Posts Tagged ‘Where Excuses Go to Die’

Confessions of a Texas Taunter

Monday, April 6th, 2015

TEXAS HATE LINEFor years I’ve sworn my epitaph will read, “…and he never set foot in Texas.”

  • Texas is one of the worst states to be either a child or an old person.
  • Its high school dropout rate makes the Alamo look like the Iwo Jima flag raising.
  • It seems fitting that this Lone Star of illiteracy is represented by a belt-buckle.
  • Gun-loving Texas is ranked last in the country in mental health spending and worst in health services, hospital care, and access to health insurance.
  • Its big #1 in carbon emissions and hazardous waste production is justified with claims of “per-resident emissions.”
  • Texans nearly top the list of most careless, worst drivers in America, but Houston scored 2014’s “Least Courteous” award. #guns
  • What’s not big in Texas? Voter turnoutcivic involvement, and political participation.

It’s a bit nitpicky to add that the average credit score in Texas has been the lowest in the country, because quality of life issues and countrified comedy gold are consequential, not illustrative. So instead, I’ll choose the one thing I’ve most openly mocked Texans for over the years – defending their vulgar bravado with “Don’t judge us ’til you hang with us.” (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.

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Brian Williams, War-face

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

BRIANS WORLD_Where Excuses Go to DieBrian “Get to the choppa!” Williams’s character lapse makes him one.

So much for Brian Williams’s war-face, eh? I don’t know if some of the Gonzo from his friendship with the late Hunter Thompson rubbed off, but it turns out the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot of Williams’s career may be his having forgotten that journalists aren’t free to insert themselves in the stories they report.

At least Williams had the sense to step away from his anchor desk before NBC could suspend him, as it has. The move separates him from lesser public figures who might busy themselves with all the attention or be convinced by others to turn it in their favor, something that rarely ends well.

There’s also the fact that, as a passenger in a Chinook troop-transport helicopter, your visibility is extremely limited. Without the benefit of combat experience or theater of operations training, it’d be nearly impossible to differentiate which helicopter in any convoy was actually being aimed at. Think about it, amidst all the sounds of combat – automatic weapons fire, shouting, explosions – would you be able to distinguish between RPG rounds and the flash-bang orange glow of infrared countermeasures (ICMs) being released around you? ICMs BRAIN WILLIAMS_DEATH OR STORY_Where Excuses Go to Dieare, after all, designed to confuse missile optics and throw off rocket trajectories, and pilots navigating threat zones have to be specially trained for these potentially blinding and disorienting visuals.

Besides, when you’re in a convoy taking fire, it matters little whether the first helicopter is being shot at or the last: the convoy is taking fire. If one of its soldiers gets hit by a piece of shrapnel, he’ll be eligible for a Purple Heart. And we always hear soldiers claim to be all “in this together” and that they’re fighting for the guy next to them.

So while embedded reporters certainly aren’t soldiers, the only real-world recognition they get is an unspoken eligibility to use the word “we.” Williams was in a convoy that took fire, and he technically faced the same danger as the other passengers, in uniform and out. He could’ve been killed. So, “we.” End of story. (more…)

Mindfulness as Technology

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Living in the moment - it doesn't have to be this way_Where Excuses Go to DieCourtesy of a Sunday op-ed, “Mindfulness as Technology” might stick with me for a least a week!

Ok, so I still like to read newspapers. There’s just something cathartic about being able to crumple up the stupidity I come across, and it takes a lot less time than entering a log-in to leave an angry comment. One is arguably empowering, the other simply self-aggrandizing. Besides, the Internet is great ‘n all, but compared to 130 years of industrial age headline-induced anger, the web is still preoccupied with its own genitalia.

For me, reading the paper is an exercise in delayed gratification. I first physically disassemble and reorder its parts from responsible to frivolous, from world affairs to the national scene, and from what’s happening around the state to local news. I save the culture, arts, and entertainment bits for last. It’s fairly meditative, so it fit to come across Teresa Jordan’s op-ed, “Seizing a Stetson does not make foil hats but it should_Where Excuses Go to Diemoment for mindfulness.” (Don’t ask me why titles are changed for online versions, but it might be a good thing you can’t crumple a laptop. Had I seen the online one first I would have skipped the piece).

Teresa Jordan is the author of The Year of Living Virtuously (Weekends Off), which is essentially about surviving distraction and obliviousness. Self-help books are lame – Where Excuses Go to Die once had a chapter called “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Chuy” that mocked the ones you find in prison – but these days so many are being written by people who hate ’em too that at least their titles reflect the removal of an important stick, if you get my drift. That makes it much easier to fight the urge to laugh at the sight of one. Plus I’m getting older, so my decades-long diet of nonfiction treachery, high weirdness, and absurdity is beginning to require balance. (more…)

2014 Golden Excuse – EMO PETS

Monday, December 29th, 2014

PIG LADY Photographed by passenger Robert Phelps_Where Excuses Go to DieEmo pets managed to upstage my long list of 2014’s “best” excuses…

Okay, had I been aboard the plane onto which a woman carried her 60-pound emotional support shit ‘n piss machine, the conversation would’ve likely gone something like this:

Me: Seriously? In coach?? This is a first class move. Since when do poors get to pull off such entitlement?
Pig Lady: Oh, but this is my friend. He’s an emotional support pet. I have a prescription and a letter from my doctor. 
Me: I see. Must be a prescription for combatting powerlessness with selfishness. What’s the letter say, dare I ask?
This little guy here_Where Excuses Go to DoodyPig Lady: How dare you! This is a psychiatric service animal! He’s critical to my mental health and/or treatment. 
Me: “And/or treatment”…You’re hilarious! I’ve got ten bucks that says before this oversold, flying gas can touches down, you’ll get spit on by one of these nice passengers.
Pig Lady: You’re disgusting.
Me: Conniving baloney. Treatment of what, by the way, therapeutic reduction in personal resilience?
Pig Lady: You judgmental, narrow-minded ass! 
Me: DUDE! You brought a squealing, urinating pig onto a flight where passengers are already treated like farm animals. Plus, that guy there is Muslim, so you’re definitely freaking him out. What if I kept kosher, or the lady in front of us was allergic? Try to think outside of your own headspace for a minute.
Pig Lady: Excuse me! I have documentation from a mental health professional stating that I require my pet to accompany me – 
Me: Sell it someplace else, Charlie. Sounds to me like you live behind a fantasy excuse for staying curled up in a little ball in the face of life’s challenges. I’m telling you, if this plane nosedives, I’m using you as a battering ram to get to the emergency exit.
Pig Lady: Oh my God! You’re threatening me!? I’m telling the flight attendant. Excuse me, miss? This man just said –
Me: I think you have pig poop on your shoes. 
Pig Lady: I do NOT! And who the hell are you to tell me my mental wellness is an excuse for – 
Me: In New Guinea they’d eat you and your incontinent buddy there. 
Pig Lady: I can’t believe this! Air Marshal! Air Marshal!
Me: (singsong): La-La-La-La, I’m not listening. One, two, Buckle my shoe; Three, four, Knock at the door…La-La-La…

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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…)

WHO THE HELL ROBS BOOKSTORES?

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

10/20 Where Excuses Go to Die at Univ. San Diego: Warren Auditorium

FREE WHERE EXCUSES GO TO DIE AUTHOR TALK WITH Q&A:

Many thanks to Gina DeLapa of Stuff You Already Know fame and the Department of School, Family and Mental Health Professions at the University of San Diego.

10-20-14_WHO THE HELL ROBS BOOKSTORES__Where Excuses Go to Die

.John Espinosa Nelson_Where Excuses Go to Die_Photo by Katie Ferguson

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…)

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.

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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…)