By Alan Bean
Yesterday, I spent eight hours listening to Texans talk about the impact of mass incarceration (more on that in a moment). This morning I am sitting in a McDonald’s in Beaumont, Texas eating an Egg McMuffin and listening to the weather channel compete with FOX news. I usually tell the young woman behind the counter (if, as is usually the case, she is African American) that FOX is insulting to our president and that upsets me. But I don’t have the energy for that this morning.
I am in Beaumont to visit Ramsey Muniz, the Latino political leader serving a federal life sentence for his part in a non-existent narcotics conspiracy. Normally, visitors are allowed to enter the visitor’s area at 8:30, but this morning we were told that we would have to wait three hours to see our loved ones because “we’re doing a fog count.”
It isn’t foggy in Beaumont. Seasonably humid, perhaps, but you can see for miles in any direction. The sign on the prison door says, “No visitation until 11:30.” No, “we apologize for the inconvenience,” or “please accept our apology, but . . .” This is prison, folks.
I informed the four twenty-something attendants in the visitation area that this kind of messaging combined with a totally unnecessary “fog count” constitutes an insult to the families who have come to visit. They reacted as if I was being a smart-ass (which I was). The rules are the rules. Fog counts are very serious business. Some inmate might wander off in the fog. The fact that there is no fog this morning changes nothing.
So I got in my car and drove fifteen miles to this McDonald’s. I can afford the $3.50 in gas; most of the other visitors cannot. They will sit in the parking log for three long hours, trying to keep the toddlers entertained. The shame and disgrace of incarceration clings to the families of the incarcerated.
Which brings me back to yesterday’s full day of testimony concerning prisons, inmates, inmates-in-waiting (the children of the incarcerated) and the mechanics of the New Jim Crow. (more…)