A ferry ride to an Orwellian future? | OPINION: Peter Eichenberger | Indy Week
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A ferry ride to an Orwellian future? 

My new obsession takes me far afield: cable ferries. I have been driving down some really obscure roads in Eastern North Carolina looking for them, not propelled by any sort of motor, but pulled, literally pulled, across rivers by a cable that winds around spools on both sides of the river.

One, the San Souci ferry, I found on a map. But another one was purely found while busy driving nowhere, just exploring this new land. I had been forging across the landscape, no map, nothing, navigating by the sun. I passed a sign reading Parker's Ferry Road near Winton, in Hertford County, just another picturesque lane winding through the wilderness.

I turned around and took the right. Way down the road, I could see by the cloud of dust with a pickup inside where it turned to nut-sized gravel. Then I saw it, this, this—thing, this menacing, Orwellian facility replete with a squat obelisk-shaped tower, razor ribbon, heavy-sectioned walls, all done up in a menacing clamp-down, cold steel blue-grey. River's Correction, the sign read.

I'd never heard of it but I got a chill from the place just looking at it, much more than an N.C. Department of Corrections joint like Odom. This place oozed a quiet menace like it was built for a Kubrick flick.

River's Correction looked like no prison I had ever seen. This was more than a prison, bud. This was a statement. Then, I saw another sign reading "GEO Group." Hoo boy. This didn't look good. I slipped the reigns off my imagination and let the horses run as I hit the gravel and drove down, down, down through a heavy, mature, hardwood forest to the strange little ferry, right at the confluence of the Nottoway, Meherrin and Blackwater rivers that form the beginning of the Chowan. On the return trip, I saw a black woman dressed in a white shirt and black pants with a pint of keys dangling from her uniform belt strolling down the road. I stopped and asked her some basic questions.

"They're low-level offenders from the District." D.C. I'd nailed it. A private prison I'd never heard of. I hadn't even heard of GEO Group. It turns out to have been started as a subsidiary of Wackenhut, the largest private security and corrections corporation on earth.

On a day that made the whole city into a garden last week, I rolled slowly down Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, eastbound. In the outside lane, on the rear window of a Honda two-door sedan, I spotted the Blackwater sticker.

I immediately went into full-on target acquisition mode. I maneuvered around the vehicle to get a complete look at the car: the sides, the front. A glance at the windshield revealed DOD stickers. At the wheel was a young man, high and tight short hair, with his girlee beside him. I arranged to pull up to the light side by side.

"You work for Blackwater?" I called out the window to the young man.

"Naw," he said, grinning. "I have friends who do."

"Let me guess, you're in the service?"

"Yeah, well, not now. I'm in school."

I gabbled to him about my ride on a Blackhawk.

"Something, isn't it?"

"What branch are you in?"

"Marines. I'm up in Raleigh taking classes for my degree."

"What in?"

"Criminology."

How does it feel that North Carolina is becoming a center for profits amid the blatant and egregious blurring of law enforcement and corrections?

With the great sucking sound, that of the vacuuming of personal information of law-abiding Americans emanating from DeeCee, I would enjoin all of you out there to study more carefully what your legislators are tuning this place into—just another arm of the entity, the U.S. government, which has gotten us into more huge messes than I have time or interest in recounting.

With regards to corporations like GEO and Blackwater, like with tow-truck drivers or bondsmen, private enforcement means you lose your constitutional rights. Not only are there almost no legal limits to what they can do, but their procedures and policies are often kept from oversight for "proprietary" reasons. Vis the Wackenhut juvenile facility in Louisiana that saved money by not providing the inmates with clothing—you know, costs and all.

I am out of the opinion business on this one. I am not interested in speculating where all this is going. I'll only say I don't think it has much to do with this chimera, this boogeyman of terrorism under every bed. Past that, I won't make any further comment on where all of this could be heading. I'll leave that to you.

  • My new obsession takes me far afield: cable ferries.

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