Via Brooklyn Rail, Jason Flores-Williams, a defense lawyer whose father spent sixteen years in prison on drug charges, on the influence of the War on Drugs on how we think:
There are two kinds of power and the drug war’s got them both in spades. The first is we’ll-kick-your-ass power. If you don’t go along with our vision of things, then we’re going to throw you in jail and try to ruin you. It’s the kind of power we think of when we think of China, except that when it comes to the prison-industrial complex we’re actually more repressive than they are.
The second power is foundational to all other forms of power: the power to make people doubt and dislike themselves. All we have to do is look in the mirror to know that the drug war has been an absurdity. Have you ever used drugs? Are you a felon who deserves to go to state prison for it? Are you an enemy of the state? That time last year that you and your husband dropped the kids off for the night at your brother’s house, then smoked weed to have sex in the privacy of your own bedroom—you do realize that makes you a bad person, yes? A good parent would right now call the cops. You should testify against each other. In fact, you and your husband should proceed immediately to the police station and turn yourselves in. And that time last May when your best friend from college came into town and you went out together to that bar that you’ve always wanted to check out and did some blow in the bathroom. Have you reported yourself to the D.E.A.? You unpatriotic scumbag. Or the shrooms you took that Fourth of July at your friend’s pool party—have you cooperated with state and federal authorities, given over the names and addresses of everyone who was there that night? We need you to name names. You must name names. Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
We let ourselves be criminalized. Forced into the shadows. Made to feel like bad people for relaxing on a Friday night after working 75-hour weeks for the last month and a half. You shouldn’t have been over at your friend’s smoking a joint, talking about what the government needs to do—you should have been back home alone watching TV. We need you isolated. Under control. You don’t know what’s best for you. We know what’s best for you. We are better than you. And everyone on our side, all the people we’ve bought off and put on the payroll, are better than you, too. You just don’t get it: We control the idea of America.
American citizens are being beaten down and oppressed every day because every soul incarcerated means cash money to law enforcement. And more important, the war is a constant reminder that the U.S. government can jail your body and try to own your soul.