A growing number of criminal plots in the free world are born behind prison walls and recently released convicts are its soldiers.
The indictment is a road map to horror. In meticulously detailed pages unsealed this fall, the indictment, United States of America vs. Barry Byron Mills et al, spells out the nature and crimes of a major faction of the race-based Aryan Brotherhood (AB) prison gang, citing a total of 16 murders and 16 attempted murders.
Under "Race War with Black Inmates," the indictment details a vicious, four-year battle in a series of federal prisons between the Brotherhood and a black prison gang. Another part of the indictment reports that on July 25, 1997, Aaron Marsh was strangled in prison. His crime was refusing an order from AB's California bosses to murder another inmate. On April 8, 1997, Michael Nevergall was almost stabbed to death by three other inmates acting on orders because he "made negative comments about the Aryan Brotherhood."
At the same time, a major report by Human Rights Watch fleshes out another Dantesque aspect of American prisons: the raging epidemic of prison rape. "No Escape: Male Rape in U.S. Prisons" makes it clear that between 10% and 20% of male prisoners — at least 140,000, men — are victims of prison rape, and suggests that these crimes may be even more prevalent in juvenile institutions.
Sexual slavery and gang rape are commonplace. In Texas, for instance, 23-year-old Randy Payne was beaten to death by some 20 inmates after refusing their demands for sex and money in 1994.
Hearing stories like these, many Americans shrug their shoulders and turn away. Prisoners, they seem to think, deserve what they get. But that reasoning is not only uncivilized. It also neglects a basic fact: The vast majority of imprisoned Americans will one day emerge, and society will face them once again.
Aryan Unit One
Leo Felton was a troubled youth, an emotionally disturbed boy who grew up in an apparently tolerant, middle-class household in suburban Washington, D.C. By age 19, a penchant for crime had landed him in prison. But it was only during the next years in prison that Felton became a truly dangerous man.
From a confused teenager, Felton grew during his prison years into a hardened revolutionary racist — a member of the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood who had stabbed a black inmate over a minor disagreement and a cellmate of the Brotherhood's "shot-caller" at Northern State Prison in New Jersey.
He was schooled in the arcane details of racist ideology, and by the time he left prison in January 2001, he carried with him what one co-conspirator described as a "revolutionary battle plan."
In this issue, the Intelligence Report relates the saga of Leo Felton and his Aryan Unit One, the tiny army led by Felton that planned to organize a series of Aryan cells, attack Jewish and black targets, and work to make a revolution.
Like a growing number of criminal plots in the free world, this one was born behind prison walls, and recently released convicts were its soldiers. As one of Felton's prison-mates wrote, "Prison can be used as a training facility, and should be."
Felton, who was apprehended at a doughnut shop when his girlfriend tried to cash a counterfeit bill, failed in his violent plans to kick-start the second American revolution. But he was neither the first nor the last to do his best to bring violence nurtured in the American penitentiary system out into the streets.
A Growing Problem
In the last years, the United States has quadrupled its rate of imprisonment, to the point that about 700 people in every 100,000 are behind bars — the highest rate in the industrialized world.
The drug war, mandatory sentencing laws and a trend of longer sentences overall have all contributed to this trend. Today, according to The Economist magazine, nearly one in eight American men has been convicted of a felony.
Simultaneously, the ratios of guards to prisoners and probation officers to those they supervise have been falling. And increasing numbers of Americans seem to reject the notion of prison as a venue for rehabilitation.
"Put simply, America probably sends people to prison too willingly, and looks after them too carelessly afterward," The Economist wrote in an August cover story. "America's system seems peculiarly devised to ensure that prisoners remain criminals."
That is a problem that all of us must face. Prisons are arguably the most racist institution in American life today, and with 1,600 inmates being released from prison every day, politically driven ex-convicts are increasingly bringing violent, racist politics into the larger society.
If that worrying trend is to be reversed, Americans must pay closer attention to what is going on inside our penal institutions.