Posts Tagged ‘CDCR’

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…)

Capitalizing on Inmate Firefighters

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Image_washingtonpostThere’s no excuse for inmate firefighters becoming pawns of prison reform.

Inmate firefighters: it’s an odd term, isn’t it? “Firefighter” is a badge of honor, while “inmate” is a brand. Yet these particular convicted criminals are routinely sent on 16-mile marches to square off with raging wildfires for 24 hours at a time, carrying the mark of offenders while performing duties as honorable as they come. For about $2 an hour.

These men (and women) are typically housed in a more congenial, campus-like setting. They eat better than their counterparts who are still behind prison walls, and they’re addressed more cordially by both frontline custody personnel and the civilian training staffers who oversee their participation in California’s esteemed Conservation Camp program.

Most of these folks were convicted of non-violent crimes. But violent offenders have also swung picks and wielded shovels for the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection (CalFire) for decades, and a proposal to expand their participation was recently submitted by California corrections officials. Good thing it was withdrawn almost as soon as it was made public, as the plan could have been a disaster.

(more…)

Crass Incarceration

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Eligibility for a second chance begins with being taken seriously.

Crass
• adjective: lacking in discrimination and sensibility, blundering, asinine

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?__Where Excuses Go to DieOkay, here it is: the mentally ill in California prisons are far more likely to be subjected to harsher treatment and longer sentencing than other inmates. That’s a criminal lack of discrimination and sensibility. Of all the inmates who occupy facilities up and down the state, roughly 30% are mentally ill, making the California Department of Corrections a de facto mental health treatment provider. Now there’s your blundering and asinine.

According to the Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project, “The average sentence imposed on defendants suffering from mental illness is longer than the average sentence imposed on defendants who do not have mental health diagnosis but who committed the same crime.”

Shane Bauer of Mother Jones claims there are ten times more mentally ill people behind bars than in state hospitals, and many of those inmates have severe illnesses like schizophrenia. Furthermore, solitary confinement can make it harder or even impossible for the untreated mentally ill to re-enter society. Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU National Prison Project says “it’s a risk that can’t be condoned. They come out such ruined human beings. It has essentially harmed them in such a substantial way they can’t ever return to the community or society.”

The Coldest Iron_Where Excuses Go to DieThe passage of California’s Prop 47 was important to me personally because of the smiley Nicaraguan we called “Hey,” to whom my book, Where Excuses Go to Die, is dedicated. Hey’s chapter is one I read a lot at book signings and other events, because even without shocking statistics it powerfully demonstrates how narrowly the public has been trained to recognize what prison and prisoners look like. Where Excuses Go to Die exists to defy that recognition. (more…)

What, CCPOA, no opposition?

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

California prison guard union’s silence on Prop 47 smells funky…

Apocalypse Hoosegow 9_CCPOA EDITION_Where Excuses Go to DieIn 2011, the CCPOA claimed it had “played a decisive role” in electing Governor Jerry Brown after dropping $2 million on his campaign alone. The characteristic boast came in the form of a video called “The Winners,” griped about at the time by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.

That year, the union endorsed candidates it favored to the tune of $7 million and received plenty in exchange. Of 107 candidates it backed in California, 104 were elected.

It’s no secret that the CCPOA is one of the most influential unions in American history: it’s been building that power in earnest since the ‘80s, when CCPOA-sponsored legislation began to be successful about 80% of the time. Not surprisingly, this period includes some of California’s most intractable laws, such as 1984’s infamous Three Strikes legislation. “The formula is simple,” writes Joan Petersilia in Volume 37 of Crime and Justice: A Review of Research. “More prisoners lead to more prisons; more prisons require more guards; more guards means more dues-paying members and fund-raising capability; and fund-raising, of course, translates into political influence.” Naturally, the CCPOA has a vested interest in keeping incarceration and recidivism rates high. (more…)

Prison Visitor Hardball

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

As if California’s prison visitors didn’t have it demanding enough.

Process in and process out is what seeing daddy is all aboutIt goes without saying that, for family members, prison visits are psychologically and emotionally demanding. Just keeping up with background check requirements, approved visiting days, bureaucratic obstacles, and the distinct operational eccentricities of the facilities in which your loved one may be housed is an education in itself – a part-time job. And none of it applies to the wild-card of lockdowns or the myriad other things that can affect visitations, like visits being cut short due to overcrowding.

The experience itself is more akin to driving for four hours only to stand in line to deal with a speeding ticket for which you’d previously failed to appear. You get a strong sense that you’re only being grudgingly tolerated by authorities, who’ve lumped you in with the rest, with “those people.” And in fact you are literally penned in with other visitors awaiting approval and entry.

Such areas are always some variation of “Visitor Intake” or “Processing,” and they’re never short on militaristic signage and ALL CAPS ANXIOUSNESS. Depending on the facility and its administrator’s interpretation of departmental policy, waiting areas may be lined with hard wooden benches (the kind you could easily be handcuffed to), tattered airport seating, or flimsy plastic stackables. (more…)

Prison Diseases Will Kill Your Pets

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Apocalypse Hoosegow 7  Contagions, Taxes, and Pets Edition

Prison Diseases Will Kill Your Pets_Where Excuses Go to DieFor delaying action in addressing recurring outbreaks of Valley Fever in California’s prisons, Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections were criticized this week by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson in a federal court order that demands they move some 3,200 of 8,100 inmates out of Pleasant Valley and Avenal state prisons, two facilities with the highest infection and fatality rates.

Apocalypse Hoosegow 7_Where Excuses Go to DieParticularly affected by Valley Fever are African Americans and those with compromised immune systems. Over the last 6 years, 36 inmates who contracted the disease have died. But then, according to Henderson, California officials “clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to respond adequately to the healthcare needs of California’s inmate population.” (more…)

Reusable Irony

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

For just a dollar, Starbucks patrons can now wait in line with newly purchased, reusable coffee cups. Never mind that the plastic lids and cups are identical in appearance to their disposable predecessors: buyers will be able to personalize them, so a related micro-industry of reusable coffee cup ornamentation will no doubt arise before you’re done reading this.

But because this reusable Starbucks tumbler is a visual match to a highly recognizable symbol of the downtrodden  –an over-the-counter coffee cup–  I’m looking forward to watching it make its way from the hands of the homeless and into the hands of the privileged. I’m talkin’ about skinny-pants and cool moms, coming in off the street and waving their empty cups at strangers, just like those they ignore on the sidewalk. The irony is cruel, exquisite, and reusable.
(more…)

Where Excuses Go to Die is now on Facebook

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

And the creation of its page coincides with the crumbling of the walls around that secret society of thugs known as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. With its members turning on each other and the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. finally being exposed for the Academy of Excessive Force it’s always been, I figured it was time to share what it’s been like to bring this story to market. (more…)

“Journey to the Center of a Sandwich” — An Excerpt

Monday, June 18th, 2012

This week’s post is an excised chapter of Where Excuses Go to Die, the forthcoming book for which this blog serves as a pre-publishing playground. Like many of the book’s chapters, Sandwich began life as a prison journal entry before being performed as a spoken word piece.  Since it got pulled from the book, I thought you might enjoy it here.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF A SANDWICH

California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) – Norco, Level II 

5th Street & Western Norco, CA 92860

The first bite tasted fine – for a prison sandwich. I’d already given the thing a cellblock once-over, scanning for obvious stuff like bugs, matches, dirt, and pieces of human. I’d also reexamined it as I made improvements: contraband mustard, nips of onion, a razor-cut tomato. In custody, firm, fresh tomatoes are more expensive than chocolate but they’re worth it. A good tomato can make or break a sandwich anywhere, anytime. While doing time, their value triples. (more…)

I Left My Heart in Folsom Prison

Friday, August 12th, 2011

To the parolee caught trying sneak back into Folsom Prison: Next time just try the souvenir shop.

Original Story: MSNBC

Hand-built by inmates and Chinese railroad workers, this view of the granite wall that surrounds Folsom's old yard is from the main access road

The so-called “old Yard” was one of the facilities to which I was assigned as a temporary “consumer of Corrections services.” Years after my release, while driving with my then-girlfriend to Lake Tahoe for a wedding, I turned onto the prison road. I wanted to see that giant wall as an outsider, a perspectiv­e I didn’t have in my previous experience on the property. (more…)