15 May 2017

Going Pro

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Major-Hasan

 

I was less shocked than most to learn that the [November 5, 2009] massacre at Ford Hood was perpetrated by an Army psychiatrist named Nidal Malik Hassan. I know these professionals can be lunatics.

I was forced to see psychiatrists for years. While they dubbed me crazy, all I could do was watch from the couch as they displayed their own madness. One of my doctors left a drunken voice message for my parents, calling them “pieces of excrement” because they questioned his bill. Another wore glasses with women’s Gloria Vanderbilt frames; he was a 70 year-old man. When I asked him: 

“Is  this like a Seinfeld joke?” referring to that episode where George gets female frames, he had no idea what I was talking about.

A female shrink whom my parents foisted upon me accused me of covertly dating her husband, a man I’ve never met, and gallingly told me I was paranoid. The last doctor I saw wore a button on his lapel that read “Four More for Gore in 2004.” It was 2005 when I met him and I still wonder if he knows that W won the 2000 election. If you or I wore that button, these doctors would run after us with nets.

But apparently, some people are too important to be institutionalized or forced onto a shrink’s loveseat, even if it’s their own furniture. 

Prior to his fatal attack on 13 people, Dr. Hassan reportedly tried to convert patients at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Islam. When studying for his Master’s in Public Health, Hassan allegedly made an academic presentation that extolled the virtues of suicide bombing, a totally unjustifiable topic for classroom PowerPoint slides.

The field of public health derives any power it has from numbers – biostatistics and epidemiology. Suicide bombers cannot be contacted in their fiery graves for input into statistical analysis so their violence can never be a legitimate public health study. To the extent that no numbers exist that make suicide bombings a good thing, the presentation was not a completed assignment but a display of mental illness.

Despite this wild performance of insanity, no one ever challenged Dr. Hassan’ s competence or reported him to licensing authorities which makes me think that I’m not the only one who expects shrinks to be nuts; everyone who worked with Hassan must have thought his behavior was essentially normal for him, otherwise they would have reported him, no?

Let’s be honest about this: no one ever reported Dr. Hassan to police or to Homeland Security because he was a doctor. His receiving a medical degree and passing his boards meant that Dr. Hassan was stable and bright; people thought that nothing serious could have been wrong with him if he had achieved so much. While he continued to practice as a licensed physician, his colleagues assumed that he was functional. They also assumed that reporting him for acting like a whacko would destroy his career.

Unfortunately, I witnessed this professional immunity and the tyranny of licensure up close as no one gave a shit about how myriad psychiatric diagnoses would ruin me. I met weekly, twice weekly, thrice weekly, biweekly and very weakly with these dubious masters, and they collected their data from two other professionals – my mommy, a licensed public health nurse (RN) and my daddy, a licensed attorney. Culling clinical data from someone other than the patient is generally unethical. Recording bizarre stories from someone other than the patient, stories that don’t track and holding them against the patient is just plain nuts.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” I would protest to them after my parents would manipulate them. Stories – not facts – data that ended up charting psychiatric misdiagnoses on me that made my file as veiny and layered as a AAA map yet still couldn’t tell anyone where to go with me. 

“They’re making sure you get the help you need. They care about you,” these psycho headshrinkers would tell me. They weren’t even experienced enough with the human experience to know that true care, love, for another person never gets rightfully paired with coercion. 

It seems like certain degrees and jobs make people immune to mental illness, at least in practice.   Professionals suffer from mental illness at equal, if not higher, rates than their non-professional counterparts, yet, if I had to advise someone who wanted to commit a crime or get a little squirrelly with no consequence, I’d tell them to get a professional license first.

Especially in the medical community, what would have been so bad about Dr. Hassan’s being confronted about his behavior and referred for evaluation? God littered the Kennedy family with doctors, lawyers, senators, congressmen and other esteemed professionals. That same family has displayed every possible dysfunction from mere depression to alleged sexual violence for over fifty years. The American Bar Association estimates that almost half of lawyers suffer from depression. 

This is exactly what happened to my father; his license to practice paved the inroads to facing his alcoholism, depression and anxiety. He ended up giving up the license in the face of losing it (he had a stroke and physically couldn’t handle the fight) but without that license to hold over his head no one – including himself – would have been able to help him.

The numbers are sketchier for doctors, probably because people hate them less as a profession and therefore complain about them less, generating less data to examine. Grievances against lawyers force them to interface with disciplinary authorities – sometimes even law enforcement – where they can be studied for population dynamics.  I guess lawyers are expected to be crazy while physicians heal thyselves.

Or, like Dr. Jihadi, they don’t. Psychiatrists are the first people to descry stigma, that it prevents people from seeking treatment, puts a damper on their accounts receivable. Yet when they refuse to sample their own product, shrinks end up perpetuating that stigma themselves. No one reported even the extremes of Dr. Hassan’s behavior for fear of dealing a fatal blow to his livelihood. Making the report that could have compelled Hassan to engage in treatment never needed to destroy his career. Failing to make the report, though, cost 13 lives, plus Hassan’s, because he’s slated for the death penalty for the attack.

Now every time an attorney or a shrink (they come with the attorney for me) screws up, I file a complaint against him with the appropriate licensing authorities. I’ll go after judges, too, even though they technically aren’t licensed to practice law. I think I’m up to seven complaints filed now.

“She’s always filing complaints!” one state’s attorney cries when I go to court.  She’s a pain in the ass and I’m waiting for her big fuck-up to nail her, too.

And I’m only doing it because I care, to help them, to make sure they get the help they need. 

 

THREE IDEAS  TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 8 – 14, 2017

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If only real-life detectives worked like this…

This week I won’t give you three ideas to work on, but rather three people to follow on Twitter. These independent citizen journalists have broken news on what may be (probably is) an ongoing criminal investigation into the most powerful people in the country and, as it looks, their eventual  prosecution. Word on Twitter from these people is that  sealed indictments have already been handed down, even for President Trump, to serve as a basis for impeachment. These Twitterers have never been wrong.

First is Claude Taylor. Follow him on Twitter here. Paste Magazine wrote him up just a few days ago. He hasn’t been wrong yet, save a mistake in legal terminology on where the sealed indictments have come from (it’s the Eastern District of Virginia court, not a FISA court). It wasn’t a material error and this guy knows what’s going on.

Second would have been Louise Mensch, former Member of Parliament, and the journo who broke the story about the Obama administration’s securing a FISA warrant for investigation into Russian interference in the election. If you look at what she tweets here you can see she definitely has a solid source, probably from her political days, but sometimes hyperbole overtakes her.  This isn’t a challenge to Louise, but second place, for me,  is @Bitchyologist AKA Molly, who does some super-fast Google-sleuthing when news breaks. She’ll keep you up to date.

Lastly, is John Schindler, National Security columnist at the Observer. Months ago he tweeted that his sources in the intelligence community were going to see to it that Donald Trump dies in prison.  Pay special attention to his retweets on @20committee.

Claude Taylor doesn’t, but Mensch and Schindler have spotted pasts. She claims she did drugs and it affected her mind. He has an alleged dick-pic scandal behind him. And despite these problems, they’re still right, more right than mainstream media. 

#TrusttheOutsider 

#TeamScrewup

 

 

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8 May 2017

Impatient Warning

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ADVANCE ONE STEP

Rachel* had a miscarriage, you know,” my cellmate said from behind me in line. Rachel, one 25 year-old woman on my floor, was lined up behind my cellie. Two months into her pregnancy, a fetus emptied itself out of her and into an industrial-flush toilet without Rachel’s ever seeing a physician.

I’m not sure exactly what she paid for two other inmates’ Haldol and Thorazine pills to keep her knocked out all day so insanity-making idleness couldn’t reach her. Whatever the price, Rachel got more than she bartered for after bingeing on anti-psychotics at abortifacient doses. At first blood, she asked to go to the medical unit where nurses told her that the doctor was out and was the only person who knew how to use the ultrasound machine. So they let her bleed. To quell her rising anxiety, Rachel took more Haldol and Thorazine, spotted tablets, tye-dyed by another woman’s saliva.

This upsets the usual paradigm of correctness in corrections, namely that the state is always right and the prisoner is always wrong. Unless you ask one of us, in which case, we are always right and the oppressor is wrong. The seesaw evened out on this one, though. Here, the nurses and Rachel all contributed to her misfortune of having to wait for large doses of Motrin to deal with her pain and continued bleeding.

“What should I do?” she asked Terry.

ADVANCE ONE STEP

“When you get out, get a lawyer and sue these motherfuckers! They let your baby die! Whadya think, Bunkie? She’s got a good case, right?”

“I don’t know. Maybe one of those pro-life groups will help you,” I said, looking straight ahead. We’re not supposed to talk in line.

“I didn’t get a fuckin’ abortion!” Rachel cried.

“Yo! Quiet in the common area!” a C/O shouted.

“No, you had a miscarriage, a spontaneous abortion. You’re thinking of induced abortions. Pro-lifers don’t like either one,” I explained quietly, still looking straight ahead like I was talking to an imaginary person.  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

ADVANCE ONE STEP

I feel sorry for Rachel but, quite frankly, not that much. It might be that I’ve been here for five and a half years, watching heartache on repeat.  Or maybe I’ve refined my understanding of cause and effect in the House of Consequence. Should they have transported a pregnant, bleeding woman outside of the prison for a full exam? Of course. Is it their fault this woman took another person’s psych meds while pregnant? That’s on Rachel. Actually, on second thought, that’s their fault too, because they run Med-line, where the pills that probably caused this event were spirited away and sold to Rachel.

One of the worst parts of needing medical attention and/or medication in prison is Med-line. In the morning and at night, a guard escorts two nurses (their names are ‘A through L’ and ‘M through Z’) to each housing unit to dispense all pills that could somehow be abused. All psych meds, anything that can be stockpiled sufficiently for suicide attempts, gets dropped into the palms of the begging inmate who then swallows it and opens widely for a mouth check. Of all the degrading aspects of prison life, this has to come in, at least, in my top three. I’m getting over shitting as a spectator sport, bleeding all over my hirsute self, negotiating for a maxi-pad like its NAFTA, but this: lining up to be infantilized, like it’s something worth waiting for, is one of the biggest tortures for me. I’d do two weeks in seg in exchange for the chance to be trusted with my own healthcare. 

ADVANCE ONE STEP

When I first got here, ‘A through L’ went all Johnnie Cochran and told me:

“I peek so you can’t cheek.” 

They used to make me bob my head in all different directions to do these mouth checks.

“Head back!”

“Lift your tongue!

“Bow forward!”

ADVANCE ONE STEP

One even gloved up felt up the insides of my cheeks, mouth-fisted me like we were in some kind of German porno.

But they’re obviously not doing that to everyone if Rachel was able to put herself in such a fix that she’s just spent the rec period curled up on the floor, hugging her knees, and crying about her child, one who will never be.

Allowing this woman to take someone else’s Med-line pills and inadvertently erasing her child while no one in the medical unit rushed her to a local hospital for an ultrasound pointed out who was wrong. The nurses who failed to secure a timely sonogram are the same stiffs who’re monitoring me like I’m a medication magician but seem not to catch on when other Med-line diversionary tactics unfold – inmates pretending to drop pills, feigning choking, jumping down the nurses’ throats with insipid questions like the woman in front of me who’s asking:

“Is this pill pink or peach?” as she puts it up to the nurse’s face as she hides another pill under her finger around her water cup. The nurse knows the deal; the inmate’s hiding something but she plays along as if the color of the pill matters. It’s not like the inmate would even know if she’s getting the wrong med.

From my place in the Med-line, I can see that inmates are not always the ones in error. In fact, it’s not a case of prisoners being right or the staff being right, black and white.  As backwards as it sounds, prisoners and staff work together very well to be wrong. Our hijinks – like trying to get high off pills that were in someone else’s mouth, prescribed for them – work in tandem to cover up and augment the incompetence and neglect in this place. We know victimization so well that we take it over and do it to ourselves. And they let us. 

When it’s my chance to present myself to “A though L’ like an imbecile, I step forward and announce woodenly to both the nurse and the cheeky inmate as she steps away with some sedating drug under her forefinger, about to be placed on the prison black market so it can ruin another life:

“You’re both dead wrong.”

*Names have been changed

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 1 – 7, 2017

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CODEPINK activist Desiree Fairooz, a woman who laughed during a Senate hearing to confirm Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and then caused a scene as she was being escorted out, was convicted by a jury on Wednesday ofdisorderly or disruptive conduct.”  Unlike many media reports that say she may go to jail for laughing, the foreperson of the jury was very clear that Fairooz wasn’t convicted of laughing, but for her conduct when Capitol Police tried to remove her from the hearing room. According to jurors, the way the law is written means “there’s almost no way that you can find them not guilty.” Lesson here: use your Fifth Amendment right not to speak around police at all. Even die-hard justice reformers talk to police, argue with them, ask why they’re being arrested. But, as you can see, even that can be a crime under our country’s ever-loosening laws. Fairooz’s crime was asking: “Why am I being taken out of here?” and then saying: “I was going to be quiet, and now you’re going to have me arrested? For what?”  If she hadn’t said anything she would never have been tried, much less convicted. I know she has a right to question why she’s being taken into custody, but in an era when police don’t follow procedure and respect rights, maybe it’s wise to fall back on the Fifth. Jail time is unlikely for this woman but still, take notes on this one: SAY NOTHING TO COPS.

The decision was rendered earlier, but it hit the news this week. Even though a defense lawyer was seven minutes late for trial after a court-imposed lunch break and the trial court started without him, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the defendant, a man named Alexander Roy, was not deprived of assistance of counsel.  In the United States, a court can try you if your lawyer is in the bathroom, passed out drunk or just running late and you will get no relief from an appellate court because of our “harmless error” doctrine, which basically admits that a defendant’s rights were violated but says that, because the person is so guilty, it doesn’t matter. The problem with the harmless error doctrine is that it forgets that everyone in the middle of a trial is innocent so any violation of rights, in theory, can harm them. By law, a defendant being tried can’t be guilty but we always think they are.  Roy was being tried for possession of child pornography so people will say that he’s not the most sympathetic case to make this point. That attitude shows how much we presume guilt in our defendants. That’s what he was accused of doing. And what if he didn’t do it?

The Sentencing Project released a study this week showing that a record 206,268 American prisoners are serving the equivalent of a life sentence. That’s almost 10 percent of all incarcerated people. And approximately 17,000 of them are serving those sentences for nonviolent crimes. Chew on that for the next 1400+ days of the Trump presidency.

And, because we’re talking about drugs here, note that anti-drug Trump cut the funding for the Office of Drug Control Policy by 95%. That’s the office that’s in charge of trafficked drugs, i.e. ones that cross the borders illegally.

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1 May 2017

Throw Scissors

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imageedit_34_5429272107

 

Scales symbolize justice because interests compete; one consideration can outweigh others.

It’s a classic problem in here: pitting an offender convicted of a serious, violent crime who has completely rehabilitated herself and poses no risk versus a repeat offender convicted of non-violent crimes who clearly will never reform herself. It’s all good to spank the shoplifter and bury the one who opportunes the use of a body bag, except when the shoplifter leaves a trail of failed deterrence and she lands in lockup for the same thing again and again. Eventually over 100 times.

Who do we let out? The Career Girl, someone who guarantees her promise of more victims or the woman with a single Whopper crime who will never do so much as change lanes without the proper turn signal if she were released? On paper,  Career Girl seems to win. But on scales, Whopper weighs in strongly.

imageedit_1_2643827904I see it every day. Whoppers stand-by as recidivists sing “I’m on a count-down!” – nearing the last day of her sentence. Everyone on this compound – including herself – knows she will screw up again. She worked while incarcerated because she was required to, but she did nothing to edify herself  – college courses, trade certification, nothing. She attended an accountability class on victimization and emerged believing that ripping off big-box stores hurts no one because she “doesn’t steal from people.” In fact, she considers shoplifting not only victimless but noble.

“I steal from the rich and give to the poor,” she declares, proudly defending a ream of a rap sheet and her choice of fences.

“Who do you give the money to?” I asked her once.

“Myself.” She was indignant.

The guards agree with her; they know her from her numerous returns over the years.

stone_PNG13573“You’ve never hurt anyone,” they reassure her and come together into de facto defense teams, talking each other out of writing her tickets to accomplish her early release as early as possible.

And she leaves behind the Whopper, convicted of felony murder for a burglary in which the homeowner died. She took college classes, has become certified in safe food service, commercial cleaning, cosmetology, all of the prison school’s meager offerings. Whopper acknowledges her direct and collateral victims and admits:

“My crime is horrible. I would do anything to rewind my life to that day.”  Remorse and regret tug her face downward each of the fourteen thousand, six hundred days she’s serving. She’ll never be released even though her supporters and critics agree she’d never reoffend. Wouldn’t she be a better candidate to be cut loose?

Crumbled-Paper-Ball-psd102642We never anticipate a fall in perfect balance, like this, a total tie, like a flipped coin that lands and stands on its edge. The method we use to make decisions is looking, watching for the essential tip that indicates Lady Justice’s favor, the way things should be. When we don’t get a glimpse of it, when we do land in equilibrium, we’re supposed clear off both sides, let them both out. But we don’t do that in corrections.

We need to chuck the scales and come to understand justice is like Rock-Paper-Scissors. Punishment is the rock, deterrence the paper because – examples are made big and wide not in courtrooms but in newspapers – and rehabilitation the scissors that sever an offender from old ways. In the game, none of the three trumps both of the others; it’s the nature of the game that each one’s power matches its vulnerability. Punishment can thwart rehabilitation just like the rock breaks the scissors. Rehabilitation can reform someone, cut through the paper, to the point that she’s an example to follow, no longer a cautionary tale. And deterrence should be able to counteract punishment the way paper covers rock, but it doesn’t.

Scissors-PNG-FileIn real life, when paper covers rock, it just blows away in a few minutes. Rock always wins, definitely against scissors – that’s the plan – but also against paper. And in the game, you never know how other players’ fingers will gather. In real life, though, you know who’s shooting what and who will win. No matter how sharp – or, in the case of Career Girl, how dull –  your shears are, punishment overtakes the game. Rock busts the scissors, punches through the paper, and shatters the scales. Everything else in the system breaks but retribution never even gets chipped.

I see Whopper when Career Girl discharges and say:

“Rock always wins.”

I have no idea whether she understood what I mean. But she throws scissors:

“Oh, they got crack up in here? I don’t want no part of that shit. My dirty days are over,” she says, losing again.

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

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President Trump attended a 100-day rally in Pennsylvania where his supporters chanted, again, LOCK HER UP! Since the election is over and Hillary isn’t going anywhere, let’s look at three cases from this past week for real-life examples of women who are about to get locked up.

In Louisiana, two teachers were arrested for bullying one of their own students – even telling her to take her own life – encouraging classmates to fight each other and threatening to fail other children who complained. For that, the two women are charged with “malfeasance in office, intimidation and interference in school operations.” I don’t know about you. but I didn’t even know that ‘interference with school operations’ was a crime. The statute that made it so was undoubtedly designed to be used to charge students who didn’t really commit a crime on school grounds but whom administrators wanted to expel, and a criminal charge could underpin that administrative action. These teachers might run into students who have flowed through the school-to-prison pipeline, aided by the same penal law that landed them in cuffs.

In North Carolina, an Army vet was arrested for shooting her dog, five times at close range, after tying her pet to a tree. The video was posted on Facebook. The dog was her emotional support animal, assigned to her for a diagnosis of PTSD and other mental health complications stemming from her service to her country. The State of North Carolina includes “Veteran’s Courts” in its judicial system. They’re designed to handle crimes committed by veterans who have been traumatized by military service.

A woman in Maryland was arrested for first and second degree assault after an argument broke out in front of her house and she went inside, retrieved a machete, and came out and allegedly threatened someone until the arguers dispersed. She didn’t touch anyone with the large knife. If she had come out with a gun, Second Amendment supporters would have been on her side. Is it acceptable to come out one’s home with another weapon to create one’s own peace?

If you were a prosecutor on these cases, how would you proceed? What if you were the judge? Those decisions you envision now happen in the hundreds every business day around the country.

 

 

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24 April 2017

Pero…like

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imageedit_33_5342224210The real world’s advantages don’t exactly translate in here. Every aspiring college freshman and job applicant in the world brags that she’s bilingual, but it isn’t an advantage in here. They ask you about it a couple of times throughout your risk assessment period. It’s not that they’re looking for translators, like I thought when they asked me. I could’ve said:

“Well, I passed the Spanish civil service test in 1991…” but I acted almost like I didn’t understand the question because I didn’t want to be drafted into the interpreter corps.

But they wouldn’t have asked me to translate anyway. It’s not like York [Correctional Institution] or even other prisons care about accommodating inmates and breaking down language barriers.   Aside from a few paragraphs on old bulletins hanging in the plexiglass-covered announcement boards and the sign announcing the north and south sides of the numbered buildings – as if women couldn’t have figured out that the “S” in 1S meant “Sur,” especially after juxtaposing it against the “N” of North/Norte – there is almost no accommodation of strictly Spanish speaking-women here. I remember reading something about how inmates in a DC jail were complaining about an Eighth Amendment violation [alleging cruel and unusual punishment] because no one working in their medical unit spoke Spanish. I can see the same conditions exist here, where speech means security.

A prison asks you what language you speak because they need to know who to watch. Spanish – or any other language for that matter – is a secret code in an American prison because so few of the C/O’s speak it (or admit they speak it),  making me like a secret decoder ring…that, thankfully, no one knows to consult.

You would think that a group of prisoners who had a private communication system might use it to escape or reform the place. No. In here, the women with the keys to the kingdom use them to scratch someone’s car or pick out ear wax.

The inmates who can speak boldly in front of anyone without detection, instead gossip and slander other women in Spanglish crossed with Valley Girl, trailing sentences as they pulled off the coup of talking about people behind their backs and in front of their faces with  “pero, like….” which translates to  “but, like…”. “Pero…like” justifies baseless bullshit because they leave the end of this slanderous sludge open. It’s like they know that what they’re saying is so false that it needs to betray all languages they know, not just one.

“Sé qui ella dice que no es uno prostituta, pero…like…”

I know she says she’s not a prostitute, but…like…

And they use “but…like” to talk about my keister, my butt. Apparently, I have Butt Implants. And supposedly I stole money from an employer to pay for them. According to them, I’m fake and so is my ass. My ass landed me in here.

Normally, I would laugh at their bullshit but overhearing this hit me in the body part where it hurt most. I don’t even know what to call it. Falling shy of badonkadonk, it’s a bit of a bubble butt. Maybe half a teardrop or a hot tamale losing heat. At least it would have some utility if it were a shelf butt. Shelf or not, my ass is big, it protrudes and always served as convenient drop spot for an insult to me.

I felt like I would never match the physicality of so many of the uber-rich, perfected young adults who roamed the Princeton campus. I saw their limbs as so lengthy, WASPy, tanned in Oyster Bay. Although I hardly came from a poor background, my haunches seemed like vestiges of Slavic peasantry; they reminded me of an Eastern European weightlifter while the other students looked like Nordic ice dancers.

Feeling like a huge red arrow followed me, trained on my ass, made me compensate for those low feelings. Convinced I was attractive only for my brains, I assured myself that my mind outweighed any heavy butt. If it was all about the brains, no bubble, then any thought that entered my mind was right and should be voiced. Pissed over a date being late, I’d blast him. I reamed men for perceived slights or even joking with me like a friend and not a love interest.

When I wasn’t being an intolerable pain in the ass to boys I liked, I spent my remaining college years trying to minimize my gluteus, even consulting plastic surgeons. If they could correct my ass to perfection, I would attract men physically as well as intellectually and they would never leave.

“Can you get rid of this?” I asked each one and he – always a “he” since I subconsciously sought a message of correctability from men – would pull up on each buttock. Items in my rearview are actually smaller than they seem because my legs are so short. My femur compares to the length of an average woman’s forearm.

“I can take some off but you have a lot of muscle. It’s just the way you’re built.” Fundamentally defective yet again.

“¡Carajo! Huelo su coño desde aquí. Se lo chingó ala guardia. Por la mesa, I bet.”

Fuck! I can smell her pussy from here. She fucked that C/O. On his desk, I bet. 

Like the Butt Implant theory, both of these allegations were easily proved false if I cared to do so, but…like…I didn’t want my nether regions dominating all of their conversation.

“No digas ‘coño’. Se escucha vulgar,” I said.

Don’t say ‘pussy’. You sound trashy. 

“Whaaa? Puta. Fuck outta here! Why she never tell us?” shouted one of them, Flaca.

Whaaa? That bitch. Fuck outta here. Why didn’t she tell us she spoke Spanish? She betrayed us by not telling us information we wouldn’t have needed if we had any class.  Wherever women are speaking Spanish in a prison, there’s at least one Flaca within the group. It means skinny. Digo culo piqueño pero, like… I would say ‘small ass’ but, like…

“Yo hablo, pero…like…pueden besar mi culo in Inglés.”

I speak it, but…like…you can kiss my ass in English.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM APRIL 17 – 23, 2017

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2017 file photo, Ledell Lee appears in Pulaski County Circuit Court for a hearing in which lawyers argued to stop his execution which is scheduled for Thursday. Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night. Lee was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Debra Reese with a tire iron in February 1993 in Jacksonville. (Benjamin Krain/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

Last week was about life and who gets to take it. Ask yourself what you would do/want done if you were any of these people:

Another aspect of the “CSI effect” – expecting that every shred of evidence in a criminal case is capable of forensic analysis – is expecting that every shred actually gets tested.  On Friday, the State of Arkansas executed Ledell Lee before DNA testing could be conducted to examine his claims of innocence. Think about that: because the expiration date on a drug was fast approaching, a state government decided it was acceptable to kill someone without double-checking his guilt. This was also Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first vote, he was the deciding factor in SCOTUS’ allowing people to put the needle in Lee’s arm, proving that, in the United States, homicide is acceptable, depending on who commits it.

Keep in mind that one man, Arkansasan Gov. Asa Hutchinson, could have saved eight lives – including Lee’s – in less than 10 seconds if he had the temerity that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had on Thursday when he commuted the death sentence of Ivan Teleguz, convicted in the murder-for-hire of his ex-girlfriend. McAuliffe was convinced of Teleguz’ guilt but saw that his sentencing was unfair (the prosecutor casually suggested Teleguz was involved in another murder during the penalty phase of the trial) so he spared his life. If you had the chance to save a life, wouldn’t you do it, too?

No, it wasn’t a murder. Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriots TE, ended his own life last Wednesday, a few days after his double acquittal for murder. Reports surfaced that, for the first time in court, Hernandez was speaking to other people, blowing kisses to his daughter and generally acting like a human being instead of a prisoner. A little over a year ago, another former NFL player, Lawrence Phillips, committed suicide after coming back from court where he also felt human, and acted, according to others, like “a kid on Christmas morning.” When you aren’t forced to endure mass prisoner transport, chained to other people in filthy buses and vans (which most assuredly neither of these men were) then I guess trips to court can be okay, even good, and better than your life behind bars, and your crash into correctional reality hurts so badly that you use all of the autonomy you have left.

 

 

 

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17 April 2017

Tell Ol’ Pharaoh

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license plate

“I ain’t gonna work for no white man for 75 cents a day,” an African-American inmate cried before she quit and, through her quitting, provided cause to be fired – an event I’ve witnessed so often that I’ve come to call it “quiring.”   While who dumped who might be in debate, what she said was 100% accurate. She didn’t work for the 75 cent daily wage she was paid while she worked here.

jim crowEspecially now that a copy of the Michelle Alexander book, The New Jim Crow, is getting passed around in here, almost every reference to our prison jobs includes the s-word: slavery. It’s a real testament to the power of messaging since I think only 6 of us actually read the book but everyone talks like they have.

It’s true that there are more African Americans under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850. And, given the fact that a high inmate wage is a dollar per hour, slavery would come to mind.

But witnessing the power of prison employment to reform people and to train them for a better life, I think calling it slavery negates all of the good that comes from it and sends a message that’s ultimately more dehumanizing than any uncompensated work could be.

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Did this…

If anyone has the right to call it slavery, I do, but I detest that name for something that’s humanizing me. I feel reliable and capable again even though I’ve only been assigned some relatively menial work like scrubbing pots, stacking plastic trays and slicing bags of tomatoes. I’m not alone; when they’re working, other women feel like they have something to offer that isn’t sexual and they think they’ll be able to provide for their families when they leave. They don’t describe their jobs as some type of bondage. We like what we’re doing and I’ve never heard anyone say that slaves like being indentured. What everyone outside is calling slavery, the inmates who are actually working – and too busy to internalize an infantilizing “slave” mentality – call liberating.

Not only is calling prison labor slavery insulting to the inmates but it’s a total affront to the original slaves whose conversion from human to chattel wasn’t the result of any transgression but was instead a kidnapping from their homeland and a fencing into forced labor.

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…become this?

We modern day slaves landed in our situations because of bad choices. I understand that much of shitty judgment is forced in a way: addiction, mental illness, poverty, lack of education, and racism collude to make the decision to commit a crime seem obvious, even attractive. Is someone who gets charged and convicted of beating a child because the tyke interrupted a TV show she was watching the same as someone else’s being plopped under a poop deck and transported to another country where they’ll never be free…after they’ve done nothing wrong?

More than just relying on a flawed comparison, when you call prison labor slavery, you take away the inmate’s agency, their right to negotiate their own lives, regardless of how reduced their choices are.

And when we erase the ability to choose, to be an agent in one’s own life, we also delete our capacity to reform ourselves. Change results from choice and where we say there are no choices, there can be no rehabilitation.  If everyone who’s working in prison is a slave, shackled to a poor decision in their past, then there isn’t much hope for them when they leave the facility, as 95% of us will eventually.

imageProfessor Alexander – a graduate of Stanford Law School who’s never walked my walk into prison – hasn’t provided answers for the questions that a slave like me would necessarily have with my intimate knowledge of prison labor. If what I do is slavery, then what’s community service, that sentence that everyone thinks is such a boon? Raking leaves for a week for nothing is okay but lifting bags of texturized vegetable protein for years isn’t?  Is contributing to our communities and ourselves through hard, honest toil always going to be an illegal exploitation? If a non-profit benefits instead of a state or a for-profit company, does that make the whole operation legal and defensible?

Where Alexander is right is her assertion that incarceration makes a 21st century caste system whereby people with criminal records are chained in poverty because they can’t get occupational licenses or jobs. That’s the problem with prison labor; not the pay, but the fact that we’re good enough to work in here, for next to nothing, but not good enough to work for people and companies when we’re outside. It’s the same work, from the same source, and it’s treated totally differently once we’re free. That makes no sense, yet the phenomenon had persisted for years in reentry. People are too busy trying to call prison labor slavery that they ignore the good argument about it: that it’s hypocrisy.

I’m white and I work for white chefs who happened to seek employment in a prison kitchen in Connecticut.  Maybe I’d assess this differently if I were black and faced a lifetime of racism that culminated in my being required to bang out license plates in a Texas prison for no pay at all. I don’t even know if I’m qualified to have an opinion on this. What we do in here is poorly-paid but I don’t think it’s slavery.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM APRIL 10 – 16, 2017

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The focus this week? The vig you pay to maintain mass incarceration.

A sheriff in Alabama is petitioning a court to be allowed to keep – for herself – any money leftover after feeding the inmates in her care. It’s hard to tell what the most shocking part about this story from AL.com is. It could be the fact that this is even allowed in the first place. Or maybe the fact that Morgan County, Alabama is the only county left out of this statewide scheme because the last sheriff pocketed $200K  and fed the inmates only two corndogs a day for weeks. Or maybe the fact that the current sheriff, knowing that Morgan County was exempt from this, still withdrew $160,000 from the corrections food account and invested it in a corrupt, bankrupt used car dealership run by a convicted felon.

It was reported that bonuses for federal prison officials, ranging from $7,000 to $28,000, cost taxpayers $2 million over the last three years, while the Bureau of Prisons “was confronting persistent overcrowding, sub-par inmate medical care, chronic staffing shortages and a lurid sexual harassment lawsuit that engulfed its largest institution.” Read about it here.

Things are changing in Georgia, where you are placed on misdemeanor probation for traffic tickets and required to pay the fine plus fees so a private corporation can make millions. The biggest company has quit, because they’ve finally accepted that expecting record profits from a clientele that has always been and probably will always be poor is a shitty business model. Instead, Sentinel Offender Services tried to pass the cost to the taxpayer by requesting that the courts pay these exorbitant fees on the probationers’ behalf.

Who’s the slave now?

Oh, and don’t miss Lifetime’s movie this week, written and directed by my screenwriting teacher Stephen Tolkin: New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell. It’s about the famous 2015 escape and it’s about manipulation but it’s also about a prison workplace and what happens there. Decide for yourself if inmates who work are slaves. The film airs at 8 P.M. EST on April 23, 2017 on Lifetime but you can watch a trailer here.

tillie

 

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10 April 2017

Joovee

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juvylineup

 

Anyone who has ever shopped for children’s clothing knows that there are different sizing schemes. “T” denotes a toddler size.  “6X,” a size unheard of in adult clothing, is slightly bigger for the child growing out of size 6 and “juniors” departments offer sizes for adolescents. Without an exact fit, parents try to find the best fit for the meantime until their children outgrow their clothes and need new ones.

We respond more to children’s fitting rooms than their needs in courtrooms. We drape adult laws over juvenile offenders, always expecting a perfect fit that will last a lifetime. Now scientists and policymakers agree that juvenile sentences are like children’s clothes: one size doesn’t fit all.

JIPProgram

The “Second Look” legislation that just came out of the [Connecticut General Assembly’s] Judiciary Committee would change the sentence modification laws for juvenile offenders,  allowing them the opportunity to have their sentences reviewed without the approval of a prosecutor after they’ve served a certain amount of time. many times children as young as 14 receive sentences of fifty years or more. Second Look legislation provides the opportunity for tailoring our punishments once we realize that juvenile offenders’ sentences either never fit or don’t fit any more.

The way they treat juvenile and youthful offenders in here shows they’re different. The C/O’s escort girls under 18 years old wherever they go: school (mandated for young inmates), meals (they eat alone in the large dining hall and return to their unit before adult inmates are released for chow). Little girls aren’t treated like adults in the big house, but they are in the place that gets them here: the courthouse.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids in Prison" It sounds harmless: Òpre-trial detention.Ó But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, TexasÑand in similar places around the nationÑchildren await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// The Youngest 10-year-old Alejandro is shown to a holding cell where he'll await booking at Webb County Juvenile Detention following his arrest for marijuanna posession. Every day the inmates get smaller, and more confused about what brought them here. Psychiatrists say children do not react to punishment in the same way as adults. They learn more about becoming criminals than they do about becoming citizens. And one night of loneliness can be enough to prove their suspicion that nobody cares.

But the Second Look legislation is cut too small; it helps only those offenders who were under the age of 18 at the time of their offense. The age limitation flies in the face of the most recent neuroscience on the subject, specifically the fact that the part of the brain that governs judgment and impulse does not fully mature until someone reaches the age of 25. In their arrest warrants, police investigating crimes committed by women under  25 – particularly serious and violent crimes by those women – usually tell the stories against backdrops of adolescently dysfunctional behavior:  a co-defendant loser boyfriend who seduced them and induced them into criminal behavior, a complete and total devotion to him during the prosecution of the case, even though her “Co-D” is foisting his responsibility on her.

Even though most of the frontal lobe research embraced by the American Psychological Association indicates that every offender under 25 merits the same consideration in sentencing because their brains are still not completely developed, all offenders between 18 and 25 are left out of it. The law ignores the totality of the science it depends on. Despite this data, using an arbitrary cut-off, a numeric construct, namely the age of 18, perpetuates the practice of fashioning one punishment for a population based only on their ages and not what’s appropriate for the individual offender.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids in Prison" It sounds harmless: “pre-trial detention.” But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, Texas—and in similar places around the nation—children await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// The Youngest 10-year-old Alejandro has his mug shot taken at Webb County Juvenile Detention following his arrest for marijuanna posession. Every day the inmates get smaller, and more confused about what brought them here. Psychiatrists say children do not react to punishment in the same way as adults. They learn more about becoming criminals than they do about becoming citizens. And one night of loneliness can be enough to prove their suspicion that nobody cares.

Connecticut isn’t alone in being kind of wrong in doing the right thing for juvies. This new law would follow the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States who, in their 2010 opinion in Graham v. Florida, declared the death penalty unconstitutional for 15 and 16 year-olds because their adolescent brain development lessened their culpability. But for 17-25 year-olds, execution is fine, even though the research findings say it isn’t.

juvy3

Juvenile justice considerations are usually pretty theoretical to me because I came to the can an old biddy. Neither I nor anyone I associated with was in trouble when I was a teenager. No boyfriend of mine brought me to criminal behavior on a date. However, I ran with a different crowd than these women. My friends, the boys I met, were all from the upper-middle class and were fixated on their futures, even the iconoclast on a opposing debate team who called in a bomb threat to a local school; he’s supposedly a lawyer now. Redistricting ambition into the less affluent neighborhoods, the subsidized housing and the elusive culture that the inmates call “the streets” rarely happens. If I sprang from those circumstances, boys could have easily led me into bad business. Everyone credits her judgment for her clean history but, most of the time, it’s just luck and economics.

"Voices from Juvenile Detention: Kids Behind Bars" It sounds harmless: “pre-trial detention.” But the reality is far different. In a squat block building in Laredo, Texas—and in similar places around the nation—children await trial or placement in concrete cells while the underlying issues that led to their behavior fester. Some are addicts who need treatment; others are kids battling mental illnesses. Many are angry and have been virtually abandoned by absentee or irresponsible parents. Some spend a few days, others months, but despite the efforts of a small corps of dedicated professionals, few actually receive treatment for the issues that brought them to Juvenile. /// Inmates, ages 10-16, wait in line to march back to their cells in the exercise yard at the Webb County Juvenile Detention facility. This is the world of young felons, of kids gone astray, of children who cry for their mothers from behind bars. Some have skipped class too much, some have murdered in cold blood. At least half of the kids have been incarcerated before. And, if society's attempts at rehabilitation ultimately fail--or if the parent can't or simply won't do anything to turn around years of neglect and abuse--just a few more visits to juvenile detention will harden some of these kids into full-fledged adult criminals.

Adolescent stupidity plays out differently in different dioramas – one with government cheese instead of Chili’s quesadillas, one with a fire hydrant instead of a swimming pool, one with parents who wait in line for housing vouchers rather than stand on sidelines of field hockey fields – and will wreak different results. But even someone from the wealthiest, most stable family can make a sufficiently long list of stupid mistakes they made before age 25; an eighteenth birthday doesn’t cut the list off.

In fact, I did most of my dumbest, most barely legal shit in college  – when I was 18 through 21 – the exact ages that this law wouldn’t cover. Even if I had been arrested for any of my alcohol-fueled dalliances with the thought that I was edgy and cool for pulling reckless capers, my family would have reeled me out of this pit in the same way that legislators are trying to help the girls who are here now.

If I had suffered consequences for my stupidity and my family hadn’t had the resources to help me, I’d have been as fucked as the young women in this place are. The kids are goofy but these young ladies are extremely focused on appearance: making uniform jeans tighter, wearing elaborate cat-eye black on their lids, erecting mazes of hair on top of their heads with curls, yet they’re a little dour because, I think, they know that no one’s coming for them. At 19, they’re already too old to attract the right kind of attention.

Update: Photos here depict real juvenile offenders, the last four are pictures of 10 year-old boy who was arrested in Texas for marijuana possession, caught while copping for his mother who has a substance abuse problem and couldn’t post his bail. AN ACT CONCERNING LENGTHY SENTENCES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED BY A CHILD OR YOUTH AND THE SENTENCING OF A CHILD OR YOUTH CONVICTED OF CERTAIN FELONY OFFENSES was passed into law in Connecticut after I left prison, in 2015. It still left out offenders aged 18 to 25.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM APRIL 3 – 9, 2017

jersey-shore-mike-the-situation-sorrentino-tax-fraud-trial

It was another numbers game last week, with some shockers.

The Washington Post reported that ninety percent of criminal charges brought by the IRS were false, based on an overbroad definition of “structuring” – the practice of splitting deposits, supposedly in order to dodge reporting requirements. Many of the deposits were made for legitimate business purposes. Makes you wonder if Jersey Shore reality star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino who was hit with more tax fraud charges this week, including splitting deposits, is one of those victims of the IRS.

Twenty-nine cops killed themselves during the first quarter of 2017. Over 100 took their own lives in 2016. If suicides are just the tip of the mental illness iceberg, then how many more are psychotically depressed, chronically depressed, anxious to the point of jumpiness or traumatized to the point that they’re dangerous to the rest of us, discharging their weapons when shooting isn’t justified? It might explain why they want only cops to serve on juries in trials of cops accusing of assaulting or killing people by shooting them.

One of the 8 men scheduled to be executed in an 11-day death penalty bonanza in Arkansas has been spared. One of the remaining seven wrote for Vice News and the Marshall Project what it’s like to wait for your execution date. Here’s a hint: your death row neighbors call dibs on your belongings and prison staff actually cares that the clothes you wear to get killed fit your properly. I think it’s a disgusting end to any life, even if it did end another’s, if you ask me.

 

 

 

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4 April 2017

Repeat Offender

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Prison Diaries came back.

The site was honored by the Webby Awards for the second year in a row in the “Weird” category.

That’s recidivism at its best.

Visit the Webby Awards site to see the other nominees and honorees here.

There’s some amazing, quirky work out there that you won’t discover unless you look.

Yellow_Honoree

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3 April 2017

I Hate Second Chances

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Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

Studying the Gospel of Matthew in after-school catechism, I found the question:  How many times must I forgive my neighbor?

Seven times?

No.

Seven times seventy.

I remember thinking that Jesus was a little close-fisted about forgiveness. Seven times seventy is 490 and he wouldn’t even round up to the full five hundred. It also scared me because in my twelve-year old heart that was as ambitious about achievement as it was intimidated by my own fallibility – one I would never admit – that I would max out my limit before I could test for my driver’s license.

70 times 7
This is your limit.

The parable’s purpose is to teach the opposite, of course, that forgiveness has no cap. And since the sins I thought would damn me were talking back to my parents, occasionally cursing, being a banal, upper-middle class, white brat, I never predicted that my cup of depravity would runneth over as much as it did when picked up 13 felony convictions. I don’t like to brag, but I earned four misdemeanors, too. I am always an overachiever.

As someone in such extreme need of absolution, I should be heartened when I hear that someone got a SECOND CHANCE but I’m not.  Despite the fact that the phrase has become synonymous with formalized redemption, the banner over every criminal justice reform effort, I can do without a SECOND CHANCE.

Standalone, the phrase is loaded with meaning, more than just shorthand for ‘lay off the cons.’

It negatively frames your alleged crime. When someone gives you a SECOND CHANCE, they’re reminding you that you blew the first. Maybe it’s not the exact metes and bounds of my offense, but it puts my name on the mailbox and being given a SECOND CHANCE hurts me where I live, nestled nicely between the first shot and the third strike. When you’re given a SECOND CHANCE, the LAST CHANCE is next. The end is near. And remember: we don’t round up.

communism
Marx, Jesus. Same thing.

If forgiveness is finite, then it’s scarce, and if it’s scarce in the United States, then it’s controlled by an elite few.  To get this commodity, I have to plead for it, work for it or manipulate it out of them. It makes me lesser than they and assures me that I’ll never wrest full control of it but instead settle for small pieces that I must beg for. The phrase SECOND CHANCE is supposed to be robust, redemptive rhetoric but it’s become anemic, Dickensian if you really think about it. A bloodless phrase to describe someone getting a pint out of you. Mercy doesn’t work on a capitalist model. There shouldn’t be an economy in forgiveness. It’s the one place where I prefer communism: to each according to need, from each according to ability…and of course, everyone’s ability should match their needs; both are inexhaustible if we tell the truth about ourselves.

Paolo Friere, the Brazilian educator and author, found that the ‘banking model’ of education – the model where the teacher has more knowledge than the pupils, which she then bestows upon them – doesn’t work with oppressed populations. Students become passive receptacles for knowledge and can only receive what the teacher’s willing to give. This, Friere argues, is ultimately dehumanizing because all power of the student derives from the teacher, not from ability, from curiosity, from within. Someone has to grant permission to other people to develop as human beings.

banking model
Replace education with forgiveness. It works the same. Click twice for greater detail.

While I appreciate the people who haven’t been justice-involved when they make these pronouncements about SECOND CHANCES, it’s the same banking model used on an afflicted group of people. The fact that a SECOND CHANCE must be dispensed by others ordains them brokers of morality, a job for which no one can really pass the background check. Who am I – or anyone – to man some ethical abacus and tick over CHANCES and opportunities to someone, which I can slide away when they displease me? “I gave you a SECOND CHANCE, but….”

Even though I cringe at it, I don’t know what should replace the SECOND CHANCE? “Fair shot”? “Do-over” like Billy Crystal’s character Mitch calls it in the movie City Slickers? Maybe ANOTHER CHANCE would work because it implies what we all know – we’re all way past SECOND in our CHANCE tally and we will continue to need them, again and again.

Maybe it’s not SECOND that bothers me but CHANCE. Who wants to be chancy? It implies that it’s risky to trust you, that you’re fundamentally unreliable and dealing with you is gambling, staking something valuable for something else that may never materialize. If I get a CHANCE, I’m a permanent maybe. My future is a shrug.

In Germany, when someone finishes a sentence of incarceration, their record is automatically expunged. Debts cleared and credit restored – nobody runs a redemption tab like we do in the United States. Germans don’t waste time bandying about the phrase SECOND CHANCE because reentry is relatively seamless; when you discharge from prison and go home, you’re just moving, living out this ONLY CHANCE each of us get – life – in a new place.

Image ref 3492708. Copyright Rex Shutterstock No reproduction without permission. Please see www.rexfeatures.com for more information.

Part of the message of forgiveness is that it isn’t emotional, it’s rational, a decision, a strategic investment in interpersonal relations. It’s meant to nudge, even drag, people toward quashing their beefs when they’re still hot.  But this is misleading because mercy isn’t the presence of determination and decision but the absence of it. Wiping away someone’s failing doesn’t count if you replace it with a sign that says “This is where I excused you.” That’s what giving me a SECOND CHANCE does. I hate that shit.

The other women don’t analyze the linguistics and meaning of the phrase like I do because they’re not as thin-skinned as I am. They’ve strapped their SECOND CHANCES on as they busy themselves with sentence modification applications, bids for clemency and pardons that our Board of Pardons and Paroles – notoriously cheap with absolution – won’t ever grant them. I refuse to use the language and ask for one. These CHANCES I’m so snobbish about accepting will grow even more scant as time goes on. And what will I say then?  Will I have to go all Oliver Twist and beg: May I please have some more? to the sign that reads: “See teller at next window.”

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 27 – APRIL 2, 2017

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Rikers Island, the New York City jail that’s notorious for depraved violence, is closing, getting drained and demolished, just like its inhabitants. The Lippman Commission – named after the former Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Jonathan Lippman, who headed the investigation – came up with a report that lists several changes that will be made. For me, a very important part of their report is that the Commission acknowledged that court trips cause fans guilty pleas, something I’ve been saying for years but was unable to prove. But don’t invest in new security systems just yet. It’s going to take a decade and people will be held in other facilities that will be built around the five boroughs. Read the Lippman Commission’s report here.

Last week SCOTUS heard oral argument in Lee v. United States, wherein a South Korean national was advised by his attorney that pleading guilty to a felony wouldn’t cause him to be deported. Ask Trump whether that was good advice or not.  There’s no doubt that his attorney’s advice was deficient, yet courts have decided that, because they think he had no chance at acquittal at trial, it’s a no harm, no foul-type situation. Tim Lynch, Director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice, says this means our right to a jury trial is under attack. Read why here.

Combining last week’s storylines of ineffective assistance of counsel and Rikers, undocumented defendants are actually begging to be sent to Rikers to avoid deportation, the New York Post reported. I’m not sure about the ethics and competence of attorneys who are asking for raised bond for their clients so they get taken into custody. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will know exactly where these people are and can place detainers on them so they will leave Rikers into the welcoming arms of a removal agent. This tactic only delays and doesn’t stop deportation and the upside of this strategy is time in a dangerous human cesspool? No.

 

 

 

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27 March 2017

Suit Up

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imageedit_1_5552177160It must have seemed like a riot of sorts.

At the time, inmates were filing federal lawsuits at a rate thirty-five times higher than the general population – 25 per 1000 prisoners, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Now that 2.2 million people inhabit United States prisons and jails, 550,000 federal lawsuits would be filed every year if prisoners had maintained that pace.  Assuming a 250-day work year and a seven-hour workday, that amounts to 2200 prisoner claims filed every day, 314 every business hour, if that rate continued today.

blkbudgetBut the year was 1996 and their two-year old “Contract with America” obligated Republicans in Washington to produce a big change, especially since a budget impasse had caused a federal government shutdown.  Congress sought to seal up the outpouring of prisoner-initiated civil actions. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), part of the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996, the law that broke open the budget bottleneck, was passed in April of that year. Unsurprisingly, every year since then, the rate of inmate litigation has declined.

The PLRA’s purpose was litigation reduction, a not so ignoble goal. One rule of criminal justice, and of prison life, is that stupid, selfish sociopaths will endanger any benefit bestowed on a general population, even if it causes authorities to yank that support for them, too.   That is what the PLRA did; it basically eliminated an inmate’s ability to file civil claims unfettered after courts heard such cases as the suit seeking money damages for cruel and unusual punishment when an inmate ordered two jars of creamy peanut butter from the commissary but received one creamy and one chunky. When Congress needed to display austerity in the most ostentatious way, their scissors flashed across these gross examples of frivolity.  This isn’t brilliant analysis on my part; the Supreme Court of the United States admitted as much in their decision in Porter v. Nussle.

Federal litigation is usually the only way for someone who’s incarcerated to sue at all. You can’t really sue the state for tortious conduct because of the various types of immunity. They don’t have immunity in federal court when you claim that the state’s violated your civil rights. So they only forum where an inmate has an inkling of a chance is the one that’s almost impossible for him to reach.

clintoncnn
The PLRA is their fault. Really.

Complaints from prisoners – whether they’re lawsuits, those essential grievances that have to be exhausted before someone can file a lawsuit, or just general gripes issued through gritted teeth –  are the thermometer of a facility; the docket is the best way to see what’s really happening in there without going inside, even if half the allegations aren’t fully evidenced. If you have a number of suits alleging a guard is being abusive, then either he is shitting on the inmates or he’s been made a soft target and a rumor has circulated that someone can get money from litigation; either way, it warrants an investigation.

Inmates who are serious enough about their beefs to get paperwork together and mail it to a proper federal clerk are probably telling the truth. Discouraging them means by making it harder for a prisoner to complain  you don’t care to know what’s happening inside. The PLRA basically told every inmate: “We don’t give a fuck what they do to you.”

And they do to us. A Texas inmate lost his leg in a grain reaper when a guard failed to supervise him properly in his work assignment. Undoubtedly, this prisoner has a meritorious claim, but it’s almost impossible for him to file it. After the surgery to sew up the wound on his severed limb, he lived in such extreme heat that it’s killed eleven prisoners. It’s going to be hard for them to get relief through the courts, so no one will know the figurative or the actual temperature in there. People will continue to be maimed and killed. The PLRA is one of the most effective – and cold-hearted – silencings there will ever be.

If we can change the way our complaints are viewed, having others views them as input rather than as requests for output, someone might see the sociological and epidemiological value of litigation, even papers smeared with peanut butter-type foolishness, to see what’s happening in prisons. The PLRA only reinforces this antiquated thinking of the criminal justice system – the idea that every complaint is a declaration of war, where one party is wrong, another right, and one must be punished and the other walk away the victor.

Debt-Lawsuit
You are cordially invited…to clean up this mess you made.

The complaint against a defendant in a criminal case isn’t called that. It’s called an “information” because that’s what it provides to everyone involved in the case: data so they can do something about what happened.  In theory, prosecutors, victims, perps, defense attorneys and judges are supposed to come up with the best, least restrictive solution to the problem of one person’s lawbreaking. But because criminal court dockets are flooded with too many cases – a riot of sorts – we just default to prison at every opportunity for solutions.

Viewed properly, complaints – even lawsuits – are just openers for dialogue, invitations for exchange. If we viewed them that way, like the old AA adage goes, as “descriptions, not indictments” we’d have even fewer prisoner lawsuits, because we would have less cause for them.  Isn’t that the best court policy we could have? It would be like effecting tort reform because fewer people were harmed, got in fewer accidents, fell less often. Isn’t that what we want? Sometimes it seems like we prefer that people keep suffering so we can keep our courthouses open. And shut out prisoners in a new and different way.

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

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Inmates say they’re getting beaten and harassed in the aftermath of the uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware on February 1st, when Sergeant Steven Floyd was killed. I’m sure many of the inmates who are being victimized had nothing to do with the commotion but this is becoming unfortunately familiar coda to preventable prison riots. A few bad apples cause a stir and everyone in the facility gets pummeled for it. It’s almost as if the National Guard or another military force should take these prisons over after these incidents so that the staff who’s been harmed/embarrassed/caught doesn’t have access to inmates while they’re still hot under their badges.

The state of Arkansas is in a rush to execute eight men on death row (pictured above) by the end of April, when one of the ingredients of the state’s fatal execution cocktail will expire.  They are recruiting (drafting?) witnesses to the execution from places as odd as Rotary Clubs because they have a statutory requirement: six to twelve people have to witness every execution for it to go down legally. Not sure how to think of this, asking people to be like acting like notary publics for killings. It’s distasteful but it might effect a policy shift ,seeing that there aren’t too many takers, even though the state of Arkansas is supposedly pro-death penalty. Almost no one wants to act as a witness to what they supposedly support.

And if you like Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s SCOTUS nominee who sat through days of confirmation hearing testimony last week, because you think he might be okay on criminal justice issues because he’s been a little bit fair with his Fourth Amendment (right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure) decisions, read what Stanford Law Review says about his stance on my favorite amendment, the Big Sixth, the right to effective assistance of counsel. The article is a little wonky (written by law students who are unaccustomed to explaining legal concepts in lay terms.  Here’s one that explains more but is a little older  Gorusch ain’t good.

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20 March 2017

A Working Theory

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pregnant orange

It’s mid-shift in the food prep unit. HOPE is standing at the large window in the food service workers’ empty dining hall. She watches as another inmate walks past the plate glass and stops to speak with a C/O. Flirtation and cutesy interactions ensue between the two of them.

HOPE:

(speaking to no one in particular)

How the fuck does she get away with this shit? Aren’t we locked down until…whenever because some judge is here, walking around and they don’t want any of these bitches talking to her and telling her what’s really goin’ on up in this place? I mean…if I was just wandering around I’d be cuffed and stuffed.

CHANDRA walks up and observes. Her expression says what she’s witnessing is common.

CHANDRA:

 My working theory is pregnancy.

HOPE:

Who’s pregnant?

CHANDRA:

Now? No one. But Adrienne was, I bet.

(Wondering who Adrienne is? Click here.)

HOPE:

(mulling it over)

Adrienne was preggo. Mmmm…

CHANDRA:

Well, I’m not 100% on it. But it’s my only theory now. I mean, if I were in court, I would be careful and say that it is my personal opinion, given what I’ve observed, that she was probably pregnant but I have no direct knowledge of her condition. You get me?

HOPE:

I still think she witnessed something real bad. Serious. Like criminal. Like a C/O beating someone.

CHANDRA:

Can’t be that. It’s not enough of a threat. If she reported something she saw, they’d just call her a liar, crazy.  The usual delusional.

HOPE:

Maybe she witnessed something and can tell the cops exactly where to look for it on the cameras. That’s evidence. Or maybe she has some paperwork.

CHANDRA:

Nah. They’ve searched her shit so many times, someone would have confiscated it. The guilty party or his friends…

HOPE:

Maybe it’s paperwork she sent out. I mean, just playing devil’s advocate here.

CHANDRA:

No one to send it to. Her husband’s doing time and her family doesn’t speak to her after what she did.

HOPE:

Maybe a lawyer?

CHANDRA:

They open legal mail. They’re not supposed to but…

(CHANDRA gives HOPE a knowing look.)

Would’ve confiscated it that way, too.

HOPE:

Maybe it’s not papers. Maybe she smuggled it out like the chick who smuggled out her toothbrush after she gave the guy [a C/O] a blow job?

CHANDRA.

(shaking head)

I’ve done my due diligence on this. She doesn’t get visitors so she can’t pass anything out. And if they open legal mail, they’ll definitely open an envelope that looks like it has a toothbrush, especially after last time.  It’s evidence she alone can control.

HOPE:

Like something inside her, like a baby.

CHANDRA:

Like something that’s guarded by HIPAA [Health Information Portability and Accountability Act]. Remember medical is UCONN, not DOC. They should have no access to her medical records.

HOPE:

So the evidence is in her chart. Okay, that works.

CHANDRA:
Except it’s not in her medical chart here. They’d break the law and Watergate the hell out of the medical records room to save their asses.

HOPE:

So, wait. It’s not in her file?

CHANDRA:

Here. Not in her file here.

HOPE:

I don’t. I don’t get it.

CHANDRA:

Abortions go to the local Planned Parenthood and their doctors don’t calculate the fact that she might have been in custody at the time of conception. They only care about the beginning of pregnancy to make sure they’re in the right trimester to do it. As long as they’re less than – what’s it 20, 24 weeks? – in, they don’t care about the beginning of pregnancy. They’re all about the end. And they might’ve fudged her DOC entry date when they took her over there.

HOPE:

That’s not in her chart here?

CHANDRA:

Nope. Because no one asked for it to be sent over. The OB here knows the deal and she’s mandated to report. Can’t report what you don’t know about.

HOPE:

Why don’t they just try to destroy the records or delete them there [at Planned Parenthood]?

CHANDRA:

Do you know how many pro-life nuts harass these people at Planned Parenthood? People shoot abortion providers and women who get the procedure. Planned Parenthood’s security is better than it is here. No one’s hacking their system or raiding their offices at night. Believe me.

HOPE:

But why would they bring her to a place where they have no control?

CHANDRA:

The best option. At least no one else can access it there either. No third parties gaining access to it. It’s in a vault with one key: her word. So they kiss her ass, let her get away with outrageous shit.

HOPE:

No, here’s the problem. She has no money. There’s no reason for her not to sue them. I mean, having sex with an inmate, getting her preggo, is rape. She’d clean up.

CHANDRA:
She has, like, 20 years to serve. Anything she’d win – and she’s not a sympathetic victim – would get eaten up by the cost of her incarceration. She’d end up with no money and nothing to hold over their heads. This way, she still has no money…but she gets whatever she wants. Still keeps the knife at their necks.

HOPE:

You really think a C/O got her pregnant?

CHANDRA:

C/O. Lieutenant. Captain. Warden. A fucking male nurse. Someone. We’re talking about is objective evidence, off prison grounds, and Adrienne is the only person who can pull the ripcord on it. And whatever it is, it’s serious, as in lose-your-job, lose-your-freedom, register-as-a-sex-offender serious.

HOPE:

I dunno.

CHANDRA:

Think about it. Only Adrienne has power over it. Off grounds. Undeniable evidence. Serious crime. Someone knocked her up in here. I’m telling you it’s pregnancy. At least, like I said, it’s my working theory.

HOPE:

Think it’s mine now, too.

CHANDRA

I’m telling you. That’s what it is.

Supervisor GREEN BAY walks into the dining hall and raises his hands in an open question after he sees his two employees watching essentially nothing very intently.

GREEN BAY:

Bozelko! Brooks! We’re pumping! Let’s go! Is this a parade or work?

CHANDRA:

Sorry, Green Bay. I was explaining my working theory for extreme favoritism in this place.

GREEN BAY:

Well, let’s try this on for a working theory: just work.

image

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MARCH 13 – 19, 2017

abortion

As if the reporter read Prison Diaries’ game plan, this week Vice News reported how hard it is for a woman to terminate a pregnancy while she’s incarcerated. There are no formal procedures as to how this gets accomplished in at least 20 states. Read the report here.

On Pi day, 3.14, the Prison Policy Initiative released its yearly “Whole Pie” graph of incarceration in the United States. “The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the report said. They also found that 641,000 people leave prison every year. If they all stayed out…we’d solve this prison crisis quickly.

How much is a year of your life worth? If you’re wrongly incarcerated in Texas, you get $80,000 in compensation for every year you spent in prison. In Wisconsin? $5,000 per year. Michigan pays $50 K for every 365 days on the inside.

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