Archive for the ‘Incarceration Nation’ Category

Upselling Prison #4

Friday, July 14th, 2017

A former inmate sizes up detention products, #4 in a casual series.

Accessories, upgrades, add-ons, telecoms, toilets, and the first responders of the detention supply industry.

It’s a dubious distinction, I know, but I’ve been among the first 75 inmates to populate a brand new prison. The place hadn’t even been “officially” opened and it wasn’t entirely complete; it took months for the technological marvel it was said to be to actually function as designed. But while Where Excuses Go to Die (the book) can tell you a lot more about that story, today we return to those particular design elements and specialized detention products that represent modern mass incarceration in America. Unlike previous editions, this time we’ll look at just one pressing problem: inmates who stop up cell house toilets and the wastewater control systems that swallow every dinner, document, dictionary, and domino thrown at ’em.
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Smart Prerelease Instruction: Inmates Helping Inmates

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

The double-edged-sword of getting out of prison.

For those of us who follow incarceration and reentry issues, the inmate-created, inmate-run, prerelease program in Cumberland, Maryland, that was just approved by the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be something to keep an eye on.

Ideally, Young Men Incorporated (YMI), as the program is known, will prove that switching from curriculum enforcement to the much more coercive power of wisdom and teachable moments is the right way to reinvent prisoner reentry methodology.

Hitting your release date and getting out is a trip. Individual results may vary, but when it comes to civilian employees, frontline custody personnel, and prison administrators, soon-to-parole inmates often face disparagement and placating attitudes. The way some Badges see it, you’re still a criminal, soon to be protected by rights that weren’t there a couple of weeks ago. More than a few are just waitin’ for you to act special, by which I mean individual. (more…)

LA Riots as Seen from Maximum Security Prison

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

You’d think someone would have covered what it was like to experience the LA riots behind bars in the past 25 years. Something. Anything. But nope.

Then again, with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black ranking just below LA LA Land in grounded reality, such coverage probably would have been twisted into the taffy of a Broadway musical anyway.

So while a mention would’ve been interesting, I have my own view…

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Life in a Prison Classroom

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Pre-Release Classrooms are the Future of Prison Reform_Where Excuses Go to DieI know life in a prison classroom, and the learning environment you may or may not find once you’ve taken a seat.

A brief click-through of “5 Projects to Watch in 2016” from Correctional News leaves me wondering how much prison officials really know about the obstacles inmates face just getting through a detention facility’s classroom door. What does it matter, you ask? Well, in an era where words like “reform,” “rehabilitation,” and “recidivism” are on everyone’s lips, it’s important to know when a component as critical as education is simply being given lip service.

Correctional News covers prison operations, design, and construction. It celebrates grand openings and groundbreakings because imminent completion dates tend to matter to rubber mattress merchants, vendors of detection products, and shower flooring suppliers.

Currently showcased are the East County Detention Center near Palm Springs, for example, which is set to open in 2017, the Kern County justice facility in Bakersfield, and the new Utah State Prison, among others. California being where I paid my debt to society, I tend to monitor its prison system more closely than I do others. But all of these entries have something in common, and that’s my point: they feature anemic descriptions of the education facilities also under construction. Rehabilitation-as-footnote here, will eventually make corrections administrators and state officials look as though they’re simply hanging wreaths of rehabilitation on freshly painted classroom doors and leaving it at that. (more…)

Prison Escape Powerball

Friday, January 29th, 2016

MANHUNT HOTLINE_Where Excuses Go to DieWelcome to Apocalypse Hoosegow 10, the Lotto jackpot of potential prison escape movies (and the impossibly straight faces of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department).

Man, this story has got it alland it ends in the parking lot of novelty grocery store, Whole Foods.

Killer convicts chipping their way through steel and concrete – check! Laughably low estimates of escaped prisoner capabilities – check! Brutal cellblock battle to distract guards – check! Cougar-teacher helping misunderstood love interest – check! Tied together bed sheets and socks and stuff – check! Months in the making, mistake-free master plan – check! Violent terror-inmates on the loose in conservative county – check! FBI dudes elbowing local badge bumblers outta the way – check! Adam-12-era hoosegow gettin’ last laugh on OC budget dorks – check! Incredibly straight-faced cop brass asking for public help in catching penis-severing Muslim blowtorch monster – check! check! check!

Apocalypse Hoosegow 10_Where Excuses Go to DieOoh, and don’t forget: District Attorney’s office infighting – check! Unauthorized D.A. office statements made public – check! Open criticism – check! Gorilla-goons scratching their heads at escape hole – check! Magic gnats flying out of inmates mouths like in The Green Mile – ok, not that, but Range Rover-driving, Islamophobic blondes blessed with new hero – checkity check!  (more…)

De-institutionalization (and your Tax Dollars)

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Mizuo Shinonome_Where Excuses Go to DieSome see de-institutionalization as prison reform’s black hole. We neither think about nor understand it much, until we see how much it can swallow.

Yet redirecting, rather than just recycling, offenders begins and ends with the most common form of second chance behavioral therapy of all: showing individuals the potential in themselves they can’t yet see. I’m certainly a product of it, and there are countless other second chance cases even more deserving of the right mentor than I was.

In such an inexcusably crowded prison system as California’s, wringing Yard life from offenders can devour solar systems of resources, and profoundly institutionalized individuals are difficult people to be around on a good day. So for both plucky and grizzled corrections professionals working with offenders and parolees, resolve and past re-entry successes are crucial. So, too, are faith and funding – or at least the delivery of funds previously promised. (more…)

Obama’s Prison Visit

Friday, July 17th, 2015

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GOES THE PRESIDENT_Where Excuses Go to DieNever mind that President Obama’s prison visit was a public relations handshake event on par with a disaster relief stop by:
I’ll take it. 

The man did, after all, pull off a first-ever presidential prison tour without a GOP push-back accusing him of somehow assisting Mexican druglord ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s recent escape. With adversaries like Obama’s, it’s a downright miracle he hasn’t been vilified for cozying up to his convict martyr buddies. (more…)

Upselling Prison Pt. 3

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

JPAY_Appropriating Copyrights_Where Excuses Go to DieA former inmate sizes up detention products, #3 in a casual series.

Upselling Prison: accessories, upgrades, add-ons, telecoms, and salespersons of the detention supply industry.

Prison Monetization Solutions_Where Excuses Go to DieAccording to the Pew Public Safety Performance Project and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 35 adult residents of the US are currently either incarcerated or under correctional supervision (parole or probation). In 1990, that number was 1 in 77. Nationally, America spends billions on corrections, and the money being made by detention profiteers is astronomical. One particularly golden calf has been inmate telecommunications, especially now that the corrections industry is undergoing a “technological renaissance.”
(Prison Voice Biometrics anyone?)

This is a Rehabilitation Measurement Device_Where Excuses Go to DieMuch has been written about the contempt the prison telecom industry routinely demonstrates for families of the incarcerated by charging crushingly inflated rates for collect calls home. Still, in California, for example, the Public Utilities Commission lacks oversight of jail and prison phone contracts and nationwide the FCC is only now taking notice of high rates charged for calls originating in state and federal facilities. According to Prison Phone Justice.org, inmate phone contracts in all but 9 states are still based on a “commission” model where the service provider pays a portion of its profits to the contracting facility as a kickback for accepting their bid (this chart shows some of the worst offenders). I don’t even want to think about private and corporate-owned detention centers, where the profits extracted from those in need of human contact is obscene. (more…)

RELEARNING REENTRY ISSUES

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

STAR IN YOUR OWN NETFLIX SERIES_Where Excuses Go to DieLearning prisoner reentry issues means relearning prison.

If we don’t resist the manner in which we’ve been trained to recognize incarceration and the incarcerated, offenders will only continue to be recycled through the system rather than redirected.

Black has always been the New Orange_Where Excuses Go to DieAmericans need to unlearn prison and relearn life behind bars, but not because prison reform is a growing national dialogue: bandwagons produce hot exhaust already. We need to be reeducated because our understanding of the poor coping skills, pressure, and PTSD faced by those emerging from detention has been the stuff of movie jokes for as long as any of us can remember. Mutated by Hollywood and put off by unpleasantness, most Americans can’t get past convict caricatures to see key subtleties that must become part of our awareness. And I do mean ours: taxpayers, you, me, and Law-abiding Larry — not just the social workers we usually leave to resolve issues of recycling vs. redirecting.

Following my own successful parole, I never expected to become a prison commentator or a conveyor belt of questions about confinement, but I can never seem to escape the little strings in life that lead back to my experiences behind bars. Each one returns me to lessons learned “inside” that now take civilian form on a daily basis. In fact, those lessons accompany me so doggedly, I’m constantly comparing in-custody versions to civilian values and principles. Witnessing inmates upholding the same rules they utterly failed to live by “outside” was and remains fascinating. At the same time, it makes sense that a closed culture like the one behind bars would enforce a rapid and uncompromising assimilation process. (more…)

Plain ‘ol Prison Survival

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Prison Bacteria for Dummies with Excrement Assault Guide_Where Excuses Go to DiePrison Survival Literature: where’s the chapter on being hustled?

“Two men enter – one man leaves!”
It’s all you need to know, right?
Okay technically, sometimes, sure.

My cellmate wanted to order a copy of Put ‘Em Down, Take ‘Em Out! Knife Fighting Techniques From Folsom Prison, but I was able to talk him out of it. Good thing, too, because the publisher’s catalog through which the order would’ve been placed belonged to me, and it was high contraband. Back then I was in possession of several such catalogs, which offered titles on everything from document falsification to improvised explosives; from contingency cannibalism (my favorite) to how to dispose of a dead body. I got the sense I’d exceeded the natural encyclopedia of criminal knowledge around me as a result, and that was nothing short of cross-eyed fabulous.

Each catalog entry was accompanied by a book-jacket photo and lengthy summary. Where Excuses Go to Die’s chapter, “High Weirdness by Mail,” describes how reading snippets of these out loud to certain trusted inmates caused laughter so physically enfeebling that only a death rattle was left in the human body’s big bag of tricks.

It seems crazy to recall being rendered sightless by tears of joy in the company of murderers, shot-callers, and stonehearted life-termers. But these “moments of genuine whimsy,” as I refer to ‘em in Where Excuses Go to Die, were what my own prison survival was made of. Sure, I’d read the titles and descriptions in a funny voice, but I allowed the absurdity of it all to do the heavy lifting. We didn’t actually need to possess the instructions for do-it-yourself blowguns; picturing blowgun wars in the chow hall was priceless enough. We’d really lose it when some badass piped up to correct, clarify, or corroborate. Such sessions turned tall tales into skyscrapers.

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