Showing posts with label penitentiary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label penitentiary. Show all posts

23 November 2017

I'm Not In Prison... A Thanksgiving Meditation

by Eve Fisher

Image result for alternatives to violence projectI spent last weekend at the pen, doing another Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop.  This time we were training inside facilitators, which we do every two years or so.  These are inmates who have done basic and advanced workshops, and have shown themselves to be really good at walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  These are guys who have gone a long time without being written up or put in the SHU, who know how to and do defuse situations on the ground, and want to be a part of spreading the word to others.  Without them, we couldn't do AVP.  (NOTE:  Check us out on Facebook!)  We outside facilitators need their help in all sorts of ways, and I can't say enough good stuff about them or give enough thanks for their help.

Meanwhile, I'm so glad I'm not in prison.  It's one of the things for which I am truly thankful.  And I don't take it for granted.  There's a long, long, long list of things which will send you to prison and I know very few people who have done none of them.  And it can happen so fast...  I've seen guys in the pen who are absolutely shell-shocked because suddenly they are there, and they almost don't know what's happened.  (Some, who are mentally disabled, really don't know what's happened.)


Image result for prison v. nursing homeMeanwhile, this meme - the one on the right - has been going around the internet for a long, long time, comparing prison (favorably) to nursing homes.  And I've refuted it every time I see it, and will continue to do so.  One version of it starts "Let's put Grandma in prison", to which I always respond, you must really hate your Grandma.  And then I explain why this meme is absolutely, one hundred percent false.  Not to mention pretty damn hateful...

So, let's compare apples to oranges, prisons to nursing homes:

Yes, prisoners get a shower every day - it's to prevent lice, mites, and scabies.  It's a health measure, not for their pleasure.  Believe me, a lot of prisoners would just as soon not take showers, because they don't want to be in a large group of naked men, some of whom are hostile, and - what with steam, slippery tile, soap, etc. - it's a place where rape and other assaults can happen.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  In a nursing home, they do get a bath or shower every day, but in private.)

Image result for prison cell usa toilet in front
Prison cell
Yes, there is 24/7 video surveillance.  That's for security.  Yes, the lights don't go off at 7 PM in the pen - they don't go off at all.  That's for security.  The average prison cell is 6 x 8 feet, and (except for lifers) it's shared by two inmates, and the toilet is open, right in the front, by the door, so that literally everyone can see them doing their business.  That's for security, too.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  The average nursing home room is at least six times that size, and the toilet is in a private bathroom with a door.  And no, the lights are NOT turned off in a nursing home at 7:00 PM.)

Yes, there are three meals a day.  They're awful.  I know, I've eaten a lot of them.  (We don't go out for meals during a weekend workshop.)  They get no fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, or red meat.  (The exceptions:  once a day they get canned corn or canned green beans or lettuce or raw carrots.)  There are a lot of carbs, which is why, even if you don't have diabetes before you go into the pen, there's a good chance you'll develop it before you go.  (Nationally, 21% of inmates have diabetes.)  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  I've eaten many a meal in assisted living centers, while visiting my parents, God rest their souls, and they weren't cold, except the salads, and they were pretty good.)

Yes, prisoners are allowed to have a TV - if they can afford it.  (No, they're not free.)  This is also a security measure, believe it or not.  Unless they have a job (and as many as half the prisoners don't), they're locked down, in their 6x8 cell 23/24.  Lately, they're also being given tablets (provided for free by private corporations, and not on the taxpayers' dime), which allow them to make telephone calls from their cells (using earbuds), listen to music, and access the digital law library.
(NOTE:  The digital law library has caused some prisons to quit having a paralegal on staff to explain the law to the inmates, which is sort of like providing a medical library and firing the doctors.)  Working or not, inmates are only allowed 1 hour for recreation (rec).  Depending on staffing levels, or climate, even rec is cancelled.  Inside rec is in the gym, which does come equipped with basketball hoops and weight equipment.  (Personally, I want them to burn off their energy somewhere....)

Prison tiers, SDSP
When the weather is nice and staffing levels are good, rec is outside, where inmates can play baseball and walk / jog around the track.  But, as soon as the temperature goes below 50, all rec is indoors, because the inmates - for security reasons - aren't given coats unless they have a specific job outside.  So, here in South Dakota, that generally means that for six months out of the year, inmates don't get to go outside, at all.  And because of the configuration of cell blocks, most cells don't have windows; and where there are windows, they're covered with iron mesh, which means that inmates don't even get to see the sun for six months out of the year.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Now let's talk about medication.  Most prisoners are now given Vitamin B and D supplements, because of the lack of sunlight, the food, and the constant fluorescent lighting.  Yes, there's generally a paramedic and a nurse on duty 24/7 at a prison.  Yes, there is free prescription medication, and if you really want people with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses to go without medication in an over-crowded environment of people who are stuck there for years for criminal behavior, well...  that one's beyond me...

But notice I said prescribed medication.  You have to get that prescription, and getting it can take a while.  First you have to get an appointment to see the doctor, which takes a while.  Diagnosis takes a while.  And the medications are given out on the prison time schedule, not the prisoners.  Diabetics don't get to check their blood sugar and medicate accordingly.  They get their insulin at the scheduled time.  Period.  Inmates on chemo get to ride out the side effects in their 6x8 cell, without any special diet or help.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Image result for elderly in prisonA lot of prisoners are elderly.  You get 20, 30, 40, 50 years or life, you're going to grow old in prison.  Eventually, elderly and disabled prisoners are allowed knee braces, walkers, and eventually even wheelchairs.  Those who are in wheelchairs are often assigned a pusher, which in this case is an inmate who will push them to where they want to go.  But they're not given any special help in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, up and down the stairs, to and from the chow hall, the medication line, etc., until they're actually at the hospice stage.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

All I can say, is that if your elderly loved ones are in a nursing home that does what the meme says, you have put them in the wrong nursing home.  (That or you really do hate them.)  Get them out.  Immediately.  Here are the official Nursing Home Care Standards:  find some place that follows them!

Meanwhile, I hope that reading this has made us all truly thankful for the things we have:  a home, with a private bathroom, a soft bed with comforters and pillows, weather-appropriate clothing, the ability to go outside whenever we want, do what we want, eat whatever we want.  The simple fact that I can actually turn the lights on and off is wonderful.  The fact that I can have a Thanksgiving Dinner with friends, loaded with good food...  it's fantastic.  I am truly, truly, truly, thankful.






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.