15 January 2018

Openly, Lovingly

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Sermon from Deacon Dennis Dolan (written down – as verbatim as possible – immediately after Saturday’s Catholic mass service).

“Go into the library and read the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ It’s in there. If you can’t find it, ask Mr. L. [the librarian] or one of the other inmates to help you find it. That’s what he was fighting for. So that everyone would be educated enough to find their way around a library.

Don’t tell me that: ‘Martin Luther King fought so we wouldn’t get treated like this’ because Martin Luther King, Jr. never wanted you in jail. Yeah, he doesn’t want the C/O’s abusing you because you’re a human being, but MLK wasn’t about prisoners’ rights. He wanted you to break unjust laws, not just ones. If you break just laws, then you pay a price and that might include having to deal with a C/O who isn’t concerned about your past.

You pay a price when you break unjust laws, too. And you suck it up. Going to jail becomes a small price to pay when there’s a big principle at stake.

What he said was that, if you break the law, you’re down for the penalty; that’s what he meant about breaking the law ‘openly and lovingly.’ You accept it. He said that people who break immoral laws and then accept the punishment are actually the most law-abiding people around, even if they’re locked up, especially if they’re locked up. How about that?

What would it look like if Martin Luther King was protesting segregation, got arrested and then complained about getting arrested for what he had intentionally done? It would mean I didn’t really mean it, that segregation was okay as long as he didn’t suffer. What he was saying from the Birmingham jail was  ‘the penalty is worth it because it means I’m not conspiring through silence with you anymore.’

You need to read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ because it teaches you that your ‘YES’ is only as good as your ‘NO.’ That your ‘Sorry’ only means something when it’s attached to a little bit of penance.”

If you want to read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” click here.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 8 – 14, 2018

Trump et al. threw together a last minute confab on justice reform on Thursday with a few leaders in the field. It included Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback who had the balls to tell the press that Trump’s crew was the first administration to work on criminal justice reform. I have always said that the way to get Trump to work on justice reform is to tell him he doesn’t want to get bested by Obama, who has the record for the most – and the most progressive – reform measures enacted by any presidential administration. Read what Gov. Brownback said yourself.

On Friday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to end a pilot program that required anyone sending a care package to prison inmates to buy it only from one of six state-approved vendors. The decision had been caught in a debate over prison censorship and contraband but that had nothing to do with what was about to happen in New York’s state prisons. This was about how mass incarceration strangles free market principles. There’s yet another reason why the Trump Administration to push for reform beyond Thursday’s photo op.

And “Love After Lockup,” a reality show about people who get engaged to their prison pen pals, premiered on Friday night on WE TV. Pay special attention to the story of Scott and Lizzie, who’ve been together for two years and Scott’s sent her $20,000. That’s slightly less than $200 per week on commissary crap, if she spent it all. I have mixed feelings about this show. As much as it might be exploitive, “Love After Lockup” also is a non-schmaltzy look at re-entry. Not a terrible way to spend an hour.

 

 

 

 

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8 January 2018

Nothing Can Be Said to Be Certain

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Mouthing “I’m sorry” to the counselor every time I turned around to check the clock, I waited on hold for 46 minutes for the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at the IRS.

MALE VOICE: Good afternoon. Thank you for calling. My name is Gabriel. May I have your name and social security number?

ME: Yeah, hi. My name is Chandra – C-H-A-N-D-R-A, Bozelko B as in boy, O, Z as in zebra, E, L, K, O, social XXX, XX, XXXX.

GABRIEL: Thank you Ms. Bozeleeko. I’ve brought up your name and profile. What’s the reason for your call today? Are you calling because you think your social security number’s been compromised?

ME: Yes. Um, fraudulent tax returns have been filed in my name? I received two notices of coming refunds that would be sent to me by prepaid debit card and I didn’t file returns for those years, so something is wrong.

GABRIEL: What years are they?

ME: Well, I got the notice for tax years ending 12/31/08 and/09 but there may be more years. I don’t really know.

GABRIEL: Okay. I will note that. Many times people forget that they filed a return and think they don’t owe anything and then they get a bill. Are you sure these aren’t your tax returns?

ME: Yeah, I’m sure. And I didn’t get a bill. I got notice of a refund that you’re about to pay and it shouldn’t be paid.

GABRIEL:  So there were two returns filed for you in those years?

ME: No, I haven’t filed a return for the past four years. I didn’t have sufficient income.

GABRIEL: Okay. I will send this report over to our investigative unit and you’re going to have to file everything – everything you file with the IRS – with a PIN number. You’ll be sent a PIN for any future filings and you’ll get a new PIN at the end of every tax year.

ME: Okay. How do I find out who’s doing this?

GABRIEL: Well, it needs to go to our investigative unit and, generally, the IRS handles it from there. Law enforcement will contact you if necessary?

ME: If necessary? How would it not be necessary for them to verify that they weren’t my returns? They would need a statement from me.

GABRIEL: And they will, Ms. Bozeleeko, if they need to.

ME: Okay. This seems relatively painless, too painless maybe, but that’s good, so I’m going to need copies of these tax returns, and copies of all documents like W-2’s that accompanied them. Addresses where debit cards would have been mailed. I need all of that. The whole file for every return filed since 2007, because none of them are mine.

GABRIEL: We can’t do that.

ME: Why is that?

GABRIEL: Well, you said they’re not your tax returns.

ME: They’re not.

GABRIEL: Then you have no right to them if they’re not yours.

ME:  But they were filed under my name and number. They’re trying to be my tax returns.  You thought they were my tax returns. You were going to send a refund.

GABRIEL: Are they your returns?

ME: I know, for sure, that I haven’t filed a tax return since 2007, so no.

GABRIEL: Because of your income?

ME:  Precisely. I make $1.75 per day.

GABRIEL: That’s…not legal.

ME: Where I live, it is.

GABRIEL: You’re where? Connecticut?

ME: I’m in prison. I’m calling you from a prison. I’m…I’m an inmate.

SILENCE

ME: Gabriel?….Hello? Gabriel?

SILENCE. The line was dead.

ME: Now what the fuck do I do?

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 1 – 7, 2018

Let’s not get too flipped out over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rollback this week of the Obama administration’s  “Cole Memo” – directions for leniency on prosecuting marijuana possession at the federal level. Only one percent of people in prison are doing time for pot. There’s some argument that criminalizing marijuana is problematic because it provides another pretext for arrest. That’s true, but there are many overlapping options for any given act. For pretextual arrests, penal codes, especially federal ones, are already so deep that Sessions’ decision doesn’t matter that much. If they want you, they’ll get you.

People have been communicating with inmates at through signs posted on a warehouse across from the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York; inmates have sent return messages through flickering lights. The New York Times ran a story on this “billboard of hope and encouragement” and everyone thinks its a heartwarming story, especially since in person visits are being eliminating in many jurisdictions and phone rates are about to skyrocket again.  The warden at MDC, Herman Quay, says he doesn’t mind the signs as long as safety and security aren’t tampered with. With that statement, Quay just cued every person who’s trying to get a message around the mail and phone censors to put it on a sign and hang it up.  Now that it’s garnered some media attention and people know of the new way to get a message inside the facility, the signs will be taken down soon. Reporters and photographers might have done better to leave that one alone.

What’s in store for the death penalty in 2018? Look here.

 

 

 

 

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1 January 2018

And a Wake Up

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January 1, 2014

“Bozelko, while you were sleeping, I saw your thing,” the C/O told me as I dragged my feet over the black brillo of the mat at the unit’s door, back from a walk to breakfast.

“What thing?” I asked. If flashing a C/O – even inadvertently – didn’t land you in seg, I wouldn’t have cared if any of my privates were on display for a guard; any sense of modesty’s been distilled right out of me. I would worry about people seeing the years of hair growth on my legs but I’m sure I’ve been dogged by the female staff who strip search me and my legs have been described in lurid detail as looking exactly like the industrial doormat they were standing on.

“Your file.”

“What file?” I wasn’t sure who this dude was trying to play. I’d never seen him before and six years here taught me there’s one file for you that never leaves the records room.

“You leave this year,” he answered, and handed my time sheet  [list of dates of entry and and time earned off your sentence; includes your release date] over the console, one that should’ve been delivered to me before the holiday.

In my experience, talking about when an inmate is going home the standard broach for sex [rape] from a C/O, which never made sense to me. If I know I have sure exit in a few days, then I’ll be far less tempted to risk going to the hole in exchange for a short ride in the janitorial closet. If I’ve been lonely for years, waiting three more days until I can get laid isn’t that much of a challenge. But women here do it, so the staff keeps trying anyway.

“When are you going home?” one of the newjacks invariably asks me after he starts a new rotation in my building. The old guards already knew how long I’d be here.

“Years, years,” I learned to answer. From 2008 to 2011, my delusion that I was leaving any day led me to answer: “Soon!” when they would ask. That was before I caught on to game and I naively assumed that they’d been following my appeals, through my file, the one with the lady in the records room.

One woman in Food Prep who did have sex with a C/O gets that all the time. She’s very pretty and she figured it out that the release-date question was a form of foreplay because it was lobbed at her so often.

“Never!” she started answering them. “Life without parole. Actually, I’m gonna die here.”

Using an inmate’s release records like they’re eHarmony is actually far more insidious than it seems. Because so many women here are homeless they aren’t going home. They’re leaving, sure, but they have nowhere to go and the ones who have a landing spot know it’s tenuous. The fact that a C/O might let them stay for a night when he fucks her holds an appealing safety. I’ve heard it happens a lot and it always reminds me of the Semisonic song “Closing Time” – Closing time/ Time for you to go back to the places you will be from/Closing Time/ You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.  The chorus of “I know who I want to take me home” is easier to sing when you have nowhere to wake up.

“I do. Seventy-six days and a wake-up,” I how I answered the C/O. That’s how inmates describe their departure: a period of time with a wake-up chaser. Sixteen days…and a wake-up. Three months…and a wake up. Ninety-nine years…and a wake-up.  Most women leave on the court run, so they don’t count the six hours they spend here that day as a full day. Saying “and a wake up” is supposed to make your sentence seem shorter but it only shaves off a few hours.

“This is the last year you’ll be here. Today’s the last January first you’ll get up in jail,” he offered, underscoring that all-important wake-up.

“I dunno. I’m sure I’ll be back,” I said and I’m not entirely sure that’s wrong. But the recidivism of an inmate a C/O hooks up with at home is one of his worst fears; she’s back to tell everyone what they did.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” I continued, doing my usual cryptic schtick, as I walked upstairs to my tier. I have no idea if he knows it’s a line from the song. Most times they don’t know – it’s why they think I’m smart but crazy.  I smiled and pulled on the tier door so he knew I wanted to head back to where I woke up alone. 

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 25 – 31, 2017

In Kansas, a man was killed as a result of a prank over an online gaming dispute. One player “SWATTED” another player by spoofing a call from the victim’s house, claiming that a hostage situation was unfolding, and police shot an innocent man. And now spoofing is in the news again. Someone needs to outlaw this technology pronto.  Google me and see how spoofing helped me get to jail. Seriously.

A huge study from the University of Chicago found that one in ten people aged 18-25 have experienced homelessness in the previous year. More are families then single men. And it’s an underestimate. Think this isn’t connected to criminal justice? Guess again. Click here to read why.

The Root published its “Criminal Justice Wins of 2017,” a good list that focuses on state and local reforms. Click here to check it out.

 

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25 December 2017

If the Skin Fits

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December 25, 2007 (incarcerated for 18 days)

A Christmas Carol is less about Christmas than it is about conversion. Scrooge indicted and reformed himself in a matter of minutes; he’s the single most efficient correction system in history.

Ebenezer didn’t embrace Tiny Tim’s plight by accident. Through the lessons of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he spied his own demise, inevitable if he didn’t change. Scrooge took to a lesson that many of us resist: empathy isn’t some latent, oversensitive irrationality; it’s a  survival skill that takes some field training.

Unfortunately, you can only get empathy through a somewhat  exclusive club. Ask Inmate Dennis Kozlowski in New York. He got in before I did.

In 1995 in a Houston courtroom, at the sentencing of the former assistant controller of Tyco, a letter from the company’s CEO – the aforementioned Dennis Kozlowski – urged the judge to withhold mercy and sentence Girish Shah to “incarceration for a maximum term,” because, as Kozlowski informed the court, “wrongdoing of this nature against society is considered a grave matter.”

Ten years later, in a New York courtroom, that letter informed another sentencing court, the one that would impose penalty on Kozlowski himself for bilking Tyco of millions, more than Shah ever did.

You can call this whatever you want: karma, cosmic payback for Shah, or just the rule of law. I call it a new convert to the Order of Empathy. Dennis will never pull that shit again because now he knows how it feels.

It shouldn’t be that everyone has to go through the tribulation of a trial like I did to develop empathy, but that might be what it takes. Maybe there’s a point to arresting more and more people, locking them up, making the club more inclusive. Mass incarceration is an empathy diaspora. 

There are recipes for empathy and others have mastered them without a fall from grace. If you want to be more compassionate, you could, as Atticus Finch – a criminal defense attorney, by the way – advised in To Kill a Mockingbird, “climb into [another’s] skin and walk around in it.”

Sometimes I see someone’s plight and get so overwhelmed with sympathy for them that I can’t feel empathy. Maybe it scares me too much, maybe privilege prevents it, but I don’t think I could have been very empathetic before this ride. How could I have imagined what other women in here feel? However unjust this has been, it was totally necessary. This lesson would have evaded me for the rest of my life. 

It’s not just me. Few can imagine what another’s skin feels like. They think it’s too small for them. They are too big, too important, too moral, too smart, too cautious, too innocent, too rich, too white, for them to get inside it, much less take it for a walk.

But the skin will fit. And – Dennis and I will say the same thing – they won’t acquit.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM DECEMBER 18 – 24, 2017

This is the last diary entry to be published in 2017. I will leave you with three year-end, wrap- up ideas. Read them and decide what you’re going to do next year. 

Here’s a quiz to see how much you’ve been paying attention to criminal justice this year. I got one wrong and I’m so ashamed. 

Here’s a list of criminal justice campaigns that can win in 2018.

Here’s one professor’s wish list for criminal justice in 2018. It’s woefully incomplete but it will show you what reformers are up against if a professor’s wish list is so short and simple.

Also, if you need to park your bucks somewhere before the first of the year for tax purposes, here are three worthy places to donate. Click on their names to get to their websites and contribute:

Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Project – Purchases Christmas gifts for children of people in prison. Remember, the kids are innocent and suffer more than anyone else.

Prison Policy Initiative – By combining data and compassion, this organization produces the best research on criminal justice, by far.

Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc. – Volunteer teachers head into correctional facilities and teach college courses to inmates. Prisoners getting college credit for these courses and can earn degrees from Connecticut community colleges.

 

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18 December 2017

Mainstay

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Maria walked up to me behind the [serving] line, arms spread across a cyan-colored rack bearing the usual red, yellow, blue and white bags that seal loaves of highly processed bread with a twist tie.

“What you want me to do with it?”

“Well, this stuff [than the bread we already had in the kitchen] is fresher, so we need to rotate out the older bread so we use that first.”

Then I looked at the rack closer.

BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO.

BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO. BIMBO.

“Wait, what the hell is this?” I asked.

“Bread,” she answered.

“Yeah, I see that, but…”

Then I asked the supervisor.

“Johnko, what is this, this?” and I pointed to the Bimbos.

“Bread.”

“Bimbo brand bread? In a women’s facility? Are you kidding me?”

“It’s Mexican. Beeembo. See? Says it on the label.”

The bag sported a Pillsbury dough boy knock-off, a white bear, pronouncing the brand name because someone, somewhere, knew this was bad marketing.

“It also says that it’s the bread that lasts forever. That’s a real claim to freshness. I know we get these dog brands and cast-offs and odd-lot foods, but really? Bimbo?”

“Beeembo. I told you. It’s Mexican.” Johnko shrugged, like that was sufficient to explain the world’s worst marketing plan, one, incidentally, that’s apparently effective on the people who surround me now.

“I seen these shits before,” Maria defended the Bimbos.

“These are sold here? I thought when he said it was Mexican it was some foreign food that we got for a low price.”

“Yeah, in bodegas. They got it in there,” Maria offered. She sort-of caught my pseudo-righteous feminism.

“Well, I, I don’t shop there and I’ve never seen this,” I huffed. I’m not so easily shocked that the Bimbos would bowl me over but the people selling this bread in the U.S. weren’t even trying to make it an attractive buy which, to me, means one of two things. Either the product was so good it was a guaranteed sale or it was the only product around so it was a guaranteed sale.

I had wandered again into a desert, and not the usual wiggly heat of confusion blocking my view as I looked for the oasis of freedom. I was witnessing the effects of a food desert, an area with low-income and minority residents that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. Being poor isn’t just not being able to afford stuff. It’s not being able to afford stuff that’s inferior quality because you can’t access the better, more affordable stuff that is produced and packaged by people with a wit of sense. Imagine Stop and Shop near me selling Bimbo bread that lasts forever. It would have to be so cheap that it was free. And even then, no one in my family would buy it. But other people have to. And they don’t have the luxury of taking offense at faulty branding like I do.

“Surely they hired a marketing expert who should’ve picked another name for the bread and another slogan. I mean, perpetual bread? That’s not even how they describe the fucking Eucharist.”

“I dunno,” Maria said and was moving on without me. “You still want me to rotate these racks?”

“Sure. I guess this prison’s lesson for me? That the staff of life is a bimbo?” I asked anyone and no one. I figured that was the last word on the topic but [another kitchen supervisor] Ms. Van Damme had walked in behind me to answer.

“Wait, what’re you saying about the staff?” she asked.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 11 – 17, 2017

VERY IMPORTANT: Floridians for a Fair Democracy needs more signatures for its petition to add Voting Restoration Amendment to the 2018 ballot (restoring voting rights to people with criminal records after completion of their sentences). If you live in Florida, sign the petition here. If you don’t live in Florida, share the link with your friends and associates who do. And, if you’re a Republican and you think that restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies is handing votes to the opposition, read my op-ed in The Tampa Bay Times here. Keeping anyone from voting – in addition to being immoral and violating the principles on which this country was founded – will actually hurt Republicans in the long run. People need to sign the petition by December 31, 2017.

Most people missed this, but a poll conducted by Emerson College in advance of Tuesday’s election in Alabama to choose the senator who will replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions found that voters with felony records supported Roy Moore over eventual winner Doug Jones. It was a small sample, but go figure.

Rates of imprisonment amongst blacks are going down and they have been for a while. Read about it here, a joint venture between The Marshall Project and The Washington Post‘s Wonkette blog.

 

 

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11 December 2017

Yiddisher Kop

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“I’m gonna win my habeas. I got me a Jew lawyer. He got a beanie and everything,” Soledad announced she strutted down the hallway.

“Yeah, don’t…don’t say that.”

“What?” she asked.

“It’s not a beanie. It’s a yarmulke. When you say  ‘Jew lawyer’ it implies unkind things about Jewish people. ”

“Like what? That they be winnin’?” Soledad protested.

“I bet a number of people in here had attorneys who happened to be Jewish and…let’s just say, they ain’t winning,” I assured her.

Because they confront the greatest ignorance of all, I think the Jewish women have to be the loneliest group of inmates, if you can even call them a group. I’ve met a total of three while I’ve been incarcerated. Only two did a bid. Not only have they plunged into this utter dysfunction, other inmates reduce their spirituality and customs to the menorah and dreidel that popped up on the windows of their grade school classrooms in the spirit of equal time for “other” cultures.

Since then, because stereotypes operate most consistently and strenuously in populations that are stereotyped themselves, the only understanding of Judaism, of a religion whose story figures squarely into the narrative of oppression everyone in here is peddling, is that the only way the religion manifests itself is through alleged ruthless legal prowess. 

We make a big deal of the history of American slavery as it pertains to corrections, calling it “The New Jim Crow.” Imagine being Jewish and being thrown in prison and having to confront what millions of your ancestors went through as they were processed through Hitler’s explicit agenda of annihilation. At least here we speak of reentry, another chance, eventual release. They lived condemned, all of them. If there were more Jews in prison, we’d be calling this “The New Dachau” but their minority status prevents better comparisons between the modern penitentiary and the Holocaust. I think that this country might have a chance at rapid reform if there were more Jewish inmates. I don’t wish this on them, but if Jewish inmates reached critical mass in here, historical comparisons would put legislators’ pedals to the metal. Of course, if I’m right, it only shows how racist the system is, because historical comparisons seem not to be motivating anyone to do much to make these places better. Just saying. 

“What do you think of that?” I asked Cerise, an observant Jewish woman who also happened to be a lawyer.

“Jews are persecuted everywhere. Been that way throughout history. This is nothing to us,” she poo-pooed me.

Cerise explained that, in the Jewish faith, a Torah scroll – one that contains hundreds of thousands of letters –  is rendered not kosher and unusable if even one letter is missing or broken and the same concept carries over to the Jewish people. If even one individual is forgotten or left behind, then the entire community is lacking and considered unKosher.

This Jewish worldview is lower-c catholic and accessible to all, but it’s a secret in here because all that matters about a person is how criminally useful he can be. The “Jew Lawyer” has gangsta value. 

I had to deliver some milk to the control room and I spied Soledad in visits, coming out of one of the legal conference rooms with a man in a patka. In this environment of inverted diversity, my first thought was that it looked like a do-rag gone wrong.

Later I asked her:

“Soledad, who was that in visits with you?”

“My lawyer.”

“He’s a Sikh.”

“Sneak?” Soledad asked.

“Well, probably, because they [lawyers] all are,” I conceded. “But that’s a patka, not a yarmulke.  He’s a Sikh. It’s an Indian religion.”

“For real? Indians like the casinos?”

“No. Look, your lawyer’s not Jewish at all. For Christ’s sake, when I saw him there, I thought he was your shrink.”

“Why?  That’s what them people [Sikhs] do?”

* Title means “smart person” in Yiddish.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 4 – 10, 2017

Remember Reality Winner, the NSA employee who leaked documents related to Russia’s attempts to feel out its ability to hack American voting machines? Her trial is shaping up to look like mine: a total zoo. The Intercept (click here for link) covered the pretrial proceedings. She’s basically being prevented from defending herself. 

Here’s (click for link) a good New York Times editorial on how the Governor of New York has to be careful – and has tremendous power to cull abuse from correctional facilities – in negotiating a new contract with the prison guards’ union.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new study Thursday, Criminal Victimization in 2016 (click for link), employing a new methodology designed to more accurately reflect crime at its most local level. But the new model produced such erratic results — such high levels of crimes in certain counties, for examples — that officials quickly cautioned against actually using the data. Sounds like money well spent. 

 

 

 

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4 December 2017

A Letter to Lieutenant Real Frisky

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“They made him a lieutenant? What kinda shit is that?”

If I’ve heard it once, then I’ve heard it 200 times since you got your double-bars. Very few inmates expected you to snag a promotion. I certainly didn’t expect it when you walked into Food Prep that Friday morning with your name stitched in yellow thread instead of white, the sign of correctional ascension. After mulling it over for a long time, I’ve decided that your becoming a lieutenant is a good thing. No, it’s a very good thing.

I used to say: “I don’t think he would do that.”

Then it went to: “That doesn’t really sound like him.”

Then it was: “Okay, he probably did, but what do you want me to do about it?”

Finally, I would protest: “Just don’t tell me what he did” when other inmates would describe your wacky games and outrageous stunts. Supposedly denying someone a regular meal and giving her just a few chicken cubes for lunch. Calling women “fat pigs” and telling them they need fewer carbs. Screaming at them to “SHUT THE FUCK UP” as if you take your own advice.

I’ve been particularly offended the way you treated me. Do you think I don’t know that it was you and Booz who took my FBI file, the one I fought to get for my defense? I lost all respect for you. You act like a frat boy in here – and you’re at work, I might add, so that’s pathetic – except it’s pretty much agreed upon in here that no organization would accept you as a pledge given how you’ve behind recently. Except the DOC. That’s why you’re here.

You used to be kind, merciful, wise and calm to the inmates in South Dorm. I had been here less than six months and I knew how you guys kick around the newbies.  I was scared of some of them but I wasn’t scared of you. Until later.

Losing respect for someone is no fun for any rational person. I know that other inmates never hide their glee at another’s failures or misfortunes, but I try not to get that way. Seeing you denigrate women who you thought were weak, me included, made me furious and sad. Now that I see you with Lieutenant bars on your lapel I know why. It wasn’t so much the personal attacks or the rumors you spread about me or even sending your friends to harass me, it was the fact that you disappointed me. When you have respect for someone and how they do their job  – which I admit is thankless and unenviable – that I didn’t like the way disappointment felt because it meant I might be wrong, that the anthropologist’s eye I’ve cast on this place has a cataract.

No matter how bad my vision is, I can catch things from my vantage point that you can’t. I take field notes every day, including a list of my cellmates who come back. It’s getting long now, that list, because women love to return to abusers.  I watched you be very kind to two women. They weren’t cute. Weren’t flirting with you. Offered you nothing but their pain and fucked-up-ness and you handled it.

I’ve been here five years and neither has come back.

Sure, outstanding warrants may have chased them out of state or they might have died, or they might have been treated well enough by someone in this place that they felt the confidence to make different, better decisions. I doubt they said: Frisky was nice to me, so I’ll be good. But I choose to believe that how you treated them contributed to their doing right.

A myth of modern corrections is that the only way to cause an attitude shift is a shove. But it doesn’t. Sometime the shift turns on a nudge, a subtle prod or even an accidental tap. These nudges might just be your (old) way of doing business, but they also shaved a couple of points off the return rate. Like I said, I choose to believe that you are solely responsible for that benefit to society. You have it in you.

But that’s not the only reason I have decided that your promotion is a good thing. It’s no secret that allegations of misconduct, childish pranks, and generally prickish treatment have been lobbed at you. If all of them were true, they’d need a wheelbarrow to move your personnel file from all your reprimands. I know everything isn’t true. But I also know – and you know – that some of it is. But someone – and I have no idea who because I know nothing about the DOC promotion process – looked past all of that and spied some potential in you. Sure, other inmates can describe your advancement as symptomatic of the dysfunction of this place, but it can also be an example of reform and redemption. You’re a lieutenant and a lesson, as far as I am concerned.

I’d congratulate you if I knew that your friends wouldn’t sack me, crush my face against a craggy concrete wall, cuff me and chuck me into a dungeon like they usually do for you.

I think it’s stupid that I can’t tell you this directly, that the bullshit between us made a pile too high and too wide for either of us to get around. I should be able say “Peace” to you and end this, but the risk for misinterpretation is too high. I can’t say anything to you, even if it’s nice, not that I’ve been that motivated to do so these past years. I’ll accept some blame for this, but it’s a noose I’m not willing to loosen on you entirely. You need to admit to yourself that your behavior towards someone who has far less power is despicable. It’s also foolish because I’m not serving a life sentence. You’ve given me the story of a lifetime to tell when I leave here. And if I do, what will you say to me then?

I bet if anyone ever heard me say this, they’d be so shocked that their fight-or-flight responses were activated. Captains in Building 6 would clutch their chests with angina, maybe even stroke out. The warden would be feeling around his desk for a brown paper bag to help him stop heaving in hyperventilation.

But I am serious. Congratulations. I hope nothing but justified success awaits you. Rise. Become a captain. Become a warden. But most of all become good again, how you used to be. It’s on everyone’s agenda in here.

P.S. I think you need to call your union steward about this place getting you a new, clean dumpster to jump out of. Since your promotion, you shouldn’t have to climb into dirty dumpsters anymore. A filthy can for a lieutenant? That’s abuse.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 27 – DECEMBER 3, 2017

I don’t know if you heard, but President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December.

Here are three ideas on why Michael Flynn was charged with and pleaded guilty to only one criminal charge.

First: It may be all that Mueller et al. have. Doubtful, but a possibility.

Second: It’s just a sweet deal because Flynn is ponying up so much evidence against other people.

Third: Deciding not to charge Flynn with more crimes avoids the double jeopardy trap for state charges in case President Trump pardons him. Lying to the FBI is s strictly federal charge, so if Trump pardons Flynn, no state can bring those charges regardless of a pardon; it’s not a loss to forfeit a chance at a prosecution that you never had. But if Flynn were charged with conspiracy under federal law and subsequently received a pardon, conspiracy charges could not be brought at the state level because they’d be precluded by the double jeopardy clause.

My guess is – and I could be totally wrong – that charging Flynn with conspiracy is going to be left to a possible state prosecution in the event that the case against Flynn somehow goes south, pardon or lack of cooperation.  Federal courts and many states have laws that allow co-conspirators to testify against each other without corroboration and as an exception to the Hearsay Rule; conspiracy cases are relatively easy to make with accomplice testimony. State prosecutions of conspiracy charges against Flynn would exceed Trump’s pardon reach.  It may need to come to that for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team to see their goal to fruition, even if it is though a state prosecutor’s office.

 

 

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27 November 2017

Tituli

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GUARD:    Bozelko, you use the word ‘guards’ in one a them things you wrote?

INMATE BOZELKO:      Uhhh. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably.

GUARD:    I can’t believe you called us that.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Called you what?

GUARD:   Guards!

INMATE BOZELKO:      That’s an insult?

GUARD:    Yeah, it’s an insult.

INMATE BOZELKO:      How? You’re guarding us in here.

GUARD:    It’s like the difference between a trained professional and someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. You’re, like, callin’ us rent-a-cops.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Did I say you don’t know what you’re doing?

GUARD:    Yeah, but in something else you wrote.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Okay. Yeah. Probably. But that’s not what I meant when I said ‘guard.’ I just meant someone who works here.

GUARD:    How would you like it if I called you ‘inmate’ or ‘convict’?

INMATE BOZELKO:      Um, I have two responses to that. First is that you do. “Inmate Bozelko, this,” and  “Inmate Bozelko, that” is all I hear all day. And second is that I hardly care. I’m here, aren’t I? So what’s wrong with being called an inmate when you’re in jail?

GUARD:    Some of you wanna be called ‘residents’ or ‘clients’ or some shit.

INMATE BOZELKO:      We are residents so ‘resident’ is the same as ‘inmate’ for me – accurate. ‘Client’ is bullshit because it implies a consensual contract between parties. But that’s other people asking for you that, not me. Call me whatever you want – you already do. Can I ask you, like, what do you think you should be called?

GUARD:    Officers. Officers of the court and law enforcement officers.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Officers of the court…that’s like lawyers, so no. And law enforcement officers are cops, detectives. They have guns. You guys have pens. So still no. All due respect.

GUARD:    We’re trained professionals. We’re like doctors.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Well, you attend training, which doesn’t have to mean ‘trained.’ But doctors take an oath to do no harm and, well, we’re beyond that. See how [Correction Officer] Moore over there is tugging on the other end of the cart that  she’s [the disabled inmate’s]  trying to pull? And how she’s looking to see what’s wrong with the wheels because he’s hiding from her as he’s preventing her from moving? See how she’s confounded?

GUARD:    What’s ‘confounded’?

INMATE BOZELKO:      Confused. See, that’s a prank. That’s not essential to safety and security. In fact, it’s a threat to it. You’re not trained to do that and, if you are, it’s not professional. You guys are guards. All due respect.

GUARD:    Not fair to put me with somebody who’s fuckin’ up.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Now you know how I feel.  Thus are the dangers of human classification. All you can do is ‘do you’ and hope someone notices that you’re not like the rest.

GUARD:    You still don’t need to call us that.

INMATE BOZELKO:      Okay. I’ll call you microsurgeons then. You like that? Microsurgeons?

GUARD:    Why you gotta say ‘micro’?

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM NOVEMBER 20 – 26, 2017

Now that Charles Manson is deceased, people have spent the last week trying to humanize him. No one is trying to humanize the women he induced to murder, women like Patricia Krenwinkel, currently California’s longest serving female prisoner, who’s been denied parole 13 times despite being a model prisoner; or Leslie Van Houtem, who has also been described as a model prisoner during her time behind bars. Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown overturned a parole board recommendation last year that she be released, with Brown saying she still posed an “unreasonable danger to society”; or Susan Atkins,  the third member of the twisted sorority that was dubbed “Charlie’s Girls,” and the first member of the cult to die behind bars in 2009. She was 61.  She was denied parole 18 times.

I’m not opposed to humanization of anyone, but let’s stop pretending that the Manson story is unique. Manson-type stories play out daily in every female prison where women are doing time for crimes they never would have considered were they not convinced to commit them by some dude. There are “Charlie’s Girls” everywhere and no one gives much of a shit about any of them.

The Rev. Al Sharpton announced that he will go visit rapper Meek Mill in prison, like that’s going to clean up Meek’s mess. I’m almost glad that Mill went to prison on a probation violation because it would take a celebrity screw-job to open the conversation that a sentence of probation isn’t “getting off” like people think it is.  You can be sentenced to a term of supervision by a judge who engages in misconduct – asking for a “shout-out” in a remake of Boyz II Men’s  “On Bended Knee” – and wants you to be the one who bears punishment for it. Don’t get me wrong: Mill violated probation, but his offense paled in comparison to the judge’s. If you haven’t paid attention to this story, namely what Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Genece Brinkley did, start following now. If she’s allowed to continue to sit on the bench, there’s no hope for this system, “reformed” or not.

Incarcerated women are NINE TIMES MORE LIKELY to be HIV-positive than non-incarcerated women, according to recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Everyone’s chalking this up to intravenous drug use but I think a bigger proportion than we expect is attributable to childhood sexual abuse where the perpetrator infected his victim.

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20 November 2017

There Is No One Like Me – Mind Your Manners

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Thousands of white sylph pieces pack a Lucite bin in Main Dining. One of the supervisors always puts it away before a meal and drags it back out after. It doesn’t make sense.

On my first holiday in the kitchen, I finished my baptism-by-oven heat of packing hundreds of Thanksgiving meals into Styrofoam trays and delivering them to the women who weren’t allowed to eat with everyone else because they were sick, or new, or relegated to solitary confinement. For the rest of the workers on the line, I plotted how we would fit turkey, gravy, green beans, potatoes, stuffing, bread, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie into a tray with only three sections to it by drawing schematics over and over again.

We can’t put the gravy in the big section if the pie is there. But if the pie is by itself in one of the three, we’ll have to put the potatoes, turkey, stuffing – and gravy over all three – in the big section. Green beans in a small section. Pie in the other small section over the cranberry sauce.

In my drawn instructions, potatoes were the round mound, stuffing the wave mound and the beans were a pile of sticks and they effectively guided the ladies I worked with to get the trays right; no one bitched that her pie was gravy-drenched. So I was feeling a bit bold. I asked the supervisor who hides the nappies when he scurried into the back with the tub of them:

“Can we leave those out? You know, for the meal?”

“No one wipes their mouth in here.”

He nailed that.

“It’s Thanksgiving. Maybe someone wants to put one on their lap.”

“Lap?…How long have you been here?”

“Two years in December.”

“Nobody here puts a napkin on their mouth, okay? They definitely don’t put it on their laps. They put it in their pants, wrapped around something they’re not supposed to have. They use it to boost shit outta here.  The best case I can hope for is that they just let the napkin alone and let it fall on the floor where you guys bitch about sweepin’ em up before you mop. That’s why I don’t put ’em out.”

“Then why do we buy them and put them in a big bin? If there’s no chance they’ll be offered, why waste the money?” I queried. It had to be asked.

“Cuz it’s fuckin’ DOC [Department of Correction].”

I’ve long asked why there isn’t an etiquette training program here, a mandatory one. I’m not talking about fish knives and copies of Tiffany’s Table Manners for Children – we can’t tackle those topics if we’re stuck with one serving-cum-eating platter and a spork –  I’m talking about appropriately firm handshakes, napkins on your lap, not commenting on the acne on the face of your conversation partner.

The best manners come out when you have to deal with others who don’t have any. That advice works only when you know what bad manners are and that’s rare in here. Most of the inmates call manners “home training” which makes it sound like social grace is a work-from-home scam or Ikea assembly instructions. Sometimes I think the reason why wealthier, more educated defendants fare better than their indigent, undereducated counterparts isn’t a prejudice by courts but a fact that their manners are better. They nod appropriately at the judge. Sit up straight next to their lawyers. Others look down, grumble, fumble because they don’t know any better and they get read as disrespectful, incorrigible. Bye.

Not one teacher or administrator takes me seriously when I mention an etiquette program, but what are manners besides how you interact with others? They’re really the core of rehabilitation, an educational system that is far more personal than any academic curriculum.  Of course, there is some protective effect of being ill-mannered. You can’t be a an elite-level con artist if you’re not smooth.

I’ve seen my manners deteriorate in here because there’s no peer pressure to keep them up. Thanksgiving buoys them because I insist on proper table etiquette for that day alone. It reminds me of how my mother would dispatch me and my sisters to set the table and decide how we would fold napkins would fold. Roses. Simple triangles. I don’t have those choices anymore.

“Happy Thanksgiving. Can I get a napkin?” I ask whomever is working behind the serving line every year.  No matter who it is, he or she always replies:

“Happy Thanksgiving, Ms. Bozelko. For you, sure,” as the supervisor hands me a small wad of soft pulp.

Once I reach the table with my tray, I spread out the one-ply like I have for the last four Thanksgivings – I never got a napkin before I worked in the kitchen – into a sheer, white scarf across my lap.

“Ohhh, shit. I see what you doin’,” someone at my six-man stainless steel rectangle said when she spied my serviette.

“You do? Do you want one? I have a few more.” I held up a napkin for her.

“Nah. You finally getting ready to fix yourself a real meal back in ya cell wit’ chow hall food. I see. I see what you doin’ Ma.  That stuffin’ is blazin’ in a [ramen] soup. That’s why I be puttin’ my shit up in a bag,” she said, pulling a small translucent baggie out of her pocket. “I don’t need no napkin.”

The title of the post may have confused you. It’s the lyrics and title of a song by Chiddy Bang. Read them here.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM NOVEMBER 13 – 19, 2017

Prisoners in Texas get etiquette lessons, as this story from last week reports. Colleen Rickenbacher, above, teaches etiquette and manners to male inmates at the Cleveland Correctional Center in Texas. Through the class, the students also develop post-incarceration employment and business plans, most likely because someone who oversees that particular  facility sees the connection between success and navigating social situations politely.

Not one but two corruption trials ended in mistrials last Thursday. Both the Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Robert Menendez, and the New York Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association former president, Norman Seabrook, walked out of their trials in little better shape than when they went in. But the prosecutors were in worse shape because these hung juries are part of a larger pattern of losses in corruption cases. As much as I would like to blame this on prosecutorial incompetence because you can’t enter a criminal courtroom without seeing them bumble about, this isn’t the prosecution’s fault in either case. Criminal corruption statutes have been defanged for so long that it’s hard to get a public official convicted of any malfeasance. Read why here.

It’s bad enough that we allow state-sanctioned murder in the form of the death penalty. It’s worse that we don’t know how to pull it off our societal sin. The State of Ohio tried to execute Alva Campbell on Wednesday and failed when execution workers couldn’t find a vein. Liliana Segura did some fine reporting on the event for The Intercept here.

 

 

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13 November 2017

Cause He Mixes It with Love

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Again, I’ve been moved, tossed from one tier to another. I spent the first few hours in my new cage overly focused on unpacking my belongings from a trash bag and folding my mattress like a taco so I could tie ends of the sheet around it because, apparently, those Pratesi fitted jobs my mother covets are a luxury, totally unnecessary because you can knot the corners of a flat sheet underneath your mattress and sleep on that huge cotton bolus, Princess and the Pea-style.

My new cellmate got here a few months before I did, when she was 19. Now she’s 23.  As I was folding, tying, tightening, pressing, I heard something about being born here at York to a mother who had since passed away, pro forma foster care with older couple who couldn’t handle her, placement in a group home for troubled teens.

“…and this guy who worked at the group home, he…I had sex with him so I could get Nerds.”

Did I just hear sex and candy?

“His girlfriend worked there too and she snitched on us. Cuz she’s jealous. She wanted him to be walked off [fired] just to get him for cheating on her. She even called the fuckin’ cops. Cuz jealous bitches are dirty like that.”

“This was when you were in a group home? How old were you?” Weren’t you like, seven, yesterday?

“Twelve.”

“Oh God. I’m sorry.”

She shrugged.

“I wanted the Nerds. And I wanted to fuck him.”

“Did he get arrested?” I wanted to know. Do I need to start writing letters about this menace to make sure he’s not still working with kids?

“Yeah, it was in the paper.”

“Was your name in the paper?”

“Nah. I was a minor,” she answered, revealing that she knows enough about rules and law and – especially – her status in every situation she finds.

“I mean, I’m not telling you any secret. I tell everyone here. The C/O’s know, everyone knows that I got this guy walked off because I fucked him. So that’s why the staff doesn’t like me. You need to know that if you’re gonna live with me.”

“Well, they’re not crazy about me either, so no problem. But you know you weren’t wrong in that situation, right?”

“I was bugging him for the Nerds.”

“Yeah, but it’s just a hard-and-fast rule that guys aren’t supposed to fuck 12-year-olds anywhere, for any reason, even if the 12-year-old wants it.”

“I liked him. I wanted to fuck him. So I let him fuck me against a wall in a closet.”

“Well, since he’s the adult he had to let you down. Not only that, he could’ve given you the Nerds for free. That was always an option.”

“He told me girls my age get married and fuck their husbands in far away places like India and Kentucky,” explaining the grooming method he used, equating Kentucky with a third world country. He wasn’t 100% wrong about that, but what a substitute for social studies. Molestation fills in for normal pre-teen activities yet again.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to explain how fascinating and repulsive the combination of eroticism and childhood sweets was that day. Guilt and shame swirled and marbled her street sass. When he hollowed out her self-esteem by letting her gulp a box of Nerds she bartered sex to get, he drained all judgment from this girl. It was her fault that she wanted someone to commit a mundane, innocuous act between adult and child, one that’s happened millions of times daily since the discovery of sugar cane – gifting a piece of candy – and The Candy Man hijacked it into a situation where he could get a piece of ass. In a closet. Standing up. With a kid.

Prison life is like a cross of Ad-Libs and the board game Clue. You start the adventure by filling the blanks of an erstwhile normal story with zany adjectives and nouns – Plural Noun? Nerds! Flat sheets! Verb? Molest! – and then spend the rest of the time deciphering why the story you just wrote yourself actually happened and who the real guilty party is.

My first few days living with her taught me that the group home incident wasn’t the only reason why the staff had a problem with her. She’s walking trouble: talking back to some staff, flirting with others. Drama in relationships with the other inmates, trading commissary as ruthlessly as anyone who ran with Pablo Escobar. She reports to our room repeating directives from her ‘mom’ – a Latina woman from Rhode Island who’s doing LWOP [Life Without Parole] for 2 execution-style murders – who advises her on all things moral, ethical, culinary and correctional. Only 84 hours of celling with her have exhausted me, yet I have to admit that I hold her pretty blameless for all of it. I’m shocked that anyone thought her story was going to end differently.

When we walked out for  dinner tonight, she was behind me on the walkway and a C/O slithered out of the guards’ shack in Yard 1. The ratt-tatt-tatter of small sugar pieces against cardboard twisted my head to catch him in November dusk, shaking a box of Nerds at her. I turned back around and kept walking but she

stopped.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM

FROM NOVEMBER 6 – 12, 2017

Tell me how ideas related to criminal justice didn’t permeate last week’s election. And I will counter with these developments:

  • In Virginia, the election of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam means ex-offenders are not going to lose the voting rights restored to them in April.
  • Also in Virginia, prosecutor who ran on a platform of police accountability was re-elected.
  • In New Jersey, the governor-elect proposes to legalize marijuana, which Gov. Chris Christie has opposed.
  • In Philadelphia, despite huge opposition from police unions, former public defender Larry Krasner switched sides, being elected district attorney.
  • In New York, voters approved ballot measure that will prevent elected public officials convicted of felonies related to their work from collecting their pensions.

Prosecutors aren’t even required to believe the theories and evidence they present to juries. The Marshall Project‘s Ken Armstrong and The New Yorker ran an important story – a typically New Yorker-length examination of how this really happens and innocent people go to prison – and WaPo’s Radley Balko broke it down for us here.

And, because there are so many criminal justice topics to plunder from the Roy Moore story – the fact that it was revealed last week that the former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and current Republican Senate candidate probably had inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls as young as 14 years old – I have to choose just one aspect of the torrid tale to focus on.  The fact that we’ve normalized having sex with little girls – and boys – is why we have our national mass incarceration crisis right now. Not only has Roy Moore likely committed a crime, but he (and men who act like him) have enabled countless crimes to be committed by their victims. It all leads back to childhood sexual abuse, ladies and gentlemen. All. Of. It.

 

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