/reconstructions apr 10 '17
The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

Chance for habilitation (forget rehabilitation)………………...………………………Almost nil


I am drowning in statistics and looking for some hope, some trend that makes me feel like we’re not all barreling toward hell, full of rage and unrepentant arrogance. The prison machine keeps grinding on, and grinding out despair. Why do we insist on triage instead of Reconstruction?

“C.R.E.A.M” by the Wu Tang Clan

…Cash rules everything around me
C.R.E.A.M., get the money
Dollar dollar bill, y'all
Cash rules everything around me
C.R.E.A.M., get the money
Dollar dollar bill, y'all

Aha--the money! Searching for information, trying to understand our massive “prison industrial complex” led me to a page in the Philadelphia corrections website--there is a Food and Hygiene Program where you can send an “Access Securepak” to prisoners. What precisely is secure? The items in it, or the method of getting these goods to imprisoned folks, or both? I think Bigelow Assorted tea is great, but Velveeta cheese bowls? How do companies get to have their products included in the choices for Access Securepak? What’re the price mark-ups for each item compared to the respective prices outside of prisons? Are all of the items a la carte or do you have to buy some in pairs or trios? I see Lady Speed Stick. I thought we provided all prisoners with deodorant. Maybe it’s not considered a necessity, but it should be. Sh*t, it should be compulsory.

And in seconds I’m picking and choosing what I think prisoners should eat, do with their bodies, and why. Who am I to tell anyone what to eat or how to groom themselves? I like marshmallows. I am NOT a healthy eater. Maybe this program has been requested and then implemented at the behest of families? Food, or not, most prisoners have very few choices.

I need more knowledge, and I also need to ‘fess up. I don’t have a coherent thesis because I’ve been and I’m being socially irresponsible. Like most Americans, I’d really rather not think of prisons and how much money we spend on them and how they are overcrowded and inadequate and the way that certain businesses are making massive amounts of money or the Pennsylvania judge that was getting money for sending kids in juvenile into certain correctional facilities or that I should be trying to ensure that Ava Duvernay’s “13” documentary should be required viewing for every American or …..carceral complex circles within circles.

Yes, some people commit terrible, heinous crimes and they should be imprisoned. But the practical question remains--what are folks doing in prison that will help them when/if they get out of prison? If they can’t get a job and a place to live, if they can’t vote, if there are so many obstacles to their becoming fully responsible citizens, then why do we have the pretext of saying that our system is trying to “rehabilitate” people in prison? Because generally, we’re not.

“C.R.E.A.M” by the Wu Tang Clan

….Tryin' to get a clutch at what I could not
The court played me short, now I face incarceration
Pacin', goin' upstate's my destination
Handcuffed in the back of a bus, forty of us
Life as a shorty shouldn't be so rough
But as the world turned I learned life is hell
Livin' in the world no different from a cell…

We’re running out of space to lock people up, and we’re running out of time. But obviously, we’re not running out of money. Yet.

Mona R. Washington is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and Harvard Law School. She is a proud member of Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA). Her plays have been performed in New York, Philadelphia, Rome, and Paris. She's been awarded fellowships at The Djerassi Foundation, The Dora Maar House (Provence, France), The Ucross Foundation, and The Jack Kerouac House, amongst others. Queries regarding performance rights for plays may be directed to .