Inmates Aren’t the Only Victims of the Prison-Industrial Complex

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 Inmates Aren’t the Only Victims of the Prison-Industrial Complex

The Allan B. Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas (Courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

The worst part of Dave’s job as a death-row guard happened early morning on the day of an execution. After taking the inmate for his final shower and instructing him to change his clothes for his last visit with his family, Dave would bring him back to his cell. Officers would then escort him in handcuffs to a prison van, which would take him from the Polunsky Unit in the east Texas town of Livingston to the death chamber at another prison in Huntsville, forty miles away. …

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For These Incarcerated Women, Print Sure As Hell Ain’t Dead

For These Incarcerated Women, Print Sure As Hell Ain’t Dead

Cover of Issue 31 by Jenni Gann

In the early 2000s, a group of women at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon were reading over prison zines created by men. They identified with some topics—racist treatment, guard brutality, human rights violations—but began to realize that the zines failed to address specific issues that women faced on the inside, things like sexual harassment and assault by prison employees, being pregnant in prison, and losing custody of their children on the outside. Thus, Tenacious: A Zine of Art & Writing by Women in Prison was born.

Artwork by Nicky Riley, a trans woman incarcerated in a men’s prison in Texas

“Being inside prison, there’s no way to produce your own zines. There’s no access to, say, a copying machine, or the ability to write mail freely to [people] in other prisons to solicit work, or the ability to mail off lots of copies of zines,” says Tenacious editor Victoria Law, a freelance journalist and editor who writes about prison culture for publications like The Nation and Truthout. “So these women approached me and said, ‘We can’t do this because we’re in prison, so would you be willing to be that outside person who collects submissions, prints them up, puts them together, and then sends them back out into the world?’”

Prison Is Pain by Sylvia Sierra, who was released shortly after the publication of this artwork

Law has been doing just that since the inaugural issue in 2002—and the zine just sent off the 32nd issue. While in the early days, Tenacious was almost entirely written by Oregon State inmates, the zine has expanded its scope significantly since. “This issue has pieces by women incarcerated in California, Oklahoma, Ohio, Mississippi, Illinois,” says Law. “One woman recounts her experience being pregnant in Mississippi and the challenges to having any sort of healthy pregnancy while incarcerated. [Problems] range from inadequate nutrition to not being able to see the doctor regularly—her last pre-natal visit before she was due to give birth was cancelled. When her water started leaking, the prison medical staff decided she wasn’t ready to go to the hospital, and they kept her a lot longer than they should have. These are the challenges people who are pregnant inside face.”

Other articles in the current issue cover “dispelling myths about murderers,” living with Celiac disease in prison, and even a piece written by a woman on death row.

Artwork by Tabitha Swords

The wider distribution of Tenacious has allowed it to become a useful forum for women in prison. Law recalls publishing an article by a woman from New Jersey about crackdowns on personal property and ramped-up searches in her prison around election time, all so that prison staff could boast high confiscation numbers to politicians. “And a woman in Colorado read that and wrote a piece in response to that saying, ‘It’s not just New Jersey,’” says Law. “So in a way Tenacious connects women with each other, even if they can’t meet face-to-face, to show each other that the experiences aren’t unique, that the problems are more systemic.”

Drawing of Dessie Woods by Rachel Galindo. Dessie Woods was a Black woman incarcerated during the 1970s for defending herself against sexual assault by a white man. Her case drew national and international attention, leading to greater support both during her trial and imprisonment.

Tenacious has been an important tool for inmates in more tangible ways, too. In one particular issue, a woman wrote about a pattern of assault at Oregon State. That issue then made it into the hands of an outside group who began a letter writing campaign, which eventually led to an investigation. But because of the sensitive nature of complaints and accusations against prison administration, Law admits that Tenacious has also had a run-in or two with officials—one article claimed that a prison officer had been continuously assaulting a prisoner, which led to the banning of that specific issue by that prison. In fact, the recent cover of issue 31 contained imagery that might have gotten some prisoners in trouble. “The image that might cause a problem for people in California is of a dragon,” says Law. “California has a whole bunch of images that they consider gang-related. Until recently, having anything with an image of a dragon could be used as proof that you are part of a prison gang and could land you in indefinite solitary confinement. That was something that I thankfully thought of before sending out copies of the publication.”

Tenacious is free to women in prison and jails, while incarcerated men seeking the zine are asked to send two stamps to cover postage costs, and $3 is requested of those on the outside.

Pennsylvania nurse sentenced to prison for giving teen daughter abortion pills she bought online

Pennsylvania nurse sentenced to prison for giving teen daughter abortion pills she bought online

Jennifer Whalen was imprisoned for up to 18 months for giving her 16-year-old daughter abortion pills she bought online, which resulted in a trip to the hospital for cramps and bleeding from the girl’s miscarriage.

Published: Sunday, September 7, 2014, 10:10 PM
Updated: Sunday, September 7, 2014, 10:10 PM
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Death by Incarceration: Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) | Global Research


Death by Incarceration: Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) | Global Research

Death by Incarceration: Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP)

Global Research, August 07, 2014

In the past twenty plus years, a new criminal sanction has found its way into statutes in at least forty plus states: a life sentence without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Although life sentences have been common in all states, there had always been a mechanism for releasing prisoners when it was determined that they had served long enough.

Some have argued that LWOP serves as an “alternative” to the death penalty, and that the LWOP option has the effect of reducing the number of death sentences. Yet we have seen the populations on death row continue to skyrocket at the same time that more and more people are sentenced to LWOP. In other words, the death penalty often serves as a lightening rod for criminal justice reformers, who tend to see anything less than death as humane. However, life without the possibility of parole is used as a sanction not only for capital cases, but as a sanction for a wide variety of offenses. No Western European Country has such a penalty except Britain, which has twenty or so people serving life without parole, whereas California has five thousand plus prisoners with LWOP and nationwide we have fifty thousand plus prisoners with LWOP. The United States has 40 plus states with LWOP laws. LWOP is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Life without the possibility of parole makes no allowances for changed behavior, or for reconsideration of the gravity of an offense. It throws away the key without mercy. Like the death penalty, it is a clear signal that “our” criminal justice system has given up any goal or possibility of rehabilitation. Although prisoners have continued to appeal to courts for redress, the limitations that have been placed on habeas corpus drastically limit legal appeals for wrongful imprisonment. In my many years of work with other prisoners, I have seen people change, and I have seen first hand the extent to which peoples lives are wasted in prison – through enforced idleness, abuse, neglect, and societal attitudes of revenge. As a society, we need to find a more productive way to deal with our outrage at violent crimes. By giving in to the appetite for revenge, our death – penalty and life without the possibility of parole system encourages media, politicians, prosecutors, police, prison guards, victims right groups, and others to appeal to what is arguably the most primitive strain in humanity.

l have worked closely with many prisoners families, whose lives are deeply and often irrevocably affected. Many human and civil rights organizations have documented the many ways the court and law enforcement systems are highly discriminatory and disproportionately punish poor people and people of color. What would Jesus do?

Present criminal justice policy demonstrates that we as a society do not believe that offenders can repent, show remorse, and work toward healing themselves and their relationships. When the weakest or most impoverished among us does not experience the support or sustaining balance of a healthy society, we are not a just society. Just as when survivors of serious crime are unheard, marginalized, or exploited, when offenders suffer the unending isolation of our prisons We can hardly lay claim to justice. In fact, any ideology that demands the intentional increase in suffering rather than its diminution can hardly lay claim to justice.

We as a society have imprisoned more than two million of our brothers and sisters and put in place structures and institutions that continue to punish and torture them for the entirety of their lives. Our comfort with punishment, revenge and torture should alarm us and make us ask ourselves profound questions about who we are as a people. We have legalized our desire for revenge in our criminal code. If this makes us uncomfortable, it should. How far should the state go to satisfy some peoples craving for revenge? ls legal murder through the death penalty and the other death penalty- Life without the possibility of parole the end point? Do we still really believe that revenge brings balance to our communities? What would Jesus do?

In conclusion, I recognize that there are people who are so dangerous that they need to be separated from society, but they do not number in the millions. They may not even number in the thousands. Secure, humane institutions should be established where these relatively few individuals can live their lives safely separated from society, but always with the potential for repentance and possible reintegration. They should have every opportunity to develop themselves and contribute to society; they should be separated, but not punished or tortured. Whatever you think about the death penalty, which also includes life without the possibility of parole (LWOP); a system that will take life must first give justice. In other words, you cannot do a wrong thing in a right way.

Our vengeance-soaked culture is in desperate need of being called to higher moral and spiritual ground. Survivors of murder victims need to be free to do their grieving in natural, human ways not skewed and distorted by sensationalist media, opportunistic politicians, and cynical prosecutors. They do not need decades of being subjected to the sifting tides of the judicial systems appellate process in the futile search for closure via another premeditated killing, this time by the state. What would ]esus do?

And finally, I acknowledge the difficulty in moving beyond revenge, punishment and torture, as we currently live in a violence – and revenge ridden culture. But just as the first step toward healing comes with truth telling, the first step advocates of social change must take is to articulate a different reality.

In order for a true discussion of forgiveness/ restorative justice to take place, all of us – not just survivors of crime – must learn to see those who commit crime as human beings. It is easy not to forgive or restore when applying the assumption that the person who has caused harm is less than human, incapable of doing otherwise or of changing for the better. Only by re-humanizing those who commit crime is forgiveness / restorative justice (healing) possible. Life without the possibility (LWOP) is a living death, and is cruel and most unusual to say the least.

What better prisoner to have in these slave factories than prisoners with life without the possibility of parole as there is no turnover rates to worry about! You can literally work prisoners to death.

I believe that every person has the potential to respond to Gods initiative. As a society, which claims to be largely “Christian and/ or religious – we must create conditions that foster and nurture such an understanding. Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is incompatible with this vision. It removes hope from the lives of prisoners and their families and assumes that peoples lives are irredeemable. It also precludes the possibility of the society as a whole changing in its punitive, revengeful stance toward offenders. What would Jesus do?

Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP – The Other Death Penalty) is the ultimate form of injustice carried out in the name of justice and is an offense to human decency and is in fact a blatant human rights violation.

A test of morality is what a society does to its prisoners…

Nature of the Prison System

The prison system in California has become a larger and larger economic force; guard unions have also become a larger political force.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) is the second largest contributor to California political campaigns and a powerful lobbyist for prison expansion. CCPOA and guards organization in most other states now fund a number of retributive crime-victims groups that join the guards in lobbying for longer sentences, harsher prison conditions i.e., super-max housing units – SHU an expansion of the death penalty i.e., Life Without the Possibility of Parole also known as The Other Death Penalty – (LWOP).

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

In other words, the United States has not abolished slavery; it simply transferred it into the prisons.

Prison slavery in the form of Involuntary Labor is real, every day inside California and America in general (public and private). Are we okay with this as a so-called democratic society?

Correspondence: Troy T. Thomas, I-Lo1001, FAB2-209U
CSP-LAC PO. Box 4430
Lancaster, California 93539

Copyright © 2014 Global Research

The Horrors Endured by Transgender Women in Prison


Seven Days in Solitary [7/27/14]

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Seven Days in Solitary [7/27/14]

Solitary confinement news roundup

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts.

• Footage obtained by the Colorado Independentshows excessive force being used against a man who was placed in solitary after exhibiting suicidal behavior. The man was being monitored in his cell before a team of officers entered and proceeded to tase him. The Colorado Independent notes that this episode is representative of many examples of excessive force in Denver’s jails.

• A ruling on July 24th by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley granted class-action status on behalf of 125,000 people held in California’s prisons in a lawsuit accusing prison officials of racial discrimination. As Reuters reports, during lockdowns men of similar ethnicities are often contained to their cells for days, months or years often…

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What Happens to Babies Born in Jail?

What Happens to Babies Born in Jail?

They don’t all grow up to star on ‘Gossip Girl.’

May 29, 2012

Originally from Baltimore, Oliver lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn.

Gossip Girl actress Leighton Meester’s success must have been completely unimaginable to her parents when she was born. The Gossip Girl’s mother, Connie Meester, probably had lesser outcomes in mind when she gave birth to Leighton while beginning a 10-year sentence at a federal prison in Texas for drug smuggling.

Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of women in U.S. prisons are mothers, there is still no national policy that dictates what should happen to the more than 2,000 children that are born behind bars each year.

Where do these babies go? Up until the 1950s, prison nurseries were the norm in most states; so most were raised behind bars by their mothers. Then came an explosion in the prison population—between 1977 and 2007, the number of women in prison increased by 832 percent—leaving states unable to afford the prohibitive $24,000 cost of raising a baby in jail. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of incarcerated mothers are now forced to either give up their child to foster care or place the kids with relatives.

Recently, a handful of states have begun experimenting with nursery programs and community-based residential parenting programs. Competition for spots is fierce, and only mothers who are serving short sentences for non-violent crimes are eligible. While the length of stay varies from state to state (at the South Dakota Women’s Prison babies are only allowed to stay for 30 days, while at the Washington Correctional Center it’s three years), the results have been unanimously positive: one survey showed that 95 percent of mothers felt they had a stronger bond after the program, and all agreed that other states should adopt similar programs.

The evidence supporting mothers raising their children in jail is extensive. Increasingly, studies are showing that the first two years of a baby’s life are critical for the mother-child bond, and babies bereft of that bond are more likely to display troubled behavior later on. In addition, women who are allowed to raise their children in jail are much less likely to return to crime. One study of the Nebraska Correctional Center found that 33 percent of women who had been separated from their children ended up back in jail, versus just 9 percent of women who were allowed to raise their children.

Across the world, many countries seem to agree that a baby’s place is with its mother. In Sweden, babies can be accommodated for up to a year (the average stay is three months). In most European countries, mothers are allowed to keep their infants through weaning. Prisons in India are required to offer nurseries and day care for mothers and their children. In Chile, jail-born children begin taking state-run educational programs at six months of age. In Mexico, children are required to stay with their mothers until they’re 6 years old, and have the freedom to leave on weekends and holidays.

For those who balk at the thought of infants being raised behind bars, Germany represents a common sense compromise. There, qualified mothers are allowed to leave prison every morning to see their children off to school, spending the day doing housework and preparing meals for their children. At the end of the day, the women return to the jail to sleep. Their waking hours are spent fostering a stable, nurturing environment for the next generation, one that won’t have to remember a childhood spent behind bars.