There is little shine on the Texas star tonight if you read Texas Tough: The Rise Of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson. While Americans are baffled by the Texas State Board of Education’s rampaging rewrite of evolution and American history, it is evident that Texas in general has a long history of rewriting and denial, none more shocking than how they continue to work racial discrimination and criminal justice to the satisfaction of the dominant white population.
There is no justification or explaining away this awful story. It began in slavery and subjugation and continues now through incarceration and subjugation. The pain and degradation and continual killing by the state we don’t like to consider part of our history, but it is.
It is tempting to say that every member of the Texas State Board of Education and all other state appointees, every legislator in Texas, and every political operative looking for clients in Texas should read this book, but that goal would never be achieved. Instead I say if you are planing to attend school or work or retire to Texas, read the book first. You may not want to be there.
In 1996 when David Oshinsky wrote “Worse Than Slavery”: Parchman Farm And The Ordeal Of Jim Crow Justice I thought I could not be more blasted by American injustice; however, Perkinson has bested him in placing Texas history into the larger flow of American history. In this flow we find that none of us have anything to brag about. Criminal justice has never delivered what it promised. When it has delivered, it has been paybacks to opportunistic politicians and control fanatics.
If my remarks seem harsh to you, read the book and then tell me what you think. At best neither you nor I can do more than rail about the problem. We can not live without criminal justice and we don’t know how to live with it. It’s hard to civilly share ideas. If a partial solution was proposed and we uncharacteristically agreed to give it a trial, we probably could not afford it.
We know what Bessie, Ella, and Johnny sang, but what are the lyrics to our “Jail-House Blues”? Charles Marlin