ITFO Newsletter #9 For-Profit Medical Corps Cut Corners

This is the current issue of the ITFO Newsletter.

You can read back issues from the button at the top of the newsletter.

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Some of the topics in this issue: 

Do Inmates Have the Right to Life?

Twin Cities IWOC Podcast – an interview with inmates about their experiences with the conditions inside prison

This “Is” Hell and I Can See “You” From Here

Prison Legal News – Deaths Due To neglect in U.S. Mail’s Reflect Nation’s Values

Prisoners With Physical Disabilities Are Forgotten and Neglected in America.

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ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to my newsletter about prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m editing. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

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Follow@Facebook  http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

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You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

Interview with Travis Runnels

It’s good to have something positive to post in the middle of so many things that need to be changed in the prison system. I met the author of this blog through Armando, an inmate I’ve written about before who is on death row in Ca. He is also an artist and he knew Anja Claudia Pentrop, who lives in Germany. Coincidentally, she and I connected through Jamie’s facebook page – jamielifeinprison because she saw a post I had written about Armando. It’s amazing how small the world is.

She has given artists behind bars a platform to show their work. A person, any person, no matter what they have done isn’t defined by that action as being all they are. An artist is still an artist. A writer is still a writer, a father is still a father. Being in a prison for life is something you and I could never understand. Something wrong may have been committed but there is an entire person who has done many other things that make up who they are. If their punishment is life in prison then that is their punishment. I don’t believe in adding inhumane treatment out of vengeance if they have remorse. They have already been given the ultimate loss – their life was taken away.

So let the artist leave a legacy and leave a positive footprint in the sand.

Art Through Prison Bars

Before Travis got any kind of feedback of the collaborative art exhibition
„Death Penalty vs. Human Rights (1)”which I mentioned in the post before I sent him an interview to get his thoughts.

Also other death row prisoners from Zambia and the USA participated with art pieces inside the exhibition which was an idea by Travis and me.

The interview was given to some people from different newspaper so do not wonder that I am writing about myself as “an artist from Germany”.

Questions Anja Claudia Pentrop Answers Travis Runnels

You had worked with an artist from Germany to create an art show about the death penalty and human rights. What did that mean to you to be part of that creation and the organziation of the show?
A chance, an opportunity to reach out to people through words and images. It gave me a feeling of purpose that…

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What Happens After Prison?

turn back time

What happens when I get out? I will want to live right, get a job and care for my family, but because I have been locked up, everyone who looks at me will only see is a person who has failed. It won’t matter who I am or why. Do you know why so many end up back in prison? I’ve talked to so many men over these years who have been in and out and back in again. It’s because during the time they are in here all they do is talk about doing what they did to get in prison the whole time they are in here. They can’t see themselves living any other kind of life. Some want to change but theyj think next time they won’t get caught.

You are right, depression is an issue for many. It’s too much to put on paper, really. Just so you know, I talked to a lady from Mental Health. She sees the stress and depression in here. She also told me she saw some thinking errors in our conversation. Of course I had left out a lot. We talked about my mom. I’m worried I might lose her while I’m in here. That scares me.

Okay now, get this. I promise you it happened. I woke up at the some time in the morning, crying. I was really sobbing. I looked at my clock and it was blinking. I was afraid. It was fear of what will happen. I knew it was 3 something. I could hear the guards. They were feeding breakfast. Why was I crying? I had this dream of being called to the fourth floor of a hospital only to be told my mom was dead. I remember in the dream I called my brother Anti to tell him. Then I just broke down. Yes, some of it is fear of what will happen. The struggle is always hard.

There will always be obstacles. Where will I live? I don’t know. I don’t want to stay in a halfway house. Texas is not where I want to be, but it is where my son is. I’ve never been anywhere else. This is not a good state for me. I want to see what else is out there. Wouldn’t it be great to take a road trip and drive all over and see everything? How do I know where I want to be if I haven’t been anywhere at all except inside walls?

download
ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to my newsletter about prison issues and inmate writings. It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m editing. Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni’s Pinterest

You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

 

Life, Love and Letters to Zoey #30

The writings of another inmate. Many people have written harsh things about inmates. “They got what they deserve,”even when they don’t know it is they got or what he got or why he was there. All inmates are not monsters or murderers or child molesters. Many sentences are long to the point of absurdity and the only benefit goes to the prison industrial complex who gets paid for every full bed. Our prisons are so corrupt it is shameful. Screw inmates up. Make sure they are unable to survive. Get them back. The revolving door is cheaper than the first time around.

Chad Eric Hollamon

Dearest Zoey,

It’s actually a few minutes since I wrote the last letter. I reread it and thought it sounded too negative. It wasn’t supposed to come out like that but it did. That’s the beauty about writing – I’m able to see how I think, no matter if it was meant to be negative or positive. I’m also able to learn more about myself from writing. I reflect back on my words and see my feelings in back and white.

An inmate passed me right before I began this second letter. While he was walking he commented, “Chad. You writing Zoey?” I talk to him on occasions and he’s aware of me having a blog and me dedicating Life, Love and Letters to Zoey on it. Guess he noticed our routine. After he got a few dozen feet away, I wondered if he had a special Zoey in his…

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Is Prison The Answer To Violence

An advocate (and survivor) makes the case for another approach.
By BILL KELLER

This article is not the words on the video.

Danielle Sered is the founder and director of Common Justice, which works with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and crime victims to negotiate alternatives to prison for people who commit violent felonies. Her report, “Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Reduce our Failed Reliance on Incarceration,” has just been published by the Vera Institute of Justice. She talked to TMP’s Bill Keller. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

One of the myths of criminal justice reform is that you can cut the prison population in half by freeing non-violent offenders: the guy who sold a little weed to his classmates, the shoplifter, people who have done stupid things but aren’t necessarily scary. As you know, more than half of those who are incarcerated are there for violent crimes, and many of those who are sentenced for nonviolent crimes plead down from more serious charges. These are people who frighten us — and they really frighten politicians. You want us to think differently about them. Explain.

Danielle Sered is the director of Common Justice, an organization that operates an alternative-to-incarceration and victim service program for serious and violent felonies. PAUL LEWIS ANDERSON

I think there are a handful of reasons we have to think differently about how we approach the question of violence. The first relates to what you just said, which is that we will not end mass incarceration without taking on the question of violence. We have a choice. We either give up the aspiration of ending mass incarceration or we steer into the question of what to do about people who commit harm.

The other reason is that if you ask survivors of violent crime what they’re worried about, it’s people who may hurt them. And many don’t trust police to protect them. We know that fewer than half of victims of violence call the police in the first place when they’re hurt. That’s a profound indictment of our system.

Let me pick up on that. In your report, “Accounting for Violence,” your first principle is that the response to violent crime should be survivor-centered. What if the thing the survivor really needs in order to feel safe is to just lock away the bad guy for a long, long time. How much should that weigh in the outcome?A survivor-centered system is not the same as a survivor-ruled one. We never would argue that what a crime survivor wants should be the only factor we take into account. If a crime survivor wants somebody free and we have real reason to believe that person will go on to hurt other people, then we may have an obligation to incarcerate that person.

Similarly, if the survivor wants a really harsh sentence, we should listen to that. We should heed it, but we shouldn’t be driven exclusively by their pain. Centering survivors means consistently listening to survivors. It means taking their input seriously. It definitely means stopping the practice of advancing policy reform in their names without having asked them in the first place what they want.

Another of your principles is that policies should be accountability-based and you call on us to, I’m quoting from your report, “Make a commitment to real accountability for violence in a way that is more meaningful and more effective than incarceration.” What kind of alternative forms of accountability do you have in mind for, say, someone accused of a violent crime, of a rape, or an assault, or a murder.

Common Justice, the project I direct, doesn’t work with rape or murder, but we do work with assault cases and use a restorative justice practice to address that harm. Restorative justice has been demonstrated both to meet the needs of victims and to reduce recidivism, which means we can deliver on healing and safety at the same time. We don’t have to choose between them.

What’s powerful about those kinds of processes is it forces somebody who has committed harm to come face-to-face with the human impact of what they’ve done. That is a hard thing to do and we know from our experience it is often also a transformative thing to do. One of the problems with prison is that there is never a time in the prisoner’s incarceration where they are required to actually grapple with the impact their choices had on other people’s lives.We’ve ended up with a country that is very rich in punishment and very poor in accountability. It’s our belief that we have to right those scales.It might help if you would talk me through a typical restorative justice case. How does it get started? How does it play out?

Some restorative justice projects are embedded in the criminal justice system and others aren’t. For the ones that are embedded, it begins with some agreement on the part of the prosecutor and the court to allow the case to proceed through that process rather than through the standard court process. Very often, the court process is suspended to allow for that, and the court hands the case over to the restorative justice process. If it is successful, the person will not be incarcerated. If it is unsuccessful, they will be.

Does the victim, survivor, have to sign off on it? In most projects, and certainly in Common Justice, they absolutely do. What’s striking about that is that 90 percent of the victims who have had the choice between seeing the person who hurt them in Common Justice and seeing them in prison have chosen Common Justice. 90 percent is a crazy number in a world where we have a hard time finding 50 percent agreement on anything these days. It’s not just because they’re merciful or compassionate or believe in second chances, it’s very often pragmatic. They’re choosing the thing they believe will satisfy their own needs for safety and justice.

Once the process starts, the person who is responsible for the harm, at Common Justice we call them the responsible party, goes through an intensive preparatory period.They go through a violence intervention curriculum and they prepare themselves to sit with the people they’ve hurt and answer for what they’ve done. We then convene a dialogue, which is typical of restorative justice processes, that brings together the person who committed the harm, the person they hurt, their support people and community members. The victim doesn’t have to come if they don’t want to. They can be represented by a surrogate. Most choose to come. In that circle we reach agreement about how the responsible person can make things as right as possible. They include things you’d expect, like, go to school, do community service, get a job, pay restitution. They also include things we might not expect, like, the harmed and responsible party meeting each other’s children, because as the victim said, “I want you to meet the children whose father you almost took from them that night with your gun. I believe today in the father you could be to your baby girl and I want to say that to her face.”

Those agreements replace the prison sentence that the responsible person would otherwise have served.You’ve done about a hundred cases, right?Around 70.That’s, of course, 70 out of many thousands of cases, presumably, that have passed through the Brooklyn DA’s office. How do you scale restorative justice, or is it likely to continue to be a niche strategy?I think some of how we scale it actually relates back to your first question about the political landscape. Restorative justice is resource intensive. But it is nowhere near as resource intensive as incarceration.

The real barrier to expanding restorative justice has to do with our collective willingness to embrace strategies to address violence that can be demonstrated to actually reduce it. It means choosing pragmatism over emotionality. It means choosing safety over rhetoric.Of course, we’re talking a few days after the inauguration of a president who does not seem to be a likely ally in the quest for restorative justice. Are you feeling a sense of despair?

There are a couple of reasons I feel hopeful about this work even in this new era we’re entering. One is that the vast majority of criminal justice issues are local. They’re state laws that have been violated. They’re prosecuted by people who are elected, not just in states, but in their localities. I think we’ve seen a huge appetite for reform. We’ve seen elections of progressive prosecutors and progressive sheriffs even in places that voted for Trump.

One of the places we’ve seen restorative justice really embraced is Texas, which is not what we would expect. I think there is something about the directness of it, the fact the people can address problems without government having a central place in the resolution, but rather the people themselves agreeing to fix it. It’s actually compatible with a lot of people and a lot of places who have also ushered in this new era we’re entering into. I think who will and won’t be supportive of it is probably far more complex and probably less predictable than we might think.

Okay. I wanted to ask you about the vocabulary, the nomenclature. You make a practice of using “survivors,” rather than “victims,” and “responsible persons,” rather than “offenders” and “harm” rather than “crime.” Why?

First of all, I think the language we use, it conjures an image and it conjures a history. Every time we say a word, part of us hears every other time we’ve heard it. We can’t say the word “offender” and not partly hear all the stories we’ve ever been told about offenders. We’re also, when we say, for example, “harmed party” and “responsible party,” part of that is about defining people in relationship to an event and not assuming their whole identity is defined by that event. If I’m the responsible party in one case, I may be the harmed party in another. For most of us, that’s true. We’ve both caused harm and survived harm, every one of us.When we ask people who have been through harm how they want to identify, most prefer the word “survivor” to “victim.” It reflects more of their power and centers the attention on their ability to come through something rather than just that it happened to them.

I want to come back to the politics of this. A recurring theme among reformers is that we won’t really overcome the problems of violent crime until we overcome racism and inequality. As you put it in your report, “Change the socio-economic and structural conditions that make violence likely in the first place.” That’s obviously a massive, transformative task. In the meanwhile, while we wait for the revolution, reformers have a strategic choice to make. Do you go for the low hanging fruit, the three strikes laws and the mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes, or do you hold out for broader reform that reduces incarceration for violent offenses as well?

I think there are two different ways to think about that. One is to recognize that incarcerating large numbers of people for violence isn’t neutral in terms of its effect on violence. Incarceration itself can have a criminogenic effect, both on the individual and community level. The fact is that a person’s incarceration can increase their likelihood of committing further violence. I think we have to understand incarceration as a risk factor for violence on a community level and have to address it as such.

In terms of how we make decisions as advocates about whether we address non-violent or violent crime, I absolutely believe that when we can advance reform for non-violent crime we should do so. I believe securing people’s freedom and advancing justice and right-sizing the criminal justice system is something we should do at every turn. My concerns when we do that is the framing or rhetoric that expressly contrasts those people whose freedom we are advocating against people who have committed violence. We say, “Some people are monsters, but these ones aren’t. Don’t put these people in jail with those terrible people who are inherently bad.”It’s the conjuring of that image of the imagined, monstrous other that is dangerous and that is counterproductive and that sets back collective efforts to address violence. The efforts to win interim victories that are available are absolutely part of the larger process of ending mass incarceration. There are still hundreds of thousands of people locked up for non-violent and drug- related crimes, whose sentences are too long, where our response was inappropriate and those things should be transformed. We shouldn’t do that by comparison. We should fight for those things in their own right.

I’m curious whether in doing this work, you talk to survivors about your own experience as a survivor? In my engagement with survivors, I’m really careful to make sure that their experience, and not mine, stays at the center of our engagement. I will definitely identify as a survivor with them. In public conversations and in conversation with folks in the criminal justice system, I absolutely do reflect on my experience as a survivor, and I think what that does is it allows other people to do it too. When we go to our inventory of our own experience and ask ourselves what we would have wanted, almost always what we would have wanted is something that would have made us safe and would have really allowed us to believe that others wouldn’t experience the harm we experienced.The fact that the criminal justice system that was available to me when I was hurt couldn’t produce that feeling of safety compounded the harm I experienced. I wanted to be able to call somebody who would address it in a way that made me think the fact of my calling had at least prevented someone else from getting hurt. The fact that I couldn’t believe that was painful and remains painful. You obviously, from what you’re saying, you clearly did not go through a restorative justice process.

First of all, it feels important to say that while white women are the people we often most imagine as victims of crime, we are very far from the most likely to survive it. Actually, a young man of color is ten times more likely than me to be robbed or assaulted. It means my experience of violence as a white woman is actually really an outlier and not as central as our national narrative.

Of all of the people who’ve harmed me, none of them were apprehended. Some were known to me. Some were not. Some were in the context of rampant neighborhood violence. Some were in the context of intimate relationships. Not a single one of them went through the criminal justice system. Sometimes it was because of my choice. Sometimes because of the failure of that system to address the harm.I think most of us survive harm that never makes it to the doors of the criminal justice system. I think one of the things that is promising about developing new strategies to address violence, including community-based restorative justice, is that we not only have a better solution for the crimes that the criminal justice system is already handling, but we have a solution that may be able to reach the crimes that the system is not handling.We have solutions that can get to people who don’t call 9-1-1. That half of victims who don’t even pick up the phone in the first place begin to have an access. It means we can actually develop violence intervention strategies that are far broader than what the criminal justice system can ever deliver, because the criminal justice system only deals with people who’ve been caught.

The Most Comfortable Cell in the World

A new blogger. An X-prisoner sharing his thoughts after nearly 10 years inside. Someday Jamie will get out. Maybe this man can teach me things for when that happens. I don’t know. But I wanted to encourage you to go to his blog and help him get started. He has something to say worth reading.

Soul On Rice

My New Years resolutions were always the same:
(1) To stay out of confinement, “The Box.” (2) To count my blessings and be thankful for every moment. (3) To wake up happy.

Only weeks into the new year and I had already violated the first one. I was sitting on my bunk, the top one, feet swinging, looking out the window. It was difficult because the window guard was a steel sheet with hundreds of quarter-inch holes in it. To get a good look outside I had to press my nose against that cold perforated window guard and make sure my pupils were aligned with two of the holes. If done properly a portion of the prison compound would be visible and you’d get to see the sun blanketing the grass, making it a bright green, like it was glowing. I’m sure others looked through those confinement windows trying to spot their…

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Black Mothers, Black Sons, and Enmeshment

This is well written and talks about other aspects that affect more than just black households. But it is more common I believe, because there is a higher percentage of household with no father. Not necessarily because they want it that way but because they have to visit him in prison.There are many families where there is only a mother. The effect it has on the children isn’t realized until they are on their own also trying to maintain relationships and raising children, but never had a good example to follow.

Black Leadership Analysis

I want to start by saying I am not detailing problems unique in the black community or saying black people suffer from this pathology more. However, I will say that enmeshment coupled with economic disenfranchisement causes a different manifestation of enmeshment. This article will detail how I have seen this issue play out over time.

Enmeshment, also called emotional incest, is when a parent uses a child for emotional support in a way that is normal for a husband or boyfriend. The parent typically takes an opposite sex child and elevates them above their romantic partner. Due to this elevation, the child will have issues in his or her future romantic relationships. Enmeshment will manifest itself in a child with an irrational avoidance of intimacy or irrational need to rush intimacy in the child’s adult life.

Due to the system of economic disenfranchisement, black people have a harder time gaining…

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How Lonely is Your Prison Cell, Jamie

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Dear Jamie,

I was listening to some music on you tube last night and heard a singer who isn’t well known. Her voice was like silk, like running your fingers through honey. Lift your fingers and the words were pulled together. I don’t know if you recognize the words or can hear the melody in your head. It’s an old tune. I listened to it over and over and tears were running down my cheeks.

Sonni Quick   copyright 2017

This is not the music I was listening to that night. This is one of the first pieces I’ve recorded since the surgery on my arm from a fall in Oct. I was afraid I would be unable to play again. It’s painful and I can’t play for long but it should heal within a year. No gigs until then. Karma is a funny thing. It creates obstacles to overcome and it did a good job with this one. I had just decided to come out of retirement from playing professionally.  My last gig was 14 years ago. I decided age was not going to be a factor. I went in a new direction with my music and I liked where it was going. It was time to get back out there. I have not heard pianists be able to improvise the way I do and keep the continuity of a storyline going. It took the vivid emotions of what Jamie has been through to pull the music out of me this way.  The least I can do is play it for him. I destroyed my vocal cords and can’t sing anymore so I can’t use words to convey what I’m feeling. The music has to do that for me now.  I don’t really pay attention when I play. My fingers know what they are doing and play what I’m feeling. So Jamie, this is for you.

***************

I often think of you sitting in your cage with your life wasting away, not being able to choose for yourself how you want to spend your day. It makes me sad. Is this the result of a thousand years of justice for the black man? If it is America has nothing to be proud of and certainly can’t call itself a great nation.  Not with so much dirt on it’s hands. If you being in prison was going to do one positive thing for society, or if it was going to make you a better person, it could be different. But there is no value to what is happening to you.

Is the world safer with you locked up? Does it help anything anywhere? Have you “paid” for your crime and does paying with more years mean anything good anywhere? Are you ever done paying? Or are you just playing the part our society designated you should pay long before you were born? How would I feel knowing other people were getting rich by keeping me locked up like a caged animal and thought I had no worth. You should be the one to feel the benefit of being alive, because whether or not those in charge recognize your life has value, it does not mean it doesn’t. You, and so many like you were not born to be a slave for anyone to make a profit from. If they think the law of cause and effect doesn’t apply to them, and that their lives will escape the effect they deserve, they are sadly mistaken. No one escapes the causes they make. Their money will be no good and they will pay with their own lives instead.

I know there are many who are locked who are too far gone mentally to live outside those walls. Many were too damaged long before they lost their life to the system and can’t safely be let out. But that is only a percentage of those inside. The rest of you inside are only parts in their machine. But so little is done for you to make it possible to live on your own like free men. The adjustment between inside and outside is too great for many to make the transition no matter how badly someone wants it. They have no experience living the life they want and end up inside again where they want you. Where corporations get paid on the body count.

No matter how badly you want to be out here, the road blocks set up, keeping you from succeeding, are very high. Nobody gives a damn. In their eyes you are just another worthless, stupid, lazy, black man.  They don’t know you.  They don’t care if you have a chance or not.  All they know is you aren’t white, as though being white is all a person needs to have quality, as our top Republican racist, Paul Ryan, has been so pointed in telling us. All black people need is help from rich white men.  What a joke.

I don’t know what will happen before you get out in six years, but no one I have talked to has a positive feeling about the future of this country with the direction it is headed in.  Trump wants to make it easier to lock you up, easier for cops to kill you and lengthen the mandatory minimums. All I want is for things to be better by the time you get out. Good night. Sleep well. Meet me on the hill at 8 PM. I’ll bring a picnic dinner.

Meet you on the hill , riding bikes

***************

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ITFO Newsletter

Subscribe to my newsletter about prison issues and inmate writings.  It would be a tremendous help as I build my mailing list for the book I’m editing.  Those who receive the newsletter will have the opportunity to download it for free when it is ready to publish.

http://facebook.com/jamielifeinprison . . .Blog posts and news about injustice in the world

Sonni’s Pinterest

You can also follow the blog by email so you don’t miss any posts. That, too, is in the info beneath the post

Issue #8 of the ITFO Newsletter

gay-in-prison

Because of my limited html coding knowledge I can’t get the the newsletter to print out here. So I’ll give you the link that will pull it up for you and save me the frustration of figuring it out (or waking my husband up from his old hippie before dinner nap!)

I only ask (plead,cajole with a smile) that if you like what I have so far accomplished, to click on the subscribe button and add your name to the mailing list, and then send it to any social media accounts you have to help me grow.

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I am finally, in short spurts back to work continuing to edit the book I wrote that got put on hold while my thoroughly crumbled broken arm bone begins to heal. It’s hard to hold my arm up very long so I can type and my chapter files are on my computer, not my tablet. The nerves in my wrist and fingers are starting to heal so I can press my fingers down.  All in all it’s been a real pain.  But everything happens for a reason. It is giving me more time to build my mailing list.  Those addresses on the list will get first notice when it is being published and for a limited time can download the book for free. I’m still not sure if I will go for a traditional publisher because it costs a considerable amount to pay for editing and formatting and book cover art.  The more addresses I have and the more followers I have on all social media, and here at wordpress, can make a big difference on whether they think I am a good enough risk as an unknown author.

I know sometimes when I subscribe to something I end up getting up to three emails a day from them and end up trashing them and unsubscribing. I don’t have time to send out a bunch of emails. It takes 2-3 days to put together one issue. I’ve been putting out one issue a month so you won’t get flooded.  Click on the archive button and take a look at the issues I’ve put out since last May.  It’s been a learning process, but you can see the topics I’ve covered so far.

Anytime you share this anywhere it is a big help.  There are so many people and families who have been impacted by our justice system and it is going to get worse unfortunately. There are already 40 prisons built for deportations so the CEOs of the Prison Industrial Complex is probably drooling over all the money they are going to make locking up immigrants.  Because they have no rights they are getting even less medical care and worse food than the inmates that come from this country and they have no right to an attorney.  No matter how you feel about immigrants they shouldn’t be looked at as profit.  They are building and then auctioning off the prisons with the promise of an unending supply of people to fill them.

Once again here is the link

Thank you

My Dear Grandchildren- I am Afraid For You

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 My Dear Grandchildren – I Am Afraid For You

Over the last eleven years I began my study into America’s prison system. I never knew anyone who went to prison before my daughter’s boyfriend was arrested. I knew nothing about prison except what I saw in movies. Until I was in my 40’s there weren’t any weekly TV series that took place in prison. All the shows with cops showed them a pillars of the community. They we the good guys. No wonder it is so hard to see them as bad guys now. Good cop, bad cop, they all look the same. So the average person has had no way to understand what happened inside prisons unless they had family locked up. Then they learned the truth about our justice system and their plans for them and their families.

My grandson’s father and I began writing to each other. I was appalled by the things he told me about how they were treated. How could they treat people like that? It’s inhumane. So I began to study and read everything I could to find about what it is like to be black in this country because it looked like it was almost all blacks in every photos I saw. There are a lot of white people in prison, too, but if you go by the photos in the news it is portrayed as black mass incarceration. Why? Were black people that bad? Or were black people, being suppressed since slaves were freed, and became a tool to be used to get presidents elected.

In 1975, when I was twenty-one, I met a man who said he worked for a government agency I won’t name because at that time he made me promise not to. Besides, he may still be alive. He was infiltrating the top level of the KKK in Houston. He never told me any names. I don’t even know if his name was real. For five years he would drop in on me wherever I lived. He would tell me things but never enough that I could repeat and get him in trouble. I think he just needed someone to talk to sometimes. We talked about race problems and how important it was for the government and the KKK to make people continue to believe black people were inferior in their minds; incapable of deep rational thought. Inferior. Keeping racism going important politically. He even asked if I wanted to join to see for myself. I remember laughing about it then, but I didn’t join. I do remember thinking that maybe black people were a different species of human and not as good a white people. After all, the government kept up the idea that blacks have a criminal gene that makes them a danger just because they are black. In 1980 this man came by my house after the birth of my second child. He gave me a card and a gift, held the baby for a few minutes and said he had to go. I never saw him again. I have often wondered what happened to him.

Something had been going on for a long time and most white people had been brainwashed into believing it. To this day they STILL believe it. Some are waking up, but not enough. There is still an enormous fight for equality. The government still tries to tell people that people of color – all people of color are inferior or to be feared. Now we have to build really big walls to hide behind or to keep people out and keep people in,  like Berlin.  Separate families. Some on one side and some on the other. This is to keep the fear fresh in their minds.  There are still people who want to believe this, and thinking it sets them up on a superior pedestal. But all it really does is exactly the opposite. It tears us apart.

MY GROWING UP YEARS

Before this, throughout my life, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t see it affecting my life. I wasn’t black. In fact, my entire life growing up I was scared of black people. I was scared of the kids I went to school with. Why? Because they were different and no one explained that to me. Why were they kept separate? We fear what we don’t understand. Was it something I read? Who taught me to be afraid? Was it the fact that they lived on their side of town and “we”  white people lived on our side of town, which we knew as the better side of town.  

Black people weren’t allowed to live on our side oof town. I heard things. If a black family were to move into our neighborhood, property values would go down. I heard they didn’t know how to take care of their houses. Proof? Look how poor their houses were. Black kids walked down my street to get to the big park at the end of the block. They always walked on the side of the street by the ice cream factory, never in front of the houses. They never talked to us. We never talked to them. No one told me why. I was never told to be friendly. It was just understood they were different and we didn’t mix with them.

My mother sold Tupperware. Over the years she had dozens of women who she managed in her unit. Many times, when we later talked about this, she always told me how she wasn’t prejudiced. She had a black woman in her unit – one black woman in all those years. She told me how nice she was. We also had a black cleaning lady named Violet who came once a week. The only time I ever went into the black neighborhood was to go with my mother to drive Violet home. The bread factory was there and the smell when it was baking was intoxicating.

Since black people were never talked about in my house, and black kids didn’t go to the same schools, I had no black friends. there were none to talk to. But they weren’t talked about negatively, either. Still, I grew up afraid of them.  But I was also curious. What did their hair feel like? Did their skin feel like mine? People fear what they don’t understand. Later in life, visiting my street, it was run down. Many houses were turned into rental properties. I saw black families. An old neighbor said, “See what happens when the blacks move in?”. But it wasn’t because of blacks, it was because of renters. Renters don’t put money into keeping a place looking good and the owners of that property don’t keep it up for renters. Too often renters – any renter – trashes the property. It was sad looking at my old house, and it was white people living in it.

When I think back, it was so easy for so many people to believe what they were told. After all it was our government telling us what to believe. We also believe how our community believes, in social issues and religion. How could we not believe our government who we thought was trying to protect us. We had no way of knowing the true intentions. We were taught to be ignorant. No adult ever talked about the race issues. At last no one talked to the kids, especially in the 60’s. Not one word was said. I graduated high school in 1972, still knowing nothing.

This summer I will be going to my 45th  class reunion. Many of these same students will be there. I’d like to talk to some of them about that time period in our lives.  Do they remember? Maybe they can help me understand what happened. I’m connected to some of them on facebook. I never thought before how this affected them. How many had families who were caught up into what America did to so many black families. How do we undo the damage we all did by falling in line and believing the garbage our government put out over our trusted evening news and our trusted newspapers? Too many people still believe it and watch programs like Fox News which doesn’t tell the truth any more than the rag sheets like The Enquirer. It’s pathetic what people believe as the truth.

Nothing in my life has devastated me more, and has caused more pain in my heart than watching the ripping apart of the dignity and lives of so many people. having the life sucked out of them in prison and continue to be destroyed even after they are released. What is the difference between them and the kids in my home town? How can we all get together and meet and catch up and not talk about the elephant in the room. Are my white classmates prejudiced against my black classmates? Is this small group of people somehow different from the rest of America’s? Do they understand the reason for why Black Lives Matter? Black lives have never mattered, so All lives can’t matter until black lives matter. It hurts my heart like nothing else ever has. I didn’t understand. I do now. Yes, other lives have been trampled on in this country by the white man, but my families blood is mixed now with black blood so this is also the degradation of my people, too. I can’t separate who I am from who you are.

***************

Grandsons you are young. My granddaughter, you are almost grown and are too removed from me for you to understand who I am, and hopefully one day you may want to know who I am. When caught between two parents who love you it is easy to think the truth belongs to only one. As you mature I can only hope someday you will look for the other half that completes the truth and helps you understand how much you’ve lost by not being able to understand both the white and the black families you are part of. I have been fighting the best way I know how to educate people who don’t understand.

I have read hundreds of articles and watched dozens of videos and movies. I have written and read hundreds and hundreds of lnd.ters from inmates and written hundreds of articles to bring alive the fact that the people in prison are ordinary people like you and me who breathe and hope and dream. Yes, some are violent criminals but we also have violent people on the outside and some of them are the people who are supposed to protect us. But the majority of the people in prison are there to make money for corporations like  CCA ( Corrections Corporation of America) who still depend on slave labor for profit. They created a monster with an appetite that needs to be fed.

It is you boys I worry about the most because not much can be done to protect you. When the white cop looks at you they won’t see the white in you. You will have no privilege in their eyes. You will be another dangerous black kid and if you breath wrong they will shoot you. They may just shlot you anyway and make up a story that they thought you were reaching for a fictional weapon. They will only see black. You can’t stay protected inside your white mother’s house forever, always in her presence. She isn’t worried enough. “I’ve taught my sons to respect authority.” But has authority been taught to respect her sons? No.

I watched a movie tonight. “13th”  I could hardly make it to the end. It talked about The death of Emmet Till. This is the third time in two weeks I have read of him even though he died so long ago. How coincidental is it that the woman, now age 81, who accused this boy of flirting with her when he was 14 and white men beat and mutilated him, came clean in 2007 and said she lied. It’s too late now. But it is only now, ten years later that it is in the news. The courts decided not to prosecute the guilty parties. I thought there was no statute of limitations on murder. If Emmet had lived he would be 70. The woman went into hiding and it doesn’t sound like she had a happy life. Why did she do it? How could anyone do that? But they do – to this day, they still do. Grown men killed this child because he was black. White people have killed black children and men to this daplllpppy. They are mentally sick to hate people because of the color of their skin.

How man people have died and the killer. got away with it by saying they were afraid of the color of his skin? We can’t even prosecute them? They are killed for sport because they think of black people as being unworthy. Who is to say one day a white person would say they are afraid of you and decided you needed to die. Or maybe they decided you looked like a dangerous child and handcuffed you, took you out of school and sent you to juvenile detention. It happens every day. You will be judged, not by who you are, but by what you look like.

It is easy for a white person to say, “I’m not racist!”  But would you be suspicious of someone just because he wore a sweatshirt with a hood. Would you cross to the other side of the street if he was walking toward you? Would you fear for your life in a black neighborhood because you think they are all drug dealers and criminals? Have you been brainwashed to be afraid?

Until American government stops what they are doing, and I don’t see that happening, my family isn’t safe. The black race has never been safe and I never understood that.  Not deep inside where it counts. I knew everything that happened but I didn’t know how it felt. I didn’t understand the repercussions.

Could white politicians all clambering to be the next “law and order” leader; think of the destruction they have been advocating as they declared the black man dangerous?  It is still happening. TWO DAYS AGO,  Our top Republican, Paul Ryan, who can’t decide if he is for or against Trump, as he contemplates his own career, declared black people are inferior, lazy, and don’t want to work. We should take away all social structures to help poor people and the rich white men should mentor them and teach them how to do things. I gagged with vomit.

I knew then that this new Trump administration wasn’t done doubling down on black people but he has also added anyone else who isn’t white to the list. Yet Trump declared while campaigning, “Black people are going to love me! They have never had it so good as they will with me! Vote for me! What have you got to lose!”  Then he threatens the city of Chicago. Clean up your city or Ill send in the Feds!”

America is a scary place because of all the different people they hate – in the name of God. Murder charges for doctors who perform legal abortions. Lock up grade school kids for an after school fight. Lock up a little girl for shaking her first at a cop. Run down a protester with your car and kill him? That’s okay. Report the news as a journalist and get locked up. This is our America now.

Grandsons, I will do my best to protect you. I will do my best to reach as many people as I can to help them understand what has happened. This is my promise to you. This is my reason for living. It is the focus of my day – every day.  I love you dearly as I do all of my seven grandchildren, but you are the ones who will have to fight for the privileges my other grandchildren will take for granted because they are white.

I’m so sorry.

***************

The piano improvisation was the first recording made since the surgery on my arm. When it was injured I feared I would be unable to play again.  It has taken a few months but gradually I am able to lift my arm and make my fingers move. There is still nerve damage that makes it painful to move my wrist back and forth, and press fingers down with even, controlled pressure.  It is very painful to sit up straight for any length of time.  In order to play gigs I have to be able to sit and play three 45 minute sets, so I have a lot of work to do.

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