27 November 2017

Tituli

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

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

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

INMATE BOZELKO:      Called you what?

GUARD:   Guards!

INMATE BOZELKO:      That’s an insult?

GUARD:    Yeah, it’s an insult.

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

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

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

GUARD:    Yeah, but in something else you wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUARD:    What’s ‘confounded’?

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

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

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

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

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

GUARD:    Why you gotta say ‘micro’?

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

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

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

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

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

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20 November 2017

There Is No One Like Me – Mind Your Manners

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

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

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

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

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

“No one wipes their mouth in here.”

He nailed that.

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

“Lap?…How long have you been here?”

“Two years in December.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM NOVEMBER 13 – 19, 2017

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

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

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

 

 

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13 November 2017

Cause He Mixes It with Love

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

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

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

Did I just hear sex and candy?

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

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

“Twelve.”

“Oh God. I’m sorry.”

She shrugged.

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

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

“Yeah, it was in the paper.”

“Was your name in the paper?”

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

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

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

“I was bugging him for the Nerds.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stopped.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM

FROM NOVEMBER 6 – 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

 

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6 November 2017

Audacity

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November 5, 2008

“You seen? We got a black man as president,” Terri asked me as she was waiting for the C/O to unlock the door of the tier remotely. Most inmates get election results well after the general public since they lock up in their cells – and away from communal TV’s – before the last results are announced. 

“Yeah, I heard on the radio. I mean, in January we will,” I explained.

“Why?”

“Obama’s not president yet. He was only elected. That’s why call him ‘President-elect.’  The election doesn’t make you president. It just chooses who goes through the process of becoming president in  January.”

“No matter. He gettin’ us out,” Terri told me with one decisive nod.

“Oh no, he…he has no jurisdiction over state crimes, so he can’t.”

“A black man is president,” Terri said, pressing her index finger and thumb together and pushing them toward me in that what-don’t-you-get gesture. “He’s gonna free the slaves and we outta this bitch.”

Sixteen years ago, four presidential terms ago, I was walking behind Witherspoon Hall to class, happy that [Bill] Clinton won the election. He went on to create a criminal culture where everyone who got arrested went to jail for a long fucking time. Fifteen years after I voted for the Comeback Kid and he swung the election, that tough-on-crime shit he allowed trickled down to me and I’m here, giving basic civics lessons to people because he didn’t shore up education spending like he should have. You never really understand how you can become the law’s landing strip until it touches down on you. And runs your ass over.

Congress and [President] Bush passed the Second Chance Act a little over six months ago – right after I didn’t get a first chance – so they’ve started doing something. Maybe Terri’s right. Maybe Obama will finish it. Maybe we are outta this bitch with Barack up in the Oval. It’s funny how disempowered people finally have hope just because the man in charge is black. Is that all it takes?

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM OCTOBER 30 – NOVEMBER 5, 2017

↑↑↑↑ Last week = the one time I’ve sided with the prosecution and cheered them on. ↑↑↑↑

And there are too many juicy criminal justice topics in this Manafort indictment mess.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s business partner and indicted co-conspirator in laundering millions of dollars, Rick Gates, was represented by a public defender because his attorney wasn’t there (because he hadn’t been hired). One of the burdens on public defense systems is being the stand-in until wealthier defendants retain counsel. Of course, they don’t have to investigate or draft any motions for these clients (not that they do that for their poor, qualifying clients) but hours of public defense time is spent standing next to  for defendants because judges fear having anyone without an attorney next to them, even if that lawyer does nothing. Contrast this with the fact that, last week, a Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear a case and a concurring opinion actually found that a suspect who said “Get me a lawyer, dawg” to police didn’t ask for counsel; instead Warren Demesne asked for a “lawyer dog” – like Tulane Law has a night school program for pugs who then get admitted to the Louisiana Bar. If the lawyer were a public defender, I hate to break it to you; he’d have been better off with the dog.

Your lawyer can take the stand against you if you lie to her and she passes the lie to the prosecution. It’s the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege (e.g. you can tell your attorney which banks you robbed but you can’t confer with her on which branch should be next) and Mueller et al. made sure Paul Manafort’s lawyer was required to take the stand and testify last week because they’re sure he’s taking the adage that ‘the law is a shield, not a sword’ to an extreme to get his hired legal help to peddle his bullshit for him. Using the crime-fraud exception was strategic, not in terms of prosecuting Manafort, but in warning all of the high-priced lawyers who will accompany their clients to upcoming interviews with the Mueller team (no one’s coming in alone like they do in the movies) that passing on a client’s lies won’t fly in this investigation.

File this one under “Don’t push it.” Manafort offered to put up close to $12 million in assets to avoid house arrest. With aliases, multiple passports, places to land overseas and a bunch of money that even the government says it can’t track, he was lucky to get house arrest in the first place. My guess? If they cut him loose off the bracelet, then it isn’t because of any way in which he secured his bond. He’s cooperating.

 

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