NPR -Investigations Into Prisons – Part 2

This is the second part of an interview on August 25 on the real conditions of Federal prisons for profit that most people are unaware exist. It’s time to bring this out in the open.

The way it was reported, like the way the release of 6000 Federal inmates released last year was reported, it gave you the feeling that it directly affected our own citizens, but really that percentage was very small.  CCA and GEO and others are prevalent through the state prisons as well as the Federal, but most of the inmates by far are in state prisons.  Everyone who has a friend or loved one in a prison knows exactly what these corporations do and have been fighting them for a long time. Lousy food, inadequate education if they give it at all, medical care that kills people and on and on. 

So these corporations have no had their wrists slapped. Stock temporarily took a hit, but they didn’t get hit where it hurts.  They need to be ousted from all of the prisons.  But which politicians are in bed with them?  that is what we need to know. Make the government do their job.  They can give lip service and say things like they know how bad it is but as long as they have contracts with these companies they can’t put their money where their mouth is. If they continue to renew contracts with them after this, they are letting themselves in for trouble from many people because then it becomes yet another line of bullshit about wanting to change the prison system and take care of the vast amount of people who have been given outrageous sentences or shouldn’t be in there in the first place – yet not actually do anything about it.

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DAVIES: Our guest today, Seth Freed Wessler is an investigative reporter who spent much of the past four years looking into conditions at the 13 privately operated prisons in the federal corrections system.

fair care for all
Enter a caption

Let’s talk about how this whole financial arrangement works and how it might connect to some of these issues. You know, a lot of the services that government provides aren’t provided by public employees. They’re done in private contracts.

You know, building roads – I mean, typically, private construction companies competitively bid for work. They complete it. It’s inspected. And they’re paid. Let’s talk about how it works for prisons. How does a contract typically work for a private prison?

It must be a big, expensive thing to build a prison. How long are the contracts? What are the provisions? What are the standards and the methods for making sure that the contractors live up to them?

WESSLER: So the Bureau of Prisons puts out calls for proposals when they want to open a new private prison. And a group of companies – at this point, really, only three companies – Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and a company called Management and Training Corporation bid for these contracts.

cca. prison corporations, prison industrial complex
photo source: correctionsproject.com

The contracts usually last about 10 years. And during that period of time, there are points when the Bureau of Prisons can decide whether to extend the contract further. One of the main reasons that the federal government decided to contract in the first place is that it believed that contractors could save money.

And there are real questions about whether that’s actually happened. But even if the prisons cost about the same, which is what research suggests, what’s different about private prisons from prisons run by governments is that – let’s say you’re spending – the government spends a hundred dollars per prisoner.

In a public prison, a prison run by the government, all of that money is going to the management of the facility. But in the context of private prisons, some of that money is profit for these companies. And so there is an incentive to cut down on costs.

And one of the most expensive parts of federal prisons – of prisons in general – is the operation of medical care. What I found in my reporting – interviewing people who worked inside these prisons – is that there was this sort of constant pressure to cut costs, a culture of austerity inside of these facilities.

I talked to an older doctor in his mid-80s, a man named John Farquhar, who worked for several years as the prison doctor in Big Spring Prison, a private facility in West Texas run by the GEO Group.

Just days after he arrived, took the job as the medical director of Big Spring, his corporate bosses arrived to tell him that they felt that they needed to cut down on the number of 911 calls made out of the prison because those calls cost too much money.

DAVIES: Those are cases where they need an ambulance to get someone to a higher level of care?

WESSLER: That’s right. You know, I came across this doctor because through Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained thousands of pages of medical records of men who had died in these facilities – 103 men who died inside of these facilities.

And in some of those records, I found notes from nurses or physician’s assistants and, in this case, from the physician. And in those notes, it was remarkable because not only was he appearing to provide sort of more care and a higher level of care than most of the other doctors in the facilities that I looked at were providing – that is, in facilities that had doctors at all.

But he left these sort of indignant notes behind about how upset he was about the quality of care that he was able to provide. He said in one note, this prisoner will almost certainly die.

This was in the context of a case where he had been trying to transfer somebody out to get care outside of the prison. And he was told by his corporate bosses that he wouldn’t be allowed to do that. In another note, he wrote, I feel badly for the shabby care.

Medical Treatment behind bars
photo source: prison.uk.blogspot.com

You know, this is a guy who clearly wanted to be providing higher-quality medical care. He’d been a doctor for decades. He’d been a military doctor. He’s now a doctor for the Veterans Administration in Texas. And he felt that these pressures to cut costs made that very difficult to do.

DAVIES: You know, I’m sure it’s not easy to get highly trained medical personnel to work in a prison system. It’s not the kind of environment most medical professionals would imagine working in. They’re often in remote places.

So there is going to be a difficulty, I think, in getting good-quality people to do that. And they’re probably going to have to pay more. Is that addressed at all when this arrangement was set up?

It’s simply going to – you’re going to have to spend some money – aren’t you? – to take care of literally thousands of people who can have health issues.

WESSLER: That’s right. You know, the Bureau of Prisons across the board has struggled to fully staff its medical units. And that’s especially a problem in rural areas where it’s hard to find doctors to come and work.

But there were facilities in my investigation that for months – nearly a year in some cases – had no medical doctor at all or who significantly understaffed their nursing departments for months and months at a time.

In fact, the Office of Inspector General from the Department of Justice found in a previous investigation that a prison called Reeves in West Texas, another GEO Group-run facility, was systematically understaffing its medical unit.

And only after the investigation did that begin to change. But the fact that it did change after the investigation suggests that it’s a problem that could be fixed and that the contractors weren’t fixing.

DAVIES: You know, you said that in these private prisons, which are for noncitizens – I mean, typically, illegal immigrants who were caught trying to re-enter the country – they’re designed to have fewer services – rehabilitative services, educational program, addiction counseling, mental health services.

But they are supposed to provide some standard of medical care and decent living conditions. And as with all government contracts, there’s a monitoring system, right?

Somebody’s supposed to come in regularly, examine the conditions, review records and see whether the public is getting what it’s paying for to these private companies. You looked at a lot of these monitoring reports. What did they show?

WESSLER: Well – so after the Bureau of Prisons set up this system of private facilities, it also set up what is really a pretty robust system of contract monitoring. So it hires a couple of people for each facility to actually be on-site and watch over what the facilities are doing.

And then every year or every six months, a group of monitors trained very specifically in subject areas go into these facilities to check to see if the prisons are following the terms of the contract. I obtained nearly   decade of these monitoring reports. And the reports show that for years, monitors documented deep and systemic problems in these facilities.

And the monitors would send these reports back to Washington. And what I found is that despite these ongoing problems, officials in Washington – contracting officials in Washington – didn’t impose the full fines or use their full enforcement muscle available to them to force changes inside of these facilities.

In fact, the Office of Inspector General report from the Department of Justice that came out recently found that when prisoners died inside of these facilities, and those deaths were connected to medical negligence – that the Bureau of Prisons didn’t have an effective way to force the companies to correct those problems. And so prisoners would die. And the problems would go on.

DAVIES: Now the contracts provided for specific monetary penalties, right? I mean, this is the way you build a contract. I mean, if you don’t deliver the service, you are penalized. And presumably for-profit providers would pay a lot of attention. As you looked at these records in cases where monitors said things are not working here, people are being endangered, do you have a sense of why financial penalties weren’t imposed? What led to those sets of decisions?

WESSLER: I interviewed a number of former Bureau of Prison monitors who were tasked with overseeing the operations and contracts of these facilities. And what I found was that on-the-ground monitors were proposing quite significant fines when things went wrong. So when a facility failed to provide prisoners with infectious disease care or a prisoner died as a result of not receiving the kind of medical care that they needed that the onsite monitors would ask the Bureau of Prisons in Washington to impose significant fines.

DAVIES:  Let’s talk about how this whole financial arrangement works and how it might connect to some of these issues. You know, a lot of the services that government provides aren’t provided by public employees. They’re done in private contracts.

You know, building roads – I mean, typically, private construction companies competitively bid for work. They complete it. It’s inspected. And they’re paid. Let’s talk about how it works for prisons. How does a contract typically work for a private prison?

It must be a big, expensive thing to build a prison. How long are the contracts? What are the provisions? What are the standards and the methods for making sure that the contractors live up to them?

WESSLER: So the Bureau of Prisons puts out calls for proposals when they want to open a new private prison. And a group of companies – at this point, really, only three companies – Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group and a company called Management and Training Corporation bid for these contracts.

The contracts usually last about 10 years. And during that period of time, there are points when the Bureau of Prisons can decide whether to extend the contract further. One of the main reasons that the federal government decided to contract in the first place is that it believed that contractors could save money.

And there are real questions about whether that’s actually happened. But even if the prisons cost about the same, which is what research suggests, what’s different about private prisons from prisons run by governments is that – let’s say you’re spending – the government spends a hundred dollars per prisoner.

In a public prison, a prison run by the government, all of that money is going to the management of the facility. But in the context of private prisons, some of that money is profit for these companies. And so there is an incentive to cut down on costs.

And one of the most expensive parts of federal prisons – of prisons in general – is the operation of medical care. What I found in my reporting – interviewing people who worked inside these prisons – is that there was this sort of constant pressure to cut costs, a culture of austerity inside of these facilities.

I talked to an older doctor in his mid-80s, a man named John Farquhar, who worked for several years as the prison doctor in Big Spring Prison, a private facility in West Texas run by the GEO Group.

Just days after he arrived, took the job as the medical director of Big Spring, his corporate bosses arrived to tell him that they felt that they needed to cut down on the number of 911 calls made out of the prison because those calls cost too much money.

DAVIES: Those are cases where they need an ambulance to get someone to a higher level of care?

WESSLER: That’s right. You know, I came across this doctor because through Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained thousands of pages of medical records of men who had died in these facilities – 103 men who died inside of these facilities.

And in some of those records, I found notes from nurses or physician’s assistants and, in this case, from the physician. And in those notes, it was remarkable because not only was he appearing to provide sort of more care and a higher level of care than most of the other doctors in the facilities that I looked at were providing – that is, in facilities that had doctors at all.

But he left these sort of indignant notes behind about how upset he was about the quality of care that he was able to provide. He said in one note, this prisoner will almost certainly die.

This was in the context of a case where he had been trying to transfer somebody out to get care outside of the prison. And he was told by his corporate bosses that he wouldn’t be allowed to do that. In another note, he wrote, I feel badly for the shabby care.

You know, this is a guy who clearly wanted to be providing higher-quality medical care. He’d been a doctor for decades. He’d been a military doctor. He’s now a doctor for the Veterans Administration in Texas. And he felt that these pressures to cut costs made that very difficult to do.

DAVIES: You know, I’m sure it’s not easy to get highly trained medical personnel to work in a prison system. It’s not the kind of environment most medical professionals would imagine working in. They’re often in remote places.

So there is going to be a difficulty, I think, in getting good quality people to do that. And they’re probably going to have to pay more. Is that addressed at all when this arrangement was set up?

It’s simply going to – you’re going to have to spend some money – aren’t you? – to take care of literally thousands of people who have health issues.

WESSLER: That’s right. You know, the Bureau of Prisons across the board has struggled to fully staff its medical units. And that’s especially a problem in rural areas where it’s hard to find doctors to come and work.

But there were facilities in my investigation that for months – nearly a year in some cases – had no medical doctor at all or who significantly understaffed their nursing departments for months and months at a time.

In fact, the Office of Inspector General from the Department of Justice found in a previous investigation that a prison called Reeves in West Texas, another GEO Group-run facility, was systematically under-staffing its medical unit.

And only after the investigation did that begin to change. But the fact that it did change after the investigation suggests that it’s a problem that could be fixed and that the contractors weren’t fixing.

DAVIES: You know, you said that in these private prisons, which are for non-citizens. I mean, typically, illegal immigrants who were caught trying to re-enter the country – they’re designed to have fewer services – rehabilitative services, educational program, addiction counseling, mental health services.

But they are supposed to provide some standard of medical care and decent living conditions. And as with all government contracts, there’s a monitoring system, right?

Somebody is supposed to come in regularly, examine the conditions, review records and see whether the public is getting what it’s paying for to these private companies. You looked at a lot of these monitoring reports. What did they show?

WESSLER: Well – so after the Bureau of Prisons set up this system of private facilities, it also set up what is really a pretty robust system of contract monitoring. So it hires a couple of people for each facility to actually be on-site and watch over what the facilities are doing.

And then every year or every six months, a group of monitors trained very specifically in subject areas go into these facilities to check to see if the prisons are following the terms of the contract. I obtained nearly a decade of these monitoring reports. And the reports show that for years, monitors documented deep and systemic problems in these facilities.

And the monitors would send these reports back to Washington. And what I found is that despite these ongoing problems, officials in Washington – contracting officials in Washington – didn’t impose the full fines or use their full enforcement muscle available to them to force changes inside of these facilities.

In fact, the Office of Inspector General report from the Department of Justice that came out recently found that when prisoners died inside of these facilities, and those deaths were connected to medical negligence – that the Bureau of Prisons didn’t have an effective way to force the companies to correct those problems. And so prisoners would die. And the problems would go on.

DAVIES: Now the contracts provided for specific monetary penalties, right? I mean, this is the way you build a contract. I mean, if you don’t deliver the service, you are penalized. And presumably for-profit providers would pay a lot of attention. As you looked at these records in cases where monitors said things are not working here, people are being endangered, do you have a sense of why financial penalties weren’t imposed? What led to those sets of decisions?

WESSLER: I interviewed a number of former Bureau of Prison monitors who were tasked with overseeing the operations and contracts of these facilities. And what I found was that on-the-ground monitors were proposing quite significant fines when things went wrong. So when a facility failed to provide prisoners with infectious disease care or a prisoner died as a result of not receiving the kind of medical care that they needed that the onsite monitors would ask the Bureau of Prisons in Washington to impose significant fines.

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NPR – Investigation Into Private Prisons Part one

illegal immigrant inmates, prison inmates
photo source: tumbler.com

Sonni’s note: Earlier today as I was driving around town I was listening to NPR on the radio. This interview was just beginning to play. Because this issue has been in the media quite a bit the past few days I wanted to hear what was said.  I learned quite a bit I didn’t know. This post is fairly long because it covers so much, but I broke it into two parts.  Many people showed a lot of interest when they learned about the Federal prisons being closed, but those articles left out some very important facts so please read this carefully.

I had a discussion with my medical doctor about a year ago about doctors in prisons.  I told him the experience Jamie has had with his medical care. He came right out and told me it wasn’t true; there was a doctor on the premises every day.  It was the law.  He said the HAD to provide care to the inmates.  I didn’t argue with him.  It was obvious he really didn’t know the facts.

I have also wondered why a doctor would want to be a prison doctor.  Was it because they couldn’t get a job anywhere else because of their own record of care?  I couldn’t see them being paid well. According to the four years of research this journalist did, some prisons may go for up to a year without a doctor at all and the only medical care the inmates get are from fairly untrained nurses who provide care illegally above their degrees of training.

Jamie – and other inmates have told me, Tylenol and ibuprophen  are the drugs they hand out no matter what the medical problem.  For Jamie’s heart problem, they denied the cardiologist wrote down he had a problem at all.  When I called the medical unit all the person in charge did was talk me around in circles because his chart was empty.  It said he went to the cardiologist, but there was no report.  I wonder why?

So why are there so many deaths from lack of care? that is an easy answer.

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who’s off this week. Last week, the Justice Department announced it would start to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons to hold federal inmates.

Our guest today may have had something to do with that. Seth Freed Wessler is an investigative reporter who spent much of the past four years looking into conditions at the 13 privately operated prisons in the federal corrections system.

Wessler sought records under the Freedom of Information Act from the Bureau of Prisons, which finally released them after Wessler sued and got a court order. The resulting 9,000 pages of medical records and 20,000 pages of monitoring reports paint a troubling picture, particularly in the area of medical care for inmates.

Wessler wrote a series of stories which told of crowded conditions, understaffing, inmate deaths from untreated illnesses and four prison riots, all related to complaints about medical care. Seth Freed Wessler is an independent reporter working for The Investigative Fund. His series on conditions at the 13 privately run federal prisons appeared in The Nation.

Well, Seth Wessler, welcome to FRESH AIR. How long has the Federal Bureau of Prisons been using private correctional facilities?

SETH FREED WESSLER: The Bureau of Prisons in the mid-and-late ’90s began a process of privatizing a subset of the federal prisons that it manages. In the ’90s, the size of the federal prison population was growing massively.

And the federal BOP decided that to house some of this population of prisoners, they would start contracting with private corrections companies. And very soon, the Bureau of Prisons decided that they would use these facilities – these private separate facilities – to hold noncitizens convicted of federal crimes.

And the logic was that noncitizens, because they’ll later be transferred to immigration officials and deported, are an ideal group of people to hold in these sort of explicitly stripped down federal prisons because unlike citizens who the federal government says need to be provided re-entry services to return to their communities, noncitizens will be deported and so don’t have to be provided those same services.

DAVIES: Right – even though the sentences are pretty long – right? – in some cases.

WESSLER: Yeah. Yeah. People spend years in these prisons. Usually, the last few years of their sentences – and are then transferred to immigration authorities and deported. So men I talked to who had been held in these facilities for three, four, five years – really languishing there, often just sort of waiting out their time with little access to programs or services before, later, they’ll be deported.

DAVIES: Just to be clear here, these are not – we’re not talking about immigration detention facilities that the immigrations customs enforcement folks do. These are people who have committed crimes and are in federal custody, right?

WESSLER: That’s right. There’s a separate immigration detention system operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people who are waiting for deportation, who are – who may be deported.

These facilities are used only for people who are convicted of federal crimes and are being held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for those convictions. Many of the people in these facilities are held for a crime called re-entry after deportation. That is returning to the United States after they’ve been previously deported.

And increasingly over the last 15 years, that act of crossing the border after a deportation has been treated not as a civil violation that’s responded to with – just by deportation – but as a crime. And sentences for crossing the border after deportation can be years and years.

The average sentence for illegal re-entry is a couple of years. And so many of the men inside this sort of separate segregated system of federal private prisons are held for just that crime of crossing back over the border.

DAVIES: The logic here was that it was easy enough for people once deported to return that they had to really impose a tough penalty so as to discourage that? Is that the idea there?

WESSLER: That’s right. In the mid-2000s, the federal government started prosecuting huge numbers of people – tens of thousands of people a year – criminally for crossing the border in an attempt to deter them from crossing again.

In fact, when federal investigators went looking for evidence that that deterrence worked, they didn’t find any. But last year, more than 70,000 people were charged criminally for illegal entry or illegal re-entry. Those prosecutions now make up about half of all federal prosecutions and have helped to grow the size of the federal prison system.

So while the prison system has expanded in significant part because of drug prosecutions – and that gets a lot of attention – in the federal context, these immigration violations that have been criminalized are also helping to expand the size of the population of federal prisoners.

DAVIES: OK. Before the Justice Department made this announcement that it would try and wind down the use of these private prisons, how many prisoners, roughly, are being held in these private correctional facilities?

WESSLER: There are currently 22,000 federal prisoners held in private facilities. Most of those are used only to hold noncitizens. And they make up about an eighth of the federal prison system.

At one point, that number was about 30,000. It’s started to fall a bit in the last few years. And the Department of Justice announcement says that the Bureau of Prisons will have to begin diminishing its use of these facilities, closing them over the next few years as the contracts end.

By next year, that number of prisoners in federal private facilities will have dropped to about 14,000. And within five years, the federal BOP is to sort of zero out the number of people held in private facilities altogether.

DAVIES: So you spent a couple of years getting documents, interviewing people. In broad terms, what kinds of problems did your reporting discover?

WESSLER: When I began investigating these prisons, I found that the men held inside were being held in conditions that were incredibly disturbing. And this is especially true in the context of medical care, which I investigated at length.

I found that in case after case, prisoners who were sick with treatable illnesses were not being provided even baseline levels of medical care and were complaining time and again about pain and illness. And those illnesses got worse and worse. And in some cases, without any substantive care at all, men died as a result of substandard care.

I wrote about the case of a man named Claudio Fajardo Saucedo (ph). He was in his early 40s and was held at the Reeves Facility, a GEO Group-run facility in West Texas. And soon after he arrived at that facility, he started to complain of pain – back pain, headaches, other pain. And he complained over and over again.

In fact, he complained 18 times – at least 18 times in two years. And every time he complained of this pain, which was getting worse and worse, he was seen only by low-level medical staff – in this case, licensed vocational nurses who go through training for about a year and are supposed to act as support staff to registered nurses.

Well, those were nearly the only people that Mr. Fajardo Saucedo was seeing when he went to these clinics. He was sent back to his cell only with Ibuprofen or Tylenol until finally, after two years of being held in this facility, he collapsed outright in the facility and was sent to a local hospital, where he immediately tested positive for AIDS and died days later of AIDS-related illnesses.

What’s striking about this is not only that he was completely neglected for these two years – that he wasn’t provided any substantive care from doctors or more highly trained medical providers. But also, this prison – Bureau of Prison rules require that prisoners who arrive at new facilities be tested for HIV, and he was never tested for HIV, even as he complained of illnesses that would have suggested he might have been HIV positive. Doctors who I asked to review his medical records said that had he been tested and had the facility known that he was HIV positive, he very likely could have survived.

DAVIES:  I want to talk about the conditions in some of these facilities that are – 13 facilities, right – at which non-citizens are kept in and – that who are convicted of federal crime. You described in some detail a prison in Raymondville, Texas, Willacy County. And I was struck by the description of just the housing units, where people slept. How did that work?

WESSLER: The Willacy County facility in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas is a facility that the bureau – the Bureau of Prisons decided to start using several years ago. It’s a prison that has had a long history of problems. In fact, the Willacy facility was actually built to be a detention center where people would be held for a pretty short amount of time. And as a result, it’s not a regular prison. It’s not built out of concrete. There are no real walls in most of the facility. It was actually a facility built entirely out of Kevlar tents. There were rows of these massive Kevlar domes that stretched for a couple of football fields and held in each of them 200 prisoners, men charged with and convicted of federal crimes.

Inside of these tents, men who I talked to who had been held there said that the facilities would get incredibly hot, that it would smell terrible inside, that sometimes the toilets would back up. And they were held in these – in these tents for months and sometimes years at a time. This same facility, the Willacy facility, actually lost a contract with federal immigration authorities years earlier largely because of really terrible conditions inside.

And just months after the immigration agency got out of this contract, ended its contract with the Management and Training Corporation to run this prison, the Bureau of Prisons reopened the facility as a federal prison or prison for federal prisoners contracting again with the Management and Training Corporation to hold its inmates.

DAVIES: And in these big domes where you say 200 inmates would live together, did anybody have private cells or were they just racks of bunks?

WESSLER: No, they were rows of bunk beds, and so men would sleep a couple of feet apart, and they had no privacy whatsoever. They were left largely alone to manage their own affairs, usually with one guard overseeing a whole crowd of prisoners. And from time to time, they’d be let out of the domes and allowed to spend time on a concrete yard. And in the middle of all of these tents, guards would walk back and forth, watching what happened inside of these yards. But by and large, men spent months, sometimes years, held in these Kevlar domes in this – what started to be called the tent city in Willacy.

DAVIES: And was it typical in these private prisons that prisoners stayed in group dwellings as opposed to cells with just one or two inmates?

WESSLER: You know, what’s interesting about these private prisons is that they’re all very different because they’re often built in haphazard ways. There’s another facility called Big Spring in another part of Texas that was constructed on the premises of an old Air Force base and in an old hotel in this town of Big Spring. And so some prisoners in that facility were held in cells that where 10 people were sleeping in a room the size of about a normal hotel room. In other places, prisoners were held in much larger areas in other places in several people – in cells that held just several people. There’s no real order to how these places are built. The private companies find spaces and then rent these spaces out to the federal government.

DAVIES: Health care is a – was a big issue in – among the inmates and led to riots. I mean, there were – what? – four riots, all of them related to medical care, right?

WESSLER: That’s right. You know, it’s incredibly unusual in federal prisons for unrest, for protests to turn into riots. But at least four times in these for-profit prisons, prisoner protest turned into massive riots. And at Willacy, the south Texas facility I talked about, that riot, which started as a protest and then as a result of incredible force used by prison guards – rubber bullets, tear gas, these sort of BB-filled exploding grenades that prison officials used to respond to that protest – a riot erupted.

And prisoners actually so decimated this facility, burning holes and – cutting and burning holes in the sides of those Kevlar tents, that in that case the federal government determined that the facility was, quote, “uninhabitable” and closed it down last year.

When I spoke with prisoners who were held in the facility, men who were now locked in other prisons or had not – or who had been deported and I spoke to in Mexico, as well as with prison guards, it became immediately clear that this was a protest that had emerged over issues including, most substantively, bad medical care in this facility.

DAVIES: These privately run prisons in the system are for non-citizens, I mean – very typically people who were arrested – illegal immigrants who were arrested for trying to enter the country after having been deported, and the standards are different, right? How are the requirements and standards different for a regular Bureau of Prisons facility which citizens are housed? How are the standards different for them as opposed to these privately run prisons?

WESSLER: The Federal Bureau of Prisons, when it runs its own facilities, it applies hundreds of rules and standards, these things called program statements to the operation of those facilities. Those program statements guide how everything works from the nitty gritty of medical care to how many guards will be on any given unit to how prisoners are fed and so on. When it began contracting with private companies to hold some federal prisoners, one of the ideas was that these companies could help the Bureau of Prisons save on costs, and in an attempt to help these prison companies do that, the BOP, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, applied fewer rules to these facilities. So only a few dozen of those program statements actually apply to the way these facilities operate. And what that means is that the kinds of programs and services that exist in regular Bureau of Prisons facilities simply don’t operate in these facilities.

In the context of medical care, the contracts that the companies sign with the federal government require the companies to follow some of the Bureau of Prisons’ own rules. But in other areas, the prisons are allowed to sort of make it up as they go. And that includes the prisons staffing plans, so one of the things that I found in my reporting was that in these for-profit prisons, the companies are using much lower-trained kinds of medical workers, often licensed vocational or licensed practical nurses, who have about a year of training. These LVNs are the sort of front-line workers in this medical system. So when a sick prisoner has a problem, the person that they’re talking to is somebody who’s really not trained to provide substantive care, and that can be the only person that this – that an inmate sees for months sometimes at a time.

DAVIES: So in that case, you have a, you know – a medical person who typically provides medical support services, and they’re the one diagnosing what could be a serious or complicated medical issue.

WESSLER: Well, what ends up happening is that somebody comes in and complains of a headache or of back pain or of another kind of illness, and it’s this low-level medical worker who’s making decisions about what should happen next. And often that decision is that nothing should happen next or that this person just needs some Tylenol. And so the prisoner will be sent back to their cell with a couple of pills of Ibuprofen, and that’s it.

And then again, that same person will come back and complain again of a similar illness and see only one of these low-level nurses. I asked doctors to review the medical files I obtained of prisoners who were held inside of these facilities. And they said over and over again that these low-level licensed vocational nurses were really operating outside of their legal scope of practice, outside of what they’ve been trained to do.

And then when I got to obtain more records from the Bureau of Prisons, I found that the Bureau of Prisons itself, the monitors that the agency sends into these facilities to check on how these private companies are operating – they found that 10 of these private prisons had actually broken state nursing practice laws by pushing nurses to work outside of their legal scope of practice of what they’re trained to do.

DAVIES: Seth Freed Wessler’s stories on privately run prisons appeared in The Nation. After a break, he’ll tell us about what federal monitors reported on conditions in those prisons and why those reports didn’t lead to change.

End part one . . . Start part two

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Mind Control – 24 Tactics used on the “Black Militant”

schismofthemind

In 1962 the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V Bennet, convened a meeting in Washington DC with a group of Social Scientist and Wardens from around the country.  On the agenda was the unveiling of a new control technique program entitled “The C.A.M.P system”.  An acronym for countering anti-socialism modification project.  The topic of discussion was the examination of the emergence of the so called “Black Militant” in the nations prisons. 

There was a growing concern among US Government officials and Penologist that this phenomenon of “militant minded” negroes who were perceived as a threat due to their practice of an unorthodox form of political and cultural expression which prison officials viewed as a threat to the order and control of the countries state and federal prison system and possibly national security. 

As a result of director Bennett’s absurd and paranoid delusions relative to the growth and educational values of these so called militant minded negroes who were providing one another through study and research, with an historical and true account of their patrimony here in America.  Director Bennet along with other government officials began to implement programs designed to impede, regress, and ultimately retard this cultural and militant insurgent which had spawned the likes of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and later George Jackson and countless others who rose from anonymity out of the nations prison system and emerged as social and spiritual paragons representing the disenfranchised in general, black and POOR people in particular. 

Director Bennet then introduced their key note speaker Dr. Edgar Schein to the small assembled group of 64 men. All of whom were of European descendant.  Dr. Edgar Schein’s background had included studying the psychological impact on former holocaust survivors and their experiences in Nazi Germany concentration camps in his dissertation, aptly named “Man vs. Man”.  Dr. Schein provided the group with various scenarios on behavioral patterns and antidotal countermeasures relative to the so called “negroid pathos”.  The following excerpts are transcribed from this infamous September 18, 1962 meeting, procured from Federal archives via the Federal Freedom of Information Act and are revealed here for your critique and cerebration.
“Gentlemen, in order to produce marked changes in behavior and attitude it is necessary to weaken, undermine or remove the support systems of the old patterns of behavior and the old attitudes.  Because most of these supports are the face to face confirmation of present behavior and attitudes, which are provided to those with whom close emotional ties exist, it is therefore essential to eradicate those emotional bonds.  This can be done either by removing the individual physically and preventing any communication with those whom he cares about or by proving to him, the prisoner, that those whom he respects are not worthy of it and indeed should be actively distrusted.”  -Dr. Edgar Schein, Sept. 18, 1962

Dr. Schein then presented to the assembled group a literary of suggestions and tactics designed to attain “behavioral modifications” desirable by prison officials to control the thinking patterns of its incarcerated populace and to curtail or reduce an appetite for cultural or political aspirations.  These 24 accumulous and widely implemented tactics & maneuvers are set out below:

1.  the physical removal of prisoners to areas sufficiently isolated to effectively break or seriously weaken close emotional ties.
2.  identify and segregate all natural leaders.
3.  use of cooperative prisoners as leaders.
4.  prohibition of group activities not in line with brainwashing objectives.
5.  spying on prisoners and reporting back private materials.
6.  manipulating prisoners into making written statements which are then shown to others.
7.  exploitation of opportunist and informers.
8.  convincing prisoners that they can trust no other prisoner.
9.  treating those who are willing to cooperate in a far more lenient way than those who are not.
10.  punishing those who show uncooperative attitudes.
11.  systematic withholding of mail and other correspondence.
12.  preventing contact with anyone non-sympathetic  to the method of treatment and regimen of the captive populace.
13.  disorganization of all group standards among prisoners.
14.  building a group conviction among the prisoners that they have been abandoned by, and totally isolated from their social order.
15.  undermining all emotional support.
16.  preventing prisoners from communicating with family and supporters regarding the conditions of their confinement,
17.  making available and permitting access to only those publications and books that contain materials which are neutral to, or supportive of the desired new attitude.
18.  placing individuals into new and ambiguous situations for which the standards and rules and policies are deliberately kept unclear and then putting pressure on the prisoner to conform to what is desired in order to win favor and a reprieve from the pressure.
19.  placing the prisoner whose will power has been severely weakened or eroded into a soft living environment with others who are further advanced in their brainwashing reform who’s job is to influence the teetering prisoner to give up and assimilate into the desired behavior.
20.  using techniques of character invalidation, i.e., humiliations, revilements, shouting, isolation; to promote sensory deprivation, to induce feelings of guilt, fear, and suggestibility.
21.  meeting all insincere attempts to conform with the desired thought patterns with renewed hostility.
22.  repeatedly pointing out to the prisoner that those prisoners whom he respects as a leader and example of strength is not living up to the values and militant principles that he espouses.  supplanting the thought that all other prisoners are hypocrites and liars.
23.  rewards for submission and subservient attitudes which embrace the brainwashing objectives by providing praise and emotional support to those who embrace the desired behavior(brainwashing) which reinforces the new attitudes.
24.  making sure that if a once militant prisoner is ever revealed as being a snitch or a homosexual, that all prisoners learn of his disgrace in order to create doubt and misgivings in the environment.  Creating false rumor, character assassination on a militant prisoner.

Following Dr. Scheins dissertation, director Bennet delivered his closing remarks to the group “…one of the things we must do, gentlemen, is more research.  It was suggested that we have a very large organization with tremendous opportunity here to conduct some of the experiments that have been alluded to.  We can manipulate our environment and culture.  We can adopt many of the techniques Dr. Schein has discussed.  Do things on your own, gentlemen.  Undertake little experiments, see what you can do with the Muslims?  There is a lot of research to do.  Do it as individuals, do it as groups and report back to us the results.”

It is worth taking note that back in 1962, over 53 years ago, B.O.P. director James V. Bennet implored his adherents to “do things on your own, undertake little experiments”.  Indeed these “experiments” have blossomed into full-blown projects as of 2007.  Enacted under the guise of prison programs clandestinely entitled, (STG) security threat group, “conflict resolution“, “personal growth and system adjustment“, “impulse control“, “re-entry program opportunity for change” group therapy, MPRI; the generals of these 2007 programs is none other than Dr. Scheins 1962 “Man vs. Man” brainwashing formula and programming.  Specifically designed to impede and prevent development of the militant mind set of the so called negro prisoner, but is not limited to black people or people of any race or color, who finds himself in the bowels of the BOP. 

Bearing in mind that the term militant simply means ready and willing to fight; esp., vigorous and aggressive in support or promotion of a self interest cause.  Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, George Jackson, Dr. King and even Marcus Garvey, all of whom spent time behind bars, were all “militant minded” and while behind bars they never required any group therapy or re-entry programming.  The clear and obvious import for the influx and emphasis of these “programs” for the contemporary “prisoner” is to ensure that he or she does not become the next Malcolm X or Dr. King.

The most insidious of Dr. Schein’s tactics is that of #14, i.e. “building a group conviction among prisoners that they have been abandoned by and totally isolated from their social order“.  Simply stated, they are not wanted by their own communities or families, that their own community also condones and supports, encourages all of the emotional, psychological and physical mistreatment, in some cases torture and death, at the hands of racist and sadistic prison officials and guards.  In response to this sense of abandonment by both family and community, the prisoner returns to his family and community, not as the welcomed prodigal son, nor in the likeness of a Malcolm X.  But instead, he or she returns with a mindset of rage, disconnectedness, indifference and views his own family and community by extension as his oppressor, consequently he becomes an enemy of his own community.  Tactic # 14 plays the community and the prisoner against one another, thus it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of the “ex-felon”, “parolee” inflicting terror upon his own family or community. 

Most prisoners will return to their community someday, and how they return depends on whether or not they succumb to the brainwashing system.  By becoming neutralized, not possessing the militant mind set to uplift their communities and families in the spirit of a Malcolm X upon their return to society. 

Those who resist the brainwashing tactics are then systematically subjected to the list of ploys prescribed by Dr. Schein, e.g. denial of paroles, placed in maximum security facility that has been strategically placed in some rural outpost, tortured or mistreated…  the prisoner has been labeled, characterized, ostracized, stigmatized by the MDOC regime as one who is deserving of distrust, dangerous, a killer, rapist, and all around mad man.  The beguiled public’s indoctrinated embrace of these stereotypical characterization allows for the self fulfilling prophecy to be played out.  Conversely, those prisoners who do succumb to the brainwashing tactics become defeatist sycophants returning to their families and communities neutralized and countervailed. This is psychological warfare.

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Disclaimer – sometime ago I was doing research on Dr. Edgar Shein and I didn’t write down from where I got this info.  It was too good to not print.  My intention was not to plagiarize.  This explains much of the reasoning behind the intentions of locking up so many of the black race to try to use mind control in the form of segregation and removing personal property and family contact to make them feel worthless and abandoned. They were not wanted by their communities when they were let out of prison. These doctors thought they could control them and make them less dangerous. Instead they end up seriously injuring many prisoners by increasing their grip on reality through mental illness. The thought that they thought this was an acceptable thing to do is obscene.

Because of where racism is headed – the hate has been let out of the bottle and people now feel free to admit how racist they really are. Instead of not being sure how they will be accepted in society if they admit to being racist, and admitting they really do feel they are a superior race, more people think it is acceptable to openenly perform hate crimes against people they feel are beneath them.  It is not the black people that need to be feared, but rather the white people who don’t want their station in life to be perceived as being less than what they falsely believe to be truth.

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Depression, Chronic Illness and Solitary Confinement

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I’m not a professional so I can’t say for sure I know what I’m talking about. I only have my own observations of people who suffer from depression and also the what I’ve read. Depression is very real and it can be debilitating. My intention is not to make anyone uncomfortable or make light of their situation. I am only trying to understand something I don’t experience except on rare times when life temporarily gets overwhelming.

I’ve read the blogs of many people who suffer from depression and other chronic illnesses. Reading experiences is a best way to understand what they go through rather than only reading medical articles.

We all have deep sadness sometimes, and it can go on for a long time before we get a grip on it. Something happens to us sometimes we can’t find a place in our brains to put it, so it is always right in the front part of our thinking and it can stop us from living.

I’ve had times when I was down. It happened more when I very sick but I would find a way to pull myself out of it. The teachings from my practice of Buddhism gives me hope. I’m sure people of other faiths rely on their faith as well. I could that but sometimes people can’t.

Jamie has suffered suffered from depression since he was a child. Would it have been different if he didn’t have epilepsy that resulted in seizures from birth to present day? How does it feel knowing it will never stop unless science comes up with a cure?

How does a child deal with a hopelessness?  Do people think, “He’s only a kid.  He’ll snap out of it?”  Jamie doesn’t like to talk about it. It took a long time for me to understand  what it did to the relationships in his life with family and friends. It knocked his self worth down to nothing. Writing about it brings it back. He prefers to keep it locked away. It will have to be his choice to unlock it. Maybe talking about it could help but it is not my decision to make.

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I know there are different kinds of seizures and they affect people in different ways. It must be a dreadful feeling to know one is starting and it can’t be stopped. There is nothing you can do. Is there a feeling of embarrassment, not wanting to show what you think is your personal failing to other people? Do they talk about you behind your back, laughing, if they wanted to be cruel or even feeling sorry for you like you are a broken. It has been this way for him since before he even knew what it was.

I asked him if he could explain to me what it felt like. He wouldn’t, really couldn’t tell me. To write about it in detail would be like reliving it. It was too much for him. It was then that I finally realized that epilepsy was the underlying factor for everything. If this one biological thing had been different it would have changed everything in his life, but it couldn’t be changed. He tells me when he has another seizure and he tells me if it was bad enough to be taken to a real hospital or if the guards just let him lay there because they don’t want to do the paperwork. The prison is messing with his meds and won’t give him what he knows will work so the seizures are more frequent than necessary. But he doesn’t go into detail about the seizure itself. We do what we need to do to protect ourselves.

Would talking about it begin a healing process? Not to change epilepsy itself, but would it change what it does psychologically? I don’t know, but I do think that years of stuffing it down has caused insecurity that is easily rattled and it begins another episode of depression he can’t stop. Being completely alone in a cell with no one talk to makes it worse.

When that happens if he feels it is hopeless why should he even try to go on. No one will bring his son to see him unless I go to Texas. Family, his son, and my daughter all live in Texas within a couple hours of the prison.  Has anyone else made one trip to this prison? No.  In the past ten years he’s been locked is he not worth visiting, even when they learned he also has problems with his heart? No. I don’t have enough money to go often enough.

His family ignores him. He recently tried again and wrote to them – with no response. Would that make you depressed on top of everything else? The total lack of caring makes me angry beyond words. He sold his food for stamps because he couldn’t go to the commissary. Not meaning to make it worse for him, I waited too long to answer his last letter because of everything else I’m writing and he began thinking I was gone. I left him. I was mad at him. He thought he did something wrong. He has lost the one person who has been there for him nonstop all these years. I’ve been his rock and it was like I died. It sank him into a depression where he stopped eating and used sleep to escape.

He wrote a letter and poured out all the pain he was feeling, convincing himself it was all his fault. I felt horrible. But that day, after he wrote and sent that letter, he received my ten page letter. Because of things happening in my life it took about a week to write it –  in pieces. Sometimes I think he’s stronger than he is. Is it because I want him to be stronger?

I do know, and always have known, if I had never written that first letter he would not have made it this far. My daughter would still not be taking their son to see him. He is supposed to understand how hard it is on her yet she doesn’t understand the power she has to destroy him – or to make him happy. She doesn’t want for him to be happy – because of me. She’s angry at me for being there for him. His family would also still not be in his life. No one would be paying his medical fee, so his care would be even worse than it is. Medical care is not free.  I’m on disability.  It takes me months to pay off the fee and still have enough for a few basic necessities. He still would have no one who cared if he was okay. It doesn’t matter that Jamie’s son needs his father. Not “a” father – but his own father.  If I wasn’t there his depression would have destroyed him –  completely.

jamie cummings
Father on the left and son on the right – both eight years old.

His mother had him in therapy as a child and other times in his young life. It didn’t begin in prison. Because there is literally no help for those in prison who need it, when an inmate is locked up alone it often causes harm that can’t be undone. There are so many articles in the media about what happens to the mentally ill in prison and no one can seem to change it. Jamie is not mentally ill, but he does need people who care about him. He does NOT need to be made worse because the people in his life think he’s not worth their time of day.

He’s a big man, 6’2″. He is physically strong. He looks like he should be strong. But no one can see inside his head to find the scotch tape piecing him together. My daughter is very angry with me because she said I’m not allowing her to “let him go,” as if I’m doing this to her. She said my relationship with Jamie is gross. She’s angry at things I don’t even understand because it makes no sense. There aren’t any sides to take even though I feel as though I am supposed to take one. What is there to choose? She is my daughter. I love her and always will, but to do this will not make her happy. 

I don’t know why she is so angry except maybe this makes her look at things she doesn’t want to see. Jamie has asked only one thing of her – one thing.  To see his son.  He loves him.  Being a father gives him purpose when he doesn’t feel he has any.  It is not a big thing he asks.  My daughter does so much for her children.  She is a good mom – except for this.  It’s too much trouble to do this one thing. Give up an afternoon and let their son spend son time with his father.  Don’t do to your son what your father did to you – ignore you.

When Jamie got my ten page and realized I hadn’t left him – I was still there – he immediately wrote another letter and apologized. I can’t take for granted he will understand if I wait too long to write. Do any of us thoroughly understand what it is like to spend years locked away from all communication – away from people? We can’t. We have never been through it, let alone for ten years. There are inmates who are locked up for three or four decades. Are they supposed to come out of that okay? Did it accomplish anything good or productive? No. It’s cruel.  I will NOT be cruel and give up on him because I know there is a reason for me being there.  I see in him what he is capable of.  And I won’t let him give up on himself.  It is not an option.

I will continue to try, to learn, and help others if I can. This isn’t about me. It is about how I can use my life in a positive way. If anyone else doesn’t understand that I can’t make them understand. Sooner or later his family and I will meet eye to eye. I can’t promise to keep my mouth shut.

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The Most Violent Prison Documentary

This is interesting.  It follows the lives of several prisoners and also the prison guards who have to keep everyone safe. I had never seen a prison like this one.  It is round with many tiers of cells.  You can look up from the inside and see layer upon inmates layer guard tower is in the middle.  These inmates seldom leave their cells. This is an unusual style of prison and totally unlike any Jamie has been in. The thought of having to live the rest of life there would be a horrible thought.

It is evident, though, listening to the inmates talk, the one thing that keeps the minds of the men in one piece,  and also keeps violence at a minimum are the visits they get from the outside.  When inmates are moved out of the range of family there is an escalation of violence and also depression.

Quite often men (I don’t know if this holds true as much for women), lose their relationships when they go to prison. More so if it is a girlfriend, not a wife. Some women can’t handle the time they will be gone. Life goes on. But sometimes a man finds a girlfriend while incarcerated that starts out as a pen pal. These relationships can be insecure. If the woman starts missing visits or goes to long without writing there is fear they’ve lost her even though nothing had been said. If they can’t call and reassure themselves it can become a major loss – until their next communication. You will see that with one man in the video who is very much in love with a woman who didn’t make a visit. There is also the fear they will be moved to a far away prison out of range to visit.

The food is often rotten.  One inmate showed the camera the food that had just been delivered to him.  There was, among other things like macaroni salad, two pieces of baloney that were turning green.  It was inedible.  Why is it that there is no oversight of the food they are served? You wouldn’t feed your dog this food.

The inmate with the tattoos all over his face is not someone who will most likely never see life outside of prison.  To mutilate yourself like that would mean you had no hope, but I don’t know his story.  But to look at him tells me that his problems started at a very young life.

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My Son Has Only One Father – Me. Boyfriends Don’t Count

Jamie Cummings
Jamie and his son July 7, 2013

I wish I had a newer picture to use to show you of Jamie and his son, but when we visited they weren’t taking pictures that day.  They only do it the first weekend of each month. The trade-off is that we were there for father’s day and that meant a lot to Jamie. He told me, “You live so far away yet you are the only one who cared enough to bring see my son to see me.  I’ll never forget that.”

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Dear mom,                                                                                                                               July 25, 2016    

       Here it is yet another day, after another day. Will they bring me pancakes again today?  We’ve already had pancakes four times this week. Sometimes with peanut butter, sometimes with applesauce and sometimes with shaved pineapple along with oatmeal.

       Well, just so you know, I did write to my uncle, the parole officer in Dallas that I stayed with a long time ago when I was teenager, the year I was in 9th grade. My mom thought I would do better out there. I started the letter off doing something I never did before. I thanked him and his wife for wanting to give me a chance at a new start in life, even though I turned down his offer to stay and went home after I did the year. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had stayed there and not gone back to Nacogdoches. I should have stayed. But as you have said, karma is karma.  There are causes we have made in the past that have to have their effects.  I understand that more. I asked him for addresses of family and asked how everyone was doing. I gave him the info about where I was and told him to give it to my mother. Maybe she doesn’t know where I am and that is why I haven’t heard from her. I always want to give excuses because I don’t want to believe reality.

      I told him about our visit and you bringing my son to see me. I told him how much I enjoyed it. I also sent him an up to date picture of Jamie. It angers me that Jamie don’t get to see more of my family. Anyway, I almost got mad just thinking about it. Come to think about it, that’s what happens most of the time when I write Megan. I  get mad and  just go off. I would ask her why the hell I couldn’t see my son? I would just start speaking my mind to her about her not bringing him. It hasn’t been fair. He’s my son, too. She didn’t make him by herself.

       She promised me a long time ago she’d be there and bring him and she broke her promise. She wrote back and said to stop talking shit. Yes, I would talk shit. He is my son! He is not her boyfriend’s son. He is not my son’s father and never will be. I know she’s telling him to call her boyfriend dad but Jamie knows who is father is. My son loves me and he has a father who loves him but has to go through hell and back because his mother is selfish and doesn’t think of that. I have tried in the past to be positive but it just gets to me. I think I have a right to let it get to me. All I ever got were excuses why she couldn’t come.

        I’m sorry about that. I got carried away. It hurts. And it hurts because he never gets to see any of my family. But they haven’t tried to see him, either. I wish Megan and my family talked. I know she talked to my brother but I know my brother doesn’t care about me.  He made that clear.

       I only have 4 stamps. I’ve been selling my lunch trays. I’m going to write my grandmother and my cousin. Hopefully, I can go to commissary at the end of August. We’re still on lockdown, but they let some other dudes go, so maybe I can go.

       Right now I’m a level three.  I am only allowed to by hygiene and stamps, paper and pen at the commissary.  No food. If you could send me an ecomm box with bags of coffee; they are $2.15 and fruit and mint sticks that are .10 each, I can trade them for stamps.  The dudes in here sure do like their sweets.  I can get a stamp for just 2 sticks. Less than the price of a stamp in the commissary. Also soap if you can.  I can trade for things with soap.  I also need deodorant and toothpaste and some chips and soup if you can. I have to pay the inmate worker in stamps for him to get it for me.  Stamps are currency.  But it is how we get the things we need if we can’t go to commissary or if they won’t let us buy it.

      (Sonni’s note: Jamie is allowed again to get what is called an ecomm box.  Four times a year he can get a box worth $60.  It can be spread over several months if he wants. I can send food he can keep in his cell for times the unit is put on lockdown or he is unable to go to the commissary.)

       I must say you are the busiest person I know with all the things you do.  I don’t know how you do it.  Your birthday is coming up.  I hope you and Mike go out and do something nice for yourselves.  Take a walk. Enjoy the air.  Do the things I can’t do.  Say hello to your mom and tell her I am chanting for her, too. You are good to your mom, especially after her stroke.  I know it is going to add more work to your day when she comes home and you are willing to be there. That is the way kids should treat their mom, but no everyone does.  I know your told me about how your one sister treats her and she should be ashamed. You should never disrespect your mom. How you treat people comes back at you.  I knew that even before Buddhism but I didn’t know how to understand it. It is the way I would like to treat my mom, but I never see her and she doesn’t care how I’m doing.  That is really messed up. But for Jamie, when I get out I will be the best dad I can be and no one can stop me.

        I was a boy when I came in here, but I’m not a boy anymore.  I will be there for him.

       Lots of love to you, too, for being there for me when I needed you.  Anyone would be lucky to have you for a mom – Jamie

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A Prison Sentence is Like Dying

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Inside The Forbidden Outside by Sonni Quick. Copyright 2016

I’ve had many hours – years really – to try to understand how an inmate can lose an entire family who walks away from him as completely as if he had died. In the beginning, having no knowledge, I didn’t realize how many inmates lose their family when they are inside. I don’t know how different it is between men and women inmates.

I know that one man went for ten years before his mother would speak to him. He also never saw any of his family until this past year. It was hard but he accepted it. Being on death row they may have have seen it as a death so what was the point of seeing him if they could never bees a family? I am only guessing.

But my most in depth knowledge now is how prison has affected Jamie and caused his family to give up on him. He gave up long ago trying to understand if he mattered to them. What was the point? Did anyone ever follow through with anything they said? Did anyone care that their total absence was slowly killing him? There could be no trust ever again. Did it matter to them or did they think it was all his fault? Are they going to want a relationship with this stranger they no nothing for when he gets out?

I know it hurts him to talk about it. I hear the pain in his words. Whoever he was all those years ago – the boy – he isn’t that boy any longer. And they are no longer the people they were, either. When he gets out what will his mother do? What will she expect – anything? Will he have risen from the dead? The only person who matters to him – is his ten year old son.

Many inmates have no one, never did have anyone. Many came from foster care and never connected with anyone like family. How do they ever have a family? How do you create something you never had? The recidivism rate is very high for these people. They want a better life but don’t know how. I am teaching Jamie to have the confidence only he can. His life has value. No one had hope for them in the past so they have no hope for themselves now.

All these years I have spent being there for him – the only one who cared for him these past ten years, watching him grow from a boy to a man, seeing the person his family left for dead – a man they will later say they made a mistake and now they want a piece of him.

The ITFO Newsletter

I am dead serious about the book I’m writing. I sincerely thank those who have supported me. I especially thank Leah who has helped Jamie so much because my money is tight. She helps with food so I can buy books for him and advertising. It will also take money to edit and do book cover art.

I’m studying to do the best I can on a limited budget. This book on his life he will use to help others. As I write, the mailing list I develop is crucial as I tell people what is happening by sending out the ITFO Newsletter – the first letters of the title of the book, “Inside The Forbidden Outside” Each issue has information that touches his life. This next issue going out the end of the week has an article about epilepsy, which he has-written by a WordPress blogger. Also an article from another blogger about Black Lives Matter, New music I’ve recorded plus much more, to make it interesting and something you will want to share.

It’s important to sign up for the newsletter if you can – if you think you’d open it and share it, because stats matter. It is also how people will know when and where they can purchase the book. Sharing the newsletter on facebook and other social media is important because facebook just made it even harder for people to see posts from business pages.  

FACEBOOK’S NEWEST ALGORITHM

The new facebook algorithm that changed again and will not let you see my posts if you have no activity on it. It is no longer good enough to like a page. If there is no activity by the user they will not put my posts on your time line because they only put posts from pages you go to. This doesn’t affect what you see from friends and family. Less than 2% will see my post in their timeline – unless I pay them every day -or you at least sometimes go to the page and leave a mark you were there by liking or commenting or.or sharing. It didn’t used to be like that. But now, if you have a second page you have to pay or have attendance by people who like you. I understand. They need more billions from the  little guy. You can believe I’m going back to pages I’ve liked but haven’t been to hardly at all to put activity on their pages. We have to help each other.

So I’m asking you to help – not every day – but to help me when you can. Doing some kind of activity or sharing. It keeps my posts near the top of the timeline instead of the bottom and sharing my post here on your facebook page will be some of the best help you can give me to develop my mailing list and then sell a book that will help Jamie’s life. This won’t be the last book.

THANK YOU   THANK YOU.  THANK YOU

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Why is a Half White, Half Black Person Always Called Black?

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As more years go by the races become more mixed.  Really there aren’t many people who are entirely one race anymore.  Most whites are a combination of at least several different white races.  I am English, German, Irish  and Welsh, maybe more.  But it changes when the races are mixed with dark skin.  Then any other country involved in the DNA disappears and they become just black.  Obama is half white, but people don’t refer to him as white, even though is skin is lighter because of his whiteness. He is only black.  He isn’t our first mixed race president, he is our first black president.  This way the racists have more to feel negative about.  So the white part of him is never talked about.  His daughters are 1/4 white.  Does that not count either?  Does being mixed mean nothing?

Two of my grandsons are half black and half white, with a small part of American Indian, English, Irish, German and Welsh. Doesn’t that count?  Are they only black?  One has lighter skin and one doesn’t.  Jamie has his father’s skin and hair.  I have a half white and half black teenage granddaughter.  Her black side is half African and half Island black.  Her skin is fairly light and has beautiful curly, not kinky hair.  I remember that her mother wanted so much for her to be white.  She had white dolls, not black dolls.  I have another grandson that has enough Hispanic in him that if he is with any number of races he can pass for them.  Now all of my grandchildren have the same percentage of Chactaw Indian in them, too, which is very evident in my daughter because she takes after her grandmother, who isn’t full blood Indian.  It was her grandmother.  But some races are more dominant when the genes are passed.  The black race is very strong genetically; stronger than the white race and so is American Indian.

I have also seen mixed race couples have twins and one comes out white and one comes out black.  What are these kids called, because they both have the same genetics? will one girl have a harder life without the same privileges as the white sister?  How do the introduce them without getting weird looks from people? This is my white daughter and this is my black daughter? How can one daughter have racism directed at her and her blond haired twin have a privileged life – unless she met someone, for any reason who couldn’t handle that there was black blood in her – perhaps the parents of a possible spouse because there would be a pretty good likelihood that she could have a black baby.  OMG!  And there are people who would think that way.

mixed race twins
source credit: snoopes.com

I don’t care if my grandchildren represent multiple races, I refer to them as my grandchildren. But when I show pictures of them to people and I clarify that they are my grandchildren I can see the look they give because it is obvious they are black. but what if I chose to introduce them as my white grandchildren, because they are, after all, just as white as they are black, and Jamie, who is the darkest of the three could very well have white children, too.

To me, the entire subject of racism is absurd because as the years go by it will get harder to separate people by their race.  All of the ugly things white (privileged) people say; like black people are dumber, but it’s not their fault, it’s in their genes (or lack of decent schools and teachers) or that black people have a higher tendency to be criminals or black people do more drugs (statistically proven to be untrue) or black people want more handouts because they are lazy and all the rest of these things that are printed so white people can continue to believe they have a right to be privileged. If black people succeed I often read it is because it was given to them, bot that they earned it.  The horrible things said about Malia Obama when she was accepted at Harvard is a perfect example.

So where is it all going?  I’m in the middle of writing a letter to Jamie at prison.  He wrote to me about the limited information they get about things on the news and wanted to know what was really going on.  I told him, “When you get out, the world will not be what you remember.  You have lived on the outside so little since you were a young boy, so what you remember doesn’t apply to what is happening now.”

That uncertainty must bother him not knowing what he will have to deal with – and knowing so many people are going to be hostile.  The world is changing and not necessarily for the good.  He will have to treat life so carefully to not end up back inside. He won’t have to intend to do anything wrong for someone to take it as such.  He knows that from dealing with the institution inside the gray walls he is locked up in right now. He doesn’t have to do anything to find himself in the wrong.

Yes, I know he is very aware of being racially targeted.  That is how he ended up locked up in the first place.  And being racially targeted, even in juvenile detention,. where being called a nigger by white staff was not unusual.  Of course, a teenager is going to have a temper when he is lied to repeatedly.  Solitary confinement was used liberally to teach these niggers how to behave. No one was going to believe his side of any story.  Black teens grow up knowing they will be lied to, lied about, and will always come out on the wrong end of the stick no matter what they say or do. White people have absolutely no idea what having to live like that is like.  Maybe if they did they would learn not to judge so quickly. White people are NOT special people.  They have just fooled themselves into thinking they are.

Because racism is through the roof with cops, black people  have to worry still about getting killed. Don’t get indignant and insist it isn’t true. It is not the white people who have to fear for their lives from the cops in the same way. Do I have to worry about my grandsons?  Does Jamie have to worry about his half white son. Will my other grandson have to worry have to worry?  Will this boy’s father have to worry? My daughter isn’t worried because she is teaching them respect, but who is teaching the cops to have respect?  I don’t see that happening.  Who is teaching the judges to have respect who refuse to convict a cop when he murders yet another dark skinned person and uses the phrase, “I was afraid for my life, so I thought I’d better shoot him in the back before he turns around and tries to hurt me with the gun he isn’t carrying. Statistics about cop killing people have not been gathered in any kind of consistent manner until now.  It is being fought for now. We need to know what is happening.

WHEN JAMIE IS RELEASED FROM PRISON

When Jamie gets out of prison, what will his world look like?  How will he be treated?  This hate that has been unleashed by Donald Trump who has whipped up his supporters into a frenzy of hate has made it okay for people to take matters into their own hands and shoot people they think is okay to shoot.  When I think back to the history of Germany, did the German people just wake up one day and hate Jews?  No. They had a leader who worked them and blamed them.  He told his white Christian followers they were the privileged chosen race that God intended and he was such a devout Christian.  Religion was used to pit people against people.  This is what is happened with the Christians in this country.  They are special.  God loves them.  Trump tells them over and over that hate is good.  How do we put hate back in the bottle after the election?

Jamie wants to have a good life. Will he be allowed? He wants to help others to not have a life behind bars.  He wants to be a father to his son.  He wants to go to school.  He wants a chance. Will he have that chance? Will the United States come to it’s senses before it reaches a point where it is impossible before it ruins my family, and many other families. It took a long time for me to understand what it meant to not be white.  I didn’t know I had privileges that everyone didn’t have.  I didn’t know I was “special”.  I didn’t feel special, but the cops know I’m special.  Growing up I knew I was different, but I didn’t know it came with privileges.  That only makes me feel shame that some of my grandchildren are not privileged like me.  It should make you feel shame, too.

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Picking Up Broken Pieces Inside AdSeg

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June 3rd, 2016

Hello mom,
I received your letter today and boy, that sure was one long letter. I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can. I will also give you my true thoughts. I’ve really been sitting and thinking about my future. So many things just pop into my head, even when I don’t want to think about it. Please know that I’m okay. Sometimes I just go into a shell to get away. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t. But I’m fine, okay, so don’t worry.

(Sonni’s note: But I do worry. No matter how strong someone may think they are, if you spend time in solitary for an extended period of time you can’t help but be affected by it. Sometimes you have a grip on your head when you’re alone and sometimes you don’t, and it gets to you. I have studied extensively the effects of solitary. Unless you have been there no one can know – including myself, what it is like to go weeks, months and years with no one but yourself to communicate with. No physical touch, no words except orders, no one to talk to about these things in your head.

I had a few rather callous conversations with people who don’t understand and are quick to place blame. “It’s his own fault. He put himself there.” Nobody blamed anyone else, so why are they so quick to make sure you know that. Strangers and family. They think, he is in prison, he shouldn’t be making any mistakes, so it’s his fault. Don’t you think he know that? Do you think he should have learned to behave 100% of the time and never give in to emotions.. The inmate must never forget they are to blame.

Jamie has had some very tough times this last ten plus years – for a variety of reasons – some are because of things he has done and some are because of retaliation from prison guards who have let their authority go to their heads and there are no repercussions for the things they do to inmates. They think, even if he is being continually mistreated, he is supposed to remain calm and don’t contradict guards when they accuse him of doing something he didn’t do. Jamie fills out grievances that are never filed. He is carried down a flight of stairs face first with the guards hooking their arms through the cuffs on his wrists and ankles after having a seizure, because the guards are too lazy to get the board he is to be carried on, strapped on his side in case he has another seizure. . . . .

But he is not to get mad? He is supposed to stay in control and be polite no matter what they do to him? But he is a human being. We all have emotions. Even with an animal, if you treat him bad often enough he is going too bite you. So here we have a human being – someone I know very well and he is expected to do something you yourself would not able to do. You might think you could, but you couldn’t.

Someone said to me, “But you would think by now, after ten years, he would have learned!” Does that mean, no matter what is done to him he is supposed to stand there and not react in any way, always staying polite. Never should he ever reach the point where he can’t take it anymore. Maybe he should crawl into his head so far that he can’t find his way to normalcy when he gets out? How is he supposed to interact with other people when it’s been driven into him that who he is, what he thinks and how he feels really has no importance.

I tell him constantly his life has value. He won’t have a clue what to do when he gets out, but no one who knows him will have much patience with that. They won’t help because they have no clue what solitary confinement is and they will expect that since he is a grown man he should know what to do. Honestly, no one gives a damn what happens to him. He is going to have to prove himself to them before they trust him enough to even be nice. Why should he have to do that?

If he had been a drug addict or a violent person who hurt someone or had a string of convictions that says this guy is trouble – stay away from him; I could understand their skepticism. Except for this, he has not one conviction on his record. Was he perfect? No, but then neither was I. I did things in my youth that could have gotten me prison time had I got caught. I know lots of things people who didn’t get caught for things they did. Have I made them prove themselves to me? I’d like to flush his family down the toilet.

When I read his letters there are times when I can tell he’s in trouble – not physically, but mentally. He tries to stay strong in his letters to me. But he will also apologize to me when he thinks something happened and he should have been in better control. It’s okay. tomorrow is another day. Start over and focus again on your future. Imagine where you’ll be and the
things you want to do. What have you learned that can help other people

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

I’ve been asked, “Why is he back in ad seg again. What did he do?” He probably reached the end of his rope one day and got angry. You aren’t allowed to get angry. Everyone single person has gotten angry and yelled at someone. What if you weren’t allowed to ever get angry and you had to push it down deep inside. Could you do it and NEVER fail? You would just quiet your mind and not react – month after month after month? No, you couldn’t, and then they would give you more time in adseg. It is a lose/lose situation
Many inmates spend years locked up alone. They never get out. How does the prison do it, because it is against the law now to punish someone with more than fifteen days of solitary? By creating more cases. It takes a long time to get out of the lower classifications of prison. Solitary, ad seg (G5) and often G4. If the guards can’t find a way to sentence you with more time, they will just make something up. Do you think they wouldn’t do that? The more people that are locked up like that, the less they have to do. If you were paid what guards were paid you wouldn’t want to do much, either. Besides, they have to endure heat, too. But they get to go home at the end of the day. Still, it’s s sucky job, so amuse yourself and go pick on some inmates. No one will care. Guards stick together just like cops.)
I got a letter from someone who reads your blog. She said her son just got 20 years. She asked me for some pointers. I told her that family support is very important. ( something his own family will never understand) I also gave her some do’s and don’ts to give to her son. She said she was thinking about getting him an attorney, one who used to be a felon. Bad move. I told her to be careful. Make sure he works for a firm so he is legit. Some are just out to get your money because you are vulnerable.

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

biz card
Beware this picture is 30 years old!

So you want to play gigs again. Really! that sounds cool. I think you still have what it takes. I’m sure you are asking yourself, how could I say that? I’ve never heard you play. Passion. It’s because you have a lot of passion and I know that must be in your music. I know you can do it. Go ahead and start gigs again and do something for me while you do it. Enjoy yourself. That’s all for now. I’ll be waiting on you.

(Listen to this piece – really listen to it. Close your eyes.  Put your head back . Tell me what it means to you. Can you tell me what I’m saying?.

I had quit writing music about twelve years ago. I had no more reason to write. I had convinced myself my years of playing professionally were over. I was still teaching, but i played with headphones on so no one would accidentally hear me. I was told my playing might bother people.  I had also been sick for a long time and couldn’t sit up for long. I had nothing to write about. As I began this blog I wanted to play music again. As I healed I started playing my piano more and more. Something had changed, though.  My entire thought process for writing had become something else.  I stopped writing songs and crawled into the music. I started out writing music for Jamie. Music is emotional. Going through these years of keeping him going brought something into my music that wasn’t there before. Now, probably only one day a week, I want to find a nice piano bar or restaurant that would like beautiful music in the background. My days of fronting a band are long over. Now, as you see posts that have music on them you will understand a little more why I insert them.)

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