4 December 2017

A Letter to Lieutenant Real Frisky

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“They made him a lieutenant? What kinda shit is that?”

If I’ve heard it once, then I’ve heard it 200 times since you got your double-bars. Very few inmates expected you to snag a promotion. I certainly didn’t expect it when you walked into Food Prep that Friday morning with your name stitched in yellow thread instead of white, the sign of correctional ascension. After mulling it over for a long time, I’ve decided that your becoming a lieutenant is a good thing. No, it’s a very good thing.

I used to say: “I don’t think he would do that.”

Then it went to: “That doesn’t really sound like him.”

Then it was: “Okay, he probably did, but what do you want me to do about it?”

Finally, I would protest: “Just don’t tell me what he did” when other inmates would describe your wacky games and outrageous stunts. Supposedly denying someone a regular meal and giving her just a few chicken cubes for lunch. Calling women “fat pigs” and telling them they need fewer carbs. Screaming at them to “SHUT THE FUCK UP” as if you take your own advice.

I’ve been particularly offended the way you treated me. Do you think I don’t know that it was you and Booz who took my FBI file, the one I fought to get for my defense? I lost all respect for you. You act like a frat boy in here – and you’re at work, I might add, so that’s pathetic – except it’s pretty much agreed upon in here that no organization would accept you as a pledge given how you’ve behind recently. Except the DOC. That’s why you’re here.

You used to be kind, merciful, wise and calm to the inmates in South Dorm. I had been here less than six months and I knew how you guys kick around the newbies.  I was scared of some of them but I wasn’t scared of you. Until later.

Losing respect for someone is no fun for any rational person. I know that other inmates never hide their glee at another’s failures or misfortunes, but I try not to get that way. Seeing you denigrate women who you thought were weak, me included, made me furious and sad. Now that I see you with Lieutenant bars on your lapel I know why. It wasn’t so much the personal attacks or the rumors you spread about me or even sending your friends to harass me, it was the fact that you disappointed me. When you have respect for someone and how they do their job  – which I admit is thankless and unenviable – that I didn’t like the way disappointment felt because it meant I might be wrong, that the anthropologist’s eye I’ve cast on this place has a cataract.

No matter how bad my vision is, I can catch things from my vantage point that you can’t. I take field notes every day, including a list of my cellmates who come back. It’s getting long now, that list, because women love to return to abusers.  I watched you be very kind to two women. They weren’t cute. Weren’t flirting with you. Offered you nothing but their pain and fucked-up-ness and you handled it.

I’ve been here five years and neither has come back.

Sure, outstanding warrants may have chased them out of state or they might have died, or they might have been treated well enough by someone in this place that they felt the confidence to make different, better decisions. I doubt they said: Frisky was nice to me, so I’ll be good. But I choose to believe that how you treated them contributed to their doing right.

A myth of modern corrections is that the only way to cause an attitude shift is a shove. But it doesn’t. Sometime the shift turns on a nudge, a subtle prod or even an accidental tap. These nudges might just be your (old) way of doing business, but they also shaved a couple of points off the return rate. Like I said, I choose to believe that you are solely responsible for that benefit to society. You have it in you.

But that’s not the only reason I have decided that your promotion is a good thing. It’s no secret that allegations of misconduct, childish pranks, and generally prickish treatment have been lobbed at you. If all of them were true, they’d need a wheelbarrow to move your personnel file from all your reprimands. I know everything isn’t true. But I also know – and you know – that some of it is. But someone – and I have no idea who because I know nothing about the DOC promotion process – looked past all of that and spied some potential in you. Sure, other inmates can describe your advancement as symptomatic of the dysfunction of this place, but it can also be an example of reform and redemption. You’re a lieutenant and a lesson, as far as I am concerned.

I’d congratulate you if I knew that your friends wouldn’t sack me, crush my face against a craggy concrete wall, cuff me and chuck me into a dungeon like they usually do for you.

I think it’s stupid that I can’t tell you this directly, that the bullshit between us made a pile too high and too wide for either of us to get around. I should be able say “Peace” to you and end this, but the risk for misinterpretation is too high. I can’t say anything to you, even if it’s nice, not that I’ve been that motivated to do so these past years. I’ll accept some blame for this, but it’s a noose I’m not willing to loosen on you entirely. You need to admit to yourself that your behavior towards someone who has far less power is despicable. It’s also foolish because I’m not serving a life sentence. You’ve given me the story of a lifetime to tell when I leave here. And if I do, what will you say to me then?

I bet if anyone ever heard me say this, they’d be so shocked that their fight-or-flight responses were activated. Captains in Building 6 would clutch their chests with angina, maybe even stroke out. The warden would be feeling around his desk for a brown paper bag to help him stop heaving in hyperventilation.

But I am serious. Congratulations. I hope nothing but justified success awaits you. Rise. Become a captain. Become a warden. But most of all become good again, how you used to be. It’s on everyone’s agenda in here.

P.S. I think you need to call your union steward about this place getting you a new, clean dumpster to jump out of. Since your promotion, you shouldn’t have to climb into dirty dumpsters anymore. A filthy can for a lieutenant? That’s abuse.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 27 – DECEMBER 3, 2017

I don’t know if you heard, but President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador last December.

Here are three ideas on why Michael Flynn was charged with and pleaded guilty to only one criminal charge.

First: It may be all that Mueller et al. have. Doubtful, but a possibility.

Second: It’s just a sweet deal because Flynn is ponying up so much evidence against other people.

Third: Deciding not to charge Flynn with more crimes avoids the double jeopardy trap for state charges in case President Trump pardons him. Lying to the FBI is s strictly federal charge, so if Trump pardons Flynn, no state can bring those charges regardless of a pardon; it’s not a loss to forfeit a chance at a prosecution that you never had. But if Flynn were charged with conspiracy under federal law and subsequently received a pardon, conspiracy charges could not be brought at the state level because they’d be precluded by the double jeopardy clause.

My guess is – and I could be totally wrong – that charging Flynn with conspiracy is going to be left to a possible state prosecution in the event that the case against Flynn somehow goes south, pardon or lack of cooperation.  Federal courts and many states have laws that allow co-conspirators to testify against each other without corroboration and as an exception to the Hearsay Rule; conspiracy cases are relatively easy to make with accomplice testimony. State prosecutions of conspiracy charges against Flynn would exceed Trump’s pardon reach.  It may need to come to that for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team to see their goal to fruition, even if it is though a state prosecutor’s office.

 

 

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27 November 2017

Tituli

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

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

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

INMATE BOZELKO:      Called you what?

GUARD:   Guards!

INMATE BOZELKO:      That’s an insult?

GUARD:    Yeah, it’s an insult.

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

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

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

GUARD:    Yeah, but in something else you wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUARD:    What’s ‘confounded’?

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

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

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

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

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

GUARD:    Why you gotta say ‘micro’?

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

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

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

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

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

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30 October 2017

Cos Slay

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CTO Walters’ dedication to public service led him to make another announcement over the intercom before he headed out for the Halloween weekend. I was sitting in my cell and heard it on the overhead speakers.

“I will come in on Monday and check the tapes and see if anyone was parading around in costumes and if I see one of you with anything on ya’ll’s heads, you will all go to seg for 30 days. No stopping on the Boardwalk or Madison Avenue, you’re all going to seg[regation],” he warned in his Southern twang.

“I think that was a Monopoly reference,” I said out loud, to myself, alone in the cell, and heard from the rec area:

“Boss Lady!”

“Princeton, you gotta help us.”

Three women were panting at my door at the news, their frenzied speech buffered by the cell door. For some reason, it’s impossible to hear someone when they’re right outside your cell door, but they’re crystal clear when they’re down the hall. Walk into any housing unit and you’ll find at least one woman who’s practically kissing a doorjamb. Another woman’s inside doing the same thing, just like I was.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Didn’t you just hear that? Motherfucker says he gonna put all us in the box if we dress up on Saturday. We got the party and all.”

“What that got to do with me?” I’ve found that, sometimes, I can communicate better in here when I speak in song lyrics.

“He can’t do that, put people in seg when they didn’t do nothin’?

“You’ve been here longer than I have and multiple times. You ever gone to seg for nothing?” I asked.

“Yeah, um, I was on the walkway, see and…”

“No, I don’t need to hear what happened. Costumes violate the rules but, even if they didn’t, they can do whatever they want. And they do. And you know that.”

“So?”

“So I can’t tell you whether he will check the video and put you in seg. Seems extreme, but who knows? If he does he can get you for hiding your identity or a flagrant [disobedience].”

“But I made cat ears and Regina crocheted a leprechaun hat,”Allie wined through the steel frame of my exit and bounced like a disgruntled child. “What’s wrong with a costume?”

“Well, we’re in prison.” It’s the catch-all explanation for everything here, mostly because it must be. Women think that every legal thing they did on the outside flies inside. It doesn’t. It can’t.

“Weigh it out. Is it worth going to seg for you to wear these yarn ears? If so, go for it. If not, abstain,” I advised to the crack of the door.

“What’s that mean?” I paused for a moment to consider this moment, one I definitely won’t forget. Self-restraint is foreign in here. No one has ever taught many women in here the concept that they can forego something risky, even downright dangerous, as a form of future self-preservation. Even less likely is the prospect that has someone recommended this type of decision-making.

It comes across as entitlement – I can break rules and avoid consequences – but it’s really just a lack of knowledge, of training. I don’t know if it would be futile to start explaining those concepts now or whether they’re here exactly to get that lesson. And if they are, I don’t know that I’m the one to dispense it. After all, I am wise about this because I don’t give a shit about this little Halloween soiree. Maybe if I had something I cared about on the line, I’d get a little daring myself. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it in the past. 

“Listen, we’ve all worn masks our whole lives and a costume since we got here. It won’t kill you not to be extra extra for just one day,” I told them. Final answer.

They ain’t tryin’ to hear that.

 



THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 23 – 29, 2017

Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, we will know who’s about to take a collar in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation. And so it begins.

Two Bronx public defenders wrote  original commentary for The Marshall Project highlighting a new study that I hadn’t seen when it came out. Racial disparities in plea-bargaining outcomes are greater in cases involving misdemeanors and low-level crimes; being accused of major crimes evened out plea bargain outcomes. Also, white defendants with no criminal history usually received reduced sentences (all except me) but black and white defendants with criminal records were treated similarly. 

Here’s where criminal justice reform makes no sense. The main gripe with mandatory minimum sentencing laws is that they strip judges of discretion in sentencing. Then reformers push risk assessment tools that also strip judges of discretion. It seems to me like any inroads made into eradicating mandatory minimum sentences get erased with these computer programs.  Read this oped in The New York Times by a former Facebook engineer/Harvard Law student to understand why these tools can be dangerous. 

 

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23 October 2017

A Very Moving Story

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are you moving2

You have a call from…Chandra… an inmate at York Correctional Institution. This call may be monitored and/or recorded. You may start your conversation now.

“Chan? Happy Birthday,” my father said.

“Thanks.”

“I talked to the warden, you know, about your mail delay, and he said your mail is probably delayed because you’ve been moved 37 times.”

“Yeah.”

“Is that true?”

“Yeah.”

“Thirty-seven times?”

“Hal-owe. Happy birth-day!” It was my mother, intervening. My father probably waved her over to another extension. It wasn’t uncommon for my parents to sit two yards from each other, talking to the same person on the phone, each on different receivers.

“Hi Mommy.”

“Hi. What is happening? They’re putting you all over the place?” she asked.

“Huh?”

“Daddy said they moved you 37 times.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. This is terrible,” she said and sighed.

“They’ve moved you 37 times in a little over five years?” my father inquired, on a cross-ex.

“Yes. But every time I go to seg, that’s two moves, you know. One in; one out. Maybe three, if I land in 3-South first.”

“And how many times have you been to seg?” he asked, even though he knew.

“Fooo…no, five.”

“Well, then, let me ask you this, Chan.” That’s Ronald Bozelkoish for You’re not making any sense. “What happened in the other 25 moves? When you didn’t go to seg.”

“Umm, I moved. One regular unit to another.”

“This is absolutely absurd. So they move you every other month? Is that what you’re telling me? And this has been going on from the beginning?” Ronald was demanding information for an action plan.

“Well, except for the moves inside the unit.”

“What is that?” He needed to check.

“Like when they move you from one cell to another inside a unit. You stay in the same building. Or half of the building,” I explained.

“How many of those?” my father asked.

“I dunno. Two or three for most of the units.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“No,” I said. I wasn’t.

“Why didn’t you tell me this was happening to you?” my mother asked.

“That I was getting moved? Why?”

“Because we would have done something about it,” she explained, exasperated.

“‘Cuz it didn’t occur to me. I just want my mail on-time.”

“But that won’t happen if they keep moving you like they are, okay?” my father explained. “When did they move you last?”

“Well, to…today.”

“Today?! On your birthday?” My mother was horrified.

“Where are you now?” my father asked like he was a 911 operator trying to ascertain the location of an emergency.

“I’m still here, in the prison. I’m in One North again.”

“What is One North? What is that about?” came from my mother and “Where were you before?” came from my father.

“We need to stop this,” came in unison.

“Well, I have only, what? Eight months left? How are we gonna stop it now?”

I am getting far too pragmatic.

I always hated moving in here. You stay at the same address you just get filed under another number. More than anything else that can happen in this facility, moving cells made me feel like we’re chattel, like we had to be stored in a different container. Where we would be could change, but we always, always had to be stored somewhere. It was burdensome organizing for the staff, like they had to find somewhere to stuff us.

I never realized that I might hate the moves because the staff has gone pretty far to make me miserable with them. Normally, operations [administration] will move you only if you’re in the prison, i.e. not at court or an off-grounds medical appointment, and only during first shift. Unless its an emergency in the cell, like when my toilet started flushing non-stop without anyone’s using it and they moved me and my roommate to another building at night, you’ll be moved before 2 PM.

Unless you’re me, anyway. After a week in court during a week of snow and other delays (meaning I had about 10 hours of sleep for the week, aggregate) they moved me once at night – which is unheard of, unless there’s an emergency. But there was none that night and there was every reason to let me stay where I was.

Paralyzed by fatigue, I couldn’t even carry my stuff anymore and the C/O picked up my bags and carried them for me. They’re not allowed to do that and I was so grateful to him that I didn’t even say anything a few months later when he threw a roll of silver duct tape straight into my face. When I was on the phone. That was when I lived in One North another time, about 20 moves ago.

Moving is a security thing in every prison; they like to mix things up so no one gets too comfortable where they are, has time in one place to dig out a Shawshank tunnel. But what happened to me is excessive and I, in my mind the smartest person at this address, didn’t even catch it even though other long-term inmates move about a third as often as I do and average inmates move about a fifth as often as I do. As much as I complain about this place, somehow I missed the fact what was happening to me wasn’t right. I’m actually pretty good about feeling slights and bitching about them, too good at it maybe. But I miss the real stuff hunting for the piddly offenses or ways to get a reaction from people. If I just understood and mourned some of the things I’ve suffered for what they are, I’d probably calm down.

I remember when I had to meet with the eleventy-billionth shrink and she went through my file.

“So you know that this is abuse?” she asked, talking about every possible psychiatric intervention that had been foisted upon me.

“Well, it’s more just family dysfunction,” I half-agreed, amiably, so I’d be allowed to leave.

“Okay, but it’s also abuse,” she said.

“I mean, I guess. But not really. My parents love me, I know that.”

“Love doesn’t force,” she told me. I never thought about it that way. I’ve loved many people, things, situations and always thought I could force more out of them with threats and generally bad behavior. I was never forced to go back to that doctor and I always wondered why.

After that birthday call, I’ve decided that the cycle of abuse isn’t propelled by anger. The fact that ‘hurt people hurt people’ isn’t because they are in pain so they make a conscious decision to share the torturous wealth. Abuse is fueled by ignorance. People don’t know what constitutes abuse; that’s why they so easily pass it to others. I’ve reached 41 years of life and I still don’t know all the ways I’ve been abused and all the ways I’ve abused many people.  I simply never knew what I was doing or what was being done to me. It’s not an excuse; it’s a fact. Because so many women get moved here every day (especially me), it didn’t really occur to me that these moves might be another form of mistreatment. It felt that way, but every allegedly legit thing that’s been done to me felt the same. I didn’t even know.

Every worker, when she checks in for work in the morning, has to report her housing unit.

“Ms. Bozelko, thank you. Zero-South,” NY Giants said as he placed a deliberate check mark next to my name on the roster the next morning.

“No, it’s One North.”

“They moved you again? Oh boy.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s happening again,” I told him and went to put on my boots. And as I slid on the chunky black rubber and started to think about how much abuse, incoming and outgoing, I never recognized, I didn’t know that no one would ever move me in that facility again. I couldn’t yet see how, even subtly, just acknowledging abuse stops the cycle.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 16 -22, 2017

As part of the organization’s “Whole Pie” series, the Prison Policy Initiative conducted the first formal count of incarcerated women in the country. It turns out that 15% of incarcerated women – around 30,000 of them – are sentenced but live in jails, not prisons.  It might seem like a minor distinction, one related to jurisdiction alone, but it’s not. The difference between prisons and jails have everything to do with quality of life so we are really harming 30,000 women by not finding them a place in a prison. That sentence sounded nuts; I know, but it’s true. For a good explanation about the difference between prison and jail, click here, on the legal website HG.com (HG stands for Hieramos Gamos, Latin for ‘marriage of opposites,’ which means that the site’s founders think it’s almost impossible for anyone who isn’t a lawyer to understand anything about the legal system, an arrogance that might explain why they let their sentenced female clients languish in jails, but I digress.) Another 25% of women live in jails but are unsentenced. They suffer, too. Maybe not as much. Maybe more.

Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers In Our National System Act last Thursday. It’s a mouthful for the same old shit. Literally; the same bill was introduced in 2015. The day before the new version was brought out, law enforcement leaders sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump but they haven’t responded. And they won’t.

A federal trial judge in Brooklyn says he’s going to hold a hearing on the perceived prevalence of lying by New York city police officers. There’s no way to be sure without an exhaustive search of all court decisions, but this could be a first. And a discussion of the credibility of police testimony writ large is needed.  So this should be good. And still, ultimately, not get us that far.

 

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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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