Archive for the ‘Prison’ Category

New Prison Reality

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

WELCOME_TO COMCAST_NBC_UNIVERSAL_PRISONHeart and humanity must now evolve into the new prison reality….

Just yesterday, a stranger told me he’d heard the words “prison rehabilitation” more times in the last two months than ever before in his life. My first reaction was that sentiments like his will only become more common as Americans adapt to new representations of incarceration and the incarcerated, and as the dialogue on prison reform becomes an increasingly pressing topic in Washington, at the state level, and in so many of our social and cultural realms.

At the same time, the implication that criminal offenders are (usually) people too causes friction as it rubs up against the manner in which we’ve been trained to recognize prison — narrowly, dismissively, and neglectfully.

I began this blog in 2010, when Where Excuses Go to Die was still a manuscript. I intended to blog about excuses made daily by celebrities, politicians, and whoever else was unlucky enough to publicly display poor coping skills. I’ve had a lot of fun with the sarcasm, not to mention with challenging people’s comfort zones and entitlements. (more…)

The Mall at Men’s Central Jail

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The LA County Jail doesn’t need tearing down, it needs Rick Caruso.

LOCK DOWN SHOPPING TOWNThe Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail is an overcrowded dungeon, a house of horrors for pre-trial prisoners, the physically disabled, the mentally ill, and even jail visitors. An ongoing federal investigation into allegations of brutality at MCJ has exposed ghastly conditions, corruption, excessive force, free roaming retaliation, and secretive factions of Sheriff’s deputies and jailers.

In other words, give me a better location for a mixed-use mall and I’ll show you how to shake a set of handcuffs!

With the fate of Men’s Central uncertain, why not take a page from the old-timey tours and gift shops currently operated at Folsom and Alcatraz? Or from Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, fresh from its annual reunion of former guards and inmates? Even better, why not go upscale and consider something along the lines of Boston’s quaint Liberty Hotel, formerly known as the infamous Charles Street Jail? All are popular tourist attractions that generate big bucks, serve as walkable warnings to the wayward, and provide the public with glimpses into America’s penal history – and future.

WHITE WOMEN COME AND CHECK OUT THE PRISON PRICESToo soon for a custody-themed Cellblock Shopping Town? Too “insensitive” of an idea? What’s stopping us, bad taste? Ha! Prison ideation saturates media and advertising anyway, so why not give the secret “crimeshopper” in all of us a little fun?

Let’s go from jail rats to mall rats and rake in the tax revenue!

Why not plan a “Shopping Daycation” around a jail-themed Apple Store or J.Crew? Men’s Central will forever be remembered as O.J. Simpson’s courtroom hotel and where lady-puncher Chris Brown will spend his 25th birthday: why shouldn’t the city cash in? Yet turning a civil rights cesspool like LA’s Men’s Central Jail into one of SoCal’s hippest destinations for designer handbags and iPhones is the one idea no one has proposed.

Until now. Welcome to The Fashion Industrial Complex – the Mall at Men’s Central Jail. (more…)

Sentencing Reform in a Nutshell

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Since 1980, California has built one college campus and 21 prisons.

That’s a heckuva statement isn’t it?

Twenty-one prisons versus one college campus. It gives us a little insight into why sentencing and prison reform is becoming an ever more crucial national dialogue. And California is hardly the only state dealing with the consequences of America’s push to incarcerate its way out of crime.

Sentencing Reform in a Nutshell – When someone commits a crime and goes to prison only to emerge a worse criminal, taxpayers are not getting what they paid for.

The proverbial nutshell rarely gets easier to understand.



Is Pre-trial Labor Slavery?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Lawsuit over solitary vs. work detail stirs a 13th Amendment debate

Hard day at the office_WHere Excuses Go to DieIs pre-trial labor slavery?

Not every detention facility relies on the same frontline custody policies, but the fact is, most pre-trial prisoners are allowed to choose between a daily work assignment and remaining confined to their dorm units or cells.

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at what, for some, is merely semantics. For others, though, the distinction couldn’t be more important. See, you’re a “prisoner” until you’ve been sent to a genuine penal facility, at which point you’re given an “inmate” number. Once you’re on a full blown prison yard, you strive to graduate to “convict” and leave the inmate label behind.

Likewise, “jail” and “prison” are not the same. Jail custody is similar to an airplane circling a runway ’til it’s permitted to land. Jail is where one goes to await trial, pause between court appearances, get convicted and sentenced in the first place, then finally transferred to state or federal custody — i.e., prison.

Jail life, though, is often more harsh, because prisoners are transitory and often mistake jail for the big house themselves. Prisoners fear that not making a name for themselves right away is a dangerous mistake, so guys get beaten up a lot in jail. What many prisoners don’t realize is that they’ll have to reestablish their reputations as soon as a new busload replaces those they “taught” to respect them.


Why I Hate the Word “Nigger”

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

THE N-WORD_Where Excuses Go to DieI hate the word “nigger” because of what it reveals about its user.

Blue, Black, White, or Brown – you’re lazy.

How’s that, you ask?

Well for one, what have you, the N-word user, attempted to learn about the volatile word? ‘Cause it’s a shape-shifter: one that can be used rightly and wrongly, ironically and seriously, congenially and maliciously, of necessity for the sake of realism and impishly for the sake of comedy.* Do you know its etymology? Have you taken the time to read any Richard Wright or August Wilson? Who were the Little Rock Nine? Do you know why Malcolm X and Richard Pryor swore off using it?

It doesn’t matter. And regardless of who you are, you weren’t born with the right to use the word, so don’t even go there. You have a choice. If you want to debate whether or not cultural perspective should govern its meaning, you’d better find out more than what you heard someone say, sing, shout, or slur.

I hate the word because it whispers its right to be among us, forcing users to make excuses for it. It’s a chunk of broken cement that has, for too many people, disguised itself as a Fabergé egg. Which people, you ask? As Clarence Major wrote in his Dictionary of Afro-American Slang (1970), “persons insufficiently attuned to the volatility of this singularly complex and dangerous word.”

Having been to prison and, therefore, temporarily disqualified from societal participation, you might think my learning was limited to how to survive and/or how to become a better criminal, not unlike the claim that college merely teaches one to be a better student. While there may be a basis in reality for both assertions, prison wasn’t a School of Crimethink for me: it was an ungodly wake-up call. And since the phrase “wake-up call” is grossly overused, I’ll go a little deeper.


Restore Voting Rights and Re-Enfranchise!

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Restore Voting Rights - Re-Enfranchise_Where Excuses Go to DieMy restored voting rights remind me I’ve paid my debt to society.

It shouldn’t matter that my right to vote was taken away because I was sent to prison. What should matter –and what matters to me– is that I earned it back. I’m proud of that.

My right to vote does a lot for me, too, starting with being a happy reminder that the state of California and I have settled our differences amicably. I tend to think less of slackers who come up with excuses not to vote, which can be a dialogue-friendly counterbalance to feeling “less than” because of the criminal record stigma I’ll always have.


Bernard Kerik: The Wrong Man to Talk about Prison Reform

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Kerik, former Homeland Security Secretary nominee, should shut up.

face.jpgBernie Kerik is no friend to those who have been prosecuted excessively for drug crimes or, for that matter, to anyone serving time in prison. By my estimation, his unlooked-for discovery that America’s drug sentences have created a huge underclass of offenders is little more than fodder for Kerik’s own PR agenda.

Here’s both barrels:

For starters, though Kerik did spend time behind bars, he can’t speak on behalf of the general population. A former NYPD Commissioner and the man who once oversaw one of the facilities in which he was detained, Kerik definitely did not live among gen pop inmates. He was housed in protective custody, a much less transitory and smaller environment. Protective custody (a.k.a. administrative segregation) is mainly for informants, self-harmers, perverts, and anyone else facility administrators deem likely to become stabbing practice.

So from my perspective – and probably that of every other rational general population convict – Bernie Kerik is free to speak only for snitches and kid touchers. Sure, like me, he’s entitled to a second chance and the opportunity to use that chance and his platform productively. But I say, consider the source. (more…)

The Cellblock on Sesame Street

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Today, even Sesame Street intersects with Incarceration Boulevard.

New Character Alex on Sesame StreetThe most important thing you can learn from Alex, a new Sesame Street character with an incarcerated dad, is that he exists. While he’s not yet a regular on the show, Alex is out there on the Internet, interacting with your children via the “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative, an online tool kit designed to help kids aged 3-8 deal with having parents in custody.

To some, that might sound a little scary. But fear not, Helicopters, there’s safety in numbers. One of every 28 children in the United States has a parent in prison, so Alex has a lot of friends, some of whom are already interacting with your child in real life.

WheresMom_TulsaPeopleThis is what makes Sesame Street so special, because it traditionally tackles issues head-on, literally at the 3-foot level. Because parents can’t always be there.

The show’s producers and writers (and by extension, sponsors) often address the questions children ask about a variety of subjects that confuse, confound, and anger us grownups. This time, the topic at hand is incarceration – and the reality that 2.7 million U.S. children have a mom or a dad in prison. Alex is Sesame Street’s answer to the soaring numbers of kids in America who have questions about what it means to be quarantined from the rest of society. “Coming from a Muppet, it’s almost another child telling their story to the children,” Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of outreach and educational practices at the Sesame Workshop, told NBC’s Today.

Criminal detention and life behind bars is about as dark a subject as you could ever cover with a child. I’m not a parent, so I’ve never had that conversation, but I’ve witnessed and overheard hundreds.

In visiting rooms at the various prison facilities in which I was housed during my four-year tour, it was hard to pull my eyes from the interactions between incarcerated fathers and their children. (And to say it’s not polite to stare in prison is a deadly understatement, believe me.) I witnessed everything from familiar representations of guilt, phony-baloney contrition, overwhelming love, and genuine pride to awkward reverence and equal opportunity resentment.

Much of this extends well beyond the individual child-parent bond. There are caretakers, aunts and uncles, older and younger brothers, and so forth, all of whom have an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, who have questions that need attention from the best person to answer them: the one who doesn’t get to leave.

So bravo! Sesame Street, for showing adults how urgently we need to start educating our children  –and ourselves–  about the effects of mass incarceration. It’s a problem that won’t likely be going away any time soon.




EVIL INCARNATE: Lock-up Quotas

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Taxpayer penalties for unfilled corporate prison cells are a thing.

In hopes of extending this infographic’s reach (Huffington Post’s smart use of BJS data) I now present the biggest argument for the growing national dialogue on prison reform in America: Lock-up Quotas.

For years,  Morgan Stanley, Ameriprize, Barclays, Invesco, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, among others, have invested heavily in for-profit detention. So, if you’re someone who still dismisses incarceration as being for “those people,” perhaps you should follow the money. You see, the same idiots who mistakenly foreclose on people’s homes, may wind up deciding just how long your brother, sister, son or daughter are detained for public drunkenness. Operating at such a competency level, and with occupancy the highest priority for private prisons, all bets will soon be off with regards to who fills those beds.

Sound crazy? Sure it does, but at the rate we’re going it’s not hard to imagine a day when banking institutions and financial investment companies open pop-up prisons like so many Wal-Marts.

Without a complicit criminal justice system, ever more influenced by these financial entities, today’s lock-up quotas wouldn’t be so easily and enthusiastically enforced across the country. Have a look:

HuffPo_Private Prisons Infographic

Avoiding Shortsightedness in Prison Reform

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Eric Holder isn’t using prison reform as a means to rehab his image

 Why Go Easy on Junkies? Part II
Evan Vucci:APLast week, Attorney General Eric Holder called for the reform of mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Almost as quickly, Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson dismissed the move as symbolism. In “Eric Holder’s Drug War Speech: Don’t Get Too Excited Yet,” Dickinson predicts that Holder’s proposed policy changes will have little impact. Why? In a nutshell, too many inmates. Then Dickinson adds, “We’re not used to hearing U.S. Attorneys General talk this way.” Now, couldn’t that have been your title, Tim?

Writing for the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, Cora Currier implied a different sort of conspiracy. “The Sweeping Presidential Power to Help Prisoners that Holder didn’t Mention” suggests a betrayal of those given life sentences for possession of drugs with the intent to sell. Currier’s point is that Holder “skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence,” whereas I think aggressively prosecuted drug offenders don’t need rescuing from the president. Instead, it’s the system that needs to change. I’m also inclined to remind Currier that Holder’s avoidance of the hot potato of clemency and pardons in his speech does not a conspiracy make.
 So come on you guys, give the rigidly uninteresting bureaucrat a break already! (more…)