Chris Hedges: Teaching ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ in Prison, Chris Hedges

Police states are strikingly similar, especially in the fear they try to emphasize among their subjects. From  Chris Hedges at consortiumnews.com:

There are many disturbing similarities between the brutality imposed on Stalin’s victims and the injustices endured by the incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons.

No Justice No Peace – by Mr. Fish.

Two nights a week for the last four months, I plowed my way through the three volumes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago with 17 students in the college degree program offered by Rutgers University in the New Jersey prison system.

No one in my class endures the extremities imposed on the millions who worked as slave labor, and often died, in the Soviet gulag, or work camps, set up after the Russian revolution.

The last remnants of the hundreds of camps were disbanded in 1987 by Mikhail Gorbachev, himself the grandson of gulag prisoners. Nor do they experience the treatment of those held in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and U.S. secret black sites who undergo mock trials and executions, torture, extreme sensory deprivation and abuse that comes disturbingly close to replicating the hell of the gulag.

Nevertheless, what Solzhenitsyn underwent during his eight years as a prisoner in the labor camps was familiar to my students, most of whom are people of color, poor, often lacking competent legal representation and almost always coerced into signing confessions or accepting plea deals that include crimes, or versions of crimes they were involved with, which were often false.

Over 95 percent of prisoners are pressured to plead out in the U.S. court system, which is not capable of providing jury trials for every defendant entitled to one, were they to actually demand one. In 2012, the Supreme Court said that

“plea bargaining . . . is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.”

My students, like Soviet prisoners, or zeks, live in a totalitarian system. They too work as bonded laborers, putting in 40-hour work weeks at prison jobs and being paid $28 a month, money used to buy overpriced basic necessities in the commissary, as was true in the gulag. They too are identified by their assigned numbers, wear prison uniforms and have surrendered the rights that come with citizenship. 

Continue reading→

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.