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U.S. Prison: Rite of Passage


“Orange Is the New Black” disturbed me.

I am not referring to the content, the writing or the acting in the television series. I am referring to the fact that a program set in an American prison is bound to be representative of the U.S. population because so many people are in prison.

An estimated 1.53 million prisoners were held in state and federal facilities at year-end 2015, or 458 per 100,000, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is a 2.3 percent decrease from the previous year, or 471 per 100,000.

In Russia, the incarceration rate was 455 per 100,000 as of 2015, according to the World Prison Group, International Centre of Prison Studies.

In Saudi Arabia, the incarceration rate was 161 per 100,000. In Germany, the rate was 76 per 100,000 as of 2015.

In Sweden, the incarceration rate was 60 per 100,000 as of 2014.

In the United States, prison is not an alien concept. Sadly, for some, it is a rite of passage.

So, it should not have been surprising that Angelica Morgan, the avant-garde composer in my novel, Turn On, Tune Out, found herself ensnarled in the U.S. judicial system:

Angelica ran upstairs to set up on the porch. She dashed inside for her violin and placed her music on the stand.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she quieted her audience. “I now give you a taste of my newly finished ‘Los Angeles Symphony’. There are three movements, ‘On the Way”, ‘Chasing the Sun’, and ‘Arriving’.”

Then, without any warning, the Fates grabbed back the threads of happiness. While she had been inside, a squad car had come quietly to a stop on the street. When she reappeared, like phantoms, two police officers seemed to materialize from nowhere, running up the stairs to stop Angelica before she could put bow to string. The officer nearest her said, “Are you Angelica Morgan?”

“Yes, ma’am. I am,” Angelica said, as though her name would clear up the mistake.

It didn’t.

“Angelica Morgan, you’re under arrest for breaking the Stop, Look and Listen law.”

The metallic ratcheting and clink of handcuffs locking Angelica’s hands behind her pierced the communal gasp of shock from downstairs.

Angelica wedged her body into the backseat of the police car and awkwardly tucked her legs inside. Her forehead grazed the steel mesh cage separating her from the seat in front of her. She looked down at her window and discovered that there was no door handle.

Officer Jessie Gonzalez got into the drivers’ seat and her partner, Officer Thomas Halstead, sat on the passenger side in front of Angelica, who knew enough about the American justice system to stay quiet and appear calm. Her heart beat so fast. She felt as though she was going to faint. Angelica thought: “What’s happening? I’m not a criminal.”

Halstead turned around and read her the Miranda rights:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, demurely.

Angelica deduced that the officers would question her after they Mirandized her, but they said nothing on the short drive downtown to the Long Beach Police Department. The station was heaving with law enforcers, law breakers, and the unfortunate innocent on a normal busy Saturday. Officers Gonzalez and Halstead walked Angelica to a desk officer, who filled out a computerized booking form with her name and alleged crime. Angelica was so dazed and confused that she only realized, after the fact, that the officer had taken a mug shot. Another officer unlocked and removed her handcuffs. He asked her to remove her mother’s Belizean gold knob earrings, which were placed in a plastic bag to be returned to her when she regained her freedom. A third officer showed her to another counter where he took her fingerprints. She dumbly followed orders, placing one finger at a time on a lighted pad attached to the front of a computer, which displayed the images of her arches, loops and whorls. Then, in a separate unoccupied room, a female officer ordered her to remove all her clothes for a strip search, which revealed nothing illegal but reduced Angelica to an object. She felt vulnerable, alone and frightened.

The recommended bail for breaking the Stop, Look and Listen law was $50,000, the same as assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm. Angelica had no prior convictions or pending warrants, so her bail was set at $50,000.


Turn On, Tune Out is available at Amazon:


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