TVs and 100 Years in Prison

Barrett Brown's new essay in Vice shows he's bored out of his mind in jail

Barrett Brown's Vice essay shows he's bored out of his mind in jail

Barrett Brown
Barrett Brown has begun writing in to Vice while he awaits trial on 17 counts that could land him in prison for more than 100 years. Wikimedia Commons

Dallas journalist Barrett Brown has been in jail for 14 months, and he's facing a lot more time. While he waits to see if the judge will throw the book at him, he has taken to writing for Vice from jail.

In an essay delivered to Vice via Brown’s lawyers titled “Barrett Brown Is Bored Out Of His Mind In Jail,” Brown touches on the overwhelming crowding going on in for-profit jails and the issues it creates for the prisoners, especially those he believes are unfairly jailed like illegal immigrants and drug dealers.

 The majority of Brown’s essay is devoted to his newfound (and required) experience of watching television.

As to why Brown is in jail facing 100 years in prison, it’s a complicated story. Tim Rogers at D Magazine did a fascinating write-up in 2011, before Brown had been arrested, about his work with hacktivist group Anonymous that details his journey from private school in North Dallas to journalist to heroin addict to the becoming one of the public faces of Anonymous, if such a thing is possible for the faceless organization.

But in September, 2012, Brown was arrested in Dallas County. It stemmed from allegedly threatening an FBI agent, but from there the indictments poured in. He was hit with 12 counts regarding the hacking of Austin-based intelligence firm Stratfor after Brown allegedly shared a link to the 5 million internal emails gleaned from the hack. In all, he’s been indicted on 17 charges, all of which he’s plead not guilty to.

“The problem is that all the federal facilities here in the Northern District of Texas were filled up with inmates awaiting trial or sentencing when I became incarcerated,” Brown writes. “This isn’t simply because Texans are an inherently criminal bunch — although of course they are — but rather because, in addition to prosecuting actual crimes against property and persons, the federal government is also in a great big contest with the Chinese to see who can imprison the most people for bullshit non-crimes like selling drugs.”

The majority of Brown’s essay is devoted to his newfound (and required) experience of watching television. On the outside, Brown abstained from watching TV, but in his holding cell that he shares with seven others as part of a larger 24-man block, the only thing resembling stimulation is the lone TV in the day room.

“There are few places in our little enclave from which it can’t be seen, and none from where it can’t be heard,” he writes. “It is the moon; we are the tides. Of course, it is also a resource to be fought over.”

Brown says that the divide is one of language. Spanish speakers, dubbed “the Union of Mexicans and Assorted Spanish Speakers” are in opposition of “the Black and White Imperial Combine.”

It would be rude to spoil the payoff from his examination of Spanish-language television or his story involving The Bad Girls Club on the Oxygen network, but suffice it to say that Brown is not enjoying his time in jail.