There are quite a few new people coming to this blog. I want to thank you. It is important to be more aware of our justice system – and our court system that makes and breaks the laws that have been set up supposedly to protect Americans from those who break the law. But from what I read, our systems of court are very choosy about who they protect and who they punish for breaking those laws and it often has nothing to do with whether they are guilty or not. It depends on their skin color, their money, who they know and how much power they have. The American people can scream “INJUSTICE” all day long and it won’t do a damn thing. It keeps happening! The courts do not protect all citizens.
The one thing the average person can do is to inform people of what they learn about this. Don’t just read about it and walk away thinking someone else will fix it. On this page – facebook.com/jamielifeinprison – and this blog there is more than the reporting of police and court injustice, there is knowledge of what goes on behind the scene that takes place inside jails and prisons.
When I heard Trump say that he has done SO much for black people and SO MUCH for inmates, and how he is the least racist person alive – while praising members of the KKK – I am astounded that some people believe him. What he has done for criminal justice wouldn’t fill a teaspoon looking at the millions who are incarcerated and ten times that, when you add in the families who have ruined lives long after they are released from prisons sentences that are far longer than they have ever been. that does not include state prisons where 4/5 of inmates are that affects only a very small percentage of Federal inmates – it can’t stop there! Conditions inside the prisons are worse than ever. We need to do more than just read about it.
So I ask, would you please share more articles on your own timelines and social media that help teach people what our justice system has become. When it is time to vote again, if people are more knowledgeable, they will vote with their brain and not with their feelings, hopefully. Our country has to be more diligent than ever if we are going to have a country that protects all of its people, not just the light skinned ones who have money. Because that is how our justice system works today.
Did you know the prison corporations have contracts with the states promising the prisons will be kept full, or the government will have to pay them for the empty beds? Those contracts have always been there since the Prison Industrial Complex was formed but now, with less Marijuana arrests what sector will they raid to keep the prisons full? Will they prosecute more low income people who can’t afford an attorney? They already do that. They have to fill the beds some way – so who will they go after? We’ll find out. Stockholders must get their profits.
A few weeks ago my husband and were pulled over. It wasn’t because we did anything wrong. We didn’t have a broken tail light. We weren’t speeding. There was no reason to be pulled over. The cop was on a fishing expedition. We drive a seventeen year old car that has seen better days. It was pretty obvious we didn’t come from money. He pulled us over just so he could run our plates and see if there was anything he could get us for. There wasn’t so he had to let us go.
BUT THERE WAS NO REASON TO PULL US OVER. Good thing we were white. There was no telling what would have happened if we weren’t. We’ve all seen the videos. Cops aren’t trying to protect the citizens, they are looking to see who they can arrest. Vigilante cops. Do you all citizens deserve to be called Americans? If you do, you need to do more, even if it is only making more effort to keep people informed.
Many people have read some or all of the chapters I’ve published for my book “Inside The Forbidden Outside.” This chapter is a game changer. If you don’t read to the end the next chapter will confuse the heck out of you because you won’t know what happened.
I’ve been waiting to get to this part of the rewrite. Did you watch the music video “Ghost in My Head”? You can find it at sonniquick.net. That is title of the next chapter.
You will have to subscribe ( BELOW) to get more than the beginnings of chapters. If I want this book and music to successful it is crucial that I build my mailing list faster than it’s growing. It is the only way to let people know what’s going on who don’t constantly follow my blog. No worry, I do not flood people’s inboxes like some do. I don’t have the time or rudeness.
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THE DEATH TRAP
“What’s it like here?” Jamie asked his new cell mate, Ollie. “Are the guards jerks?”
Taking his small bag over to the locker assigned to him, he squatted down and opened it. There wasn’t much to put inside. They’ll send the bulk of his property later on, maybe in a month or so. Meanwhile, he had no books, pictures or old letters to keep him company. “The guards are jerks no matter what prison they send you to,” Ollie finally answered with a pissed off look on his face.” He paused for a few seconds. “They’re worse than some of the men,” he said shaking his head back and forth. “Real lowlifes.” “They aggravate the men so they can set up fights to bet on. “They push and push until you get angry and push back.” Ollie looked away, thinking – remembering. “Then they have you.” “Watching men beat the crap out of each other is their way of having fun,” he sighed. “Why else would they work in this hellhole?” “This place has more deaths from inmates killing each other than any other prison,” he added. “They do that to you?” Jamie asked quickly, not sure if he wanted to know the answer. Ollie didn’t say one way or the other. He did say, “If someone don’t wanna fight, the other men will make their life miserable . . . for a long time. So you’re better off gettin’ up and takin’ your licks. Your gonna end up fightin’ anyway, whether you want to or not.” Ollie stopped and looked over at Jamie. “I hope you know how to fight.” He waited to hear Jamie’s answer. “I can take care of myself.”
It is easy to write about happy things. Some people want to be entertained and read things that takes them away from daily life. Some look for new ways to do things hoping they find that magic bullet that will hold their interest for more than thirty days. Some are trying to improve themselves so they read every article on nutrition or exercise or mental well being. I don’t think we can be happy or well when so many in our population are being abused. Not every inmate is guilty. Many prisoners are innocent. My writing focuses on these points:
1. People are housed out of sight so we don’t have to think about them. We blame these people for all the ills of society. We turn a blind eye. We don’t want to let them back into our neighborhoods because media has taught us these people are to be feared because they want to hurt you in some way. We want to believe these people deserve what is happening to them and there are no exceptions in our mind.
2. Incarceration, and for many it is not what you think. People develop their own ideas about the millions of peoples who are locked up. The government and the media have you brainwashed at this moment that all immigrants are criminals, drug dealers and lowlifes who deserve to have our wrath because we believe they are taking something valuable from us. It is a fallacy. Your life will not be one bit better with a 50 ft wall. We think it is true because that is what the media and government have told us day after day to justify what they do.
3. Understanding the role of the prison corporations in the lives of all incarcerated people – which affect you also. Very few understand the amount of money that is made or the importance you that the people remaining ignorant, No one wants to know these things – until it affects them, and sometimes they contact me. “What do I do,” they ask? “You won’t believe what they are doing to my son. He needs insulin. They are refusing to give it to him.” Or, “My husband has a heart problem, and his cell is over 105 degrees, everyday. He has passed out twice and they won’t let him see the doctor.” In my case it is the refusal to give seizure medication for epilepsy – and this is just medical.
The book I am writing is centered around the life of a man, Jamie Cummings, whose life has been taken from him since he was 16. He is now thirty-five. My book, “Inside The Forbidden Outside” is about his life and his fight to survive until he is released – in 2023, if they don’t find a way to keep him and add years. Yes, that happens.
14 million people are incarcerated every year to find permanent replacements for the 2.3 million who constantly fill the prisons, not counting the immigrant prisons. That is a lot of people. It is more than any country in the world yet we have only 5% of the world’s population – and 25% of the prisoners. Incarceration makes some people very rich. The quality and strength of a society can be seen in the way they treat the incarcerated, the poor, minorities and the elderly. The US is sadly lacking in compassion on all fronts, because people won’t turn around and look.
I write to educate people because nothing will change until people stand up and treat each other the way each of us wants to be treated, if we were down.
You can easily find individual chapters to my book on this website. Here are a couple to get you interested. They are not the 1st and 2nd chapter, but you will understand. Click the subscribe button to get on my monthly newsletter. Share it with your friends. In it are articles, chapters and new music that has been written for the soundtrack of the book.
The harder Jamie tried to stay out of trouble the more it came looking for him. The guards went out of their way to get in his face and push him to make him react. Why? Were they bored? Did they want to mess up his day or they we trained to be that way? If the inmates were locked up the guards had more control over them and there was less they had to do. It was stressful for Jamie. He always felt like he was on the edge, waiting for them to file a case against him whether he did anything or not. One of the hardest things for him to overcome was the instant anger that came over him before he had a chance to think. He expected people to do the right thing and that didn’t happen in here. On the outside it was supposedly right and wrong that got you locked up, but once inside right and wrong had different meanings. When he spoke up for himself or tried to explain anything, it always got him in trouble. So right or wrong didn’t matter. Only who had the power mattered, and it was clear he didn’t have any. Guards didn’t like it if you called them out on anything. Getting bumped down in his line class was almost always because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Jamie didn’t want to lose the last of the privileges he had. The simple actions of being of being able to walk to chow or sit in the day room were hung over his head to keep him in control. If he lost these last privileges he would be confined to his cell. He could learn to control his own actions but he couldn’t control what a guard did, so to lose these privileges he didn’t have to do anything. A guard in a bad mood could make up a charge and it would be his word against the guard and he would lose every time.
What a lousy night. Forget trying to sleep. It was too friggin’ hot and no way to cool down. Summer heat in a Texas prison was hard to get through but there was no choice. It was at least 90° and it was still the middle of the night. Jamie’s little fan, pointed at his face barely moved the air it was so heavy with moisture. His skin stuck to the mattress so he took it off the bunk and tried to sleep on the metal slats beneath. He ran the risk of a guard seeing his mattress off the bed. If he noticed it when he came around for his thirty minute check he might get yelled at to put it back on the bed. It was worth the risk but it didn’t work, anyway. It was a little cooler than the plastic but the metal didn’t make for good sleeping. Now he was tired and cranky with a bad headache. In the morning a guard finally came and took him to the showers. It had been three days since his last one and he knew he didn’t smell very good. He craved the feeling of cold water streaming down his body. There was so little pleasure in this place and a shower ranked on the top of the short list of things that caused pleasure. In the middle of his allotted five minutes, with soap on his body, the guard shut off the water. “What the fu..” he started to say while turning around to face the guard. “What did you do that for?” Jamie asked with a sharp tone in his voice. He could feel himself getting angry so he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and thought, “Not today. Don’t lose it today. Get a grip” They stood there for a long second and stared at each other. All Jamie wanted to do was finish his shower and wash the soap off his skin. If he couldn’t do that the soap would dry on his skin. It would irritate it and make him itch. Add humidity to it and he’d be miserable. The guard who took him to the showers wasn’t having a happy day, either. He didn’t enjoying babysitting this sorry bunch of men. He wanted to hurry Jamie so he could get on to the next smartass he had to bring here. The faster he got done, the faster he could get back to the air conditioned staff office and whatever porn magazine happened to be lying around. This was a crappy job. He’d been here five years now and sometimes he felt like he was the one being sentenced. There weren’t any other good jobs in town that had benefits. He had a family to feed so beggars couldn’t be choosers. He had jumped at the chance to work here, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed it. They didn’t pay him well enough to have to watch these poor suckers get naked and whack off in the shower. He’d seen enough naked men to last a lifetime. They could do whatever they wanted in their cells, even though he could write them up for that, too, but the poor bastards had to get off somehow. He wouldn’t turn a blind eye, though, if he caught them doing each other. That was a mortal sin. The bible was adamant about that. He knew what went on in the cells so he no tolerance for any of them and what they might do. He had no tolerance for this one, either. He was going to hurry him up by turning off the water. He didn’t care if he didn’t get to rinse off the soap. He could plainly see it was all over his body. Serves him right for being here. That was his problem. He was the one in charge and he was calling the shots. Jamie was angry enough to let loose and tell him what he was and wasn’t going to do and demand he turn the water back on. He hesitated. If he did that he might lose everything he had been working toward, over a stupid, lousy shower. He told himself every day to stay in control of his mouth. He didn’t want to do something that would mess up his chances of going home. This would get him in trouble, probably get written up and lose his line class. That would put him in 24 hour lock up. Was it worth it over a shower? No. He was angry because he couldn’t do anything about it. Right and wrong didn’t matter. He’d screw the last months he was trying to get through so he could get moved back up to population. He wanted to go to school so he could take care of his family when he got out. He had to remember that. Jamie stopped and shut his mouth. He clamped his lips together and tried to think fast. He had two ways to go. Each one had a different result. Up till now he followed his instinct and let his anger speak for him. It never worked. Not once. He could do it different this time. He reached for his towel and covered himself. He didn’t look at the guard in a confrontational way. He lowered his head and looked down. What did he really want here? He only wanted to finish his shower and he didn’t want no trouble. He didn’t need to let his pride stand in the way. He sure didn’t want a stand off with a guard that would only end one way – with him in lock up. “Sir?” he said respectfully. “Could I have another minute . . . please . . . to rinse off?” Jamie waited. He said nothing else. It was the guards turn to talk. There was nothing he should find fault with. “About time,” the guard thought to himself. He was being shown the respect he thought he deserved. Why he thought he deserved respect without earning it, because he was a guard, was at the root of the problem between inmates and guards. But Jamie appearing subservient felt good so thought he’d bestow a little kindness on him, like a man in authority should do. “Okay, one minute,” he said as he flipped his fingers at him like he was brushing a fly away from his face. “Make it snappy,” he added. The guard turned the water back on and stood there and watched. You couldn’t be too careful with these morons. You never knew what they might do.
Click on the title to bring up the video. It will blow your mind. I write continually about conditions in the prisons. Some are worse than others but none of them are places you would want to be. But there are people out there who think inmates have it pretty good. Three meals a day, a roof over their heads and free medical care. People are clambering to get inside and be taken care of – they ignorantly believe. Watch and tell me what you think.
The US state of Alabama has the fifth highest incarceration rate in the world. Its prison system has become so dangerously overcrowded that in 2016, for the first time, the US Justice Department launched a federal civil rights investigation into the entire state’s prison conditions.
If you trace it back to the slave plantation, this is where solitary confinement punishment started. If you tried to run away they would put you in a box. If you talked back to the slave master, they put you in a box. And so it has evolved from a small box to a small cell.
Melvin Ray a.k.a Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun, co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement
Meanwhile, prisoners have been taking matters into their own hands.
In September 2016, inmates at Holman Prison went on strike to protest against what they call cruel and unusual forms of punishment – including labour, for little to no pay.
Inmates used smuggled cellphones to spread the word about the strike, which took hold in about two dozen states.
How did a group of prisoners calling themselves the Free Alabama Movement organise the single largest prison strike in US history?
Fault Lines‘ Josh Rushing travelled to Alabama to find out more about them – discovering two of the group’s leaders are now in solitary confinement. Despite their isolation, through letters and videos they are still finding ways to get their message to the world.
Jamie could see the Smith Unit long before they reached it. After the bus drove through the small town of Lamesa he saw it sitting way back off the road on flat, treeless, desert land. Ugly and boring. The prison was a series of large, connected concrete structures sprawled out in different directions. He was definitely a long way from the piney woods of East Texas. Guards were in the towers at the corners, watching everything below. He could see big guns sticking out. Jamie wondered if they had ever used them to shoot someone trying to escape. High metal fences inside even higher metal fences were topped with multiple rolls of razor wire. No, he decided. He doubted anyone could escape if they tried. The only set of buildings in sight, this monstrosity, was now his new home so he better get used to it. Jamie could feel his stomach churning. He was scared and didn’t want to show it. Trying to calm his nerves, he took deep breaths and slowly blew them out. He had never been inside a prison, but he knew it would not be good it he appeared nervous or scared. The men inside would be looking for any weakness they could take advantage of. He was told not to look them in the eye or draw attention to himself. If he looked confrontational he might become a target before he had a chance to figure out what was up from down. He saw two huge buildings with two floors of tiny windows. That must be where the prisoner cells were. He could see fields in the distance with people dressed in white, working in the rows of whatever they were growing. Men on horseback with dogs walked next to the horses. Jamie frowned. Is this what his life was going to be now? It was hot as blazes outside. Maybe it was better than being kept inside, but he knew when he got overheated it could bring on a seizure. He didn’t think they’d care much about that. He had a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was a different world, inside a world that most people would never see, or even think of. He was now going to be part of a part of a society that would always be considered outcasts, even when they get out. There were millions of people locked up in America; more than anywhere in the world.
It was a way of life for people like him, much more than whites, but it was still hard to believe there were so many, of either race who were locked up. They were being hid in plain sight if anyone bothered to look. They were able to provide jobs for people because someone had to look after them. This was his new address. He had traded his name for a number. Towns with prisons were only to happy to have it there. Of course, they were far enough away so no one had to look at it. They could pretend it wasn’t there, unless it was putting food on their table. Pains were taken to keep people from knowing what really went on inside, no matter how brutal it was. He didn’t really know himself yet how bad it could get. All he heard were stories. He learned a lot from talking to other dudes at the jail who had been locked up before. Would his time be any better? Why would anyone care about people who were locked up? They were criminals. They were bad people. It didn’t matter what kind of criminal. Murderer, drug addict or bad check writer, they were all treated the same. He was about to find that out for himself. Jamie told himself he didn’t care. He could make it, as long as he had Morgan and the kids, he didn’t need anything else. Just thinking about it made his heart hurt. All he knew, if he had been inside before, he wouldn’t do anything that would send him back here again. He was headed into this prison and there was nothing he could do about it. He no longer had any control over his life, or anything in it. He better get used to it because it would be a long time before he got it back. Do what you’re told, when you’d told to do it. Eat what you’re given you to eat, no matter how bad it is. Sleep when you’re told. Wake when you’re told, even if it is breakfast in the middle of the night. Shower when you’re told. Crap at the right time, before the toilets automatically flush. Wear the same prison uniform every day. There was no decision he could make on his own for the next seventeen years. Jamie knew he had to worry about other inmates as much as he needed to worth about what the guards could do to him. There were different laws inside, enforced with a different set of rules. His rights as a human being were taken way. There was supposed to be prisoner’s rights, that maybe looked good on paper, but enforcing them was another matter. This would be a hard transition. He wanted to scream at the driver, “Pull over. Let me off. This is a terrible mistake. I’m not supposed to be here,” but he didn’t. He kept his mouth shut. It would be a bad way to start day one. None of the dudes he started with on this ride were still on the bus. One by one they had been dropped at other prisons and new faces came onboard. Five men got off with him at Smith Unit. It was hot as hell when Jamie stepped down to the pavement. They were lined up in front of the bus. In spite of the heat, it felt good to stand and stretch his legs. Sitting so long made his knees swell. The heat coming through the bottom of his slip-on tennis shoes would probably fry up some bacon and eggs. When Jamie was hungry he tortured himself thinking about the different food he knew he couldn’t have, and wouldn’t have again for a very long time. He really was hungry, though. There were no clouds in the sky and the sun beating down was brutal. He wanted to shield his eyes but didn’t want to raise his hand to his face. It might look like an aggressive move. Three guards had walked up to the bus and two of them had a mean looking German Shepard at their side. He was not about to test them. The third guard stood in front of them and carried a clip board. The first name called out was “James Cummings?” “That’s me,” he answered back. “When I speak, you say, yes Sir.” The guard instructed. “Yes Sir,” Jamie repeated back. He called off the rest names and said, “Follow the yellow line into the building. Stop at the desk on the right for instructions.” The guard backed away and they filed into the building. The guard standing at the desk handed each of them a clean set of whites along with a worn, white towel wrapped around a tiny bar of soap. Jamie looked down at it. This was all he had. Everything else was gone. He didn’t know when, or if his property from the jail would be sent to him. He wasn’t counting on it. Others told him sometimes things had a way of getting lost when you were sent someplace. They were taken into a room and told to get naked for a strip search. No privacy, of course. If anyone was embarrassed, too bad. “Open your mouth,” he was told. “Stick your tongue out, then lift it up and down so I can see under your tongue and the roof of your mouth.” “Put your hands behind your head,” while they patted him down and checked behind his ears and arm pits. “Lift your balls,” was the next order, and Jamie listened. The guard then turned him around while he put on latex gloves to do a cavity search from behind. It wasn’t his first strip search. He knew there would be many more so he better get used to it. The men were then taken to the shower, which was good because he he knew how much he stunk from the bus trip. They were naked as they followed orders to walk down the hall. He felt eyes sizing him up as they walked toward the showers. They entered one big room with a shower nozzle every three feet. The mold on the floor and walls made him want to back out of the room before he touched anything. There were a few men already in there, standing under the water, going to town on themselves as if they were in a room by themselves. They didn’t seem to mind an audience. He had five minutes to wash. As filthy as he was, it was barely enough time. He would have enjoyed standing there for awhile letting the water pour over his body, but he was no longer allowed to decide how long his shower would be. They shut the water off whether you were done or not. When he tried to put on the clothes he was given, he realized they gave him a white shirt and pants that were way too small. Maybe it was done on purpose to see if he would complain. The pants had an elastic waist and drawstring but he could barely stretch the elastic enough to pull them up. He was going to split the seams for sure. He was led to the first tier of a cell block in medium security. The cells lined the interior wall. There was a walkway around the second tier with men standing outside their cells, leaning over the railing looking to see who the new guy was. Cat calls and rude comments were shouted down at him. He ignored them. He was put in a cell with another person sitting on the bottom bunk. They didn’t say anything to each other. There was plenty of time for that later.
After a couple weeks he wondered if he was ever going to get his stuff from the jail. He didn’t know what they did with the clothes and shoes he had on when he was arrested. That stuff didn’t matter so much, but there was also papers he didn’t want to lose. Maybe Morgan had them. There was also her letters to him and his pictures. She sent him pictures of herself and the kids and little Jamie’s pictures this first year. She also sent him pictures of his family. Now he had nothing. So many times Jamie had laid the pictures out on his bunk and stared at each one, trying to memorize it. His mom and brother came to see him in the beginning and then they stopped. He didn’t understand why. All he had were their pictures and now they were most likely gone. He missed them. He figured it was his fault his mom wouldn’t answer his letters. He gave her a hard time growing up. And the letters? Morgan’s letters were his lifeline. He reread them so many times. It was like she was talking to him. He didn’t feel lonely when he read them. Now he did. Now he had nothing. A little more of him was chipped away every day.
Jamie never knew who his dad was, at least not for sure. There was never a man who was active in his life. His mama didn’t talk to him about it. The other kids in the family each had fathers and he was jealous sometimes when they went off to spend the weekend with their other family and he had to stay home. He got one letter at the prison from a man who said he was his father. Just one and then he never heard from him again. If he was his father, how come this was the first time he was hearing about it? Did this man write to his mom but never ask about him? Or he did ask about him but his mom never told him. What was the truth? He told Jamie he just got out of prison. For what? Was he in since he was born? How come his mama didn’t write to tell him now that she gave his address to this man? In this letter he asked Jamie to give him a chance to be a dad. He was twenty- five so it was a little late to be a dad. Still, Jamie told him it was okay and asked one thing from him; to give the love to his grandson that he never gave to him. Jamie never heard from him again. He gained and lost a father in one letter. That was fast. Was this man really his father? Did it matter at this point? He was over not having a dad. He knew the most important thing now was that his son knew he had a dad. His son would grow up knowing his father was in prison. He didn’t like it that and hurt real bad. Jamie knew he wouldn’t be there for all the growing up years. He wouldn’t be able to teach him anything. He couldn’t watch him play sports. He couldn’t help him with school or share holidays. So in a way he was absent just like whoever his own father was. Maybe his dad loved him but couldn’t find a way to tell him because he was ashamed to tell him. Not knowing was worse because he thought his dad didn’t love him. But since he will never know the truth, it was too late to wonder what it would be. Jamie did know one thing for sure. He loved his son. He wanted the best for him. He wanted him to grow up to be a good man. He had to trust that Morgan would raise him right and keep him safe. When he got out, Jamie would make it up to him as best he could.
Prison is big business. There is lots of money to be made by prison slavery. If you think it is anything but that you are sadly mistaken or uneducated about our justice system. You believe the garbage put out by the news that black people are dangerous and Hispanics are rapists and murders. Who did we hear that from? And the attorney general wants to increase the prisons and make new crimes.
What does it matter if the person arrested is innocent or guilty? Incarcerating the innocent? Locking up the mentally ill? Sentencing young children as adults? All of that is worth big bucks to the corporations who run the prisons as well as the American companies who make the products consumers buy. They want the free labor, unless you think .10 – .22 is actually a wage. Do you? Seriously, do you? Does it bother you at all?
Do you want to know which of the products you buy was made by the free labor of a prison inmate? As a consumer how much did you pay for that piece of Victoria Secret’s Lingerie? Prisons make more items than you realize, as well as a lot of the gear used by the military, the police and even the servers at fast food chains. Dentures, computer parts and furniture. How much is it worth to a company to not have high labor costs, workman’s comp, sick leave, maternity leave, overtime or vacation pay? Companies bid for prison labor. Do you think these companies want prisons to close down or should America build more? Do you think they care if the people inside are guilty or innocent? Absolutely not. They think of their bottom line.
I have been writing about these issues for more than a few years, but I have reading, researching and learning about problems in prisons for a lot longer than that. It floors me that prisons are allowed to severely mistreat people inside and no one stops them. They are fed poorly. Only those inmates at the top level of minimum security – G2 – are allowed to take any educational classes. The lowest population of people are in G2. The rest are in G4, G5, adseg and solitary. They make sure people stay in those levels even if they have to file false cases to keep them there. If they do make it out of prison they don’t have anyway to get a job because they don’t have a GED. Some people put comments at My Name is Jamie. My Life in Prisonsaying these people deserve every bad thing that happens to them because they are criminals, without knowing if they are guilty or if they were incarcerated as innocent. Many were kept from a jury trial because they couldn’t pay an attorney. Do say they had a public defender because they work for the DA and there job is to scare them into taking a plea or more charges would be added. What would you do if the choice was fifteen years or fifty? Would you take the plea – even if you were innocent?
How can that be? Now we have a president and an attorney general who wants to make it worse for inmates plus create new crimes to lock up even more people, especially those who aren’t white. Why would they want to do that? There was only four reasons I could think of. Money Racism Money and Money. Or they have serious mental issues. People at the top who have always had the ability to do something about it must be profiting from it in some way. Obama was finally “beginning” to do something, but this new administration hates him so much they want to undo anything he did.
This has been going on for longer than Obama. Let’s go back to Nixon who began the war on drugs for the sole purpose of locking up black people. Politicians get campaign money from the Prison Industrial Complex to vote for laws to their benefit while entertainment licensed stations like Fox News convinced oppressors that black people are inferior, with a lower IQ and are born with a criminal gene – and white people actually believed it. Of course, white people were superior! I’m white, and I’d be embarrassed if I had to say I believed that.
Who are the people who have have money invested in the prison corporations?CoreCivic(prepare yourself for pure propaganda) – aka CCA- stock rose when Trump was elected because he was heavily promoting locking up more people and increasing mandatory minimums. Prison corporations probably had a party to celebrate. Or maybe we have too many KKK affiliates in our government. But today people are dumping their stock is dropping because of what is happening in this administration. Why do we have so many people in power who don’t care if innocent people are locked up? Those of us with loved ones inside – we understand what is happening. We know the truth. But the truth doesn’t matter. Only profit does.
I never thought much about prisons before I met Jamie in 2005 shortly before he was arrested. I was ignorant. I only knew what I saw in movies or TV series like Prison Break. I didn’t question anything. It didn’t affect my life before this. When I started researching I thought, could this be true? Was it really happening? Why didn’t I know about it?
How about the series, Orange is the New Black? A fifteen month sentence and it’s been on what – five or six seasons? Their guards are like comedians. The inmates talk about awful food, but I saw what they serve at there nice little buffet in their once room cafeteria. This is what people watch to find truth about the prison system? The information can be found if they stopped watching TV. But then they are watching it to be entertained, not to learn something.
It’s a joke. It looks like a joke. It’s no wonder people think what they do. Unless you know someone inside or do some serious searching, prison looks like a great place to be. Free education, except you have to be on the top level if you want to study for your GED or learn a trade, and trust me, if you are black or a minority they have no qualms filing false cases to make sure you stay on the lower levels. 12 years Jamie has been locked and never has there been a GED class in sight for him.
I’m not going to take the time today to go through everything I know to be true, just understand that I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t. I have a few trolls who like to leave comments calling me names and telling me how stupid I am. They say all people are in prison because they ARE GUILTY! They deserve to be abused. If you do the crime you have to do the time. Yes, there are many people in prison who are guilty, and some are guilty of very bad things, but I am talking about the ones who are not. Being guilty or not guilty is rarely the reason one goes to prison. It comes down to this – do you have the money to pay for an attorney? If you don’t, you usually have to accept a plea deal. Plead guilty and you’ll get less years. Plead innocent and they will tack on extra charges. Either way, you now have a felony record. When you get out it will be nearly impossible to rent an apartment and if you find a job it will likely pay less because they know you are a desperate for a job and will take anything In addition – you can’t vote.
Crime is down, so how can Trump and Sessions talk about there being a rise in crime when the courts have put so many innocent people in prison? In addition, the mandatory minimum sentencing is far to long to make any sense. How can I know this? Because I read about so many people, mostly black and Hispanic men who fight for decades to prove their innocence – and they get out. Even with proof the DA tries their damnedest to keep them locked up. Why? To save face? Because they can’t admit they were wrong? Or because when the prisons are full, our government doesn’t have to pay the Prison Industrial Complex for empty beds? The government is on the hook to keep the prisons full any way they can. They don’t care if people are innocent or guilty – only that they fill a prison bed. The system is corrupt. It is a slave system that imprisons citizens.
We need to support people who are tying hard to not get convicted for something they didn’t do, and to find an attorney who will take their case. Only 3% of those arrested get to see a judge to present evidence. They never make it court except to plead guilty and agree to go to prison. They don’t care when they make someone plead guilty when they aren’t?
I have talked to a fair amount of people who weren’t guilty. Some are out now, and some are still working on their cases. This must be stopped! The point of prison is to punish the guilty, not make corporations rich. A sentence should be equal to the crime and rehabilitation needs to be there to help them become productive citizens. The point of prison is not to destroy people so they can’t live. It also destroys the lives of the guards who have to live with the things they have done to these people.
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.
This year we had an example of what happens when we fight against wrong, and win. The people who have been marginalized for centuries after we took their land from them and then pushed them onto tiny patches of land and continued to strangle them as though their lives were worth nothing. They stood up and showed us what the word courage meant. Their intention was not meant to teach us that, they had decided they were not going to let the bullies in this country tell them once again it didn’t matter what they thought; they couldn’t have a say so about the land given to them in treaty if it went against what the bully wanted.
What a proud, strong name – Standing Rock. How appropriate. How unmovable. It was sheer will against sheer will.
“We are going to make you move,” the bully said. “We don’t care if we ruin your lives. We are going to put that pipeline under your water. We are bigger and more powerful and you can’t stop us!”
“This rock stands. It is solid,” The Americans, the true Americans said. “We will not fight you. We bring no weapons. We come in peace but you will not dig up our land to increase your profit. You have raped this land for too long.” The bully isn’t used to not getting it’s way. Other bullies, including our new president have invested much money in this pipeline, in the destruction of our earth and by God they were going to get their way – except they didn’t.
I’m sure the bullies are dreaming up other ways to force the Indians to do their bidding. Who are they, after all, to stop them? They have always won, until now.
The bullies in the land, the wealthy corporations, who can never have enough money and power, disguised their motive in the beginning as being for the good of the people. There is no need to pretend any more. They intend to take what they want and destroy the lives of anyone who gets in their way!
I wanted so much to see the American Indians win but deep in my heart I didn’t see how they could – but they did!
My heart swelled with joy and admiration. All they did was stand there, immovable, and thousands of people came and cheered for them, joining in solidarity. They faced off the bullies. One side with weapons and the Indians with peace. This was important enough to lay their lives down if they had to.
The call came in. The bullies were backing down. Today, while reading I learned something new. Originally, the pipeline was to be put in close to the town of Bismark. They said no! You can’t put it here. You might destroy our water! After thinking a about it they decided instead to put it through the protected land of American Indians, the only true Americans in this country. Bismark won, too, but they suffered no casualties. You see, Bismark is 92% white. The bullies would never have attacked them with guns and other means of hurting people. Bismark was filled with the chosen race, the pure race, the white race. The Indians were expendable.
(update 12/29: I found out with further research that the info I read on Bismark was misleading and was never viable as an option. My apologies for not double checking my resource)
This gave me so much hope and encouragement. It showed me what having faith in one’s convictions really was. For years I have been trying to help change what the bullies do to millions of people who are often innocent of crimes yet get caught in the money making teeth of the Prison Industrial Complex. Guilty or not guilty doesn’t matter. They just need people to make them money. They are forced to work for pennies if they pay them at all. Companies bid on slave labor to make their products. They twist the minds of people through PR until they say, “Let the notion of slavery rest. Why do you always call it slavery?” But if they were forced to work in often very poor conditions, ignoring medical issues, fed slop only fit for pigs and then use their pennies to buy hygiene and cannot use it to help their families, then slavery is exactly what it is. Many are sexually assaulted. Men and women and often by guards.
They twist the minds of people through PR until they say, “Let the notion of slavery rest. Why do you always call it slavery?” But if they were forced to work in often very poor conditions, ignoring medical issues, fed slop only fit for pigs and then use their pennies to buy hygiene and cannot use it to help their families, then slavery is exactly what it is. Many are sexually assaulted. Men and women and often by guards.There are many groups of people across the country and around the world who are fighting to help the men, women and children who are caught in this hell. We fight for sentences to be reasonable and for the non guilty to be freed. We do not want anyone to be forced in a plea deal out of fear because they are told if the choose to go to court they will add charges so they will never get out.
White people, black and brown people who commit the same crime should get the same sentence. Parole should fair, and people granted more than a few minutes on a video screen to plea their case while the parole board looks at the next case.
Prison corporations need to go. Education and rehabilitation need to be there so when they are introduced back to society they have a chance of survival instead of being forced to do something illegal so they have enough money to buy food.
There are millions of people inside prisons working hard so you can buy the products made for the companies that bid on prison labor. You have no idea if it is made by an inmate who had no choice but to work for for pennies an hour. There are three times that many people affected on the outside as well, and many on probation and parole who can’t find places to life or get a job. Slowly it is changing because people like me, are working to educate people that prison is nothing like what they watch on TV.
There will be a stand-off coming where people are going to have to choose whether they want their lives ruled by corporate profits. Starting in 2017, for the first time, we will have a government run by the very corporations we railed against. I don’t have to list these corporations. Read the news at Common Dreams, Alternet, Truth Out and others that actually print the truth and not what they are paid to print. Verify at more than one site before you believe anything, the mistake I made earlier in this article. Open your mind and learn the truth. I have no time to fill my mind with the things they want us to believe. Some people are gullible and believe something because they want to and it has no bearing in truth.
The wrong people are changing our country in the wrong way. It’s time we stand up and fight for each other and with each other instead of fighting against each other for our destruction. Make your life count for something. That is the legacy you leave behind.
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 mediaquite 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.
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.