My story about Prisons for Profit

The first story in my new collection THE FEVERISH STARS is called A STATE OF IMPRISONMENT. The story about a near-future situation extrapolating today’s privatized prisons. Here’s what I said about it in a recent interview:

Frequently I have something I’ve perceived that I feel needs to be dramatized, and I cast about for the way to do that. I choose the best genre for it, in my view, and work out how to entertainingly express the underlying observation. Other times, I feel my way along, and the story tells me what the theme is; it reveals itself to me.  In “A State of Imprisonment” I started with my own personal anger—I was smoldering over the insane growth and greed in the privatized prison phenomenon. Prisons for profit. When prisons are run by a corporation for profit, rather than as a publicly funded institution, they are inevitably prone to cutting corners on the most basic needs of the human beings incarcerated; food and medical care are minimized for the sake of maximizing profit. Privatized prisons tend to use convicts as unpaid workers in a vastly more exploitative way than prisons did ever before. And there is an incentive to imprison people—accomplishing this through corruption of local justice systems—so to have more people to bill the state for, and to use as forced labor. There’s also an incentive to invent reasons to keep them in prison past their time. This outrage has been foisted on America broadly, in real life, and in places like Arizona it’s now a major industry. It was spreading so much I imagined a future in which an entire state—most of Arizona!—was converted into one big complex of privatized prisons run by a single corporation. Could this happen in real life—a prison that engulfs a whole US state? Probably not; it’s social satire. But I make it believable enough so that the reader can suspend disbelief, and get caught up in the frightening story of a woman, an investigative reporter, trapped in the system—the symbolism, the metaphor, emerges then quite naturally in the narrative…It’s an Orwellian parable based in real contemporary issues.  

And Speaking of Fear…It’s a good time to feel some dread.

Do you have agricultural land you’re not using? Even a quarter-acre, say?

I’ve been hired as a futurist at different times, as a consultant, by Stanford Research Institute for example, and I’m not bad at futurism, my novels bear that out–but more importantly I’m in touch with professional futurists, and scientists. And they’re worried. As you may have some untilled land, can I offer you some unsolicited advice for you and yours…? Study agriculture, to a sufficiency, and set aside some of your land, or more of it—you may well already have a truck garden or small plot —for raising food. You are likely to need to devote even more space to agriculture. This would be mostly for you and your family.

Be very aware of possible wells on your land. If there are streams they may go away. Piped water might diminish a good bit. But the big national problem that people are now beginning to wake up to, like people coming out of a sleep at being awakened by the smoke of their house afire…is going to be food. The supply chain may in large part collapse, due to far worse climate change effects than most people anticipate.

The relative abundance in the supermarket will come to an end in your lifetime. Probably you have an understandable dislike of “the sky is falling” people, and right enough too, but just take those steps for the sake of your family. You need not clear much land to do it. You don’t have to “become a farmer”.

We don’t want to go about frantically chopping down trees for home farming–we should be planting them. But look about you, if you have some land, and set aside a goodish section for growing food. Learn how to do it. There are pleasures in that process…and there is necessity…

If you live in an apartment, grow food on your balcony, or on the roof if they’ll let you–bring soil up there. Or join a community agricultural project.

Also think about storage; dried food, canning. I advise doing this for your children and grandchildren–or simply for your own well-being. That land will feed you if nothing else does. The coming food crisis won’t happen tomorrow—current shortages are relatively minor and evanescent— but it’ll begin within ten to twenty years