Shane Bauer's Undercover Reporting from Inside a Private Prison, Ep. 262

By NYPL Staff
April 21, 2019


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When he went undercover as a prison guard in Winnifield, Louisiana's Winn Correctional Center, journalist Shane Bauer exposed the brutality of for-profit private prison systems and this country's history of outsourcing criminal punishment. His book, American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, recently won NYPL's 2019 Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism.

Bauer is an award-winning investigative journalist at Mother Jones and the recipient of the National Magazine Award for Best Reporting and Harvard's Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, among others. Together with Sarah Shourd and Joshua Fattal, Bauer is the co-author of a memoir, A Sliver of Light, which details his time spent as a prisoner in Iran.

In this conversation with Aidan Flax-Clark, Bauer discusses writing American Prison, the dangers of private prisons in the U.S., and his personal difficulties balancing his identities as a prison guard and reporter.



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>> You're listening to Library Talk from the New York Public Library. I'm your host Aidan Flax-Clark. Every year the library gives a prize to a working journalist for a new book. It's called the Bernstein Award, and this year the winner of that award is Shane Bauer for his book, American Prison. Shane is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, and in 2015, he went undercover as a guard at the Winn Correctional Center, which is a private prison in Louisiana. He spent four months there and reported on what he saw in a long article for Mother Jones. And then he turned it into the book, American Prison, which combines the story in Mother Jones with a history of private prisons in America. In addition to winning the Bernstein Award, American Prison was also on the New York Times Best Books of 2018 list and President Obama listed it on his favorite books of last year. The finalists for the Bernstein Award are selected by a small group of library staff, and I happen to be one of the people on that group, and I loved American Prison. I thought it was amazing. So when I got the chance to talk to Shane Bauer about it, I was thrilled. We talked about the story behind his reporting, about how it became so personal for him, and what the dangers of private prisons in this country really are. Here's our conversation. So Shane, thanks for being on the Podcast today.

>> Thanks for having me.

>> I want to start by asking you about American Prison, which is your chronicle of working undercover as a guard in a private prison in Louisiana for four months. What were you hoping that your reporting would uncover?

>> Well, I wanted to investigate the kind of role of profit in private prisons. I wanted to see how that manifested and in the kind of day-to-day life inside the prison. I was particularly thinking about the conditions for prisoners, but when I was there I also quickly realized that the problem affected the life of guards as well. So I guess I was just kind of going there with a pretty open mind, and I was hoping that I would have time and I would be there for a while. So I just wanted to kind of really soak in as much as I could. And I had been reporting on prisons for a few years at that point and was, like any reporter who writes about prisons, was kind of constantly frustrated with how difficult it was to get access. And I knew that that access was even more difficult for private prisons. We can't even get kind of often basic records about what happens in these prisons, even though we have laws that allow us to access certain records from public prisons, these laws often don't apply for corporate-run prisons because these are not public institutions. So I wanted to kind of immerse myself to really get at that information that was really being kind of kept away from the public.

>> And you mentioned the profit motive, which is, of course, the big thing that distinguishes the private prison from the rest of the correctional facilities in the country. What was interesting about that to you? Why did you want to chase that? What did you think was there?

>> Well, I mean I think on the surface for people that don't know about private prisons, it's always surprising to learn that we have prisons in this country that are essentially traded on the New York Stock Exchange, that are holding people for profit. I knew that the way that these prisons made a profit was by essentially running prisons more cheaply, and I knew from reading some court cases and stuff that this often ended up resulting in worse conditions in prisons because the companies were under pressure to cut corners basically. So that meant lowering wages, offering lower wages for staff. It often meant having less staff, which I had seen court cases that were alleging that prisons were more violent as a result. There are many, many cases involving worse healthcare in private prisons. And I saw that for myself in the prison. I met a man who had lost his legs and fingers to gangrene because the prison wouldn't send him out to a hospital. And part of the reason is that they have to pay for this. If they send somebody to the hospital, they had to foot the bill. So there's just so much incentive against providing a minimum level of care, which I will say barely exists in public prisons. The goal that I'm trying to kind of put forward is not let's just go to our public prison model, because conditions in those prisons are also abysmal. We hold so many people in prisons in this country, over two million people, that it's very difficult, if not impossible to kind of have a kind of humane system because it's just so expensive.

>> You mentioned that the records of private prisons are obfuscated or just totally impossible to find, which is, of course, I'm sure why you felt the need to go undercover. Is that right?

>> Yea, exactly.

>> And when you went under cover, how long did you imagine that you were going to be in there for?

>> You know I didn't have a plan. I mean the whole thing, to be honest, caught me a little bit off guard. I had the idea to apply for the job and I didn't think it was ever going to work. I just filled out an application on the corporate website. I didn't lie on the application. I put my current employer, which was Mother Jones magazine, and it was kind of a shot in the dark. And within a couple of weeks I was doing interviews with various prisons and was getting offers. So it all happened very quickly and I was suddenly essentially moving to Louisiana for the foreseeable future and I didn't know whether I would be found out quickly. I had no idea what was going to happen. So it was all just kind of just taking it step by step. And I just basically decided I would stay there as long as I needed to to feel like I really had a good sense of what was happening in the prison.

>> And in preparation for going under cover, what kind of legal and ethical issues did you and Mother Jones have to explore to prepare?

>> As far as ethics, one ground rule from the very beginning was I wouldn't lie ever. So me and my editors agreed that I wouldn't have to necessarily put forward information that I didn't want to, but I would never say something that's not true. So like when I was in the prison, I wasn't going around to the guards saying, hey I'm a journalist. But if somebody asked me if I was a journalist, I would've said yes. But that never happened.

>> Were you worried that somebody would?

>> Yea. I mean when I started getting the requests for interviews, I was like, okay how am I ever going to pass this step because they're, of course, going to ask me about my job history and things like that. But they just never did. They didn't ask about my job history. They didn't ask why I wanted to work in a prison. It just never came up. So once I had those offers, then we started really to get into the legal questions. We had a lawyer look closely at what the legal risks were and made sure that I wasn't breaking any laws and that we weren't kind of setting ourselves up for lawsuits, which also aside from the ethical component, me not lying was also protecting us from any claims of fraud, for example. Ethical questions kind of just came up a lot through the process. For me, being a guard, just itself, there were always ethical questions around that. As a part of the company, I was locking people up day after day. I sent people to the isolation unit for drugs, which is not something that I ultimately really think is justifiable. So those are things I wrestled with on a daily basis. So there were the set of kind of journalistic ethics questions, and then there were the questions around just participating in a system that was just very clearly inhumane.

>> As far as going under cover, as I understand it, there aren't like undercover rules that all magazines and newspapers adhere to, right? It's kind of like they're sort of institutional rules and then personal guidelines? Is that right?

>> Yea, I mean there were some pointer had written some guidelines at one point about what was the threshold for when a story is worth going under cover for or you can ethically kind of consider going under cover for. The situation differs so much. And all the times that journalists have gone under cover in history that you kind of do have to in some ways come up with your own set of rules. I've done of couple of undercover projects and I've come up against different questions in both of them. And one that I think is particularly tricky is how to deal with the fact that you're writing about people who don't know you're writing about them. And the institution is one thing. The corporation is one thing, but I'm writing about people who are either being imprisoned or people who work for this company. And I felt, even for the guards that I worked with, I felt certainly some responsibility towards them. So I made sure that I protected their identities. I wouldn't kind of hang out with them outside of work. I felt like getting into their personal lives was kind of a line that just didn't feel right to cross. And after I left the job, I reached out to all of them and told them that I was a journalist and asked if they wanted to do kind of a more formal-type of interview. And some did.

>> And so I assume that they all also gave their permission at least. Or do they have to? I'm not even sure.

>> No, well, so what I basically reached out to them. I told them I was a journalist. And I asked if they wanted to do an interview, and also how they felt about me disclosing their identities. Some people agreed for me to use their names, so I did. And if people either didn't respond or said no, then I, I would still write about them, but I protected their identity.

>> I wanted to ask you about how before you went to work as a guard in Winn Correctional Center, you were held prisoner in Iran for 26 months, is that right?

>> Right.

>> And you were arrested while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan. You got too close to the border.

>> Yea.

>> And Iranian authorities arrested you and can you talk about where you were taken?

>> Yea. So I was actually living in Damascus, Syria at the time. I was working as a free-lancer. I would sometimes travel to Iraq and report and also other countries. And at this particular time, I was not on a reporting trip. I was on a trip with some friends. And when we were detained, we were taken to Evin Prison in Tehran. It's kind of the central prison in Iran. I had actually been arrested a number of times in the Middle East. As a journalist, it's not uncommon, but it was always a short thing, usually last a few hours. One time it lasted overnight. And I assumed this would be the same kind of thing.

>> What else had you been arrested for?

>> Taking pictures. Going around asking questions. It's more kind of being detained and questioned, and the police kind of asking what I'm doing. And I think in the Middle East in some ways the role of a journalist is seen as very close to the role of a spy. Or they just didn't like journalists. Generally, if you're in a country, you get a journalist visa and you have a minder with you at all times, and I generally tried to avoid that, which meant that I was not often in the capacity that I was supposed to be in as far as the authorities were concerned. I didn't want to have some authority figure walking around with me while I'm trying to interview people. So that would get me into trouble sometimes, but it was never that big of a deal. So in Iran I thought, okay, maybe this is going to last a week. It was a particularly bad situation. We had been arrested on a border. I had never been to Iran before. Iran and the U.S. did not have good relations, but it turn out that way obviously. We were interrogated for a couple of months. We were kept in solitary confinement, and I didn't go to trial until two years in, at which point I was convicted of espionage and illegal entry and sentenced to eight years in prison. I went through a sort of a sham trial where they said that I was the head of a Israeli conspiracy against Iran, and I was backing some Kurdish insurgents and things like that. And after our trial a couple of months later we were suddenly released.

>> This is really similar to the Jason Rezaian book that came out this year. I don't know if you read that, but he was --

>> Yea, yea. I mean in Iran, there really have been -- it's kind of a revolving door. Right before I got out, there was another American that was detained who spent two or three years in prison. Jason was not that long after. There's usually an American being held in a similar situation. I think maybe our case got more attention than most because we were not dual citizens. Most of the Americans detained in Iran are Iranian-Americans, and Iran considers any Iranian, even if they weren't born there, to be an Iranian citizen. So we were somewhat of a unique case, but Jason's experience is very similar to ours.

>> You in the book describe being in solitary confinement as an eternity that I will never erase from my psyche. And can you talk about what that eternity was like day to day in Evin Prison.

>> I get asked to describe this often and it's one of the most difficult things to describe. It's just your whole being is about pushing against time and surviving time. You immediately realize how social of an animal you are, and you panic. I mean, when I first was put in solitary confinement, I completely panicked and broke down. Just the thought of not being able to interact with the person that was being trapped with myself in a room for who knows how long was terrifying. And then once I passed that stage I kind of would basically just spend my days trying to stay sane and get through the day, and come up with ways that I could not get sucked into a sort of black hole of despair. And there's this kind of dead state that is very easy to get into when you're in solitary confinement where you just check out and try to sleep as much as you can and just try to not be conscious because when you're conscious you're just in your own head. And you're battling your own demons and you don't have stimulation. So I would just do anything I could. I was getting oranges in my meals, and instead of eating them, save them so I could juggle and just compete with myself with how many times I could juggle before dropping an orange. At one point, I got a dictionary and it had a Morse Code chart, so I memorized the Morse Code and would try to beep out sentences as a way to just keep my mind together.

>> Was that the only book that you had?

>> Well I was in solitary for four months, so it changed over time. At first, I had nothing in my cell, then I had a dictionary, then I think a couple of months in my interrogator gave me Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, which changed everything. Having a book of poetry, when you're in a situation like that, is the best thing you can have. You can read it endlessly. I would memorize poems. I would recite poems in Morse Code. And in some ways I would never want to be in that situation again, but in some ways, it gave me an opportunity that I never had before. I had never got inside of a poem the way that I did in that situation.

>> So you talk about how after coming out of prison in Iran, something about American prisons were an anchor for you. Can you explain what that means?

>> Yea. I had been in prison for two years. I was very isolated in those two years, and when I got out, it was a really difficult adjustment. Of course, every day that I was in prison I dreamed of getting out, and then when it happens very immediately I felt like my brain was overloaded, and I actually felt like it wasn't working right. I had a hard time remembering things. I had a hard time making choices, just basic choices like what I wanted to eat in a restaurant. I also had a lot of anxiety around other people. I had different types of anxiety when I was alone. I was really angry, and I felt like I was damaged psychologically. I guess when I got out, I happen to get out at a time that there was a major hunger strike happening in California prisons. There were reports at one point that 30,000 people were involved, and they were protesting the use of long term solitary confinement. So I kind of followed this after I got out and months later, maybe six or seven months after I got out, I was starting to feel ready to kind of get back into my work. I'd assumed I would go back to the Middle East, but I wanted to kind of take it a little bit into this question of long term solitary. I started to write to men who had been in solitary confinement for more than 10 years. I don't remember how many I was writing, but I was writing and receiving letters every day and I told them about my story and asked them to tell me about their experiences and why they were in solitary. In some ways communicating with these people helped me kind of make sense of my situation in a strange way. Also just knowing that people had been in for 10 years or 20 or 30 years, where I had just been away for two years, it really put my situation in perspective. But I think there was another aspect to the experience that I think is common for people who come out of prison, especially people have been wrongfully imprisoned where people often will adjust or find meaning in their experience by somehow fighting against the system that hurt them. And this is not just true for prison. And in my case, I'd been in a prison in Iran. It was very different, but it felt similar in a way that I'd come back to this country where we have more people in prison than anywhere in the world by far. And so kind of keep engaging with that felt really meaningful and it felt like it was in some ways maybe making those years that I lost worthwhile. And I knew that I had an understanding that a lot of people who were in our prisons didn't, and that completely informs my work.

>> So you say at the beginning of the book that you're convinced that our prison system will actually be one of the main factors that defines our whole current era. I'm curious, especially heard everything you just described about your experience, and how that fit into your writing, I'm curious to hear what you mean by that?

>> I mean we're at an unprecedented point in world history here in this country where as far as the number of people that we have in prison. That in and of itself, and this is relatively new, the numbers that we're dealing with now have only existed in the last few decades. So I think we have this kind of vast world here in the United States of people who are locked up that we don't really as a society, or at least a large part of our society, does not know about or does not pay attention to. And I also think that we have not reckoned with what this problem comes from and what this system comes from, and the legacy of slavery, the direct line that exists between slavery and our prison system. In some ways that legacy is still playing out in a very direct way, and I hope that at some point we're going to realize that, and we're going to be looking back on this time we were in collected denial about this kind of horrible abuse that we're perpetuating as a society.

>> I want to ask you a few questions about what it was like on the job inside the Winn Correctional Center. And you talk about trying hard to appear loose and unafraid around both the inmates and your co-workers, but you were hiding so much, everything from your reason for being there, or if you weren't hiding it it wasn't coming up, the recording gear that you were sneaking in every day. Did maintaining those levels of -- I don't want to call it deception because I know you were very keen on not lying, but let's say obfuscation, did that take a toll on you over time? Or did you find that it actually got easier?

>> You know, in a way both I guess. It took a toll in some ways because I was just so isolated. I couldn't really have friends there. I tried to hang out with some people who I had met at a local bar, but it just always felt weird even though they weren't people I worked with or anything, I couldn't really tell them that much about myself. It's hard to have a real friendship with anybody if you're not telling them who you are. My friends were far away. They were in California and couldn't really understand on the day to day what I was dealing with. So I felt like I was kind of shouldering a lot of that on my own. I guess on the other side it became easier because I guess I just felt like the more I was there the less I was really thinking of -- it was less in the forefront of my mind that I was there as an undercover journalist. I just felt more like a guy who was just kind of going to work and dealing with this crazy environment just like everyone else was. So I didn't feel so unique after a while. I was just another person in that prison. But I did struggle with -- I'd always wished at times that I could tell the prisoners what I was doing. I was getting into conflicts with prisoners all the time. I was for them another guard.

>> And you wanted to let them know that you were on their side or more on their side than they thought.

>> Yea, or at least let them know what I was doing, so that they would kind of understand while I was there. But I felt that would not have been a smart thing to do. It would have been way too risky.

>> Right. That's actually the next thing I wanted to ask you about. And specifically your complicated relationship with power that you had while you were there. And you write so compellingly on this. You have on the one hand this need, like you were saying, to be convincing as a guard, which requires projecting a certain amount of power and on the other hand, as you were saying, there were aspects of that that were sort of like deeply uncomfortable and probably like totally in opposition your beliefs. And then you also write about how there's this third hand for you that having been in prison and having similar power-wielded over you and knowing what that's like, that's a whole other level of difficulty and complication. And I'm just wondering if you can talk about how that internal debate played out both in your work and in your head.

>> Yea. It was really schizophrenic at times. I felt like -- one it made me see pretty quickly that I had a disconnect between kind of my thoughts and my views on something and then kind of how I behaved in that environment. And I was critical of the prison system going in, critical of private prisons going in, was kind of expecting that I was going to find some level of -- I don't know what you'd call it -- abuses or something. The conditions probably wouldn't be great. I understood in my mind why prisoners were lashing out at me when they were not able to go to their GED classes because there wasn't enough staff, or why they were angry that I was sitting in front of their cell when they were on suicide watch, just staring at them for 12 hours a day. But having that kind of perspective doesn't travel very far when you're stuck in a situation and there's a person in front of you that you feel like is a threat. So there's kind of like a physical-type reaction to being in that environment and trying to figure out how to navigate that environment and survive in that environment. That was his own logic, and that was when I was in the prison was definitely the most dominant mind for me. I went in thinking I'll just be an easygoing guard and that will allow me to be there and observe what's happening. I'll just try to stay out of people's way, and everything should be fine, but I learned really quickly that everyone in prison, whether you're a prisoner or a guard has to draw some line, and when you draw that line you have to hold it. Otherwise you just can get eaten up. People feel like they can push you around and --

>> And from either side it sounds like. Like you can get manipulated by the inmates and just as much by the guards, depending on which direction you move around the line.

>> Yea. And the whole environment is so psychological. People often ask if I felt like I feared for my life, and yea, there were times that I questioned, it came to my mind, or at least I was often afraid of being physically injured. But I don't know if I actually was. It's just that there's so much fronting. So I also had to do that. But then fronting very quickly becomes real. You act a certain way enough and you kind of become that way. Part of the dynamic that I was dealing with too is that I was really trying to kind of treat people individually and help people. For example, somebody would need to see a corrections counselor, which is somebody whose kind of job it is to help them with their daily needs or classes or whatever, kind of things beyond what regular guards would deal with. And the correctional counselor often just didn't want to see anybody. So I was trying to pressure her to see certain prisoners, trying to help these individual people, but I was working in a unit with 350 prisoners, and there was one other guard on the floor. So it was impossible for me to do that and it was exhausting. And then I would say no to certain prisoners, and then they would get really angry with me, and I would be engaged in some kind of battle with them. Then I would go home and feel guilty because I wrote somebody up for something. And I realized that I just had to kind of shut that place down, and I did that. It was kind of like flipping a switch, which is actually kind of what they tell us to do in training. They are always saying treat everybody the same. They're always kind of trying to plant this idea that people are manipulating us in our minds. Once I kind of just decided that I am going to treat everyone the same and I'm not going to kind of put myself out for anybody and not feel guilty, then the job became a lot easier. And I saw other guards going through this too. Guards would start and I don't think there was anybody who I met there who like had some sadistic motive for being a guard. They needed jobs and it was a $9 an hour job. They're just desperate for work, and when people would start on the job, I would see some of them kind of really trying to be as good to people as they could in that role. And some people would not be willing to kind of harden in the way that you need to really do the job, and they would quit. Or they would harden and some of them would go completely the other side and just become tyrants.

>> And once you started treating everyone the same and exerting power to whatever degree you did, did you find that you liked it?

>> I mean it's hard to know what -- the feeling that comes from that, whether you can say it's something you like. In some ways I would say yes. I mean there was this like thrill I got out of that sense of power, but it was always kind of -- it wasn't joyful in any way. It was kind of -- if I liked it, it was in a kind of sadistic way I guess.

>> Like a drug?

>> Yea, yea.

>> And did you worry -- it sounds like you did, but did you worry that these issues were getting in the way of your reporting at certain points?

>> They were in the way that my energy was more and more tied up in all of these kind of battles and the web of power that I was trying to navigate in the prison, and figuring out -- I was constantly trying to figure out what the line is between being kind of authoritarian and being humane or just human. And I never quite found it in that time. And going into the job, I decided that I was going to do the job the way it was supposed to be done. I was there as a journalist, and I wanted at some point to kind of write about the experience of a guard. And I also didn't want the company to be able to say, hey look, look at what this guy did. He was sabotaging us or something you know. And they actually offered me a promotion pretty quickly, but so in making that decision to do the job the way that it was supposed to be done, it put me in a place where I was at odds with a lot of people. I was at odds with prisoners and also to some extent other guards. These guards were making $9 an hour. The moral was very low. Almost nobody did the duties they were supposed to do because they just knew they weren't going to get fired, and they were resentful towards the company. You know, why should I every half hour do security checks, walking up and down these dorms when the company's just giving me nine bucks an hour. So I was going in saying, okay I'm going to do this job the way it's supposed to be done, but I also couldn't stand out too much amongst the guards because then all the guards would hate me because then I would be making them look bad and making them have to do things they didn't want to do.

>> So a promotion is bad news, or potentially bad news.

>> Yea, or at least kind of being the guy who was like, okay it's been a half hour, let's get up out of our chairs and go check on these prisoners again.

>> Right. The hall monitor.

>> Yea.

>> Do you ever think what it would have done to you if you had stayed under cover for a longer in Winn if you were there for like a year or two years?

>> Yea. I mean that was a question I was asking myself while I was there towards the end because it was so clear that it was affecting me psychologically. I think that the longer I would have stayed there, the more potential damage it would have done. You know, there was also an element to it that even though I was doing the same job as everyone else, there was something that was very different, which was that I could leave at any point. And it's much more complicated for other people who are there. They're scraping by. For them to leave that job, they probably don't have enough money to last another couple of weeks before they can find another job. So for me, it was just kind of like, oh, do I still feel like doing this, not like it's my life and my family's life kind of depend on this decision, which made it easier in a lot of ways, and I think less taxing on me than other people. But this experience on a personal level really showed me that I think I had an idea of this kind of core self that is unchanging, and I don't believe that anymore. I think the idea of the self if really dependent on our environment, and I think that maybe that voice inside of me that was kind of this critic of the system would have become less pronounced. And I think I would have become much focused on just the kind of daily situation I'm in. And that's a very different approach to life if you're looking at a situation like what are the kind of root causes of these problems versus who is this asshole that was giving me a hard time at work yesterday that I need to handle this morning.

>> Do you find that this lack of permanence in a self to be more unnerving or more comforting.

>> I mean, I think it's unnerving on some level. When we started the job, we had to take a personality test. It was a pretty simplified personality test where people are basically broken down into four different colors. And they told us -- so one of the colors I think was gold, and that was the kind of people that are rule-oriented. The kind of more authoritarian type of personality. And they told us that people's colors often shifted while they worked there. That their personalities would become gold even if they didn't start that way. And that was something that was unnerving to me. At the same time, I think it just made me realize that I needed to pay attention to that my environment was and how important having a community is and the places that I put myself really matter to me. They really affect who I am and who I become.

>> So I just have one last question if that all right? Now that the book has been out for a while and hopefully some of the people who are in it have read it, what have you heard from them about what you said?

>> I haven't actually heard from anyone after the book has come out, but I did hear from people around the article. And some of the guards I heard from and they really liked it. I mostly actually heard from people who was in touch before the article came out and a lot of people were -- they had found out that I was there before I published the article. They had found out that I was a reporter, I mean. And people were really excited about the fact that I was writing about what was happening there, both prisoners and guards that I was in touch with. One of the guards that I worked with, the main guy that I worked with, Dave Bakel [phonetic], when I was in the prison actually said to me at one point, I wish that an investigative reporter would come in and investigate this place.

>> If only you knew.

>> Yea. So he was really excited about it. But I don't know about the book in particular. I don't know who's read it. I'm not sure, but the feedback that I did get was overall positive.

>> So you heard from guards. Did you hear from any inmates, any who have been released or -- I can't imagine they'd be able to read it in the correctional center?

>> I met a prisoner before the article came out, a guy who I write about, who I call in the book Corner Store. When I was there he was actually supposed to be released, and he qualified essentially for an early release based on good behavior. But he was convicted of a sex crime, and in Louisiana, you can only be released if you have an address. For early release, he had to have an address to go to, and he'd been in prison so long that he really didn't have anyone on the outside. And the prison was not prioritizing placing him in a kind of half-way house. So he stayed another year. After I left, he got out. So I did go back to Louisiana and meet him after he had been released and spent a day with him. He claims that people knew that I was up to something. I don't know if I believe him, but he said, you were always writing in that notebook. People noticed, which is true. I had a notebook in my pocket and would jot things down in it and stuff like that. And people did, you know, prisoners would say to me fairly often, like there's something different about you. They couldn't figure out what it was. Some people thought I was like trying to - because I was asking them questions, and some people thought I was just trying to feel people out because I wanted to sell drugs and was trying to broach the topic, but couldn't quite get to it. But, yea, he said that they were --

>> I suppose they're on to you now anyway. Do you mind if I ask you one other question? So there's a lot made about how criminal justice reform is one of these issues that crosses the political aisle, and it's a source of hope for the uniting of the right and left. But there was an article I read in The Nation last year that was talking about how on the conservative and particularly libertarian side of this issue, there's a fear that what's really going on is just even more privatization. And that the sort of issues with profit motive that you talked about earlier pose potential dangers when it comes to things like obviously correctional facilities, but also rehabilitation programs. And I'm just curious, given what you've seen about the issues around profit motives in private prisons, what's your take on that? Do you think that those kinds of dangers are real?

>> Yea, I mean, first I want to be clear that I think the profit motive is one of many problems in our criminal justice system. I wouldn't say that profit motive is a driver of an issue like mass incarceration. It's more a symptom of it. But it is a particularly bad one. And I don't think it should have any place in the criminal justice system. It's really hard to find any good that comes out of it. The prisons, private prisons are worse on almost every metric. The Department of Justice has done studies that's found them to be more violent, to have worse healthcare. I don't think that problem is reformable because the whole reason for these for-profit institutions to exist in the criminal justice system is that they save money to the government and to the taxpayer. And their reason for existing is to make money themselves. So the profit margin is very small. Once these problems would be addressed of security or of medical care, those problems cost money to fix. If those problems are fixed, then the whole reason for these companies to exist is gone because they're no longer saving money and they're no longer making money.

>> All right, Shane. Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

>> Thank you.