24 April 2017

Pero…like

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imageedit_33_5342224210The real world’s advantages don’t exactly translate in here. Every aspiring college freshman and job applicant in the world brags that she’s bilingual, but it isn’t an advantage in here. They ask you about it a couple of times throughout your risk assessment period. It’s not that they’re looking for translators, like I thought when they asked me. I could’ve said:

“Well, I passed the Spanish civil service test in 1991…” but I acted almost like I didn’t understand the question because I didn’t want to be drafted into the interpreter corps.

But they wouldn’t have asked me to translate anyway. It’s not like York [Correctional Institution] or even other prisons care about accommodating inmates and breaking down language barriers.   Aside from a few paragraphs on old bulletins hanging in the plexiglass-covered announcement boards and the sign announcing the north and south sides of the numbered buildings – as if women couldn’t have figured out that the “S” in 1S meant “Sur,” especially after juxtaposing it against the “N” of North/Norte – there is almost no accommodation of strictly Spanish speaking-women here. I remember reading something about how inmates in a DC jail were complaining about an Eighth Amendment violation [alleging cruel and unusual punishment] because no one working in their medical unit spoke Spanish. I can see the same conditions exist here, where speech means security.

A prison asks you what language you speak because they need to know who to watch. Spanish – or any other language for that matter – is a secret code in an American prison because so few of the C/O’s speak it (or admit they speak it),  making me like a secret decoder ring…that, thankfully, no one knows to consult.

You would think that a group of prisoners who had a private communication system might use it to escape or reform the place. No. In here, the women with the keys to the kingdom use them to scratch someone’s car or pick out ear wax.

The inmates who can speak boldly in front of anyone without detection, instead gossip and slander other women in Spanglish crossed with Valley Girl, trailing sentences as they pulled off the coup of talking about people behind their backs and in front of their faces with  “pero, like….” which translates to  “but, like…”. “Pero…like” justifies baseless bullshit because they leave the end of this slanderous sludge open. It’s like they know that what they’re saying is so false that it needs to betray all languages they know, not just one.

“Sé qui ella dice que no es uno prostituta, pero…like…”

I know she says she’s not a prostitute, but…like…

And they use “but…like” to talk about my keister, my butt. Apparently, I have Butt Implants. And supposedly I stole money from an employer to pay for them. According to them, I’m fake and so is my ass. My ass landed me in here.

Normally, I would laugh at their bullshit but overhearing this hit me in the body part where it hurt most. I don’t even know what to call it. Falling shy of badonkadonk, it’s a bit of a bubble butt. Maybe half a teardrop or a hot tamale losing heat. At least it would have some utility if it were a shelf butt. Shelf or not, my ass is big, it protrudes and always served as convenient drop spot for an insult to me.

I felt like I would never match the physicality of so many of the uber-rich, perfected young adults who roamed the Princeton campus. I saw their limbs as so lengthy, WASPy, tanned in Oyster Bay. Although I hardly came from a poor background, my haunches seemed like vestiges of Slavic peasantry; they reminded me of an Eastern European weightlifter while the other students looked like Nordic ice dancers.

Feeling like a huge red arrow followed me, trained on my ass, made me compensate for those low feelings. Convinced I was attractive only for my brains, I assured myself that my mind outweighed any heavy butt. If it was all about the brains, no bubble, then any thought that entered my mind was right and should be voiced. Pissed over a date being late, I’d blast him. I reamed men for perceived slights or even joking with me like a friend and not a love interest.

When I wasn’t being an intolerable pain in the ass to boys I liked, I spent my remaining college years trying to minimize my gluteus, even consulting plastic surgeons. If they could correct my ass to perfection, I would attract men physically as well as intellectually and they would never leave.

“Can you get rid of this?” I asked each one and he – always a “he” since I subconsciously sought a message of correctability from men – would pull up on each buttock. Items in my rearview are actually smaller than they seem because my legs are so short. My femur compares to the length of an average woman’s forearm.

“I can take some off but you have a lot of muscle. It’s just the way you’re built.” Fundamentally defective yet again.

“¡Carajo! Huelo su coño desde aquí. Se lo chingó ala guardia. Por la mesa, I bet.”

Fuck! I can smell her pussy from here. She fucked that C/O. On his desk, I bet. 

Like the Butt Implant theory, both of these allegations were easily proved false if I cared to do so, but…like…I didn’t want my nether regions dominating all of their conversation.

“No digas ‘coño’. Se escucha vulgar,” I said.

Don’t say ‘pussy’. You sound trashy. 

“Whaaa? Puta. Fuck outta here! Why she never tell us?” shouted one of them, Flaca.

Whaaa? That bitch. Fuck outta here. Why didn’t she tell us she spoke Spanish? She betrayed us by not telling us information we wouldn’t have needed if we had any class.  Wherever women are speaking Spanish in a prison, there’s at least one Flaca within the group. It means skinny. Digo culo piqueño pero, like… I would say ‘small ass’ but, like…

“Yo hablo, pero…like…pueden besar mi culo in Inglés.”

I speak it, but…like…you can kiss my ass in English.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM APRIL 17 – 23, 2017

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2017 file photo, Ledell Lee appears in Pulaski County Circuit Court for a hearing in which lawyers argued to stop his execution which is scheduled for Thursday. Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night. Lee was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Debra Reese with a tire iron in February 1993 in Jacksonville. (Benjamin Krain/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

Last week was about life and who gets to take it. Ask yourself what you would do/want done if you were any of these people:

Another aspect of the “CSI effect” – expecting that every shred of evidence in a criminal case is capable of forensic analysis – is expecting that every shred actually gets tested.  On Friday, the State of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee before DNA testing could be conducted to examine his claims of innocence. Think about that: because the expiration date on a drug was fast approaching, a state government decided it was acceptable to kill someone without double-checking his guilt. This was also Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first vote, he was the deciding factor in SCOTUS’ allowing people to put the needle in Lee’s arm, proving that, in the United States, homicide is acceptable, depending on who commits it.

Keep in mind that one man, Arkansasan Gov. Asa Hutchinson, could have saved eight lives – including Lee’s – in less than 10 seconds if he had the temerity that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had on Thursday when he commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, convicted in the murder-for-hire of his ex-girlfriend. McAuliffe was convinced of Teleguz’ guilt but saw that his sentencing was unfair (the prosecutor casually suggested Teleguz was involved in another murder during the penalty phase of the trial) so he spared his life. If you had the chance to save a life, wouldn’t you do it, too?

No, it wasn’t a murder. Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots TE, ended his own life last Wednesday, a few days after his double acquittal for murder. Reports surfaced that, for the first time in court, Hernandez was speaking to other people, blowing kisses to his daughter and generally acting like a human being instead of a prisoner. A little over a year ago, another former NFL player, Lawrence Phillips, committed suicide after coming back from court where he also felt human, and acted, according to others, like “a kid on Christmas morning.” When you aren’t forced to endure mass prisoner transport, chained to other people in filthy buses and vans (which most assuredly neither of these men were) then I guess trips to court can be okay, even good, and better than your life behind bars, and your crash into correctional reality hurts so badly that you use all of the autonomy you have left.

 

 

 

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17 April 2017

Tell Ol’ Pharaoh

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license plate

“I ain’t gonna work for no white man for 75 cents a day,” an African-American inmate cried before she quit and, through her quitting, provided cause to be fired – an event I’ve witnessed so often that I’ve come to call it “quiring.”   While who dumped who might be in debate, what she said was 100% accurate. She didn’t work for the 75 cent daily wage she was paid while she worked here.

jim crowEspecially now that a copy of the Michelle Alexander book, The New Jim Crow, is getting passed around in here, almost every reference to our prison jobs includes the s-word: slavery. It’s a real testament to the power of messaging since I think only 6 of us actually read the book but everyone talks like they have.

It’s true that there are more African Americans under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850. And, given the fact that a high inmate wage is a dollar per hour, slavery would come to mind.

But witnessing the power of prison employment to reform people and to train them for a better life, I think calling it slavery negates all of the good that comes from it and sends a message that’s ultimately more dehumanizing than any uncompensated work could be.

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Did this…

If anyone has the right to call it slavery, I do, but I detest that name for something that’s humanizing me. I feel reliable and capable again even though I’ve only been assigned some relatively menial work like scrubbing pots, stacking plastic trays and slicing bags of tomatoes. I’m not alone; when they’re working, other women feel like they have something to offer that isn’t sexual and they think they’ll be able to provide for their families when they leave. They don’t describe their jobs as some type of bondage. We like what we’re doing and I’ve never heard anyone say that slaves like being indentured. What everyone outside is calling slavery, the inmates who are actually working – and too busy to internalize an infantilizing “slave” mentality – call liberating.

Not only is calling prison labor slavery insulting to the inmates but it’s a total affront to the original slaves whose conversion from human to chattel wasn’t the result of any transgression but was instead a kidnapping from their homeland and a fencing into forced labor.

image
…become this?

We modern day slaves landed in our situations because of bad choices. I understand that much of shitty judgment is forced in a way: addiction, mental illness, poverty, lack of education, and racism collude to make the decision to commit a crime seem obvious, even attractive. Is someone who gets charged and convicted of beating a child because the tyke interrupted a TV show she was watching the same as someone else’s being plopped under a poop deck and transported to another country where they’ll never be free…after they’ve done nothing wrong?

More than just relying on a flawed comparison, when you call prison labor slavery, you take away the inmate’s agency, their right to negotiate their own lives, regardless of how reduced their choices are.

And when we erase the ability to choose, to be an agent in one’s own life, we also delete our capacity to reform ourselves. Change results from choice and where we say there are no choices, there can be no rehabilitation.  If everyone who’s working in prison is a slave, shackled to a poor decision in their past, then there isn’t much hope for them when they leave the facility, as 95% of us will eventually.

imageProfessor Alexander – a graduate of Stanford Law School who’s never walked my walk into prison – hasn’t provided answers for the questions that a slave like me would necessarily have with my intimate knowledge of prison labor. If what I do is slavery, then what’s community service, that sentence that everyone thinks is such a boon? Raking leaves for a week for nothing is okay but lifting bags of texturized vegetable protein for years isn’t?  Is contributing to our communities and ourselves through hard, honest toil always going to be an illegal exploitation? If a non-profit benefits instead of a state or a for-profit company, does that make the whole operation legal and defensible?

Where Alexander is right is her assertion that incarceration makes a 21st century caste system whereby people with criminal records are chained in poverty because they can’t get occupational licenses or jobs. That’s the problem with prison labor; not the pay, but the fact that we’re good enough to work in here, for next to nothing, but not good enough to work for people and companies when we’re outside. It’s the same work, from the same source, and it’s treated totally differently once we’re free. That makes no sense, yet the phenomenon had persisted for years in reentry. People are too busy trying to call prison labor slavery that they ignore the good argument about it: that it’s hypocrisy.

I’m white and I work for white chefs who happened to seek employment in a prison kitchen in Connecticut.  Maybe I’d assess this differently if I were black and faced a lifetime of racism that culminated in my being required to bang out license plates in a Texas prison for no pay at all. I don’t even know if I’m qualified to have an opinion on this. What we do in here is poorly-paid but I don’t think it’s slavery.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM APRIL 10 – 16, 2017

image

The focus this week? The vig you pay to maintain mass incarceration.

A sheriff in Alabama is petitioning a court to be allowed to keep – for herself – any money leftover after feeding the inmates in her care. It’s hard to tell what the most shocking part about this story from AL.com is. It could be the fact that this is even allowed in the first place. Or maybe the fact that Morgan County, Alabama is the only county left out of this statewide scheme because the last sheriff pocketed $200K  and fed the inmates only two corndogs a day for weeks. Or maybe the fact that the current sheriff, knowing that Morgan County was exempt from this, still withdrew $160,000 from the corrections food account and invested it in a corrupt, bankrupt used car dealership run by a convicted felon.

It was reported that bonuses for federal prison officials, ranging from $7,000 to $28,000, cost taxpayers $2 million over the last three years, while the Bureau of Prisons “was confronting persistent overcrowding, sub-par inmate medical care, chronic staffing shortages and a lurid sexual harassment lawsuit that engulfed its largest institution.” Read about it here.

Things are changing in Georgia, where you are placed on misdemeanor probation for traffic tickets and required to pay the fine plus fees so a private corporation can make millions. The biggest company has quit, because they’ve finally accepted that expecting record profits from a clientele that has always been and probably will always be poor is a shitty business model. Instead, Sentinel Offender Services tried to pass the cost to the taxpayer by requesting that the courts pay these exorbitant fees on the probationers’ behalf.

Who’s the slave now?

Oh, and don’t miss Lifetime’s movie this week, written and directed by my screenwriting teacher Stephen Tolkin: New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. It’s about the famous 2015 escape and it’s about manipulation but it’s also about a prison workplace and what happens there. Decide for yourself if inmates who work are slaves. The film airs at 8 P.M. EST on April 23, 2017 on Lifetime but you can watch a trailer here.

tillie

 

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10 April 2017

Joovee

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juvylineup

 

Anyone who has ever shopped for children’s clothing knows that there are different sizing schemes. “T” denotes a toddler size.  “6X,” a size unheard of in adult clothing, is slightly bigger for the child growing out of size 6 and “juniors” departments offer sizes for adolescents. Without an exact fit, parents try to find the best fit for the meantime until their children outgrow their clothes and need new ones.

We respond more to children’s fitting rooms than their needs in courtrooms. We drape adult laws over juvenile offenders, always expecting a perfect fit that will last a lifetime. Now scientists and policymakers agree that juvenile sentences are like children’s clothes: one size doesn’t fit all.

JIPProgram

The “Second Look” legislation that just came out of the [Connecticut General Assembly’s] Judiciary Committee would change the sentence modification laws for juvenile offenders,  allowing them the opportunity to have their sentences reviewed without the approval of a prosecutor after they’ve served a certain amount of time. many times children as young as 14 receive sentences of fifty years or more. Second Look legislation provides the opportunity for tailoring our punishments once we realize that juvenile offenders’ sentences either never fit or don’t fit any more.

The way they treat juvenile and youthful offenders in here shows they’re different. The C/O’s escort girls under 18 years old wherever they go: school (mandated for young inmates), meals (they eat alone in the large dining hall and return to their unit before adult inmates are released for chow). Little girls aren’t treated like adults in the big house, but they are in the place that gets them here: the courthouse.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids in Prison" It sounds harmless: Òpre-trial detention.Ó But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, TexasÑand in similar places around the nationÑchildren await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// The Youngest 10-year-old Alejandro is shown to a holding cell where he'll await booking at Webb County Juvenile Detention following his arrest for marijuanna posession. Every day the inmates get smaller, and more confused about what brought them here. Psychiatrists say children do not react to punishment in the same way as adults. They learn more about becoming criminals than they do about becoming citizens. And one night of loneliness can be enough to prove their suspicion that nobody cares.

But the Second Look legislation is cut too small; it helps only those offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense. The age limitation flies in the face of the most recent neuroscience on the subject, specifically the fact that the part of the brain that governs judgment and impulse does not fully mature until someone reaches the age of 25. In their arrest warrants, police investigating crimes committed by women under  25 – particularly serious and violent crimes by those women – usually tell the stories against backdrops of adolescently dysfunctional behavior:  a co-defendant loser boyfriend who seduced them and induced them into criminal behavior, a complete and total devotion to him during the prosecution of the case, even though her “Co-D” is foisting his responsibility on her.

Even though most of the frontal lobe research embraced by the American Psychological Association indicates that every offender under 25 merits the same consideration in sentencing because their brains are still not completely developed, all offenders between 18 and 25 are left out of it. The law ignores the totality of the science it depends on. Despite this data, using an arbitrary cut-off, a numeric construct, namely the age of 18, perpetuates the practice of fashioning one punishment for a population based only on their ages and not what’s appropriate for the individual offender.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids in Prison" It sounds harmless: “pre-trial detention.” But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, Texas—and in similar places around the nation—children await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// The Youngest 10-year-old Alejandro has his mug shot taken at Webb County Juvenile Detention following his arrest for marijuanna posession. Every day the inmates get smaller, and more confused about what brought them here. Psychiatrists say children do not react to punishment in the same way as adults. They learn more about becoming criminals than they do about becoming citizens. And one night of loneliness can be enough to prove their suspicion that nobody cares.

Connecticut isn’t alone in being kind of wrong in doing the right thing for juvies. This new law would follow the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States who, in their 2010 opinion in Graham v. Florida, declared the death penalty unconstitutional for 15 and 16 year-olds because their adolescent brain development lessened their culpability. But for 17-25 year-olds, execution is fine, even though the research findings say it isn’t.

juvy3

Juvenile justice considerations are usually pretty theoretical to me because I came to the can an old biddy. Neither I nor anyone I associated with was in trouble when I was a teenager. No boyfriend of mine brought me to criminal behavior on a date. However, I ran with a different crowd than these women. My friends, the boys I met, were all from the upper-middle class and were fixated on their futures, even the iconoclast on a opposing debate team who called in a bomb threat to a local school; he’s supposedly a lawyer now. Redistricting ambition into the less affluent neighborhoods, the subsidized housing and the elusive culture that the inmates call “the streets” rarely happens. If I sprang from those circumstances, boys could have easily led me into bad business. Everyone credits her judgment for her clean history but, most of the time, it’s just luck and economics.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids Behind Bars" It sounds harmless: “pre-trial detention.” But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, Texas—and in similar places around the nation—children await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// Inmates, ages 10-16, wait in line to march back to their cells in the exercise yard at the Webb County Juvenile Detention facility. This is the world of young felons, of kids gone astray, of children who cry for their mothers from behind bars. Some have skipped class too much, some have murdered in cold blood. At least half of the kids have been incarcerated before. And, if society's attempts at rehabilitation ultimately fail--or if the parent can't or simply won't do anything to turn around years of neglect and abuse--just a few more visits to juvenile detention will harden some of these kids into full-fledged adult criminals.

Adolescent stupidity plays out differently in different dioramas – one with government cheese instead of Chili’s quesadillas, one with a fire hydrant instead of a swimming pool, one with parents who wait in line for housing vouchers rather than stand on sidelines of field hockey fields – and will wreak different results. But even someone from the wealthiest, most stable family can make a sufficiently long list of stupid mistakes they made before age 25; an eighteenth birthday doesn’t cut the list off.

In fact, I did most of my dumbest, most barely legal shit in college  – when I was 18 through 21 – the exact ages that this law wouldn’t cover. Even if I had been arrested for any of my alcohol-fueled dalliances with the thought that I was edgy and cool for pulling reckless capers, my family would have reeled me out of this pit in the same way that legislators are trying to help the girls who are here now.

If I had suffered consequences for my stupidity and my family hadn’t had the resources to help me, I’d have been as fucked as the young women in this place are. The kids are goofy but these young ladies are extremely focused on appearance: making uniform jeans tighter, wearing elaborate cat-eye black on their lids, erecting mazes of hair on top of their heads with curls, yet they’re a little dour because, I think, they know that no one’s coming for them. At 19, they’re already too old to attract the right kind of attention.

Update: Photos here depict real juvenile offenders, the last four are pictures of 10 year-old boy who was arrested in Texas for marijuana possession, caught while copping for his mother who has a substance abuse problem and couldn’t post his bail. AN ACT CONCERNING LENGTHY SENTENCES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED BY A CHILD OR YOUTH AND THE SENTENCING OF A CHILD OR YOUTH CONVICTED OF CERTAIN FELONY OFFENSES was passed into law in Connecticut after I left prison, in 2015. It still left out offenders aged 18 to 25.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM APRIL 3 – 9, 2017

jersey-shore-mike-the-situation-sorrentino-tax-fraud-trial

It was another numbers game last week, with some shockers.

The Washington Post reported that ninety percent of criminal charges brought by the IRS were false, based on an overbroad definition of “structuring” – the practice of splitting deposits, supposedly in order to dodge reporting requirements. Many of the deposits were made for legitimate business purposes. Makes you wonder if Jersey Shore reality star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino who was hit with more tax fraud charges this week, including splitting deposits, is one of those victims of the IRS.

Twenty-nine cops killed themselves during the first quarter of 2017. Over 100 took their own lives in 2016. If suicides are just the tip of the mental illness iceberg, then how many more are psychotically depressed, chronically depressed, anxious to the point of jumpiness or traumatized to the point that they’re dangerous to the rest of us, discharging their weapons when shooting isn’t justified? It might explain why they want only cops to serve on juries in trials of cops accusing of assaulting or killing people by shooting them.

One of the 8 men scheduled to be executed in an 11-day death penalty bonanza in Arkansas has been spared. One of the remaining seven wrote for Vice News and the Marshall Project what it’s like to wait for your execution date. Here’s a hint: your death row neighbors call dibs on your belongings and prison staff actually cares that the clothes you wear to get killed fit your properly. I think it’s a disgusting end to any life, even if it did end another’s, if you ask me.

 

 

 

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4 April 2017

Repeat Offender

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Prison Diaries came back.

The site was honored by the Webby Awards for the second year in a row in the “Weird” category.

That’s recidivism at its best.

Visit the Webby Awards site to see the other nominees and honorees here.

There’s some amazing, quirky work out there that you won’t discover unless you look.

Yellow_Honoree

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3 April 2017

I Hate Second Chances

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Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

Studying the Gospel of Matthew in after-school catechism, I found the question:  How many times must I forgive my neighbor?

Seven times?

No.

Seven times seventy.

I remember thinking that Jesus was a little close-fisted about forgiveness. Seven times seventy is 490 and he wouldn’t even round up to the full five hundred. It also scared me because in my twelve-year old heart that was as ambitious about achievement as it was intimidated by my own fallibility – one I would never admit – that I would max out my limit before I could test for my driver’s license.

70 times 7
This is your limit.

The parable’s purpose is to teach the opposite, of course, that forgiveness has no cap. And since the sins I thought would damn me were talking back to my parents, occasionally cursing, being a banal, upper-middle class, white brat, I never predicted that my cup of depravity would runneth over as much as it did when picked up 13 felony convictions. I don’t like to brag, but I earned four misdemeanors, too. I am always an overachiever.

As someone in such extreme need of absolution, I should be heartened when I hear that someone got a SECOND CHANCE but I’m not.  Despite the fact that the phrase has become synonymous with formalized redemption, the banner over every criminal justice reform effort, I can do without a SECOND CHANCE.

Standalone, the phrase is loaded with meaning, more than just shorthand for ‘lay off the cons.’

It negatively frames your alleged crime. When someone gives you a SECOND CHANCE, they’re reminding you that you blew the first. Maybe it’s not the exact metes and bounds of my offense, but it puts my name on the mailbox and being given a SECOND CHANCE hurts me where I live, nestled nicely between the first shot and the third strike. When you’re given a SECOND CHANCE, the LAST CHANCE is next. The end is near. And remember: we don’t round up.

communism
Marx, Jesus. Same thing.

If forgiveness is finite, then it’s scarce, and if it’s scarce in the United States, then it’s controlled by an elite few.  To get this commodity, I have to plead for it, work for it or manipulate it out of them. It makes me lesser than they and assures me that I’ll never wrest full control of it but instead settle for small pieces that I must beg for. The phrase SECOND CHANCE is supposed to be robust, redemptive rhetoric but it’s become anemic, Dickensian if you really think about it. A bloodless phrase to describe someone getting a pint out of you. Mercy doesn’t work on a capitalist model. There shouldn’t be an economy in forgiveness. It’s the one place where I prefer communism: to each according to need, from each according to ability…and of course, everyone’s ability should match their needs; both are inexhaustible if we tell the truth about ourselves.

Paolo Friere, the Brazilian educator and author, found that the ‘banking model’ of education – the model where the teacher has more knowledge than the pupils, which she then bestows upon them – doesn’t work with oppressed populations. Students become passive receptacles for knowledge and can only receive what the teacher’s willing to give. This, Friere argues, is ultimately dehumanizing because all power of the student derives from the teacher, not from ability, from curiosity, from within. Someone has to grant permission to other people to develop as human beings.

banking model
Replace education with forgiveness. It works the same. Click twice for greater detail.

While I appreciate the people who haven’t been justice-involved when they make these pronouncements about SECOND CHANCES, it’s the same banking model used on an afflicted group of people. The fact that a SECOND CHANCE must be dispensed by others ordains them brokers of morality, a job for which no one can really pass the background check. Who am I – or anyone – to man some ethical abacus and tick over CHANCES and opportunities to someone, which I can slide away when they displease me? “I gave you a SECOND CHANCE, but….”

Even though I cringe at it, I don’t know what should replace the SECOND CHANCE? “Fair shot”? “Do-over” like Billy Crystal’s character Mitch calls it in the movie City Slickers? Maybe ANOTHER CHANCE would work because it implies what we all know – we’re all way past SECOND in our CHANCE tally and we will continue to need them, again and again.

Maybe it’s not SECOND that bothers me but CHANCE. Who wants to be chancy? It implies that it’s risky to trust you, that you’re fundamentally unreliable and dealing with you is gambling, staking something valuable for something else that may never materialize. If I get a CHANCE, I’m a permanent maybe. My future is a shrug.

In Germany, when someone finishes a sentence of incarceration, their record is automatically expunged. Debts cleared and credit restored – nobody runs a redemption tab like we do in the United States. Germans don’t waste time bandying about the phrase SECOND CHANCE because reentry is relatively seamless; when you discharge from prison and go home, you’re just moving, living out this ONLY CHANCE each of us get – life – in a new place.

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Part of the message of forgiveness is that it isn’t emotional, it’s rational, a decision, a strategic investment in interpersonal relations. It’s meant to nudge, even drag, people toward quashing their beefs when they’re still hot.  But this is misleading because mercy isn’t the presence of determination and decision but the absence of it. Wiping away someone’s failing doesn’t count if you replace it with a sign that says “This is where I excused you.” That’s what giving me a SECOND CHANCE does. I hate that shit.

The other women don’t analyze the linguistics and meaning of the phrase like I do because they’re not as thin-skinned as I am. They’ve strapped their SECOND CHANCES on as they busy themselves with sentence modification applications, bids for clemency and pardons that our Board of Pardons and Paroles – notoriously cheap with absolution – won’t ever grant them. I refuse to use the language and ask for one. These CHANCES I’m so snobbish about accepting will grow even more scant as time goes on. And what will I say then?  Will I have to go all Oliver Twist and beg: May I please have some more? to the sign that reads: “See teller at next window.”

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 27 – APRIL 2, 2017

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Rikers Island, the New York City jail that’s notorious for depraved violence, is closing, getting drained and demolished, just like its inhabitants. The Lippman Commission – named after the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman, who headed the investigation – came up with a report that lists several changes that will be made. For me, a very important part of their report is that the Commission acknowledged that court trips cause fans guilty pleas, something I’ve been saying for years but was unable to prove. But don’t invest in new security systems just yet. It’s going to take a decade and people will be held in other facilities that will be built around the five boroughs. Read the Lippman Commission’s report here.

Last week SCOTUS heard oral argument in Lee v. United States, wherein a South Korean national was advised by his attorney that pleading guilty to a felony wouldn’t cause him to be deported. Ask Trump whether that was good advice or not.  There’s no doubt that his attorney’s advice was deficient, yet courts have decided that, because they think he had no chance at acquittal at trial, it’s a no harm, no foul-type situation. Tim Lynch, Director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, says this means our right to a jury trial is under attack. Read why here.

Combining last week’s storylines of ineffective assistance of counsel and Rikers, undocumented defendants are actually begging to be sent to Rikers to avoid deportation, the New York Post reported. I’m not sure about the ethics and competence of attorneys who are asking for raised bond for their clients so they get taken into custody. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will know exactly where these people are and can place detainers on them so they will leave Rikers into the welcoming arms of a removal agent. This tactic only delays and doesn’t stop deportation and the upside of this strategy is time in a dangerous human cesspool? No.

 

 

 

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