted. For instance, the Charleston church shooter, or Anders Brevik who shot all those kids in Norway. They have had years to repent but they have not, and they've said that they would kill again. The guillotine would serve those people well.

For those who commit minor crimes, jail is warranted, but any sentences longer than five years or so are immoral... both to society and to the prisoner himself.

For the rest, I'm an advocate of penal colonies... send them off someplace and see what they can build. Australia, while hardly up to the same standards as other Western nations, is certainly better off than most of the Third World. I think they are doing (fairly) well for themselves considering their convict origins, other than their international parasitism on America's good graces. Were I president, I would put a stop to that in an equitable way, but that's a different topic.

America needs a penal colony of our own, which would be more effective at rehabilitation, and would also be cheaper than maintaining our massive prison system, currently the most massive in the world.

Edited by CartsBeforeHorses

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21 hours ago, CartsBeforeHorses said:

America needs a penal colony of our own, which would be more effective at rehabilitation, and would also be cheaper than maintaining our massive prison system, currently the most massive in the world.

I've only now started researching the prison reform issue. I read this article put out by the HHS. In section five it offers some recommendations. It argues for the need to restructure prison life so that it resembles outside life as much as reasonably possible.

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A clear and consistent emphasis on maximizing visitation and supporting contact with the outside world must be implemented, both to minimize the division between the norms of prison and those of the freeworld, and to discourage dysfunctional social withdrawal that is difficult to reverse upon release

Do you agree with this? And how might this idea relate to penal colonies? It seems like a penal colony, while having some good points, would unfortunately minimize visitation and contact with the outside world.

Also, I'd be interested in any objections to other recommendations made in the HHS article.

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Meh. It "looks" to Nazis the way 24 "looked" to terrorists. A movie that actually looks at why the ideology attracts young followers is American History X.

I do think Shot Caller was a good movie though. Enjoyed the acting and the film making, a lot. But I didn't find the message insightful. It was extremely unrealistic, as well.

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14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I've only now started researching the prison reform issue. I read this article put out by the HHS. In section five it offers some recommendations. It argues for the need to restructure prison life so that it resembles outside life as much as reasonably possible.

I rather suspect that I'm unique here in that I actually know something about prisons, having spent over a decade imprisoned in them.

First off, anything any academic, government person, or prison employee says about prisons is almost certainly nonsense. Most of these people are ignorant.  The rest, dishonest. Stuff coming from current and former prisoners generally isn't much better.

Real prison reform is an impossibility.  Why?

First, because of the prisoners.  Second, because of prison staff.

Many prisoners are, frankly, unfit for human society.  They believe in violence, direct or indirect, as the foundation of all relationships.  These people run the prisons precisely because they are willing to use violence to achieve their ends.    (NB: Prison violence is generally rare -- but the threat of violence is not.)

Why don't prison staff stop them?  One critical reason is simply the prisoner/guard ratio.  In the low security prison I spent much time in, it was over 360 men in a unit with one, count 'em one, guard -- who sat in his office almost all the time, generally leaving only to do rounds, once an hour.  More secure prisons have more guards, but we're still talking many tens to one. (NB: Prisons have other staff than guards, but it is the guards who are, in effect, the policemen.)

But the big problem is a failure of objectivity caused by the nature of being prison staff.  "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely".  Those who must exercise power daily over others can avoid corruption only by a concerted effort to spot and rectify it.  No such effort is being made, so the people running prisons are almost entirely unable to perceive the nature of prisons or of prisoners.  That alone makes prison reform impossible.

Changing these facts would require a complete redesign of the criminal justice system -- actually, a creation of a criminal justice system, since the one we have no longer serves justice.


 

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1 hour ago, Invictus2017 said:

But the big problem is a failure of objectivity caused by the nature of being prison staff.  "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

In the movie, a prison guard does the gang's bidding apparently because he fears being killed, but he's also being paid for special treatment. Would you say that the fundamental problem is the power that guards wield over inmates? Essentially, the idea is that a corrupt guard seeks out an arrangement with the gang, then later the gang threatens him when he's had enough and wants to quit.

Obviously someone has to wield power over the inmates. So the question becomes: how do we select and protect incorruptible guards? And also, if they are identified by the gang, they are susceptible to threats of violence outside the prison walls. So how do we prevent that from happening?

Edited by MisterSwig

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1 hour ago, Invictus2017 said:

Many prisoners are, frankly, unfit for human society.  They believe in violence, direct or indirect, as the foundation of all relationships.  These people run the prisons precisely because they are willing to use violence to achieve their ends

The movie shows how these violent people run the prison because they have a gang of such people inside and outside the walls capable of enforcing the will of their boss (in the movie the gang boss is called the "shot caller"). So, the growth and sophistication of the gang seems like the underlying problem we face. The impact of a corrupt guard, for example, is limited to the capabilities of the gang. If we can structure society and its jails to minimize the factors that encourage gangs, then we should see less gang activity in general.

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10 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Would you say that the fundamental problem is the power that guards wield over inmates?

There is a fundamental paradox inherent in any exercise of power over another.  In order to coerce you, I have to, at least temporarily, place my purposes above your existence.  But you are an end in yourself, not a means to any other person's end.  Whether I am a prison guard controlling prisoners or a man defending himself from a would-be murderer, the person I act on is, at least temporarily, not-human in my eyes.

This is not a big deal in the case of self-defense; few people are corrupted by a single episode of ignoring the humanity of another.  But a prison guard (or a politician) does this day in and day out.  Only a person who has been inoculated against this sort of corruption and who practices a rigorous mental hygiene has any hope of avoiding this sort of corruption.  Everyone else will eventually come to regard those who he has power over as not-human and will act accordingly.

This is above and beyond mere venality, as in a guard paid to overlook prison rules, or fear, as in a guard acting under threat.  Even if these last two things could be eliminated, there would still be the problem that guards will cease to see those they guard as human.  Once they do, they will mistreat prisoners, improperly supervise rehabilitation programs, and routinely fail to understand what is happening in prison and the nature of the prisoners they deal with.

The real solution, as I said, is to be found in a redesign of the justice system; merely addressing the guards' failings won't really help.  I haven't thought this all the way through, but my redesign goes something like this:

 

A person's trial (and there would always be a trial, even if it is just a defendant standing up in front of a jury and admitting to facts that prove his guilt) would be concerned with whether he had violated someone's rights and what he must do in restitution.  This would be, in effect, a civil proceeding.

A finding of guilt would trigger a second proceeding, akin to sentencing, but with a different purpose.  The purpose of this second proceeding would be a determination of whether the person should have his rights restricted for the purpose of reducing the chance that he will violate someone's rights again.  This would be, in effect, a criminal proceeding, with its heightened proof requirements.

(You'll note that I do not address retribution.  I see no point, and much harm, in merely hurting someone to get back at him for something he did.)

 

Prison would be reserved for those people who are so dangerous that nothing outside of prison would serve to protect others from their predations.  Lesser offenders would be separated from opportunities to cause further rights violations and would be closely monitored, but not imprisoned.

In all cases, the end of these sanctions would be dependent on the person proving himself no longer a danger to others' rights.

NB:  You may have noticed that I dropped the terminology relating to criminality. While the nature of any sanctions, beyond restitution, would depend on whether the person acted out of criminality or (say) because he was psychotic, the goal is always the protection of others' rights.  The thoroughly evil would get prison, the insane would get a psych hospital, neither would be allowed back on the streets while their condition was unchanged.

Within this sort of system, its a lot clearer what must happen in a prison.  First, prisoners would always be those adjudicated as dangerous to others. It would be entirely appropriate for them to be confined individually, as is presently done in supermax prisons.  Those prisoners desiring a return to society would have to move themselves through an extended procedure to teach them to respect rights and to verify that they've learned their lessons.

Such a tightly controlled system would be much safer for the guards, with less opportunity for the prisoners to do them harm or to harm other prisoners.  To ensure that the guards aren't corrupted by their duties, their actions in the prison would be monitored, and they would undergo periodic evaluations, a failure of which would require them to enter what amounts to therapy in order to regain their objectivity before they're allowed to go back to guarding.

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40 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

The movie shows how these violent people run the prison because they have a gang of such people inside and outside the walls capable of enforcing the will of their boss (in the movie the gang boss is called the "shot caller").

The movie is wrong.  Prisoners can run the prison without the aid of an external gang,.  It's the inadequate and indifferent staff -- and the public's indifference to these things -- that make it possible (and, actually, necessary) that the prisoners run the prison.  And the "shot caller" is a prisoner, not someone on the outside.
 

42 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

So, the growth and sophistication of the gang seems like the underlying problem we face.

Nope.  These gangs are only a tiny part of the problem.  
 

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17 hours ago, Nicky said:

A movie that actually looks at why the ideology attracts young followers is American History X.

Thanks for the recommendation. I liked it when it first came out, but I should rewatch it now with my new context of knowledge.

Anyone know of a good documentary on this subject?

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Invictus has me on ignore so I will not respond to him point-by-point, but I think that he and I generally agree that prison (if it does exist) should be about rehabilitation rather than vengeance. The question of whether or not prison should exist as such, and if we are not better served by penal colonies, he did not address... one of the drawbacks of putting somebody on ignore is that you miss their ideas.

By putting somebody on ignore for disagreeing with you, you essentially put yourself in your own little "prison" of sorts, insulated from the outside and any other ideas which might conflict with your own. No intellectual growth, no challenge to your ideas.

I would vehemently disagree with the following, though:

4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Within this sort of system, its a lot clearer what must happen in a prison.  First, prisoners would always be those adjudicated as dangerous to others. It would be entirely appropriate for them to be confined individually, as is presently done in supermax prisons.  Those prisoners desiring a return to society would have to move themselves through an extended procedure to teach them to respect rights and to verify that they've learned their lessons.

I don't believe it is ever appropriate to confine somebody individually as is done in a Supermax prison, other than for very brief periods if they are an imminent threat. But not for an "extended period," AKA years. I view such treatment as tantamount to torture. If somebody is truly that dangerous and cannot change in short order, the death penalty is warranted. Furthermore, how do you learn a lesson about respecting rights when you are not in a position to interact with others? When you are isolated? How does that at all serve any rehabilitative purpose whatsoever?

I guess I'll never know, because Invictus has isolated himself from me. It's the most basic of jokes.

22 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Also, I'd be interested in any objections to other recommendations made in the HHS article.


I have none, other than that the article relies on the assumption that prison should exist. Insofar as prisons do exist, it is proper to reform them in such a manner. However as I've stated, I view prisons as unnecessary. A penal colony would serve nearly every recommendation that the article gives, and be far cheaper to boot. It would be similar to the outside, it would enable productive work and the accumulation of wealth by prisoners, it would respect prisoners' right to privacy within whatever house they can build themselves, and furthermore it would allow for prisoners to exercise their right of self-defense against gangs instead of having to rely on guards--though guards would still probably have to exist to maintain order, I don't think that self-policing would work but maybe it could. As for mental health services, I'm sure that there are many private practitioners who would set up shop in said colony, assuming their safety could be guaranteed. That is where the role of guards come in. Others could have the right of visitation, however it would be up to the person who is visiting to pay their fare to the penal colony--depending on where it is.

For more detail, I think we should put our hypothetical penal colony in the Australian Outback, and that's how Australia could pay us back for the massive billions we pay for their defense every year. Visitation would probably be the biggest hurdle to this plan, however.

Edited by CartsBeforeHorses

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