Posts Tagged ‘prison’

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…)

Christmas Cards My Ass

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

There are many excuses for not sending holiday cards. Here’re mine:

Holiday Cheer_Where Excuses Go to DieChristmas cards, holiday cards, greeting cards – whatever people wanna call ’em, I don’t care.

It’s been many years since I purchased a greeting card, because the greeting card industry has become insulting. It pushes homogenized sentiments and condescending condolences that are marketed as if buyers were monkeys. While card aisles and displays are perfectly convenient and, yes, could come in handy someday, I must say I did better in a prison cell with magazine collages, glue sticks, and agitated screamers to my left ‘n right.

Yes sir or ma’am: I heavily promoted my “John has turned over a new leaf” brand by mailing handmade greeting cards to friends and family who were on the fence about me. For one, I was determined to prove that my imagination would never be replaced by swastika tattoos and institutionalized hatred. Watching the arrival and transformation of so many gullible young men into seething and explosive monsters positively inspired me to trade even my meals for whatever I needed to stay creative, expressive, and weird.

And there were just certain things I couldn’t re-embrace upon returning to the civilian world. First among them, coincidentally, was store-bought greeting cards. Why? Because I was fresh out of the joint one day and nudged toward a cousin’s birthday party the next. I looked at the clock, gathered the things I’d need (accessing real scissors was a plus), and never looked back.

All these years and hundreds of greeting cards later, the only downside has been visiting my parents during the holidays to find my own card among their others, displayed writing-side out (as if the interior sentiment were the thing!). Apparently my mom is uncomfortable with the idea of guests commenting on the one that’s “different.” My cards are as professionally made as the Thomas Kinkades, yet the images I choose are antidotal to forced-marching-to-the-glowing-Christmas-cottage.

But never mind all that self-congratulatory poo, here are my excuses for not lifting a finger this year: (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.

(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…)

“I’m not a racist, but…”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Don’t have the nerve to be openly racist? Don’t say racist things.

BLACKS_CAN'T_SWIM_Where Excuses Go to DieThere’s nothing surprising about life circling back on karma leper Donald Sterling. And this week, L.A. feels like when they hauled the Space Shuttle Endeavor through the city: scores of Angelenos on the same proud page, even if only briefly.

Thank you Donald Sterling, shoo-in for the 2014 Utter Lack of Character Award.

As a former recipient myself, I fully admit to being an ethically spoiled A-hole in my early 20s – so much so that it took being dropped into an environment where everything I didn’t want to be crept or assaulted its way toward me every day, on a minute-by-minute basis. And frankly, it was really the only way for me to learn. The sole advantage I had was a dark sense of humor, which meant that one or two hostile wake-up calls were met halfway.

There are, though, three things I understood right off:

  1. Don’t hang around with people who like to punch others ‘cause they have to practice on someone (it’ll eventually be you)

  2. No matter what it is, say to their face. Own it. Force the other guy to do all the work, all the reacting, and all the resenting

  3. If you don’t know what racism is (learned, practiced, and legacy), you should probably shut the fuck up about how “Blacks can’t swim”

Equally clear to me (and everyone else) was that, behind bars, sentences never begin with, “I’m not a racist, but…” (more…)

Court Referred Community Service Diary – 4

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Where Excuses Go to Poop“My brain processed disgust and fault, but fairness also factored”

I meant to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time had passed I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center. Welcome to #4 in a series…(Here’s parts 12, and 3)

March/April 2014 – Goodwill Donation Center, Friday.

It’s one thing to work alongside Goodwill’s physically challenged employees and see the nonprofit’s bighearted claims of helping the disabled play out before you. It’s quite another thing to use a toilet after them.

HAIL SATAN_Where Excuses Go to DieBut first, a little scene setting…

Disabled persons selected to work at this particular Goodwill are essentially removed from the non-disabled. To use the employee break room, for example, they have to pass through the “regular” employees’ work areas, but not the other way around –because they’re stuck in a corner. They’re not banished in any way, but they do work in a rather lonesome neighborhood of the building.

I’d rather not exaggerate things by adding that their primary function –sorting donated clothes– is the most repellent of Goodwill tasks, but it’s true. It doesn’t help that the neighborhood in question is surrounded by a wall of six-foot roller-bins, clothing racks, and giant piles of donated garments. Benjamin Netanyahu would be jealous.

Donated Clothing Fun Fact: even by the time garments reach the floor, soiled handkerchiefs and, er, other items, can often be found in pockets. It’s dicey, sure, but my guess is everyone goes through a checking-pockets phase regardless. You can’t watch how nonchalantly bags of expensive clothing are thrown from luxury cars by people who decline receipts without letting your curiosity get the best of you. (more…)

Book of the Year Finalist

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

From secret prison journal pages to 2013 Book of the Year finalist.

indiefab-finalist-imprintThis is for you, Lotus Weinstock – thank you.

With the national dialogue on prison and sentencing reform as loud as it’s ever been in America, I couldn’t be happier that ForeWord Reviews, a quarterly trade review journal, has chosen Where Excuses Go to Die as a finalist for its annual Book of the Year awards.

The winner will be announced in June, in Vegas, at the American Library Association’s yearly pow-wow.

Among 13 other candidates in the autobiography & memoir (adult nonfiction) category, Where Excuses Go to Die is a testament to the insight, character, and generosity of education professionals and workshop instructors to whom I surrendered while incarcerated for, coincidentally enough, the armed robbery of multiple bookstores.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the book wins. What matters is that the rehabilitative methodology and milestone approach used to get my attention back then remains the primary takeaway in any discussion of the book’s merits. (more…)

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.

(more…)

“Get Character or Become One”

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The release date for Where Excuses Go to Die has finally arrived.

WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIE_Get Character or Become OneNot until today could the story behind this highly personal motto be told.

My reasons are simple. First, with today’s official publication of Where Excuses Go to Die, I’ve paid myself back for the opportunities, experiences, friends, and belongings that the consequences of my actions took from me. Second, a prison sentence was the first thing I ever started and saw through to the end, and the long journey of bringing this book to market would never have begun if I hadn’t formulated and maintained a relationship with delayed gratification. Neither would certain realizations have been triggered by the input of those I encountered along the way. The late comedienne Lotus Weinstock, for example, encouraged me to consider developing my newfound voice under less isolating circumstances, and her advice came just as the meaning of the concept — having a voice at all — was finally becoming clear.

Where Excuses Go to Die contains a good number of instances where the lights came on. But this is the most important of all: (more…)

(Exoneree) Freedom Isn’t Free

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Cornelius Dupree Jr. served 30 years before DNA evidence overturned his conviction on Jan. 4th. In fact, the man paroled before the wheels of justice turned in his favor.

Original Story: NYTimes.com

Hearing men repeatedly proclaim their innocence in prison is one of the first endless streams of noise that you learn to drown out in order to get some sleep. (more…)