“Free worlders” is prison slang for those who are not incarcerated behind prison walls. Supposedly, those fortunate souls live in the “free world.” However, appearances can be deceiving.
“As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” writes former prison employee Marlon Brock, “it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls.” In fact, if Brock is right, then we “free worlders” do live in a prison—albeit, one without visible walls.
In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere in order to maintain “security” and keep track of the prisoners. Likewise, the “free world” is populated with video surveillance and tracking devices. From surveillance cameras in stores and street corners to license plate readers (with the ability to log some 1,800 license plates per hour) on police cars, our movements are being tracked virtually everywhere. With this increasing use of iris scanners and facial recognition software—which drones are equipped with—there would seem to be nowhere to hide.
Detection and confiscation of weapons (or whatever the warden deems “dangerous”) in prison is routine. The inmates must be disarmed. Pat downs, checkpoints, and random searches are second nature in ferreting out contraband.
Metal detectors are now in virtually all government buildings. There are the TSA scanning devices and metal detectors we all have to go through in airports. Police road blocks and checkpoints are used to perform warrantless searches for contraband. Those searched at road blocks can be searched for contraband regardless of their objections—just like in prison. And there are federal road blocks on American roads in the southwestern United States. Many of them are permanent and located up to 100 miles from the border.
Stop and frisk searches are taking place daily across the country. Some of them even involve anal and/or vaginal searches. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved strip searches even if you are arrested for a misdemeanor—such as a traffic stop. Just like a prison inmate.
Prison officials open, search and read every piece of mail sent to inmates. This is true of those who reside outside prison walls, as well. In fact, “the United States Postal Service uses a ‘Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program’ to create a permanent record of who is corresponding with each other via snail mail.” Believe it or not, each piece of physical mail received by the Postal Service is photographed and stored in a database. Approximately 160 billion pieces of mail sent out by average Americans are recorded each year and the police and other government agents have access to this information.
Prison officials also monitor outgoing phone calls made by inmates. This is similar to what the NSA, the telecommunication corporation, and various government agencies do continually to American citizens. The NSA also downloads our text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and so on while watching everything we do.
Then there are the crowd control tactics: helmets, face shields, batons, knee guards, tear gas, wedge formations, half steps, full steps, pinning tactics, armored vehicles, and assault weapons. Most of these phrases are associated with prison crowd control because they were perfected by prisons.
Finally, when a prison has its daily operations disturbed, often times it results in a lockdown. What we saw with the “free world” lockdowns following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the melees in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, mirror a federal prison lockdown.
These are just some of the similarities between the worlds inhabited by locked-up inmates and those of us who roam about in the so-called “free world.”
Is there any real difference?