Sorry folks… The drinks are sold out…
Today marks 3 months since I launched Prison Culture as a blog. I can hardly believe it. Thanks to everyone who has read something that I have posted here. Much love also to everyone who has sent me an e-mail with comments, suggestions, requests, or a compliment.
Friends and family have long suggested that I take up blogging. I suspect that part of their reason was to get me to stop inundating them with constant e-mails sharing various resources. Now they don’t hear from me at all except through this blog — JUST KIDDING!
This has been a lot more fun than I anticipated. Here’s to another 3 months… After that, we’ll see
Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, based on research by Harvard University professor Bruce Western and University of Washington professor Becky Pettit, documents the devastating impact of prison not just on the economic prospects of inmates, but also on those of their children.
I would sum up the report this way: Prison makes prisoners and their children poorer and we should therefore avoid throwing people into prisons. This is incredibly simplistic of course. The full report is worth reading. Here are some of its key conclusions.
Collateral Costs finds that “incarceration reduces former inmates’ earnings by 40 percent and limits their future economic mobility.”
Collateral Costs details the concentration of incarceration among men, the young, the uneducated and African Americans. One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail compared with 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men. Today, more African American men aged 20 to 34 without a high school diploma or GED are behind bars (37 percent) than are employed (26 percent). Education greatly reduces ones chance of ending up in prison.
The report authored by Pew’s Economic Policy Group and the Pew Center on the States shows that:
• Before being incarcerated, two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children.
• After release, former male inmates work nine fewer weeks annually and take home 40 percent less in annual earnings, making $23,500 instead of $39,100. That amounts to an expected earnings loss of nearly $179,000 through age 48 for men who have been incarcerated.
• Of former inmates who were in the bottom of the earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained there in 2006, twice the number of non-incarcerated men.
“Pew’s past research shows a variety of factors influence economic mobility both within a person’s lifetime and across generations. This report finds that incarceration is a powerful determinant of mobility for both former inmates and their children,” said Erin Currier, project manager of the Economic Mobility Project of Pew’s Economic Policy Group.
The report also shows more than 2.7 million minor children now have a parent behind bars, or 1 in every 28 (this adds up to 3.6% of all children). For African American children the number is 1 in 9, a rate that has more than quadrupled in the past 25 years. Almost half of the prisoners with children lived with them prior to incarceration, and more than half of the parents who ended up in prison were the primary earners in their family. From the report:
One study examined the financial well-being of children before, during and soon after the incarceration of a father. It found that in the period that the father was behind bars, the average child’s family income fell 22 percent compared with that of the year preceding the father’s incarceration. Family income rebounded somewhat in the year after release, but was still 15 percent lower than in the year before incarceration.
Data from the Economic Mobility Project show that parental income is one of the strongest indicators of one’s own chances for upward economic mobility. Forty-two percent of children who start out in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain stuck in the bottom themselves in adulthood. Having parents at the bottom of the income ladder is even more of a barrier for African Americans, 54 percent of whom remain in the bottom themselves as adults.
Research also indicates that children whose parents serve time have more difficulty in school than those who do not weather such an experience. One study found that 23 percent of children with a father who has served time in a jail or prison have been expelled or suspended from school, compared with just 4 percent of children whose fathers have not been incarcerated. Research that controls for other variables suggests that paternal incarceration, in itself, is associated with more aggressive behavior among boys and an increased likelihood of being expelled or suspended from school.
This is especially troubling given the powerful impact education has on one’s upward economic mobility in adulthood. Among those who start at the bottom of the income ladder, 45 percent remain there in adulthood if they do not have a college degree, while only 16 percent remain if they obtain a degree. And, children who start in the bottom of the income ladder quadruple their chances of making it all the way to the top if they have a college degree. As a new generation of children are touched by the incarceration of a parent, and especially as those children feel the impact of that incarceration in their family incomes and their educational success, their prospects for upward economic mobility become significantly dimmer.
Read the entire report, you will find it informative and hopefully a catalyst for more social action.
I would like to share with you a brand new website that is dedicated to Restorative Justice in Action.
In the words of Sally Wolf who sent this to me:
“RestorativeJusticeinAction.com is designed to bring attention to the different models and practices of restorative justice and why restorative justice is an important step in reducing crime, diminishing recidivism, while restoring our communities to a culture of cooperation and peaceful coexistence. Their website states their mission like this:
RestorativeJusticeInAction.com is an outreach initiative that will encourage, inspire, and motivate individuals, public and private organizations, communities and municipalities to implement Restorative Justice Practices into their every day life. To that end this web site is dedicated.”
The website includes videos from a series produced by CAN TV in Chicago.
Check it out! www.restorativejusticeinaction.com
I’ve received a couple of e-mails from people who have expressed how moved they have been by the words from Until I Am Free. So here is the 4th edition of the terrific poetry from people sentenced as juveniles to life without parole.
The Real Me
The real me is a lost little boy
who hurts like everyone else hurts
who cries like everyone cries
but only on the inside.
The real me is irrelevant.
I don’t matter to most
have been forgotten by all
as I do time for a crime I didn’t commit
behind this prison wall. The real me
hardly ever receives any mail, hasn’t seen a birthday
card in years. Holidays seem to evade me as well
father’s day cards don’t make it either.
You have never seen, nor have I ever been
the person GOD gave life to, the man
my mother raised me to be, the one
that wrote this poem.
John Horton grew up in Rockford, Illinois and was 17 years old at the time of offense for which he received life without parole. John is now 34 years old and continues to maintain his innocence. He earned his GED while incarcerated, and has worked steady jobs. He misses his daughters the most.
The Joint Pt. 1
There’s a place where some men must live
behind bars made of steel.
Beyond those bars, lays a wall
that’s deep, thick, wide and very tall.
For some men time is short, for others long.
There are few that will never go home.
There are sleepless nights and hopeless dreams
visions of freedom never seen.
It’s like searching for something that can’t be found.
It’s like lovely music without the sound.
It’s a rat race, a dogfight both combined
struggling for life in the midst of doing time.
It’s a world filled with men that jumped out of trees.
Cold blooded rapist, killers and thieves.
In the joint there are drugs of all kind
yet the drug for all is the dope of doing time.
This is the place where some men must live
behind the bars that are made of nothing but steel.
Scott Chambers was 17 years old when he received life without parole. Prior to his incarceration, Scott lost his mother, never met his father, and became addicted to drugs starting at age 10. He is now 33 years old and has taught himself how to read and write well in prison.
A Poem for the Board
I was beaten from the age of five.
From then on forced to survive.
Physically abused since I was small.
It’s a wonder I survived at all.
I loved my mother
But she was sick.
My life played on painful tricks.
I grew up wrong.
I grew up sad.
For me, childhood wasn’t meant to last,
Lots of stitches in my jaw
A few of the first things I saw.
Abuse was always swept under a rug
With a quick sorry and meaningless hug.
At the age of 12, I ran from home.
My stepfather had his way with me
And that’s the reason I couldn’t stay.
On the streets cold and alone
I learned to survive on my own.
The choices I made were never the best.
I started drugs to kill the pain.
It’s a wonder I’m not insane.
In ’92 I got locked up
At 17 sentenced to life.
I lost my heart. I lost my soul.
The drugs and gangs have taken their toll.
After some years at Dwight
I pick myself up and continued to fight.
I’m sorry for all the pain I’ve caused.
Please send me home to that I may experience life
And maybe one day be someone’s wife.
Jackie Montanez grew up in Humboldt Park and was 16 years old when she committed the crime for which she is serving life without parole. Today she is 33 years old, and has earned her GED, continues to take college coursework, and has graduated from a dog-training program. She loves to write poetry, and dreams of working to reform the criminal justice system one day.
There are souls residing in this place, their faces
their minds completely out in space; Alone
in thoughts, trying to be strong. I knew my crime
was wrong. As days get longer, nights get colder
you are faced with reality as your time gets older
you begin to feel all the pain. Your mind begins
to spin as if you’re going insane; Some hide it
well through the window of their eyes. A fistfight
a knife fight may break out all around. When it’s over…
everyone’s on a Major One Lock-Down!
Joseph Rodriguez was sentenced to life without parole for a crime he committed when he was 16. He is 44 years old today, and believes he has changed enormously since his youth.
Behind These Walls
Albert X. Kirkman
Behind these walls
Men come to realization
When lawyers fail getting them out
Their families no longer behind them
And they don’t have a friend in the World.
Behind these walls
Men enter with hearts as cold as ice
Desensitized, numb and dead
But isolated from this world
The same heart begins life again.
I swear you never thought
You’d see these men cry
Behind these walls
It’s the survival of the fittest.
If the officers don’t kill you
You worry about the next man that will.
If you get sick you might not make the next night
If you die, you’re lucky if your body doesn’t become a mystery.
Behind these walls
It can get lonely as hell.
Some come ignorant and leave the same.
Some come ignorant and leave as scholars.
Behind these walls
Young men come with baby faces
And leave with gray beards
Behind these walls!
Albert was 17 years old at the time of offense for which he received life without parole. He is now 35 years old and continues to fight to prove his innocence. Albert earned his GED in prison, studies and practices his faith, and was employed as a teacher’s aide for a prison course.
I was born April 10, 1966.
I was born March 13, 1984.
My mother’s name is Barneta.
My mother’s name is I.D.O.C.
This mother I love dearly.
This mother I love to hate dearly.
This mother showed me how to love.
This mother showed me how not to.
This mother nurtured me.
This mother neglected me.
This mother’s love made me strong.
I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters.
I have hundreds of brothers and sisters.
This mother cut the cord.
This mother will have to. One day
With this mother
I was born.
James Walker received life without parole for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. He is 44 years old today and has completed his GED and several correspondence courses in religion. He hopes one day to work in mechanics with his brother and take care of his mother.
I haven’t blogged about this case because I had hoped that commonsense would prevail. It is truly awful that a 2 year old is dead. Period. The fact that she was killed by an 11 year old is particularly tragic because of the impact that being responsible for a death is bound to have on someone so young.
I had hoped that the state of Georgia would keep this case in juvenile court. Now comes word that the state is considering trying the 11 year old as an adult.
Fulton County prosecutors have the difficult task of determining whether or not an 11-year-old Georgia girl who has been charged with the murder of a 2-year-old toddler should be tried as an adult.
The Fulton County District Attorney issued a statement Wednesday saying that the office is waiting until the police have concluded their investigation before proceeding.
“Our office is awaiting a full report on this matter from the Sandy Springs Police Department. Upon receipt of that report, we will conduct our investigation and make a decision regarding the appropriate charges.”
No actually this is NOT a difficult decision for prosecutors. 11 year olds are not adults and should not be tried in adult courts.
In my ongoing effort to document rap artists and their contact with the criminal legal system [actually regular readers might characterize it as my Lil' Wayne obsession], I am now compelled to write about the plight of Lyfe Jennings.
I don’t know how many of you are aware of Lyfe Jennings. Lyfe (born Chester Jennings) is a 37 year old rapper/singer who has been known for some of his socially-conscious music. He went to prison at the age of 19 for arson and served 10 years. His prison number was 268-192. When he was released from prison, he recorded his first album “Lyfe 268-192.”
Lyfe often credits prison with turning him on to writing music and giving him a chance to deepen his religious faith. OK here’s the part where Lyfe breaks my heart:
On October 19, 2008, Jennings was arrested after kicking in the door where he thought his former girlfriend and mother of his children, Joy Bounds, was staying, firing gun shots into the home, and leading police on a high speed chase. On September 22, 2010, Jennings was sentenced to three and a half years in prison as a result of the incident.
So Lyfe Jennings who was getting his life together and had found professional and financial success after 10 years in prison, is headed back to prison for 3 1/2 years. I am particularly saddened by the fact that it was an act of violence against women and children that has landed him behind bars again. I often speak about the issue of restorative and transformative justice. I think that this incident is a prime candidate for testing out the possibilities and the limits of that approach. Wouldn’t it better for everyone if Lyfe could avoid a return trip to prison by making restitution for the harm and pain that he caused to his ex-girlfriend and to his children? Of course, those impacted from his action would have to agree to a non-criminal legal intervention in this case. Often people do want this option. They want accountability for harm caused not draconian punishment. Instead of the minimum sentence of 1 year, he received a 3 1/2 year sentence.
According to local reports:
While in court, he was very emotional as he told the judge “I did it, I know I gotta be punished for it and I just wanted the opportunity to apologize”.
Here is a link to news coverage of his sentencing hearing. Another link is below:
With his fate sealed, at least for the next three years, the R&B singer bid farewell to his fans via Twitter.
“This will be my last post,” stated the singer according to MTVNews.com. “To everyone who gave me a chance I am forever in your debt. I have had a fabulous career because of you…. I’ve lived a hundred lives in these 6 yrs so I not only won’t, I don’t have the right to complain. I would like to think that I’ve changed lives by changing my own, tho I can’t be sure. But one thing I am sure of is God gives and takes away in measure. He is fair, just and forever. Amen from aman… Smile, it’s contagious:)”
Here’s Lyfe’s latest called “Statistics”:
I have been catching up on a number of articles that I missed over the past few weeks because I have been and continue to be so busy. I am going to try the synthesize a few of the ones that really jumped out at me.
While reading an article at NorthJersey.com about the terrible conditions at the Passaic County Jail, I was particularly struck by some of the comments. Here is a small sample of them:
NJ Dissident writes: When you make jail nicer to live in, you get more people committing crimes to enjoy the free food, medical attention and lodging. Pity the taxpayer who gets robbed, raped, beaten, stabbed or killed by these all purpose menaces, not the scum criminal. If our jails get too overcrowded, have a lottery where the winner gets the gas chamber. With the system as it is, the rate of recidivism will only soar costing everyone more money and you still won’t be safe. These places would serve us better if they ran like the Roach Motel. Garbage checks in, but it don’t check out.
Teacher’s Daughter writes: Why should jail be comfortable? It is meant to be punitive. I would venture a guess and say most of those complaining about no AC in the summer don’t even have it at home. “3 hots and a cot” at taxpayers’ expense. What’s the deterrent here?
Boriqua935 writes: Ahh poor criminals are not happy in jail. Well don’t commit crimes. Our soldiers fight a war in desert heat and they did not commit any crimes. The liberals in this country are destroying it and please don’t come with “they are human and have rights.” Spend the money on those who obey the law, are productive people in our society and feed the animals in jail dog food.
According to these three commenters, people in jail don’t deserve to be treated with ANY dignity. They accuse those in jail of being subhuman and yet their own comments belie their own inhumanity. I find it interesting as well that people in this country are so ignorant about the criminal legal system that they do not distinguish between being in jail (where you are usually being held PRE-ADJUDICATION) and being a prisoner. This does not of course mean that people in jail ought to be treated “better” than those in prison but it strikes me as interesting to ask how these comments would be different if the ones writing them understood that difference.
The article that they were commenting on deserves to be read in its own right. Staff writer Richard Cowen exposes the current deplorable conditions of the Passaic County Jail which was sued by the ACLU in 2008:
At the Passaic County Jail, prisoners are jammed together in tiny cells, there aren’t enough showers and the new ventilation system covers only half of the building.
And that’s despite major improvements already made at the jail as a result of a class-action suit inmates filed two years ago.
Although the current inmate population of 1,000 men and women is roughly half of what it was in 2005, a tour of the jail last week revealed that crowding remains a serious problem:
* Four-by-8-foot cells, built to house a single inmate, routinely have three prisoners in them.
* Dormitory spaces that house up to 48 inmates are so crowded that some inmates sleep within a few yards of the commode.
* There is no dining room, so inmates eat all of their meals in their living quarters.
* There are no day rooms, so there’s nowhere to sit, and except for a television flickering in the corner, there’s nothing to do but stand around.
* Most of the cellblocks have no air conditioning. To compensate for the lack of fresh air, jail guards point high-powered fans on the inmates standing behind bars. Ice chests are scattered around for inmates to keep their drinks cold. Temperatures got so hot over the summer that several cellblocks had to be closed and the inmates moved, creating more crowding in some parts of the jail.
Most of these deficiencies were noted in the annual inspection by the state Department of Corrections, completed in May. They are largely the same conditions that led the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Social Justice to file suit on behalf of eight inmates in September 2008. The lawsuit said conditions at the time were “an affront to human decency.”
At the time of the suit, the jail population was hovering around 1,700 inmates — nearly twice the original capacity of 896 and currently rated 954. The population explosion was due largely to Passaic County’s practice of accepting inmates from the federal and state prison systems as a way to generate revenue.
On another note, an e-mail from the Real Costs of Prisons over the weekend reminded me of a story that I had planned to blog about last month. I first caught the story at commondreams.org.
Inmates of the Pitchess Detention Center, watch your step. If you get out of line, you may get blasted with an invisible heat ray
The jail’s energy weapon is a small-scale version of the Active Denial System, the experimental crowd control device that the U.S. military brought to Afghanistan — and then quickly shipped back home, after questions mounted about the wisdom of blasting locals with a beam that momentarily puts them in agony. The pain weapon seemed at odds with the military’s efforts to appear more humane and measured in the eyes of the Afghan populace.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department not only found those concerns overblown; they used the military’s long-standing reluctance to zap Afghans as fodder for the plan to zap Pitchess’ prisoners. “I already had contacts at [Active Denial maker] Raytheon who were reeling from the short-sided, self-serving cowardice of people who were more interested in saving face than saving lives, and leveraged it right into getting it into our jails,” former LASD Cmdr. Charles “Sid” Heal tells Danger Room.
The Associated Press has covered the story as well. Reporter Thomas Watkins focuses particularly on the fact that the ACLU considers this weapon to be an instrument of torture:
A device designed to control unruly inmates by blasting them with a beam of intense energy that causes a burning sensation is drawing heat from civil rights groups who fear it could cause serious injury and is “tantamount to torture.”
The mechanism, known as an “Assault Intervention Device,” is a stripped-down version of a military gadget that sends highly focused beams of energy at people and makes them feel as though they are burning. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department plans to install the device by Labor Day, making it the first time in the world the technology has been deployed in such a capacity.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California criticized Sheriff Lee Baca’s decision in a letter sent Thursday, saying that the technology amounts to a ray gun at a county jail. The 4-feet-tall weapon, which looks like a cross between a robot and a satellite radar, will be mounted on the ceiling and can swivel.
It is remotely controlled by an operator in a separate room who lines up targets with a joystick.
The ACLU said the weapon was “tantamount to torture,” noting that early military versions resulted in five airmen suffering lasting burns. It requested a meeting with Baca, who declined the invitation.
The sheriff unveiled the device last week and said it would be installed in the dorm of a jail in north Los Angeles County. It is far less powerful than the military version and has various safeguards in place, including a three-second limit to each beam of heat.
The natural response when blasted — to leap out the way — would be helpful in bringing difficult inmates under control and quelling riots, the sheriff said.
A device that left military personnel with “lasting burns” is treated by the sheriff as though it is no more than a pin-prick. Cruel and usual punishment indeed.
In 2007, a young man from my neighborhood who I had become friendly with was arrested at 17 years old on felony drug charges. But that is jumping ahead.
Jamal* was 15 when we met. He had attended a youth-led speakout event that I co-sponsored in my community. He was brilliant and funny. He had a lot to say at the forum. We became friends. I would see him standing in front of the EL station on my way to work in the mornings and suggested that he should be in school. He would tell me that standing in front of the EL was much more educational than school and that by the way, he hated reading.
After two weeks of hearing this consistent line, I bought him a copy of a book called “Makes Me Wanna Holler” by Nathan McCall. It’s a book that I had assigned as part of a class I taught to college students. The cover of the book has a picture of a black man striking a “cool pose.” I think that Jamal was intrigued by the photograph. I gave him the book and said: “Give it a chance and tell me what you think. If you read it, lunch will be on me. We can discuss it together.”
As fate would have it, I needed to drive to work for the next three days. I didn’t see Jamal again for that time. When I returned to the EL, I found Jamal standing there, he was reading the book that I gave him and was 3/4 of the way through it. He saw me, smiled, and said, “You know what Ms. K, this book is on the nickel.” [That means GREAT, by the way, for those who like myself are 2005 slang challenged.]
The next Monday, he asked me for other titles that I could recommend. He said that he would look for the books at our local library. He cautioned: “Don’t try to give me any boring school books, though.”
I was so excited that I came back the next day with a list of books that I thought might interest him. I am a voracious consumer of young adult fiction and non-fiction. I find that it helps me connect to the young people that I work with. The following were some of Jamal’s favorites. I did not include the ones that he classified as “Garbage” and admonished me to never recommend to anyone else.
Buffalo Tree, by Adam Rapp. HarperTempest, c1997. While serving a six-month sentence at a juvenile detention center, thirteen-year-old Sura struggles to survive the experience with his spirit intact.
Hole in my Life, by Jack Gantos. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, c2002. The author relates how, as a young adult, he became a drug user and smuggler, was arrested, did time in prison, and eventually got out and went to college, all the while hoping to become a writer.
A Life for a Life, by Ernest Hill. Simon & Shuster, c1998. Fifteen-year old D’Ray is growing up in rural Louisiana when someone threatens to kill his little brother if he doesn’t come up with $100 in an hour. D’Ray robs a convenience store, and when it goes awry, we watch D’Ray struggle with a life of crime, juvenile arrests and the prospect of turning it all around.
Makes Me Wanna Holler, by Nathan McCall. Vintage Books, c1994. McCall’s autobiography traces his life, from the streets of Portsmouth, Va., to prison, to the Washington Post.
Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. HarperCollins, c1999. While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken.
Soulfire, by Lorri Hewett. Dutton Children’s Books, c1996. A rift develops in the closeness shared by Todd and Ezekiel, two African-American cousins, when Ezekiel single-handedly tries to end the problem of gang violence in his Denver neighborhood.
Getting back to Jamal’s arrest. So two years went by, with Jamal sometimes hanging out at my place on Sundays just so he could read new books that I would get for him. We would talk about those books. He is brilliant.
Then Jamal got himself into some trouble. The reasons for it were complex and I won’t break confidence to explain. Suffice it to say, that circumstances made it important for Jamal to start making a lot more money than he had been while selling dime bags.
All of a sudden, in 2007, I didn’t see or hear from Jamal for a month. That was unusual. I asked some of his friends in the neighborhood where he was and what had happened to him. There was a wall of silence. Finally one evening in October, I got a phone call from Jamal. He was at Cook County Jail and he needed my help. “What can I do,” I asked. “Do you need a private lawyer, I have friends who could help? Money for items from the commissary…” I was going on and on and he finally stopped me when he could get a word in. “Ms. K he said, please tell them to send me to prison now…just get me out of here.”
I am recounting this story because I just read an article about the fact that Cook County Jail is at critical mass. It triggered the recollection above and brings back memories of so many people who I know who have been at the jail and have characterized it as hell on earth.
From the article:
Cook County jail costs was one item discussed. An estimated $117.30 of taxpayer funds is spent per detainee per day in Cook County facilities. There are 102 counties in Illinois, and Cook County has the largest daily jail population in the state and the third largest in the U.S., trailing only L.A. and New York.
The inmate population is reaching critical mass. There are 9,548 inmates and capacity at Cook County jail is 9,838. The most common crime arrest category amongst inmates is drug related violations. National arrests in 2009 for drug abuse violations comprised 13 percent of total arrests (estimated at 1.6 milliion), according to an F.B.I. report. The most common offense was possession of marijuana.
Drug arrests have sharply increased over the last 20 years. In 1987 drug arrests only accounted for 7.4 percent. Commissioner Tony Peraica stated his concern of the high costs of prosecuting and detaining drug abusers.
Cook County Jail is overpopulated with people who do not need to be incarcerated. In addition, the jail has been investigated for its horrible treatment of its population.
In 2008 the U.S. Justice Department completed an investigation of the Cook County jail. The report found numerous violations including excessive use of force. In one instance a mentally ill inmate was restrained with handcuffs and beaten. The inmate was transported to an outside hospital for severe head trauma.
* In order to keep his identity confidential I assigned Jamal a pseudonym.