Hard Time Blues; How Politics Build a Prison Nation
New York, N.Y. St. Martin's Press, 2002. First Edition [stated]. Hardcover. xx, 284 pages. Includes Acknowledgments, Introduction, Prologue. Bibliography. Notes. Index. Sasha Abramsky (born 4 April 1972) is a British-born Jewish freelance journalist and author who now lives in the United States. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, New York, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone. He is a senior fellow at the American liberal think tank Demos, and a lecturer in the University of California, Davis's University Writing Program. He received a B.A. from Balliol College, Oxford in politics, philosophy and economics in 1993. He then traveled to the United States, where he earned a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In 2000, he received a Crime and Communities Media Fellowship from the Open Society Foundations. This work weaves together the story of the growth of the American prison system over the past quarter century primarily through the story of Ochoa, a career criminal who grew up in the barrios of post-World War II Los Angeles. Ochoa, who had a long history of nonviolent crimes committed to fund his drug habit, and who cycled in and out of prison since the late 1960's, is a perfect example of how perennial misfits, rather than blood-soaked violent criminals, make up the majority of America's prisoners. Through the stories of Ochoa, Wilson, and others, the author explores in devastating detail how the public has been manipulated into supporting mass incarceration during a period when crime rates have been steadily falling. Derived from a Kirkus review: The flip side of the American dream—jail—depicted in all its pathos, tragedy, and grim ironies. More pervasive than the Chinese gulags, as dreadful as its Siberian counterparts, able to incarcerate two million souls in the blink of an eye, the US prison system is out of control, says journalist Abramsky. Nearly one percent of the nation is now behind bars, half of them for nonviolent, victimless crimes, and the political system that spawned the jail explosion bears much of the blame. Abramsky's investigation ties together a wealth of strands that contributed to the burgeoning prison population and the current emphasis on punishment rather than treatment or rehabilitation. He examines the whole topic of crime and how it came to be used for electoral gain by politicians from Nixon to Giuliani, who gathered votes as they rode a wave of fear generated as much by media spin-meisters as by criminals. Abramsky details the evolving national anti-crime, anti-welfare, anti-immigration sentiments, the ways in which the justice system maintains racial hierarchies, the divorcing of the drug question from considerations of poverty and unemployment. He raises some simple, discomfiting questions: why, for example, if jailing is deemed so effective, is the crime rate the same now as it was when the move to incarcerate began? Bringing the critique home, Abramsky uses two individuals as examples of how the system works. The failure is Billy Ochoa, a doper and pathetic small-time career thief now doing 300-plus years for welfare fraud. The success is former California governor Pete Wilson, whose opportunism on the crime topic won him political office and a presidential bid. Though the author sometimes makes it sound as if no one had ever before leveled these criticisms, his striking portrayal of Ochoa and the kind of political zealotry that conceived the three-strike law provides valuable ammunition for reformers. Condition: Very good / Very good.
Keywords: American Prison System, War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, Crime Rates, African-Americans, Three Strikes, Capital Punishment, Criminal Justice, Billy Ochoa, Drug Addiction, Pete Wilson