Since we have New Orleans on our minds these last couple of days, a story that has its roots there:
Alan and I were driving through Mississippi, en route to New Orleans, late one night some years ago. We were appreciating one of the many pleasures of the Delta — gutbucket blues on the radio — when there was a pause for station identification and a word from our sponsor.
“Do you have a loved one incarcerated in a correctional institution you find it difficult to travel to?” asked a resonant African-American male voice, not unlike the ones who had been singing a moment before. But there was a note of optimism in the question, the unmistakable sound of someone who’s about to solve your problem, and sure enough, he had the answer: A bus service making “daily trips to Parchman, Angola and other Mississippi and Louisiana correctional institutions.” For a reasonable price, you could finally pay a visit to your son, grandson, nephew or other family member living behind bars. Leave the driving to us.
Alan and I looked at one another, stunned, two affluent white people who had just been listening to musical laments about Parchman, Angola and other Mississippi and Louisiana correctional institutions, and now we were confronting actual evidence that not only did these places exist, they were not merely colorful stops on the career-development paths of Bukka White and Son House. People really lived there, and had relatives on the outside who loved them and wanted to see them.
I exaggerate to make a point. But it was a glimpse into a world neither of us had paid much attention to, outside of the movies and occasional op-ed piece. Imprisonment is a fact of life in many communities, and it should surprise no one that the links between inside and outside have their own culture and economies.
Last year, a billboard went up on I-94 in Detroit, advertising a similar service to Michigan prisons. I encourage you to watch the linked video for a sense of the pitch — a little mournful (separation hurts) but positive (there’s a solution) and soothing (we’ll do the hard part). The shot of the woman getting off the bus, and the pan that captures the chainlink and razor wire of some anonymous Michigan big house under an appropriately gray sky is just…perfect. She doesn’t smile; hell, she’s not going to the casino. She’s paying a visit to a painful place. It’s really well-done.
This sent me Googling for other prison bus services. Not a lot of hits. There’s one in California, aimed mostly at keeping (inmate) mothers in touch with their children. You see mentions of companies and state-supported services here and there, mainly on sites like Prisontalk.com, which I highly recommend just because it’s more interesting than most. (I got lost in the “ever seen someone infamous while visiting” thread: My man was in the same prison with Jack Kevorkian! …I saw one of the Manson family!)
So I guess what I’m wondering today is, what is the ancillary prison economy? Corrections is one of the few growth areas in many states with depressed economies (cough, Michigan, cough), which can’t build them fast enough. Now that it’s common to ship prisoners across state lines to relieve overcrowding and staff shortages, and since so many are being built in remote locations desperate for jobs of any kind (cough, Upper Peninsula, cough), incarceration is truly a “buy” stock. I know we have at least one regular here, MichaelG, whose job takes him to California pens; maybe he can start the discussion. Inexpensive nearby hotels for loved ones traveling long distances to visit — that’s a no-brainer. Bus services, ditto. But there has to be something else, too.
Amazing fun fact, from the Freep via a secondary source: With nearly 50,000 people in state prisons, Michigan has one of the nation’s highest rates of incarceration and prison spending. Prisons eat up nearly 20% of the state’s general fund, or $1.8 billion.
That’s a lot of cheddar being grated. Certainly some must fall on the floor.
OK, a little brief bloggage and follow-up.
Via J.C., my genius, all of Ashley’s comments on NN.C on a single page. It makes for some odd reading, a little montage-y, since so many of the comments refer to other comments, or posts you can’t see (although there are links to those, too). But he had a way with words. I suggest just jumping around. I had to smile when I discovered, anew, Ashley’s Binary Hotness Scale:
Gina Gershon is still a 1 in my book. Oh, I have a binary weighting scale, 1: yes, you would; 0: no, you wouldn’t. Beer acts as bias.
Also, a commenter in the previous thread, Ann, says Depaul (Ashley’s employer) is now saying the cause of death was a car accident. Haven’t confirmed that anywhere, but FYI. Thanks, Ann. Now I’m told it wasn’t a car accident, that he was found in his hotel room. Sorry for the mistake.
Finally, because we need a smile today, a well-worn YouTube link to the Bulgarian Idol (real name: “Music Idol”) auditions. The hilarity is in a non-English-speaking contestant making her way through an English-language pop song, but having recently seen a woman barely out of her teens tackle the Beatles’ “In My Life,” I can’t say there’s much of a difference stateside. It was like watching Justin Timberlake play King Lear.
Have a good weekend.
EDIT: Minor glitches fixed. (I hope.) Comments open on this post, and the Ashley comments page has been un-404’d. We upgraded to WP 2.5 this week, and I’m still finding all the buttons.