Prison Blues, Part 1 – Product for America’s prison industry

I hear the train a comin’; it’s rollin’ round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.
I’m stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on.
But that train keeps rollin’ on down to San Antone.

I hear the train a comin’; it’s rollin’ round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.
I’m stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on.
But that train keeps rollin’ on down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby, my mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy; don’t ever play with guns.”
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and cry.

I bet there’s rich folk eatin’ in a fancy dining car.
They’re prob’ly drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a movin’, and that’s what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine, I bet I’d move on over a little farther down the line,
Far from Folsom Prison, that’s where I want to stay,
And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.

Prison Blues,
by John R. Cash

The number of Americans incarcerated in Federal or State prisons and local jails is at an all time high. On June 30, 2002, the number had reached 2,019,234 incarcerated individuals nationwide. While the number of individuals incarcerated is growing, at the same time, so is the money that it takes to fund these places. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s the cost of funding for prisons increased 95 percent while the funding for education decreased by six percent.

Because of the overwhelming numbers, and growth in prisons, the Women
Against Military Madness (WAMM) interns will write a series of articles to promote awareness about the situation, interrogate the issues of prison as an industry, the disproportionate number of people of color and women in prison. Through their writings, these young ladies hope to encourage the community to critically reflect and take action and hold the proper people accountable for the injustices of our prison system.

First, it is important to give the community a more clear understanding of the concepts of “prison” and “jail” and an understanding as to how the present prison system came about. I believe that it is important to discuss the origins of jails and prisons and their evolution.

In 1557 the closing of the English monasteries by Henry VIII, which was a part of the English Reformation, increased the number of poor people that roamed the streets and had absolutely no place to go. After this there was a growing need to find somewhere to put these people. There was a movement shortly after to create workhouses for the poor with an emphasis on the “unruly poor”. It was at this point the first workhouse was established, which took on the exact characteristics of modern day prisons it was cellular confinement and hard work was used as a means for punishment.

It is impossible to discuss the origins of prisons without giving the history of the mental institutions as well. Prisons and jails were used as a dumping ground for the poor, and the mentally disturbed. There are countless documents that touch on the cruelty of the jails and prison system in earlier times. In the 1920s there were three institutions that housed the public population that was not free to go at will. These places were Almshouses, prisons and asylums. During this time there was extreme criticism from local officials as well as individuals from the national reform association to create institutions that were less inhumane.

It was known by the general public that the typical insane asylum as well as the local Almshouses were poorly funded, poorly administrated; managers were known to be abusive, and corrupt. So, it is important to know that there was a shift in where all these inmates needed to be placed so that it would be socially accepted amongst the general “civilized community.” There began to be a gradual transfer of patients from one institution to

July 7, 2003
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