“I’m gonna win my habeas. I got me a Jew lawyer. He got a beanie and everything,” Soledad announced she strutted down the hallway.
“Yeah, don’t…don’t say that.”
“What?” she asked.
“It’s not a beanie. It’s a yarmulke. When you say ‘Jew lawyer’ it implies unkind things about Jewish people. ”
“Like what? That they be winnin’?” Soledad protested.
“I bet a number of people in here had attorneys who happened to be Jewish and…let’s just say, they ain’t winning,” I assured her.
Because they confront the greatest ignorance of all, I think the Jewish women have to be the loneliest group of inmates, if you can even call them a group. I’ve met a total of three while I’ve been incarcerated. Only two did a bid. Not only have they plunged into this utter dysfunction, other inmates reduce their spirituality and customs to the menorah and dreidel that popped up on the windows of their grade school classrooms in the spirit of equal time for “other” cultures.
Since then, because stereotypes operate most consistently and strenuously in populations that are stereotyped themselves, the only understanding of Judaism, of a religion whose story figures squarely into the narrative of oppression everyone in here is peddling, is that the only way the religion manifests itself is through alleged ruthless legal prowess.
We make a big deal of the history of American slavery as it pertains to corrections, calling it “The New Jim Crow.” Imagine being Jewish and being thrown in prison and having to confront what millions of your ancestors went through as they were processed through Hitler’s explicit agenda of annihilation. At least here we speak of reentry, another chance, eventual release. They lived condemned, all of them. If there were more Jews in prison, we’d be calling this “The New Dachau” but their minority status prevents better comparisons between the modern penitentiary and the Holocaust. I think that this country might have a chance at rapid reform if there were more Jewish inmates. I don’t wish this on them, but if Jewish inmates reached critical mass in here, historical comparisons would put legislators’ pedals to the metal. Of course, if I’m right, it only shows how racist the system is, because historical comparisons seem not to be motivating anyone to do much to make these places better. Just saying.
“What do you think of that?” I asked Cerise, an observant Jewish woman who also happened to be a lawyer.
“Jews are persecuted everywhere. Been that way throughout history. This is nothing to us,” she poo-pooed me.
Cerise explained that, in the Jewish faith, a Torah scroll – one that contains hundreds of thousands of letters – is rendered not kosher and unusable if even one letter is missing or broken and the same concept carries over to the Jewish people. If even one individual is forgotten or left behind, then the entire community is lacking and considered unKosher.
This Jewish worldview is lower-c catholic and accessible to all, but it’s a secret in here because all that matters about a person is how criminally useful he can be. The “Jew Lawyer” has gangsta value.
I had to deliver some milk to the control room and I spied Soledad in visits, coming out of one of the legal conference rooms with a man in a patka. In this environment of inverted diversity, my first thought was that it looked like a do-rag gone wrong.
Later I asked her:
“Soledad, who was that in visits with you?”
“He’s a Sikh.”
“Sneak?” Soledad asked.
“Well, probably, because they [lawyers] all are,” I conceded. “But that’s a patka, not a yarmulke. He’s a Sikh. It’s an Indian religion.”
“For real? Indians like the casinos?”
“No. Look, your lawyer’s not Jewish at all. For Christ’s sake, when I saw him there, I thought he was your shrink.”
“Why? That’s what them people [Sikhs] do?”
* Title means “smart person” in Yiddish.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 4 – 10, 2017
Remember Reality Winner, the NSA employee who leaked documents related to Russia’s attempts to feel out its ability to hack American voting machines? Her trial is shaping up to look like mine: a total zoo. The Intercept (click here for link) covered the pretrial proceedings. She’s basically being prevented from defending herself.
Here’s (click for link) a good New York Times editorial on how the Governor of New York has to be careful – and has tremendous power to cull abuse from correctional facilities – in negotiating a new contract with the prison guards’ union.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new study Thursday, Criminal Victimization in2016 (click for link), employing a new methodology designed to more accurately reflect crime at its most local level. But the new model produced such erratic results — such high levels of crimes in certain counties, for examples — that officials quickly cautioned against actually using the data. Sounds like money well spent.
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 Intercepthere.
In here, the sign of seasons’ turning is waiting in a line. One in the fall to get a coat. Another in the spring to hand it in. The good coats are the army-green barn jackets and they usually go to the long-term inmates, women like me. The low lottery numbers catch the nylon ecru short ribbed jackets. Anyone wearing one of them is clearly in the lower prison caste because no O.G. wears those swingy, cream-colored jokes. I went coatless all winter when one was thrown at me when I came through the doors of A&D [Admissions and Discharges] in December 2007 and the autumn coat waiting lines had long dispersed from the building. I used it as a pillow instead because you couldn’t buy a pillow back then. Now, for my sixth jacket, my unit had been called the day before for the line-up, when I was at court, so I left work early to dodge the fate of flimsy, light-colored winter gear because I don’t need something soft and superfluous to rest my head. I bought a nylon bag of air, labeled “pillow,” years ago.
“[C/O] Boxman such a motherfucker. I hope they tell his wife how he be fuckin’ [C/O] Questionable Taste up in here in A&D on third shift!” First-in-Line announced. She must have just been yelled at by him before I joined the queue.
“Oh, shit. He fuckin’ her? I knew it. And they doin’ it here in A&D? That’s nasty.” Third-In-Line declared.
But I was laughing, hard.
“You think it’s funny Questionable Taste a damn home wrecker? How they get you is how they leave you,” First-in-Line instructed me without turning around.
“No, I mean someone having sex in A&D.”
“It’s nasty, right? This shit look dirty,” Third-in-Line checked with me as she looked to the floor and the walls, made a sour face.
“It’s funny. Intercourse in Admissions and Discharges? That’s hilarious. I had no idea the staff was so euphemistic,” I told them before I broke back into giggles.
“What that mean?” Second-in-Line asked.
“A euphemism is a polite way of saying something out of bounds in normal conversation. So…you know. Admissions….discharges. Instead of saying ‘sex.’ Like sex is a series of admissions, get it? Followed by a discharge…?” I explained, haltingly.
Between the kids they had, the prostitution charges they racked up, this crowd in line had way more sex than I ever could and they still didn’t get what I was saying. I felt like Steve Buscemi in [the movie] Fargo when he’s trying to explain the old “in-n-out” to the outcall girl with him in the nightclub. They were nonplussed by my wit and uninterested in the language lesson.
Originally, I thought the name they gave to the prisoner loading dock – “Admissions and Discharges” – was odd, like anyone was giving consent for us to enter; we’re wanted at the prison’s front door – which happens to be way in the back – as much as we wanted to arrive there. It’s not like that second-shift crew, headed by the C/O who sits diagonally in the corner of the front desk, is psyched to unlock the doors and let our shackled feet short-shuffle in.
Then I thought “A&D” was just a nod to the mental health epidemiology within, which is extensive and screaming for remedy. I read that the Cook County jail in Chicago is the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois. It was reasonable to assume that, through using that name, they were treating us like patients. But any medical etymology is purely accidental.
“Admissions and Discharges” was the terminology used by English workhouses in the 13th century until not that long ago, places like the one where Dickens’ character Oliver Twist dared to ask for more. It was England’s welfare program; poor people had to turn themselves in to get food and shelter and live in government custody. Workhouses were prisons without the prosecutorial prelude. And all you had to do to be admitted to inpatient welfare was have nothing and be hungry. So the place didn’t turn into a hotel, they enforced hard labor as a incentive to avoid getting yourself in such a jam that you couldn’t handle your own business anymore. In short, to get your gruel, you did grueling labor to align yourself with (former prisoner himself) Saint Paul’s rule that ‘He who shall not work, shall not eat.’ When they thought someone had a chance to fend for themselves outside, wardens got even more Christian and tossed them into the warmer weather.
The same thing happens here every autumn. As chill reluctantly admits itself to the air in September and October, and sleeping in a tent on any patch of land whose owners aren’t around to call the cops won’t work anymore, women intentionally place themselves in justice’s way and turn themselves in for shelter and food. Proposition a police. Surrender themselves on an old warrant. All to get meals and dry, warm lodging for the winter because poverty’s a crime.
Now you can get the food and shelter without being in physical custody. I don’t get how modern society has liberalized itself enough to recognize the dignity inherent in being free yet still allows people to exist in such indigence that they’re willing to give that liberty up in order to survive the winter. And, if they’re lucky, score a green coat in the style the fashion industry calls a “work jacket.” It makes me wonder if the person who chose them for the modern workhouse knew that.
“That what you call sex? Additions and discharges?” Second-in-Line asked me and shook her head and said “Motherfuckin’ white people.”
“Admissions. Admissions and discharges. And no, I don’t. Well, maybe, after today. I’ll call it ‘gettin’ a little A&D’.” And then they started laughing with me.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 1, 2017
Former New York congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner is going to prison. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison last Monday for sexting a teenager, although his real crime is enabling the rise of Breitbart News (no one paid attention to Breitbart until they broke the “grey underwear” story). Here’s what former prisoners wanted him to know about the public service venture he’s headed into.
Hannah Kozlowska, a 2017 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting Fellow, a fellow Fellow of mine, reported for Quartz on Walmart’s extortion of shoplifting suspects. If you get nabbed for allegedly boosting something from the retailer, you get a chance to take a 6-8 hour course which costs you several hundred dollars. Or you can choose to have them call the police and get arrested, whereupon you get another chance to pay several hundred dollars in bail. The program was created because, in many districts, the majority of calls to law enforcement were from local Walmarts so it might save taxpayers money in reduced police costs, but it will also make Walmart and the private company administering the program a lot of money.
James Holmes, the man sentenced to life in prison for the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, was moved to a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania because Colorado corrections officials didn’t feel he was safe in the state system. This comes after fits and starts over Colorado’s failure to disclose Holmes’ location to victims’ families. I understand the need for transparency in corrections and I agree that victims and their families are stakeholders in the process of justice, but I do not understand why the victims are so invested in knowing where Holmes is sleeping. Is it fear because they think he’s likely to escape? If so, how would knowing where he was in custody help prevent that? I know these people have been indelibly harmed by Holmes’ actions, but too many times the whims of victims run the system.
At 8:46 AM, the minute the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, York CI holds a moment of silence, a minute to honor people who died on this day. I thought the place was unfeeling enough not to conduct a memorial like this at all, much less include the inmates in it, but they do. I suspect it’s because the C/O’s compare themselves to the brave souls we call “First Responders” and feel some comity with them even though denying a confined woman a tampon – or even giving it to her freely – doesn’t really compare to running into tons of melting, burning steel that are about to collapse on your head, just so you can free someone else who’s been imprisoned by it.
If I haven’t heard the 8:46 AM announcement on the overhead in, then I hear it from the kitchen supervisors’ belts; their radios announce when it’s time to pay our respects. The control room transmits the request for one minute where
And the 1000+ women here haven’t been able to pull it off once. Ever since I’ve arrived, the 60 seconds of silence gets hijacked and driven into some foolishness.
2008: “Yo, the TV gotta be off for it to be silent?”
2009: “I don’t give a fuck about no planes. I’m gettin’ my shit [commissary].”
2010: “Is medical [building] open?”
The ten-year anniversary should be different, I thought. Advance notices that this shut-the-hell-up moment was coming, I decided, might minimize the interruptions. Because prison is noisy, silence might be jarring for some women in here if they don’t understand why the human sound that surrounds them the other 525,599 minutes of the year has vacated the space around them. Especially if they’re PTSD’d out, any change in the atmosphere might trigger their hyper-vigilance, panicking them, causing the careless decision to open their mouths at an inopportune time.
“Okay, listen, listen up. It’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this year, remember? And we do a moment of silence at 8:46 to honor the people that died. So, around that time, let’s pay attention to our surroundings and, if everyone’s being quiet and not talking, then let’s not say a word until we know that moment is over, right?” I announced to the other food prep workers. The kitchen’s been under renovation for months and we were just sitting around.
Amongst the vacant stares and less than diligent nods came:
“Somebody always fucks that shit up.”
“I know, but I think it’s because they forget that it’s coming if they haven’t heard the announcement. So I’m announcing it now, ahead of time, so that people remember: don’t interrupt the silence.”
And I interrupted their conversations three more times with reminders.
“Remember: no talking.”
And when the minute-hand lapped the stubby hour-hand and stretched straight out to the “9” on the clock, I prepped people again with a one-minute notice, until that thin sliver of a second- hand did its round.
Then I held one hand to my lips and the other up in the air like I was asking for help, which I was. Please show me you can do this.
And it worked for about 25 seconds until Tracey, the “new” lady who’s been here twenty times, came in from the hallway.
“What’s going on?”
When fifteen sets of glaring eyes set upon her, she realized.
“Oh, it’s that thing she was talkin’ about?”
This, for me, wasn’t about the tragedy of 9/11 or the fact that people perished for no reason other than criminal masterminds, full of rage, beat the United States aviation system at its own game. It was about our potential. It’s really no wonder we can’t get any respect. We’re incapable of honoring anyone’s valid instruction, memory or humanity. This realization telegraphed itself from my pursed lips and rotating head. But I still never said shit.
“You tried,” [Kitchen Supervisor] Bengals said, reading my disgust, only after we’d firmly hit 8:47.
“If they can’t shut their traps for one minute, when they get multiple advance warnings from a pain-in-the-ass like myself, how likely do you think it is that they’re going to have the willpower to stop using drugs, not beat the piss out of someone or just generally rise to the challenges of being a good citizen?”
“It’s not likely at all,” he conceded. “But you already knew that.”
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 4 – 10, 2017
Prisons and hurricanes are a bad combo. Check back next week for a diary entry on what it was like to be in prison during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But the storms are upon us now, causing some serious problems.
The New Yorker ran a pretty interesting piece about inmates in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, using the inmates’ own words. Note that prison locks don’t work when the power is out and people were excited to have Port-A-Potty’s delivered…so they could eat again.
Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Florida, threatened to take into custody anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma’s path. Most of the warrants in the county east of Tampa stem from unpaid traffic tickets and other low-level offenses and the people who would be pulled in on them posed no danger for anyone in the hurricane shelters. Given the fact that state and local authorities are at a loss of how to evacuate all the prisoners who need to be moved, I think it’s safe to say that Sheriff Judd is less concerned about public safety than he should be. Taking someone into custody when you may not be able to guarantee their safety isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
Seven thousand prisoners in Florida had to be relocated in buses and vans from unsafe facilities that likely couldn’t withstand Hurricane Irma’s forces. The Connecticut DOC can barely handle transporting about 100 prisoners per day, and only to court and back to confinement. I can’t imagine what it is like for the Florida inmates going through this. They have to be shackled and cuffed and ride in vehicles with no shocks, probably for hours, only to arrive at a place that will, necessarily, be overcrowded with little space for them to sleep. If I had the choice between prisoner transport or having my roof blown off, I might just stay put. Seriously.
And, even though it’s an older piece, it’s worth reading Alex Chemerinksy’s article on how Louisiana lost 6,000 prisoners from the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina.
“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME! This does not contain to you!”
I’m like a dog when I hear bad vocabulary or grammar. My ears perk, my neck cranes and I twist it around to look for the danger to my education and syntactical sensibilities. Peril was closing in on me as Deb, one of my cube-mates, was yelling at Savannah, another one of the seven other women I was squeezed in with. Deb was displaying her ignorance of “pertain” and “contain.” A third cube-mate placed her hand on Deb’s shoulder to tell her to quiet down.
“Nah, nah. I ain’t done,” Deb threw the hand away. The stakes were high; rightful ownership of Twizzlers and a honey bun was being contested.
“Know what you are?” Deb leaned in close to Savannah’s bunk and then pulled her head back dramatically, like she’s Oprah in A Color Purple.
“She is a astrological liar!” Deb turned and announced as if to a crowd. We’re in a room that houses 56 women, so I guess she’s right.
A couple of mm-hmm’s floated around. Either Savannah stiffed them too or they thought Deb was saying something sensible that they just didn’t understand.
I wonder if it’s possible that the messages about the necessity for education in one’s life are targeted to those who are already pursuing one. I’ve never gone a month without education’s importance pressed upon me, if not from a teacher, then from another professional, and if not from them, then from some ad on tv, even for one of those for-profit rip-off colleges.
Is this message not getting to impoverished areas? At first I thought that many women here didn’t complete high school because they didn’t have TV’s in their homes growing up. No TV then no education/drop-out PSA’s. I even asked one of my first cube-mates,Tania, about it. She got her GED here at the prison during a previous sentence.
“So, did you not have TV when you were growing up?”
“All I did was watch fuckin’ TV,” she snorted, insulted because, to her, my question implied that her family couldn’t afford a TV.
“And you never saw any of those ads that say you shouldn’t drop out, or you’d have a much harder time in life. I saw them all the time. Like…what was it…don’t be a fool…stay in school? Something like that. You never heard that?”
I still can’t get over this, how they thought dropping out wasn’t going to screw them.
“I don’t remember nothing like that.”
Only because my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, parents’ colleagues were educated, I was capable of absorbing a message that I actually never needed. As if I thought of dropping out of high school. Not only did I love it, about 30 people would have come at me with long knives. Because they’re floating in the cosmos of poverty, TV’s notwithstanding,the people who need the message can’t hear it.
Getting pissed at them because they’re undereducated is like getting mad that someone else has worse food on their plate than yours. Or that I flipped heads when the coin faced up tails for them. I was born under the right set of stars to guarantee me meaningful education when many women were born under academically cloudy skies. Where and to whom we were born is essentially chance and I can’t complain that I’m kind of winning at the game, even if I’m in prison, pissy over grammar. If I said that a psychic or an astrologer was an “astrological liar “for their senseless predictions, people would chuckle at how clever I was rather than react to my pedagogical pathology. That’s how unfair this world is; their gaffe would be my genius.
“I don’t think you got that right. That ain’t sound right. You tryin’ a sound like her,” Liz said to Deb and pointed behind her to me, where I sat on the lower bunk.
“Bunkie, is it right? A astrological liar?” Deb asked me. It was part exasperated plea for approval and part genuine curiosity. She really didn’t know.
“An astrological liar. Yeah,” I assured her with a nod. “That’s a thing.”
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 18 – 25, 2017
A tale of two counties. Putnam County, Georgia prosecutors announced Wednesday that they’re seeking the death penalty against Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, the two inmates who escaped from a prison bus transporting them to a work assignment on June 13th and killed two correction officers with the officers’ own guns. Just the day before, Polk County sheriff’s office had announced that they were reducing the sentences of inmates who helped save the life of a correction officer at their worksite when he fell into heat-related distress. The escape story will last longer in the media and the collective crime consciousness than the savior story. Trust me.
A tale of two weapons. Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was gunned down by Seattle police in front of her children after calling to report a burglary and answering the door holding a knife. Transcripts of the encounter reveal one officer telling the other to tase her only to be informed that his partner didn’t have a taser on him. Pundits say Lyles was failed by the mental health system. I think she was failed – and we all are – by law enforcement agencies that don’t equip their employees with non-lethal distance weapons in addition to firearms.
A tale of two ditches. Being an informant is dangerous, according to a study by the federal judiciary, the very government branch that uses them the most. Nearly 700 people believed to have served as government witnesses have been threatened, injured, or killed over a recent three-year period. These “snitches” are often instrumental in criminal investigations and can get more than a third of their prison sentences cut in exchange for their cooperation. Sixty-one of the informants from the judiciary survey were murdered. Inmates are becoming more adept at unmasking the “snitches,” so judges are considering new rules for secrecy in the court system. That means that prosecutors will have even more power in an already imbalanced system.
I was less shocked than most to learn that the [November 5, 2009] massacre at Ford Hood was perpetrated by an Army psychiatrist named Nidal Malik Hassan. I know these professionals can be lunatics.
I was forced to see psychiatrists for years. While they dubbed me crazy, all I could do was watch from the couch as they displayed their own madness. One of my doctors left a drunken voice message for my parents, calling them “pieces of excrement” because they questioned his bill. Another wore glasses with women’s Gloria Vanderbilt frames; he was a 70 year-old man. When I asked him:
“Is this like a Seinfeld joke?” referring to that episode where George gets female frames, he had no idea what I was talking about.
A female shrink whom my parents foisted upon me accused me of covertly dating her husband, a man I’ve never met, and gallingly told me I was paranoid. The last doctor I saw wore a button on his lapel that read “Four More for Gore in 2004.” It was 2005 when I met him and I still wonder if he knows that W won the 2000 election. If you or I wore that button, these doctors would run after us with nets.
But apparently, some people are too important to be institutionalized or forced onto a shrink’s loveseat, even if it’s their own furniture.
Prior to his fatal attack on 13 people, Dr. Hassan reportedly tried to convert patients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Islam. When studying for his Master’s in Public Health, Hassan allegedly made an academic presentation that extolled the virtues of suicide bombing, a totally unjustifiable topic for classroom PowerPoint slides.
The field of public health derives any power it has from numbers – biostatistics and epidemiology. Suicide bombers cannot be contacted in their fiery graves for input into statistical analysis so their violence can never be a legitimate public health study. To the extent that no numbers exist that make suicide bombings a good thing, the presentation was not a completed assignment but a display of mental illness.
Despite this wild performance of insanity, no one ever challenged Dr. Hassan’ s competence or reported him to licensing authorities which makes me think that I’m not the only one who expects shrinks to be nuts; everyone who worked with Hassan must have thought his behavior was essentially normal for him, otherwise they would have reported him, no?
Let’s be honest about this: no one ever reported Dr. Hassan to police or to Homeland Security because he was a doctor. His receiving a medical degree and passing his boards meant that Dr. Hassan was stable and bright; people thought that nothing serious could have been wrong with him if he had achieved so much. While he continued to practice as a licensed physician, his colleagues assumed that he was functional. They also assumed that reporting him for acting like a whacko would destroy his career.
Unfortunately, I witnessed this professional immunity and the tyranny of licensure up close as no one gave a shit about how myriad psychiatric diagnoses would ruin me. I met weekly, twice weekly, thrice weekly, biweekly and very weakly with these dubious masters, and they collected their data from two other professionals – my mommy, a licensed public health nurse (RN) and my daddy, a licensed attorney. Culling clinical data from someone other than the patient is generally unethical. Recording bizarre stories from someone other than the patient, stories that don’t track and holding them against the patient is just plain nuts.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I would protest to them after my parents would manipulate them. Stories – not facts – data that ended up charting psychiatric misdiagnoses on me that made my file as veiny and layered as a AAA map yet still couldn’t tell anyone where to go with me.
“They’re making sure you get the help you need. They care about you,” these psycho headshrinkers would tell me. They weren’t even experienced enough with the human experience to know that true care, love, for another person never gets rightfully paired with coercion.
It seems like certain degrees and jobs make people immune to mental illness, at least in practice. Professionals suffer from mental illness at equal, if not higher, rates than their non-professional counterparts, yet, if I had to advise someone who wanted to commit a crime or get a little squirrelly with no consequence, I’d tell them to get a professional license first.
Especially in the medical community, what would have been so bad about Dr. Hassan’s being confronted about his behavior and referred for evaluation? God littered the Kennedy family with doctors, lawyers, senators, congressmen and other esteemed professionals. That same family has displayed every possible dysfunction from mere depression to alleged sexual violence for over fifty years. The American Bar Association estimates that almost half of lawyers suffer from depression.
This is exactly what happened to my father; his license to practice paved the inroads to facing his alcoholism, depression and anxiety. He ended up giving up the license in the face of losing it (he had a stroke and physically couldn’t handle the fight) but without that license to hold over his head no one – including himself – would have been able to help him.
The numbers are sketchier for doctors, probably because people hate them less as a profession and therefore complain about them less, generating less data to examine. Grievances against lawyers force them to interface with disciplinary authorities – sometimes even law enforcement – where they can be studied for population dynamics. I guess lawyers are expected to be crazy while physicians heal thyselves.
Or, like Dr. Jihadi, they don’t. Psychiatrists are the first people to decry stigma, complain that it prevents people from seeking treatment, puts a damper on their accounts receivable. Yet when they refuse to sample their own product, shrinks end up perpetuating that stigma themselves. No one reported even the extremes of Dr. Hassan’s behavior for fear of dealing a fatal blow to his livelihood. Making the report that could have compelled Hassan to engage in treatment never needed to destroy his career. Failing to make the report, though, cost 13 lives, plus Hassan’s, because he’s slated for the death penalty for the attack.
Now every time an attorney or a shrink (they come with the attorney for me) screws up, I file a complaint against him with the appropriate licensing authorities. I’ll go after judges, too, even though they technically aren’t licensed to practice law. I think I’m up to seven complaints filed now.
“She’s always filing complaints!” one state’s attorney cries when I go to court. She’s a pain in the ass and I’m waiting for her big fuck-up to nail her, too.
And I’m only doing it because I care, to help them, to make sure they get the help they need.
THREE IDEAS TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 8 – 14, 2017
If only real-life detectives worked like this…
This week I won’t give you three ideas to work on, but rather three people to follow on Twitter. These independent citizen journalists have broken news on what may be (probably is) an ongoing criminal investigation into the most powerful people in the country and, as it looks, their eventual prosecution. Word on Twitter from these people is that sealed indictments have already been handed down, even for President Trump, to serve as a basis for impeachment. These Twitterers have never been wrong.
First is Claude Taylor. Follow him on Twitter here. Paste Magazine wrote him up just a few days ago. He hasn’t been wrong yet, save a mistake in legal terminology on where the sealed indictments have come from (it’s the Eastern District of Virginia court, not a FISA court). It wasn’t a material error and this guy knows what’s going on.
Second would have been Louise Mensch, former Member of Parliament, and the journo who broke the story about the Obama administration’s securing a FISA warrant for investigation into Russian interference in the election. If you look at what she tweets here you can see she definitely has a solid source, probably from her political days, but sometimes hyperbole overtakes her. This isn’t a challenge to Louise, but second place, for me, is @Bitchyologist AKA Molly, who does some super-fast Google-sleuthing when news breaks. She’ll keep you up to date.
Lastly, is John Schindler, National Security columnist at the Observer. Months ago he tweeted that his sources in the intelligence community were going to see to it that Donald Trump dies in prison. Pay special attention to his retweets on @20committee.
Claude Taylor doesn’t, but Mensch and Schindler have spotted pasts. She claims she did drugs and it affected her mind. He has an alleged dick-pic scandal behind him. And despite these problems, they’re still right, more right than mainstream media.
The 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
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.
Studying the Gospel of Matthew in after-school catechism, I found the question: How many times must I forgive my neighbor?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
It would make it easier she had some redeeming feature. She’s not nice (she’s here for overdosing a teenage boy, letting him die, and then attempting to show remorse by saying she was glad that it didn’t happen to her family). She’s not sane (see description under ‘nice’). Hard-working? Nah, she sits around all day taking other inmates’ pills because she’s prohibited from working outside the unit. Good-looking? Nyet. She looks like Quagmire from Family Guy with hips as broad as beam. Former stripper, my ass.
To this day, she freely admits that she tried to kill another inmate by putting battery acid in her coffee because she was mad at her and didn’t want her around anymore. So she tenderly split open a Double-A (which takes strength and dedication) and drained the liquid out into a cup of instant coffee and non-dairy creamer, a combination probably more lethal than the acid, but it’s the thought that counts. Rumor has it that she tried again when the acid didn’t work, using bleach-based scouring powder.
And nothing happened to her, besides a seven-day stint in seg. No charges for attempted murder. No real punishment. No message sent, except maybe one: Adrienne* will get away with murder, especially if it’s only attempted.
No woman on this compound can explain why the staff allows Adrienne to break so many rules so whoppingly. Their permissiveness has gone from merely suspicious to out-and-out conspiratorial on some of the C/O’s parts. Other guards remain as baffled as the rest of us as to why she goes north or south of consequences when they should zoom right at her.
You can’t analogize prison life with real life. I can’t explain why wearing a white T-shirt outside my cell can set the place in a tailspin. All I can say is that some things in prison are forbidden and the reasons for it are unbidden.
Adrienne’s specialty is the forbidden, a fact never forgotten as she cruises her tier in a snow-colored Hanes and none of the staff members say a word.
I still doubt I’ll ever be able to convey to people on the outside the stronghold Adrienne has, except through examples that they wouldn’t really understand.
For instance, in here, if you’re on your way to seg, consider yourself arrived. By that I mean that, when they cuff you and trail you with a camera, you’re going no matter what injustice or error started your trip. Once during a “chronic sweep” – a posse of guards that rove the compound now and again to pick up women with severe discipline records in the same way that tape collects lint – the posse picked up the wrong Inmate Columbo. There are two here: S. Columbo and M. Columbo, and they mistook S for M. Even though someone might have realized the error mid-transfer, trading S for M on the way to the restricted housing unit would be unheard of. S would sit in seg while the fine detail fact-checking took place and M was rounded up. No seg trip ever stops for any reason to let someone go. Unless it’s Adrienne.
As the legend goes, while C/O’s escorted Adrienne to seg once, one on each side gripping an arm, trailed by a lieutenant and someone with a camera, she somehow caught the attention of a deputy warden through the window of his office. He came out and ordered his men to let her go. Take her back. Two opposing orders but that wasn’t why the Deputy Warden’s command shocked everyone. The Let Her/Take Her awed everyone because no one ever short circuits a seg-walk. Never. This was the first time it would happen, as only Adrienne wields serious power in here, and the last straw for people who expect any fairness in this facility.
Everyone – inmates and staff alike – assume that Adrienne’s got the goods on some higher up. Different names get tossed into the theory and we’re all probably right.
But Adrienne’s reign teaches a more important lesson than just that the brass has clay feet. She proves that the worst inmates get the best treatment. I have yet to figure out why this happens. I think it might be the same type of phenomenon where adults allow a bully to push around younger smaller tykes. They know what they’re witnessing is wrong and they undoubtedly have the power to stop it but they are either too scared of the bully themselves or they’re so secretly sick themselves that they like what they’re watching.
I think that’s what’s happening in here. Some of the C/O’s are scared of Adrienne – after all, her offenses aren’t making fun of someone’s hair or pushing someone off the jungle gym; Adrienne would kill someone without compunction. Other guards like the fact that she terrorizes the rest of general population because they hate us all.
I don’t begrudge anyone a little leniency. Mercy is good. But it can veer into favoritism, preferential treatment, which is anathema in a well-run prison. What’s good for one is good for all – that’s how a good prison runs.
But this place isn’t a good prison if you watch who gets the partiality. For the most part, women here for the most heinous crimes are very well-behaved and remorseful, a fact that only compounds the tragedy of their actions since they clearly were out of character and precipitated by illness, trauma, rage. Regardless of how we comport ourselves, the guards make fun of us for what they think we did to get here, except for that extreme exemption for people who took others’ lives and couldn’t give a shit less about what they did. These chicks run the joint. Once during a lockdown I saw a few women just wandering around on the walkway. They strolled into the garden. No one should have been outside the unit and these people were meandering. I know each of their convictions and counted them up: Felony Murder, Murder 2, Manslaughter, Capital Felony Murder, Capital Felony Murder.
When a C/O came to pass out the lunch trays since the rest of us couldn’t even leave our cells, much less the structure they sat in, I cocked my thumb toward my window and asked him:
“So, what exactly does someone have to do to get fresh air around here? Would a Criminally Negligent Homicide conviction free me a little?”
He ran to a bigger window in the rec area and saw the Kill Squad roaming around. Shook his head.
“I know, Bozelko. No one stops them.”
When they’re actually inside and among us lesser sinners, they issue commands to guards…who actually follow them. They ask for extra. They get it. They wear uniforms tailored in ways that would have lieutenants running after the rest of us, screaming “Those are altered!” But no one says anything to them.
When one of them (an inmate who killed a woman in a gang-inspired fight) tried to make her own psych records on the library computer to show her girlfriend how much she’d suffered in life, they brought her to a shrink (which was apropos because it was nuts that she thought medical records were written in dialogue like a screenplay), but anyone else would have been in the hole, with no U-turn. When it comes to privileges, murder means more. I don’t suggest that women with homicide convictions should be denied, but they shouldn’t be deified, either; none of us should be, especially if we’re misbehaving. Regardless of what they do in here, the incorrigible lifers pretty much get what they want.
Except Adrienne isn’t a lifer. Yes, someone who killed a child and continues to try to whack people has only a 17-year sentence for manslaughter. And she gets special meals brought to her from the outside, gifts, declarations of love from C/O’s at her door (not even kidding – there’s something wrong with those guys). And she’ll skate on post-prison consequences for her behavior. Unlike sex offenders who leave prison to civil commitment – a Minority Report-style Precrime confinement – because some turnkey decided that they’re constitutionally incapable of reform and rehabilitation and will reoffend, Adrienne gets cut loose a little before 2023.
Adrienne’s not going to reform herself. She pumps out daily a trove of evidence similar to that used to justify civil commitment of sex-offenders, namely proof that she will never change. Yet when her sentence ends, it will do just that: end, mostly because she killed a kid instead of screwing one. I don’t condone any crime against children, but it looks like the very worst among us get away with murder and are exempt from having to redeem themselves simply because they’re murderers.
I guess she has one redeeming quality: by herself, Adrienne shows how backwards this system is. She’s the alpha and omega of correctional corruption.
* Names have been changed to protect the innocent – as well as the author when “Adrienne” gets out.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 6 – 12, 2017
Clean slates come too late. At least 166 men and women were exonerated in 2016, six more than in 2015, which also was a record year, announced the National Registry of Exonerations on Wednesday. There were more exonerations than ever before in cases involving guilty pleas, or misconduct by government officials, or where no crimes occurred at all. And most of the defendants were black.
We have a two-tiered justice system. The Los Angeles Times and The Marshall Project teamed up in investigating the “pay-to-stay” jail system in Southern California. Wealthier inmates can pay for upgrades into cleaner facilities with more amenities, or, well, just amenities. The reporters found “more than 160 participants who had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography” were in the VIP section of SoCal jails. The payers include “a hip-hop choreographer who had sex with an underage girl and described his stint in jail as “a retreat;” a former Los Angeles police officer who stalked and threatened his ex-wife; and a college student who stabbed a man in the abdomen during a street scuffle. The highest bill — $72,050 — belonged to a man responsible for a drunken freeway crash that killed one of his passengers and left another injured.”
Everything old is new again. A bipartisan coalition of senators introduced a bill to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission – a complete knock-off of one that former U.S. Senator/presidential candidate Jim Webb proposed twice, once eight years ago and once six years ago – and two of the new bill’s sponsors [Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)] voted on with a “Nay.” This just goes to show that the more you understand this system, the more you realize change is necessary. People come around over time.
Oh yeah, and “Gary from Chicago” got a “hisself” a publicist.
“It’s a risky idea, but if we do it in here, I think we can get away with it,” I told Charity as everyone came in for our bi-weekly writing class.
“Okay, but you bring it up,” she said and raised her palms in the universal sign for “I am uninvolved.”
I was planning an insurrection, an overthrow of oppression that would take place in Wally [Lamb’s writing]’s class. Any form of organization, even passing around a petition, is an attempt to start a riot in prison, so the idea of a group byline on a published essay on prisoner voting rights, right before the election, could have landed me – and anyone who did it with me – in seg.
But even from seg, I could’ve read the tea leaves and seen the headlines: “Inmates Attract Attention of Tea Party, Restore Rights.” Using the power of the pen, I was about to make myself the Sam Adams of prisoner voting disenfranchisement.
Prisoners can’t vote, unless they’re not convicted yet. Anyone who’s been a voter all their lives and is unsentenced on felony charges bonds out, believe me. She’s not here and can go to the polls. Also inmates convicted of only a misdemeanor and serving a long enough sentence to get an absentee ballot mailed to them and send it back in time can cast ballots, too, in theory.
Someone convicted of only a misdemeanor – and no prior felonies – in here? What kind of chintzy mass incarceration do you think we have here in Connecticut? Felonies, disenfranchising felony convictions for everyone. No one in here votes.
But prisoners are taxed, even if they can’t vote. Those inmates whose income exceeds a certain amount receive W-2 wage and tax statements every winter and must file tax returns. My cellmate had to do it. Because they’re prisoners, federal tax regulations prohibit them from participating in the Earned Income Tax Credit program. And Connecticut inmates are financially liable for the cost of their incarceration: over $41,000 per year. Prisoners pay. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Without the power to change the unjust tax laws of England, Samuel Adams dumped the cargo of several British tea ships into the Boston Harbor in 1773 and started the revolution that birthed this country. And it was a crime. Under today’s lock ‘em up laws, Sam would’ve been jailed and not for driving under the influence of his own beer. Would you deny Sam Adams his vote after what he did?
This isn’t to equate Adams’ jetsam with boosting an ipod from Target or assaulting your cheating spouse’s lover, which are the types of crimes that have landed inmates behind bars. But the original Tea Party’s lesson was that the taxation and representation are the government versions of love and marriage – you can’t have one without the other.
Under this rule, prisoners shouldn’t be taxed if they remain without voting rights. Because prisoners contribute to government, the Tea Party should be at the forefront of any prisoner voting rights campaign if they want to play the game that goes with their name. At least that’s how I see it.
And I thought if we all said what I saw, we might get some traction on the issue.
“Can I say something before we start?” I asked at the beginning of class. “So, I thought we could all author like, an oped, or a letter to the editor about prisoners and people with records, you know, felons, being allowed to vote. As you know, the Tea Party is this conservative movement that wants to lower taxes and limit government…”
“and I think that the fact that you – anyone – can be denied a chance to vote but still have to pay taxes is wrong. And since this Tea Party is invoking the whole ‘no taxation without representation’ idea from the Boston Tea Party, maybe this is the time to attract some attention to felon and inmate disenfranchisement. If anyone should support our voting it should be the Tea Party, right? And from the research I’ve done, it looks like this idea hasn’t…you know, hasn’t been raised by anyone, so maybe newspapers would want to hear it.”
“I mean, if people aren’t allowed to vote then they shouldn’t have to pay taxes, right? At least according to history?”
STARES. BORED FIDGETS. I heard, but didn’t see, a yawn. Even Charity didn’t react.
“Chandra, just let me ask, are you promoting a conservative ideal?” Wally asked. He would have let me promote it but he’d have to understand it and my connecting Tea Partiers and prisoners was confusing him.
“No, I’m attacking hypocrisy.”
“The whole reason why we have elections is rooted in this idea that you can’t take my money and then deny me any say in how it’s used, but that’s exactly what happens when inmates can’t vote. Only unrestricted participation and equality give democracy its force. I want to go back to the original Pay-to-Play – anyone who pays taxes can vote. And even ones who don’t pay can vote. Who’s with me?” I stood up for dramatic effect. “Who wants to toss some tea for their rights? And if not your rights, then to keep some of money you make?”
“What’s the Boston Tea Party?” another student asked.
“I don’t pay taxes. Never did,” another said.
No one else even flinched.
I looked over at the teacher – she isn’t in charge of our class; she’s actually just a form of security for us while Wally and the volunteers are here, making sure we don’t do stuff like what I just did. She looked up briefly and then continued with her crossword puzzle, muttering: “You need to know what the Boston Tea Party is…”
No shit, I thought as I sat down.
“Or, you know, I can just draft it myself,” I told myself, out loud.
Sam said it himself; it’s a good thing it doesn’t take a majority to get anything done.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM OCTOBER 31 – NOVEMBER 7, 2016
Two going down – “Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie charged in a bizarre scheme of political retaliation against a mayor who refused to endorse the governor for re-election were found guilty by a jury on all counts in the long-running “Bridgegate” saga.”
One cleaning up – A federal court jury decided that a Rolling Stone journalist defamed former University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo in a 2014 magazine article about sexual assault on campus that included a debunked account of a fraternity gang rape.