09/18/07 - sing sing

In today's excerpt - Sing Sing, the most famous of New York's prisons, as reported by Ted Conover, a journalist who went undercover for a year as a Sing Sing corrections officer:

"The Sing Sing Correctional Facility sprawls across fifty-five acres of the east bank of the Hudson River, some thirty miles north of New York City. Convicted criminals used to travel from the city to Sing Sing by boat 'up the river' to 'the big house', which is how both phrases entered the language. The prison's name was borrowed from the Sint Sinck Indians, who once inhabited the site. It may have meant 'stone upon stone,' which describes the rocky slope that the prison is built upon. ...

"Since the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the former No. 1 jailer, the United States has run neck-and-neck with Russia in the race to become world leader in rates of imprisonment. We lock up six times as many citizens per capita as England, seventeen times as many as Japan. Prisons and jails in the United States now hold nearly two million people, which means that one out of every hundred and forty residents is behind bars. In the nineties, while Wall Street was booming, a third of black men in this country between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine were either incarcerated, or on probation or parole. ...

"Fifty-two [New York] prisons were built in the last twenty-seven years, a period in which the number of inmates has increased sixfold, from twelve thousand five hundred to more than seventy thousand, owing in large part to the mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses. The majority [of prisoners in Sing Sing and other New York prisons] are young men of color from New York City. Because the state government is based in Albany, however, and the state senate is dominated by politicians from rural precincts, nearly all the prison construction has been outside the city, where job-hungry communities clamor for it ... [and] most of the corrections officers are white."


Ted Conover


'Guarding Sing Sing'


The New Yorker


April 3, 2000


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