This is an archive of the former website of the Maoist Internationalist Movement, which was run by the now defunct Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika. The MIM now consists of many independent cells, many of which have their own indendendent organs both online and off. MIM(Prisons) serves these documents as a service to and reference for the anti-imperialist movement worldwide.
Maoist Internationalist Movement

"But, but, but, but the USA is still a free country."

*OK, send me back to "MIMers you're lucky to live in a free country." I'll try to deal with it this time.
*Grunt, oink, grrrr. . . love it or leave it!

This page is for those who saw the facts about imprisonment in the united $tates and still said, "but, but, but, but." Here we are going to handle a separate question: why it does not sink in. We at MIM can tell it does not sink in based on the political action we see in Amerika. Before we talk about that, let's look at some of the common excuses we hear.

1. What are your sources?
The sources of MIM articles including this FAQ are clearly on display. The real question is why you ask "what are your sources" after seeing the footnotes.

No one ever said the truth was painless. Integrity means accepting the truth when it is most painful.

2. Prisoners deserve what they get.

OK, but that has nothing to do with whether the united $tates is a free country or not. A large portion of prisoners are innocent and combined with another portion that are there for social problems the united $tates has but other countries do not, the facts are still an indictment of the united $tates. Even if every single prisoner were guilty, the question would be why the united $tates creates so much crime and imprisonment.

By the way, we hope you are not saying "prisoners deserve what they get" and "love it or leave it" too, because then you would be saying the united $tates has the highest imprisonment rate because prisoners deserve what they get which means they really did commit crimes and which means that the united $tates is the most criminal nation on earth. In other words, you would be proud that the united $tates is the most criminal nation on earth and that is why you would say "love it or leave it." This is in effect what the "tough on crime" politicians are saying--that the united $tates is the most criminal nation on earth and we should lock up more.

3. Our prison system is justified. Theirs _______(fill in demon country of the week) is not.

Here is where we finally get closest to why the facts about the u.$. prison-state do not sink in with the population. The corporate media sensationalizes crime and focuses on those crimes and alleged crimes that will sell the most papers and television advertising, thus creating a certain impression about crime in general--a potent brew of entertainment and truth where truth really needs to prevail.

An example is Cecil Adams who writes for places like the Chicago Reader and Boston Phoenix, which published his response on this question. He waited to take the softball pitch question as to whether the united $tates is the world's leading prison state in history instead of just now or the last couple decades. This enabled Adams to talk about Cambodia and northern Korea without any references.(1) It was typical Cold War Pavlov dog reflex. Adams knows very little about Cambodia or northern Korea, never mind decades ago in the case of Cambodia in the midst of war, revolution and recuperation from U.$. bombing.

If we believe Black Book of Communism anti-communist editor Pierre Rigoulot's speculations,(2) the number of prisoners in northern Korea could very well be lower percentage-wise than in Amerika. If we take Rigoulot's upper end estimate of 200,000 prisoners in a population of 22 million in northern Korea, the result is higher than even Louisiana's 0.81 percent incarceration rate. (3) However, if we use Pierre Rigoulot's 150,000 prisoners number and we use the U.$. incarceration rate of 701 per 100,000 people in 2002,(4) then it will be the united $tates with the higher incarceration rate, not northern Korea. So it looks like it could be a close race, but it seems likely Louisiana will have a higher imprisonment rate than northern Korea. Before anyone says something stupid like that Pierre Rigoulot did not count all the northern Korean prisoners, we will only point out that the figure for Louisiana excludes local jails which typically hold 30% of all prisoners and the Louisiana figures also exclude probation affecting approximately four million Amerikans under terms that can be similar to labor camps in terms of restriction of movement or association.

Also regardless, there is no contest between the northern Korean incarceration rate and the Black imprisonment rate in the united $tates. Cecil Adams simply did not discuss it.

The other killer dynamic for this question is backward nationalism--unrealistic pride in one's own nation above others. When someone says "it's a free country" in the u$a, it's not really a libertarian statement. People making this sort of statement are not likely anyone who has actually really tried to organize for a point-of-view unacceptable to the two-party system.

In most instances of people saying "it's a free country," it's nationalist bragging and in those instances where it is not nationalist bragging it is unconscious nationalist striving. The whole prison problem is another concrete reason why MIM says nationalism has no progressive role to play for whites in the united $tates. It just so happens that in 1776, nationalism against the British and obtaining liberties from those same colonial rulers went hand-in-hand. At that time, nationalism could play a progressive role even among whites. Today, "it's a free country" rhetoric is just a vestige of American history that we continue to hear, because Amerikkkan nationalism has filled in where concern for liberty and opposition to colonialism used to exist.

Another dynamic entering this question even for intellectuals is lack of scientific integrity. After writing books full of nationalism masquerading as discussion of freedom, there will be some minority of hard-boiled intellectuals who just refuse to get it. Some of them have jobs in the U.S. Government now or plan to as appointees of politicians pandering to Amerikan nationalists. Among the average Joes and Janes, the problem is nationalist brainwashing over a period of decades that is difficult to get rid of. Younger people and most intellectuals will have the easiest time tossing preconceptions and really dealing with the fact that the united $tates is not a free country, even if "free" only means "among the better half of countries."

This leads us to the last point, which is not really an argument, just an emotion: "love it or leave it." The question from the backward will be even if it is true that the united $tates leads the world in imprisonment, at least people can leave the country. This is the ultimate cop-out that proves that the whole point is really nationalism, not freedom. It also leaves aside the fact that getting other countries to let U.S. citizens in their borders is not as simple as the "love-it-or-leave-it" crowd thinks. They better "check their sources," such as the fact that by virtue of being a U.S. citizen one will in fact be regarded as a spy in many countries-- and not allowed in. When we realize after Iraq that there is no country the United $tates currently does not think it owns, there is no point in leaving anyway. The point is to stay and fight. That's what most people in the world want to see--change in the united $tates. That's what George Washington did. He did not just "love it." He took up arms and changed it.

If you are at this point of the article and saying to yourself you still love the united $tates as is, perhaps you should consider whether you are really a "fascist" or monarchist. Better yet, maybe you should drop out of politics instead of letting off random steam.

4. It's the drug offenders.
The most sophisticated but wrong response that we get to the facts of the u.$. prison-state is that the issue is a drug problem and that we need to release the potheads from prison. To blame for this point of view is the "Libertarian Party" and the legalization movement.

We recognize that this is an attempt to grapple with the problem and the response at least does not come from some TV cop show, because it handles the fact that most prisoners are not murderers or rapists. Most of the prisoners are in there for mundane things that wouldn't attract any TV viewers or sell any newspapers.

Nonetheless, this response is wrong because it fails to realize just how profound the problem is. The United $tates is not just a little less free than other countries. If the u.$. imprisonment rate were cut in half, the united $tates would still be among the very top handful of prison-states in the world. Freeing the potheads would be a start but would still leave the united $tates much less than a "free country" relative to other countries. It's not a reason to call yourself a "free country" if you are no longer the number one prison-state but the number two prison-state, which is what the united $tates would be if it released all the drug offenders. The Libertarian Party should be ashamed to be associated with a view of the prison system that it is a drug problem behind it: "liberty" is the root word of "libertarian."

The U.S. Government itself is quite aware that it has only imprisoned a small portion of drug offenders. By its count, there are at least 13.9 million illegal drug users in the united $tates over the age of 12.(4) In 2003, the president's office reported the following on the number of prisoners: "In the U.S., approximately 1.3 million people are in State and Federal prisons, and 4.6 million are under correctional supervision in the community. Remarkably, approximately 13 million people are jailed every year, with about 631,000 inmates serving in jail at one time."(6) (It's important to understand that jails are not the same as prisons in u.$. statistics. It is actually a statement of some integrity by the Bush administration to mention the jail situation too! Jails are for the less serious issues and generally shorter sentences. The public really needs to understand the shocking numbers involved.)

The public is right to suspect that the drug issue is big enough that it could be the real reason behind the imprisonment surge. However, while that is a good guess compared with other ideas that fantasize about the government catching millions of murderers and rapists, it is still wrong. In the year 2000, only 24.3% of prisoners--combining federal and state--were there for drug offenses.(7)

In 2001, only 49.3% of state prisoners were there for violent offenses,(4) and even smaller percentages for federal prisons are for violent crimes.(5) So the question is what the people are there for. When we combine, drugs, "public order" and "property" crimes, then we can account for the majority of prisoners in the united $tates.

1. At least Cecil Adams admitted there was something wrong with calling yourself the "land of the free" with such figures.
2. Kang Chol-hwan & Pierre Rigoulot, Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. xvi.
3. U.S. Federal Government,
4. U.S. Federal Government,
5. U.S. Federal Government,
The title of this paper? What else, but the "President's Freedom Commission on Mental Health."
7. A misleading statement by the Bush administration addresses the question somewhat (obtained March 10 2004):
"Truth is, only about 5 percent of inmates in federal prison are there because of simple possession. Most drug criminals are in jail even on possession charges because they have plea-bargained down from major trafficking offences or more violent drug crimes. Crime, violence, and drug use go hand-in-hand."

This statement is misleading because only a small minority of prisoners are in federal prisons as opposed to state prisons and because 5% is still a lot of people. There are more than three times as many drug offenders in state prisons than federal prisons according to the Bush administration itself in another document:

On the other hand, for our purposes, and along with the fact that only one in twelve arrests are for drugs, we can see that the drug problem is big but not big enough to explain how the u$a got to be the world's prison-state number one. The united $tates has a generally wrong approach to crime and prisons, not just a problem in one area.

The Bush administration spin about "plea-bargaining" as if Amerikkka were some Liberal country that lets all criminals go instead of the world's number one prison-state is typical of the mythology holding this country back. "Plea-bargaining" may be what happens in an Amerikan system, but it is not an explanation for why the united $tates is the world's imprisonment leader. By itself there is nothing about the plea-bargaining system to make us believe that it is not part of the coercion problem in Amerika--something with an image of "freedom" but a reality of blackmail. The same government agency reports that as of 1998 of the minority of all prisoners that federal prisoners instead of state prisoners, 54.7% are there for drug offenses and another 10.5% for immigration offenses.

Since MIM is going to open the borders and eliminate the incentive to make a profit, there won't be a drug trade or immigration offenders in prisons under a MIM-led dictatorship of the proletariat. Mao succeeded in eliminating the drug problem and prostitution too, so we also have a "record" to "campaign" on as Maoists.