Creeping Fascism: A Winery and a Newspaper

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By Jan Slagter

Fresno Bee readers will have learned recently (see “Sumner Peck Ranch reopens…,” Fresno Bee, May 28, 2021, page 1) that the former correctional officers who are proprietors of Fresno’s Solitary Cellars Wine Company feature a prison cell for patrons’ play-acting in their showroom.

Perhaps more shocking is to learn that in “a little museum” they also display items made by prisoners that these guards confiscated (a hollowed-out book with a cell phone, an electric skillet to cook spam). While profiting from others’ suffering is appalling, so was the Fresno Bee’s uncritical report.

I wrote a letter to the editor objecting to how the newspaper covered this story, but it was not printed. You might have noticed that few letters are printed in the ever more expensive hedge fund–owned Bee even as it shrinks in size. So I wrote the following poem as a response to the article.

Morally Tasteless, A 21st Century American Flavor  
An only slightly unique situation:
You steal things created by imprisoned people who’ve no recourse,
no permitted response.
You keep these for yourself,
and proudly display them
as exactly what they are
and as curiosities
about which you tell stories
anonymizing their makers, normalizing your theft,
stories in which you and we who listen
are blameless.
You/we enforce their captivity and disappear who they are.
You reproduce their jail cell as a business attraction.
Let’s savor, let’s sample that cage you/we shut and lock,
your tales
of prisoners’ ingenuity foiled.
Your dominance unquestioned.
We—distanced—  
not us or ours ever caged;
we sample jailing
we taste your sweet wine. 
A repeated, not solitary, American cruelty
reported without comment on page one.

*****

Jan Slagter is professor emerita from women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Fresno State. She is a community activist and serves on the International Board of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).