15 January 2018

Openly, Lovingly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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





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8 January 2018

Nothing Can Be Said to Be Certain

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

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

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

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

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

GABRIEL: What years are they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GABRIEL: We can’t do that.

ME: Why is that?

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

ME: They’re not.

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

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

GABRIEL: Are they your returns?

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

GABRIEL: Because of your income?

ME:  Precisely. I make $1.75 per day.

GABRIEL: That’s…not legal.

ME: Where I live, it is.

GABRIEL: You’re where? Connecticut?

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


ME: Gabriel?….Hello? Gabriel?

SILENCE. The line was dead.

ME: Now what the fuck do I do?



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

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

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





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1 January 2018

And a Wake Up

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January 1, 2014

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

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

“Your file.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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