This article seeks to make sense of the diverse and contradictory materials of law that intervene in everyday life through strategies of containment, exclusion, and extermination. The prison is now the central public institution in the United States. Though hidden from sight, it defines our society in profound ways. Concentrating on the recent hunger strikes in the security housing units (SHUs) of Pelican Bay and throughout the California prison system, this essay reflects on the long reach and myriad forms of law in our penal archipelago. The new global order of justice not only focuses on those accused of criminal acts but also targets the racially suspect, the poor, the expendable. Why should we—those of us inside the privileged circle of life, free of police power, secure in our jobs, still in our homes—fear encountering the long arm of “The Patriot Act” or “The Military Commissions Act”? Why should we fear the political expediency of “preventive detention” for those considered threats to order and to the American way of life? What kind of life is this—life lived on the edge, in the shadow of legal outlawry?

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