Sep
07
Inside Security Prison: Everyone Looks Like Us, People Of Color | The Beat With Ari Melber | MSNBC


>>>NOW WE TURN TO A VERY>>>NOW WE TURN TO A VERY IMPORTANT STORY AND A NEW IMPORTANT STORY AND A NEW EXCLUSIVE SERIES. EXCLUSIVE SERIES. JUSTICE FOR ALL WHERE “NBC JUSTICE FOR ALL WHERE “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR LESTER HOLT NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR LESTER HOLT EXPLORES SOME OF THE MOST EXPLORES SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES FACING CRIMINAL IMPORTANT ISSUES FACING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM INCLUDING STORIES JUSTICE REFORM INCLUDING STORIES OF THE WRONGFULLY ACCUSED, OF THE WRONGFULLY ACCUSED, EXPLORING HOW MASS INCARCERATION EXPLORING HOW MASS INCARCERATION WORKS IN AMERICA TODAY AND WORKS IN AMERICA TODAY AND JUSTICE AT LARGE. JUSTICE AT LARGE. LESTER WENT AND EMBEDDED IN THE LESTER WENT AND EMBEDDED IN THE LARGEST MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON LARGEST MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON IN THE U.S. SPENDING TWO NIGHTS IN THE U.S. SPENDING TWO NIGHTS IN A CELL AT THE ANGOLA, IN A CELL AT THE ANGOLA, LOUISIANA, STATE PENITENTIARY. LOUISIANA, STATE PENITENTIARY.>>Reporter: ANGOLA, OR THE>>Reporter: ANGOLA, OR THE LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY, IS LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY, IS A FORMER SLAVE PLANTATION. A FORMER SLAVE PLANTATION. I SPENT THREE DAYS HERE. I SPENT THREE DAYS HERE. ON THE INSIDE MY ACCESS WAS ON THE INSIDE MY ACCESS WAS VIRTUALLY UNRESTRICTED AND AT VIRTUALLY UNRESTRICTED AND AT TIMES I WAS NOT IN THE IMMEDIATE TIMES I WAS NOT IN THE IMMEDIATE SIGHT OF OFFICERS. SIGHT OF OFFICERS. VERY FEW OF THE ROUGHLY 6,000 VERY FEW OF THE ROUGHLY 6,000 INMATES HERE LIVE BEHIND BARS AS INMATES HERE LIVE BEHIND BARS AS WE TRADITIONALLY THINK OF WE TRADITIONALLY THINK OF PRISONS. PRISONS. IN FACT, MOST OF THEM, ABOUT IN FACT, MOST OF THEM, ABOUT 80%, LIVE IN OPEN DORMS LIKE 80%, LIVE IN OPEN DORMS LIKE THIS, BUNK BETS LIKE YOU WOULD THIS, BUNK BETS LIKE YOU WOULD SEE IN A BARRACKS. SEE IN A BARRACKS.>>WE GOING TO GO DOWN THE TIER>>WE GOING TO GO DOWN THE TIER HERE. HERE.>>BUT FOR SECURITY REASONS I>>BUT FOR SECURITY REASONS I WON’T BE STAYING IN A DORM. WON’T BE STAYING IN A DORM. INSTEAD, I’M BROUGHT TO THIS INSTEAD, I’M BROUGHT TO THIS CELL BLOCK RESERVED FOR HIGH CELL BLOCK RESERVED FOR HIGH RISK OFFENDERS. RISK OFFENDERS. IN MY CASE, A HIGH PROFILE IN MY CASE, A HIGH PROFILE GUEST. GUEST.>>CELL 121.>>CELL 121. GO AHEAD AND CLOSE. GO AHEAD AND CLOSE.>>AS JOURNALISTS WE KNOW THAT>>AS JOURNALISTS WE KNOW THAT TO GET TO THE HEART OF SOMETHING TO GET TO THE HEART OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO GET INSIDE OF IT. YOU HAVE TO GET INSIDE OF IT. THE CLOSER YOU ARE TO SOMETHING THE CLOSER YOU ARE TO SOMETHING THE MORE IT IS REVEALED TO YOU. THE MORE IT IS REVEALED TO YOU.>>AND WE ARE THRILLED TO BE>>AND WE ARE THRILLED TO BE JOINED RIGHT NOW BY LESTER HOLT, JOINED RIGHT NOW BY LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR OF “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS.” ANCHOR OF “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS.” THANKS SO MUCH FOR MAKING TIME THANKS SO MUCH FOR MAKING TIME FOR US. FOR US.>>SURE, ARI.>>SURE, ARI. HAPPY TO BE HERE. HAPPY TO BE HERE.>>WHAT WAS IMPORTANT TO YOU>>WHAT WAS IMPORTANT TO YOU ABOUT REPORTING THE STORY THIS ABOUT REPORTING THE STORY THIS WAY? WAY? AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN ON THE AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN ON THE INSIDE? INSIDE?>>WELL, IT’S A STORY THAT’S>>WELL, IT’S A STORY THAT’S TYPICALLY TOLD FROM THE OUTSIDE TYPICALLY TOLD FROM THE OUTSIDE IN AND WE SIMPLY REVERSED IT. IN AND WE SIMPLY REVERSED IT. I WANTED TO TELL IT FROM THE I WANTED TO TELL IT FROM THE INSIDE OUT AND HAVE INTIMATE INSIDE OUT AND HAVE INTIMATE CONVERSATIONS WITH THESE GUYS, CONVERSATIONS WITH THESE GUYS, AND TO DO THAT WE USED AND TO DO THAT WE USED TECHNIQUES LIKE NO ARTIFICIAL TECHNIQUES LIKE NO ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING AND THE CAMERAS WERE LIGHTING AND THE CAMERAS WERE KEPT QUITE FAR BACK BUT WE KEPT QUITE FAR BACK BUT WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND THIS ISSUE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND THIS ISSUE OF MASS INCARCERATION AND HOW OF MASS INCARCERATION AND HOW DIFFERENT STATES AND DIFFERENT DIFFERENT STATES AND DIFFERENT PRISONS ARE TRYING TO MAKE IT PRISONS ARE TRYING TO MAKE IT BETTER. BETTER. HERE THEY’VE GOT, YOU KNOW, SOME HERE THEY’VE GOT, YOU KNOW, SOME PROGRAMS THEY HAVE ADDED AND PROGRAMS THEY HAVE ADDED AND THEY’RE TRYING TO GIVE REASON THEY’RE TRYING TO GIVE REASON FOR HOPE IN A PLACE WHERE FOR HOPE IN A PLACE WHERE THERE’S NOT A LOT OF IT. THERE’S NOT A LOT OF IT. A LOT OF THESE GUYS ARE THERE ON A LOT OF THESE GUYS ARE THERE ON LIFE SENTENCES WITHOUT THE LIFE SENTENCES WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE. POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE.>>ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK YOU>>ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK YOU AND I KNOW FROM INTERVIEWING AND I KNOW FROM INTERVIEWING PEOPLE IS NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU PEOPLE IS NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU LISTEN, AN INTERVIEW IS AN LISTEN, AN INTERVIEW IS AN ARTIFICIALLY CONSTRUCTED SET OF ARTIFICIALLY CONSTRUCTED SET OF TIME. TIME. YOU SPENT MORE TIME THERE. YOU SPENT MORE TIME THERE. DID YOU PICK UP ANYTHING IN THE DID YOU PICK UP ANYTHING IN THE MOOD, IN THE ENVIRONMENT, IN THE MOOD, IN THE ENVIRONMENT, IN THE HOPELESSNESS THAT SOME PEOPLE HOPELESSNESS THAT SOME PEOPLE FEEL IN THIS TYPE OF SYSTEM? FEEL IN THIS TYPE OF SYSTEM?>>YEAH.>>YEAH. I THINK I WENT IN WITH A SENSE I THINK I WENT IN WITH A SENSE THAT THIS WOULD BE FILLED WITH THAT THIS WOULD BE FILLED WITH BITTER PEOPLE. BITTER PEOPLE. THEIR LIVES HIT A DEAD END WITH THEIR LIVES HIT A DEAD END WITH CHOICES THEY MADE. CHOICES THEY MADE. WHAT I FOUND WAS A LOT OF WHAT I FOUND WAS A LOT OF THOUGHTFUL INDIVIDUALS. THOUGHTFUL INDIVIDUALS. YOU’VE BEEN IN A LOT OF PRISONS YOU’VE BEEN IN A LOT OF PRISONS AND TALKED TO A LOT OF INMATES. AND TALKED TO A LOT OF INMATES. YOU KNOW SOMETIMES THEY’LL TELL YOU KNOW SOMETIMES THEY’LL TELL YOU WHAT THEY THINK YOU WANT TO YOU WHAT THEY THINK YOU WANT TO HEAR OR WHAT MAY BE TO THEIR HEAR OR WHAT MAY BE TO THEIR ADVANTAGE SO THERE WERE MOMENTS ADVANTAGE SO THERE WERE MOMENTS I SIMPLY DIDN’T KNOW IF I WAS I SIMPLY DIDN’T KNOW IF I WAS BEING CONNED BUT I SPOKE TO BEING CONNED BUT I SPOKE TO ENOUGH OF THESE GUYS TO GET THIS ENOUGH OF THESE GUYS TO GET THIS SENSE OF THEY’RE LOOKING FOR SENSE OF THEY’RE LOOKING FOR SOME FORM OF REDEMPTION. SOME FORM OF REDEMPTION. MANY OF THEM, I SAID, DO YOU MANY OF THEM, I SAID, DO YOU DESERVE PAROLE? DESERVE PAROLE? I DON’T DESERVE PAROLE. I DON’T DESERVE PAROLE. I WOULD LIKE TO BE RELEASED. I WOULD LIKE TO BE RELEASED. THEY ARE COMING TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEY ARE COMING TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR CRIMES. THEIR CRIMES. THEY LOOK YOU IN THE EYE AND THEY LOOK YOU IN THE EYE AND SAY, LOOK, IN SOME CASES I’M IN SAY, LOOK, IN SOME CASES I’M IN PRISON FOR SOMETHING I DID WHEN PRISON FOR SOMETHING I DID WHEN I WAS 15, I’M 45, I’M 50. I WAS 15, I’M 45, I’M 50. THAT GETS TO THAT QUESTION, WHAT THAT GETS TO THAT QUESTION, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT VIOLENT OFFENDERS DO WE DO ABOUT VIOLENT OFFENDERS BUT THOSE WHO MAY NOT — MAY NO BUT THOSE WHO MAY NOT — MAY NO LONGER POSE A THREAT TO SOCIETY? LONGER POSE A THREAT TO SOCIETY?>>THE OTHER FAULT LINE HERE IS>>THE OTHER FAULT LINE HERE IS RACE AND THE WAY THE SYSTEM HAS RACE AND THE WAY THE SYSTEM HAS WORKED IN RACIALLY DISPARATE AND WORKED IN RACIALLY DISPARATE AND SOMETIMES RACIST WAYS OVER THE SOMETIMES RACIST WAYS OVER THE DECADES. DECADES. IT HAS GOTTEN A LITTLE MORE IT HAS GOTTEN A LITTLE MORE ATTENTION LATELY. ATTENTION LATELY. I WONDER WHAT YOU THINK IN I WONDER WHAT YOU THINK IN LOOKING AT THAT AND THE WAY THAT LOOKING AT THAT AND THE WAY THAT PUNITIVE JUSTICE IS HANDED OUT. PUNITIVE JUSTICE IS HANDED OUT.>>YEAH.>>YEAH.>>GO AHEAD.>>GO AHEAD.>>YOU CAN’T ESCAPE THE LEGACY>>YOU CAN’T ESCAPE THE LEGACY AND, YOU KNOW, BRIGHTER MINDS AND, YOU KNOW, BRIGHTER MINDS HAVE LOOKED INTO THIS ISSUE OF HAVE LOOKED INTO THIS ISSUE OF THE LINE FROM SLAVERY IN THIS THE LINE FROM SLAVERY IN THIS COUNTRY INTO OUR — HOW OUR COUNTRY INTO OUR — HOW OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM HAS CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM HAS TURNED OUT. TURNED OUT. I WILL TELL YOU ANECDOTALLY THAT I WILL TELL YOU ANECDOTALLY THAT ANGOLA IS A FARM AND THIS IS ANGOLA IS A FARM AND THIS IS HARD LABOR. HARD LABOR. ONE OF THE JOBS THERE IS TO GO ONE OF THE JOBS THERE IS TO GO OUT IN THE FIELDS AND PICK OUT IN THE FIELDS AND PICK PRODUCE. PRODUCE. I WENT OUT ON A TRACTOR WITH I WENT OUT ON A TRACTOR WITH INMATES AND WE WERE PICKING INMATES AND WE WERE PICKING CARROTS AND I LOOKED AROUND AND CARROTS AND I LOOKED AROUND AND I SAID TO THEM, I SAID, I SAID TO THEM, I SAID, EVERYBODY LOOKS LIKE US, MEANING EVERYBODY LOOKS LIKE US, MEANING PEOPLE OF COLOR. PEOPLE OF COLOR. AND WE WERE BEING UNDER THE AND WE WERE BEING UNDER THE WATCHFUL EYE OF GUARDS WITH GUNS WATCHFUL EYE OF GUARDS WITH GUNS ON HORSEBACKS. ON HORSEBACKS. THE IMAGERY, IT CERTAINLY WASN’T THE IMAGERY, IT CERTAINLY WASN’T LOST ON ME. LOST ON ME. AND I TALKED TO PRISON OFFICIALS AND I TALKED TO PRISON OFFICIALS ABOUT THAT. ABOUT THAT. YOU KNOW, THEY MAKE THE YOU KNOW, THEY MAKE THE ARGUMENT, LOOK, THESE GUYS ARE ARGUMENT, LOOK, THESE GUYS ARE GETTING PAID, ALBEIT PENNIES PER GETTING PAID, ALBEIT PENNIES PER HOUR BUT THE FOOD IS CONSUMED AT HOUR BUT THE FOOD IS CONSUMED AT THE PRISON AND THAT VIRTUALLY THE PRISON AND THAT VIRTUALLY ANY PIECE OF FARM LAND IN ANY PIECE OF FARM LAND IN LOUISIANA WAS AT ONE TIME A LOUISIANA WAS AT ONE TIME A PLANTATION AS THIS WAS BUT, YOU PLANTATION AS THIS WAS BUT, YOU KNOW, I COULDN’T ESCAPE THAT KNOW, I COULDN’T ESCAPE THAT STARK IMAGERY AND THE HISTORY WE STARK IMAGERY AND THE HISTORY WE KNOW IN THAT PART OF THE KNOW IN THAT PART OF THE COUNTRY. COUNTRY.>>THAT’S VERY STRIKING.>>THAT’S VERY STRIKING. THE LAST THING I WANTED TO ASK THE LAST THING I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT WAS IN YOUR WORK ON YOU ABOUT WAS IN YOUR WORK ON THIS AND IN YOUR WRITING ABOUT THIS AND IN YOUR WRITING ABOUT IT YOU TOUCH ON HOW IN THE ROLE IT YOU TOUCH ON HOW IN THE ROLE OF A JOURNALIST YOU’VE OBSERVED OF A JOURNALIST YOU’VE OBSERVED ACTUAL EXECUTIONS. ACTUAL EXECUTIONS. THAT’S NOT SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE THAT’S NOT SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE SEE WITH THEIR OWN EYES OUTSIDE SEE WITH THEIR OWN EYES OUTSIDE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OR PEOPLE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OR PEOPLE CAUGHT UP IN THOSE SITUATIONS. CAUGHT UP IN THOSE SITUATIONS. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT? WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT? HOW DO YOU TAKE THAT TO TELLING HOW DO YOU TAKE THAT TO TELLING THIS STORY TO AMERICANS AS WE DO THIS STORY TO AMERICANS AS WE DO DEBATE HOW WE DO JUSTICE. DEBATE HOW WE DO JUSTICE.>>THAT WAS BACK IN THE ’90s I>>THAT WAS BACK IN THE ’90s I WAS A WITNESS, A MEDIA WITNESS WAS A WITNESS, A MEDIA WITNESS WHICH THEY HAD IN AN EXECUTION. WHICH THEY HAD IN AN EXECUTION. IT WAS A LETHAL INJECTION. IT WAS A LETHAL INJECTION. I ALWAYS REMEMBER IN THIS, YOU I ALWAYS REMEMBER IN THIS, YOU KNOW, KIND OF A CHILLY BLOCK KNOW, KIND OF A CHILLY BLOCK HOUSE, I CALL IT BLOCK HOUSE, IT HOUSE, I CALL IT BLOCK HOUSE, IT WAS BRICK, THE CURTAIN OPENS UP. WAS BRICK, THE CURTAIN OPENS UP. THERE IS THE INMATE ALL WIRED UP THERE IS THE INMATE ALL WIRED UP AND THE WARDEN AND HE HAS A AND THE WARDEN AND HE HAS A HEADSET ON. HEADSET ON. IT’S ALL VERY OFFICIAL. IT’S ALL VERY OFFICIAL. I REMEMBER THIS MOMENT OF I REMEMBER THIS MOMENT OF WANTING TO STAND UP, WAIT A WANTING TO STAND UP, WAIT A SECOND. SECOND. WHAT ARE WE ABOUT TO DO HERE? WHAT ARE WE ABOUT TO DO HERE? I SAY THAT NOT AS GIVING YOU MY I SAY THAT NOT AS GIVING YOU MY OPINION ONE WAY OR THE OTHER ON OPINION ONE WAY OR THE OTHER ON DEATH PENALTY, BUT IT MADE ME DEATH PENALTY, BUT IT MADE ME THINK ABOUT HOW WE ADMINISTER THINK ABOUT HOW WE ADMINISTER JUSTICE AND WHAT DO WE GET FOR JUSTICE AND WHAT DO WE GET FOR IT? IT? BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, HE WAS BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, HE WAS EXECUTED THAT DAY FOR, BY THE EXECUTED THAT DAY FOR, BY THE WAY, A HORRIBLE CRIME. WAY, A HORRIBLE CRIME. IS THE WORLD ANY SAFER? IS THE WORLD ANY SAFER? WHAT DID WE GET FOR IT AS A WHAT DID WE GET FOR IT AS A SOCIETY? SOCIETY? THAT KIND OF STARTED THOSE THAT KIND OF STARTED THOSE THOUGHTS WHICH I DIDN’T REALLY THOUGHTS WHICH I DIDN’T REALLY PLAY DOWN ON UNTIL LATER NOW PLAY DOWN ON UNTIL LATER NOW THAT IT’S A TOPIC THAT PEOPLE THAT IT’S A TOPIC THAT PEOPLE REALLY SEEM READY TO DISCUSS AND REALLY SEEM READY TO DISCUSS AND IT’S GOT BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR IT’S GOT BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR THE CONVERSATION. THE CONVERSATION. BUT CERTAINLY YOU CAN WITNESS BUT CERTAINLY YOU CAN WITNESS SOMETHING LIKE THAT AND NOT HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THAT AND NOT HAVE IT SHAPE HOW YOU VIEW THE IT SHAPE HOW YOU VIEW THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.>>ABSOLUTELY.>>ABSOLUTELY. IT IS A FASCINATING WAY THAT IT IS A FASCINATING WAY THAT YOU’RE APPROACHING THE STORY SO YOU’RE APPROACHING THE STORY SO YOU’RE KNOWN TO ALL OF OUR