A week ago, thanks to the official media, it became common knowledge that a young first-time inmate within the prison system was doubly kidnapped: first by the State and secondly by another group of inmates, where he was tortured for several weeks. The number of days varies according to the media outlet.
We do not want to detail the suffering to which this person was subjected, as we are well aware that the atrocities committed are appalling. Instead, we consider it more important to emphasize that these events of great magnitude are a consequence, not only of the prison as a system and institution, but also of the world that encompasses it.
No one is unaware that the society we live in is governed by the need for money, by the status of being well-placed, which means nothing more than having money. Those who have accumulated it do not need to go looking for it, and those who have not must use all means at their disposal to get it. We cannot repeat enough that the inequality of resources available to achieve this objective is structural and that living in this way leads to despair, isolation, frustration and brutality. This alienation that we have just described is a situation shared by all of us who are not owners of anything, whether we are aware of it or not. Resorting to what the powerful call crime may tomorrow be an obligatory means to achieve this end. The system itself needs this inequality to exist and thus establish its dominance.
The news that calls our attention today is none other than one of the thousands of cases that swell the list of atrocities committed inside prison. We do not hear about many of these, but when they come to light we must pay close attention because the dissemination of information is not innocent. For some time now, the news we get about what happens inside the prison tells us of “irregularities” and violence. These conditions are inherent to prison because depriving people of their freedom of movement by subjecting them to a regime of control and punishment not only humiliates us, but can also bring out the worst in us. The reason we are being told about this case now is simple: it is about the overcrowding of prisons.
Beyond the legal reform that the Uruguayan State has adopted in the recent past regarding crime and incarceration, it is not news to anyone that the hegemonic discourse on the issue has only focused on the sense of insecurity. This is a reality that constitutes any government and is the answer to divert attention from the real problem within a competitive and authoritarian world. Insecurity means living without the guarantee of a dignified life. Insecure are those who feel privileged to believe themselves to possess security in someone else’s eyes. Law and order will be the means to placate those fears but will never solve the underlying problem. That is why the prisons are full – they are the concentration camps where all the people who are surplus to the political plan of the day are sent, and their population is a scapegoat where the State holds the poor responsible for the devastating effects that capitalism exerts upon us.
Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber reminded us of this last September 22 when he threatened that if articles of the LUC were repealed, prisoners would have to be released. He said this as if it were the policies or bad public education that were to blame and not crime as a structural guarantee of the capitalist order and State control, while profiting from the inequality of others. And profiting from inequality is what the corresponding hierarchs are proposing at this moment. There is a surplus of prisoners and they want to make new and “better” prisons, which requires hiring companies for their construction and maintenance. They want to stem unemployment by creating jobs to better lock up those who cannot for a thousand reasons have a suitable life or job.
On the day this text is written, Commissioner Juan Miguel Petit, referring to the case of the kidnapped prisoner and overpopulation, announced that there is no penitentiary system in Uruguay, which is not true because there are prisons. He said that there are improvements in terms of penitentiary systems throughout the world and that Uruguayan law is outdated. Those improvements are private prisons, private rehabilitation programs, maximum security and maximum isolation. The solution cannot be the business of incarceration.
If anyone has to be rehabilitated in Uruguay, it is us as a society understood as a collection of human groups that need each other to subsist and who must face the world of misery and control that they want to impose on us. Capitalism pits us all against each other at the same time as we make ourselves the tools and the means to repair the violence that we can exercise among ourselves. There are no politicians or policies that can help us in this undertaking because it is not that the system is corrupt but that it is essentially irrational and unjust. Every government only governs for its leaders who are the political castes and the capitalist class. They will come to tell us that the State is absent and we must install new public policies or that free competition is the right form of freedom; All these statements are arguments of a way of seeing that does not correspond to us and those who maintain them choose to depend on the current state of things. If we really want to make change we must strip ourselves of such beliefs that only help those who exploit us. Let us engage in a struggle for a new possible, solidaristic, horizontal and self-organized society.
Let’s stand in solidarity with the prisoners, without the spirit of welfarist paternalism. Let’s listen to their denunciations and claims, let’s give them strength.
Against structural inequality, tyranny and imprisonment, solidarity and action!