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Norway’s New Prison–Humanity vs. Corporatism…

We arrived at FCI Ray Brook (Lake Placid, NY) federal prison in a driving snow storm in the winter of 1990-91.  Not unusual for the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

After a year in Detroit’s Wayne County Jail and the holding facilities at FCI Milan, MI, Ray Brook (RBK) was my first officially designated prison to begin serving a 25-yr sentence for a cocaine conspiracy of which I was never a member.

By the time convictees actually reach their “home” prison in gulag America, it can feel like a great relief.  The jails, holding tanks, and transfer procedures are that draconian.

Filing off the bus wearing only slippers, elastic pants and T-shirts, we were relieved of our heavy burden of chains and cuffs.

It was midnight by the time we were processed, given an armful of clothes and bedding, and assigned a housing unit.  Taken back outside one-by-one with the snowstorm howling, I was directed to follow a certain path to the Mohawk housing unit.

Halden Fengsel Prison, Norway…

I could only see a few feet of the walkway in front of me as the prison guard radioed that I was on the way.  He told me to run.  After a few feet, swallowed up by the driving snow, I slowed down and walked.

For the first time in a year I was outside and free—as free as one could be in the circumstances.  I ignored the snow and cold . . . taking my time, relishing the relative freedom.  That was all more than 20-yrs-ago…

Prisoner-Family Visitation…

Reading an article in on Norway’s brand new prison, Halden Fengsel, brought back these memories . . . and the vast differences between us.

Of course, in Norway–in most of Europe for that matter—they believe that repressive prisons simply don’t work, in fact, exactly the opposite.  The best chance for reintegrating prisoners back into society is to treat them humanely.  But then, that reflects their goal and who they are as a people.

In the US, the penal system is a product of the conservative amorality of authoritative abusers: Retribution & punishment.  It’s often what conservatives experienced as children; it’s become who they are and all they know.

Norway prison cell…

US prisons are a microcosm of US society at large.  Empathy is perceived here as a weakness . . . a coddling nanny-state.  They carry that learned mentality all the way to the bank.

The perpetual cycle of predatory violence and self-centered profiteering that has become reality by conservative and neo-liberal leadership in America is a pandemic pathology now all but ruling the socio-political landscape.  Eventually, they’ll destroy themselves, along with many of us.

Halden Fengsel, Norway’s second largest prison, was built at great expense ($252 million) to house 252 inmates in one-man “cells” that bear no resemblance to an American prison.

It was designed to be and appear as the focus on human rights and respect that is totally lacking in the American experience.  It was created, as is their criminal justice and penal system, to give prisoners a positive sense of self-confidence thru family-like respect, education and work.  The exact opposite of the US experience.

Only 20%, one-fifth of Norway’s prisoners eventually return to prison.  In the US, that number is up to 67%, two-thirds.  Of course, Norway doesn’t criminalize mental illness, consensual crimes, being a minority, and they employ the penal system as an industrial and  socio-political control mechanism.

Unit Living Room/Kitchen area…

Low criminality is the result.  Norway incarcerates 69/100,000 vs. the America’s 753/100,000—the highest rate in the world.

On the prison grounds, along with jogging trails, is a two-bedroom cottage for family visitation.  The cells—more like college dorm rooms—contain windows without bars, a flat-screen TV and mini-fridges.  Every 10-to-12 cells share a well-designed living room and kitchen.

Prison guards, 50% female, eat their meals and play sports with the prisoners, giving a sense of family that was largely missing in much of the criminal population.  No one is forced to work or go to school.  It becomes a sought-after, positive experience or it simply doesn’t work to begin with.

In US prisons, all programs are mandatory, along with mostly punitive and degrading work.  Bare concrete and steel cells house from 2-to-12 prisoners.

Over 50% of the US inmate population have a mental disorder.  To use the conservative vernacular:  You get what you pay for.

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), May 2011

Category: Norway, Prison Stats
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