Posts Tagged ‘Folsom Prison’

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…)

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.

(more…)

What It’s Like to Win a Literary Award

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

I earned my first literary award in Folsom. This time? Las Vegas…

2014-ALA-banner

ForeWord Reviews IndieFab Book of the Year Awards, presented at the 2014 American Library Association Conference at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

IndieFab CertificateFolsom prison has its thugs, killers, and seething sodomites perched like gargoyles, set to pounce on the right bounce, but it’s got nuthin’ on exposed armpits in Vegas.

What is it about Las Vegas that makes tank tops so ubiquitous? From wife-beaters to big, tie-dyed side-wallers, it seems six of every ten meanderers goes sleeveless, choosing the display of warty pits over dignity. It’s as if they think armpits, with all of their “character,” have become substitutes for good ink work. They haven’t. And we’re not talking about your nicer tank tops, either – more like saggy, cigarette ash ‘n mayo varnished nightwear. Blech.

Yes, I know it’s Sin City; let it all hang out; blah-blah-blah. But that’s no excuse for flaunting your weight-loss stretch marks each time you roll some dice, lift a fork, jab at a slot machine button, or u-turn your rented casino scooter into another herd.

When planning a trip to Vegas, it’s helpful to adjust your expectations a notch below your last memories of the place, ’cause Vegas today is all about elastic waist bands, approximated quality, billowy tank tops, and carry-along toy trumpets of frozen, fruity booze.

I realize that Frank Sinatra’s life has been highly mythologized, but I’m confident there was a moment when he looked at Vegas and thought: it’s only downhill from here.

WORST ROOM KEY GRAPHICS EVER_Where Excuses Go to DieHarrah’s check-in…

Thursday-to-Saturday Vegas beats Friday-to-Sunday anytime. Just ask road-weary parents of toddlers and teenagers  –which my wife, Crystal, and I are not– or drivers –like we are– who hate being stuck behind card-carrying members of Snails of America. Once your return trip eats up an entire Sunday, ending with a drive directly into the blazing sunset, you won’t make that mistake again.

Midnight departures out of Los Angeles are the best, and nondescript commuter vehicles are the smartest. (A little over 3½ hours is our best time.) The only drawback to getting a room at three on a Friday morning in Vegas is who and what you encounter upon arrival. Since the front desk area is much quieter than normal, you tend to notice the first of your fellow visitors.

(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…)

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.

(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…)