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]
"These probationers aren’t just paying a court-ordered fine; they’re typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule—a consolidated weekly or monthly set of charges divided between the court and the company. The system is known as 'offender-funded' justice. But legal challenges to it are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all." Get Out of Jail, Inc.
First world war – a century on, time to hail the peacemakers "On the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, we should remember those who tried to stop a catastrophe" [more inside]
The Center for Investigative Reporting conducted a year-long investigation into the problem of teens held in solitary confinement and chronicles what it found in the short documentary “Alone.” [more inside]
Windows from Prison – Mark Strandquist asked hundreds of prisoners a straightforward question—if your cell could look out on one scene, what would it be? [more inside]
"There remains, however, one important group that the show barely, and inadequately, represents." Noah Berlatsky writes in the Atlantic about the portrayal of men in Orange is the New Black. [more inside]
The one thing that drives me nuts about this show is all the snappy banter. I understand that they have to make the show interesting, but if a guard came in and saw that you had smeared food on the wall, they would have thrown a bucket and scrubber in and not fed you again until you cleaned that shit up. They certainly wouldn’t have allowed you to talk about the food on the wall, or wait for you to give this quirky explanation. This is like a scene from Blossom or something, where the guard is playing the exasperated Dad character. It’s like, “Oh, Piper! What wacky antics have you gotten into now?”One ex-con reviews Orange is the New Black. Part II, III.
Simpson is in Lovelock because he was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery in Nevada in 2008; he's serving a sentence of up to 33 years, with the possibility of parole in 2017. He will turn 67 next month, but the O.J. personage who remains a cultural touchstone is much younger. That one was born 20 years ago this week, on June 17, 1994, a day that spawned a series of events that are as ingrained in Americana as anything that happened at Valley Forge or in Dealey Plaza. Sports Illustrated tackles Orenthal James Simpson.
65 to 70 million U.S. adults, 3 or 4 of every 10, have an arrest or conviction record, greatly reducing their chances of getting a job, if they even get an interview, as many job applications ask applicants to check a box if they have a criminal record. "Ban the Box" is the slogan used by groups who are trying to counter this practice. The ban is spreading with cities and states around the country "banning the box" from government job applications, and some jurisdictions are forcing private employers to ban the question, too. A few major companies have removed such questions from their applications ahead of the local and state requirements, with Target following Wal-Mart's decision (previously).
If our criminal-justice system had to pay a fair wage for labor that inmates provide, it would collapse
In 1994, The Shawshank Redemption made just $18 million at the box office. It got seven Academy Award nominations, but won zero. And yet, it has become one of the most consistently profitable movies there is, including providing some of its actors with what Bob Gunton (the evil Warden Norton) calls "a very substantial income" in residuals. [more inside]
Prison of Oz: Staying Human in an Ohio Prison Dorothy, something of a diva, let the laughter subside. Then she started to sing with a voice of resounding beauty about a land she once heard of in a lullaby, about chimney tops and lemon drops and wanting to fly away. "Why oh, why, can't I?" [more inside]
In a story first broken by the AP (heads up: link does not conform to guidelines about how to refer to trans people), Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has given approval for the Army to transfer Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a federal prison in order to allow her to access treatment for her gender dysphoria. [more inside]
Lifting weights in an American prison means joining a culture unlike any seen in a free-world gym, full of crudely welded pig iron and rust. Men forsake masturbation to improve their bench-press stats and consume cans of Jack Mack, the cheapest tinned fish in the world, along with the filthy broth it's packed in for every one of the 72.5 grams of protein promised on the label. It's a manly, aggressive universe with rules and customs of its own. I lived it for 10 years. An Ex-Con's Guide to Prison Weightlifting.
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s "Little Guantánamos" We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary. Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law.
Cao Shunli died while incarcerated recently for advocating the right of ordinary Chinese citizens to have input into China's entry in the UN's Universal Periodic Review, a new set of human rights reports for every UN member state. She died because she was denied medical care. Her family has not been allowed to see the body. [more inside]
Twilight in the Box. "The suicide statistics, the squalor and the recidivism haven’t ended solitary confinement. Maybe the brain studies will." [Via]
What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? "With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
Artist Amy Elkinsbegan corresponding in 2009 with prisoners on death row in California. Of the seven men with whom Elkins made contact in June 2009, she remains in touch with only one, Freddy, who has been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay since 1995, when he was 16 years of age. Freddy has been incarcerated since he was 13. Parting Words is "a visual archive of the 500+ prisoners to date executed in the state of Texas."
Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? So begins a critique by Paolo Pedercini, developer of "games addressing issues of social and environmental justice," of Introversion Software's upcoming game Prison Architect, currently in still in development but available as an early access beta. Prison Architect's producer, Mark Morris, and its designer, Chris Delay, respond in a lengthy youtube video. [more inside]