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Kite Line- May 5, 2017: Commissary


For prisons to function smoothly and profitably, the major tools of
control – violence, surveillance, separation – must be complimented by a
host of less obvious instruments and technologies. These include
censorship in the mail room, the cultivation of racial tension,
integration of prisoner labor into facility maintenance, cafeteria
operations, and private contracting, among many others. This week on
Kite Line, we go in depth on another of these minor but vitally
important aspects of the prison: commissary, the private market run by
prisons to sell products to prisoners. We include research projects and
interviews with current and ex-prisoners that demonstrate how commissary
is vital for supplementing inadequate diets, protecting social status,
maintaining communication with the free world, and – from the
perspective of prison administrators – racking up enormous profits.

One of the people we interview in this episode reflects on how prison
distorts your sense of proportion. Suddenly minor variables can
translate into life-or-death stakes, which is the best summary we’ve
heard of the role of commissary.

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