Last year, Laverne Cox read a letter written by a trans woman in involuntary protective custody for a video released by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Cox would later ask the SRLP to take the video down, citing concerns about the inmate's convictions. This is an interview with the woman who wrote the letter, Synthia China Blast.
The Federal Communications Commission is putting caps on the rates that inmates pay for phone calls, after a 14-year campaign by advocates for prisoners and their families. The order caps per-minute fees at 11¢ in state or federal prisons, and up to 22¢ a minute in local jails, depending on the size of the facility, while also capping the various fees that have been common on inmate calls to this point. [more inside]
"From a certain angle, the premise seems almost cruel: invite prisoners on death row to design their own memorials — ways for them to be remembered after they’ve been executed. This means asking them to confront not just their own mortality, but the state’s hand in ensuring it; to imagine not only the reality of their deaths, but a time beyond it. Yet, if Life After Death and Elsewhere suggests anything, it’s that this process may offer a release. These men are already thinking about death, after all — two paintings that feature the grim reaper assure us of that. Now at least they have somewhere to channel their thoughts."
A nonviolent drug offender who was granted clemency after 22 years adjusts to life on the outside. "I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong." - President Obama [more inside]
Room 8, a short film by James W. Griffiths.
The Tangled History of Barbed Wire by Robert Zaretsky [Boston Globe]
“Like inventors from Joseph Guillotin to Alfred Nobel, whose creations escaped their original purpose and were yoked to evil ends, Joseph Glidden would have been shocked at what became of his. In 1874, the Illinois farmer and New Hampshire native, fastening sharpened metal knots along thick threads of steel, created barbed wire. Thanks to its high resilience and low cost, the rapid installation of the coils and lasting dissuasion of the barbs, the wire transformed the American West. Ranchers could protect their cattle against predators, both wild and human, as they pushed the frontier ever further west. The wire itself came to be called 'devil’s rope.'”Previously. Previously. Previously.
Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been released from prison following Eid al-Adha pardon. [New York Times] [more inside]
"I Reviewed Jail on Yelp Because I Couldn't Afford a Therapist." Why people are using sites like Yelp to vent and offer tips about prison and jail.
stories.. that expose both the depths of what was taken from them and the challenges of rebuilding the lives they once had
From rotten meat to startup porn sites to a solicitous Snickers bar, what I saw inside the prison-industrial complex—and what it taught me about our criminal justice crisis. Former Missouri state senator Jeff Smith writes about his time in prison. [more inside]
The criminals' alphabet (UK edition). You want some or what, Charlie Big Spuds?
When Eric Wyatt told his public defender that he was mistakenly being thrown back into jail after already serving his time, his public defender cut him off with those eight words. He would spend over three months incarcerated before another public defender urged him to take a plea deal to serve 10 years in prison for a crime he already served time for. It would be another week, 110 days in total, before Wyatt would be set free. [more inside]
"Doug Williams used to give polygraph exams. Now he’s going to prison for teaching people how to beat them" -- the true story of a polygraph critic and coach arrested in a sting operation.
Luley displayed a striking compulsion for detailed self-incrimination. “If I tell them that I sold drugs in the jail when I was a jailer, can they use that against me?” he asked at one point. He also mentioned that he’d “messed around” sexually with a 14-year-old drug suspect after interviewing her.
Unlike the soft forms of social control — meaning the ameliorative and redistributive welfare programs of the Great Society — the new model of social control does not come with dangerous notions of "equality" and "social inclusion." Today, the poor are thoroughly locked down, as is our political imagination about what poverty means. Law enforcement has moved to the center of domestic politics; state violence is perhaps more than ever a constant, regular, and normal feature of poor people’s lives. —The Making of the American Police State, Christian Parenti
You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What? [New York Times] Carlos and Roby are two ex-convicts with a simple mission: picking up inmates on the day they’re released from prison and guiding them through a changed world. [more inside]
Cruel and All-Too-Usual: A Terrifying Glimpse into Life in Prison—As A Kid A new HuffPo report on juveniles serving time in adult facilities (trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, suicide), this piece features videos showing how juveniles are treated in facilities designed for adults (trigger warning for violence), several pieces of interpretive art based on those videos, and images of documents retrieved from inmates and prison records.
Prison Born. What becomes of babies born to mothers behind bars? Research suggests that having nurseries in prisons leads to lower recidivism rates among incarcerated mothers and better outcomes for their children.
How to Love Your Father When He’s in Prison for Child Porn, an essay by Lindsay Popper. SFW. Some may find the content disturbing.
Kalief Browder, held for three years on Rikers Island without charge, has taken his own life. Browder was first jailed at Rikers while he was a minor. All but forgotten by the Bronx District Attorney's office, he was beaten and at times held in solitary while awaiting a trial that never happened.
Supreme Court Ruling Not Enough To Prevent Debtors Prisons Judge Robert Swisher, a Superior Court judge in Benton County, says he'll make judgments based on how people present themselves in court. "They come in wearing expensive jackets," he says referring to defendants who wear NFL football team jackets, "or maybe a thousand dollars' worth of tattoos on their arms. And they say, 'I'm just living on handouts.' " If the jacket or tattoos were a gift, he tells the defendants they should have asked the giver for the cash to pay their court fees instead.[more inside]
Luzira was once the most notorious prison in Uganda. Now it’s home to what is surely the world’s most elaborate prison football league. "Upper Prison has kept itself busy with extraordinary ingenuity. The prisoners have created their own drama, they dance, and they play music on homemade instruments. There is prayer and counselling in the church and mosque. But more popular than anything else is football. Within the prison there are 10 football clubs, some of them almost two decades old, each with their own players, boards and constitutions. Alongside Moses’s old team Aston Villa, there is Liverpool and Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea, Arsenal and Newcastle United."
The New York Times and Jezebel profile Texas' refusal to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. (trigger warning: sexual assault, violence)
Since 2007, the Karachi Central Jail has been running an art school for prison inmates. Their works have been displayed at exhibitions at the Karachi Alliance Francaise, among other venues. More samples of the work can be seen on the art school's Facebook page.
For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men. The remaining men – 1.5 million of them – are, in a sense, missing. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.
Orange is the New Sorry Not Sorry | The third season drops June 12. It has everything. [more inside]
Transgender Woman Cites Attacks and Abuse in Men’s Prison (trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault) [more inside]
Kevin Pang, 'What Prisoners Eat': It is within my civic right as a dedicated grocery shopper and keeper of leftovers, imprinted in the Charter of Man, that I am free to eat however much I want, of what I want, when I want. In prison, that right is stripped away. Craving pizza on a Saturday night? Feel like washing it down with cold beer? It’s not happening. Your right is reduced to eating portion-fixed food dictated by a warden on a set schedule. If you’re hungry after dinner, you’ll go to bed hungry.
The country’s largest state university system says it doesn’t discriminate against former prison inmates. Applicants say otherwise. [more inside]
A Prison, Infamous for Bloodshed, Faces a Reckoning as Guards Go on Trial Warning, explicit descriptions of extreme violence
My Fellow Prisoners by Mikhail Khodorkovsky [New York Review of Books]
I’m writing these notes because I want people who care about these things to know what I have personally experienced in prison. Over time I’ve turned from an ordinary victim into an interested observer, and I’ve discovered that for many people the prison world remains terra incognita. And yet in our country one in every hundred people is currently in prison; one in ten (maybe by now one in seven) of the male population passes through prison at some point in their lives. Moreover, prison has a terrible effect on the majority of both prisoners and guards. It’s not yet clear, in fact, which group is affected more. Society has to do something about this human tragedy. And for a start people need to know about it.
Scott Budnick walked away from his position as head of the production company that made the Hangover movies to run a prison-reform advocacy group. Budnick volunteers as a writing teacher at various prisons, focusing on youthful offenders who went behind bars before the age of 18. He also uses his Hollywood connections and natural drive ("I’m ADD to the fullest. I like going and going and going and getting shit done.") to lobby for prison and justice reform, including Proposition 47, which reclassified many petty theft and drug crimes to misdemeanors.
Jails and prisons are supposed to be technological dead zones. In all but the laxest minimum-security facilities, cell phones are banned for inmates, as are personal laptops, tablets, and other Internet-connected devices. Federal prisons have implemented CorrLinks or TRULINCS, e-mail systems that allow inmates to send monitored messages to pre-approved contacts. But the wider Internet remains off-limits. In many prisons, the most up-to-date device approved for ordinary inmate use is the pay-phone. [more inside]
Two centuries ago, America was a pioneer in the use of punitive isolation. Now it is pioneering a refinement: the use of solitary without end.
The act of pen-palling mirrors the mindset shift that will be necessary to rethink how our society "does justice" on a much larger scale. My conversations, correspondences, and relationships with prison-torn families have taught me that separation breeds more separation, that the coldness and isolation of prison breed the coldness and isolation of violence. And I think about how the one-on-one relationship, in which the prisoner emerges as a person (with thoughts, a personality, a history, hopes, dreams, nightmares), might serve as a model for the beginnings of a person-based, connection-based justice system.The Radical Power of a Prison Pen Pal, a longform essay by Maya Schenwar, Editor-in-Chief of Truthout and author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. [more inside]
Project Pietà clothing is the brainchild of Thomas Jacob, a French designer who moved to Lima in 2011 to pursue a job with a Peruvian fashion label. A chance visit to a neighbouring jail, Casto Castro, with a friend who was teaching the inmates French opened Jacob’s eyes to the possibility of a clothing project behind prison walls. “There are all sorts of initiatives when it comes to art or music, but fashion is popular with prisoners because it’s about the body. In prison, it’s the body which is imprisoned as well as the mind. And fashion allows a degree of physical self-expression which enhances the body.” [more inside]
The Los Angeles Men's Central Jail’s gay wing was set up in response to a 1985 ACLU lawsuit, which aimed to protect homosexual inmates from a higher threat of physical violence than heterosexuals faced. But something unexpected has happened. The inmates are safer now, yes. But they’ve surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by setting up a small and flourishing society behind bars. Once released, some re-offend in order to be with an inmate they love. There are hatreds and occasionally even severe violence, but there is also friendship, community, love — and, especially, harmless rule-bending to dress up like models or decorate their bunks, often via devious means. LA Weekly looks inside MCJ, with an exclusive video the unique situation, from Voice Media Group. For further reading on the unique K6G unit, see Two Models of the Prison: Accidental Humanity and Hypermasculinity in the L.A. County Jail (PDF), and Governmental 'Gaydar': Race, Sexual Identity and Incarceration (PDF), both scholarly articles that study this part of MCJ.
The Norden is a Finnish TV series, taking Americans and introducing them to their profession within the Nordic countries. First, James Conway, retired Superintendent of Attica Correctional Facility in New York, visits four Nordic prisons and facilities. An excerpt, and the full episode with English subtitles. [more inside]
About half of the people fighting wildland fires on the ground for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) are incarcerated: over 4,400 prisoners, housed at 42 inmate fire camps, including three for women. Together, says Capt. Jorge Santana, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) liaison who supervises the camps, they save the state over $1 billion a year. This year, California has had over 5,300 wildfires, which is about 700 more than had occurred by this time in 2013, and a thousand more than the five-year average. Now, as the West is coming to the end of one of the driest, hottest years in recorded history, the work of inmate firefighters has become essential to California’s financial and environmental health. (SLBuzzfeedNews)
Arlena Lindley’s boyfriend Alonzo Turner beat her for months and murdered her child — so why was she sent to prison for 45 years? "...looking back over the past decade, BuzzFeed News identified 28 mothers in 11 states sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for failing to prevent their partners from harming their children. In every one of these cases, there was evidence the mother herself had been battered by the man." [article contains graphic descriptions of abuse]
Bargeloads of art and exhibit materials have been going out to the former prison island of Alcatraz recently, all for an imprisonment- and human rights- and freedom of expression-themed exhibit by Chinese activist dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who designed and directed the installation while remaining under detention in Beijing. The barged materials include over a million Lego blocks, assembled in San Francisco.
On Friday, 32 guards who were employees of the Florida Department of Corrections were fired; all were accused of being associated with the deaths of inmates at four state prisons. [more inside]
Prison gangs are becoming the custodians of order behind bars and on the streets Books such as Christian Parenti's, Lockdown America, and David Skarbek's,The Social Order of the Underworld posit the idea that prison gangs such as the Aryan Nation, The Mexican Mafia, The Black Guerrilla Family, and others serve a useful function. Prison gangs in an effort to keep their business interests going want order. Multiple gangs keep the other gangs in check. With the US having one of, if not the highest rate of incarceration it may be impossible to maintain any semblance of order without the gangs.
Last week, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project uploaded a YouTube video of Laverne Cox reading a letter written by a New York State inmate named Synthia China Blast, who described living in solitary confinement for the last decade. However, that video has since, at Cox's request, been taken down. (TW: descriptions of murder, sexual violence) [more inside]
GQ: The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. "For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend - or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest." [more inside]