30 November 2015

Illin’

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When I would get sick at home, the local CVS/Pharmacy made bank.  I bought NyQuil, DayQuil, ZZZQuil, Advil, Benadryl.  I bought every -il in the store including Cetaphil, Massengill and Enfamil if I thought it would make me feel better.  I purchased every tablet, caplet, gelcap, capsule and pellet – plus a new cherry Chapstick – each time I fell ill.  It just wasn’t a cold or flu without a long, curling receipt detailing my score of home remedies, even if none of the medicines helped the virus worm its way out of me.

imageIn hindsight, I see that it wasn’t any cold remedy or anti-congestive pills that made me feel better; it was all of the choices that the drugstore aisle afforded me.  There were so many choices that I never even made one.  I brought all the Robitussin’s and Coricidin’s home with me.

When that watery warning tickled the back of my throat one Saturday, I knew I was going to be illin’ without all of my –ils to soothe me.  To buy any supplies in prison, an inmate must bubble in a Scan-tron order form.  Then the commissary has one week to process the order and pack the purchases ready for pick-up.  If my housing unit’s day for ordering commissary is Tuesday and I get sick on Wednesday and need cough syrup, I wait for the next Tuesday to order the medicine and another week to retrieve it.  Whatever remedy I get my feverish little hands on today was ordered at least one week – maybe two – ago.  I have no choice but to accept this system; it’s the only legitimate commerce in here.

imageThe inmates’ Code of Penal Discipline outlaws bartering so trading something I have for something I need is, technically speaking, misconduct, so I try to stockpile medical supplies as do all Future Savers among us.  The Future Spenders here at York liquidate their inmate accounts on consumables like honey buns and squeeze cheese, fuel that enables their trips to my cell door to beg for Tylenol and bacitracin to heal their nostrils after our third world toilet paper abrades them in the absence of  Kleenex or Puffs.  Once I saw what the toilet paper did to my nose when I was sick, I worried about what it did to our assholes; it must be killing them.

Usually after the other inmates raid me, I need the supplies I gifted out so I turn to other inmates, arrive at their cell doors to suss out some tussin cough syrup or allergy tabs.  It would be nice if each inmate accumulated what she might need when cold and flu season dips in, but that’s a fantasy.  Each of us gives out cold remedies to other inmates because none of us have much of a choice in controlling symptoms.  Medical essentials pass around the compound, pushed on by each inmate’s individual emergencies.

imageFor the most part, the prison health service sees patients on an emergency basis.  “Sick Call” they call it, borrowing from the military but it makes it sound too much like what it is:  a cattle call, permission granted to herds of women who sniffle, sneeze and sleep away their fevers to corral themselves into the outpatient medical unit and wait for the medical advice to RICE – rest, ice, constrict and elevate – everything.

“Emergency medical care is available 24 hours a day” announce signs in all housing units.  Just like the words “obscene,” “reasonable” or “humorous” open themselves to a number of interpretations, emergency is in the eye of the toilet-bowl holder. Since it is what kicks in any regimen of care, everything hinges on that definition in prison.

“The difference between life and death,” a guard answers when I ask what an emergency is.  But in a place with no strategy of preventive and spotty acute care, life moves closer and closer to a prisoner’s day of demise.  Because inmates often don’t receive the care they need, everything is an emergency.

And even though my friend had been bleeding, spotting for months.  When she sought emergency care, the guards denied her.

image“Write to medical,” they ordered her, which meant to complete a “Request Form” and place it in the institutional mail system which is like sending a letter to 911.  Nicole wrote and doctors told her it was nothing, probably stress.  Then cancer riddled her uterus, her cervix, her ovaries; no health care provider had examined behind her ovaries where the cancer started in order to catch it in Stages One, Two or Three.  When it reached Stage Four, Nicole survived total evisceration, chemotherapy, a hysterectomy and other surgeries but she eventually succumbed in the prison’s hospice on October 7, 2011.

Just a year before, another friend of mine, Deb Czarneski, dropped dead of a heart attack in the lobby of the outpatient medical unit.  Her death resulted not from a lack of preventive cardiac care, but the fact that undiagnosed carcinomas in her lungs had metastasized so extensively that the metastases caused organ  failure.  Deb complained for months of such severe shortness of breath that she could no longer climb to her top bunk; guards threatened her with tickets for interfering with safety and security when she put her mattress on the floor to sleep.  All of her written “Request Forms” had the same misdiagnoses scribbled at the bottom:  asthma or walking pneumonia; no one ordered the proper scans or x-rays to reveal the tumors burgeoning in her lungs.

Nicole actually faced capital punishment for her crimes of killing jewelry store owners during robberies but the court punished Deb Czarneski for a larceny.  For stealing something,  she received the death penalty.  When Nicole asked for “sick call” to call her for her spotting, her symptoms constituted an emergency, fitting in that spot between life and death.  The same was true about Deb’s breathing; she lived in an emergency state for months.

imageThe problems with correctional health care encompass more than woefully low funding or sub-par practitioners; ultimately, it is the lack of choice.  In prison, when it comes to health care, inmates take what they get.  Second opinions rarely await inmates in the Department of Correction’s examination rooms.

Incarceration must include giving up some choice because rehabilitation repays bad choices.  But when punishment perverts prevention and incarceration immerses inmates in illness, we have only on choice:  to expand service so as to protect all prisoners’ health.  Denying options to inmates kills them.

imageI refused to accept the lack of choice and I was not facing a life-threatening illness.  When pain in my right foot persisted for six months, APRN’s – Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, the poor man’s physicians – advised me that, as arthritis, it was untreatable and something I just needed to accept.  When my walking suffered, I filed a health Services Review form which is a grievance against medical treatment and/or diagnoses.  Because I grieved the fact that I needed treatment for something more than arthritis, the Health Services Review was my attempt to forge my own choice, to create options where they did not appear to exist.

The Health Services Review Coordinator nurse, a model of preventive and public health who cannot work for 30 minutes without a smoke break, met with me and said “We don’t do this,” not referring to some procedure I requested but to the fact that few people in the medical unit questioned others’ medical conclusions. She confirmed my suspicion that employees in the medical unit align themselves very tightly, at least in the face of questions and complaints from inmates and guards.  I think she believed that her four words would make me go away, to limp out of her office defeated.

“Well, there’s a form and a procedure for me to question the adequacy of my treatment, so I think that you do,” I retorted to a stunned expression.  I don’t speak like the other inmates.  So much of what I say stuns the people who work here.

Eventually, I saw two physicians who diagnosed a neuroma in my foot which was treated with cortisone and alcohol injections.  It took eight months for me to get those shots.  If my foot’s neuroma squeezed into the emergency space between life and death, a toe-tag would have decorated my future.

imageThe lack of choice for inmates’ medical care causes more than just physical distress; it also creates rancor between medical personnel and “custody staff” – guards, lieutenants, captains and the wardens.  When custody staff wants to send an inmate for emergency care, nurses sometimes send her back, deciding that symptoms are not serious enough, maybe even faked.  Other times, inmates appear in the medical unit with conditions so advanced that nurses pick up the phone and yell at a member of the custody corps for not dispatching the prisoner over for treatment sooner.  The internal power struggle leaves medical needs unexamined and inmates like me have no choice but to stand as silent witnesses to the duels.

“I can’t believe they let her die!” cried one female guard after Deb died, a clear accusation that it was the medical staff’s fault, not the guards who might not have referred her properly or with enough priority for effective care.

image“I don’t know what’s happening in that unit, but you waited too long to send her here,” a nurse was telling a C/O over the phone in a conspicious way – on the phone in the lobby of the medical unit. It makes me think it;s more theatre than concern when one of us croaks.

When that watery warning developed into a full flu crisis, I thought of asking a guard to call the medical unit for me, if only to collect another bottle of Tylenol for my fever, something it would take two weeks for me to receive from the commissary, but I didn’t.  The nurses advice would do as much as all of those over-the-counter pills I used to buy, which was close to nothing.  I decided I had no choice but to ride it out if it isn’t serious.

THREE IDEAS in JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 23-30, 2015

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From Fluvanna Review: Lawsuit Spotlights Inadequate Health Care At Fluvanna Prison

“Capitated compensation” – a contract between a private healthcare provider and a correctional system whereby the provider is paid a fee for each resident of the facility and no more – can be the unofficial cause of death for prisoners.

From Vice.com: What It’s Like to Celebrate Thanksgiving in a High-Security Prison

All the fixin’s. And food in people’s pants.

From the Chicago Sun-Times: Prison “Reform” Can’t Be Revolving Door

The State of Illinois spent $69 million in fiscal year 2014, $67 million in fiscal year 2015 on prisoner re-entry services. Since July 1 of this year, the state has spent only $418,000 on services. Is Illinois headed toward more recidivism?

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23 November 2015

THREE IDEAS

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Since Prison Diaries attracts thousands of unique visitors every week and maybe five of you voted, the polls are closed. With civic participation like this, Deez Nuts is the projected winner of the 2016 presidential election.

From now on, beneath every post, Prison Diaries will present three new ideas in criminal justice reform from the previous week so readers can keep up on what’s happening and – if not vote – think.

 

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23 November 2015

Stuffing the Cavity

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At every cultural crossroad, whenever I refuse to go down behavioral One Way streets against the traffic, I face road rage –  being called a snob – regardless of how polite I am and how far I swerve to avoid collision. My first attack happened during my first week in the dorms when I learned how women stole food from the kitchen during my first week in the dorms.

“Yo, Princeton, you want fried chicken?”

“Where’d you get fried chicken?” I asked.

“Here,” she said and pulled a KFC-style breast from her underwear.  She pulled something off of it – lint? a hair? – and held it out to me.

“No, thank you for offering. I’m…I’m okay.”

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Straight outta Crotchdom.

“Sure?”

“Yeah.” I nodded with a horizontal smile.

“I’m clean.”

“I’m sure you are,” I conceded.

“Smells like fish, tastes like chicken…” she offered as an advertisement and laughed. “You Common Fare?”

“Common what?”

“Common Fare, like vegetarian,” she explained.

“No. I just…”

151011_CRIME_RTR2NCPE.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge“Just what? Don’t want to eat nothin’ I give you?”

“No, it’s not that…”

“Then what?” she challenged me.

“I just…don’t eat from other people’s underwear.”

“You gonna starve if you think you above eatin’ from somebody panties. That’s how it gets here to the dorms, yo. Miss High Mighty.”

Ever since then, every one of my No, thank you’s invited a Who da fuck you think you are? that has separated me from everyone else.

It wasn’t just the fact that people were eating out of their undergarments; they were stealing. I’m not so judgmental and moralistic that I can’t understand why hungry women pilfer food out of the kitchen. What I can never understand is why the inmates insist on conforming to the labels placed on us: deceptive, dishonest, craven. Unless you like those descriptions and think they’re accurate, you shouldn’t act that way. It’s why I never use my Hanes as a takeout container, in addition to not wanting to floss with my own pubes. I won’t conform to the negative norms I’ve been associated with.

Consequently, other women  see any refusal on my part to join into inmate bullshit as a rejection of them and a statement that I am superior. They don’t understand that different doesn’t mean better, that staying out of something doesn’t necessarily put it down. They can understand acceptance only when it’s enmeshment. There can be no spaces between them and other people. When those spaces do exist, inmates shove resentment and name-calling inside until you give up and fuse with them. I think the fact that I don’t call this phenomenon by its usual name – peer pressure – probably means that they’re partially right about my standoffishness; I don’t see them as peers.

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The other workers thought of me like the little guy in the back.

The separation between me and the other inmates practically became an official divorce when I was forced to be Line Captain in the kitchen, semi-in charge of other kitchen workers. I don’t have authority like staff but I’m allowed to direct other workers. Slightly.

“Um… change those, please?” I called to another kitchen worker who, wearing her serving gloves, walked into the bathroom and came out with the gloves still on. It was gross regardless, but I knew that she hadn’t used the toilet to do anything other than rest her boots on the seat while she figured out how to sneak out holiday fixin’s.

“Wow, you’re like, really straight,” she said as she peeled them off. She meant it as an insult, like I wasn’t down with the proletariat.

image“No, it’s that you can’t wear gloves you wore in the restroom to serve food to people. It’s unsanitary.”

But Mr. Torsano, one of the supervisors, overheard us and barricaded the warmer angrily.

“I’ll be damned if this is gonna become panty meat!” He glared at the glove girl.

“It’s a holiday tradition,” Torsano told me about the stealing as all of the workers were being lined up by a female officer before we could leave.

“So we’re getting strip searched?” I asked. I didn’t worry about getting caught – not doing anything wrong greatly reduces the risk of that – but I hated having a C/O shine a flashlight up my birth canal. He laughed.

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Yes, that’s a dude but this is what it’s like.

“Of course you’re getting searched. It’s Thanksgiving,” he said in total seriousness, like that was an obvious explanation, the Bend-Squat-and-Cough as common on the fourth Thursday in November as saying “Grace.”

“Alright, ladies, why dontcha just pull out what you got now and save me the trouble of having to look at your dirty asses?” shouted a female C/O with severe rosacea.

Yeah, pull out so I don’t have to pull it off.

Two women actually pulled sandwich baggies out from underneath their waistbands.

“Can I not, like, get a ticket ‘cuz I was honest?”

“Honest? You were fuckin’ stealing!” Rosacea shouted as she walked to the bathroom door and held it open with one foot with her legs stretched wide.  “Next!”

First One went into the bathroom. Rustle of shed clothing.

“Whup…whup…whup. What do we have here?” Rosacea asked as she reached into the bathroom. Balancing it between her thumb and her forefinger, she brought into our view a bag of sliced turkey and stuffing, the stuffing molded into a strange, curved “Y” where the bag had been pressed between First One’s ass cheeks.

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Stuffing is the hot item to steal on Thanksgiving. 98.6 degrees hot because it’s near someone’s rectum.

First One walked out.

Next One went into the bathroom.  Swish of shed clothing.

“Whup…whup…whup. What do we have here?” Rosacea asked as she reached into the bathroom. Cupping it in her palms, she brought into our view a bag of cranberry sauce and stuffing, the sauce and stuffing molded into a maxi pad-shaped rectangle  with a raised vein along the top of it where the bag had been pressed against Next One’s vagina.

Next One walked out.

Third One – who had worn her gloves into and out of the same room earlier – shuffled into the bathroom. Whoosh of shed clothing.

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Imagine these getting pulled from someone’s birth canal.

“Whup…whup…whup. Wait…Bend, squat and cough. Cough again. What the…?” Rosacea walked into the bathroom. Gingerly pinching it, she brought into our view a cigar-shaped tube because the stuffing had been stuffed, with fingers protected by the gloves. When she came out, Third One wasn’t even embarrassed that a C/O just pulled prison giblets out of her.

Fourth One – me – strode into the bathroom. Before shed clothes could sound, I said:

“I don’t have anything.”

“Not taking your word for it. Off,” Rosacea barked.

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Fewer stuffing places.

I took dropped my pants first since the nether regions were the prime parking space for holiday roast beast.

“Nothing.”

“Shirt.”

I took off my shirt. Mucous-looking poultry gravy streaked across my right boob. I stood in my bra, dropped drawers and boots.

“Boots and pants off all the way. Bra, too. You know the routine.”

I bent. I squatted. I coughed. Totally nude, I rotated around to show Rosacea I had nothing. She nodded to let me know I could re-dress.

“What’s the matter, Bozelko? Food not good enough in here for ya?”

I can’t win.

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 THREE IDEAS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

FROM NOVEMBER 15-22, 2015

From the Washington Post: Reforming Police Culture Is a Daunting Challenge

Columnist Radley Balko describes why it’s so hard to reduce police brutality problems. Extensive analysis of resistance by some public sector unions.

From The Crime Report: Is Congress Ready to Back a New Crime Commission?

Once given a passage prognosis of 0%, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act seems back on track.

From the Prison Policy Initiative: States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context

Almost one-third of all female prisoners are in the United States. And we’re only 5% of the world’s population.

 

 

 

 

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16 November 2015

To the Mattresses

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Can’t this wait until morning? I thought. Ever since I moved from 0 South to 1 North, women had been waking me up to ask me something. “Can you steal me some margarine from Food Prep?” No. “Do you have the free waiver forms so I can order my transcripts?” Yes. I’ll swing my 22-inch legs down this 5 ½ foot bunk bed to haul out my folders to get it for you even though I have to wake up in five hours and you can’t mail it out until Tuesday. “Do you have anything sweet to eat?” Yes, but these stubby limbs are not scaling this structure to get it for you.

Now, instead of speaking through the crack of my cell door, my neighbor was banging on the other side of the cinderblock that separating our cells. I ignored her, deciding I would plead “headphones on” if she asked in the morning why I refused to answer her.

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Bang the ulnar on the wall to wake it up.

But she didn’t ask me that. She asked me:

“Why were you banging on my wall last night?”

“I wasn’t. You…” I was about to reverse the accusation on her but I realized this might be a trap, a way to squeeze out of me that I had heard her but paid as much attention to her as the Correctional Institute of America pays to us. I left it.

She did it again that night at 2AM. This vindictive little bitch. She’s gonna keep this shit up just because I didn’t answer her last night. She knows I go to work in two hours.

But the next day:

image“Chandra, if it isn’t you then tell your bunkie but whoever’s banging on the wall needs to fuckin’ quit it.”

“Stacey, no one banged on your wall but you or your roommate.”

“Nooo. We both took mad allergy tab[lets] last night and were asleep from like 9 o’clock. We weren’t even awake until you started pounding.”

So went the exchange for days until the banging stopped. Because it was replaced with shouting.

“Stop fuckin’ banging bitch!” Stacey shouted through her wall, through to me who was half asleep.

“I’m not banging Stacey. I’m sorry I didn’t answer you the other night but I was tired, OK? Let’s end this.”

“I didn’t call you the other night.”

“You were banging on the wall. You woke me up.”

“I didn’t.”

image“Then who the hell did, Stacey?” I shouted to my wall.

‘Who the hell was banging’ was me. And it was Stacey. Both of us were banging the wall – half asleep – when our arms and hands would fall fully asleep, pins and needles style, from laying for hours on two-inch, springless mattresses on unforgiving metal platforms. It turns out we do it all the time but are too groggy in the night and too deprived in the day to know that we were.

The first time my arms fell asleep because of substandard bedding, I happened to be balled up in sheets of self-pity over being in prison. My arms and hands were completely insensate. I scrunched up my fingers as much as I could. It just never ends. First I land in this pighole and now I have MS! I lamented silently.

Neither the pins nor the needles were MS but they were NS – non-stop – and kept me from REM sleep because each night they interrupted my rest so painfully that the only remedy was/is to thump the wall next to my bed until I scared my capillaries back on course. I am half-awake when I do it so I don’t remember rapping the cement with my fist. Neither did Stacey. We were both right and both wrong when we accused the other of beating down the walls that divide us. We were so shut out of any serious shut-eye that we didn’t even know what we were doing.

imageNone of the inmates are well-rested unless they lied to a psychiatrist about hearing voices and he ordered the pill equivalent of an I.V. Haldol drip in which case they don’t need to be rested because they never wake up. I estimate that I’ve achieved probably 1500 hours of REM sleep in the past six years. At six hours per night, I should have logged almost 2200.

My worldview dips and swells here in prison. Sometimes I have hope and sometimes I doze off into total cynicism. The difference between my insight one week and my sense the next is so wide sometimes, so different, that I actually started to wonder if I did have a mood disorder. I had fought a diagnosis of bipolar disorder for so long to unreceptive shrinks that the prospect that I was wrong when I stood against the diagnosis scared the shit out of me. The anxiety of a correct diagnosis made me so restless that even a Posturepedic topped with a featherbed wouldn’t have given me rest.

My turns of mind are not sharp enough for others to notice, mostly because I don’t share on one day how I think that all inmates (besides me, of course) are deviants who need to breathe every last breath behind bars or how, on the next day, I believe that all of them have a chance at success. Or how some days I feel that my life is over and others I can square with “God’s Plan” no matter what it is. Most days I’m even-keeled when others misbehave. But the other day I bitched out another woman at work for stealing the bran squares they serve us for breakfast.

image“What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re stealing this shit, putting it in a bag right in front of NY Giants?” My flare up shocked both of us.

“It’s just the stress of being here,” is what everyone says when you’re feeling wobbly. The stress of being here, though, is not that tasks stack up on us or that we don’t have enough time (who doesn’t have time in prison?). Overstimulated nervous systems and under-stimulated brains from lack of rest causes the stress, the breakdowns, the bad and inexplicable behavior.

“It’s only a mood disorder if it interferes with your life. You do what’s asked of you. You do what’s expected of you. You don’t engage disrespectfully with the staff. You’re OK,” a social worker consoled me when I explained my fears about my changing perceptions. “You just need some rest. You get up at 3:30 every morning. Try to take naps.”

Which I do. But when my head hits the plastic, inflated pillow on my bunk, the shouting and other releases of hot air commence outside my cell.

“What? You think I’m some kind of bum? I gave you like ten dollars worth of food…”

“Close the fucking door before they search the place. I got shit in there I need to protect.”

imageThey squabble, scream and screech at decibels I could never sustain for more than two seconds. I can’t sleep because of them and they can’t sleep because their mattresses are yoga mats. So they scream until the staff intervenes.

“You’re grown fuckin’ women! Stop it!” the unit manager bellowed down the hallway after he locked everyone down for noise. He’s right; this behavior is embarrassing for anyone over 14 years old. But I wonder if he really understands how sleep deprived we are and what it does to our brains. Guards shuttle off to the mental health unit any inmate whose behavior is off. Unless it induces a Shakespearean sleep, the script she snags from a doctor in the psych unit won’t work for long because laying steel of an elevated cot counteracts most drug-induced rest. They shift during the night and bang their hands on the walls to wake the cell death out of them and wake me up in the process. I unwittingly serve it all right back to them.

It’s amazing that all the psychological/psychiatric interventions, all the penal discipline and all the soothing cooing form social workers may never solve any behavioral problems. While our sleep stays so shitty, maybe all wardens need to do to rehabilitate us is to follow the example of the original gangster – the biggest cinematic criminal ever – and go to the mattresses.

And to replace the fucking things so we can sleep.

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 READER POLL

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From Slate.com: Serving Time in Overcrowded Prisons Makes Ex-Cons More Likely to Reoffend

The subtext of any article on stuffing our prisons is that prisoners who live in overcrowded conditions usually face sleeping conditions that are more substandard than usual prison conditions, using’boats” – plastic canoe-like contraptions – for their beds instead of a bunk.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

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9 November 2015

Mug Shots

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Her mug bears yellow letters – her initials – ripped from construction paper; their edges track alternating black and white squares, drawn on with color pencils. The combination reminds you of a checkered cab, the intended impression because, from a small silky string, a molded-plastic taxi hangs, windows and wheels painted on. And she laughs about it.

imagePrisoners can be crafty little fuckers when we want to be, like if we want to decorate our cups with illegally imported supplies employing a taxicab motif. What makes the cup even more dangerous is that its holder has been sentenced to 50 years for stabbing a taxi driver to death in his cab. Remorse had better hitch a ride with someone else because this chick ain’t takin’ fares, decorating her cup like her crime is a joke.

A person’s character and her actions do not always collide: good people can do bad things. But what tows bad actions clear way from character is regret and repentance. And this cup, with the yellow and the checks, does not runneth over with either one of them.

Whenever an inmate describes prison life, she laces her tale with the themes “Not all prisoners are bad people” and “Everyone deserves a second chance.” I see how these ideas might make people sick at the sound of prisoners’ voices.

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Do I regret not speaking about the lack of regret?

So I now upend the prison tradition of staking claim on second chances and admit it: we’re all scumbags. I include myself because when I watch her fill her cup with instant coffee, non-dairy creamer and plop all two hundred and thirty pounds of herself on a communal couch with a package of iced oatmeal cookies to criticize everyone caught in Inside Edition’s scrutiny and complain that she has gone without oral sex for months, I should say something to remind her of her victim, of the children he left behind. But I don’t.

I don’t say anything because I don’t want to translate from ebonics the profanity-laced, unjustified retort I would get back. This woman doesn’t speak, she shrieks. And I don’t want to hear it. She is callousness’ consummation: ignoble, ignorant, inconsiderate, immoral, impious. In her mind, everything starts with “I”.

But I’m not that much better. I always defend prisoners, regardless of the truth. I don’t think I even know what I’m talking about anymore.

“But you don’t know all the circumstances of her case,” I would remind people critical of offenders but I had not familiarized myself with the totalities of their situations, either.

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“The Remorse of Orestes” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. There’s no painting of the remorse of arrestees.

“But you don’t know what was going on in her mind when she did that.” Nor did I.

“But look at her trauma history…” as if bringing to mind that abuse begets abuse makes anyone sanguine about bloodshed.

Now when the guards or other inmates get their digs in on some woman for her charges, I say:

“You’re right. She went above and beyond the call of degenerate.” The conversation ends there.

Restorative justice – as opposed to retributive justice – focuses on the harm done to the victim and the community, not just some pissy prosecutor. Restorative justice says crime is an offense against the dignity of persons – both the victim and the offender – not just against some penal code. Restorative justice urges offenders to take part in righting their wrongs, to the extent that doing so will not cause further harm. So what does restorative justice do with this asshole with the taxi mug?

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Can’t just leave it like that.

An inmate’s behavior is the best measure of remorse and rehabilitation. But mass incarceration’s new world order has packed in so many offenders that outrageous conduct like making jokes about crime victims gets lost in the crowds. No one knows about the effrontery of decorating one’s mug with themes from a crime scene except for the other inmates who live with her. All aspiring parolees slap on squeaky-clean smiles for the parole board; the people who decide to release these offenders never see the dirt they continue to pile on their victim’s graves. And we either can’t or don’t say anything about it so we become co-conspirators in ongoing victimization.

I doubt that reporting the mug-hot shot’s antics would have any lasting benefit. A guard would search her cell, confiscate the cup, possibly issue a disciplinary report and register his disgust by clicking his tongue. She would claim she keeps it as a reminder of what she did, to keep her humble, a huge lie. She still wouldn’t recognize her behavior as a spill of evil into the world. Her only regret would be having to spend two dollars for another cup.

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Is this what I’m supposed to do?

 

READER POLL

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From the New York Times: Ganim, Disgraced Ex-Mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., Wins Back Job

Does Ganim beed to be remorseful about his past corruption to be a good mayor for Bridgeport?

  • Yes. (100%, 8 Votes)
  • No. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
2 November 2015

CB Phone Home

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page

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I just got off the phone with my father. Even though it’s barely a toll call and would be imperceptible on a cell phone billing statement, each call costs about five dollars. A family of four could snag Dollar Menu items for each of them for about what I pay to call my father. My sisters and my parents pre-pay fees for these calls and, quite frankly, like any person with an inmate number, I abuse the generosity.

imageWhen people talk about prisoners’ paying their debts to society, they ain’t whistlin’ Dixie; getting canned is expensive. Families run up credit cards to pre-pay phone calls just so mommies can speak with their kids. First inmates pay their debt to society and then they pay off their debts from their debt to society.

From my calls alone, the State of Connecticut probably collected about four thousand dollars because what buoys the outrageous call pricing is the commission that the private phone companies kick back to the state, legal graft that the state never credits to our cost-of-incarceration tabs. And the biggest pisser is that about $1.25 of each call gets sucked up into these announcements:

This……call……originates……in……a……Connecticut……correctional……facility……and……may……be……monitored……or……recorded…….Chandra……is……on……the……phone. ……To ……connect……please……press……one……now……image

This……call……may……be……monitored……or……recorded. ……You……have……five……minutes……left……on……this……call. You……have……one……minute……left……on……this……call.

Because of a class action suit against Global Tel Link, the prison phone behemoth, my parents received a notice the other day listing all my calls between 2008 and 2012 and asked them to read the statement and see if any of the calls were fraudulent.

“Tell them they all are!” I commanded my father, referring to the legal kickback scheme. If all my calls for four- plus years were refunded, my parents would have received $9000.00. That’s how much they spent to talk to me or listen to me, depending on our moods.

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Screw that. I’ll call home.

“That’s like what, a Kia? I could have a Kia if I never called home?” I asked everyone and no one as I explained the Global Tel Link situation to other people on the tier.

“So for like two years, I’d have like four grand?” Shannon asked me.

“Yeah, if you never called anyone and they put the money aside for you.”

“I’d have cigarettes delivered to me every day,” she dreamed right in front of me.

“I think you could find a better use for it. Besides, four grand wouldn’t last that long with the price of cigarettes.”

“I’d have Johnnie Cochran get me up outta this bitch!” Libby announced.

“Why does everyone always want him? He’s dead. For like, years,” I told Libby. She’s been here since for allegedly stabbing her father to death over a pork chop. It’s not in dispute that he died at her hands, only whether it was over the meat he was frying. “I mean, I know news doesn’t get in here easily but since I got here like twenty-five of you had plans to hire him! You can’t.”

“She don’t call nobody anyway. She ain’t got no refund coming,” Belinda said. She claims to be rich and from Stamford but she doesn’t call anyone either. Even if people she knew wanted to talk to her, I doubt they could afford it.

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Dolla, dolla bills, y’all.

“I didn’t know Johnnie died because no one told me over the phone!” Libby explained to me.

Charity was scribbling notes under her elbow.

“Fourteen years would mean my family spent thirty thousand, right?”

“Close,” I agreed.

“What’s that equal to?”

“Like what costs thirty grand?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

image“I don’t know. A luxury car. Down payment on a house. Certain houses and luxury cars, I mean,” I made sure her phone fantasy didn’t go too far. It couldn’t wander much because her life sentence in phone calls would have set up every family member in a new home.

We sat for a few minutes, peering through the glass walls of the other tiers, calculating various prisoners’ time inside, how often we knew they called home. In the long-term housing unit, Zero South, we predicted that probably four million dollars had been spent on phone calls by our family members over our sentences. Fleets of cars were repossessed, homes foreclosed because we were important enough to talk to. And the state’s cut of all of this? Pensions for corrections officers, erection of buildings, all covered because we blabbed.

“What’s twenty years worth of calls?” Trixie asked. She’s been in prison longer than she was alive outside.

“I don’t know, forty-five thousand?” I guessed.

“What can you get for that?”

“A lot. Maybe a year’s tuition at Yale. Half or even all of the tuition for four years at another college. Or the big ticket item in the Neiman Marcus Christmas book. I mean, I think. I haven’t seen one in years.”

imageNo one knew what I was talking about. It didn’t matter. They were too quiet pondering everything their families had sacrificed – and what they wouldn’t have if they ever got home –  just so they could call home. All of their thoughts were monitored and recorded and it was one time when I saw remorse all the way around.

“Don’t feel bad.  It’s how it is. The house always wins. Just not the houses that have these phones we call.”

 

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OJ, do you know how much it costs every time you call me?

 

 READER POLL

From Time Magazine: Feds Make Prison Phone Calls Less Expensive

The Federal Communication Commission capped the cost of phone calls from federal prisons at $0.11 per minute.

Are prison phone call companies about to lose money?

  • No. (70%, 7 Votes)
  • We'll have to see what they do to the inmates in state prisons. They're still fair game. (30%, 3 Votes)
  • Yes. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 10

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