What conspiracy theories are popular in prison?
A former prison librarian writes about conspiracy culture among the incarcerated.
We are living in a post-modernist nightmare where facts are impulsively distrusted and outrageous lies are accepted as truth. As it turns out, prisons are no exception.
The Marshall Project, a publication that specializes in prison and injustices, recently reported on the conspiracy culture behind bars. The article is written by Mary Rayme, a recently retired prison librarian in West Virginia and Maryland.
She writes about how even with limited access to the outside world, some of the conspiracy theories most popular in prisons are those believed in society-at-large. People who are incarcerated talk about how there is an Illuminati that runs the world from the shadows, and how Jay-Z and Beyonce are head honchos in it. Another popular conspiracy is that there is life on Mars, and that the face-like blur on its surface is proof of civilization. And it should come as no surprise that life in prison, where nationalist gangs and racial conflicts are often intensified, makes conspiracy theories about genetic superiorities thrive.
Other tall tales are more specific to the incarcerated—and sobering in their large scope. At the prisons Rayme worked at, there is a popular conspiracy that upon re-entering the free world, ex-convicts will be greeted by a surprise payout, a year of free financial benefits from Uncle Sam. It circulates via photocopied pamphlets between inmates. Rayme tried to level with prisoners that such a program doesn’t exist and was told: “the paper says you will deny this program exists.”
“As a prison librarian, you get a lot of interesting reference questions,” writes Rayme. “Inmates do not have regular access to the internet so while outsiders can Google the slightest question, the incarcerated have to use an old-fashioned form of search engine: the printed encyclopedia. Or, they can lean on someone like me as their internet intermediary, making formal, written requests for information online. We do our best to provide accurate responses that are current and come from reliable sources.”
But the sources of information for those behind bars are under attack in some states. Prisons in New Jersey and New York have attempted to put limitations on literature accessible to inmates, making contraband out of books donated by non-profits and even family. In New Jersey, the approved vendor only had 78 books available, 24 of which were coloring books.