Sunday, August 31, 2008

Come On Down...To Jail

You can tell you’re in the Bible Belt when you see more churches than Starbucks

Down here (West Texas) there are more prisons than Starbucks

- from the movie `Life Of David Gale'

A group I’m involved with, the Real Change Organizing Project, has recently taken up the cause of not building a new prison in Seattle. Projections that the county made for estimated prison population is about 4,000 people short but the city wants to build a new prison anyway.

I’ve always felt the worse thing about prisons is that the powers-that-be always find a way to fill them. Prison population in this country went from 19,000 in 1980 to 251,200 in 1999 no doubt in large part to the countries ill-advised war on drugs.

But it wasn’t until recent years, when I stopped writing just about sports and took a shot at more real world stuff, that I discovered the whole concept of privatizing prisons. Prisons just like wars and TV news has become nothing more than a way to make money. And that means more prisoners. Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, is involved in prisons.

Sometimes it’s hard to find who actually owns your neighborhood prison. A Seattle paper is using the Freedom of Information Act to find out who’s building the new Seattle prison. When I did a google search, ``who’s building Seattle prisons,’’ I couldn’t get anything.

However, I did stumble across one of the great Internet rumors which is that former Price Is Right game show host and Happy Gilmour star Bob Barker, owns 90% of the prisons and makes $3,000 on every prisoner. If you don’t watch game shows this is the guy who’s always yelling for people to ``come on down.’’ Insert your own joke about Bob Barker greeting prisoners here.

It turns out that Bob Barker Company of Fuquay-Varina, N.C. is in fact American’s leading detention supplier (and we all thank them for that). But this Bob Barker has nothing to do with game shows. It’s actually a family run business that started with plumbing and now even provides the telephones at the prison in Minneapolis.

Nevertheless, there are people who still believe that TV’s Bob Barker, who also tells people to neuter their pets, runs our nation’s prison system. It makes for a good blog posting but I’ve always felt that the really ridiculous conspiracy theories just get in the way of those that have some truth to them. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A tie to the past

Recently I attended a Boston Red Sox game against the Mariners at Seattle's Safeco Field. The first Red Sox game I attended was at Fenway Park in Boston, September 18, 1967. The Red Sox beat the New York Yankees that day, 9-1. Mickey Mantle played in that game. So did Jim Bouton, who wrote ``Ball Four,'' one of the best sports' books ever. I enjoy telling Red Sox fans I meet that I probably saw my first game before they were born. I'm usually right.
I'm one of those nerdy fans they talked about on ESPN after Boston won the World Series in 2004. People who thought about parents and grandparents who had long since passed away having never seen the Red Sox win a world championship. My parents weren't huge fans but my dad took me to my first game and many others after that. My mother didn't know a lot about baseball but Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski was her favorite player. She called him Carly. And I often think of the words of former Red Sox relief pitcher Mike Myers (one of the most obscure players on the team) who said ``when a New Englander finds out you were on the 2004 Red Sox they don't say congratulations they say thank you.''
So it's hard for me to scoff at Seattle Sonic fans who feel a void now that they've lost their team. For me, following the Red Sox (and other Boston teams) 3,000 miles away is a tie to home and to the past.
The Red Sox beat the Mariners, 6-3, in 12 innings. There were loads of Boston fans on hand. Many were born after 1967. It wasn't Fenway Park and Carl Yastrzemski didn't play but you can't beat a day at the ballpark.