State Repression

The American prison system is the haunted house of tomorrow

By Jeva Lange, The Week

If you believe the stories — and I’m not entirely sure I don’t — America is very, very, very haunted.

We have haunted houses and haunted hotels, haunted courthouses and haunted cemeteries, haunted theaters, haunted restaurants, haunted bridges, haunted boats, and even entire haunted towns. Colin Dickey, author of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, points out an obvious reason this country’s dead are so unsettled: “There’s precious little land in the United States that hasn’t been contested, one way or another, through the years,” he writes, alluding to the genocide of the continent’s Indigenous peoples, a skeleton in our national closet. “Americans live on haunted land because we have no other choice.”

But if ghost-infested suburbia is a phantasmic reflection of our nation’s historic sins, another Halloween trope reflects an ongoing evil: the haunted prison.

Whether it’s the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, or Alcatraz in San Francisco, every old, still-standing prison seems to have enough ghost stories to fill an entire season of TV for the Travel Channel. The reason is simple: These facilities were notorious for brutal and inhumane treatment of their inmates.

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