March 15th, 2018

Get Ready for Pop-up Prisons – Upselling Prison #5

Move over Disney. With the alleged $22 million President Rhinestone’s pro-private prison buddies poured into a Trump super-PAC, they may soon own more land than Mickey Mouse.

If you’re not yet familiar with the phenomenon of mass incarceration in America, you will be when prisons are as common a sight as Costco and CVS.

The private prison industry has just been cleared to build ’em and fill ’em like there’s no tomorrow, so what’s stopping other financial powerhouses from jumping into the market? AT&T Supermax anyone? Custody Depot? Wal-Mart Correctional Services?

Hey, Sears and Toys R Us may survive yet.      

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February 9th, 2018

Monopoly: Updated for The New Normal

Why should you never tell a pig a secret?
Because they love to squeal! 

What do you call a pig that does karate?
Pork chop!

What would happen if pigs could fly?
The price of bacon would go up.  

Pig!  Pig!  Pig!  Piggy!  Pig!  Pig!

Monopoly: Cheater’s Edition reinforces the idea that winning means swindling your way to the top and pulling the ladder up behind you.  Read the rest of this entry »

December 12th, 2017

2017 EXCUSE OF THE YEAR

I was a kid myself when someone first tried to sell me on “It was a different time then.” And whether or not it was a different time then, the phrase doesn’t fly. It’s an idiotic excuse. Even worse, it’s a negligent standard.

It says the past isn’t worthy of interpretation, only rationalization, and that makes it this year’s winner.  

Whether they’re questioning adult talk at the dinner table, inquiring about stories in the news, or simply seeking insight, “It was a different time then” shuts down the conversation. It chases young people away at exactly that point known as a “teachable moment.” Read the rest of this entry »

November 15th, 2017

Welcome to the Focus Group

The first rule of Focus Club is – you do not talk about Focus Club.

Sitting around a table with strangers and snacks provided me with a glimpse of the higher levels of emotional pollution we live with today.

Before focus group attendance required a reference and the best paying research firms became fodder for Yelp, back when the topic of extra cash was still “light” conversation, my school-teacher mom enjoyed bragging about the extra $40, $60 or $90 she’d nabbed just for sitting around talking cars or cooking utensils. Her exaggerated enthusiasm made my brother and I feel like idiots if we failed to grab our own piece of this windfall. So I signed up.

Phone interviews asking after household budgets, TV time, annual electronics expenditures and so forth were the first step. Screeners frequently came off like car salesmen –as if the only thing between them and a three-day weekend was filling a late afternoon quota– but it was difficult not to play along. Answers that were a degree or three off elicited a disappointed sigh and a more “accurate” response.
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August 2nd, 2017

And then You Recognize that Homeless Person

Jogging around a neighborhood park, I realized the homeless woman sleeping under a tree is someone I’ve known most of my life. 

We were 15 once, and proud. She liked girls and I liked outcasts. Her Army buzzcut was black, blue, and brave, her sarcasm like a flamethrower. Pointed at you or not, it was dangerous to be near. She had an enviable wit I tried to emulate, and she could be as prickly and poker-faced as she was fast and funny. Being able to speak to her in ways others couldn’t was great.

All these years later and approaching the tree on my first lap, I saw only a female shape sleeping atop assorted backpacks and grocery bags. That particular bit of shade was usually occupied by sweethearts, fútbol hombres, or shadowboxing stroller-pushers, but I didn’t think much about it other than to mentally note the woman’s (relative) luck for claiming it first.

Staring straight ahead while I run helps me convey ultimate Kenyan focus, allowing me to mask the fact that I hate running and am actually dying inside. But the second time I passed the tree, I broke my gaze and glanced over. This woman was wearing Capri-style leggings, sunglasses, and a driver’s cap over her face. What I could see of it was weary.
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July 14th, 2017

Upselling Prison #4

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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June 7th, 2017

Kathy Griffin: Empathy Panhandler Pts. I & II

PART I – It’s as simple as both Griffin and Trump having mastered reality television, where “drama” is processed to the point of becoming doublespeak and insecurities and pettiness are aggrandized. In this way, and probably others, they’re similar. Both claw at their own skin for our attention, and both are so accustomed to having a national media platform from which address the public that it’s the first thing they reach for to solve their problems.
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May 4th, 2017

Smart Prerelease Instruction: Inmates Helping Inmates

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. Read the rest of this entry »

April 29th, 2017

LA Riots as Seen from Maximum Security Prison

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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March 16th, 2017

Brass Tacky

This week, former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of obstructing an FBI corruption investigation of the jails he oversaw. But despite having once been a part of his fundraising machine, all I can think about is the Department’s new belt buckles.

I can go two ways here: ask what the hell these guys are thinking spending $300,000 on new belt buckles to give their uniforms more shock and awe, or write off new-guy Jim McDonnell as meddling and distracted.

Isn’t this the controlling, big spender schtick that the newly formed, McDonnell-supported Civilian Oversight Commission is supposed to question?  Read the rest of this entry »