Posts Tagged ‘incarceration’

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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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…)

“Rape, Riots, and Rotten Food”

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Inmate Cardboard Standup_Where-Excuses-Go-to-DieRape, Riots, and Rotten Food – Relearning Life Behind Bars

The sooner the public learns that it’s been chumped by the media into thinking it knows what offenders look like, the sooner the heart and humanity that also exist behind bars can be tapped in an effort to redirect –not recycle– offenders. And whether it’s the people themselves that matter to you or the countless billions of taxpayer dollars we can save by fixing this problem, it’s about time we get started.

And what do I propose? As a former inmate of the California Department of Corrections myself, my mission is to help change the public’s misperception that all inmates are illiterate, tattooed, Nazi-worshiping, meth-mouthed man-rapists. This is what Where Excuses Go to Die is all about, defying the caricatures and stereotypes that make it easier for us to believe that incarcerating our way out of crime is viable. (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…)

Upselling Prison Pt. 2

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Upselling Prison Part 2_Where Excuses Go to DieA former inmate sizes up detention products, #2 in a casual series.

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

Norix Inc. claims it doesn’t just make prison mattresses: it makes “Comfort Shield® Remedy Mattresses.” And if cost equalled quality, Comfort Shields would clearly be a cut above. But ask anyone on the inside, and a prison mattress is a prison mattress is a prison mattress. They’re subject to the worst an infected wound has to offer; and they get clutched, twisted, and chewed on like nobody’s business. For something that has more prayers Prison inmates wouldn't have looked at Jesus' mattress twice_Where Excuses Go to Diewhispered into it than Israel’s Western Wall and all of Islam’s worry beads, nothing has less to show for it than a prison mattress.

It’s kind of tough to wrap your head around trading a pair of shoes (or several meals) to obtain a less “raped” one, but it’s what you do. Otherwise, as we once heard an intake sergeant say to a complainer, “it’s mind over mattress.”

Fortunately, distinguishing bloodstains from even less pleasant discolorations gets easier after, say, month three. But the marks inmates leave behind aren’t limited to bodily fluids or semi-solids: prisoners love writing gang names, anti-Semitic messages, zip codes, and their sweetheart’s initials on the very bedding into which your tears will be absorbed.

Naturally, these handwritten hieroglyphics can be more indelibly printed onto older cotton mattress covers than the newfangled, vinyl laminate “wipe ‘n cleans,” so these days one needs to make sure his ink has dried before drifting off to dreamland. While most ink dries quickly, sweat can often reactivate it, and entering a chow hall wearing gang signs on your face that are only decipherable by the fellas planning a hit on “those fools” after breakfast is really something to avoid. And trust me, you’ll want to take the time to check for swastikas drawn in magic marker by the guy before you. The rule is: read your mattress first and watch where you put your face.

For the record, endlessly violated (and absorbent) cotton mattress covers are actually preferable to the newer sealed plastic pads – unless you enjoy marinating in your own sweat at 3:30 in the morning. Besides, wipe ‘n cleans get weird blisters that make you wonder how your body heat could have caused mystery chemicals to churn and gurgle beneath the vinyl.

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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…)

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 Shawshank Exemption

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Americans don’t want to talk about prisons. But “ooh, ‘Lock-up America’ is on – let’s watch!” 

American History X is the dumbest movie ever. No dedicated, red-hot, curb-stomping, career White Supremacist is gonna suddenly see the light, repent, and boo-hoo for redemption as a result of being sodomized over a laundry cart.

U.S. incarceration rates are staggering: we now house 760 inmates for every 100,000 people; 7.1 million Americans are currently under lock and key. For too many years we’ve tried to win the War on Drugs by incarcerating our way out of it, and now here in California there are 300 parolees for every 1000 residents. And still the only way Californians (or anyone else, for that matter) seem able to digest America’s prison problem is by watching the same old clichés onscreen – what I call the “three Rs” of rape, riots, and rotten food.

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