All Incarcerated People Deserve What Michael Cohen Is Getting

Photo: Jonathan Carroll/AP

Today, former Trump lawyer and massive idiot Michael Cohen is going to prison. This is a pretty astonishing fact, considering how much power this slime ball had until just a few years ago, and it’s tempting to take it as a victory and then forget about it.

But it seems that Cohen isn’t going to the kind of place you envision when you think “federal prison.” The prison where Cohen will be serving out his three-year sentence for bank fraud and campaign finance violations, the Federal Correctional Institute in Otisville, NY, is pretty damn nice.

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“He’s going to what I like to refer to as ‘Jewish heaven,’” Larry Levine, a former convict for racketeering who spent ten years in prison and who founded the truly grotesque organization Wall Street Prison Consultants, told Reuters.

Otisville has a commissary list online that includes a variety of kosher foods, from matzoh ball soup to gefilte fish to the Jewish pastry rugelach. According to Reuters, the grounds feature amenities like a bocce ball court and tennis court. If inmates need spiritual advice, the prison employs a full-time rabbi. Inmates are given jobs like cleaning, which they are expected to perform for a few hours a day. But most of the time, they get to sit around and do whatever. Furloughs for weekends home are commonly granted. There isn’t even a barrier around the prison’s perimeter.

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It hardly needs to be said that this isn’t the norm in the U.S. criminal justice system, which treats most people who pass through it with horrifying brutality.

For example: earlier this week, a mentally ill woman named Tammy Jackson gave birth unassisted in an isolation cell at a Florida jail. She asked for help from guards when her contractions began, but they ignored her.

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Jackson was arrested earlier this year on cocaine possession charges. She was subsequently released, but arrested again when she didn’t report for her pretrial services. Like 76 percent of those held in local jails, Jackson hasn’t been convicted of any crime. Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes described her mental health problems as “significant.”

After Jackson gave birth alone and totally unassisted, the sheriff’s office told the Miami Herald that they called Child Protective Services and that the child was “placed with an appropriate caregiver.” It’s unclear whether or not Jackson is still in jail.

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It’s easy to react to this kind of deep injustice by wishing Cohen was just stuck in any old regular prison, where he’d have to personally experience some of the horror to which most people are subjected, not to mention a jail like the one where Jackson was forced to bleed and scream alone, waiting for hours as no one helped her. But the truth is that no one, not convicted criminals, not even former Trump allies, deserves that kind of treatment.

Instead of seeking retribution for Cohen’s unequal treatment, what if we made every prison more like Otisville and much less like Broward County Jail? What if we treated incarcerated people like human beings, providing a setting where those who have done harm can reflect on their actions instead of constantly worrying about being raped or killed? What if we stopped criminalizing poverty? What if we adequately funded mental health and substance abuse treatment? What if we legalized drugs and ended cash bail so people like Jackson never ended up in jail in the first place?

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Our country can feel pretty dark. Jackson’s story shows that it’s already a horror movie for some of us. But we cannot improve it by merely spreading brutality more equitably. Personally, I don’t really care what happens to Cohen—I’m sure he’ll be fine regardless. But I would love to live in a society where what happened to Jackson never happens to anyone else ever again.

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