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Class War For Idiots / Dispatch / December 3, 2009
By Yasha Levine


Article originally published by Vice magazine

Prospects have never been good for ex-cons. Even during good economic times they hover between 50 and 75 percent unemployment, and generally take home about nine grand a year. No wonder 70 percent of them wind up violating their parole and getting back in the slammer. Now, with unemployment rates hitting levels unseen since the Great Depression, we might just make it to 100 percent recidivism.

So criminals stay in jail, you say. Easy come easy go, right? Well, consider the recent federal court ruling forcing California to release 40,000 prisoners—a quarter of its total prison population—in the next two years because the state can no longer afford to properly house its inmates. Out here they went pack rat on the population, stuffing cells with so many bodies that they violated prisoners’ basic constitutional rights and led to at least one death a day.

But California isn’t alone in this. States all across the nation are starting to purge their warehouses by the tens of thousands, adding to the 700,000 people already being regularly released from state and federal penitentiaries every year. So we’re talking about millions of dudes flooding the job market, all of them guaranteed to strike out. Forget about integrating into society, how the hell are they going to get food? Short answer: By jacking your shit.

The whole situation is a bubbling, pustulous neck boil just waiting to splatter all over our cheap economic recovery linens. States are slashing prison populations because they have no money, only to find prisoners being sent right back because they, too, are broke. It is an intractable problem. And it throws a whole different light on the dumb thugs and petty criminals I read about in the local paper every day. Like this one:

VICTORVILLE • A man held a family of four hostage threatening to harm them with a gun Wednesday morning as he tried to get away from law enforcement officials after he attacked his girlfriend, officials said.

San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Victorville station deputies quickly arrested the man and no one in the home was harmed, Karen Hunt, spokeswoman for the Victorville station, said. No gun was found.

Roland Sanders, 35, of Adelanto, went to his girlfriend’s home in the 15600 block of Yucca Avenue at about 6 a.m. One of the victim’s roommates called 911 to report Sanders was threatening and attacking the victim and accusing her of cheating on him.

Sanders got out of the van refused to comply with [Deputy] Mooradian’s orders and ran away, officials said

Neighbors told deputies Sanders ran into a home and that the family was still inside including several small children, she said. They also reported they heard Sanders threaten the family with a gun.

Sanders, who had been previously arrested for battery, was arrested for domestic abuse, false imprisonment, burglary, evading officers, domestic abuse and for an outstanding parole warrant. He is being held at West Valley Detention Center.

Now the question is this: Did Sanders beat up on his girlfriend and hold her family hostage just because he thought she was fucking his buddy? And did he really mean to beat her up? It’s a technical, but nonetheless important distinction. Because if Sanders had an ulterior motive for opening a 40oz can of whoopass on those suckas, namely, to use it as an excuse to get back on prison welfare, he should definitely not be eligible for incarceration. It wouldn’t be fair to the genuine, truly needy criminals out there. Though, impostor criminals like Sanders do deserve to be slapped with a nice, hefty fine for engaging in conspiracy to commit fraud.

Last week, I acted on a tip from a reader and a friend of mine and cruised on over to the dry banks of the Mojave River on the edge of Victorville, looking for a  tent city that had supposedly sprung up there not too long ago. The rumors turned out to be true, although it’d be hard to label the handful of raggedy tents sticking out from behind a row of tall bushes a “city.” It was more like a tent encampment, which is redundant, but accurate.

This was rock bottom, folks. Life in a tent in the shadow of a landfill on the outskirts of a dying subprime suburb on the edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles east of Los Angeles is maybe about as far down as a man can fall. At least on this continent. Two years ago, Victorville was the second-fastest growing city in America catering to the lowest-income homebuyers banks could find. Now, two years later, it’s quickly turning into a 21st century ghetto: an isolated outpost of cheap, abandoned housing, no jobs, high school dropout rates of 50 percent and rising, and absolutely nothing at all to do besides speed.

I got to the hobo outpost Tuesday at mid-afternoon only to find it all but deserted. Everybody was either out looking for work or actually at work except for two guys hanging out in a truck. One of them was a Latino guy named Robert with faded prison tats running up his arm. I half-expected him to give me another of those “I had a mortgage, a car, and a job, then I realized I was just a paycheck away from homelessness” sob stories you always read in news reports about tent cities, but his tale was way more simple and stark. Basically, he’d gotten out of jail a few months earlier, couldn’t find work and wound up as a desert hobo who nearly froze to death every night (it drops below zero degrees after sunset this time of year). His only saving grace at this point was a girlfriend with a minimum-wage job who gave him food and a daily ration of cigarettes and helped keep him warm at night.

“I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to live like this out in the cold,” he told me, ”I’ll probably be going in soon. At least on the inside I’m not dependent on anyone. There I got a place—food and lodging. Out here, I got nothing.”

This guy was actually thinking of breaking his parole just so he could be sent back to jail. And don’t mistake this for some Shawshank Redemption-like “I can’t make it on the outside,” pity-poor-me talk. While he was telling me this, Robert was level-headed and matter-of-fact. To him it was a completely pragmatic decision, like some middle-class schmo weighing whether or not to uproot your family to take a better-paying job. You know we live in an insane, fucked-up country when an ex-convict feels better living in a concrete box under 24-hour surveillance than he does as a “free” man. I wonder what the Founding Fathers would have to say about that.


Article originally published by Vice magazine.

Yasha Levine is a mobile home inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at]


Add your own

  • 1. mikey  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  • 2. captain america  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    legalizing drugs would go a long way towards fixing this. or at least, it would have. might be too late now.

  • 3. Necronomic Justice  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    @2 “legalizing drugs would go a long way towards fixing this. or at least, it would have. might be too late now.”

    Legalized drugs is going to get some one like Robert three hots and a cot, with out going back in, how?

  • 4. Metallica  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    If you legalize drugs, the corporations will take over the one industry where ex-cons can make a good living.

  • 5. az  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Is there going to be more article? I feel kinda ripped off reading to what appeared to be the middle and then seeing a hasty conclusion and the comments section.

  • 6. coldequation  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Here’s another tent city that would solve the problem, built at a cost of less than $50 per prisoner.

  • 7. Necronomic Justice  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    @6 The best part about the Maricopa County Jail is that some day Joe Arpaio will get shanked to fuck while doing time there.

  • 8. gyges  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    In your pic … what is the name of the font the chap uses?

  • 9. Tam  |  December 4th, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Much as I loathe the American ‘Who gives a fuck?’ attitude towards welfare, shithole shanty towns seem to be a growth industry at the moment even in Europe where we have a bit more of a safety net. Check out this dump in Madrid.

  • 10. z  |  December 4th, 2009 at 2:20 am

    If anybody still denies that America is a capitalist oligarchy armed with a punitive state, or – God forbid – dares to call this fuckin system a free market or something like that, well I’m liable to do something that will get me to prison too….

  • 11. bl4nd  |  December 4th, 2009 at 2:38 am

    Nice Font , photoshop to win !!!

  • 12. ádraig Ó Buth Chanain  |  December 4th, 2009 at 4:31 am

    “legalizing drugs would go a long way towards fixing this”

    Your masters treat you like shit, and all you can think about is getting high. Pathetic fucking slaves: you deserve your fate.

  • 13. Expat in BY  |  December 4th, 2009 at 4:48 am

    I think the Founding Father phrase you are looking for at the end of the article is from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” But odd as it may seem, the phrase probably more aptly applies to American society as a whole than the person at the end of their road seeking to go back to jail (who has neither security or liberty, and is just trying for one of the two).

  • 14. Tulsatime  |  December 4th, 2009 at 5:48 am

    Hey Yasha- When did you make the move up from MkManzion to Mobilhome, or is that a type slip? Keep up the news from the desert, it really is a barometer of sorts. Is the drpepper/pepsico plant still on the books? It really ought to get crazy when CA goes bust.

  • 15. JoeSchmo  |  December 4th, 2009 at 6:13 am

    The USA is neither an insane nor a fucked up country. It’s an evil country, just like every other one.

  • 16. Necronomic Justice  |  December 4th, 2009 at 7:06 am

    @14 Unless Yasha knows something that is not public knowledge I would say that the Victorville Dr.Pepper/Snapple plant should start up it’s distribution operation sometime this month, and start actual production (is fucking up water to make soda really productive?) sometime in April.


  • 17. Fissile  |  December 4th, 2009 at 7:26 am

    The criminal “justice” system’s main function is to provide corporate America with an ever increasing number of untouchables that can be hired at slave wages. With computerization and tamper-proof ID, it becomes impossible for someone who made a mistake to start over, even if they truly wanted to. The only kind of work that most felons can find is day labor, or temp work. It becomes impossible to rent an apartment, or get credit. If such a person does manage to get a job that pays a living wage, they live with the fear of having a sword of Damocles(felony conviction) hanging over their heads. A weapon their employer can use against at will. Welcome to Gulag America.

  • 18. brian  |  December 4th, 2009 at 8:27 am

    outsource the running of prisons to the chinese
    move them to china
    china will keep them gainfully busy producing consumer goods for the US

  • 19. captain america  |  December 4th, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    for what it’s worth, i hate drugs. i just don’t see the point in ruining some poor schmuck’s life over a little using or even dealing. i figure you legalize drugs, you incarcerate fewer people, thus creating fewer hapless ex-cons. although, like i said, it might be too late by now with the millions of guys we’ve already got who are doomed to spend life cycling in and out of prison.

    i thought my anti-drug war sentiments would get more love here. what kind of leftists are you people, anyway?

  • 20. adolphhitler  |  December 4th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    @19…you got my vote captain

  • 21. Necronomic Justice  |  December 4th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    @19 I see your point now, I was just a bit slow on thinking it out that far.

    Drug criminalization does keep the prison industrial complex on the road of expansion, so I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

  • 22. Peter  |  December 5th, 2009 at 2:43 am

    Thanks for your story. Well written.

  • 23. Ken  |  December 5th, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Dear 12. They’ve already legalized drugs in the world. The curtain call was the Afganistan War. No one bothered to ask why the military was so effective against Taliban v1.0, yet so ineffecive against Taliban v2.0 . . . The reason was that Taliban v2.0 were drug runners. It’s no small coincidence that the Heroin trade grew from nothing under Taliban v1.0 to the 3rd largest cash industry in the world under Taliban v2.0 and US ‘occupation’ . . . Furthermore, since there are no Afgan banks to put the dirty money into, that dirty money was deposited in western banks at a time that they needed cash to recover from their stupid derivitives investments. otherwise our spinless politicians would have had to substantially increase their bailout efforts. A crime already of monsterous proportions. Welcome to David Kay Johnstones ‘Free Lunch’ come to life.

  • 24. Dyk Cheney  |  December 5th, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    @14 –

    Yeah, Yasha, explain this: “Yasha Levine is a mobile home inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled.” A few of us thought you were safely enclosed in that stucco and chicken wire that passes for housing in Vville.

  • 25. supertrukr  |  December 5th, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Rents are going down in LA county,the section eights will bid farewell to the high desert and will become lapd’s concern.

  • 26. errr  |  December 6th, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Sorry for offtopic, but it seams your rss feed is broken. (my rss reader Liferea can;t parse it =( )

  • 27. thoroughly_sits_on_face  |  December 6th, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    @17 Dude, it’s impossible to rent an apartment even if you have money and perfect credit. You don’t need a record to get shafted out of housing. All it takes is deciding to move after you’ve been laid off, and you’re stuck with roommates or in a trailer. Without full time work no landlord will let you in, at least not in California.

  • 28. LongArc  |  December 6th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    These days ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ reads like a brand-new book all over again.

  • 29. internal exile  |  December 6th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    So where was that picture taken? I know! At the CalTrain station in San Francisco. Looking across the street at the Safeway. C’mon Yasha, let’s see some of that Victorville atmosphere in your photos illustrating stories of your fair city.

  • 30. yabadabadoo  |  December 6th, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Not to defend America or anything, but I do find it odd seeing Yasha barking at US more than he did bark at Russia. Either he liked that shithole or he was too afraid to say anything that would upset FSB.

    At least in US he can bark all he wants. Nobody gives a shit.

  • 31. peter  |  December 7th, 2009 at 8:12 am

    take your tongue out of your cheek, and stick it up your ass

  • 32. Vanya  |  December 7th, 2009 at 11:41 am

    To yabadabadoo: quit living in the 70s: the FSB doesn’t give the shit about anybody’s barking. And if Russia were a ‘shithole’ you’d be able to afford a sex tour over there. But you can’t.

  • 33. az  |  December 7th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    You guys have read the Neckbeard Central thread about this, right? That makes me both frightened and a bit relieved that this economy collapsed and we can’t afford prisons worse than Brazil’s. Now we can only afford prisons as bad as Brazil’s.

  • 34. fajensen  |  December 8th, 2009 at 2:27 am

    Tell me, Why cant the ex-cons get food stamps like everyone else?

    AFAIK – In the US, one is allowed earnings of USD 2000 per month while being on food stamps. Thats pretty damn generous, IMO, compared to “socialist” Denmark, where you are allowed NOTHING, except the “social security” that is about USD 2000 in total (thats with the USD being at present level, DKK 5,00). This will barely pay the rent here – even in subsidized housing!

    Ok, we have universal health-care; except for dental work. So Danish poor have very bad teeth.

    To me, being a dropout in the US, still sounds like a better deal than the average 95% of the worlds normal population gets.

    What am I missing??

  • 35. az  |  December 8th, 2009 at 7:01 am

    I think you are missing that you can’t read, fajensen.

    Food stamps are $200 per month, in food. as long as you are earning (like, from a job) less than $1,174/month in a household of 1. Here many people are struggling to find jobs, so it’s not always possible. Social Security is only 65+. TANF (welfare) is only for families (that is, with children) and can be used 5 years in a person’s lifetime. There’s public and subsidized housing but you still have to pay for it, there are wait lists that tend to be pretty long or often closed (as in my city), meaning that they aren’t accepting new applicants at all, and they conduct criminal background checks to see if you would be a “good tenant” so ex-cons would one again be ineligible

    In Denmark you say that you can actually get $2000/per month just ‘cuz.

    Also, people on parole and probation are often ineligible for a lot of government aid and grants here.

    But don’t worry, many Americans here watch Fox News and think that all the blacks get everything for free, and illegal immigrants getting into this country only do it illegally because they’re too lazy to do the legal paperwork which according to them allows 3 million people to immigrate legally per year (real amount ~140,000) and that upon arrival they steal all the whites’ jobs by ambushing them in parking lots and then have the government give them free money.

  • 36. jimbo  |  December 8th, 2009 at 9:47 am

    If you can manage to get on SSI and into section 8 housing than your existence wouldn’t be too bad. The way prisons are in California you might try for a diagnosis of ptsd, tell them you’ve been raped beaten stabbed and been in riots where you saw people get murdered. Put an anti-social behavior disorder on top of that and you could qualify as too sick to work. Get a color tv and some medical marijuana and just spend your time getting high and watching Star Trek reruns. Not saying it’s easy but definitely a goal to shoot for. If enough Americans drop out in this way then the whole machine might come to a grinding halt. The system can’t afford multi-billoinaires and social welfare cases at the same time.

  • 37. az  |  December 8th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Jimbo, I don’t think most unemployed ex-cons can afford lawyers and wait years while the trial goes on. And advocacy groups are overloaded with cases like this as it is.

  • 38. Jimbo  |  December 9th, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I only waited eight months to get SSI. I was incarcerated when I was fifteen and deemed severely psychotic paranoid schizophrenic. I can pass for a normal person and even worked for four years while getting SSI without them knowing it. Maybe things won’t work so well for other motherfuckers than me but they can always give it a shot. Fuck the system before it fucks you.

  • 39. m  |  December 13th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Well done, Yasha. Exile is one of the last media outlets left that consistently brings attention–with first hand reporting–to people being pushed around by the Establishment. As more media power is consolidated by a few worldwide plutocrats, this becomes all the more important.

  • 40. Alex_C  |  January 5th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    In my experience, if you make much of anything, Food Stamps go down to $10 a month or so. Also, you get NO medical or dental care. Plus you have to fight ’em monthly for the food stamps, frankly while panhandling sucks it’s easier to do that for the same few days and get the same money.

    I can’t get Food Stamps right now even if I were to put up with these things, since I have 2 motorcycles (was given one) and I would have to sell one and give the money to the FS office or use it up. Instead, I’m selling one and that’s paying for EMT school. Also, any attempts to improve oneself must be kept secret. You are closely monitored to make sure you aren’t going to school or training, acquiring a better vehicle or a vehicle at all if you have none, etc. It’s a lifestyle, a career.

    I live as off-the-grid as possible, because frankly something tells me this is going to be a very good idea in the coming times. My living expenses are very low, I actually have a dwelling and a fixed address, and in 6 months will be an EMT. If I have to panhandle again, I’ll tell people I need the money for “methadone treatment” or something, don’t ever EVER let the cat out of the bag if you are climbing up, people HATE that.

    Now, even in the fairly mild climate I live, SF Bay Area, homeless folks die of exposure all the time. You get the flu, get pneumonia, stay sick for months, than a cold snap comes through and you just die. Happens all the time. Going into jail is a big improvement, “some” medical care instead of absolutely none, meals every day, no one steals your shoes while you’re asleep.

    It’s possible to find a place with no credit, but it’s not easy and you deal with a lot of nuts. And you tend to end up moving a lot. You have to be not homeless long, so you’re still neat and clean looking, and a master salesman to talk your way into a place, then get out there and panhandle, panhandle, panhandle, and keep that rent paid. It’s hard for an above-average person (looks, discipline, intelligence) and almost impossible for an average person. For someone with a problem, such as depression, injury, lost their eyeglasses so they squint, etc. forget it.

    It only remains to be seen just how bad this gets before the revolution starts.

  • 41. Anil  |  January 8th, 2010 at 2:14 am

    if US politicos help BIg industry in outsourcing to china and India ,they will convert US into one of the poorest countries in a very short period of time. tax imports heavily and subsidise exports or perish.The writing on the wall is clear.

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