Showing posts with label inmates. Show all posts
Showing posts with label inmates. Show all posts

11 October 2018

Quick Decisions

by Eve Fisher

I've talked before about my volunteer work with the Alternatives to Violence Project (Link here).  Here in South Dakota, we continue to do at least one workshop every month at the Sioux Falls penitentiary (both units) and they are always fascinating, revealing, illuminating, exhausting, rewarding, etc.  Not to mention fun, timely, and very, very, very needed.  For all of us.

One set of exercises we do almost every time is called "Quick Decisions".  We break our participants into small groups of 4, give them a scenario, and then have them come up with a group solution - preferably a non-violent solution - within 2 or 3 minutes.

Over time, I've noticed the difference between old and young inmates re using violence.  The old timers know there just isn't that much worth getting bunged up for (fights don't always work one way) or going to the SHU for.  The young ones are still very concerned about their reputations, and will provide all sorts of rationalizations as to why - this time - they have to go to the mat.

The other thing I've noticed is that, with scenarios that occur outside prison walls, it never occurs to any of the inmates to call the cops.  No matter what.  Someone robbing you, someone raping your sister, someone attacking, someone stealing - you don't call the cops.  You figure out another way of dealing with it.  It's understandable.  A lot of them are Native American, and have seen stuff on the reservation that would make you never want law enforcement near you again.  Racism is real.  Sexism is real.  And sometimes they combine in unpleasant ways.

So, here are some examples, and some common answers.  What do you think?

(1) You're standing in the mess hall line with your friend.  Someone walks up and cuts right in front of him.  Your friend tells him to move.  At first, the other guy just ignores him.  This makes your friend hot and soon he's yelling and cursing the guy out.  The guy turns around and asks what the hell's your problem?  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Tell the friend to chill out.  The food's not that good.  It's not worth going to the SHU for.  (I totally agree.) 
(2) You're walking alone along the street when you see three teenage boys grab another and shove him up against a building.  He and their actions are blocked by their bodies.  There's no policeman in sight.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Keep on walking.  "You just don't know what he's done to bring it on."  But, change it to three teenage boys grab a teenage girl, and they'd come to her rescue, which is nice to know.  (And more than some people in politics would ever do...)
(3) You're on parole.  You and a group of friends enter a small local store to buy something, and while you're there the police come in to make a raid.  Turns out that the store is selling drugs out the back.  What does your group do?
Most common answer from the young ones:  Run like hell.
Most common answer from the lifers:  Stay put and explain, with everything you've got, that you knew nothing about it.  (I'm with the lifers)
(4) You're at a party standing at the bar area.  The sister of your best friend is there with a guy.  He comes to where you're standing, and gets 2 drinks.  Just as he leaves, he puts something into one of the glasses.  You watch as he crosses the room and offers that glass to her.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Variations on the theme of stop him now.  Some would make him drink the drugged drink himself.  Some would shove him out of the bar, and "explain" things to him outside.  (We try for nonviolence, we don't always succeed.  And sometimes you can understand why.  And, again, it's nice to know they'd have her back, which is more than some people would...)  
(5) Your group is made up of parolees gathered together in an apartment.  Suddenly, the apartment owner's parole officer comes to the door to make a surprise visit.  The apartment has no back door and is ten stories up.  What does your group do?  NOTE:  for those of you who don't know, it's illegal for parolees to gather together socially.
Most common answer:  Panic heavily, and see what lie might stick.
Best answer:  Start holding an AA meeting.  Or a prayer meeting.  "Always keep a Big Book and a Bible wherever you live.  You never know when they'll come in handy."  (I thought I would die laughing at this one.)
(6) You're talking with your wife/girlfriend/baby mamma in the visit room.  Another inmate in the visit room starts flirting with her.  What do you do?
Most common answer:  Tell your woman that you'll won't see her for a while, because as soon as you get out of the visit room, you're going to take the guy down, and you'll be in the SHU for a while.  (SHU - Segregated Housing Unit, a/k/a "the hole", a/k/a solitary.)
On the last one, after all the groups were done explaining how they hated to do it, but if they didn't beat the guy up they'd lose all cred and credibility, and that's just the way it is, I raised my hand and asked, "Did it ever occur to you to let your lady handle it?  I mean, the obvious thing to me, if I'm visiting my husband and someone else is coming on to me is to go 'Ewww!  What are you thinking?  Get out of here!'"  Everyone laughed their head off.  And agreed that laughing at Flirt Guy would be far more effective at shriveling him than even beating him up.  I also pointed out that if she flirted back with the guy, they were with the wrong woman.  That got them thinking a bit, too.  
There are pages more of these, and they always bring up some great discussion.  And you just never know what the answers will be, which means it's never boring.

So, what were your answers?  Got any questions?

24 May 2012

Notes from the Penitentiary

 by Eve Fisher

     I’ve been offline for the last 8 days, because I was down at the state penitentiary. 
Believe it or not, a postcard from the Sioux Falls State Pen - circa 1910

     Three of those I was helping to facilitate a workshop as part of the Alternatives to Violence Project – for more information about that VERY worthy organization and concept, please see here http://www.avpusa.org/.  We had a good workshop.  Exhausting.  You can’t just stand up there and lecture at inmates, because that isn’t going to work.  Instead, you try to get 18 to 25 inmates fully interested, invested, participating for 8-12 hours a day for 3 days – and that keeps you hopping.
     The other five days I spent doing training for a higher security clearance at the pen and other state correctional facilities.  (The hope is some day to take AVP to the women’s prison in Pierre.)  Anyway, I learned all kinds of stuff at the training.  Not just the routine and the ritual and what’s expected of correctional officers. who were the main cohort of the training.  Believe me, volunteers are not the center of training, and why should they be?
     Actually, the answer to that is, at least up here in South Dakota, is because the prisoners cannot have any AA, NA, AVP, Al-Anon, etc. meetings, church functions (of any religion, from Native pow-wows to Buddhist meditation), or other non-state provided functions without a fully vetted volunteer present.  And, since South Dakota is currently as broke and in debt as any other state, and has cut everything to the bone, about all the prisoners get is GED classes, and a 12 week chemical dependency treatment.  Basically, without volunteers, the prisoners don’t get much of anything. But enough of that rant.
     Anyway, the training was mainly directed at newly hired correctional officers, and after five days of that…  well, I believe that institutionalization can happen on both sides of the cell door, and we’ll leave it at that.  They went over things like the daily routine, various security/safety priorities and procedures, talked about suicide awareness (and hopefully) prevention, about rape prevention (from what I hear, good luck with that one), the endless counts (standing, emergency, and other), what the various inmate shirt colors indicate, and all about con games, including the 14 steps of a set up which begin with observation and end with the sting.  Most of the 14 steps appeared to me to be fairly obvious, but… 
     Among the other tid-bits, and if all of you know all of this already, forgive me:
  1. Never give your full name to an inmate. NOTE:  As a volunteer, my full name is printed out on my ID card along with my photo for all the world to see, so I had a good laugh about that.
  2. Some of the gangs in our prisons are the Mexican Mafia, Sorreno, MS-13, the Bloods and the Crips – although up here these are Native American, not black. 
  3. The question to ask a newly released inmate is are they “flat” (i.e., done their time) or “on paper” (i.e., on parole).
  4. Prison burritos have nothing to do with tortillas.  They’re a mixture of Ramen soup, mayonnaise, chips, refried beans, jalapeno peppers, chili, and other ingredients, mixed up, packed up in wet towels, cooked over whatever heat source the inmates can manage to find.  It’s then cooked up in slices with an ID card or other sharp utensil and sold for $5.00 a slice.
  5. Ramen soups are one of the main inmate currencies, and are worth $5.00 each.  (They get them at commissary at an obviously inflated price and inflate more.)  Why Ramen?  I have no idea.  I always thought the only reason students lived on them was they cost about 10 cents each.
  6. Among the main things every inmate wants are chew (in a tobacco free environment, chew is VERY pricey) and a cell phone.  The prison has dogs that can sniff out both.
  7. Another thing inmates want is drugs.  Now the inmates are given prescribed medications, but they have to take all their meds crushed, in suspension (water, whatever), in front of a nurse.  This doesn’t stop the entrepreneurial inmate from putting a wad of toilet paper in his cheek and sucking all the liquid there, and then later taking that soggy crap out of their mouth, drying it, and selling it to someone desperate for a high.  
  8. One of the main drugs is welbutrin, because the state has a program that gives it away free to people who want to quit smoking.  The inmates can get it (for a while), and inmates get their families to get free welbutrin from the state, and smuggle it in to them.  (How?  Let me count the ways…  as one trainer put it, the first place to search is always the crotch.)  A welbutrin pill goes for serious Ramen inside, and is crushed and snorted for a quick high.  
  9. Our South Dakota prisons are very, very clean.  I mean that.  They don’t smell of dirty socks.  They have inmates cleaning constantly.  There’s a whole group of them called bleachers who go around rubbing bleach on every surface, every handle, every bar.  
  10. A “punk” is someone who’s been/being persuaded/forced to provide sex for…  protection, help, whatever.  
  11. Our South Dakota prisons are crowded, but they’re not full yet.  I already knew this.  As I told a lawyer, years ago, who was telling me about his fresh-from-California client, who wanted a plea bargain for his big lump of cocaine, “Go back and tell him this is South Dakota, and we have room for him in the prison.” Still do. 
Anyway, I passed – we had an exam – which is good.  I have my clearance, which is better.  And I got to go home, which is best of all.