Clarence Jefferson Hall Jr.’s A Prison in the Woods (University of Massachusetts Press, 2020) is a critical historical study of the Adirondacks’ deeply problematic relationship with the state prison system that spans from the nineteenth century right up to the current moment. Located in New York’s North Country, the Adirondacks became a home to poor working-class whites who worked mainly for the tourist industry as well as wealthy elites who lived in the area seasonally. As the need for penitentiaries increased (due to overcrowding), prison planners looked to the Adirondacks as an ideal location to house incarcerated men (who were primarily poor men of color). Hall, Assistant Professor of History at Queensborough Community College/CUNY, gives an extensive historical account of the complex narrative that involves Adirondacks’ wealthy elites, residential poor, convicted men, and various groups and agencies: the Department of Corrections who exercised unlimited power in where and how penitentiaries were built, the Adirondack Park Agency who was unable to enforce its authority and was weighted toward the interests of rich seasonal second homeowners, as well as environmentalist groups who were against prisons being built inside Adirondack Park not for moral reasons, but as a way to maintain their privileged enjoyment of nature, and state legislators who were dedicated to incarceration as a solution to drug-related crime. The book is framed around environmental concerns that exist at the heart of this historical issue in terms of not only who gets to enjoy nature and how, but also, how housing convicted men inside prisons in a state park altered the physical environment itself along with the idea of the North Country as being a place primarily for elitist nature-lovers. Convicted men became an important part of how the North Country functioned by doing the kinds of jobs that no one else in the area wanted to do. Although the central issue of the book deals with the environmental impact of prison building in the Adirondacks, at the core of that issue is the presence of incarcerated men: “In a region afflicted by chronically high unemployment, poverty, depopulation, and a dwindling tax base, it is hard to imagine how the hundreds of projects completed by incarcerated men would have ever seen the light of day. Who else would have accepted the low pay, long hours, and untold hazards associated with those jobs?” This is a question readers should keep in mind as this review highlights the various prison building projects that took place throughout the history of the North Country and the issues that surrounded each endeavor.
First and foremost, it will be necessary to give a brief historical overview of the prison system in New York in order to understand why the building of penitentiaries became a source of conflict in the Adirondacks. It is incredibly important to understand that punishment has always been the primary means of dealing with those prone to unlawful activity. Hall gives a succinct explanation of how crime was handled prior to the rise of the prison system:
The question of how best to punish individuals convicted of unlawful activity vexed policymakers long before the first prisons rose in the Adirondacks. To avoid the high costs of imprisonment, residents of colonial America had adopted a hodgepodge system of unevenly applied civil and criminal sanctions including fines, public humiliation, torture, short-term jail sentences, banishment, and execution. A post-Revolutionary surge of nationalism inspired lawmakers to abandon the violence and unpredictability of European colonial legal codes in favor of a supposedly more humane system centered on incarceration. Unfortunately, the promise of America’s early prisons quickly met the grim realities of chronic overcrowding and insufficient public funding.
Not only has punishment been the established norm for dealing with unlawful activities within American society, overcrowding has also been the consequence. This should come as no surprise seeing as how holding large groups of convicted men together in one location in order to punish is not an actual solution, but instead, an invitation to perpetuate and reinforce crime as an inevitable, and therefore, normalized feature of civilized American society. As a result, “Whenever crowding plagued one penitentiary, lawmakers built another. To ensure public support for its carceral projects, legislators planned correctional facilities designed both to confine convicted men and spur economic growth in the remote locales targeted for prison construction.” Before discussing the economic aspect of prison building, it will be necessary to explain how the prison system functioned in New York:
The state’s first penal institution, Newgate, opened in Manhattan in 1796. Warden Thomas Eddy fed incarcerated men a steady diet of Christian teachings and formal education, and he forbade physical punishments. Poorly paid imprisoned men spent most of their time producing shoes, barrels, linen, woolen cloth, and woodenwares inside prison factories. If successful, revenue generated from the sale of prison-made goods in domestic markets would ensure Newgate’s financial solvency and incarcerated men who recommitted to thrift and hard work might never return.
It was already recognized that convicted men could be used as cheap labor and that it could be justified through the belief that teaching them the value of hard work was the solution to crime. However, Hall explains why this idea ultimately failed:
…the notion that hard labor would transform imprisoned men into productive citizens ignored the external factors that fueled much lawbreaking. Many incarcerated men held jobs prior to their arrests, and the actions leading to their convictions were often rooted in financial strain. Population increase, social inequality, racism, and xenophobia—each of which figured predominantly in the competition for jobs and housing among a growing poor, urban populace—were problems a penitentiary could not fix.
It is safe to say that social inequality, racism, and xenophobia are still major problems that American society has not adequately fixed because they are systemic. However, rather than address the societal system that fuels these issues, lawmakers continued to apply incarceration as a cosmetic solution. Auburn was built in the Finger Lakes in 1817 and Sing Sing was built near marble mines along the Hudson River in 1825. At Auburn, “People incarcerated there lived and worked in silence; occupied tiny, poorly ventilated and unlit cells; consumed substandard food; labored under constant surveillance; and faced savage beatings for minor infractions. Once released, formerly incarcerated men contending with prison-induced psychiatric and physical trauma often reoffended and found themselves back behind bars.” At Sing Sing, “Abhorrent work and living conditions drove many despondent incarcerated men to end their lives in a river treasured by artists and urban elites for its natural splendor. The phrase ‘going up the river’ soon came to represent a culture of fear and anxiety that pervaded the homes and communities of New York’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.” At no point was the prison system examined from a critical perspective by lawmakers. Instead, “New York’s penitentiaries became businesses dependent on a steady flow of raw materials, convicted men, and cash.”
Fast-forward to the early 1970s; Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller revised the Narcotics Control Act of 1966, which became the Rockefeller drug laws. As Hall explains, “Under the act, individuals convicted either of selling two ounces or possessing four ounces of banned narcotics received a mandatory minimum fifteen-year sentence.” Additionally, the Second Felony Offender Act of 1973 “mandated lengthy imprisonment for individuals convicted of any two felonies committed within a ten-year period.” These laws had disastrous consequences for not only poor men of color, but society as a whole who naively believed (with the encouragement of lawmakers) that incarceration was the only solution to drug-related offenses. Hall gives an accurate historical answer for why these laws were implemented:
Viewed as a reaction to the achievements of the civil rights movement, the use of narcotics and sentencing laws to imprison millions of low-income people of color was central to state and federal policy agendas in the postwar era. Though commonly associated with the New Right, the legislative machinery that produced mass incarceration reflected conservative ideologies ascendant in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Operating in the militarized climate of the Cold War and Vietnam, policymakers treated the nation’s increasingly chaotic urban centers as war zones whose lawbreaking residents required pacification. Wars on drugs and crime waged from the 1960s through the 1990s enjoyed widespread support from voters across racial, class, and political spectra.
Deindustrialization also played a factor in driving poor men of color to commit drug-related crimes. Out of a need to survive a societal environment that was rapidly moving away from industries reliant on working-class labor and toward professionalization, there were large numbers of men who saw crime as a solution to economic problems lawmakers weren’t addressing. Here are the results of New York lawmakers’ decision to impose incarceration as a solution to political turmoil due to systemic issues the civil rights movement exposed in conjunction with deindustrialization: “Between 1975 and 1999, the state prison population more than quadrupled, from 16,384 to 71,000. A system comprising thirty-two prisons in 1981 became a far-flung network of seventy by 1999….Two decades of expansion left New York’s prisons operating at 130 percent of capacity by 2000, the worst overcrowding in state history.”
The primary way in which prison planners were able to get citizens on board with the presence of a penitentiary in their community was through the promise of economic growth. For each prison building project in the Adirondacks, the dream of economic progress was always at the center. This was particularly true for Clinton State Prison in Dannemora, which was built in 1846. Hall gives a good description of what the people hoped a prison would do for their town:
Many envisioned a large, bustling correctional facility employing hundreds of area residents, the mere presence of which might generate significant ripple effects, including the creation of new small businesses, expanded logging and mining, construction of new towns and villages, and the development of a modern transportation network linking the North Country to the rest of the state and nation.
What is interesting about this description is that this is what every community believed would happen once a prison opened up in their area. Beginning in the nineteenth century, incarceration was linked with economic empowerment. This is the primary reason citizens have always struggled to see incarceration as problematic on a systemic scale. When Clinton State Prison was built, the Adirondacks was still an undeveloped region, and this made it all the more attractive to those who wanted to take advantage of the area’s untapped resources. Prison locations were always chosen with economic interests in mind: “Just as planners had chosen Auburn for its proximity to the Erie Canal and Sing Sing for its marble and closeness to the Hudson, the natural bounty of the Adirondacks—and the potential revenues to be derived therefrom—figured prominently in the decision to build New York’s next penitentiary in the state’s most remote and undeveloped region.”
Another feature of the New York prison system that became established during the construction of Clinton State Prison was the use of convicted men to build the prison. All the prisons that were built in the Adirondacks utilized the labor of incarcerated men:
In 1846 alone, imprisoned workers added more spruce pickets to the ever-expanding wall; used stone cut from prison quarries to construct cell blocks and a building containing a kitchen, mess hall, toilets, showers, chapel, hospital, and store rooms; installed a sawmill; began building foundries, kilns, crushing mills, separating machines, and other iron production facilities; and crafted a pipe one-third of a mile in length to connect Clinton’s stone-and-cement reservoir to a nearby natural spring.
Prior to the Civil War, incarcerated men could be loaned out to farmers and entrepreneurs for contract work. Imprisoned men were also utilized to maintain the prison itself and the prison grounds as well as work in Clinton-based factories producing “agricultural implements, home construction materials, accessories for horses, carriages, files, nails, barrels, and leather for domestic consumption.” Although using convicted men as cheap labor factored prominently into every prison in the North Country, what is most significant about Clinton State Prison is that its first warden was a prison reformer, and it was the hope of reformers in general that the penitentiary would serve as a better example of how to humanely incarcerate men. And yet, this belief ended in utter failure:
Interviews with incarcerated men revealed an increase in harsh discipline, and inspectors were alarmed to discover a shower bath, a device designed to simulate the efforts of drowning, had recently been installed. Used to punish disobedience, officers would blindfold and restrain imprisoned men in a wooden chair and then pour water over their heads to the point of near death. There was probably little shock, then, when the inspectors subsequently discovered an incarcerated man laid up in the prison hospital recovering from a gunshot wound sustained during an escape attempt.
Because the reformers had very little understanding about how to actually confront the violence of incarceration, they suggested that Clinton prison leaders “abolish torture and instead adopt solitary confinement—by their reckoning, a more humane punishment—in a below-ground dungeon” (italics mine). They merely wanted the prison to replace one form of violent punishment with another. Additionally, at the beginning of the twentieth century, conservation became a concern for politicians and citizens alike, and because of the prison’s “proximity to several forested tracts” it became part of Adirondack State Park when it was initially created. As a result, incarceration has always been connected to environmental conservation, which very much feels like a contradiction. Protecting forestland while simultaneously housing convicted men should be naturally at odds with each other, and yet, in the North Country, they became fused. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Adirondacks was a nature getaway for elites, but after WWII, the Adirondacks became a big tourist destination for middle-class families who enjoyed higher incomes and more leisure time. What attracted people to the North Country was its vast, pristine nature environment, and yet, prison builders were attracted to the area for the very same reason. It was untapped territory.
Two prisons opened up in Ray Brook—Adirondack Correctional Facility (ACI) and Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) which raised important questions about the nature of incarceration on a social and environmental level. ACI was initially a tuberculosis hospital that opened in 1904 and closed in the mid-1960s. In 1971, the facility operated as a drug rehabilitation center for women, but closed down in 1975 due to internal issues involving corruption and illicit sexual activity. The facility reopened as a penitentiary and convicted men were once again utilized to renovate the building for penal use. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) became interested in building a medium-security prison in the area just as the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee (LPOOC) was figuring out a way to house Olympians for the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics. It was decided that the potential federal prison could first be used as a housing facility for athletes before becoming a penitentiary. It is also important to know that the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) was officially established in 1971 and was responsible for handling how land was utilized within the state park.
Aside from the inherent contradictions and hypocrisies in turning a drug rehabilitation center into a state prison in order to house men convicted of drug-related offenses and opening a federal prison that formerly housed elite athletes from all over the world, environmental factors played a huge role in the difficulties the BOP encountered in constructing and opening FCI. The primary reason the federal prison became the center of so much conflict really has to do with how the APA functioned. Hall gives a thorough explanation:
By the mid-1970s, the Adirondack Park was a patchwork of private and publicly owned properties that was subject—depending on the tract—to either DEC [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] or APA regulation. When plans to build a federal prison in Ray Brook became public, the targeted parcel’s legal classification required clarification. In early 1977 the DEC, the state agency responsible for managing public lands inside the park, claimed not to know whether the tract was Forest Preserve, and thus protected as “forever wild.” APA maps, in contrast, showed the property labeled as private, which opened the possibility of future developments to stringent Park Agency oversight. Recognizing the BOP’s intent to build, the APA recategorized the site as public land, eliminating the possibility of legally binding Park Agency review though opening the door to DEC oversight. To scuttle potential DEC review, the APA suggested the bureau acquire property from its new state owners through eminent domain.
By labeling the parcel of land as public and recommending the BOP acquire the land through eminent domain, the APA literally helped the BOP get around environmental constraints so that they could build the prison. This act went not only against the interests of the Park Agency’s main goal, which is to maintain environmental oversight into how land within the park is used, it was insensitive to the Adirondack community who relied on the agency to uphold its environmental values. However, the APA still conducted a survey of the land and presented it to the BOP, who, now immune to the agency’s oversight, did not have to implement any environmental recommendations. Here is what the agency’s scientists discovered about the parcel of land:
In a comprehensive site analysis published in early 1977, agency scientists showed that far from being untouched wilderness primed for modernization, the reclassified site was a prized piece of fabric of local life. The report noted that residents and tourists made frequent use of the tract, enjoying its picnic grounds and athletic fields; accessing trails to popular hiking and climbing spots; hunting game in the fall; watching for rare birds; camping under the stars; casting lines in its ponds and streams; and skiing across its powder during the winter. Camp Adirondack had even built a sanitary landfill on the property where incarcerated men helped manage the penitentiary’s solid waste.
APA scientists also revealed an energetic non-human environment at the future prison site. A forest of evergreen and deciduous trees, planted a century earlier, towered over its stream, pond, lake, and wetlands, whose fish were maintained through DEC stocking. Marshlands also provided refuge for the indigenous ring-necked duck and endangered osprey. Carefully maintained vegetation at the water’s edge supplied shade for aquatic organisms, stabilized the banks for use by fishing enthusiasts, and provided forage for wildlife. By storing excess water, wetlands on the property protected residents and visitors from springtime floods.
And yet, the APA scientists didn’t recommend that the federal prison not be built. Instead, “they offered a non-binding construction plan designed to ensure the site’s ecological and economic vitality.” Not only did the APA fail to protect the land, the scientists failed to protect it as well, and proposed a plan that would allow the prison and the nature site to coexist “safely.” The APA and the scientists failed to recognize the inherent contradictions in their actions; instead of refusing to cooperate with government entities whose only desire is to cage and punish convicted men, they enabled it while simultaneously threatening the ecological environment. Predictably, the BOP completely ignored the scientists’ recommendations and began to build the prison in any way they saw fit, which was in the spirit of absolute disregard for the environment. To make matters worse, when natural disasters due to irresponsible construction practices devastated the area, not one agency or entity was willing to clean up the mess and instead chose to play the blame game:
The Economic Development Administration (EDA), responsible for managing and distributing federal Olympic funds, accused contractors of ignoring directives to guard against runoff. The APA blamed the BOP for failing “to exercise precautions to prevent a serious environmental impact “and called on the United States Council on Environmental Quality to force the bureau to take “all possible measures…to restore the impacted resources.” For its part, the BOP blamed the weather, arguing heavy rainfall alone had caused the destruction. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disclaimed any responsibility, arguing the federal prison being built on federal land was not, in fact, a federal project. Instead, the EPA claimed it was the duty of the LPOOC—a state-chartered agency—to ensure eco-friendly construction practices….Only when faced with EDA threats to withhold construction funding did the bureau agree to implement Park Agency recommendations to forestall further destruction.
To add fuel to the fire, a prison protest group called STOP formed in the midst all of the bureaucratic hypocrisy that was tied up with the construction of FCI. As well-meaning as the protest group was, it ultimately failed to make headway due to the fact that it was unfamiliar with the nuanced relationship the Ray Brook community had with the APA as an elitist agency. Although it understood the systemic problems of racism and classism as perpetuating incarceration, it failed to take into account how the prison itself was seen as an economic support system for poor whites that could not rely on the tourism industry as a solid source of income. Additionally, STOP’s main arguments against FCI being built were a mixed bag of misplaced understandings about the community and their own goals behind protesting the prison. They argued that building a facility with the expressed dual purpose of housing athletes and incarcerated men was incompatible with the Olympics’ overall principals of freedom and goodwill (which they were right to point out), that prisons were supposed to be built near the homes of incarcerated men (which undermined what should’ve been the protest’s group primary objective, which is to end incarceration), and that the Adirondacks was meant for recreational and tourist purposes only (which was false, since it already contained Clinton State Prison and ACI). Not only did STOP fail to keep FCI from opening, it failed to uphold its own stance, which is that incarceration is morally wrong and should be eliminated. As a result, both the state and federal prison operated primarily as economic forces in the Adirondacks which further proved that the primary reason politicians and citizens support incarceration is because it is viewed as beneficial to civilized society. ACI, which was converted to a medium-security prison in the early eighties, utilized convicted men to perform work that was essential to the functioning of Ray Brook:
Camp residents, who earned an average of $4.20 per day in the labor program jointly operated by DOCS and the DEC, refurbished churches, renovated the offices of civics groups and governmental organizations, cleared vegetation at industrial sites, cut and stacked firewood for the poor, battled forest fires, and assisted with flood control….imprisoned men became quasi-regular employees of public schools, fire departments, senior centers, libraries, sports groups, and health organizations. The region’s many low-income families, in particular, came to depend on free Christmas toys built and repaired by incarcerated men. In a region battered by poverty and unemployment, and during an era of austerity, deficits, and disinvestment in social programs, prison labor filled a gaping void for the area’s vulnerable residents.
The benefits of FCI were less impactful on Ray Brook itself, but still performed a vital function for the federal government by utilizing convicted men as cheap sources of labor:
Most men incarcerated at FCI spent their days working inside the penitentiary. While many toiled as cooks, custodians, groundskeepers, and in a slew of other unskilled positions, roughly half labored in Federal Prison Industries—also known as UNICOR—factories producing goods sold to federal agencies. Profits earned from FCI’s glove, printing, and textile plants maintained production facilities, funded salaries, and paid for education programs. UNICOR workers earned from $0.40 to $1.10 per hour, and many either remitted their pay to family or saved it for shopping in the prison commissary. In the printing plant, workers learned typesetting, photography, and publishing skills used to produce annual reports, brochures, stationery, and accounting pads. Men working in the glove and textile plants produced gloves, military uniforms, linens, canteen pouches, and ammunition cases for the Department of Defense. By the early 2000s, FCI’s UNICOR plants returned annual profits of $4 million.
Racism was another factor that played a major role in how citizens opposed prison building in their communities. In the early 1980s, the Department of Corrections wanted to repurpose a tuberculosis-hospital-turned-college-campus into a minimum-security prison in the town of Gabriels that would “incarcerate men completing sentences of twenty-four months or less and who, according to DOCS criteria, posed minimal security risks.” In order to appease affluent community members, DOCS promised to remand any unused land to the Forest Preserve and “the free use of prison crews.” Unfortunately, DOCS severely underestimated the wealthy elites’ distaste for those who did not fit the criteria (white, rich) that they deemed suitable for inhabiting Gabriels. Hall gives a good description of the more affluent members of Gabriels who saw themselves as representing the entire community:
While Gabriels served as a home, workplace, and recreational outpost, for elites its primary draw remained the wild and rugged terrain that seemed to embody the essence of the Adirondack Park. Many affluent locals also imbibed late nineteenth-century notions of the park…as an exclusive enclave for the pleasure of people like themselves. Possible incursions by the state’s primarily poor, African American and Latino incarcerated men thus alarmed residents whose understanding of nature was entwined with the idea of racial and class superiority.
It was the rich seasonal homeowners of Gabriels who believed that only privileged individuals could truly enjoy the natural splendor of the Adirondacks; they did not want their community “ruined” by poor incarcerated men of color. A protest group called Citizens Against More Prisons in the Adirondacks (CAMPA) formed and explicitly argued the point that Adirondack Park was only meant for recreation (for a select group of people) and that bringing a prison to the community of Gabriels would literally destroy the town. CAMPA was not interested in confronting the systemic issues behind incarceration or the fact that the community’s poor residents wanted the prison so that they could have full-time employment: they merely wanted to maintain the area’s privileged status as an elitist seasonal vacation community. Interestingly enough, “…members of CAMPA departed from their counterparts in Dannemora and Ray Brook in identifying incarcerated men and their dependents as specific environmental threats” (italics mine). For CAMPA members, nature could only be enjoyed by those who were privileged enough to understand its value; additionally, the literal presence of incarcerated poor Black and Brown bodies was seen as destructive to the Adirondack environment. Here are some of the vile things CAMPA members said about incarcerated men: “Opponents branded imprisoned men as “animals,” “scum,” “humanity’s trash,” “undesirables,” and “the sordid element of our generation,” among other epithets. These “blacks and Spanish speaking persons,” were, in the eyes of CAMPA members, “the dregs of New York,” and had no place in Adirondack Park.” They also made the claim that “the impoverished dependents of incarcerated men might take up residence in Gabriels and drain already scarce public funds.” As racist and mean-spirited as those comments were, Hall expresses an even more appalling truth about the affluent members of Gabriels. Many of them wrote letters of protest against the prison, but more importantly than that:
Both return addresses and writers’ own words revealed that more than half of all opposition correspondence sent to APA headquarters about the penitentiary came from seasonal property owners. Not surprisingly, many of these individuals claimed New York City and other urban centers—the hometowns of most of the state’s incarcerated men—as their primary residence….The supporters of CAMPA resisted sharing their wilderness retreat with the same individuals they deemed responsible for the urban breakdown that drove their visits to the North Country in the first place.
Many affluent members of CAMPA called New York City home—the very place where many of these incarcerated men were engaging in unlawful activities. It’s safe to say that the Adirondacks was not just a seasonal vacation spot, but a literal escape from the systemic issues that caused crime in New York City in the first place.
Ultimately, CAMPA could not stop the penitentiary from opening. The APA sided with the group, which was seen as another betrayal by working-class and poor residents who felt like the agency didn’t care about their economic well-being. However, DOCS moved ahead with building the prison even after the APA rejected the project simply because the APA had no power to stop them. Paul Smith’s College sold the campus to DOCS for $635,000 and as tradition dictated, incarcerated men were utilized to repurpose the facility for penal use. Here is a detailed description of the work convicted men did in the town of Gabriels:
For nearly three decades, imprisoned men refurbished buildings, cleaned floors, repaired furniture, and crafted handmade plaques, awards, and outdoor signage for schools, municipal facilities, businesses, and service organizations. Incarcerated workers also spent time fighting forest fires, cutting firewood, mowing grass, shoveling snow, and maintaining cemeteries. Finally, poorly paid prison labor provided a valuable lifeline for the region’s low-income homeowners, helping to install fiberglass insulation in the homes of low-income residents, harvest surplus crops from farms for area food banks, repair and craft Christmas gifts for poor children, and they donated hundreds of dollars from their meager earnings to help a struggling Little League team. Men incarcerated in Gabriels even tapped trees on the prison grounds and produced maple syrup that made its way into public school cafeterias and government offices statewide.
Although it might seem as though CAMPA is the greater threat because of its racist mentalities, the hypocrisy of prison builders cannot be underestimated. The Commissioner for DOCS, in an attempt to convince affluent Gabriels’ seasonal homeowners that allowing a prison to exist in their community was a public good, made the claim that “all New Yorkers had a duty to help solve the overcrowding crisis” while at the same time, he “blamed New York City lawmakers for enacting narcotics and sentencing laws that had caused the crisis in the first place.” Prison planners knew the laws were the problem, but their only goal was to find more spaces to house convicted men. However, in an interesting twist of events, affluent members of Gabriels—once they saw the economic value of having incarcerated men in their community—eventually made peace with the penitentiary, because it reinforced the social order: rich second homeowners enjoy nature while poor men of color help maintain it. Hall elaborates:
Through the renovating of recreational infrastructure, incarcerated workers unwittingly perpetuated elite interpretations of the Adirondack Park’s purpose and character. Both the almost-servile status of imprisoned men in the community and the type of work they performed helped reinforce elites’ sense of social dominance. For these reasons, affluent residents who were once opposed to the penal institution came to accept it and its imprisoned men as integral components of the Gabriels environment.
Due to dwindling crime and relaxed sentencing, the prison closed in July 2009 after several months of lobbying to keep the penitentiary open. This brings up an important question that best represents Gabriels in terms of how the penitentiary itself went from a potential environmental threat to a life force: “how would middle- and low-income residents have survived without the numerous lifelines that prison labor provided?”
Lyon Mountain was another North Country community where DOCS chose to house convicted men. Unlike other towns in the Adirondacks, Lyon Mountain was absolutely devastated due to the iron mining industry and was desperate for economic assistance. In 1984, DOCS opened a penitentiary that had once been a public school. However, before discussing the prison, it will be necessary to briefly recount the history of iron mining in Lyon Mountain. Once known as Rogersfield, the town contained
…veins of ore threaded amongst thousands of acres of forest; dozens of freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams; and infant rail lines primed for future expansion. Hoping to cash in on the lucrative steel market, in 1873 a consortium of investors established the Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company (COIC). In short order, the firm controlled over 100,000 acres of land in Clinton and Franklin Counties, including Rogersfield and its mineral deposits. As a vertically integrated enterprise, COIC claimed authority over local rail and water transit networks.
Lyon Mountain was essentially a corporate-owned town. Eventually, the Delaware and Hudson Railway (D&H) established majority control over COIC, which helped to upgrade and intensify iron mining in the area. As a result:
Corporate indifference to environmental and public health allowed for the growth of overcrowded, unkempt, and unsafe company towns where infectious diseases and workplace-related injuries and fatalities proved to be all too common….by 1880 northern New York produced one-quarter of the nation’s iron ore, and its Bellmont forge ranked as the world’s largest. By the time Lyon Mountain’s population peaked at 3,500 in 1887, the unsightly mining center had become a popular stop for tourists vacationing in the Adirondacks.
Another result of corporate corruption was lawlessness: “Segregated enclaves soon sprang up, fueling interethnic and racial conflicts both at work and in the hamlet’s neighborhoods. Gangs formed, the Sicilian Mafia established a foothold, and by the 1910s Lyon Mountain had a reputation as a profitable yet ungovernable community.” In 1939, after the Great Depression devastated COIC and D&H, Republic Steel became the new corporate overlords of Lyon Mountain. After a temporary boost in iron mining due to WWII, Republic Steel closed down its iron mines in Lyon Mountain in 1967:
Having furnished ores used to construct the George Washington and Golden Gate Bridges, along with scores of consumer and industrial products, Lyon Mountain’s mines succumbed to the pressures of a globalizing and increasingly consumption-oriented economy. Company executives blamed the closure on diminishing ore supplies, expanding foreign steel imports, falling prices, and rising costs.
Throughout the 1970s, Lyon Mountain struggled to find another way to function economically:
…efforts by the town board to attract other mining companies, resort developers, and enterprises ranging from wood and gun manufacturing to asphalt production failed to gain traction. Short-term employment opportunities recommended by area politicians, including temporary work at the 1967’s World’s Fair in Montreal [Lyon Mountain received international recognition when COIC received first prize for its high-quality iron ore at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago], construction of a television transmission tower atop Lyon Mountain, and the conversion (that was ultimately canceled) of the hamlet’s shuttered underground mines to air raid shelters, paled in comparison to the relative bedrock of stability that mining had provided.
To make matters worse, Lyon Mountain had an outdated, poorly-functioning sewage system that had been built cheaply by corporate leaders. Aside from the fact that the area’s environment was utterly devastated by extensive mining, the town was severely cash-strapped and had no way to fix its sewage issues: “The loss of the $60,000 in annual property taxes Republic had deposited into town coffers exacerbated the heavy burden of rebuilding infrastructure left to rot by corporate executives.” However, the silver lining to the horrible situation in Lyon Mountain is that it helped residents gain a good understanding about the negative impact of environmental indifference: “when Lyon Mountain residents were left with no functioning infrastructure in 1967, they came to better understand environmental degradation, infrastructure decay, and threats to public health as the significant legacies of corporate rule.” Therefore, when Montreal-based Vibra Resources International wanted to utilize twenty acres to store petroleum and the town board placed a very low $25,000 sale price on the land, the citizens of the community opposed it precisely because they understood the environmental risks involved in allowing their community to become a holding place for petroleum.
In 1984, the penitentiary opened after community members voted in favor of it. According to Hall, “…unlike the opening of penitentiaries at Ray Brook and Gabriels, the sale of Lyon Mountain’s school required a referendum of district voters. For the first and only time in the history of prison building in the Adirondacks, existing law afforded local residents a central role in deciding whether to allow a prison in their community.” However, the story doesn’t end there. In the early 1980s, New York’s prison industry was booming:
In 1983, the state’s correctional facilities incarcerated 30,324 residents and operated at 116 percent of capacity. With revisions to narcotics and sentencing laws not up for debate, lawmakers predicted steadily increasing prison populations far into the future. To satisfy DOCS insatiable demand for cells, legislators approved annual appropriations that ballooned from $150 million in 1971 to $550 million by 1983. In addition to the $10 million earmarked for Lyon Mountain, lawmakers allocated $100 million to build a new maximum-security prison in the Bronx designed to incarcerate 1,000 convicted men. Legislation also approved $90 million to fund the construction of medium-security annexes—each designed to incarcerate 500 convicted men—at existing maximum-security penitentiaries in Attica and Great Meadow, and at the medium-security women’s prison in Albion. In the North Country, by 1983 state prisons in Dannemora, Ray Brook, and Gabriels carried a combined annual budget of just under $49 million, held over 3,000 incarcerated men, and employed nearly 1,700 workers.
Additionally, DOCS was coming off of the high of a winning decision in a lawsuit that allowed them to use part of the Marcy State Psychiatric Center in Utica to house convicted men. Even though DOCS easily purchased the school for $322,000, two main factors caused tensions between DOCS, the APA, and the Lyon Mountain community. Firstly, DOCS had no interest in following APA recommendations for the prison building project and even suspended the agency’s review as they moved ahead with construction plans for a prison “whose footprint would extend far beyond the schoolhouse grounds….comprised of multiple new structures spread across the eleven-acre tract located in a residential neighborhood and atop protected state wetlands.” Secondly, the citizens of Lyon Mountain were generally indifferent to the penitentiary’s existence, but the promise of economic growth was much-needed for the community. However, the real hot button issue was the assumption by citizens and town board members that DOCS would help Lyon Mountain repair its sewage system:
With the hamlet’s aging and run-down sewage removal system unable to meet the needs of Lyon Mountain’s 800 full-time residents, accommodating an additional 276 users would be impossible. Accordingly, DOCS purchased a sixteen-acre property—a tract larger than the prison site—in a neighborhood south of the school to build its new sewage plant. Lyon Mountain residents hoped the prison’s plant—a state-of-the-art facility equipped with modern filtration and treatment technologies—could serve both the penitentiary and its host community. In addition, local politicians anticipated a new source of revenue could be gained by selling town water to the prison. Unfortunately for homeowners and their elected leaders, DOCS did not share their views of the prison as a vehicle for Lyon Mountain’s revitalization. The new plant would be only for the prison, its occupants, and its employees, but, situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the new facility would provide a constant reminder of Corrections’ indifference to the well-being of its beleaguered community.
The situation in Lyon Mountain is a perfect example of how New York lawmakers chose to prioritize their concerns. It is interesting how there could be no money available for Lyon Mountain to repair its insufficient sewage system, yet millions upon millions of dollars were being allocated, earmarked, and spent on penitentiaries. Lyon Mountain’s infrastructure problems were due to corporate irresponsibility and abandonment: COIC, D&H, and Republic Steel were never held accountable for the environmental and structural damage they caused to Lyon Mountain, but even worse, the town itself was so desperate for help that it saw the Department of Corrections as the solution to its infrastructural and economic problems.
Even though convicted men at Lyon Mountain were primarily encouraged to better themselves on an educational level, were given furloughs to visit family and seek employment, and were allowed to work out in the prison gym, watch television, and work in the prison’s art studios, “Half of Lyon Mountain’s 150 incarcerated men served on poorly paid labor crews.” Here are some of the jobs convicted men did in Lyon Mountain:
From the 1980s to the 2000s, incarcerated men fixed up and built playgrounds, athletic fields, fairgrounds, skating rinks, and holiday toys for low-income families; spruced up churches, libraries, public schools, fire departments, and medical facilities; landscaped and helped build other local prisons; and assisted with recycling programs, flood control, surplus crop gleaning, and post-storm debris removal.
1988, Lyon Mountain finally found a way to solve its sewage problem when the DEC invited them to participate in its Self-Help Program: “The state would help the town secure workers and building materials to construct a sustainable waterway treatment system, but the town had to find the money to build the system.” In 1990, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agreed to pay for the sewage system as long as the town built a low-income housing complex for senior citizens. However, when the prison closed in January of 2010, “…town leaders worried about tax increases once Corrections ceased paying its annual $28,000 water bill and withdrew the labor of its incarcerated men.”
Competition for prisons was another issue that developed in the 1980s in the North Country; towns began lobbying for penitentiaries to be built in their communities precisely because they believed in the fantasy of economic growth as a benefit of incarceration. Hall focuses on Tupper Lake, a town that “Between 1981 and 1992…waged five campaigns to attract a correctional facility to their community”—and ultimately failed to achieve their goal. In the nineteenth century, fur trappers operated in the area and in the early twentieth century, logging became the main source of industry. However, the primary employer of Tupper Lake was the Sunmount Veterans Administration Hospital which treated tuberculosis patients. In the mid-1960s, the hospital turned into the Sunmount Development Center and employed 700 workers. Here is the rest of Tupper Lake’s history:
By the mid-1970s, market forces and APA rules had decimated what remained of the logging industry, and tourists turned off by postindustrial blight increasingly bypassed Tupper Lake in favor of Lake Placid, driving many small businesses and homeowners into bankruptcy. With unemployment and poverty threatening the village’s future, Tupper Lake’s leaders followed other North Country communities in seeking more reliable forms of economic development.
Town leaders were so desperate to bring a penitentiary to their community that in the early 1980s, they suggested that DOCS and The Power Authority of the State of New York (PANSY) who “planned a wood-fired electrical plant to provide steam power to businesses and homeowners struggling with high energy bills” could operate in the town simultaneously: “Local politicians informed PANSY and DOCS that Tupper Lake’s ‘abundant wood supply’ would make the village an ‘excellent location’ for both institutions. Area officials also predicted that ‘the two projects [might] go hand in hand,’ noting the electrical plant could also power the prison.” During the town’s long campaign to bring a penitentiary to their community, two groups formed: the Task Force—which was dedicated to the cause of bringing incarceration to Tupper Lake—and the Tupper Lake Concerned Citizens (TLCC) who were nearly identical to CAMPA in their opposition to the presence of a penitentiary in their community:
Economic concerns figured prominently among their grievances, with critics warning of damage to property values, housing markets, tourism, and public services, TLCC also identified incarcerated men—particularly those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS—as a singular threat to environmental and public health. Opponents also feared that the families of incarcerated men—many of them low-income urban people of color—might either visit or resettle in Tupper Lake, potentially disrupting the racial and class privileges the group deemed essential components of the local environment.
And yet, the Task Force was determined to get a prison for Tupper Lake because of its staunch belief that it would save the town from economic devastation. They went so far as to commission a study that would show the economic benefits of incarceration:
The study predicted a hypothetical medium-security penitentiary designed to incarcerate 700 convicted men would infuse $62 million into the area economy during construction. Further, the report anticipated that state investment along with salaries and benefits paid to the facility’s 380 employees would generate an additional $23 million per year in economic impact. In addition, the prison could not help but spur private sector improvements that, the study argued, would include new small businesses and at least 380 new jobs.
Additionally, New York was still in the midst of a prison-funding frenzy which helped fuel the spirit of competition between North Country communities who all wanted prisons:
With New York’s fifty correctional facilities operating at 118 percent of capacity, in June 1989 legislators appropriated $887 million to build twelve new penitentiaries designed to incarcerate 7,100 convicted men. Lawmakers approved the construction of four large prisons, six smaller facilities designed to incarcerate 200 drug- and alcohol-addicted men apiece, and two penal institutions to be built in the future. With the North Country communities of Chateaugay, Champlain, Ellenburg, and Chesterfield bidding for a prison, Tupper Lake again faced competition.
The Task Force wanted a company called International Paper (IP) to sell a piece of its land to DOCS for the expressed purpose of building a penitentiary. Since IP would not sell the land directly to DOCS, “[Task Force] Members asked the Franklin County legislator for a $50,000 grant to purchase the property….in June 1989 Corrections approved a one-hundred acre parcel in the center of IP property as suitable for construction. IP officials expressed doubt over the wisdom of building a penitentiary in the middle of their forestland…but ultimately pledged to cooperate and ‘be good corporate citizens.’” However, the land failed to be purchased, and DOCS chose to build elsewhere, mainly because they were not interested in adhering to environmental recommendations. The TLCC and APA had paired up to oppose the building of a prison in Tupper Lake and since there were other communities who were not held to APA review, DOCS took its business to Chateaugay, which was located outside the state park. And yet, the Task Force refused to give up. They “…planned a hypothetical medium-security prison to incarcerate 1,000 convicted men and employ 566 workers.” However, New York State’s $1.5 billion dollar budget deficit caused them to restrict funds that went to prison building projects.
Fast-forward to January 1997; this is what the numbers for New York State’s prison industry looked like: “New York’s Correctional System incarcerated nearly 70,000 convicted men and operated at a record 130 percent of capacity. With a penal population predicted to hit 84,000 by 2002, Republican Governor George Pataki asked lawmakers for $635 million to build three new maximum-security prisons designed to incarcerate 1,500 convicted men apiece, along with adding 2,500 new cells to existing penitentiaries.” As a result, “…in July 1997, the legislature approved construction of a 750-cell maximum-security penitentiary designed to incarcerate 1,500 convicted men in Franklin County.” Task Force members assumed Tupper Lake would be the recipient of the penitentiary primarily because in 1992 the town was chosen to build an “$18 million alcohol- and substance abuse facility” after plans fell through to build at the initial site, Brasher Falls, due to its location within a Reforestation Zone. However, the project was canceled due to restricted funding. The penitentiary that was going to be built in Franklin Country was intended for incarcerated men who had engaged in unlawful activities in other penitentiaries and required special disciplinary action. TLCC came into the picture again, but rather than appeal to citizens, it dealt directly with the APA in order to stop the prison from being built in Tupper Lake. And yet, many citizens saw the prison as the only way to save the struggling town: “Without the penitentiary, project advocates feared that their village, containing ‘a Main St. with no business, houses for sale everywhere you look,’ along with ‘failed businesses, empty stores,’ and ‘for sale signs’ as far as the eye could see, might never recover. Local resident Gary Levesque put it bluntly, stating, ‘This town will die without the prison.’” And yet, what readers should take note of is the fact that this was Tupper Lake’s condition in the late 1990s. For decades, the town primarily survived due to the presence of the Sunmount Development Center and the tuberculosis hospital that existed before it. Its economic issues were tied up with deindustrialization, a lack of tourism, and the town’s struggle to understand itself as a small community inside a state park. A prison was not going to transform the town into an economic force. Once again, incarceration was seen as a solution to economic issues that the community (or the state) was not truly addressing.
Desperate to build a prison, DOCS made a risky move and began doing fieldwork on the IP property before it was officially sold. This caused a major uproar within the TLCC camp and environmentalists in general: “October 1997, officials from the Adirondack Council flew over the Tupper Lake property to inspect for possible damage from DOCS-sponsored fieldwork. The council captured photographs showing extensive grading and excavation work, including the removal of trees and vegetation.” As a result, DOCS decided to move their prison building project to Malone, sixty miles north of Tupper Lake, which would eventually open as Upstate Correctional Facility. Unfortunately, the Task Force could not let go of the dream of a prison. They planned a rally in November 1997:
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, nearly 1,500 project advocates and elected officials packed into the local high school gymnasium to send a message to leaders debating the facility’s fate. Journalists carried coverage of the event to television, radio, print, and internet outlets statewide….however, the event transformed from a well-planned show of force into a public venting session. Attendees holding anti-environmentalist placards chanted denunciations of the project’s opponents, repeating many of the claims and epithets contained in their written correspondence….the event instead became a public funeral for all the hopes of Tupper Lake that had been bound up in its bid for a prison.
Desperate to get out of the clutches of Tupper Lake, DOCS made an uncharacteristic move and sought environmental oversight they traditionally skipped in the past by claiming prison emergency overcrowding as a justifiable excuse. DEC general council Frank Bifera “noted the presence of two large aquifers adjacent to and under the [IP] site, warning that ‘there will be a significant impact on this water resource which may be needed for future potable water supplies.’ For these reasons, Bifera labeled Tupper Lake ‘both environmentally and legally problematic….’ This news did not sit well with Task Force members who seized maps supplied by the Department of the Interior and discovered that there was an aquifer near the parcel of land in Malone. Obviously, this knowledge did not stop DOCS from building the penitentiary in Malone. It is important to understand that neither the Task Force nor DOCS had any interest in the natural environment, but in this instance, they used environmentalism to suit their agendas. It is also important to understand the APA’s role in all of this: they began to collude with DOCS and the Task Force to have the prison built. So, their role was essentially counterproductive on an environmental and communal level. As a result, “With the APA, DOCS, and the Task Force arrayed against them, members of TLCC deposited their trust in better-funded and more prominent environmentalists….” They sought the help of environmental groups like the Sierra Club, who appealed to Governor Pataki—“a known advocate of environmental protection and regular park visitor”—to keep the town from acquiring a prison, but also agreed with DOCS that the prison was better suited for Malone. Again, environmentalists contradicted their own principles by suggesting the prison move from one natural site to another and missed an opportunity to oppose incarceration. In the end, Tupper Lake built a natural history museum as a way to bring in revenue. It is also worth noting that the town did not die: “…aside from a handful of small businesses, the village is as quiet today as it was before its fight to secure a penitentiary. The facility that was the area’s largest employer half a century ago, Sunmount Developmental Center, holds that title to this day.”
A Prison in the Woods is an extensive study of incarceration in the Adirondacks, but it also serves as a crucial guide for those who want to understand why the prison system is highly problematic on a social, economic, and environmental scale and needs to be abolished. Hall, having a keen understanding of the nuanced intricacies of incarceration in relation to the North Country, gives readers a deeper understanding of how the prison system impacted one particular area of New York on an historic level. Hall’s own father worked for the prison system in the North Country from 1973 to 1998; his personal experience as the son of a correctional employee played a significant role in his understanding of how the prison system operates on a psychological level. For people living in these communities, incarceration was seen as a true economic solution (prisons equal jobs). This is the main reason why incarceration exists to this day: “Despite the system-wide contractions of the 2000s and early 2010s, corrections remains one of the region’s largest employers and plays a significant role in the local economy. Many area towns and villages still depend on poorly-paid incarcerated men completing vital conservation, public works, and infrastructure projects.” Although Hall explains that both Democrats and Republicans support prison reform, both parties are vehemently against closing prisons: “With thousands of local families dependent on the jobs penitentiaries provide, elected officials attuned to their constituents must defend what remains of the Adirondack prisonland for as long as possible.” This leads to another reason why the prison system is difficult to dismantle: it serves as a fill-in for social programs that would help low-income families function in an economy that is weighted in favor of professionalism, a problem that has been in existence since the 1970s. More importantly, since economics are still tied up with incarceration—which is not an actual solution to economic problems—the issue of how to restructure society is still the primary concern. Racism is another factor in regards to incarceration specifically because in order to justify the presence of penitentiaries, there have to be laws that convict citizens, and the most convenient citizens to convict are poor men of color. As a result, systemic racism is still at the core of society’s problems. To deal with social inequality and racism is to effectively deal with incarceration by eliminating the need for it.
At the end of the book, Hall addresses the fact that one of the biggest problems with incarceration in the Adirondacks is that environmentalists and wealthy affluent community members seek to hide the area’s dual identity as the birthplace and ongoing advocate of conservation and also as a home of mass incarceration. He gives a good description of one of the few pieces of public recognition of the history of incarceration in the North Country:
…the only public memorial to North Country prison history may be found in a tile mosaic entitled Clinton County History through the Eyes of its Children installed at the Clinton County Government Center in Plattsburgh in 2009….Included among these are depictions of incarcerated miners at Clinton State Prison. While a lovely piece of public art, this portion of the mosaic raises more questions than it answers. First, details included in the written description accompanying the mosaic lack context important for understanding the conditions under which prison mine work was performed. Second, the focus on penitentiary-based mining obscures the plethora of jobs Clinton County imprisoned men have performed—and continue to perform—in areas far removed from the prison grounds. Third, without a more robust and detailed explanation of the work being performed, observers—whether local or from out of town—might assume men wearing the stereotypical black-and-white striped prison uniform represent a relic of the region’s past. Indeed, they might also believe incarcerated men only performed mining work, leaving the region’s development largely in the hands of free labor.
Hall suggests a better solution to memorializing the convicted men who played such a vital role in the functioning of Adirondack communities: “…a network of prominently displayed roadside plaques marking sites of incarcerated labor, current and former correctional facilities, and places where penitentiary advocates and opponents waged war would be an important first step toward recognizing the immense environmental legacies created by New York’s Adirondack prisonland.” Hall said it best when he explained that the Adirondacks is a place where incarcerated men served as the literal lifeblood of the communities that housed them: “the North Country environment is, in large measure, the product of poorly paid imprisoned workers….it is also the result of criminal justice policies whose impacts disproportionately harmed communities of color in New York and beyond. Without the war on drugs and crime waged at the state and federal levels in the last quarter of the twentieth century, Clinton Correctional Facility might have remained the Adirondacks’ only penitentiary.” Mass incarceration in New York is the direct result of the Rockefeller drug laws and the Second Felony Offender Act that were implemented specifically to convict men of color. This truth cannot be understated: racism played a huge factor in how the prison system evolved in the last part of the twentieth century. Additionally, those who opposed prisons in their communities approached it primarily from a racist platform while those in favor of prison building used the promise of solid full-time employment and economic revitalization as their main arguments. In reality, the prisons in these communities did not cause them to decline due to the presence of convicted men of color, but it also did not provide the kind of economic growth that was anticipated. In fact, in a few cases, the prisons eventually closed down, which proves that penitentiaries are not necessarily the beacons of economic stability that proponents of them claim they are.
However, it is also necessary to explain that in many cases, citizens had no control over whether or not a prison was going to be built in their community, which is another problem entirely. In the example of Ray Brook, in 1989 the Concerned Citizens of Ray Brook (CCRB)—which formed in 1983 in an attempt to block a “$2.7 million, 150-bed minimum-security prison camp—along the lines of Camp Adirondack—[to be built] on a parcel of undeveloped federal land” that ultimately failed due to a $200 billion federal budget deficit—effectively helped to stop another attempt by the BOP to build a third penitentiary in their community in 1990 by writing letters to their congressman who promised to block it in Congress. According to Hall, “CCRB interpreted its victory as a sign that ‘representative democracy really works.’” Although this seems like a meager victory considering the fact that for the most part prison builders had unlimited power in terms of where prisons could be built, it signals something more important, which is that citizens do not have much power when it comes to dealing with social issues in the United States. This directly relates to incarceration in the sense that citizens have never really been given a chance to take charge of their communities in such a way that would allow them the opportunity to be confronted with social inequality and racism so that they can process them as real systemic issues and deal with them appropriately. Instead, they have had to rely on the prison system to unsuccessfully “deal” with social problems through conviction and punishment which keeps them from effectively confronting it and handling it on a communal level.
Even though racism was an extensive problem in the North Country, affluent members who fueled most of the racist mentalities were escaping urban areas where racism was already a major issue. But in truth, racism was also already an issue in the Adirondacks because it was seen as a place for primarily white privileged individuals to enjoy nature free of the presence of poor people of color. However, it is still worth pointing out that communities—whether urban or rural—are without the power to actually care for their own economic and social needs and are utterly reliant on governments at the state and federal level to provide support. This is another reason why incarceration persists: state and federal governments still believe it is a good idea to convict, house, and punish poor men of color. Therefore, these communities have no choice but to handle their own economic issues in makeshift ways while also taking on the burden of incarceration. As Hall points out, incarceration is tied up with environmentalism because it forever changes the nature of the land in which the prisons exist upon and also points to the hypocrisy of affluent citizens’ conception of nature as a place that is only accessible to those who are not just privileged enough to enjoy it, but who are legally free. As a result, they try to gloss over the reality that the Adirondacks is a place for natural recreation and imprisonment or ignore the presence of incarceration in their towns altogether. Convicted men in the North Country do not get to enjoy nature the way citizens do, although that was one of the arguments reformers historically pointed to as a reason to build prisons in the North Country: the fresh air and pristine environment would help rehabilitate them. However, when convicted men are expected to toil in that nature in order to keep it sustainable for free citizens to enjoy, it is hard to see how the environment could play any real factor in rehabilitation. Real rehabilitation starts by restructuring social systems nationwide and permanently abolishing incarceration.
October 17, 2022