The Untold Truth Of The Real Con Air

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain Obvious speaking. Your in-flight movie is Con Air, starring Nicolas Cage's mullet. Please note that Hollywood's fictional depiction of the prison transport system doesn't remotely reflect reality. On the actual Con Air, there's no Cyrus the Virus who hijacks the plane, steals the show, or turns his name into a fun pun, like "Cy... Onara." There's no hope of escape. There's no hope — period.

More formally known as the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS), Con Air ferries federal prisoners between facilities and deports immigrants. Speaking with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Marshal Service supervisor Robert Broadus said, "When we move, everything stops." Prisoners are shackled to their seats, and high-risk detainees have their hands handcuffed inside boxes for added security. Inmates remain cuffed no matter what. As Broadus put it, "Even if they had a heart attack, we'd take them to the hospital in chains." This isn't just the air ferry of the condemned. These planes play the villain in the story, tormenting inmates for prolonged periods of time.

Hard time gets even harder

The book Jail Time describes Con Air as "never fast, never comfortable, and never efficient." In an awful slog of a process known as "Diesel Therapy," prisoners take short trips that take a long time. Travel is only permitted during the day, and covering a distance of 200 or 300 miles can take up to 10 days. In the interim, prisoners must be booked at different facilities, frisked, and strip-searched. Before leaving in the morning, they go through the onerous routine again. This can go on for months.

Inmates never receive advance notice. A guard might wake them up before the butt crack of dawn and tell them to get ready for their new home. There's no chance to contact loved ones who may be planning on visiting. Conditions on the plane can be demeaning. Prisoners using the restroom must relieve themselves with the door open.

In a piece for the Marshall Project, ex-convict turned ordained rabbi Michael Rothenberg recalls what he calls "the hell that is" Diesel Therapy. He says he landed on a very-unmerry-go-round of prison transfers after angering guards during an interrogation about an escaped inmate. Rothenberg writes that during one of his stints on Con Air, a guard refused to let a prisoner use the bathroom and then tased him for wetting himself. The flights were interspersed with rides on buses, one of which had an overflowing toilet. An unfortunately fitting metaphor for the U.S. prison system.