The myths that imprison us

A prison town reflects Western truths of reinvention and subjugation.

 

We the people are living through a period of history where our national mythologies have been laid bare. It has been a tough run: 9/11 showed us our vulnerabilities, even as the sin of exceptionalism led us into an unwinnable, unending war; then came the Great Recession, the result of Wall Street greed and the optimism of fools; then the triumph of cynical corporations; and now a new president who revels in chaos and xenophobia, lies with impunity and brings out the worst in all of us. Many who voted for Donald Trump, I believe, did so out of fear and frustration — the emotions that undergird intolerance. But no one has a monopoly on hate. And we are all in the same mess now.

Here in the West, we are no strangers to American myths — of progress, of independence, of high character. As much as we’d like to forget it, though, our region was built on blood and bone, conquest and lies. Our wide skies and wild spaces conceal a dark history, and if we are all to live in this region together and move forward, we must confront the untruths that hold us back. Especially in such troubled times, when the temptation is to hunker down and mind our own business.

This issue’s cover story tells of a town in Southern California that, betrayed by the stories it told itself, is now in a desperate struggle for viability. In that struggle, as correspondent Sarah Tory reports, the town has become part of a booming incarceration economy, a heavy cog in a brutal machine that imprisons the innocent, denies basic rights, and perpetuates confinement for the sake of economic efficiency. Adelanto, California, was built on the myth of desert agriculture. When its orchards dried up, it reinvented itself as a military town. And when its Air Force base closed, it turned to prisons, earning pennies on the dollar for a corporation that profits by detaining asylum-seekers and others for the Department of Homeland Security.

Editor-in-chief Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren

The story of Adelanto is inextricable from the story of its prisoners, and Sarah unsparingly reveals the history of both the town and of one man caught in its system, an asylum-seeker who believed in the American promise of freedom and found only despair. It is a difficult story to read, for it asks many questions about our basic values. Dostoyevsky famously said that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Here, we go even further; we take you inside a detention facility designed for the innocent. We are far beyond Crime and Punishment and deep into Capitalism and Profit. Read it, and ask yourself: Why does such a place exist at all? And why was it built in the American West?

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Board of Diablo Trust is seeking applications for full-time Program Manager with duties of overseeing the coordination and administration of the Diablo Trusts ongoing...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • SECLUDED TWO-STORY CUSTOM LOG HOME
    in 16-acre pinion pine forest with year-round stream, mountain views, wildlife. Garage, root cellar, wood shop, one-room cabin, RV shed, pasture, garden. [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL, CUSTOM RASTRA BLOCK ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME
    Mature, six-acre Ponderosa forest, open pasture. Spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountain & valley views. Well maintained, paved county road, easy drive to world-class skiing &...
  • OJO CALIENTE RIVERSIDE SECLUSION
    Private, 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River between the confluence of the Chama & Rio Grande Rivers. Close to hiking,...
  • CLASSIC NEW MEXICO MOUNTAIN VIEWS
    of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 3.19 acre lot to build on to escape the crush of city/town life. Short distance to trails, skiing, fishing,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • ASSOCIATE OF PROGRAMS
    The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...