31 July 2017

Dumpster Hire

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dumpster

I realized how much I stunk when I sat down in Captain Soprano’s office. Tried to cover my stench of dried onions, sanitizing agent and dried milk with a weak smile.

“You wrote to me, remember?” he offered.

“Oh, yeah. Umm…he’s jumping out of the trash to scare people.” Women had been coming up to me, out of breath, slightly clammy, after being scared half to death when a C/O would pop out of dumpsters as they walked past, asking me what could be done about Officer Dumpster Diver.

“Where?”

“I haven’t seen but it looks like right outside the end of Four-South and on the East side [of the prison compound.]”

Rabkin, the Operations Captain, walked in and sat next to Soprano behind the desk. He took his glasses off, squeezed his eyes closed and massaged the bridge of his nose. He was annoyed he had to be there. Either that or he smelled me.

“So he’s in the dumpster and he jumps out at people?” Soprano asked with his pen poised above a lined pad like he needed notes to remember this later.

“Wait, who’s jumping out of a dumpster at who?” Rabkin spat out. I could tell what he was thinking: Which one of these nutty broads do I need to bust? Except it wasn’t one of us.

“Frisky. Frisky is. Your guy is jumping out of the dumpsters and scaring people.”

And Soprano turned and reminded him:

“You know how Frisky likes to scare the ‘mates,” like this wasn’t disturbing or a dereliction of duty. They already knew that a C/O was doing this and had done nothing – at least nothing effective – to stop it.

“I mean, I’ve been here for about 5 years and I know that the garbage isn’t an assigned post for staff,” I informed them, or at least those were the words that came out of my mouth. What I really said was: We all know he’s not doing his job.

“Well, I mean, I can talk to him,” Soprano shrugged. I don’t know if he knows that was the wrong answer. His solution to the problem I presented was that a superior officer might suggest to one of his charges that he quit his Oscar-the-Grouch schtick of hiding inside garbage receptacles to pop out to scare the shit out of women they’re all supposed to be dedicated to reforming.

It’s a little played out to use the garbage as a metaphor for modern corrections but it’s close. Some yahoo, rogue officer is allowed to roam the compound, instead of working, and pull pranks, playing in the trash. Everyone knows it’s happening, yet no one says anything. I’d compare his antics to a fraternity rush but frat boys are above chillin’ inside green dumpsters. Even people whose fortune has been reversed on them so badly that they become homeless and live in the streets have the sense to get in and get out of a dumpster after they get what they need. They don’t hang out in medical waste for kicks. And re-traumatizing people isn’t a taxpayer-financed blast for them.

The Connecticut Department of Correction’s motto is P.R.I.D.E. – Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dignity and Excellence. Yellow and blue letters scream it at anyone who leaves the prison though the front door. Can’t even go to the visiting room without P.R.I.D.E. screeching at you.

So I wanted to ask:

Would I file this dumper-writhing under Professionalism, since he’s clearly perfected this art? Or maybe Dignity, because he may roll around in trash but always gets up? Or Excellence because he gets in and out real fast?

But I didn’t, because P.R.I.D.E. may not contain any of its listed ingredients, but it does have power.

“Captain Soprano, I’ve already written to you about why this is a problem. A lot of people here have severe PTSD. Scaring them like that can trigger their startle response and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them just swings and hits him when he does that. And then what? She goes to seg, gets charged – outside charges, which means more time [added to her sentence] – he might get hurt. I mean, it’s a crime waiting to happen.”

And both of them just stared blankly at me as if to ask: So what?

pride
I know it’s blurry. Double click to read more closely.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JULY 24 – 30, 2017

BRENTWOOD, NY - JULY 28: President Donald Trump speaks at Suffolk Community College on July 28, 2017 in Brentwood, New York. Trump, speaking close to where the violent street gang MS-13 has committed a number of murders, urged Congress to dedicate more funding to border enforcement and faster deportations. Trump spoke to an audience that included to law enforcement officers and the family members of crime victims. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump spoke Friday at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, New York, close to where the violent street gang “MS-13” committed a number of murders, and urged Congress to dedicate more funding to border enforcement and faster deportations.

Three takeaways from his speech:

  1. He wants to abolish the Fourth Amendment and dispense with the more than 100 years of case law that requires judges to sign warrants to search your property and/or seize it.
  2. He doesn’t know that his immigration policies are strengthening MS-13.
  3. He thinks it’s acceptable to beat up anyone in custody.

It wasn’t his best speech. But I bet it won’t be his worst.

 

 

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9 January 2017

Om

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image

When I watched the news coverage of attacks on guards at a men’s prison – and subsequent lockdown – a few years ago, more than a few inmates made comments like “That’s what those guards get” or “Inmates ain’t no one to play with.”

It makes perfect sense to resent the authority who restricts your freedom, so we need someone who will step between us, purify the environment, set positive vibrations. A neutral arbiter. An ombudsman.

An ombudsman’s official duties are traditionally defined as investigating any government action that may infringe on people’s rights. It comes from the Swedish for “commission man.” I mean, who do the Swedes piss off?

imageI guess Connecticut DOC. We had an ombudsman until July 1, 2010 – one I didn’t even know existed until late 2008 – when the Connecticut Correctional Ombudsman’s contract with the state expired and wasn’t renewed or replaced by an alternative.

In the few times I worked with them, they never took sides and always searched for reasonable and amicable solutions to my problems.  I can’t say they were successful all the time because I don’t know; I never got to see anything through with them before the office got the axe.

We know that building pressure inside a closed system needs an outlet and those outlets are very resourceful and will create themselves if no one does it for them. Without an ombudsman, inmates can’t access constructive problem-solving and will resort to the destructive to get their point across. I predict more attacks.  [Author’s note: this essay was written in 2012 and there were severe attacks in 2014 and 2015. I was right.]

At least with the ombudsman’s services, we had a dedicated mailbox in the dining hall so even less literate inmates could scratch out something as simple as “want 2 talk 2 u” and the ombudsman representative could investigate and assist them.  Now, without our commission man, this simple effort isn’t an option and the sword has become mightier than the pen because we ain’t no one to fuck with.

It’s doubtful that inmates who struck officers would’ve re-thought their impulsive actions if a telephone receiver connected to the ombudsman’s or a complaint form had been shoved in their faces.  But when inmates seethe at what they view as mistreatment, merely knowing that viable alternatives exist for them to register their dissatisfaction might make them less likely to throw punches. Maybe simmer down. Chant ‘Om’ and summon a non-partisan force. I can’t understand how the DOC would want inmates knowing that no help is on the way. Clearly inmates don’t mind resorting to attacking the staff rather than battling frustration, filing out forms that will get them nowhere.

toilet
Deal with it, Bozelko.

Like when I wrote to the counselor to complain about the fact that our toilet seat was broken in our cell. One of the hinges was totally cracked and when my cellmate or I lowered our cracks onto it, we would slide to the side, seat and all. I ended up on the floor once because of it, bare-assed, but I’m the only one who saw that, I think. But people heard it: no ‘Om’ but “Ow!”

“Winky, what the fuck happened?” my neighbor yelled through the vent.

“Nothing, I just fell off the toilet,” I answered.

“Oh,” she responded, because people crashing off the john is totally normal.

I got the request form back today, half-assed folded in half and shot under the door towards that Slip-N-Slide commode. The counselor wrote back that I should contact the ombudsman.

She didn’t even know that the problem-solver’s been gone for two years. What does that ignorance even indicate? Either the ombudsman wasn’t very effective, at least not enough to send warnings through the staff ranks. Or they were good at their jobs and the counselor’s answer was a “fuck you” to me since they’re going to continue to infringe on my rights for as long as the O-man is gone.

Indefinitely.

NEXT WEEK PRISON DIARIES IS TRYING SOMETHING NEW. CHECK BACK AND SEE….

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 2 – 9, 2017

chicago-teens-arrested

I think everyone has heard by now: in Chicago, four teenagers kidnapped and assaulted a young, disabled man who hopefully recovers soon from his injuries and trauma. And they went live with it on Facebook. CNN called Facebook Live the new eyewitness. President Obama called the event “despicable” and he’s right. This is a justice reformer’s worst nightmare. By itself, this heinous crime makes the case for a purely punitive system.

charlesmanson2014People Magazine reported that, after famed murderer Charles Manson was hospitalized over the weekend, he’s caught over 100 tickets or disciplinary reports in the 48 years he’s been incarcerated. That averages out to only 2 per year. To compare, I caught four in six years or 0.75 per year. Given that he’s a high-profile inmate with a swastika on his head and convicted of murder, I would have expected it to be more. Recently, he’s been caught with contraband cell phones (who would smuggle them in for him?) and attacking a guard. I’ve seen inmates be accused of assault on corrections staff when they haven’t done anything; it’s an excuse to wail on a problematic or unpopular prisoner. I’m certainly not a Manson fan but I’m not entirely convinced that he’s as poorly behaved as they make him out to be.

judgeAR courts and corrections are crazy AF. Another Arkansas judge resigned amid a sex scandal. After one was already busted for making male defendants pose naked for pics for leniency, this one allegedly swapped sex and pills with female defendants in exchange for freedom or reduced sentences. The nuttiest part about the story? The fact that the Daily Beast and other outlets report that he called women in jail to arrange this commerce. You can’t call an inmate directly on any of the phone lines that are recorded; those are call-out only. If he called, those conversations had to be connected with his victims (yes, they’re victims) by prison personnel. I assume he lied and said he was the inmate’s attorney and then told the inmate who he really was. In which case, why are there recordings of these calls if they were potentially privileged communication between lawyer and client? And was no one monitoring them?  There are too many oddities in the story for an insider like me. This is why we need more formerly incarcerated journalists. They know what questions to ask to clear up the confusion and get to the truth. I don’t know what it is, but there’s more to this story.

 

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21 November 2016

Dry Up Your Drip

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drain

“Out!” Lieutenant Thrower shouted as he threw open the cell door. The doors swing in, so the universal symbol for “get out here” at York CI is a male staff member, spreading his legs wide to keep one foot on the door’s edge inside the cell while keeping his body outside the cell and within a camera lens’ striking range.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and I was already asleep. My cellmate Elsie was still awake, ripping up magazines to make a collage card for her girlfriend. That’s contraband because she’s ‘altering’ the magazines so I figured they wanted to wreck that for her. I got up and walked out of the cell in my pajamas.

“Get the fuck back inside! You know better than to come out here in pajamas. They’re fuckin’ white!” (i.e. not the jeans-and-burgundy-tee uniform).

“Are you ordering me to change?” I asked. He knew he couldn’t order me to change clothes in front of him and I was obeying the last order issued which is what I’m supposed to do.

water_dripI noticed a maintenance C/O in his grey uniform behind the lieutenant, glaring at directly at me. I get that sometimes so it wasn’t a big deal. But then he muttered under his breath:

“[Something] the likes of your fuckin’ crazy ass,” as he carried his toolbox into my cell.

“What did you put a work order in for?” Elsie asked me. She was pissed at me because her artwork was in danger of confiscation.

“Nothing. I can’t write a work order. I’m an inmate.

The maintenance man came out.

“This one’s not even fuckin’ leakin’,” he told Thrower.

And I knew.

“They published it, right?” I asked the lieutenant.

“Yes, they did.” He couldn’t stuff any more hatred, disgust into one sentence unless he cursed me out right there.

In One North, we had a Forrest Gump faucet. It ran ceaselessly across the terrain of our brains, yet without encouragement.  Neither my cellmate nor I could sleep. The metallic gurgle could have been generous and acted consistently, thereby making itself white noise. But no.

Instead, the rate of dripping, the weight of drops seemed to change up in an intentional effort to keep us vigilant. But vigilance comes at a cost: sleep. We were both bleary-eyed from the constant running.

4-8-11-1bWe tried paper towels on the drain which created a slap-splat noise, which I guess we could call splaps. We tried wedging a shampoo bottle between the drain and the torn mesh that should filter the water for us. It was too tall and the only way it would stand up was on an angle and, as soon as enough water filled it, it toppled, spilled and became an empty drum for droplets to beat upon.

We told the C.T.O. that our sink was broken.  She looked at it and told us:

“It’s only broken when water don’t come out.”

We tried every sock we had and finally one of mine, a singlet with a hole in the heel, was light and long enough to stay on the faucet and barely tickle the drain so the water just traced down the terrycloth and went down the pipes soundlessly.

And they moved me out of the cell that day.

But while I lived there in E4 in One North and couldn’t sleep, I stumbled into the library one day because I couldn’t focus on writing in a classroom down the hall.

“I’m really drifty because of all the noise abuse in my cell,” Francine told me.

“Snoring?” I queried.

“No. My sink keeps running.”

“Mine too,” I admitted as I sat down and put my cheek on the table.

Terry overheard us and came over.

water-bag“Listen, one night I couldn’t sleep so I stayed with a garbage bag and collected all the water that was leaking overnight. Know how much water was in it in the morning? We needed three people to drag the fuckin’ thing outta the room,” Terry pointed at me to make her point.

The sinks were leaking heavily everywhere on the compound.

“You know there’s an agreement between the town and the prison that the reservoir in town can’t be drained unnecessarily. That’s why they limit our showers in the summer when we need them the most. This violates the agreement,” Francine explained. She’s been here sixteen years and she’s from this shoreline area so I believed her.

“So let’s expose them,” I said in tone a bit too downward to rally them. I was too tired to be excited about the ideas of change and improvement.

“How? How the fuck do we do that?” Terry asked.

“Letter to the editor.”  I rubbed my eyes.

“Where the fuck do we send that?”

“To the editor of a newspaper.” I thought that was obvious.

“You’re a journalist, Chandra. You need to write it for us,” Francine told me, thinking flattery would get somewhere. Journalist? I’m an inmate. 

“Take a letter, Maria,” I told them. I fully expected them to take dictation while I put my head down for a few minutes.

Blank stares.

“The song? And send it to my wife. Say I won’t be coming home? Gonna start a new life?”

drip2“I didn’t know you were gay. You don’t seem…” Terry said and looked puzzled.

“I’m not. I have no wife. And no pen. Get me a pen,” I told her as I scratched my head all over. “Why does a lack of sleep make you itch?” I asked them – and no one – as if any of them would have an answer. And wrote the letter. It took 4 minutes. Francine insisted on typing it and mailing it out. Despite her lack of sleep, she had the energy. Of course she did. She doesn’t work.

The next news I had of the letter was when the lieutenant appeared at my door the night before Thanksgiving with a maintenance man who was being held for overtime before a major holiday so he – and colleagues – could check every single sink on the compound for leaks. And fix them. Because someone in town read the letter and made a call about all the water wasted on us inmates.

The next day presented me with gratitude from almost everyone. Apparently the maintenance men bitched about me by name at every stop. Imagine a Thanksgiving where everyone around you is grateful – and truly so – for your presence. I never would have experienced this at home. I was a hero walking down the walkway to our holiday feast.

“You fixed my sink,” a six-foot tall drug dealer acknowledged.

“Yes. Yes, I did.” I wasn’t lying.

“Go Winky! I couldn’t sleep until that motherfucker came in and wrenched something,” another yelled.

When I walked into the dining hall, each staff member turned to look at me. I wasn’t acting out and calling attention to myself. I don’t look good enough to get heads to turn like that.  Instead, I have power, maybe more than some of the people who work here. And I’m an inmate.

 

Author’s note: read the letter “Money Is Wasted by York’s Leaky Faucets” in The Day here.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 14 – 20, 2016

sessions

Republican Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions was asked to be Attorney General and he said ‘yes’ to President-Elect Trump. Read what he can do to justice reform efforts here. Rudy Giuliani would have been better. Remember how his daughter Caroline took a collar in 2010 for boosting $150 worth of merchandise from Sephora? I’m not sticking her out – the story’s been out for six years – but it’s a reminder that ‘law and order’ has a few dents in its armor and maybe it needs to chill out sometimes.

The Associated Press published a reported piece on how defendants in criminal cases are encouraged to plead guilty. Of 157 people who were exonerated last year, 68 of them had pleaded guilty. Innocent people plead guilty all the time. Take that criminal conviction that someone discloses to you with a grain of salt.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does a lousy job of placing released inmates in residential reentry centers and home confinement said a report issued last week by the Office of the Inspector General. The upshot? We don’t use home confinement enough, most likely because only an electronic monitoring services company profits from that. Placement in a halfway house makes money for the workers who run it, the places that supply the house with food and other necessities, the company who manages it.  Everyone’s cashes in on incarceration, even when it’s decarceration and letting people out to halfway houses.

 

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14 November 2016

We Are Out of Sweet Rolls

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I would panic whenever this cartoon aired on “The Electric Company,” so much so that my parents would have to calm me down.

The waitress would tell this customer that they had no sweet rolls when he ordered one with a drink. When the waitress told him that they had no sweet rolls, he just kept asking with a new drink. Orange juice. Tea. Coffee. Milk. I remember milk.

“But why doesn’t the man understand?” I would ask my mother. I can’t even remember how old I was at the time. Five? Six years old? I keep wondering if its was prophetic about my tolerance not people who don’t understand me, whether I make sense or not. I just want to scream and jet. Except in here, I can’t leave. And I can’t scream either. All I can do is write request forms, with teeth gritted, and wait for some nonsense response that I can’t discern whether it’s stonewalling or stupidity.

REQUEST FORM

Me: I need my legal papers and notebooks…to use for my case(s). There are several things written in my notebooks that I need for court. Please arrange for me to get them back.

Response: The paperwork and notebooks were secured as evidence in the ongoing investigation. Once it is completed we can return to you after inv. related items are redacted.

Me: That is unacceptable for two reasons. First, I need them for court now. Second, what would you redact from my court documents? My habeas petitions concern themselves with my underlying convictions. Your response does not make sense.

REQUEST FORM

Me: I have addressed this issue with my legal mail before with you. Attached is a letter from the Appellate Clerk indicating that a letter I mailed on February 8, 2010 was received in Hartford on March 9, 2010. This is an excessive length of time for a letter to take to reach Hartford. Further, the letter indicates that a motion I mailed on October 6, 2009 was never received at all. This has occurred before. Why is this happening. Please advise.

Response: Mrs. Bozelko. I have checked with the mailroom and no reasoning has been discovered. (Author’s note: No shit). If such a case occurs again please let me know.

Me: You said that last time. I am letting you know it’s still happening.

REQUEST FORM

Me: May I have permission to buy another radio? I/M **** stole it in February 2009 and it was never recovered. I reported it at the time and apparently I/M ****’s room was searched but no radio was found. Thank you.

Response: Send a (sic) electronics form filled out to property.

Me: (sends order form)

Response: Denied. Denied. Denied. Denied.

Me: My radio (purchased 12/07) was stolen in December 2008 when my then-roommate **** “stole it” when she lent it to someone without my knowledge. I am now trying (and have been for a year) to purchase another radio but property officers have denied my request repeatedly. Can you approve me to purchase another radio? Thank you.

Response: Why are you addressing this issue over a year later?

And then, just for kicks, because they already think I’m nuts…

REQUEST FORM

Me: Are we out of sweet rolls?

Response: You are already assigned to the kitchen pool. Please use chain of command.

 

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 7 – 13, 2016

trump

ELECTION OVER. Private prison companies’ like Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and GEO Group’s stock skyrocketed after Donald J. Trump became our 45th president.

ELECTION OVER. And justice reform may may not be so dead after all since so many incumbent, pro-incarceration prosecutors were voted out, including one in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the toughest districts in the country.

CAMPAIGN STARTING.  The race for Louisiana’s open United States Senate seat is still on because the state actually runs its primaries on the usual November election day and then votes on the primary winners the next month. Deciding issue in this race between Democrat Foster Campbell and Republican John Kennedy in the coming weeks, at least in my opinion? How to get Washington to fix indigent defense crisis in the state, the worst in the nation. Watch to see if I’m right in the coming weeks. Election is December 10, 2016.

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1 August 2016

T.I.E. One On

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cb218f1da350c33bebdfaf3ab5755a36

Your legal problems follow you everywhere. When I vacated One South and moved back to Zero South I had six garbage bags of my legal problems, wrinkled, white, 8.5 x 11 rectangles of legal problems. C/O Shelman called me and told me to come down [to the common area] to get the bags so I could empty the building of myself; he was pissed that I needed six of them instead of the two that are supposed to suffice to carry everything an inmate is allowed to own.

“What the fuck do you have that you need five bags?” he sneered at me. I had originally underestimated my haul.

55-60-gallon-high-density-garbage-bags-200-case-clear-commerical-garbage-bags-trash-bags“What do I own? Convictions. I have legal papers,” I explained.

“Oh yeah, you’re one of those who thinks she’s gonna fight her way out of here.” He started laughing.

When I had to come back to him for the last bag, he started cackling at me.

“You got a lotta legal papers, Bozelko. Yeah, you’re definitely gonna beat your case.” He pshawed at me when he handed me the last bag.

I used to go as monosyllabic as possible as often as possible when one of the guards was being an asshole. But even a meek little “Yes” was too much. And just shutting up wasn’t enough. I had to find something in-between and I did: the T.I.E. –  the Totally Inscrutable Expression.

It takes a lot of strength and concentration to go totally blank on your face.  It requires perfect posture so your body language can’t speak for your mug.  You can’t look like you’re stifling a laugh. No upturned corners of your mouth to make you look smug. No browing down – could be interpreted as anger. You can’t look confused because they’ll interpret that as straightforward or condescending sarcasm. Looking nervous only greenlights the abuse. You have to vacate yourself and move all the garbage bags from your mind.

If you’re doing it right, the T.I.E. absorbs you so much that you don’t even notice the taunting in front of you. I think the T.I.E. might be Zen but I don’t really know because I was never into hippy-dippy stuff.

The best analogy I have to explain it is that the T.I.E. is like going slack when you’re being arrested. Ironically, it’s harder to arrest someone who’s limp as lettuce; actively resisting makes it easier to contain you. And physical laxity ends up draining manpower because one cop can’t take someone who’s all loose into custody by himself. He needs at least one other person to help him because the lack of resistance is like a tourniquet on his power.

“Probably exceeds the space for your property.”

I saw where this was going. He wants to give me a ticket.54e4a97d1060b_353693b

T.I.E.

“Maybe I should read them before you move.”

T.I.E.

“You know I can read them, right?”

He can search them for contraband but he’s not allowed to read them. I wouldn’t care if he did read them, but…

T.I.E.

“Do you really think you can beat your case by yourself?”

He’s not supposed to ask me anything about my case.

T.I.E.

“I can grab up all this shit and dump in in the motherfuckin’ trash.”

He’s waiting for a “Please, no!” or a “No, you can’t!” Instead, I T.I.E.’d him up.

“I can go through all this shit and rip it up!” he yelled as he opened one of the bags.

T.I.E.

“Lucky for you, I don’t have time for that. I have a life you know!” he menaced. He was in my face.

Capture6T.I.E.

How the conversation went from my legal papers to his quality of life I will never know.  Rumors about his being kicked out of his house by his wife for gambling too much at the local casinos were being passed among the inmates. I don’t know how any of the women here would know, but they were saying he’s been living a non-life out of his car. You can never tell if these twitterings are true but I did see him washing his hair in one of the kitchenette sinks in the unit with that neon pink, almond-scented hand soap, so maybe it is. Do I care?

T.I.E.

“Now get the fuck out and go down to the Green Mile where you can spend the rest of your life.”

I could’ve grabbed everything and took off. Instead, I stayed loose.

T.I.E.

“Officer, may I leave now? I think the walkway C/O is waiting to escort me.” I asked if I could leave after he kicked me out which meant one of only two things: I have a traumatic brain injury that prevents comprehension or I intentionally didn’t absorb one word he said because he was being a dick. And, for one second, I felt special; his escalation was totally devoted to me.

And as I relocated and dragged all six bags of my stuff – I’m guessing 125 pounds – I wished he had confiscated them on that humid inauguration of June. Maybe I should speak up more and leave my legal problems behind me like my parents say I should.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JULY 25 – 31, 2016

abc_gma_levy_101025_wg

HER NAME IS MY NAME, TOO: I’ve always followed the Chandra Ann Levy missing person/murder case for the obvious reason: Chandra’s are rare and Chandra Ann’s (Ann is my middle name) are even more scarce. The case against her accused killer, Ingmar Guandique, was pretty strong, circumstantially. Then prosecutors had to assure that they would convict him – a second time, mind you –  by employing a jailhouse informant who blew up in their faces.  If they had a solid case the first time like they were supposed to have done, they wouldn’t have needed the snitch. This event reveals the hypocrisy of prosecutors: they think all inmates are liars when they report abuse or defend themselves…until they can help the government with something, then prisoners are pure. It looks like justice for Chandra Ann may prove elusive. And things don’t look good for the case about missing intern who turned up dead in Rock Creek Park, either.

WHENEVER WE GO OUT: The prosecutorial tour of Freddie Gray’s alleged rough ride has come to an end because State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby refused to pursue the charges against the remaining officers; others have already been acquitted. Criminal justice reform advocates are angry because they feel like there’s no justice for Gray, but they forget that there’s a victory here. This is what prosecutors are supposed to do when they know they can’t make a case and too often they plow ahead in weak cases because of the natural inclination of juries to think that a defendant is guilty. It’s hasn’t been decided whether the case couldn’t be made because there isn’t enough evidence (debatable) or because Baltimore City prosecutors are so used to plea deals that they can’t handle actual mano-a-mano courtroom combat anymore (likely).

THE PEOPLE ALWAYS SHOUT: Not one returning citizen spoke at the Democratic National Convention, an event filled with first-person accounts from children of illegal immigrants, first responders, 9/11 victims, mothers of mean and women killed by police and other downtrodden persons. Yet not one person who used to be in jail spoke which makes me question the Dem’s commitment to reform. Read criminal-justice news organization The Marshall Project‘s post-mortem on the DNC here. They did one last week for the Republicans, too.

 

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30 May 2016

The Five Stages of Grievance

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grievance-quotes-3Prison life is so hectic that most inmates forget about the events that locked the gates behind them. I’ve never been that lucky. I experience daily disorder and I still have to puncture the membrane that separates me from the outside to remember those events and keep fighting. Problems are inside, solutions out.

And the way to permeate that membrane is a court trip. And every time I’ve been to court the strip searchers have stripped me of my motions and transcripts and receipts when I try to take them to court. I can’t cross the membrane with what I need.

One of the rules of prison life is that wherever restriction resides, circumvention moves into the cell next door. I developed a plan to get around the obstacle of being disarmed when I went to court: I would mail a copy of my evidence to the clerk for safekeeping until the hearing and, in case the prison induced delay of my mail, also deposit a copy with my unit counselor.  If the clerk lacked her copy, then I would ask the judge’s secretary to call my counselor and ask her to fax the papers to the court.

The plan would have gone off sans hitch if any of the necessary parties were willing to go along with it. And the clerks, secretaries and counselors weren’t.

“The counselor says she doesn’t have anything to send over for you,” a marshal informed me when I was waiting in the dungeon of the New London courthouse to go into a civil hearing, seated on a bench that was about 9 x 12 inches and more like a misplaced little shelf.

“But I don’t have what I need,” I explained to him. “They won’t let me bring papers with me.”

“You’re fucked then,” he summarized.

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DENIAL:

“Chandra, this has constitutional dimensions. Access to court, due process. They can’t do this,” Cerise, a former lawyer, opined me as we walked to lunch. We are the only two who travel at a non-trudge pace so we end up walking together often.

“True.  I’ll bet the only reason why this has persisted is that so few women represent themselves so no one’s grieved this yet in this facility.”

“Maybe. But if you wrote the grievance, they’ll fold. And if they don’t, then we go global. I can get a thousand black hats here from Tel Aviv, Paris…. They will fold.” Cerise told me, knowing that I was probably the only one on the compound who would understand that “1000 black hats” wasn’t a gang but hasidim who would come to rescue her, the sole female Jewish inmate in Connecticut [at the time], when she informed them that her rights were being violated.

“I don’t think the globe will care. But it won’t matter. I mean, what are they going to say? There is no policy. So they either have to write one that’s legal or write one that isn’t legal. This is fixable.”

In the library, I paged through countless directives in broken binders and discovered that no directive specifically authorized or prohibited the transportation of legal papers to court. Then I ascended the chain of command to exhaust all remedies – a requirement that has to be met before filing a grievance.  I asked whether inmates could bring legal papers with them to court or not.

First Link of Chain of Command – Counselor – said: “Counselors do not have the authority to approve legal papers.” I didn’t ask that.

Second Link of Chain of Command – Unit Manager – said: “The Shift Commander decides whether papers can be transported or not.” Who in hell is the Shift Commander?

Last Link of Chain of Command – Captain – said: “The only court papers allowed must have the state seal and be issued by the court.” What?

So I filed the grievance, excuse me, Administrative Remedy, complaining that there was no formal policy on inmates’ bringing papers to court with them. I decided not to ask why the court would “issue” a paper to an inmate just to have her bring it back in.  I didn’t mention the fact that most “court-issued” papers are devoid of state seals. I just relied on the facts, the evidence I had collected. Because that is always sufficient.

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ANGER:

The Administrative Remedies Coordinator, affectionately abbreviated “ARC”,  is  a woman who never circulates the compound without a manila envelope the size of a grocery bag, the outward symbol of her overburdened day.  She rejected the complaint Amateur typing at the bottom of the form read “Inmates must do all research in directives before filing A.R.

I resubmitted it, noting that I researched the issue and had plainly explained the lack of policy in the body of the original complaint. She rejected it again, typing: “ARC does not do research for inmates.”

“I know, you stupid shit! I didn’t ask you to do the research.  I already did it!” I yelled at the paper after the guard slipped the paper under the door. “She’s too freakin’ dense to know whether there’s an applicable policy or not.  Jesus!”

“Either that or she’s just being a bitch,” suggested Michelle, my cellmate.

“Equal odds on each choice,” I fumed.bargaining.in_.india_.4

BARGAINING:

Face flushed with frustration, I marched to the prison library, and copied all of the complaints and rejections. I attached them to another Request Form, this one directed to the warden, asking “What is the rule for bringing papers to court?   I cannot find it anywhere.  Please just tell me what it is. Whatever it is, I will obey it.”
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DEPRESSION:

“Legal papers threaten the safety and security of inmates and are not allowed on court trips,” the warden wrote back, serving the proverbial cherry on this systematic sundae.

Death’s sweet embrace must be a paper cut. Neither one sounds bad anymore. Can’t be worse than a court trip, especially one where I have to explain why I still don’t have any papers.

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ACCEPTANCE:

Inmates wander into their ‘Offender Accountability’ classes high.  The warden refuses to discipline the guard who allegedly traded razors for oral sex.  The prison allows a C/O to drive inmates around the compound and slam the brakes, intentionally causing the prisoners in the van to slam their heads on the Plexiglas divider between them and the driver.

But amid this chaos, manipulation and violence, my copies of receipts and transcripts pose a threat to safety and security.

I’m just glad that none of the women jostled by the screeching van had legal papers aboard; otherwise someone might’ve been hurt.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MAY 23 – 29, 2016

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Solitary Watch broke the story that three Massachusetts inmates have been in solitary confinement since March, after they met with lawmakers to discuss policy recommendations to address mass incarceration. Originally, they were accused of plotting to build a computer (an accusation, I might add, that credits inmates with way more connections and brains than they would ever have) but now bizarre accusations of escape risk have surfaced. All because they met with elected officials. The only conclusion I can make is that the Massachusetts prison has a lot to hide, more than even the inmates know about.

It was revealed this week that the murder of the head of Colorado’s corrections system was a gang hit, the product of someone’s needing to prove himself to a white supremacist gang leader. This had remained a secret for three years and sort of justifies why prison staffers may not want to have inmates know anything about them, like even their names. No one had a direct, personal beef with the corrections chief. He was just a convenient trophy kill for someone with low self-esteem and access to corrections administrators’ addresses on the internet.

The New York City Council effectively decriminalized quality of life crimes on Wednesday. The reason? So many people didn’t show up for the court date on the low level criminal summonses they received for crimes like spitting in the streets that “Failure to Appear” felony warrants were issued for them, 50,000 in all. It’s predicted that this new law will save 10,000 people from developing an unnecessary criminal record every year. The Criminal Justice Reform Act is the first piece of reform legislation that has acknowledged how much Failure to Appear cases clog the criminal docket and our prisons and jails.

And Bill Cosby will be tried for the crime of rape. Minor development.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 May 2016

I’m with the Banned

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Up The River Anthology

I suppose I should be proud. My publishing career is starting out at the same place Wally Lamb reached mid-career.

imagesThe Connecticut Department of Correction’s Media Review Board banned my book, a poetry anthology entitled Up the River Anthology. The Media Review Board is a motley gathering of seventeen correctional employees  – captains in charge of discipline, counselors, librarians, school principals, mail sorters, a secretary and a staff attorney. It took twenty-one years for the Media Review Board to ban She’s Come Undone, Wally’s first novel. And getting the board to bite Wally’s hand took him fifteen years of volunteering for the Department of Corrections, driving every other week to this prison to teach a three-hour writing seminar to inmates like me. All I had to do to invite the big bad ban on my book was write it.

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Banned.

In deciding what publications it will allow into Connecticut’s cell blocks, the Media Review Board justifies banning a piece of writing for one of two reasons. Either the material is too “sexually explicit,” like the scene where She’s Come Undone’s teenage heroine Dolores Price undergoes a sexual assault by her family’s trusted tenant, or the publication “threatens safety and security” in the state’s correctional facilities.

The second reason is a tad more protean than a standard of sexual explicitness since it seems to apply to every word critical of criminal justice or corrections. Almost all of the Coalition for Prisoners’ Rights’ newsletters bear the big red “X” of banishment. So do the July 22, 2013 issue of the New Yorker magazine and the August 2013 issue of GQ magazine.  I can’t say why these periodicals threaten safety and security because I’m unable to read them.

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Not banned.

One of the biggest prison shockers isn’t what’s prohibited, but what’s allowed. My book isn’t allowed in but the the Media Review Board has approved pages 1 through 52 and pages 54 forward of Prick magazine because these pages are neither sexually explicit nor threatening to safety and security; only page 53 does that and they ripped it out. The Board ordered mailroom sorters to rip a diaper rash ointment ad out of a parenting magazine because it constituted borderline porn with the baby’s bare ass prominently displayed.

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Not banned…for fear of payback.

Among the tomes approved by the Media Review Board are what the inmates call “urban books” – self-published stories written in ebonics and focusing on drug-dealing and doggie-style sex. Amid the commotion caused by a Code Purple, a cryptic message over the prison’s radios that an inmate tried to hang herself with a lime sherbet-colored sheet, I am left, Prick in hand, guessing why certain written materials threaten safety and security and others don’t.

Censorship always glosses itself in that sadistic paternalism that underlies most oppression. According to department directives, the Media Review Board claims to ban content that threatens the safety and security to “staff, other inmates or the public, facility order or discipline or rehabilitation” but really they just restrict anything that tells the Department’s secrets. Notice who’s first on their list of people to protect.

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Banned.

Trying to place the ban in some type of historical context is hard. The whole Up the River debacle seems way too Bradbury-esque for me. The only limit keeping the Media Review Board from boiling up to Fahrenheit 451 levels of censorship is the their own safety and security policy of not allowing lighters or matches to sit around waiting to eat books in flame. It would smack of McCarthyism if any of the board members would come out and,  as the inmates say,  represent, admitting why they’re banning my book; Joseph McCarthy definitely wore the shirt in the book-banning game because he admitted what he was going after. Instead, the Media Review Board hides.

What the Media Review Board’s doing reminds me of the Comstock law. Passed in 1873 and named for Anthony Comstock, a controversial reformer who crusaded for its passage, the law prohibits the mailing of indecent materials or of information about birth control or abortion. For about 85 years, postal officials used the Comstock Law, sometimes very loosely, to censor mail. If post office inspectors decided a book, picture, or other item of mail was indecent, they seized all copies and refused to deliver them.

The Comstock Law is still on the books – not banned ones – amazingly enough. It’s just that the postal service never uses it because the Supreme Court has placed constitutional limits on censorship and they know that everyone will bitch if they avail themselves of  the law.  Whether they use the law or not, censoring written works remains legal in this country, even in 2013, and we act like stifling voices is inbuilt in administrative procedure. Like the Comstock postal service, the Media Review Board is duly authorized to censor books. Duly authorized, improperly rationalized.

120608_EXP_F451_EX.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeAlthough the Media Review Board eventually overturned its ban on Wally’s  She’s Come Undone, I think the real reason for the novel’s banishment was that the heroine’s attack – while fictional – had the potential to trigger flashbacks among the almost 95% of female prisoners who are the victims of sexual abuse and the almost 75%  of male inmates who have experienced the same. Reading She’s Come Undone might remind prisoners how little the Department of Correction does to treat the root cause of their misbehavior and how likely they are to reoffend.

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Not banned because no one but me knows it exists.

While the DOC might be able to prevent me from buying and reading banned content of other publications, I wrote Up the River. I can’t buy my own book or even read it (not even galley proofs or approval of cover art) but I know what it says. Like most published prisoner poetry, Up the River Anthology is hardly a literary coup. It’s an anthology of poems inspired by Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, a collection of 250 poems, epitaphs of fictional residents of a small town, Spoon River, that are their secret thoughts.  There’s no copy of it here, so I don’t know if it was ever considered for a ban. In Up the River, the reader hears the spilled secrets of all the participants in a small town called criminal prosecution, from the police who make the arrest, to the defendant who becomes an inmate, all the way through to the probation officer who provides final release from the system.

I have the poems saved on a 3.5 inch floppy disk that stored them when I wrote them on a 1999 Gateway desktop. I scroll through and wonder if it’s the cop poem that alarms the Board when he says:

Ramrod sergeants and captains

Order us “Enforce!”

The secret of law?

We bend it, of course

Maybe it’s the Warden poem that refers to human warehousing in its last stanza:

banker stuffs the single slip

of numbers 33-04-45

into his silk shirt’s pocket

the combination to the human safe

 Or one of three correction officer poems that says, in part:

Oh Lordy!

It’s Sunday

Secure all your doors!”

My partner?

He’s crazy

He calls the girls whores.

Of course, I’ll challenge the Media Review Board’s pronouncement, but appealing any decision is next to impossible when you can’t discern how or why it was made.

we are waterAs I fight my banishment battle, Wally may need to gear up for another one as it remains undecided whether the Media Review Board will build a dam around his new novel, We Are Water, and not let it flow inside York Correctional. The students in Wally’s class have been listening to chapters since 2011 so we know what it says. We Are Water’s darker theme – childhood sexual abuse and how it rears its head in adult victims’ lives through crime – hits much closer to home than Delores Price’s hellacious introduction to adult sexuality. Even with her ban undone, Delores Price never entered prison as a perp because, despite her childhood trauma, she never entered a life of crime. But the members of the Oh family, the characters in We Are Water, enter lives of crime in a number of different ways because of unresolved trauma. In that respect, Wally’s characters are a lot like his students in the prison. Either way, Wally’s most prominent lesson in We Are Water is the same as what he teaches his students in the prison: the secrets must be washed out of us for our thoughts and behavior to improve.

The same rule applies to DOC. They banned Up the River because it lets their secrets out.  For all inmates’ sakes, I hope that the Media Review Board swallows hard and overturns its ban if only for the reason of showing inmates that they can achieve something even while they remain behind bars and bans. If the Media Review Board doesn’t overturn the ban, it will be because they see the Department of Correction’s – and the entire criminal justice system’s – rehabilitative failures appear all too clearly in the River’s reflection.

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: Up the River was approved for entry into Connecticut’s correctional facilities, effective March 4, 2014, by the Media Review Board Committee with a statement that “No information contained in this publication presented a concern for the safety and security of the institution, staff or inmates.”

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MAY 9 – 15, 2016

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It was a week of revelations.

The Washington Free Beacon revealed that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has received in excess of $75K in political donations from Department of Justice employees. The Department of Justice is the agency that will ultimately decide whether Hillary is charged with any crime related to her secret email server. While this story might not seem to relate to justice reform initially, it does have implications for presidential platforms. How can a candidate like Hillary ethically develop a position on criminal policy when it might harm or help her personally? On the other hand, how can a candidate create a knowledgeable platform about criminal justice policy if he or she hasn’t been at the wrong end of criminal case caption? A presidential candidate who’s interfaced with criminal investigation is both qualified and disqualified at the same time to create such policy.

Prison population growth is relatively stable but jail growth is growing. The reason? Cash bail. A study released this week by the Prison Policy Initiative showed that people in jail are actually poorer than people in prison. Accused persons have been increasingly held in pretrial detention even though they are legally (and perhaps factually) innocent. Any attempt at prison reform must include the front end of how and whether courts set cash bonds.

Then the Tampa Bay Times revealed that, despite the fact that Walmart employs security guards, Walmart stores get more police protection than anyone else, sometimes generating 63 incidents per day for law enforcement response. Even the local police departments admit that the cost of Walmart security has been shifted to taxpayers. There must be a trade-off with public safety away from Walmart stores if this is happening.

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14 March 2016

The Unnerving Presence

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“It’s no one’s business what happens here,” one of the kitchen supervisors told me when it became clear that Prison Diaries was becoming a regular feature in the New Haven Independent.

“No, it’s everyone’s business and in the United States we don’t believe in stifling free expression, remember?” I volleyed back. I’ve always believed that. This is a publicly-funded facility and Connecticut taxpayers should know how their money gets spent at 201 West Main Street. Some stories will horrify them. Some will make them proud. Others will just confound them. Wait, why was the C/O hiding in a garbage dumpster?

imageRegardless of what I report, writing from prison is a bitch. It’s not enough that some personal or institutional intrusion fractures my focus and makes me drift, but my hand hurts because I have to scribble everything. I claw through a 4000-word essay, fingers practically curled. A ridged burl decorates my middle finger where my dime-store pens rest. From writing every day, my tunnel is completely carpal-ed.

For a while, the physical conditions were biggest complaint about prison writing. I sulked when I erased lines of prose to make room for edits. Because I can’t cut-and-paste Microsoft-style, reading one of my drafts is to follow a map and piece together a puzzle. Underlined orders instruct the reader: Insert paragraph A here;” “Go to bottom of page 6;” or “Reverse order of sentences.”

“My writing would be so much better if I could just type directly into a computer,” I lament to anyone who will listen. Instead, I need to mail my handwritten stuff out for transcription.

In many parts of the world, a woman’s expression of thought attracts a range of penalties, ranging from suppression’s slap of the hand to the doom of death. I found an edition of New York Times still intact (because none of the inmates sliced it up for a collage) and one column described how, just to write a Pashtun folk poem, one Afghani woman closes herself off from society, stays inside to write so no one will see what she’s doing. Her father withdrew her from school a year before, after one of her classmates was kidnapped at gunpoint. Writing in secret is her only education now.

In Afghanistan, women must literally ‘phone it in’ when they write; they call a member of Mirman Baheer, Afghanistan’s largest literary society, and whisper their work over the line. Members of the society take dictation of marginalized women’s work and read it for critique at a group meeting or, sometimes, preserve it for posterity when the woman can’t write anymore because she gets caught putting her feelings down on air, the paper of oppression.

imageI haven’t written in secret but an Afghani woman’s plight isn’t that different from mine; we’re both blocked from completing the task of writing and depend on others to get our work done.  Of course, in the Middle East, it’s because she’s under threat of death. Here, it’s because the prison school is subpar and I threaten exposure. Or at least the staff thinks I do.

None of them ever said I couldn’t write or outrightly prohibited me from pitching to editors. Sure, some of the C/O’s make comments, Biff-the Bully-style (from the movie Back to the Future) taunts. One female guard make an overly voluble comment about how no inmate should make any money writing about her at her job.

Another one asked me: “Don’t you think it’s a better idea to stay under the radar?”

“Maybe if you guys allowed me to stay under there, I would have,” I answered.

After one oped came out in the local paper, a real slow-pitch softball on mental illness, hardly a scorcher for the facility, one of them asked me “Bozelko, what did you do?” like it was a huge, irreversible error, an invitation to unintended consequences beyond my imagination.

In this country, the First Amendment is supposed to resolve any dust-ups writers anticipate with the establishment. But freedom of speech will never protect a prison writer like it does a free woman. So far, I’ve used it like I’m character in a movie who’s being pursued by a murderer. I pushed the protection like it was a dresser or a wardrobe against the door to block the would-be perp from following me into a room. But the audience knows that the blockade will slow the pursuit, but it won’t stop it. Eventually, the villain breaks through because it’s a necessary part of the narrative. I knew my story wouldn’t end until I went head to head with a state-imposed media blackout.

image“You know about this, huh?” I asked the same supervisor the day after my name was shouted during mail call and I was handed not a letter to the editor, but a letter from the editor, of the New Haven Independent, where only a handful of columns had run. When he remained expressionless, I knew. If it wasn’t him, then it was one of his friends.

The editor cancelled Prison Diaries. Reason? My essays aren’t hard news and his non-profit mission statement states he can publish only hard news that is about New Haven. Since I’m not from New Haven he can’t justify it anymore. These were facts he knew before I risked writing but somehow they mattered now, not then. I don’t know if they called him or…who? The IRS? About the Independent’s 501(c)3 mission statement? It almost seemed too smart a plan for any of them to muster.  No one could ever call it what it was: subtle, masterful censorship.

“I guess it’s nobody’s business again, then?” I asked with a little too much sass in my voice. I was courting a ticket. All he could do was shrug at me as my anxiety built while I devised ways to keep writing.  From now on, it needs to be secret.

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Three Ideas in Justice Reform from March 7 – 13, 2016

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A riot broke out at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in southern Alabama over the weekend. The warden and an officer were stabbed and inmates expressed their complaints about conditions by setting fires and trashing the place. That’s not the best evidence that something’s really wrong at Holman, though. The best evidence that something is wrong is the fact that the public could witness parts of the riot because an inmate had a cell phone and taped the events. Considering that no one at all is supposed to have smartphone near inmates, the corruption and problems at Holman can be traced to whomever smuggled the phone to the inmate.

On Wednesday, the United States Sentencing Commission released study results showing the recidivism rate for federal prisoners released in 2005 to terms of probation is about 50% within 8 years. That’s not good, but it’s old data.

Science Magazine published an article that detailed the ways in which scientific evidence – striations on bullets and casings, fingerprint matches – is not as reliable as we think it is and might even need to be tossed entirely.  Add in the fact that eyewitness testimony has been proven to be inherently unreliable, I don’t know how prosecutors can prove a case to highly educated jurors, the types who read Science, who know evidence’s limitations. I predict dumber and dumber juries, with thinking people weeded out by questioning them in voir dire about what they read.

 

 

 

 

 

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18 January 2016

Ignore the Words

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“Jesus!” I shouted to no one and jumped back when I heard a creature rustling in the dumpster at the end of the medical unit.  I looked not to see a raccoon or a rat, but an inmate who had Pica disease; Pica sufferers have abnormal cravings for things that aren’t food – “non-nutritive” is the official description.  Other people told me they’d seen her eating items like pencils and a used Band-Aid from the trash.

imageFrom across the yard and somewhat behind me, I heard a C/O yell, “Hey, get your butt out the trash and get over here!”

She had exposed herself to discipline by being “out of place” – in an area unauthorized for inmates.  Justice tempted me to run over to the guard and explain what I knew about this woman’s Pica disease so she would not be punished, but injustice reminded me that rushing to her aid like that would land me in trouble, too. I looked around – no other pseudo-Samaritans to pinch hit for me. Would they even have known even if they were on the walkway.

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I wonder what she ate before she got caught.

“Get over here now!”

The woman moved to him sheepishly; she had clearly been embarrassed before.

“What in the Lord’s name were you doing in the trash?”

“I was hungry,” she answered, eyes still downcast.

“Gimme your ID,” he told her.  This is the official notice to a prisoner that she’s screwed – the C/O needs her inmate number and name for the disciplinary report.

Whatsoever you do to the least of my people…  I knew I had to Good Samaritan this whole scene, risk my own ticket and inform the guard that this woman suffered from a mental illness that caused her to, well, eat shit. I started towards them slowly – which put me out of place, too – and watched the guard walk into the back of the dining hall and order the woman to follow him.  The kitchen was the closest location for blank disciplinary reports.

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I’ve seen a few inmates eat laundry soap but the woman in the dumpster wasn’t consuming cleanliness like that.

Rehearsing what I would say: Umm…hi…she, the one you’re writing the ticket for…she has Pica…which means that…ok, so you know about it… that it’s like not really her fault, she…has an illness…she wasn’t trying to disobey any rules or, you know, disrespect anyone…. I wondered what the best response would be if he told me: “I don’t care.”  It was hardly a robust defense I had planned out.

I thought he’d jot down her prison vitals and dismiss her.  Instead, as I peered in the kitchen, I saw him hand her ID to the kitchen staff who promptly loaded up a Styrofoam tray with leftovers from lunch.  The guard directed the woman to sit at a table with a napkin and eat to her fill in a dignified way.

Realizing that I wasn’t needed, but still out of place, I started to scurry away before he saw me. I turned my head one way to see if any staff was around to question why I was outside the kitchen and ended up bumping into one of the white columns on the walkway.

imageI hope no one was watching me from one of the housing units as I crept behind those two, did a brief peeping Tom routine through the kitchen’s back door and then ran into a pole. It would have looked too bizarre, so crazy that the whole scene might have exculpated me from the crimes I’m here for. Who? Her? She never could have pulled that off…. Sometimes a situation sounds harsh or looks senseless because we don’t understand that the players’ intentions are good.

“Damned fools,” I heard the C/O say behind me as he exited the back of the kitchen.  I never understood if those was cursing the inmates in the facility or the people who run it with their misguided concern for inmates with special needs – the name would apply to both –  but it hardly matters.  Those were just his words.  What he did told me everything I needed to know.

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She’d have been proud of this man.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JANUARY 11-17, 2016

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Everyone thought President Obama would focus on criminal justice reform in his last State of the Union address, but the topic got only eleven words out of 5000+. I don’t think he’s the leader everyone thinks he is on this issue.

The Supreme Court of the United States struck down Florida’s death penalty in Hurst v. Florida. What the Court didn’t touch was the fact that it only takes seven of twelve jurors to vote for execution for you to get the death penalty in the Sunshine State – it’s okay for five people who’ve heard all the evidence to think you shouldn’t die. And they still kill you.

A former prisoner is convicted of attempting to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the prison in Maryland, items worth $35,000 on the penal black market. A riot almost broke out in an Ohio prison this summer after a drone drop. No one’s smuggling the old-fashioned way anymore – in a body cavity. Drones are the new ass.

 

 

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28 September 2015

One Bitch, Two Bitch

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“Which bitch?” I asked a co-worker who just complained about “That bitch.” Every third word spoken in a women’s prison is “bitch”. Every woman here is a bitch, if not in demeanor, then in name.

Despite my education and commitment to spicing my conversation with “bitch,” rather than making the word the meat of my discourse like the other inmates do, I refer to women as bitches now without any rancor or regret. It’s like I’m Jay-Z. My new pottier mouth gives testimony to the power of immersion in learning a second language. No one said the second language had to be anything other than “bad.” Along with everyone else in here, I use the word so often that I sucked the sting right out of it.  “Bitch” isn’t an insult; it’s a pronoun.

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Not in here, doll.

“Bitch means ‘Being In Total Control of Herself,’” trumpeted a 23-year old inmate, her face studded with cystic acne, her worldview too innocent to survive this place. Everyone around her knows she swiped it from a bumper sticker and everyone around her knows she’s full of shit. “Being In Total Control of Herself” as a ward of the state, a slave to her poor choices, trying to master anyone but herself? No. Not here.

Some inmates are proud to be true bitches: nasty, trifling and cruel. “No one loves you and that’s why you’re here” is their version of “You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.” The bitches’ vitriol not only grows more potent but employs itself with greater frequency when an inmate with a physical or mental disability stares back into their bitch binoculars. To an inmate with a lazy eye: “Which way you lookin’? I can’t tell where you lookin’ with that fucked up eye. Probably why you’re here.”

imagePointing out ostensible – maybe implausible – reasons for a woman’s fall into crime is the cherry on the bitch sundae; it’s just no treat merely to insult someone. A bitch must send the message: IF you were different, you’d be better, as in not here. BITCH: Bullying Individuals That Call for Help.

Every woman in prison features dysfunction, but female inmates walk in clouds of chaos the way Peanut’s Pig Pen roams Charlie Brown’s neighborhood in a billow of filth; it follows them everywhere and forms their identities. Not that the bitches acknowledge this. They castigate others about their problems.

image“I got my shit straight. You need to get your head right. Use the steps, yo. You know them. If nothing changes, ain’t nothin’ changin’. You know that, you dumb bitch!” is a typical soliloquy from an inmate returning from an NA meeting, biting her nails and selling slices of American cheese stolen from the kitchen in exchange for another inmate’s Neurontin, a pill shed of its shiny coating from being tucked between the seller’s check and gum so a hawkish nurse doesn’t see. BITCH: Backsliding Into Three Compulsive Habits.

Bitches try to be as big as their britches and their efforts only end up showcasing their inferiority. They puff up around any guard who withstands their manipulation.

image“Faggot, with your motherfuckin’ fake colored contact lenses. Get me some toilet paper. You got an extra cookies?” They think these mini-harangues make sense and are inoffensive and effective. When the guard disciplines them, the unfairness of the expected comeuppance dazes them. “Yo, why you gotta be all fagotty and aggy (aggravating) ‘bout this shit? I never said nothing bad to you?” BITCH: Babbling Improprieties That Catch Hell.

imageOf course, no bitch elects herself mayor of Bitcharea; usually other people have campaigned against her self-esteem to put her in office. At her swearing in, they belittle her, telling her she’s stupid and worthless, striking and molesting her, twisting her mind to accept that she deserves torment because she’s inferior. BITCH: Bearing Injury That Caused Harm.

Bitches continue to sustain injury in prison. The male correction officers’ barrage of put-downs bothers each of us but, somehow, the men’s words don’t sting as badly as the sly condemnation from female officers. Many female guards are maternal and kind. Others are such vipers that we feel betrayed because there’s the human condition and then there’s the female condition. We all share that; no one granted them immunity from misogyny. Whether they wear cloth badges or we wear laminated tags like dogs, all of us have been called a bitch by a man at one point or another.

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Bitch.

As an inmate, when you interact with a correction officer, sometimes you feel like you’ve re-entered society because the guard is not institutionalized; it can be almost humanizing. When female guards defile that communication with bitchiness, it really crushes you. From the male guards, we expect bald chauvinism and ridicule. From female officers, we resent it. BITCH: Being Inhumane To Crush Hope.

I can’t really tell anymore,  but I think I have become more of a bitch than I was upon entering. Although I talk less and being a bitch requires bitching, so my bitch level may have been reduced. But when I do speak, my words seem like icy daggers. It’s been one hell of a rehabilitation, especially if I can’t tell if I’m a worse bitch or a better bitch, a hoarse bitch or a bitter bitch. BITCH: Basically I’m Tired, Confused = Hateful.

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering which kind of bitch I am. And any prisoner will tell you: figuring yourself out is always a bitch.

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READER POLL

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From vice.com: The Story of How Pimp C Ended Up in Prison

“…[J]ournalist and Southern rap expert Julia Beverly explores the life of Pimp C—real name Chad Butler—and, in particular, sheds light on the period leading up to and encompassing his incarceration. Among the many revelations she offers is an astute analysis of the way that Pimp C’s legal troubles coincided with an intensely concentrated investment in the Texas correctional system.”

Does a rapper who hasn't done time have any cred at all?

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