24 July 2017

Hedge

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

finger

And though I be little, I am fierce.

I haul many pallets of food at work – 1600 pounds of frozen chicken or apple slices. The pallets weigh more than 11 times my weight but I can do it myself. I use a jack, of course, but when I pull it, it leaves me parallel to the ground as I tow with my legs.  If the pallet is really heavy – like 3200 pounds – I ask another work to push from the back. It makes it move more easily.

She uses only one finger.

One.

She – there’s one in every crew – refuses to lend her considerable weight or even a full hand when I ask for help. She’ll put one finger on the back of the load to push, as if that even registers. I might think she’s trying to piss me off but that would require intention and effort and she’s just too goddamned lazy to pull it off.

She used two fingers to bring into work a flyer, provided by her counselor, about the Federal Bonding Program, the Department of Labor’s insurance program for companies that hire ex-offenders. If you hire one of us, you can get six months’ worth of coverage for losses up to $5000. She showed it to me.

“So, like, these people will pay if I steal from my job, right?” she asked gleefully.

“Well, I guess. I mean, it depends.”

“Yeah, but, like, I wouldn’t have restitution, right? I’d just, like, do a tiny bid [sentence] and I wouldn’t have no probation.”

“I’m sure they’d order restitution to Travelers,” I guessed. Why did I not just tell her she’s wrong?

“Who’s Travelers?”

“The insurance company that pays out on the policies.”

“How’d you know that?”

“It’s listed right here on the paper.” I doubt she read past the reimbursement part. Goddamned lazy. 

“OMG, I’m telling people!”

Expending more energy than she has the whole time she’s been here, aggregate, she bounced over to the break table in the corner of the kitchen.

“Yo! Listen! Listen up, yo! Just want everybody to know…they have this program, right? Where they pay for your restitution if you steal, but it’s gotta be from a job. Bosslady says all you do is a skid bid when you use this program,” she announced.

“I did not say that. Ever.”  And I added. “Don’t steal. You’ll get caught.” The lesson sounds as powerful as it was.

We complain that they’re isn’t more help for incarcerated people but we forget that any well-intentioned plan is no match for a mind so nimbly criminal that it can easily dance and slip through any possible loophole or policy flaw.

“Ma, this shows that they believe in us, right, if they willin’ to pay for our shit? Right?” another worker asked me.

I’ve seen this a lot in here. Women who’ve been denied so much see any expenditure devoted to them as a sign of respect, or desire, or support.  Sex workers think that any guy who pays them thinks they’re hot.  They think SNAP [food stamps] exists because other taxpayers are chipping in to help them out with favors they’ll never have to repay. I hate having to break it to them that, even though they’re people, they’re just business as usual for others. Winning isn’t getting people to fork over money, regardless of what they think of you.

“No,” I sighed and tried to stifle my savage surliness. I failed.

“You don’t insure what you trust. They should call it the ‘This-Will-Probably-Be-A-Disaster-But-We’re-Asking-You-To-Give-This-Unreliable-Person-A-Shot-And-We’ll-Pay-You-When-We’re Wrong-Program.’ They don’t believe in us at all.”

pallet-jack-rental-1-300x225
I miss it a little.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JULY 17 – 23, 2017

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) ORG XMIT: NVREN404

After a lengthy hearing where his victim offered to pick him up if needed (which is illegal since most states enter a standing order that people convicted of crimes cannot contact their victims, even with their consent) OJ Simpson was granted parole. After he secured four out of four parole board members’ votes, Simpson was moved within Lovelock Correctional Center, to another cell, “away from other inmates,” in protective custody. Let me be clear here: OJ is in solitary confinement. If you think the use of solitary is reserved for those inmates who break the rules, then let this be a lesson. OJ behaved enough to make parole and they still packed him in.

And my favorite part of the national obsession with his hearing on Thursday was when his attorney told reporters not to listen to the C/O, Jeff Felix, who wrote the book Guarding the Juice because the guard has a mullet. Watch it here.

In the Whole Truth, published in The Sun magazine, law professor Richard A. Leo draws attention to the problem of false confessions in this interview, saying “the real trial [takes] place in the interrogation room,” where lying to suspects about evidence or possible sentences is perfectly legal (even though police have nothing to do with sentencing), and tapes of interrogation proceedings are rarely viewed by prosecution if they’re even made. Leo theorizes that unlimited overtime pay incentivizes police to conduct prolonged interrogations that increase the probability of errors and  false confessions.

And yes, any discussion of criminal justice policy continues somehow to connect itself to our country’s president who has been looking into pardoning himself, family members and close associates.  Donald Trump’s lawyers denied he will pardon anyone because no crimes have been committed and they had better hope so, since everyone Trump-connected is still vulnerable to state charges. It’s amazing that an administration opposed to justice reform might actually need it personally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
17 July 2017

Bipolar Is Bullshit, Part 2 of 2

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

plates6

Read Part 1 of 2 here.

With the affirmative insanity defense working only two percent of the time, it’s safe to say that we reject it in this country.  We dislike excuses and justifications, especially for crime; we prefer retribution.  If we turn our diagnostic eye toward an offender’s own history of trauma, we assign victim status to the perp and this upends the culture of blame and shifts it towards therapeutic justice and away from the pound of flesh we want to measure on our all-knowing scales.

Who can we impugn if the perpetrator is a victim?  If we start feeling sympathy or even empathy for defendants in criminal cases, we start admitting that we’re like those defendants because we’re all victims in some way.   The PTSD-qualifying events in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, every shrink’s playbook, are restricted to experiences that hover around death.  The truth is that trauma lurks everywhere, even those benign places we frequent every day.  Divorce.  Humiliation.  Rejection.  Glass ceilings.  Childhood illness.  Getting arrested. Racial profiling.  Failure in anything.  Any experience of utter powerlessness is traumatic and even the most powerful people have experienced powerlessness at some point in their lives.  Those prosecutors with especially severe avenging-angel complexes probably developed their stances from experiencing their own trauma.  I don’t care what court you appear before; no judge grants immunity from pain.

Many people balk at the idea that everyone’s traumatized in some way but I think it’s true.  Trauma was once explained to me using the analogy of a stack of china plates.  If you drop the stack, then you would expect the bottom-most plate (Plate #1) to shatter in the worst way and the degrees of damage to the plates to decrease as you move away from the plate of first impact (i.e. if the bottom plate is No. 1, one would expect that No. 3 would bear more cracks than No. 7 and No. 7 more than No. 10). Bu  trauma doesn’t work that way.  The bottom plate usually sustains the most damage but often Plate No. 2 remains intact while Plate No. 6 shatters, or Plate Nos. 2 and 3 are unbroken while Plate No. 8 breaks; the plates don’t always respond they way we think they would. They’re unpredictable, kind of like people who break the law.

Trauma is like that plate-breaking force.  It has different effects on different people depending on their circumstances at the time of impact so trauma’s tear through society will be neither neat nor expected.  Who’s to say that, because your divorce didn’t shatter you,then no one else’s divorce should have shattered them? Or a that a car accident can’t have the same effect as watching your mother get beaten to death by your father? There many gradations in trauma make which make seeing it as universal counterintuitive.  But let’s face it – each of us does battle every day. Everyone’s a combat veteran of daily life.

Because it’s so prevalent is probably why PTSD remains really only a sort-of diagnosis in  criminal courtrooms; it clearly has a second class status.  At most, it’s an adjunct to other “real” mental illness and rarely the operating diagnosis in determining punishment of an offender.  When PTSD alone anchors an insanity defense, prosecutors frequently dismantle it because trauma is from the un-evidenced past – it only reaches the court record through someone’s self-report, and that someone is considered an inveterate liar by the system.  It’s possible people are malingering to avoid responsibility so prosecutors’ suspicions aren’t baseless. But forensic psychiatrists know about them and shy away from the diagnosis of PTSD for an insanity defense almost in an attempt to help the defendant.

Recently, researchers discovered a way to test objectively for PTSD; the gene p11 has been found to be significantly more expressed in the mitochondrial RNA of people who suffered trauma.  Patients – and doctors and prosecutors – can know more definitively what treatment avenues to pursue and which to ditch. Technically, now they can rely on something as conclusive as a serum blood test instead of someone’s word.

When evidence of a PTSD diagnosis is confirmed by prosecutors, studies have shown that the courts incarcerate those defendants less often, almost always sentencing them to probation, not prison. You would think that lawyers everywhere would be clamoring for these tests for their clients. I know better. I’m sure they’re smugly unaware of how this new discovery could help the people they represent.

Like I said, it’s safe to assume every woman in here has bipolar in their charts instead of PTSD. The ladies that had proper PTSD diagnoses never came inside. All that epidemiology everyone has on us in corrections? It’s totally incorrect. It’s bullshit.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JULY 10 – 16, 2017

booker warren

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a new bill, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which will, among other things, assure federal prisoners access to quality tampons and pads free of charge, keep pregnant women out of solitary confinement, and give them free phone calls to speak to their children.  If passed, it would be the first legislation that specifically addresses how prisoners are treated and their humanity. But it’s been proposed by Democrats in a Republican Congress with a White House that wants to get tough on crime. Not only will it not pass, it won’t get a vote.  Remember it’s the thought that counts.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission released data that show that there are more white people getting sentenced to mandatory minimum terms than people of color. You will notice that this hasn’t made much of a splash in the news.

A columnist in Minnesota wrote a compelling piece on looks in the courtroom and a recent study about the effect of appearance in sentencing. The study found that, when defendants with scars on their faces were sentenced, they received less time. Researchers suspect it’s because the facial scars are objective evidence of trauma that judges can rely on and feel some sympathy for the defendant before them. Read the post above again.

 

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
10 July 2017

Bipolar Is Bullshit, Part 1 of 2

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

moods

It should just come with the mug shot and fingerprints.

Most people in prison with me have “treatment resistant bipolar disorder” noted somewhere in their medical records, meaning we had been diagnosed with the disease but medication (allegedly) never kept our behavior in check. It’s safe to say that we all have it, at least in name.

And it’s bullshit.

Bipolar disorder is over diagnosed at ridiculous rates. A study from the University of Texas Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders (a name that sounds like it was created by a classically manic person – we certainly don’t need any centers of mediocrity dedicated to this, do we?) reports that rates of bipolar disorder overdiagnosis range from 4.8 to 67 percent, a range of over 62 percentage points. The Depression and Bipolar Support Awareness organization estimates that 6 million people have bipolar disorder – that would mean that over 4 million people have been misdiagnosed. If cancer or diabetes were over-diagnosed over two thirds of the time, public outcry would deafen doctors. But this rate of over-diagnosis is permissible in mental illness because bipolar disorder is a convenient stand-in for what we don’t want to be aware of, namely trauma in someone’s background.

Where bipolar disorder is over-diagnosed, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is under-diagnosed.   PTSD underdiagnosis is estimated to be as high as 40% which should be expected. One of the first studies targeting this problem with PTSD  found that patients who were under-diagnosed tended to be lower-functioning, less educated and younger than the people properly diagnosed. Criminal courtrooms and jails give you the most bang for your buck when you’re looking for people who can’t express themselves properly and explaining your past is what gets you a valid PTSD diagnosis. Shit, mistakes are practically guaranteed in here.

They’re not necessarily made out of malice. At least initially, bipolar disorder and PTSD can mimic each other. Each disease drags depression with it. Post-traumatic hypervigilance can look just like hypomania. Both illnesses disturb sleep. Confusing them is easy.

Where psychiatrists get away with misdiagnosis murder is when medication fails to treat their diagnoses.  Real disease often responds to medication; relief arrives quickly to someone who’s truly ill.

Doctors don’t always look for alternate causes of irrational behavior in patients who are taking medication; instead they downshift into a psychiatric default and deem the bipolar patient “treatment resistant” which translates, as a practical matter, to “intractable” and “dangerous”  which is really unfair since there’s no single definition of treatment resistance. It’s not a clinical phenomenon; it’s made up. The lack of standards for treatment resistance proves that psychiatrists can’t believe they would ever misdiagnose a patient; the patient just can’t heal herself of the illness they happened to pick for her. Are a diabetic person’s insulin levels “treatment resistant” to chemotherapy? No, because it is the wrong medication for the disorder. I’m “treatment resistant” to sickle cell anemia medications. Want to know why? I don’t have sickle cell anemia.

The inaccuracy in modern mental health treatment allows psychiatrists to be trigger happy. Because the connection between childhood trauma and adulthood crime has been proven so many times it’s practically drawn with a black Sharpie, it’s essential that a treatment provider inquire into the history of an allegedly bipolar patient who’s in criminal trouble. Most doctors don’t, but when they do, psychiatrists co-opt the language of PTSD and call traumatic events “triggers” for bipolar disorder. Scientifically, this doesn’t make sense. External events can’t cause organic brain disease that, according to the shrinks themselves, is often genetically generated. That’s like saying a car accident triggered Lyme Disease. Nature doesn’t work like that.

Understandably, mental health providers don’t want to look beyond bipolar disorder to discern if their patients are suffering from PTSD. If doctors were to probe their patients’ pasts, they would unearth some gruesome stories. They would find a woman who was raped by her uncle with a hot curling iron as a child. She’s here. They would discover a man who lost four fingers at age three because his mother’s whose alcoholism was so severe that she was not aware he was playing with the washing machine or being molested by her best friend from high school. he was in the cell next to me in Milford lock-up.

Psychiatrists would encounter Tom Cahill, an Air Force Veteran who was gang raped, repeatedly, for 24 hours when he was jailed for civil disobedience after protesting the Vietnam War. All three of these people were diagnosed with bipolar disorder even though the fact patterns of their lives – had they been properly explored – practically sent out engraved invitations to PTSD diagnosis.

People complain a lot about the phone companies and commissary giants profiting off mass incarceration but, for me, the biggest pigs at the correctional trough are the pill brokers. Big Pharma makes bank on bipolar disorder medications whether the diagnosis they treat is correct or not. Understandably, Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer of the leading bipolar disorder medication Depakote, co-sponsors Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day with the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) because the more aware you are of the constellation of symptoms ascribed to bipolar disorder, the more likely you are to look for hope for your pain in a pill – one of Abbott’s pills. Between 2001 and 2006, Abbott made $13 billion on Depakote alone, some of it from illegal marketing of the drug as a dementia and schizophrenia medication, uses for which Depakote was unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration. It looks like Abbott was trying to raise awareness of those illnesses, too.

If you went through our charts in the medical building, you’d find bipolar disorder somewhere in every single chart. I would lay odds on it. Bipolar disorder is the biggest red herring going.

And PTSD is the red-headed stepchild.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JULY 3 – 9, 2017

Maria-Isabel-Garduno-Martinez

Maybe it’s because she’s a woman but I’m surprised that the right-wing media hasn’t picked up on this story to buttress the Trump administration’s ‘bad hombre’ narrative. Isabel Martinez, a Mexican national and mother of five, is accused of murdering four of her children and their father (a fifth child was injured). When she appeared in court on Friday, she waved and waived her right to counsel, saying that the people and her faith will always be her attorney. “Those are my attorneys, that’s why I’m here,” she told Gwinnett County Magistrate Judge Michael Thorpe, who replied with unprofessional sarcasm and then didn’t order the psychiatric evaluation the whole scene was begging for. This is common with self-representation; defendants with severe disabilities and deficits ask to represent themselves and courts oblige, saying proceeding pro se is a constitutional right. Yet, when a defendant who has a chance at beating the government at trial wants to represent himself or herself, this constitutional right evaporates. I watched it happen myself.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has until midnight Monday to sign a bill that would require a “racial impact statement” to be considered whenever a criminal justice law is about to pass the legislature so that they don’t extend the disproportionate effect of incarceration on racial minorities. New Jersey would be the fourth state to pass such a statute; it’s at the top of the list of states that have decarcerated themselves in earnest, but the racial disparities in that shrinking population are getting worse, which isn’t what you’d expect.  The statement probably isn’t a bad idea, but it seems almost redundant. Are we not considering the impact other laws will have on communities of color? Wasn’t this type of analysis already in place – how laws will affect the taxpayers who foot the bill for them – for every kind of law ? I argued that we also need to consider a  “gender impact statement” for laws. We should have a disability impact statement, too, right? I don’t see how this idea is new. It shouldn’t be.

The Daily Beast ran an interesting article on why new suspects are rarely charged when wrongful convictions are discovered. The United States has 263 overturned murder convictions but only 16 new suspects have been charged. The defendants who are charged later typically point to the evidence introduced at the first trial and tell the jury: there’s your reasonable doubt right there. And they’re right.

SHARING IS CARINGShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someonePin on PinterestShare on TumblrPrint this page
3 July 2017

Proof Through the Night

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

gireworks

An elderly inmate walked by. Wiry greys. Careful gait.

LH:                   Fuck that old bitch.

Chandra:         Who? Linda? You know, she’s a pretty good writer. She’s in my poetry class.

LH:                   What‘s she write about?

Chandra:          Umm, a pretty good one about memory, longing and a red watering can.

LH:                   A what?

Chandra:         A watering can.

LH:                   What the fuck is that?

Chandra:          It’s a container that people use to water flowers. Has a spout.

LH:                   You know what she did?

Chandra:          Her crime? No. I don’t.

LH:                   Her cats. She put firecrackers in they assholes.

Silence.

LH:                   She lit them shits, too.

I’ve spent the last six hours unable to sleep, in deep introspection, trying to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with me that I assumed they were lit because not lighting them would be crazy.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 26 – JULY 2, 2017

Does-Vivitrol-help-with-cravings-22

Vivitrol is the big buzz now with ProPublica’s recent attempted take-down of its manufacturer, Alkermes, because of the money the company makes ($1000 per shot) and the money it’s spends on lobbying ($430,000 so far). I would estimate that a third of all methadone and suboxone goes to people who don’t have prescriptions, sold by people who do have scripts. The bottom-line is that, to the extent that Vivitrol doesn’t get anyone high and can’t be passed around, it’s probably preferable to any other opioid antagonist.

A study out of England found that treatment programs for people convicted of sex offenses actually increased the rate of offending, particularly when it came to images related to children, i.e. kiddie porn. It was actually group therapy that was the problem; collecting people with these problems in one area and requiring them to talk about it allowed them to exchange tips on dirty deeds. This study might get some attention in attempt to make sex offenders look incorrigible but where it definitely won’t get attention is the fact that it shows that keeping criminally-minded people together – in jail, in prison, in some mandated group therapy session – you run the risk of expanding their criminal horizons, not correcting them.

You can watch what Washington Post writer Radley Balko  calls the “rise of the warrior cop.” With words from Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker posted video from police training that aims to create a “conditioned response” amongst police officers to kill. If you’re not law enforcement, this is what you’re up against.

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