Are You Aware There is a Prison Protest Happening?

There is so much continued repetitious crap in the media right now, regurgitating itself over and over again – about the antics of Donald Trump – that serious issues are being put to the sidelines. Intentional? The ongoing dumbing down of America?

Over 14,000,000 people are arrested each year, often incarcerated for years without ever being charged and found guilty – because they can’t afford bail. The corporations make a fortune off these people from phone  calls and commissary alone. Many of these people provide the constant filling of prison beds. Add to it the reopened, crumbling prisons that had been previously closed, and the tent prisons used to hold the immigrants who needed out help. What did the US do with the people – they were turned over to prison corporations like CoreCivic to use and abuse for more profit. I won’t get into what they did to the kids.

Because of horrible and corrupt prisons where many of the guards are dirty and bring in drugs and other contraband to line their own pockets. It feeds the drug dealers and the gangs inside and puts everyone’s lives at risk. Contrary to popular, ignorant belief – everyone inside is not a hardened criminal. Some are innocent and some want to get their lives on track and lead a better life. Some have families that are left outside scared their loved one will get killed. I have communicated with a lot of inmates. Don’t argue with me until you have done the same. Prison is nowhere close to “Orange is the New Black.” The guards on that show are a joke and the inmates make good comedians.

This month there was a riot inside Lee’s Correctional institute in So Carolina. Seven men brutally died. Part of the reason was because there were very few guards to help put it down. A large percentage were dirty. The men had been left to roam free in the prison. Enough is enough is enough.

http://sawarimi.org/national-prison-strike  This includes the demand list.

There was, at last count, 17 prisons that started a protest for better conditions inside less than a week ago. That protest will go on until Sept 4th. Instead of listing everything this protest is about along with a list of their demands, I will give you the links to read it for yourself. The powers that be are trying viciously to not let info on the protest inside their prisons. I found one inmate yesterday that knew nothing of it. Now he does and he is armed with details. If you know anyone inside, find out if they know and get this information to them so more inmates and their families can stand in solidarity. The men inside are begging us on the outside to support their efforts.

 

itfo newsletter

SUBSCRIBE

 

Twitter  @sonni-quick

Facebook  Jamie Life in Prison    

SonniQuick   Main music website – YouTube videos and separate music tracks – subscribe to a separate mailing list for music.

Watch and Whirl – my other blog –

 

How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From The Inside : Code Switch : NPR

 

NPR story.jpg
Martin Sostre

An article from NPR that is an interesting read.  A little bit of history, realizing that the issues people face today have been going on for quite a long time.

Source: How One Inmate Changed The Prison System From The Inside : Code Switch : NPR

 

download
ITFO Newsletter

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

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

Sonni’s Pinterest

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

Child Safe Zones -Marlon Peterson

“PAs As I I meandered around the internet this ev

think-highly-of-yourself (1)
Source credit: cqinsulting.co.za

eneople like me,

who come from where I come from, should be setting new paradigms for what justice looks like. 

Meandering around the internet this evening, looking for ideas that expressed the thoughts in my head, I found a young man by the name of Marlon Peterson. I was impressed by what I saw. In the letters I write to Jamie I like to find examples of people who used their experience of prison in a positive way and became people to be proud. There is a positive inside every negative if you look for it, and if you want to find it.

Let’s face it – it takes a strong determined person to not let prison affect them negatively. It’s hard to not leave prison angry at what was done to them inside; being used, abused, fed worse than neglected dogs with medical conditions untreated, sometimes causing permanent problems and even death. There is anger at our justice system over sentences that are ungodly long and often given to innocent people. We know the problems but have felt powerless to change the system. To make it worse, adults are teaching their young the same negativity. More and more people feel they need to carry a gun to protect themselves so neighborhoods, schools, places of business and the streets have become frightful places to be, and it’s escalating. Are these places more dangerous, or are WE more dangerous?

During Marlon Peterson’s stay in prison he made a determination to make changes and he is following through with that. If people only talk about what needs to change but never does anything about it we continue to see a growing mess. I talked with several people last night on this subject. If we wait for someone else to make changes to the slavery behind bars nothing will happen. The government won’t make changes – they caused it to be the way it is in the first place. Politicians are often corrupt and corporations want to make money not carrying who they hurt to get it.

The people who will change it will be the people who are affected by it. The success of the American Indians, because their cause was important to them fired up the passion in other people. There are millions of people in prison. Three times that on parole and probation. A hell of a lot of money is made by fines and other charges that need to be paid that eat up measly paychecks before they can eat.

And there are the children – the future hunted down juveniles detainees who are the future prisoners, hunted down by police who are rarely prosecuted for outright, obvious murder, and we let them get away with it because we feel powerless

We need to envision a different world and work to make it safe for our children and people on the street. So many people carry a gun because they are afraid. I will NEVER carry a gun. There are many things I have the right to do but that doesn’t mean I have to do them.

It is almost the start of a new year as I decide what is important to do and the part I want to play in it. Some people are do things, some people watch and some people stick their head in the sand. Who are you?

I’m going to end this with an except from Marlon Peterson’s website. I encourage you to go there and read more. Pass this on to your friends. I sent it to Jamie. He is fired up to start studying and take control of where his life is going after he gets in only six more short years.

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

Marlon is the founder and chief re-imaginator of

The Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm, and a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Soros Justice. Ebony Magazine has named him one of America’s 100 most influential and inspiring leaders in the Black community.  He is also an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar.

Marlon spent his entire 20’s inside of New York State prisons for his involvement in a crime as a teenager. During that time he earned an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice with Honors. He spent the last five years of his incarceration as the head of the Transistional Services Center where he created programming and curricula for men nearing release from incarceration. He also spearheaded and designed an experiential workshop for incarcerated men and college students from Vassar College called, “Vassar & Otisville–Two Communities Bridging the Gap.”

During his incarceration he collaborated with friend, author, and founding principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Dr. Nadia Lopez, to create a letter correspondence mentorship program with middle school students.  This program set the foundation for the creation of H.O.L.L.A. (How Our Lives Link Altogether). Serving as the founding executive director, HOLLA is a 2016 recepient of an Echoing Green Fellowship under the leadership of the current executive director, Andrew Cory Green.

Since his release in prison in December 2009, Marlon has held several nonprofit positions. He is the former Director of Community Relations at The Fortune Society,and previously served as the Associate Director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, founding coordinator of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets, and co-founder of How Our Lives Link Altogether (H.O.L.L.A!). Marlon also serves as board chair of Families For Freedom and board member of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

Marlon graduated from New York University with a Bachelors of Science with a concentration on Organizational Behavior.

Marlon’s writings have appeared in Ebony, Gawker, The Nation, The Crime Report, Black Press USA, Huff Post, and other online publications.  He has contributed to Kiese Laymon’s award winning novel, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America and Love Lives Here, Too by former New York Times columnist, Sheila Rule. 

 ********************

 THE NEXT MONTHLY ISSUE OF THE ITFO NEWSLETTER WILL BE GOING OUT SOON. TAP THE LINK TO GET IT DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX. EACH ISSUE NOW WILL FOCUS ON A DIFFERENT ASPECT OF PRISON ISSUES EACH MONTH. THERE HAS BEEN NO TALK OF PRISON REFORM SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN WHEN EVERYONE JUMPED ON THE BANDWAGON SAYING THEY WOULD BE THE ONE TO FIX IT. NOW NOTHING IS BEING SAID. IT WILL BE THE PEOPLE DEMANDING CHANGE THAT HAS THE ONLY CHANCE OF CHANGING THIS. PLEASE POST THIS ON YOUR OWN SM AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO SHARE IT, TOO. WE’VE SEEN WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER AS THE AMERICAN INDIANS HAVE DONE. WE NEED TO MAKE PRISON REFORM IMPORTANT, NOT JUST TALK ABOUT IT. CAN WE DO THAT?

download
ITFO Newsletter

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

Sonni’s Pinterest
If you haven’t “liked” Jamie’s facebook page yet you can do so in the info under this post.

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

Life in Chapters: A life in and out of prison – The Round Table

Source: Life in Chapters: A life in and out of prison – The Round Table  

 

Talib-trailer-1170x780-1

Author’s Note: Some of the information in this article could not be independently verified

Life has never been easy for 62-year-old Talib Akbar. Born in Mississippi (town unspecified), he was the youngest child in a family on the run from an abusive stepfather. They made their way to Arkansas, where he would spend most of his teen years. This is also where Akbar would do his first prison stint. Akbar did not specify what his crimes here were, but he did state they were non-violent crimes. He also claims to have done another stint in Iowa, also non-violent.

It was in 1986 that he first moved to Wisconsin. He and a friend moved to Green Bay to start a boxing club. His friend ended up gaining some traction and competing at a higher level, while Akbar stayed back to run the club. But for Akbar, it was in Wisconsin where his life would be permanently changed.

Nine years later, in 1995, Akbar was convicted of two counts of second-degree sexual assault, after a patient at the facility he was working at reported him. His trial was peculiar to say the least. He said he knew the moment he lost. “My attorney told me, ‘They want you,’” he said. His attorney subsequently quit.

After his attorney left him, he was forced to represent himself. Akbar said the jury would not allow him to present evidence that could have potentially exonerated him. Akbar would then be convicted of two counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 10 years.

“I’ve never been a violent man my entire life,” said Akbar. “You ask anyone who knows me, I’m innocent of this crime.” While Akbar maintains his innocence, he also tries to maintain a positive attitude towards life. “That was just a chapter of my life,” he said. Akbar does not want to focus on what happened to land him in jail, so he has diverted his attention to prison reform. He says the horrors he has seen behind bars were enough to chill anyone to the bone.

Since being released, his life has focused on prison reform. He recalled a memory from part of his time done in Kettle Moraine, a town in southeastern Wisconsin, is also home to a prison facility. He remembered it was February, and another inmate was having convulsions. Having been trained in CPR, he tried to help. According to Akbar, he was then ordered back to his cell by a correctional officer, where he watched his fellow inmate die on the floor of the jail. “His name was Gilman, he was getting out in April,” explained Akbar. He claimed that once the officers arrived, it took them nearly half an hour to call the medical professionals.

While in prison, Akbar was subject to abuse himself. He claims that, while once being taken to the infirmary for an illness, the correctional officer groped him non-consensually. Akbar has also done multiple stints in solitary confinement, which has become the centerpiece of his activism. While in solitary confinement, he sketched the makeup of his cell; a group in Madison built the cell based on his sketch and has been touring around the state trying to expose the corruption within the Wisconsin correctional system, which made a stop at Beloit College in the fall of 2015. He says the corruption extends to much higher levels. He said some of the guards would often distribute the wrong medication to inmates. Whether or not the guards purposefully and maliciously distributed the wrong medication, or it was just negligence, Akbar stated that it needs to be changed.

While he was behind bars, he decided to put his time to good use. He has since become a paralegal, giving him a far better understanding of the legal system. Akbar hopes to use these skills to truly expose corruption in the system. In 1999, he tried to amend his sentence because he claimed that his sentence was extended without his knowledge. His sentence was changed from concurrent to consecutive without notifying him. His motion was denied, claiming the error did not lengthen his sentence and was a simple clerical error.

He also claims that the detective who investigated his case (name not given) had already decided his guilt, and overlooked evidence that could have potentially freed him. He had another friend who was investigated by the same detective during an appeal to be let out on parole. One of the last things his friend ever said to him was “I can’t go back to jail.” After an investigation by this detective, his friend committed suicide.

Akbar’s time in prison was, in his words, just a chapter of his life. He has many years ahead of him, during which he hopes to take time to continue to inform people about prison reform, to tell his stories and to enlighten people as to what’s really going on behind bars. “When you walk into prison, you lost control of all facets [of] life,” he says. That’s something he wants to change.

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

download
ITFO Newsletter

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

Sonni’s Pinterest
If you haven’t “liked” Jamie’s facebook page yet you can do so in the info under this post.

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

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.

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

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.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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

GO TO PART ONE

download
ITFO Newsletter

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

Sonni’s Pinterest
If you haven’t “liked” Jamie’s facebook page yet you can do so in the info under this post.

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

How To Help Former Inmates Thrive

handcuffs-308897__340

When I recently read the article below it really hit home. It is a subject that has been on my mind a lot. When Jamie, or any of the inmates I’ve come to know, is released, let alone the ones who have been released and are struggling so hard, how can we, as supposedly a caring society, continue to avert our eyes because we think it is not our responsibility to help them, Christian nation we are supposed to be. We are all linked. Helping this part of society helps us all. When vou take into consideration the large percentage of inmates who aren’t even guilty of a crime, and those who were driven insane by extended lockups in solitary confinement and af seg, often caused by our government and the push to lock up as much of the black population as possible through the made up “War on Drugs”, they deserve to have us help them reclaim what is left of their lives.

Judging by the comments left, there are still so many people who need to be educated about our prison population because they think ALL of them are criminals who are deserving of nothing even though they are capable of reading the news about the exonerations because evidence shows their lack of guilt in many cases. Putting them on the street with no help will create a criminal where there wasn’t one.  So please, read this carefully and help when you have the opportunity to make a good cause.

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

New York Times – The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

How to Help Former Inmates Thrive
By ROBERT E. RUBIN JUNE 3, 2016

I RECENTLY gave a talk at the state prison in San Quentin, Calif. At the event, a former inmate said, “I don’t understand why over the 18-year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison. But when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told ‘good luck.’ ”

He’s right. For our economy to succeed, we need to equip every American to be effective in the national work force. But the more than 600,000 people who leave prison every year are not getting the support they need. That fails them and fails the economy for all of us.

To prepare for my talk at San Quentin, I spoke with some of the people incarcerated there. I was trying to understand what I had to offer them in a speech — and I discovered how much they had to offer me. They are individuals — with a whole range of strengths, weaknesses and, yes, contributions still to make. And while there’s been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.

Criminal justice reform is not just about being fair to the individuals who will be most directly affected, but it’s also about doing what’s right for our nation’s well-being. A 2009 study estimated that the official poverty rate would have declined by 10 percent for the years 1980 until 2004 had it not been for our incarceration policies. And while there hasn’t been a large-scale study of the economic effects of criminal-justice reform, most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.

In California, incarceration policies have already changed, and the San Quentin inmates I spoke to said that the increased chance of freedom has changed the way they behave in prison. They said they were more focused on increasing their chances of parole and preparing for life after San Quentin by trying to learn the skills and behaviors that can lead to productive lives

When you witness the powerful effect the prospect of release has on changing behavior, it helps you realize how badly we are analyzing the effects of the current system on the outcomes we want for society. And when you analyze the economic effects of our current system, it becomes clear where it is failing.

How is giving a former inmate $200 and not much else — no suitable place to live, no help finding work, no help adjusting to life outside prison walls — preparing him for a productive life? Society imposes a stigma on former prisoners that makes all of that harder. All of this decreases the probability of success.

Inmates at San Quentin. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times
There are five key areas where we could make a significant difference in improving the chance that individuals released from prison can make a successful transition to mainstream society.

First, we need to enhance educational opportunities for people inside prison and just out of it. Many prisons offer some level of basic education and G.E.D. preparation, but it is often inadequate, and higher education is almost entirely lacking. Fewer than one in 10 inmates has access to college-level classes. Inmates who are interested and qualified should have the opportunity to pursue a college education; it will only improve their chance to succeed when released.

Second, we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.

Third, we should support transitional assistance efforts across the country. For example, the New York-based Center for Employment Opportunities provides work in four states for people as soon as they are released, and couples those opportunities with skills programs, training and job placement. Efforts like these have proven records of success and should be deployed nationwide.

Fourth, we need to help the formerly incarcerated have access to secure and stable housing. Currently, many states ban former prisoners from living in assisted housing. We should instead give individual housing authorities discretion so they can protect the safety of residents but also offer housing to people leaving prison who are ready to start new, productive lives.

And finally, we should help people take advantage of health care coverage for which they are already eligible. Twenty-eight states expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and while most people just out of prison are eligible for it, too many are unaware or need assistance enrolling.

Of course, these investments cost money, but come with a significant return. Because efforts to help people make a successful transition back to mainstream society both reduce recidivism and equip former prisoners to be effective parts of the work force, it will help our economy over the long term.

Solving this problem begins with people outside prison recognizing the humanity of people inside prison. As one man incarcerated at San Quentin said to me: “Nobody is just the crime they committed. We are all much more than the worst thing we have done.”

People in prison are part of America, as are those who have been released. They are part of our society. And we have a powerful stake in their success.

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

Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999, is a co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 3, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Help Former Inmates Thrive. Today’s Paper

|Subscribe

download
http://eepurl.com/bZ8e71

tap this link to pull up the form to subscribe.  If that doesn’t work, paste it into your browser -Thanks!

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

Sonni’s Pinterest 
 

 

You Can’t Have Both – Reduced Prison Population AND Build New Prisonsl

My my it seems as though both sides of the political fence is scrambling to see who can proclaim the loudest that prison populations need to be reduced. The public seems to finally be noticing there is something wrong with the percentage of black men locked up in prisons compared to white men and are realizing they’ve been sold a bill of goods making them believe black men are born with a stronger criminal streak than white men. Black men invoke such fear in the white man for his safety. Where did that fear come from? After the white men could no longer use them as slaves they had to come up with another way and that was through our prisons. Hundreds and hundreds of newly built prisons.

wynne unit,Huntsville Prison,solitary confinement,mass incarceration
Prison unit Jamie is in
photo source; brokenchains.us

The ego streak in many white people who still feel they are better than black people goes back a long way. There is a lot of guilt for what we did to another nation of people. How could we possible accept them as equals after what we did to them? Continuing to enslave them and telling the people they have higher criminal tendencies, over and over until people believed them. They made their family’s lives as difficult as possible and rounded up every black man they could find and doled out the longest sentences they could – to protect everyone else, of course. And now they have a change of heart? Really?
Is this a bunch of hoopla in the year before an election where politicians promise everything they think the people want, but when the returns are in they just go about their usual business of catering to the corporations and the issues that make them money? Each political side blames the other. But why is it that this is the first election where both sides are trying to look like they give a rats ass about the inmates inside the prisons who are brutalized, underfed and are given insufficient healthcare because the prisons don’t want to pay for it? The families of the inmates have screamed for a long time about the mistreatment yet no one cared enough to ever make it an issue. So why now?
Everyone is now saying to we need to reduce the prison population but I don’t hear anything about what they will do with these released prisoners. They are under-educated. They won’t be given jobs because they are felons. They won’t be able to make money. Their families on the outside are usually poor because they have tried to raise their families without the men in their lives. If they live in subsidized housing, the fathers won’t be able to live with them or they will all be kicked out. They won’t be able to get government services like food stamps so they can eat. So how will they be able to survive without resorting to some kind of crime? Then, when they are arrested again, the media will scream that a mistake was made letting them go. They were given a second chance but they blew it. Yes, they were given a second chance but with their arms and legs still shackled. So what are these politicians, who are jumping on the band wagon now, and saying inmates should be released going to do to help them be successful? They couldn’t even get a job at a fast food joint. We know how difficult it is to take care of yourself or a family with that kind of pay.
They will be setting them up to fail.
What do they do with the prison corporations who have 20 year contracts with the government and have promises that the prisons will be kept 80-100% full – or the government will have to pay them for empty beds? It will cost millions of dollars of taxpayer revenue to let these inmates go. In addition to that, these corporations have paid these politicians a shit load in campaign contributions so they can continue to rake in the money they do on the backs of these inmates. Do you think they are going to easily let their fountain of income disappear without a major fight? In addition to the prison corporations that make this money, there is a very long list of American companies who use inmate slave labor to make the products they sell to us. This list of companies would drop your jaw. They have contracts with the prisons. Do you think they are going to just back off and start paying decent wages to Americans who need jobs when they can get it for pennies inside the prison?
There is something wrong with this picture and I am not hearing solutions to any of it. All I hear are politicians who want to get elected, joining in with everyone else who is saying they are going to be the one who is going to take care of this problem, and I say it is a bunch of bull. Do you think the building of new prisons for more inmates has stopped? Really?

 

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

Sonni Quick piano music complete list

Changes On Death Row at San Quentin Prison

Solitary confinement

Dear Sonni,

Hello there.  It’s good to receive your letters. I apologize for not responding right away to your last letter and I received another one today. It’s labor day weekend so I’m gonna write you all weekend. I was out of stamps and paper plus I was not feeling well. I’m trying to figure out what is going on around here. Now I do which I’ll get to later 🙂

The AVP program you are involved in is something to be proud of. It seems very progressive. I see volunteers enter the church here and inmates pour in for various programs. I imagine many people in prison are helped through these programs. I’m proud of you.

(Sonni’s note: I’ve written several posts about AVP – Alternative To Violence project – workshops in the prisons in 36 states to help inmates deal with anger issues)

Here’s the news with me. There is a lawsuit here in the California courts over solitary confinement. You already know this. Us men on death row filed to join in. It came out in the news. The lawyers came to interview me so I could join. On September 1st they reached a settlement. CCR justice (in prison court). I don’t know the details but maybe you could look it up. On the news it said there was to be an end to unlimited isolation and there would be programs for the men. No more being locked up like this for decades simply because they consider you to be “associated” to a gang member. So I’m going to be cut loose from isolation. I’ll get to go to the program building. They have one year to implement these changes. 🙂 All I wanted was to be judged by my own behavior inside these walls, not by my race. I would not denounce those of my race simply because they, and myself, are Hispanic.

This means I’ll get to hug my family and I’ll get better food! 🙂 I’ll be able to use a phone and have fun! 🙂

For awhile I was unsure what would happen. I had filed another complaint because at first they told me it would take 4 more years. That morning the Lt denied my complaint but in the afternoon I heard they reached a settlement. I was happy. We all were 🙂

A Phillipine Buddhist visited me. She was good. We mediated together which is a first for me. She told me to try various meditations – all of which I’ve read about but is so different when you do it with someone else. She could tell if I was having difficulty with a certain mediation because a look in her eyes told me she could tell. She teaches yoga, mediation and travels the world learning from spiritual teachers. I don’t know if she’ll be able to come back again, though.

There is a Legionaires disease outbreak going on here right now. 6 confirmed cases. 95 more possibilities. It started here in my unit and then spread out into the prison. It must be in the water in the trays? The CDC is testing everything. No showers for us in this building. The news says we are getting showers, but not here. Only the main building. We get a gallon of bottled water every 24 hours, one hot meal (a small TV dinner) and 2 lunches. One is for breakfast. Needless to say it is not enough food. I am hungry.

You brought up a good topic about heaven. Heaven is backed by Christian biblical scripture. PBS did a documentary on the surroundings of the writers of early Jewish writings. The argument is: the story of the garden of Eden is about a garden where they believed gods lived. Not understanding anything, people automatically attribute it to there being a god that does things they think are beyond the ability of humans.

( Sonni’s note: considering what we now know about early man; skeletons unearthed that are many tens of thousands of years old – Adam and Eve, portrayed as Christians would want them to look just like us isn’t possible. Our supposed first man and woman would look more like apes than the beautiful man and woman with carefully placed fig leaves for modesty. But people can’t handle that picture just like they have to believe Jesus is a WHITE man with long flowing brown hair because they can’t worship a black man with nappy hair (per the Bible) because too many white people still feel they are better than black people. They want people to believe in their version of Jesus when it is built on lies and misconceptions? One white artist’s version of Jesus that has now become truth??)

This belief of heaven? There have been many human cultures. They all believed in an afterlife of some type. People are afraid of what happens after death.

Sonni, you asked me about my education. I started high school – 9th grade – but was arrested the first day of school. I went to another high school but was kicked out. I ended up going to school one day a week in my probation officer’s office. I picked up my first attempted murder charge at age 13 and other similar cases all of which I did just enough juvy time to beat it. A week after my 17th birthday I was back in juvy for 2 assaults with a deadly weapon. Later that night the detectives came to talk to me about the murders and I ended up with only one murder and 4 attempted murders. I came from a violent home where I was beat every day and lived in a violent neighborhood. There was no other way for my life to go. It is easy to say we all have choices but we don’t. You have to know what those choices are to choose them.

That was half my life ago. I don’t know how life is on the outside. So it’s not realistic to talk about a reality I know nothing about. All I know is I have a lot of patience now. I could live a normal life now. If they let me out I’d be okay. Is there a chance of that happening? I won’t allow myself to hope when that hope is not realistic. I will wait on the new settlement to see what improvements are made to my life inside here and think about what happiness that could bring.

Well Sonni, I hope all is well with you. It was good to have received your letters.

(Sonni’s note: It is easy to judge people for what they have done and hold it against them for the rest of their lives. I have been judged. I know what that feels like when people are determined to only look at half of a truth and deem it to be the entire truth. Many people have also given up the art of letter writing and many have even given up knowing how to write at all. The correct use of the English language, spelling and punctuation is slowly being forgotten. Young people have no knowledge of how to write cursive because it isn’t taught. It is the men and women in prison who continue to write our language. When was the last time YOU wrote a letter?

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

Sonni Quick piano music complete list

On Death Row Having Hope Can Destroy you

Armando macias
There is another inmate I have been writing to for about one and a half years who is on death row in San Quentin. Sometimes being in that situation ends up destroying them, and sometimes it gives them the time and space to understand who they are, what they did, and how it brought them to this place. It doesn’t negate what they did. They are paying the price for what happened. But many men – and women – in this place were pushed along a timeline outside of their control from the day they were born into families filled with violence and beatings, or they were throwaway kids tossed about different state group homes, detention centers, and countless, often neglectful and violent foster homes filled with physical abuse along with alcohol and drug addiction. If they ran away the only neighborhoods outside their door were filled with street gangs with guns, death and drugs.

These young people found the “family” of love they were craving inside a street gang. These at risk children instinctively know that as children they should have someone to love and care for them so they go to the only people who open their arms and wrap them around these young bodies. But there is a very big price to pay for this love. They must do as they are told to do – without question. They wouldn’t hesitate to kill for the honor of their gang. They would also have to bring in money to survive through theft and selling drugs, and they have to kill those who disrespect them or try to kill them first. Sometimes that disrespect is only because someone in another gang looked then in the eye. As the years go by many of their homies died. The ages of the men and boys in each barrio was not very old. They didn’t live very long. They expected they would be killed any moment. They couldn’t get out. They were in for life. They knew no other way of life. They wouldn’t know where to go if they did get out. This was the only life they knew.

In Los Angeles, in the decades around the ’90’s, crime escalated. There were hundreds of gangs each trying to control a few blocks. Drive-bys from other gangs was expected and later retaliated against. There were many reasons that brought these minors into juvenile court, an over crowded, inefficient system that couldn’t handle the sheer number of broken children no one wanted. A single probation officer was expected to supervise hundreds of juvenile delinquents at one time. There isn’t even time to see if they are attending school let alone help them in any constructive way.

When they are brought into court there is nothing done for them. They slap their wrist. They let them go. If they do have parents no parental guidance is given. The crimes escalate. The court lowers the age children can be tried as adults – 22 states consider that age to be 7.

One of these juveniles is the man I write to, along he is long past being a juvenile. He is now in his 30’s. I don’t know all the crimes he has committed. I know he has been in and out of prison, once was for murder, and murder once again landed him on death row. This is where he began his search to find answers to make sense of his life.

It’s easy to think that everyone has choices and to an extent we do. But we have to know about those choices and the effects those choices make. You can not know something you have never been exposed to. These young people followed the path their life was headed just like we all have. Different sets of privileges, understandings and guidances urge our lives along a path that has been set by different causes and effects.

After being given the sentence death and entering prison this last time years ago this man searched through every religion to find something that helped him make sense of his life. He tried everything, even satanism. Nothing made sense because each one told him there was something else out there that had control of his life and could decide at any time to punish him or save him. And this entity did all of this because it loved him. All he had to do was love and trust this thing.

No one could see or talk to it but people claimed that God talked to them personally because they needed so badly to believe it was true. It was all about getting to heaven when you die. No thank you. He wanted to understand life, not death. All of this belief these people had never changed their lives or the kind of person they were.

If there had been a God and it just stood by and let his life happen this way from birth, he wanted no part of it. This was NOT the answer. He was not going to just blindly trust that NOW he was on death row, God was going to love him. No, this religion about an almighty God was for people who were unable to take responsibility for lives and needed it to be God’s plan for the reason why their lives were so fucked up.

He found Buddhism. He found the answers to his questions. He had the time to study and mediate. He learned what karma was. He could not change the past but he could affect the future.

The staff in San Quentin made his existence as miserable as they could. Because he is Hispanic it was even worse. In California the use of solitary confinement was used far beyond what most states did, keeping men locked up for decades for no reason. They were unable to call family. Visits were severely restricted. Inmates could only have three books. A cherished book would have to be given up if you wanted a new one. He was allowed no programs.

During this time I saw his profile on an online site of inmates looking for people to write to – a connection to the outside world. Our letter writing began. I initially chose to write to him because he said he was Buddhist and I was curious how that came to be.

After many letters it was easy to see that this man had rehabilitated himself in spite of the prison’s efforts to destroy him. He wants to create a life inside that he was never able have on the outside. Chances of ever getting out is not anything he contemplates. But he would like art supplies because he is quite a good artist and he would like to learn things. Why continue to treat him inhumanely? What purpose does it fill? He has been removed from society. There is no purpose in continued degradation.

Not everyone agrees with me. A devout Christian woman recently told me she was angry that I was writing to him because after what he did he deserved no forgivesness. Murder can not be forgiven. Hmm… I thought. This is the way a Christian thinks? Only certain offenses can be forgiven? He wasn’t asking for forgiveness and I never offered it. I, too, am Buddhist. I offered understanding and a chance for communication on a human level. I have learned much from our letters.

In 2016 California will decided on either abolishing the death sentence or carrying out that sentence in a shorter time and not letting inmates languish for decades waiting. The problem with the death sentence is that the verdict is wrong often enough that innocent people are put to death.

Recently California has made changes that has been long awaited prison reform. It has done away with indefinite solitary confinement which has affected many people who have been in complete lockdown often for decades who haven’t deserved that punishment. It will affect this man I write to. My next post will be his last letter to me describing his feelings about this change. When I read of this change in the media my first thought was of him, hoping it would allow him more life when he thought there was no hope. On death row, having hope can destroy you.

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

Sonni Quick piano music complete list

Alternative to Violence Project – First meeting at Maryland Correctional Institution

INAlternative to Violonce Project
On June 1st I wrote about an organization called AVP  Alternative to Violence Project. This organization began in New York and has since spread to 36 other states. It is a group of volunteers who hold workshops inside prisons with the inmates who want to learn a better way of living – a better way of dealing with their emotions and making positive changes in their life. Eventually almost everyone gets out of prison. Recidivism back to prison is overall 70% after five years. Even people who aren’t incarcerated want to make changes to their lives and find it isn’t easy and we have many options to choose from to try and make it happen. Coming from inside prison and then expected to live among society again, there is no family to soften the blow. That makes it very hard to create a life of value.

There is a lot of anger in a prison. There are some men, and women, who have been given a raw deal with sentences that are ridiculously long for the crime committed. Many have been inside more than once. Many have lost their family, spouses and children and some had a lifestyle they know they don’t want to go back to, but don’t know any alternative. Many come from low income neighborhoods where if they had an attorney who actually had their best interest at heart they might not have gotten the years they were sentenced to. There is nothing fair about prison.

Knowing someday Jamie will also get out of prison, and also knowing he knows very little about how to live on the outside, and most of all, knowing he has a problem with anger he has been working on, it’s been important to me to find ways to help him. Completing your sentence and getting out is only half the battle. Staying out and having a life you are happy with is another.

I found out first there are mediation services that help inmates reintegrate into society by helping with relationships that have become difficult. It isn’t unusually for family to stop writing and visiting less, especially if the sentence is long. Wives and girlfriends find new relationships. There is often anger at being left to raise children alone. Children might be angry at their parent not being there for them and also there might be a gap because they don’t know each other. Mediation helps bring them together and work out the issues. This is why I try so hard to find out how Jamie’s son is doing in school and send pictures. My daughter tells me she doesn’t care and to not speak of him again. She has a man in her life so it has made it a problem. Jamie is afraid of losing his son. That is fine for her, but nothing can erase the fact he has a father. This is one reason why I want to learn as much as I can. I think they will need mediation when the times comes when Jamie gets out.

avp, alternative to violence project

photo credit:
justifiedoutdoors.com

AVP is a different organization of dedicated facilitators who volunteer to go into the prison each month and hold workshops. These initial workshops have 2 steps. Each step is 3 days long. An inmate has to want to indicate they want to sign up for it. They can stop at this point, but if they want to become a facilitator themselves they can continue on with the training. Total hours of training is 55. It would be the same for me. I have to attend both series of workshops and do the training

I was able to contact a husband and wife team, David and Nancy Hutchins and told them the reason why I wanted to get involved. I was sent a packet of papers to fill out and send back to get approval to be inside the prison with the inmates. July 21st was the yearly AVP Facilitator Recognition Night and it would be a good introduction to the group as most of them would be there. Also at the meeting would be the old and new inmate facilitators. I live in Pa, close to the Maryland border so the prison was only about forty miles away. There were quite a few people waiting to sign in and go through the metal detectors. Everyone was retirement age and many have been doing this for a long time, 20-25 years. I wasn’t ready for what was waiting when we went to the room where the meeting was being held.

I didn’t count the inmates but there had to be total of 40-50 people there, more inmates than outsiders. The inmates either had on white t-shirts or one that indicated they were facilitators. I have never seen so many smiles in one room! We walked single file into the room with inmates on the left and right as we went down the aisle. We exchanged names, hugs and handshakes. One man said he was so happy to be in air conditioning because it had been a long time. It’s been a pretty hot summer this year and it is easy to take for granted that we can always get out of the heat if we want to. I know from Jamie, in Texas, that heat is a big problem and each year there are at least a few who die from the effects of heat. At the Wynne Unit in Texas they now have a big fans out in the corridor but it doesn’t do anything for ventilation in the cells. All at does is blow around hot air. If they have the money they can buy a little plastic fan in the commissary.

After everyone introduced themselves the meeting began. Fortunately I had a front row seat. The Master of Ceremonies was “Tenacious Tillet” aka Selvyn Tillet. Everyone has a second name and that is what everyone calls each other. James Dyson is “Joking JD”, Rigo Mena-Perez is “Respectful Rigo”, Nancy Hutchins is “Knowing Nancy”. The inmates are quite at ease with these other names. Tenatious Tillet started out with the motto of the organization, “Making a Difference One Person at a Time” How true that is because the change in a single human being can change the world.

Assistant Warden Lyons spoke and what he said was very positive. He said, Everyone has value. Everyone has worth. I looks for those who will make good leaders; those with the ability to say no and those with the ability to swim upstream against the norm. Change brings change.”

I have had very little positive to say about the prisons in my writings, but this evening, if he means what he says, these inmates are fortunate to have him there. I know it can’t be easy to run a population of people who make prison their home, either by a mistake, a deliberate crime, someone mentally off-balance or a repeat offender who knows no other way of doing things. But his desire, he says, is to bring down the recidivism percentage at the Maryland Correctional Institute which currently sits at 40% within three years. The highest percentage is in the first three years. Nationwide it is 70% within 5 years. Those who honestly try to live right find it extremely hard to find jobs and rent apartments and resort to crime or old habits to survive. There needs to be changes for those inmates who are sincere about living a better life. If they have repaid their debt to society then they should leave with a clean slate. If you have to tell everyone you are an ex felon, no one is going to want to take a chance with you on any level.

Christopher Shank, Director at the Governor Office of Crime Control and Prevention, talked about a bill being passed that would shield low level non violent crimes when they get out, to lessen the stigma of being an ex-con. They are gathering the data to look at the mix of how many are locked up for technical reasons like parole violations rather than new crimes. When people come back, what is it for? But talk is easy. Let’s see what actually happens. There is still the fact of the 20 year contracts with the prison corporations who expect the prisons to be 90-100% full or the government has to pay them for empty beds. That is a very expensive catch 22 for the inmates.

“Joking JD” did a presentation about what they teach in the workshops. It is a five step process that starts with 1. Affirmation 2.Communication 3.Cooperation 4.Conflict resolution 5. Problem solving

“Respectful Rico” gave an experience and said the workshops taught him how to interact and how to express himself. He wouldn’t even speak at the first meeting. He said he’s learned to think before he reacts. When he finished with the workshops someone said they saw something in him and asked him if he wanted to train as a facilitator. This might not seem like a big thing to some people, but this might have been the first time he had a reason to feel proud of himself and other people thought he had worth.

“Excellent E” said, “I always reacted with violence, especially when alcohol was involved. In 2008 I killed someone and got 33 years. At first I lost it, and then I worried about my kids. I needed to make a choice. AVP was life changing for me. Now I have the tools to make my life work. Now I no longer curse when I’m mad. I’ve been with AVP for five years.”

I was sitting next to “Humorous Hutch”, David Hutchins, and he explained to me that almost every inmate who walks through the door on the first meeting is scowling with their heads down and they don’t talk to anyone. By the time they get down with the third day of the 2nd part of the workshops they are completely different people, laughing and joking and making friends. The transformation of a human being when he learns he has value and doesn’t have to be wary of the person next to him is incredible. They take these new attitudes and insights back into the prison population and it encourages the next group of people to participate. Sometimes people get out, sometimes they get transferred to another prison and sometimes they are on lockdown and the meeting has to be changed. Being able to participate in these workshops gives them something of value in their lives – helping other inmates.

In addition to the workshops with the outside facilitators, the inmate facilitators carry on with workshops throughout the month. I know there are other workshops for different areas such as music. Being a piano teacher, that is of interest to me. This is just the beginning for me. I’m hoping that what I learn here I can use to help Jamie in some way. But this is a medium security prison where Jamie is in maximum security. I think it would take a good attorney to see if that could be changed because as long as he is being held the way he is he isn’t eligible for anything. This is one way they keep from paroling them. He can’t do anything to improve himself so it is a catch 22 situation. This is one reason why I am writing his story, “Inside the Forbidden Outside”, in the hopes of being able to put money together for him. But it’s a ways off and still being written. I keep chipping away with everything that needs to be done one day at a time.