Former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith has made the most of his ordeal of serving federal prison time for a campaign finance conviction, reports the Washington Post. He has penned a book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison,” and launched a tour to get his voice heard in a debate about what he calls a prison industrial complex that has run amok. Among his talking points from life behind bars: Don't show up another inmate on the basketball court, don't accept candy from a new acquaintance unless you're looking for a date, and the U.S. criminal justice system has been built on a business model that profits from recidivism and is operated in a brutal way that keeps inmates from rehabilitating themselves into useful, law-abiding citizens.
Smith is not the only person making this point. It's a conversation that the Post says has moved beyond think tanks and into the larger culture, fueled by the popularity of the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” which similarly tells the story of a white, upper-middle class person whose eyes were opened by a brief stint behind bars. “I don't just want to tell my story,” Smith says. “It's about more than that.” Smith writes that, “Mass incarceration isn't the product of a system that is broken but rather the result of a well-oiled machine.” He calls out an industry that he says relies on ex-cons cycling back to prison, that would rather teach inmates how to grow tomatoes than offer them business classes, and makes it extremely difficult to maintain ties to family on the outside.