PUNISHMENT PANDEMIC

Every morning, more than a hundred men at Cummins Unit go to work on the Hoe Squad.

Dressed in white, they pile into an open trailer, and a tractor pulls them deep into the prison’s fields. Cummins sits on nearly eighteen thousand acres of land and has a hundred and ten thousand chickens, two thousand cattle, and forty-one horses.

The men on the Hoe Squad pull weeds, dig ditches, and pick cotton, cucumbers, and watermelons. Arkansas is one of only a few states where prison labor is free.

(Other states pay a nominal wage, such as ten cents an hour.)

A dozen field riders—officers on horseback, wearing cowboy hats—patrol the inmates, and, if anyone lags, they threaten to call the truck: a major will drive the inmate to a group of isolation cells known as…

The Hole.

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