The Order of Things

Here comes a very nice blog post on change, ideology, security, and if you wish, Foucault. The difference between 1972 and now is that this song was proposed and also allowed be sung at Ossining, New York.

(I doubt any prison in the US would allow that refrain to be sung now; I am not sure it was kind to sing those depressing verses; this performance seems dated to me; Baez is so maternal, I want to wince.)

When the song came out I thought it had come too late.  It was sentimental, stylized, commercial, I thought, a commodity; it seemed like something a museum shop might fashion in the style of the previous decade. But it is we who are late now.


A few years after that song came out I declined the opportunity to visit San Quentin, but did visit a prisoner in the city of Rio de Janeiro. His leg had exploded under the electric shocks because he had a metal plate in it due to an earlier accident.

He was in a cage with an exploded leg when the priest walked by. The diocese was contacted, as were the civil authorities and the family. They lived in a different South American country. Could I go and see him?

I was allowed in the prison on the basis of showing identification. We had no background check, we were barely searched, and we brought food in. It is much more difficult to visit a prisoner in the United States.


I need to visit a prisoner and I have been putting it off. It costs some money — mileage, canteen food for two or three, a gift perhaps so they can buy aspirin and thing. It is a long, interesting but also sad day, and I have done it before. But the reason I am putting it off is the pressure.

I  will refuse multiple requests for small, yet time consuming errands (please go through all the telephone books in my parish and find my cousin…), and listen politely to a large dose of not quite applicable fatherly advice. Conversation with this prisoner is all too much like  conversation with a department chair.


Nonetheless I think you, too, should sponsor a prisoner, or their wife or child. Realize what it costs to accept a phone call from a prison what it costs to visit and how difficult that is if you go by bus, and that life in prison is not free — a lot of basic things like xeroxing cost money, just as they do elsewhere.

About 4% of Louisiana adults are incarceratedour rate of incarceration is the highest in the nation. If you think of the impact that has on families, and you realize that these people are poor, and you then look at exactly how poor you must be to qualify for any kind of aid, you can see that this is a real need.


2 thoughts on “The Order of Things

  1. I know she was and is sincere but there was snark then — you remember the National Lampoon’s parody that started “George Jackson was the name / his blood flows like a flame,” right? And the reaction I talk about in this post was my reaction to hearing the song when it was brand new … although I am of course a hyper critical type.

    I am simultaneously amazed that people don’t know about the prison situation, and that those who do, romanticize and idealize as much as they do. This is where so many of my doubts and ambivalence come in.

    And what I am really complaining about is, I was involved in some political groups and what it has devolved into is, I am more or less interpellated into the role of ersatz family member for this particular prisoner, out of kindness really, which I don’t mind except that charity wasn’t what I signed up for and it also because it means dealing with this guy who is an interesting person but who really expects errand running from women as so many Louisiana men do!

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