19 December 2016

Getting Carded

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151214_EM_ChristmasCards

Every year, at least one inmate gives or sends me a card at Christmastime. Notably, very few of them have any reference to Christmas – most don’t even use Christmas colors. I don’t know if that’s because there’s no Christmas mood in here – or out there for that matter – but I’m always impressed that women take the time to make something for me or send a card into me. Below, a sample of inmate holiday wishes from each and every Christmas I spent at York CI.

I know they’re hard to see. Click on the card for a bigger, clearer picture.

2007

2007-card

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I had been here about 2 weeks. My cellmate, a realtor who came in with me on December 7th and left on the 11th, made this card for me on her computer.  She did 4 days on a 14-day sentence. The stars and hearts over the faces are mine. To protect the innocent.

2008

2008-full

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Another cellmate who left. I don’t know if she loved me or the year 2008 since it’s when she got sprung. Zetta learned to be pithy in prison. And then came back a couple of times. Given that her life is rule by poverty and drugs, the fact that she secured a card, addressed it and mailed it to me makes it one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

2009

2009

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Perhaps my favorite Christmas card from someone on the outside, this one promises me money, informs me that a working Boost phone has been purchased for me and that I’m going home in 2 months – February 2010.  The return address said “Anthony Hall” with an address on Park Street in Hartford. Maybe someone should deck him to make it a real Christmas card. To this day, I have no idea who I’m “Baby Momma” to. I feel like I should know that.

2010

2010-full

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After serving a lot of time and reducing her risk level through good behavior, Mari moved to the east side of the compound and sent through this over inmate express to me on the maximum security west side at Christmas. Note that it’s a baby shower thank you card and she admits to allegedly having a contraband cell phone – in writing. When I finally ran into her in the medical building three months later, I asked her where she got the card and she admitted she stole it from a counselor’s office. Rehabilitation.

2011

2011-card

Click to enlarge and focus.

My former cellmate left in August but she mailed this ditty in as a Christmas greeting. I’m still shocked the mailroom let it through. They must have been in a holiday mood.

2012

2012-full

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Referenced the actual holiday and put Hello Kitty in a Santa hat and ballet tutu.

“A Nutcracker Hello Kitty! That’s great!” I thanked her. I was impressed with the Christmas layers to the card.

“What that is?” she asked. Never heard of the Nutcracker Ballet.

2013

2013-card-copy

Click to enlarge and focus.

I guess “I may have looked calm but in my mind I’ve killed them three times” and “Tell them all to take a flying leap!” and “What I know for sure: it’s ok to be a fruit loop in a world full of Cheerios” is York CI’s version of “God Bless us, everyone!” From the Tiny Tim of Zero South.

Merry Christmas.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 12 – 18, 2016

dylann

Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 charges for the shooting rampage in a Charleston, South Carolina church last year. He’s rejecting a mental health defense for the penalty phase of the trial and is, for now, back to representing himself.  Not for nothing, I don’t blame him. What would a psychiatric defense do at this point? The jurors would use it to decide between letting him die in prison…as opposed to killing him in prison. He’s going down either way and he’d rather go down as a racist than a nut. It’s his choice.

A consortium of California newspapers followed up on prisoners who were released under Proposition 47 – the policy that reduced drug possession felonies and most small thefts to misdemeanors voted into law by Californians at the polls in 2014 – and they’re not doing well at all. Homelessness, poverty, petty crime. Whether it’s intended that way or not, the article makes the case for better reentry planning and slower decarceration.

This Christmas will mark 20 years since the murder of mini-beauty pageant contestant JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado. No one has ever been charged with the murder of the 6-year old. The Guardian has a good write-up of some facts I didn’t know. Did you know that a few months later a 9-year old girl was assaulted by someone who broke into her house in Boulder in the middle of the night? She went to the same dance studio as JonBenet Ramsey. I don’t believe in coincidences. The police screwed up this investigation and someone who killed a child has walked free for 20 years. Typical.

 

 

 

 

 

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12 December 2016

Broken Sorter

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hospital

I cringe when I hear post-Sandy Hook plans, plots and promises about mental health treatment: expanding access’ and ‘removing barriers’ and ‘stricter laws involuntary commitment.’ I shudder at the phrase ‘treatment-based approach.’ That’s the worst. That shit scares me.

My parents have committed me involuntarily to psychiatric hospitals on seven occasions. Each time I was admitted, I posed no danger to myself or others. My parents even concede this now even though they pushed for the admissions at the time. They were trying to wring out a mental health defense from my situation – one I never wanted.

On the one occasion I was a danger to myself – the despair of fighting the charges made me so despondent that I wanted to die – no one referred me for any treatment.

bfscorridorI didn’t really understand how broken the psychiatric sorter was until Selly moved into my room. She was serving an 18-year sentence for stabbing her boyfriend 38 times after being released from a psychiatric hospital – over her parents’ objections that she wasn’t safe to leave.

The requirement for someone to be hospitalized involuntarily is dangerousness – to oneself or to others – and clinicians’ ability to assess it is notoriously bad, as my and Selly’s experiences demonstrate. Even the Supreme Court of the United States has acknowledged shrinks’ inability to know who’s dangerous.  In 1983, in Barefoot v. Estelle, the Court wrote  that even the American Psychiatric Association hadn’t conceded  “that psychiatrists are always wrong with respect to future dangerousness, only most of the time.”

Hospitalization isn’t about medicine and care; it’s about power. How else can anyone explain a system where people who want treatment don’t get it and people who get it don’t want it?

psychiatric-hospitals-or-wards_230_160_100On those occasions that I sat in the Yale-New Haven Hospital’s emergency room as a vestibule to the locked hallway of the hospital, New Haven’s most esteemed psychiatrists unlocked the doors for others – usually men – who days later would appear on the news for some violent altercation, usually a robbery. From the hospital, I would recognize their mug shots, their necklines decorated with different collars and colors than the pale blue, patterned gowns we all wore after we were forced to fork over our clothes. I had to keep my gown, whereas others who traded their johnny-coats for sweatshirts and jeans left to hurt people who ended up in the same ER that had just certified their assailants as safe.

A bearded man whom I watched walk out of the psychiatric emergency room holding area ended up seated on the couch next to me, finally admitted as a danger to himself after he tried to slit his own throat. A choker of black, spiny sutures spanned his neck in an area that ER nurses had shaved to free the surgical field for doctors to save his life.

Until he actually hurts someone else, a patient’s propensity for violence relies mostly on self-report or someone else’s telling on them. People who report others for potential violence might have an agenda in seeking someone’s psychiatric admission. My parents ratcheted up my ‘symptoms’ with little to no regard to how these experienes would traumatize their daughter and invite scorn for the rest of her life.

Others fear stigma so much – Nancy Lanza might fall into this category – that they actually become reasonably wary of psychiatry. They minimize and downplay symptoms – I can just see what would have happened to me if I refused to leave my bedroom for weeks and asked for a gun for my birthday – and these people don’t see the inside of a psych ward…and then they go off and hurt someone else.

img_0689Besides, who’s going to believe someone who walks into a hospital and says he’s planning on mowing down some second graders? I’ve watched these clinicians. They would have sent Adam Lanza home with a diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder and attention seeking behavior. No one who’s going to do these dastardly deeds announces it beforehand. They con the nurses and the docs into buying their stories of stability so they open those sliding glass doors leading to the sidewalk and opportunities to explode.

Increasing the number of psychiatric admissions, either through passing new laws or striking fear in the hearts of psychiatrists will likely increase the number of people like me whose doctors hear amped up reports of illness and we will take up space in hospitals, edging out the entry or stay of patients whom doctors really need to keep against their will in order to prevent violence.

teenage-psych-ward_art-300x225We try to medicalize violence after these national tragedies as I have taken special notice since I’ve been here – the Tuczon Safeway supermarket shooting or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre because gun laws’ loopholes circle, curl and coil around reality. The only thing that ‘expanding access’ will do is return to us the mirage of control, the illusion that these doctors who can’t sort the sick from the silly, the dangerous from the slightly damaged are going to keep us safe. They can’t even keep the right ones in the building.

Since December 14, 2012, I’ve wondered what the psychiatrists would have done if Adam Lanza appeared in the ER beside me. Would I have watched his back as he walked out, clad in the colors of death while I remained?

psychiatric-hospital

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM DECEMBER 5 – 11, 2016

override

He’s back in their arms again: Dylann Roof decides he wants counsel for the guilt phase of his trial for shooting and killing which included the introduction of a videotape where he straight-out confessed to police. Probably could have handled this part himself.

I don’t know which is worse: the fact that it took 13 minutes to kill someone who coughed and heaved in what is supposed to be a fast and painless death or the fact that the state of Alabama allows its judges to overrule juries that decide on life in prison without parole. That’s what happened last week.

The New York Times ran a great piece inspired by a new report released Friday by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law on how decarceration efforts will never work unless they embrace people convicted of violent crimes  – ones who are rehabilitated, of course. The piece examines the sentences of four real crimes and has an interactive component where you can weigh in on how much time you think a particular defendant/prisoner should get and see how many respondents agreed with you. Try it here.

 

 

 

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5 December 2016

No Returns Without a Receipt

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receipts

Rehabilitation isn’t like baking or roasting because there’s nothing that pops, no external indicator to signal when a prisoner’s had enough heat and is ready to come out. If there were some test that could assess with certainty that correction has taken and an offender has learned what she did wrong and how to do right, then recidivism would be zero because judges, wardens and parole boards would never let out the ones who are underdone.

The typical assessment of rehabilitation is self-report by the inmate:

“No, ain’t never coming back here. I got me forty certificates [of completion of ineffectual self-help groups] and I got no tickets for six months. I know that boostin’/fightin’/robbin’/rippin’ and runnin’ [drug use as a career] ain’t worth it.”

revolveThat one always comes back in about two months, certificates in the wind. Some can’t stand the heat anywhere. They will say anything to a parole board or the warden for early release. In fact, parole means “promise” in French. It’s just words. No evidence or guarantees.

Many objective evaluations are just as unreliable. Staff members – whether they’re work supervisors, group leaders, guards or other administrators –  rarely see everything we do. Often they have us pegged all wrong.

“She’s such a nice girl,” an older female guard commented about a woman who was popping Valiums snuck in through the visiting center, drinking nips a guard smuggled into the facility for her (which she promptly booted into a Fluff container) and forgoing notes from one staff member to another to assure that she was the only worker in gym, alone with one of the C/O’s for something inappropriate. She continues her swallowing exercises at a halfway house now but she shall return because she needed more time on the rack.

Me? You can tell I’m done with the oven light off.

But there’s a definitive, acid test for rehabilitation, objective evidence of someone’s growth: her commissary receipts.  Just like a store employee checks your receipt at Costco or Best Buy before you walk under the red EXIT letters, someone needs to check receipts before they let inmates go out. That list of itemized purchases will tell you if she’s responsible or not.

ltra-brite_burned-2Frequent purchases of toothpaste, dental floss sticks and tartar rinse show she takes responsibility for preserving her health and preventing illness as much as she can in her current circumstance. The same goes for buying omega-3 fish oil capsules or vitamin C.

Purchasing envelopes, writing pads and pens means she maintains a network of people on the outside who can help her cool to room temp when she gets out. Even colored pencils yarn and art supplies prove that she fills her time with something creative and relatively productive.

Shelling out for a Nintendo DS system can go one way or the other. Either she wastes time on video games instead of working or attending school (not ready) or she found another way besides TV and music to drown out the chaos around her (this one’s done). Even excessive shampoo buying means she’s a clean freak, using the liquid soap to wash every surface around her. At least she’s doing something.

receipts2Receipts that come in devoid of any purchases of envelopes or Lever 2000 soap or pencils or Ultra Brite toothpaste mean that the inmate shifted responsibility for her basic needs onto her community. My cellmate, hailing from Bridgeport with another misdemeanor conviction for prostitution, just paid for pepperoni, chips, iced oatmeal cookies, sugar, cappuccino mix and ramen soups.  But she didn’t buy the bath soap, hairbrush, nail clipper or laundry detergent she needs so much that she just told me she needs them, as if the announcement of her lack was all that was required for me to supply it.

I have two choices now; tell her “sorry” and live in a closet with someone who doesn’t bathe or use deodorant or wash her clothes, or give in to her to make my life easier. Either way, she’s committing a new offense before she leaves: holding me hostage. Need keeps social programs mushrooming in the hopes that they will choke out crime but they never do. If we don’t supply them with food and necessities, we fear that economically oppressed people will victimize us. Their receipts for cigarettes tell us they’re going to do it anyway.

suge-knight
Mostly junk food for Suge Knight. And he reoffended.

Of course, inmates who deserve assistance because they don’t have any money will have no receipts. They need soap like everyone else. I learned in here to take living with people who have next to nothing as a privilege because it keeps me humble and affords me the honor of doing what every decent person does: helping a neighbor. I am supposed to do that and I forget.

But a lack of receipts should pique the warden’s interest, too. Just like on the outside, the person with no discernable income still eats, bathes and clothes herself so the warden would be wise to ask these inmates:

“How’d you survive with no money?” If she hustles by making greeting cards and crocheting other peoples’ yarn into blankets for them, then she’s industrious, ready to come out. If she’s prostituting herself to other inmates, she needs a little more time. If she’s stealing, then she needs to stay in a lot more. An inmate’s accounting reveals her accountability better than anything else.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 28 – DECEMBER 4, 2016

150618183449-dylann-roof-custody-large-169

Charleston church shooter moved to represent himself in a death penalty trial and, as of Friday, wants the attorneys to handle the “evidence” part of the trial. In the United States, it’s either self-rep or covered by counsel. There’s no in between. Hybrid representation isn’t allowed…but it should be, if only for judicial economy.

A new Department of Homeland Security report made public Thursday recommends that immigration officials continue to use private prisons to house immigration detainees. The surprise: The recommendation then was rejected by a DHS advisory board. If that doesn’t scream… I don’t know…disorganization? waste of taxpayer dollars? Right hand talk to the left hand?  Decide on private prisons once and for all.

Feds announced major changes within Bureau of Prisons designed to ease re-entry for the men and women housed in federal penitentiaries. They’re building a “semi-autonomous” school district within the BOP to better educate prisoners, paying for state-issued identification cards for inmates, and requiring new standards for federal halfway houses to ensure better care once ex-offenders are released.  But the Trump administration and presumptive attorney-general nominee Jeff Sessions could scrap those plans.

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28 November 2016

Tooth Wisdom

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bad-teeth

It sounded like a candy clattering on a counter. I was sitting at one of the six-man dining tables and a latina woman with a complexion that made her look Indian was laughing across from me. Embarrassment would have overtaken me in that situation and my cheeks would have been bleating and pink with blood flow. And maybe it was for her, too; I couldn’t tell if she was blushing. I’d seen her around before. She’s in and out of here. Crack-induced anorexia, beautiful, perfect black hair and rotted teeth.

rotting-teethThat’s what had fallen onto the tray. One of her teeth. They were so decayed that one was pushed loose when she was eating. Prison food is pretty soft – hard items can be used as weapons – so the tooth was barely inside her gums. Knocked out by liquid Shepard’s pie.

I’m obsessed with choppers in here. More than anything else, I’m worried that I’ll lose one of mine or get a cavity that requires a noticeable filling that I won’t be able to cover up. The toothpaste in here seems like it wasn’t good enough for the shelves of major retailers. My teeth feel fungal even after I brush.

I talk about dental problems in here all the time and those conversations are the times I’ve had the most conflict with other inmates. I’m sure there’s a better way for me to address it but I – the one here who knows biostatistics and p-values and public health – take the issue more seriously for them than anyone else has in their lives.

“Why do you always comment on how no one has any teeth?” Liz asked me in Wally’s class. She has all her teeth.

“I never said ‘no one has teeth.’ I said there’s a real problem here with dentition and the only way you can understand it is that I’m gossiping or putting someone down, but I’m not, okay? That’s how you talk – and think – about people,” I retorted.

But I do admit that I’ve never seen so many people in one place whose pearlies are so, well, gone. Many inmates in their thirties get fitted for dentures. If their parents were caring for them properly through the age of 18 and seeing that they brush, then all of their teeth rot out in about 12 years.

rotten-kids-teethAnd they’re the lucky ones. The rest of them have to walk around with what looks like the grey and brown sections of the paint chip samples at Home Depot between their rosy lips and become a target for the guards.

“Brush your tooth!” they yell when we lock up for the night, headed for bed.

That’s why teeth are have grabbed my focus in here so much. The condition of the mouth speaks so much about what we are doing in society, in medicine, in providing services to vulnerable populations.  So many women in here have children, which means they were once pregnant. I don’t know how an obstetrician could have spoke to them as patients and seen their mouths and not intervened, referred them for extensive dental work.  Called a fellow alum from medical school. The risk of infection is so high. Most sockets in here are festering still.

But the problem I’m staring in the mouth is that they didn’t get prenatal care. And their parents didn’t make sure they brushed. All social problems – inadequate health care, lack of education, poor parenting – culminate in women’s mouths.  Pow. Right in the kisser.

teeth3Not only is the mouth the center of a woman’s visage, it’s also how she communicates. Women with dental problems want to hide them for cosmetic reasons – understandably – so they keep their mouths closed. They say nothing, which means they don’t speak up, complain, offer opinions, laugh freely. This is how we silence women. To get to the root of the problem of female disempowerment among the masses, we have to stop extracting teeth – because we made sure they’re healthy and cared for like the mouth and face that house them.

At least that’s what occurred to me when I heard societal neglect clinker into a molded prison tray.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM NOVEMBER 21 – 27, 2016

In this photo provided by the Library of Congress, President Abraham Lincoln, seated and holding his spectacles and a pencil on Feb. 5, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress/Alexander Gardner)

An additional 79 more prisoners granted clemency. Now it’s over 1000 people who’ve been freed by President Obama. I feel bad for people whose applications didn’t or won’t get acted upon in time. They may never leave prison because of a bureaucratic backlog.

The wrongfully convicted are entitled to tax relief but many of them don’t know it. President Obama signed a law last year making it clear that men and women who had been compensated for years of wrongful confinement could not be taxed on that money. But there’s a deadline for seeking a refund — December 19th — and a push to contact old exonerees who have no idea the law’s been changed in their favor. If you know someone who’s been exonerated, tell that person.

Hill might be off the hook. President-elect Trump said that investigating and prosecuting her would be very divisive for the country.  I don’t like seeing anyone get caught in criminal crosshairs,  but I can’t deny that having a woman who would’ve been Commander in Chief get jammed up with charges would prove just how far mass incarceration has grown. Some would support it and others oppose her being investigated, much less charged, but everyone would know that no one is safe from taking a collar.

 

 

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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

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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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7 November 2016

Sips Tea

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“It’s a risky idea, but if we do it in here, I think we can get away with it,” I told Charity as everyone came in for our bi-weekly writing class.

“Okay, but you bring it up,” she said and raised her palms in the universal sign for “I am uninvolved.”

I was planning an insurrection, an overthrow of oppression that would take place in Wally [Lamb’s writing]’s class. Any form of organization, even passing around a petition, is an attempt to start a riot in prison, so the idea of a group byline on a published essay on prisoner voting rights, right before the election, could have landed me – and anyone who did it with me – in seg.

But even from seg, I could’ve read the tea leaves and seen the headlines: “Inmates Attract Attention of Tea Party, Restore Rights.” Using the power of the pen, I was about to make myself the Sam Adams of prisoner voting disenfranchisement.

Prisoners can’t vote, unless they’re not convicted yet.   Anyone who’s been a voter all their lives and is unsentenced on felony charges bonds out, believe me. She’s not here and can go to the polls. Also inmates convicted of only a misdemeanor and serving a long enough sentence to get an absentee ballot mailed to them and send it back in time can cast ballots, too, in theory.

Someone convicted of only a misdemeanor – and no prior felonies – in here?  What kind of chintzy mass incarceration do you think we have here in Connecticut? Felonies, disenfranchising felony convictions for everyone. No one in here votes.

But prisoners are taxed, even if they can’t vote. Those inmates whose income exceeds a certain amount receive W-2 wage and tax statements every winter and must file tax returns. My cellmate had to do it. Because they’re prisoners, federal tax regulations prohibit them from participating in the Earned Income Tax Credit program.  And Connecticut inmates are financially liable for the cost of their incarceration: over $41,000 per year.  Prisoners pay. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

boston-tea-party-16

Without the power to change the unjust tax laws of England, Samuel Adams dumped the cargo of several British tea ships into the Boston Harbor in 1773 and started the revolution that birthed this country. And it was a crime. Under today’s lock ‘em up laws, Sam would’ve been jailed and not for driving under the influence of his own beer. Would you deny Sam Adams his vote after what he did?

This isn’t to equate  Adams’ jetsam with boosting an ipod from Target or assaulting your cheating spouse’s lover, which are the types of crimes that have landed inmates behind bars. But the original Tea Party’s lesson was that the taxation and representation are the government versions of love and marriage – you can’t have one without the other.

Under this rule, prisoners shouldn’t be taxed if they remain without voting rights. Because prisoners contribute to government, the Tea Party should be at the forefront of any prisoner voting rights campaign if they want to play the game that goes with their name. At least that’s how I see it.

And I thought if we all said what I saw, we might get some traction on the issue.

“Can I say something before we start?” I asked at the beginning of class. “So, I thought we could all author like, an oped, or a letter to the editor about prisoners and people with records, you know, felons, being allowed to vote. As you know, the Tea Party is this conservative movement that wants to lower taxes and limit government…”

STARES.

“and I think that the fact that you – anyone – can be denied a chance to vote but still have to pay taxes is wrong. And since this Tea Party is invoking the whole ‘no taxation without representation’ idea from the Boston Tea Party, maybe this is the time to attract some attention to felon and inmate disenfranchisement. If anyone should support our voting it should be the Tea Party, right? And from the research I’ve done, it looks like this idea hasn’t…you know, hasn’t been raised by anyone, so maybe newspapers would want to hear it.”

STARES.

“I mean, if people aren’t allowed to vote then they shouldn’t have to pay taxes, right? At least according to history?”

STARES. BORED FIDGETS. I heard, but didn’t see, a yawn. Even Charity didn’t react.

“Chandra, just let me ask, are you promoting a conservative ideal?” Wally asked. He would have let me promote it but he’d have to understand it and my connecting Tea Partiers and prisoners was confusing him.

“No, I’m attacking hypocrisy.”

Wally nodded.

“The whole reason why we have elections is rooted in this idea that you can’t take my money and then deny me any say in how it’s used, but that’s exactly what happens when inmates can’t vote. Only unrestricted participation and equality give democracy its force. I want to go back to the original Pay-to-Play – anyone who pays taxes can vote.  And even ones who don’t pay can vote.  Who’s with me?” I stood up for dramatic effect. “Who wants to toss some tea for their rights? And if not your rights, then to keep some of money you make?”

“What’s the Boston Tea Party?” another student asked.

“I don’t pay taxes. Never did,” another said.

No one else even flinched.

I looked over at the teacher – she isn’t in charge of our class; she’s actually just a form of security for us while Wally and the volunteers are here, making sure we don’t do stuff like what I just did. She looked up briefly and then continued with her crossword puzzle, muttering: “You need to know what the Boston Tea Party is…”

No shit, I thought as I sat down.

“Or, you know, I can just draft it myself,” I told myself, out loud.

Sam said it himself; it’s a good thing it doesn’t take a majority to get anything done.

sam

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM OCTOBER 31 – NOVEMBER 7, 2016

rolling-stone

Seventy-two going home – “President Obama’s decision to grant 72 more commutations Friday shows how far he’s gone in his efforts to “reinvigorate” the pardon process.” Total granted to date: 944.

Two going down – “Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie charged in a bizarre scheme of political retaliation against a mayor who refused to endorse the governor for re-election were found guilty by a jury on all counts in the long-running “Bridgegate” saga.”

One cleaning up – A federal court jury decided that a Rolling Stone journalist defamed former University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo in a 2014 magazine article about sexual assault on campus that included a debunked account of a fraternity gang rape.

 

 

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31 October 2016

Streak-Free, I Can See

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windex

“I did everything I could to get away from that man. I cooked his chicken in Windex, everything.”

Wanda was telling me her past of abuse when I had been here about a year. These stories were starting to depress me, so to prevent myself from feeling them, I anointed myself an embedded reporter, convinced myself that I had to be objective in my understanding of my surroundings in order to inquire and investigate matters properly so I could explain to people what happens inside prisons when I got home.

“Wait, why did you cook his chicken in Windex? What does that do?” I asked.

She squinted at me.

“Cuz it’s poison. Ain’t nobody live through a Windex chicken,” Wanda explained.

“Oh, you were trying to kill him. To…to get away from him?” I tried to clarify.

“Yeah.”

“So, just let me ask you, what does the Windex do that, say, another household cleaner wouldn’t do? Is that, you know, like a thing? A ‘Windex chicken’? Do other people do that? I mean, I’ve never heard of that combination.”

“What the fuck is you talkin’ about?” She looked at me and searched my face for comprehension.

“I guess, I mean, why did you choose Windex and chicken to do this? Like, how did that combination come together for you?” I asked.

“Shit was in my kitchen.”

“Oh, so it was a combination of convenience, would you say?”

maxresdefault“I dunno,” she trailed off. The conversation veered away from her pain so she wasn’t interested in telling me anymore. I wanted to ask if the chicken turned blue, whether he ate it and, if so, did he taste the ammonia but she walked away and I heard her talk to another inmate about me in an un-subtle whisper:

“Everybody say that bitch so innocent. Trust and believe, she lookin’ to kill a motherfucker…”

Of course I wasn’t asking because I’m going to off someone with whatever’s under my sink at home. I was just fascinated. Maybe because it’s such an unnatural food color and the smell advances on you so quickly and she hadn’t said whether she used a breast or a thigh, I didn’t connect Windex with eating. Now I know that no one survives a Windex chicken. If they eat it.

Not only do other people view us through a prism of suspicion, it’s how we view ourselves. That’s because we see the potential for evil destruction in anything.

Where you see a cleaning solution, Wanda saw a solution to her problems, if you get what I’m saying. You see a kitchen, but I see an armory. Where you see a TV stand, I see a hangman’s noose.  You look at the edge of a wooden table which I behold as something that can crack a skull. You see streak-free windows but I look through them to see a murder. The means are around. We wait for opportunity.  Many of us already have motive.

I don’t want to hurt anyone. Never did. But all of this knowledge came to me in learning how to be safe. When you tell someone: this can hurt you, the corollary lesson is that it can hurt someone else, too. It’s amazing that teaching people how to protect themselves can make them lethal especially since, when you don’t teach them how to protect themselves, they can still become lethal, maybe moreso after they’ve been victimized.

Lexie was helping me and some of the other cooks. She’s here for stabbing her abusive husband in the neck and promises that, if she ever comes back to prison, “it’ll be for something serious” that time.

can-opener
If the cans are big enough to need this to open them, imagine what the tops are like.

With Lexie, it was four of us opening cans. They’re number 10 cans, which means they can hold as much 100 ounces in them. They’re big, like 8 inches high and 6 across. To open them we puncture the seal at the top repeatedly with an industrial, pressure-powered can opener – Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. – until this round razor just drops into the can’s contents.

Then we slide those razor-y tops out and collect them in a garbage bag and chuck them. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss. We leave hundreds of weapons in the garbage for anyone to grab and use like Indian chakrams. Slit throats. Sever limbs. They’re sharp and big enough to do damage, especially if you bent them in half so the smooth edge is against your hand. I’ve considered their potential. I have means.

“Have the police ever let someone go for murder?” Lexie asked me.

Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied. I’d like to say that I can have an intellectual conversation with anyone on any topic but Lexie’s questions worried me because she was so conversationally cavalier about violence.  I think I know her potential.

“Like, have the police ever known that somebody did a murder and they didn’t even arrest them?”

“I’ve never heard of that being a public story,” I admitted.

“So it can happen, it’s just not in the news?”

“I would assume if police gave someone a pass for murder and that became known, then the person wouldn’t get the pass anymore,” I explained.

Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“Have the cops ever messed up murder investigations?”

“Of course. I mean, look at Jeffrey Dahmer” I answered her.

“Who’s he?”

01-can-openers-safty-opener-edge-630
There’s probably 300 of these in a dumpster available to all the inmates at York CI right now.

“That serial killer who ate his victims. One of his victims, a southeast Asian kid, naked, streaking down the street to get free of him, bleeding from his anus from being raped and didn’t make sense because Dahmer had drilled – get this – drilled a hole in his head and was pouring chemicals in…” I explained to the beat of Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Slap. THUNK. Twist. Toss.

“What kind of chemicals?”

“I don’t know. That’s not the point. The kid couldn’t make a coherent sentence because he had a brain injury and already didn’t know much English, so the poor thing couldn’t even ask for help and the cops let Dahmer bring him back to his apartment to kill him. Said it was a ‘lover’s quarrel’ and let a naked, bleeding kid be brought back to his own death. Can you believe that?” I posed to her.

“He was from another country so they let him go?”

“No, because he had a physical and chemical assault to his brain by the guy who was about to kill him, he couldn’t say, you know, ‘help me’ to someone who could’ve helped him. The cops didn’t catch on, so, yeah, they screw up murder investigations.”

sinthasomphone_protestThat story always rises in my mind in here, how that kid was muted by his own victimization and difference in the community. I empathize with that kid and his inability to say something that would land in the mind of the authorities who were charged with protecting him, his lack of power to manipulate his surroundings to reach his own aims. I know his mind was in a frantic search for potential. There has to be a way out, there has to be…. He didn’t have the means when someone else had motive and opportunity.

“So how did he pour the chemicals in?” Lexie was intrigued.

“This bitch, stabs a dude in the head to get here, wants to know ‘What chemicals?’ and ‘How’d he pour the shit?’… Fuck outta here!”  Faith shouted as she slung a bag of can tops, essentially homemade Chinese stars that anyone could take out of the trash and slash someone with – lots of potential – over her shoulder and walked away disgustedly.

“Do you know what chemicals he probably used?” Lexie pressed on. I shrugged.

“I don’t really know. Windex, maybe?”

 

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 24 – 30, 2016

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Jury nullification is alive and well. On Thursday, the seven anti-government activists who occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were acquitted of crimes they clearly committed. Everyone’s mad because they’re Caucasian and they think race was the reason for the acquittal. It’s not. The jury believed that the prosecution didn’t meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt for the crime of conspiracy – the glue of the entire case – which requires that you know exactly what the defendant was thinking.  Who can really know this? The jury was right and cleared the defendants, which makes the fact that defense counsel flipped out so badly that he had to be tasered by court marshals even more bizarre.

The State of Washington’s Department of Corrections banned a book, a novel, written by one of the Evergreen State’s own inmates, Arthur Longworth. While publishing a book from behind bars is rare, banning books written by inmates is common. It happened to me, if only for a while. These cases are silly because prison censors think they’re preventing the ideas in these books from spreading throughout the general population when they ban them. The truth is that the ideas started inside so they’ve already spread; we wrote the stinking things. They should just let in the inmate-written books. The censors are too late in these cases.

During the criminal investigation into former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s online interaction with an underage girl, the FBI tripped over emails allegedly related to Hillary Clinton’s use of email that they were unable to find during their year-long investigation into…emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of email.  My takeaway from this October surprise? The FBI is bad at the “I” in its name.

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24 October 2016

Pretty Little

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If she’s not a lawyer, then at least she’s rich, the type of rich that has no money. Prison houses the highest concentration in the world of wealthy people who never had any money.

The wealthy inmates are so rich that they forget where they live. During one week, an inmate claimed to live in Stamford, then Greenwich, then Farmington, then Litchfield, all upscale residential towns in Connecticut.

lincoln-lI know she lives in Norwalk and I know that she didn’t relocate; she lived with me during that week, a week containing a five-day lockdown during which neither of us moved at all, staying in our 9 x 12-foot cell, except to tread down a flight of stairs to pick up Styrofoam trays containing our three hots. If she said that she lived in a cell with me, only then would she have been telling the unglamorous truth.

Besides the rich, there are the uber-educated. One inmate boasted a PhD. I asked her “What’s your PhD in?”

“It’s in my house.”

These women must think that their partners-in-prison believe anything they say because no one can verify their claims directly without any internet access or glimpses of front pages. Because nothing can be verified, we have chefs, American Idol finalists, Boston University seniors (I never knew they had a campus in Norwich!), Mafia don-ettes (who obviously know that the women’s movement never invaded La Cosa Rostra) and accountants. Actually, the accountants are real. They’re here for embezzling.

There are a million explanations for the fibs: mental illness, denial of who they are or what they’ve done, escaping their current reality, trying to manipulate other people. It doesn’t take more than freshman psych to jot down a well-informed list.

Many women will soon be called on their double-dealing – referred to as “bipolar” even though they’re not – and ostracized as much as a group of prisoners can ostracize a woman with whom the state forces them to live with within 500 square yards.

I haven’t been ostracized yet for my lie because most other inmates have rarely experienced the kind of consistency and relatively gentle nature I display when I help them write letters, edit their schoolwork and help them complete judicial forms. These activities make me a good, nice person to them.

“You’re so nice. You’re like an angel, like Jesus the way you help people in here,” Gina told me.
12422518272044956422letter_i_in_a_red_circle-svg-med“If you only knew … ” I replied and she smiled and nodded. I believe she interpreted my words to mean something like If you only knew all the good I’ve done in my life … but I meant was Angel? Jesus? Me? No fucking way. My water always stayed water. I never multiplied the fish patties or hamburger buns here and I have yet to rise from the death of criminal conviction. In a very un-Jesus-like way, I was a raging asshole for a very long time, yet they compare me to the Christ anyway.

I describe myself as a nice person. It’s as fraudulent a label as self-imposed ones on the inmate who says she was in the Broadway version of Nunsense or the one who says she was Penn State’s college TV station weather girl.

Before landing in prison, I literally fell apart; I mean in two pieces. The nice person in me showed up when things were going well. The darker angel of my nature appeared whenever my fortune took a dive. I swore at people, made fun of them behind their backs and generally spewed nastiness at everyone because something bad was happening to me. Bad things happen to good people, but truly good people remain good and behave properly throughout the duration of the bad things. I thought that hitting a bad patch excused me from having to comport myself with civility, mercy and kindness like all good people do.

atheist-logoBeing mistreated gave me leeway to lash out, at least in my mind, but I was lying to myself, pathologically. As a result, people around me never knew what to expect from me. Was her kindness a lie? Does that explain why she just insulted me and called me a fucking idiot? People avoided me and the further isolation made me angrier and entitle me to more explosions. I was vicious and this was my cycle. Prison, quite frankly, is probably the only place that would reform me, the spaces between the bars acting like a mirror serving the ugliness of my behavior right back to me.

Initially, I was too scared to lash out at others here in prison because guards had so much more power than I did, inmates so much more experience than I. Silently, though, I convinced myself that I had every right -and probably even an obligation – to tell the staff who were so undereducated (despite the fact that many have college diplomas and a handful have advanced degrees) and inmates what I really thought of them, but I didn’t have time to do it. I was preparing to leave any day and leave them behind.

Then I sat with some nurse for a routine health screening. She knew my social and educational background.

“So, Chandra, what are you going to do while you’re here?”

“Nothing. I’m not going to be here long.”

“But if you are here for a while … your sentence is long,” she posed to me.

“Even if I am here for a while, there’s nothing here for me … ”

“What about cosmo?” she asked me, referring to the cosmetology course in the prison school.

“No. There’s nothing here for me. You can’t really be stupid enough to think I would go to cosmo,” l said, my words sounding like those of the haughty bitch in an after-school special. When I said them, the words seemed well-bred and tactful to me.

regensburg-legionare-rThen somehow a memory of a verbal altercation I had over the phone with one of my lawyer’s secretaries seeped into my consciousness. The secretary had made a snarky remark about me to my lawyer – the specifics of which I could not remember but, in hindsight, I’m sure I deserved – and I called her on it rather than forgiving it like my alleged nice personhood would have done.

“Who do you think you are?” I asked her “Do you think you’re special, that you have the right to put me down? Are you an Ivy League graduate, Patty? Don’t you realize that you don’t matter?” I asked her; my words were ludicrous, malevolent.  And dissonantly calm because I was evil, ugly and essentially not a person anymore.

“Chandra, leave me alone,” she said. I had always fancied myself a person who doesn’t bother anyone. I proclaimed it everywhere. I’m not. That was a lie.

Everyone warns against the perils of self-hatred; “Don’t say that!” people chant around the person who says he hates himself. But, at that moment in the prison nurse’s office, I loathed myself. And for the insufferable effrontery I showed, l should have hated myself; my self deserved to be despised. It was through detesting myself on that cold winter night on a molded plastic chair, slippery from endless friction with the asses of other self-loathers that made me realize I needed punishment and rehabilitation to rid myself of the parts I hated. I think it’s why I’ve fought more to overturn my convictions than just get out. It’s like I know a revolution needs to happen but I know it needs to happen in here.

Confinement reveals false life stories because it unifies personalities; that’s what it did to me. You are who you are in prison and you can never be someone else and l don’t speak of identity theft. Those women who Jekyll-and-Hyde everyone at home – self-described angels who are really nasty ghouls who heckle and hide – must pick one persona and go with it. Eventually all fake life stories get abandoned, if not by their tellers then by the people around them who know they’re full of shit.  It is what it is.

a07a30206f9490090b2d51a6f9a4366eIn prison, you need to decide who you are and then be that woman because she’s the only human being who will carry you through your time. It’s the one aspect of rehabilitation in which incarceration never fails: developing a type of self-reliance, even as one lives as a ward of the state. Being pulled out of society and out of your own cloud of lies lets you know how alone you really are and how the only one who can really fix you is you.

The way I got fixed was that I realized you can say you’re something for a long time but, eventually, you have to be it. Thinking and proclaiming that l was a decent person was a really nice verbal billboard but eventually I had to deliver the goods.

Prison isolates a woman from everything and everyone she knew but isolation is not without its perks. Often women isolate themselves willingly to achieve peace and reflection through meditation because introspection never happens in a crowd. I doubt that l would have attempted to answer the questions that plagued me, like why I value the elusive goal of having everyone like me, or why I’m so narcissistic if I had remained incarceration-free. As a free bird, I never asked myself why I’ll screw up my own endeavors to help someone who really needs to carry her own cross. Why must I be right all of the time? And when I am right why do I care so much if others still think I’m wrong. Or why do apologies – giving or receiving – frighten me so much? Could, as friends suggest, hate really mask jealousy? Before I came to prison, the amount of self-esteem I had was pretty little so I couldn’t and wouldn’t answer these questions. I haven’t locked in my responses as final, but since I got here, I’ve started to formulate truthful responses to myself. It’s about time.

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 17 – 23, 2016

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Ideas put prosecutors in the hot seat this week.

The Dean of the Valparaiso School of Law made a great point: the United States has an Attorney General and a Solicitor General but we don’t have a Defender General, someone who can provide some pushback on top prosecuting authorities when they’re making big decisions on law or who to charge with a crime. Read her piece in Indiana Lawyer here.

Three professors think they have the answer to the systemic racial bias in criminal justice: not allowing prosecutors to know the race of the people they’re about to charge.  Love setting some blame at the feet of system.

Since criminal justice reform bills often don’t pass, if they get voted on at all, a new idea has come up to change the system: vote out the prosecutors who keep the spring of criminal defendants eternal. The replace them with reform sympathizers.

 

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17 October 2016

Ten Pounds in a Five-Pound Bag

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Prison is just society’s colostomy bag. People who’ve never been here, who live relatively successful lives, survive life’s peristalsis, moved along by the muscular contractions of education, work, marriage and offspring until they get pushed out life’s back end. Prisoners can’t even make it to the ass. Some authority siphons us away so that it can house all of the turds together.

Improvements to the bag don’t change its appeal. Any wearer wants to lose the bag, sew up his wounds and sit regally on the toilet like everyone else.

The United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Brown v. Plata that Yes, Governor Brown, you must empty your colostomy bag by at least 10,000 prisoners revealed something I never knew. In order for a prison to be considered officially, legally overcrowded, it has to be filled to 137.5% capacity. One-hundred and one percent, 110%, 125% – not overcrowded. You can’t fit ten pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag, but apparently you can squeeze in 6.875 pounds. Who knew?

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This is a “boat” or “canoe,” as inmates call them. When a prison is overcrowded, these are placed on open floor space as beds. This one happens to be upside-down.

We get overcrowded here now and again. But maybe we don’t. The population is about 1000 women, so to be overcrowded we’d have to have approximately an extra 375 inmates. I don’t think we’ve had that many extra bodies, so I guess we’ve never been officially overcrowded. Maybe we’ve had 40 people in “boats” in the gym, perhaps 20 more in these makeshift beds in the medical unit. I know this only because I had to pack and deliver their meals from Main Dining and everyone called the people I was delivering to “overflow.”

I’ve never had to face our unofficial overcrowding myself as I’ve always had a dedicated bed. I really resent that I should be grateful for something that’s ruined my life: permanent, undeniable inclusion in a prison population.

No one wants a colostomy bag. Aside from the odor, the wearer has to watch his waste come out of him, a gruesome sight by itself but also a reminder that his body isn’t working. He’s sick. In the same way, the best prison is an empty prison, one that’s been drained by completed sentences and true rehabilitation. One that was never needed would’ve been better, but society’s sick.

This might just be a numbers game. York might have been designed to house 750 women and they just keep bumping up the capacity, buying bigger bags to show that we’re not too full. Maybe I’ve been living in overcrowded conditions since I got here – I came in when Governor Rell remanded all parolees after the Cheshire murders – and everything I see as unacceptable and just a part of ‘regular prison life’ – (stuff like bad medical care) – is just a part of ‘overcrowded prison life.’

Maybe conditions are different, livable, comprehensible when fewer women are here. Maybe we have less recidivism when the population is what it’s supposed to be and the colostomy bag doesn’t balloon and backup.

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And that green thing has become someone’s living quarters. Welcome to my house.

What is the safest number of people in a certain area? Do we even know? A prison, by its nature, overcrowds itself. People were meant to live in community, but not so many people in a proscribed area. Even if the challenges of early civilization required people to gather closely to protect themselves and sustain the human race, I doubt they defecated two feet away from someone else’s head like we do in these cells. Maybe they did. Maybe they were into that.

But a modern society, one benefitting from social science research and PhD dissertations spread out across the land on the effects of overcrowding, that continues to pack human beings and their bodies into small spaces it gutless. Hence the bag and the presence in it that makes them waste, on display.

Whenever we have women sleeping in the canoes in the gym, rumors spread: “They need to get 200 people out by March” – “Warden has to approve 300 people for T.S. [transitional supervision or short-term parole] before November 1st” – “At least 150 have to be out by July or we get fined.”

“The state will fine itself? We’re not under any reduction order or anything. No one can do anything to York [CI] for not letting people out. Who’s going to fine us? ” I ask when they dump this crap on my lap.

And they always answer the same way, because they realize the rules governing their bodies are elastic and stretch to meet agendas that aren’t their own:

“Shit.”

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 10 – 16, 2016

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Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump unloaded a drug reform plan in New Hampshire on Saturday which kind of isn’t a plan. He will  stop drugs from coming into the United States by implementing his immigration plan, getting Mexico to gift us a southern border wall and closing shipping loopholes. He also promised to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve drugs that prevent abuse – like Vivitrol –  more quickly, ignoring the fact that we have these drugs now, they’re just too expensive for widespread use. He also said both candidates should be drug-tested. Donald, if Hillary is as crooked as you say, then she knows how to beat the piss-test. Do you?

An inmate in a federal facility in Beaumont, Texas has refused the clemency granted to him by President Obama because it required him to move into a residential drug treatment program before his release. Arnold Ray Jones figures he’ll be released 8 months later than Obama’s scheduled release date when he gets “good time” – time off for good behavior – applied to the end of his sentence.  The exact reason for rejecting the clemency is unknown – people speculate that it’s because he thinks drug treatment is a waste of time (I say it’s because he prefers his prison job to a bunch of group therapy situations). No matter what his reason is, this guy’s got guts. I think he’ll be okay, regardless of when he gets out.

Every 25 seconds someone is arrested for drug possession in the United States according to a report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. Chew on that.

 

 

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