All Roads Lead to Cages: The Opioid Crisis and Beyond in Indiana

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The following text was written by the Broken Jar Collective in response to the Delaware County’s (located in Indiana) proposal for a new fifty million dollar, five hundred bed jail. The text deals with the intersection of the opioid crisis, gentrification, attacks on public education, and the prison industrial complex.

“Parents were devastated when Muncie Community Schools revealed that it was about $11 million in debt. Now Ball State and Indiana legislators are attempting to steal control of the public-school system.”

This text comes to you from a small collective of Muncie residents and Ball State students. We’re writing in response to growing social problems within our town. We have all seen the effects of the opioid crisis in our neighborhoods. Rates of drug use, overdose, and death began to rise in 2013.

We watched as corruption within our local government was revealed, and an FBI investigation into the City started. Parents were devastated when Muncie Community Schools revealed that it was about $11 million in debt. Now Ball State and Indiana legislators are attempting to steal control of the public-school system. Meanwhile, Delaware County is announcing plans to build a new 500 bed, $50 million prison to deal with problems of “overcrowding.” To add insult to injury, this new jail will be built on the site of what was once a middle school serving one of the poorest areas of Muncie. The government couldn’t send a more powerful message about where its priorities lie if they tried. While Muncie’s upper-class residents get bike lanes, breweries, and freshly-paved streets, economically depressed south-siders get their kids’ schools closed and turned into jails.

With all this in mind, it is easy to say that Muncie is “decaying.” That the people of Muncie
have been “forgotten” and “neglected.” However, the truth of the matter is that our city’s current situation is the product of a systemic attack on the lives and power of the people of Muncie. This attack comes from the normal, everyday functioning of our local government, the police department and prisons, private enterprises, school system, and medical institutions. These institutions are built upon a logic of domination, control, and surveillance. This system is growing more powerful by the day because one who finds themselves occupying a position at any of these institutions cannot help but control and suppress the residents of Muncie’s communities. Addressing these problems is not a matter of changing who is in charge of these institutions but changing the nature of our institutions and how
they function.

Thus, we are taking action against the county’s plan to build a new prison. Why do we need
another jail? Why is so much money going to this project while our schools are in debt? How will placing addicts in cages help with chaotic drug use? We are at war with the idea of caging human beings to address social problems. Let’s strip away the interests of the government and see what’s going on. Our task is not to cage people, but to liberate them.

The War On Drugs / Prison-Industrial Complex

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, destabilizing and criminalizing entire
communities. Since then, the United States has treated its most significant public health crisis as a criminal problem. Militarized police departments began to act as an occupying force in neighborhoods to fill for-profit prison cells. Police harass, arrest, and brutalize residents of minority, precarious, and disadvantaged communities. Wars have casualties, and the victims of this war are our most disempowered citizens.

Once caught in the justice system’s trap, people are isolated, harassed, and physically and
sexually assaulted. They work in brutal labor conditions for little to no pay. It is a calculated effort to demoralize, silence, and exploit vulnerable people for profit. Our government could be providing resources for neighborhoods to lift themselves up and make their existence more meaningful. Instead, they’re in bed with corporate interests to drain the life force of our most vulnerable communities. The War on Drugs is a war on people of color, the poor, the addicted, and the homeless.

Prison crushes individuality, agency, and responsibility. Even after the sentence is served the
felon status makes basic survival difficult. Probation and drug court continue to control people on the outside. The stigma against felons and addicts continues the spiral of chaotic drug use and imprisonment. In the event of an overdose, the threat of arrest, jail time, and hospital bills makes for a deadly situation. One must choose between a caged life in a hospital bed or prison cell, or a free death in one’s home or on the streets.

Even if you manage to avoid the labor camps that we call prisons, it can be hard and
dehumanizing to try to find help with recovery. Recovery programs often push their morality on the people who rely on them. They treat addicted people as if they have done something wrong every time they have used. They say that recovery can only look like total abstinence. 12-step programs count sober days as a scale for someone’s progress and only provide strategies for avoiding relapse. With every regression, participants lose sober time.

Loss of time knocks people down to the first step of “powerlessness.” Those in charge of the
program believe the recovering addict has done something wrong and threw away all their progress in recovery. In this context, every relapse fills people with shame, guilt, and a sense of failure. Those feelings can be a slippery slope back into chaotic drug use and jail time.

The system acts as a means to create, oppress, and control vulnerable populations. As the War on Drugs ramps up and the prison-industrial complex expands, its effects spread like a virus. Society begins to feel more like a prison. Feelings of hopelessness and despair push more and more people into drug use, and the fires continue to burn.

Soon after the War on Drugs began, the C.I.A. flooded vibrant black neighborhoods with a new drug: crack cocaine. Crack, along with the militarization of local police departments, destroyed communities and lives. The next intentional flood of drugs and ramping up of policing in neighborhoods was not a covert government operation. It occurred in the public eye, pushed by pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and clinics. We are speaking, of course, about the opioid crisis.

Opioid Crisis

Considering the devastation that has followed the War on Drugs and the loss of jobs, it is easy to imagine why someone might turn to drugs.

So how did this epidemic occur? The rise of the global prescription opioid epidemic started in
the 1990s. At that time, pain specialists and advocacy organizations in the U.S. began to argue that the nation faced an epidemic of untreated pain. In turn, an increasing number of professional and consumer groups pushed for the increased use of opiates for pain management. Coinciding with this shift in medical perspective was the introduction and extensive marketing of OxyContin for the treatment of pain. OxyContin sales representatives visited doctors across the United States, leaving them with gifts, free patient samples, and invitations to all-expenses-paid symposia – all of which impacts how doctors prescribe medication.

“an increasing number of professional and consumer groups pushed for the increased use of opiates for pain management. Coinciding with this shift in medical perspective was the introduction and extensive marketing of OxyContin.”

Prescriptions are one part of the problem, but there is more to it than that. An infamous part of the War on Drugs is the “scheduling system” that is meant to convey which drugs are safe for medical use. OxyContin is schedule 2, which means that there are some health benefits, but it has a high potential for abuse. Hydrocodone (another opioid-based drug) is schedule 3, meaning the drug only carries the risk of moderate to low levels of psychological dependence. (Meaning it is easier for patients to get prescriptions because doctors see the medication as “safer” than other options).

Insurance plans will often only cover specific treatments for dealing with pain, more often than not this involves opioid-based drugs. The medical industry has crafted a situation in which their patients become addicted to the drugs. They have no option but to return and continue to buy their product or find illicit opiates through other means, all-the-while exposing themselves to the possibility of entering the institutions of prison or coerced rehabilitation.

We must try to understand why there is so much pain throughout our country, and why the only solution offered has been through chronic addiction and escape. Sadness permeates the American lifestyle. We work 40 hours a week to provide for ourselves and our families, spending hours on our feet or sitting at a desk. We commute to work, to the grocery, to visit friends and family, etc., all-the-while sitting in our cars. And when we are home, we are often sitting for hours on end unwinding after a hard day’s work or on a day off.

The organization of our society demands that we follow repetitive, mechanic, and oftentimes unnatural movements that leave our bodies aching. We have no chance to remove ourselves from these patterns, no time to engage with our bodies in a healthy manner. To take a break and stop turning the gears of this machine is to approach eviction, starvation, and homelessness. It makes sense that so many people are in pain in a society that removes us from our body’s needs and forces us to keep working.

Ball State Takeover of MCS

At the beginning of February, Indiana House representatives passed a bill that would give Ball
State University (BSU) complete control over the functioning of Muncie Community Schools (MCS). There are three large reasons this takeover follows the logic of domination, surveillance, and control typical of our society’s institutions— and by a university that claims it is working to bridge the “town and gown divide.”

First, the author and main driver of this bill cannot be trusted because of his affiliations with
corrupted private institutions. The bill was written by representative Tim Brown, a Republican
from Crawfordsville. What is strange is that a man representing Crawfordsville is interested in
proposing BSU take over MCS. However, it becomes less strange when considering his relationship with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a group of representatives from various corporations, such as Exxon Mobil, AT&T, Bayer, and Koch Industries. These representatives come together to craft legislation that benefit the businesses involved with their network. They will then work with state legislators, wining and dining them at luxurious retreats, lobbying them into introducing and attempting to pass a particular bill into law that would benefit the businesses. Tim Brown was caught using taxpayer money to travel to an ALEC event in the past and has worked on education funding bills with ALEC in particular. Those who work with ALEC undermine the principles of democracy and transparency to their core, and BSU has clearly aligned themselves with the goals of these institutions.

Second, HB1315—the bill written by Brown to authorize the BSU of MCS—has numerous
aspects that mirror the logic of control. On one hand, Muncie teachers’ collective bargaining rights would be taken away, taking job security and the power for teachers to make decisions about their classroom away from them. Further, BSU will have the power to fire teachers at least a month after the school year has started for “budgetary downsizing.”

“The takeover of Muncie’s school system by the university would be an unprecedented move that would grant the university complete control over the functioning of a city’s educating body.”

This will inevitably leave affected teachers in a state of financial instability because schools often do not hire during the middle of a school year. On the other hand, the school board members that are currently elected positions will be replaced with people who are appointed by those in power. Five of the seven board members will be appointed by the BS trustees, who are all appointed by the state governor. The two other board members will be appointed by the mayor or city council, which will then require approval by the BSU trustees. Most of Ball State’s trustees do not live in Muncie, and some even live out of state, rendering it obvious that they do not authentically care about the needs of our communities. This is a process where our governor appoints trustees, that then appoint our city’s school board members, which will then dictate the education of our children. Is this really the best this “democracy” has to offer?

Third, Ball State University cannot be trusted to embody and address the real needs of Muncie communities. On one hand, the university did not consult any involved parties before bringing this plan before the state legislature: not the school board, local officials, the mayor, the district’s state and national representatives, parents, nor teachers. If the university were to have given our communities a chance to comment on and disagree with their proposed plans, it would be much more difficult for them to gain support for it at the state level. But now, they claim to be “reaching out to the community” in order to gain insight on how to best move forward. Anything to come from the university on this issue is nothing but PR and damage control, and us trusting them to control our schools is part of their plan to take power from our hands.

On the other hand, BSU has a track record of spending millions of dollars in off-the-wall
projects, such as a flawed geo-thermal heating system and excessive sports facilities; not to mention their hiring of an employee who invested $11 million in a fraud scheme. Further, the university is attempting to run experimental charter schools that have repeatedly received failing grades as institutions.

The takeover of Muncie’s school system by the university would be an unprecedented move
that would grant the university complete control over the functioning of a city’s educating body. The bill would also enable the new overseers of MCS to avoid following the same rules as other school boards and governing bodies in the state of Indiana. At the same time, this move signals that BSU feels comfortable, capable, and entitled to control how coming generations understand and interact with the world around them. From the ages of 5 to 22, the youth in Muncie will be exposed to the words and ideas of individuals who ceaselessly attempt to gain power and control others. This is not the bridging of a divide, it is the destruction of our communities by power-hungry outsiders. Like vultures, BSU comes for the scraps of meat they can pry from our crooked and besieged city and school system, leaving the bones in their wake.

Gentrification in Muncie

The story of gentrification has been told time and time again, in cities across the country. New, well-off residents living in lofts and luxury, “sustainable” apartments. Housing prices go up and send long-time, working-class residents either out of their neighborhoods or out of the city entirely. Then, come the breweries, cafes, art studios, and maker-spaces on every corner. A once vibrant neighborhood becomes sterilized, hollowed out, and stripped of anything that people can point to and call home. But gentrification doesn’t begin when new rich folks start moving into working-class neighborhoods. It doesn’t begin when the bistros start popping up. These things come late in the game after public and private entities have spent months planning and laying the groundwork.

Gentrification – disguised by code-words like “revitalization” and “redevelopment” – begins
when city governments partner with real-estate companies and private businesses to price poor people out of their homes. This collusion between city government and private enterprise is a hallmark of gentrification. The processes that follow are also indicators of gentrification: “beautification” that only serves to obscure the underlying and unaddressed social issues of a neighborhood; the restructuring of neighborhood associations; attacks on public education; and the policing and harassing of low-income, disadvantaged, and dispossessed communities through the criminalization of addiction and homelessness. All of this, to make way for the rich people that cities hope to attract.

“These “very innovative” ideas for economic redevelopment are out of reach for anyone living on minimum wage or out of work altogether.”

We have already seen these stages of gentrification here in Muncie. In his 2017 “State of the City Address,” Mayor Dennis Tyler raves about partnerships between public and private enterprises. Though “economic development” is thrown around like a catchphrase, the only “developments” Tyler can speak of are classic examples of gentrification-style projects meant to simulate an upper-class lifestyle. He points to the Courtyard Marriott hotel’s revenue successes. Stylish and comfortable hotel rooms mean nothing to the poor and unemployed people of Delaware County. He cheers the Innovation Connector, an entrepreneurial workspace. Office spaces with trendy artistic furnishings won’t raise our neighbors and families out of poverty. He discusses a supposed ‘craft beer renaissance’ as if we will be lifted out of the dark ages by six dollar pints over at Elm Street Brewery.

These “very innovative” ideas for economic redevelopment are out of reach for anyone living
on minimum wage or out of work altogether. But the most absurd example is MadJax, Muncie’s rotten icon of gentrification. Tyler heralds MadJax for its public-private partnerships, and the vague “opportunities” it offers. First the city gave the project a loan of $f million. Somehow, the project ran itself into nearly $2 million of debt this past summer. Now after the city has given MadJax another $4.5 million loan and the situation for the majority of Muncie residents only continues to deteriorate, one must ask themselves, “Who exactly are these opportunities being created for?”

These initiatives and action plans developed by the city of Muncie are wrapped in pretty language of “economic development,” “revitalization,” and “progress.” But these projects have only one end: the restructuring of the city and the pricing out of Muncie’s most vulnerable populations. The city does not want to raise people out of poverty. They want to squeeze poor folks out to make room for rich, orderly, and obedient residents.

So What About That Jail?

At the time of writing (mid-February, 2018), there are 286 people caged at the Muncie Jail; 102 of them are there waiting to post bail, or until their court dates if they can’t afford it; 92 are charged with or up for trial for drug-related crimes; 35 of those are related to opiates.

“If the people in power build a jail with 500 beds, you can bet your ass MPD will fill the cells: and they already know who they are going after.”

The sheriff and Muncie officials cite concerns of overcrowding, yet they are creating the
overcrowding problem through their aggressive policing tactics. These tactics focus on attempting to “take drugs off of the streets” and make things clean again. This sort of treatment of addiction, or any other social problem, functions to isolate people from their communities instead of addressing the source of the problem. These tactics shame and stigmatize drug users as morally damaged. They deny addicts essential resources to help them grow and flourish in their own lives.

This new jail is an affirmation that the city does not care about providing care to its citizens. It would be easy to say this approach is due to ignorance, but it would be naive to chalk this jail proposal up to a lack of knowledge or understanding. It is within the interest of the powerful to not address the causes of social issues. It is in their interest to use aggression, punishment, and the looming threat of homelessness to displace communities who don’t have the money to spend in the downtown playground of the upper class. If the people in power build a jail with 500 beds, you can bet your ass MPD will fill the cells: and they already know who they are going after.

Closing Remarks

If we can find millions to put people in cages, in a jail made from the shells of an old school
building, why can’t we fund our schools? If we can find millions to prop up a “makers space,” why can’t we offer resources for disempowered communities to uplift their own neighborhoods? If we can pour money into MPD’s self-described “aggressive” policing tactics, why can’t we create truly liberating recovery and harm reduction programs?

These are the sort of questions we want to raise with our analysis of Muncie’s social and
political situation. We want to inspire an attitude of skepticism and critical suspicion when the city government proposes a “solution” to a problem. We want to understand these actions not as failed or misguided attempts to stave off decay, but rather as the necessary outcome of institutions such as prisons, hospitals, and governments. We want to bring to light the city government’s complicity in pursuing projects to dominate and control the populations it claims to represent.

Those in power hope that their schemes will move along as-per-usual, without any voice of
dissent cutting through the deafening silence of an orchestrated “decay.” They hope that
misinformation and propaganda pushed by Star Press will distract and repress any opposition, and that they can continue to exploit the communities of Muncie.

However, we intend to throw a wrench into all of this, and we desperately need your help, dear reader. We seek to make as much noise as possible in opposition to the plans of the powerful. We want to hear the classrooms, the corner-stores, and the dinner tables buzzing with critical discussion and dreams of tomorrow. We want to carve out new roads, in search of understanding, compassion, and freedom.


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