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

12 August 2021

Back Inside


I spent the July 31/August 1st, 2021 weekend inside the pen doing an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop for the first time since January, 2020.  (Allan couldn't join me, because of his health.  He's doing fine, but the long walkways and those damn stairs would kill him.)  

A lot's happened at the pen since March, 2020, when the pen was locked down:

  • The warden, deputy warden, and a few other officers were "walked out" in July, 2021 after an anonymous complaint about numerous problems at the penitentiary, including nepotism, sexual harassment, shoddy equipment, lack of safety regulations, etc., reached the Governor's desk.  (HERE)  "The investigation is on-going" is what we hear from Pierre.  What we hear on the ground is "no one here knows what the hell is going on, or what the investigators are looking into or for, the place generally has the air of a hornet's nest that was just kicked wide open, and no one knows how/when this is going to end."  I believe the technical term for what's going on is a shitstorm.  
  • But they're hiring.  Send in your application today!
  • On July 27, Governor Noem ended the mask mandate at the pen to "improve staff morale".  Not surprised, not thrilled, but also wish she would remember that the virus came into the pen in the first place through the staff.  And the Delta variant is here and about to be everywhere (see Sturgis, below).  Of course, our Governor doesn't believe in any of that.  
  • On August 5, Sturgis officially began, although the bikers started arriving way before that.  Over 700,000 are expected.  Since our state's population is 880,000, Sturgis almost doubles the entire population of South Dakota for the duration.  Our Governor appeared for a press conference on Monday (Aug. 9) in Sturgis, riding her horse, wearing her cowboy hat and carrying a flag.  Rode that horse up on stage and said, “Welcome to South Dakota.  Welcome to freedom.”  So there's that.  Sigh. 
    • NOTE:  Actually, the last thing you should probably say to 700,000 bikers is "feel free to do anything you damn well please", because some of them are Bandidos, Diablos, Hells Angels, etc., and they will take you up on it, and you probably won't like it.  But of course, I'm sure Noem has a security detail...
    • Anyway, yeah, since we're already in a surge, we're all expecting a Hokusai of a wave coming in, and sooner or later, masks are going to be back at the pen.  

Meanwhile, back at the pen, I'd forgotten how young many new prisoners are.  And I'd almost forgotten how bouncy young meth-heads are.  Somewhere along the line, someone had bought a bunch of "Light Up Silicone Squishy Chicks" to use as giveaways at one of the prison family pow-wows to the little kids.  There were leftovers, and they got stashed in with the AVP supplies, and when they were found - well, they are cute, fun, and hilarious, and they hypnotized at least two of our attendees.  Which might have been the point.  I looked them up on Amazon:



And I quote from the ad:

Balls light up when squeezed, also helps relieve stress and develop child’s motor skills.
☛:A soft stretchy puffer ball that lights up, easy to use and easy to play, good for kids and adults.
☛: Amazing Flashing Puffer Ball Chickens, super fun to play with!
☛: Great stress reliever for adults and children: Release all of your tension at once!
☛:This product can be used as a stress relief toy, it can also be used as samples for display. It's durable and can [be] used for a long time.  [My emphasis.]
 
Depends on who's using it.  One of our participants played so hard with his - Gollum and The Precious had nothing on him - that it deflated, and all its lights went out, and he was known as "chicken killer" for the rest of the day.  However, sweetness and light returned when - lo and behold! - the next morning the chick had re-inflated to light and life and squishiness.  Amazing stuff.   

Seriously, it takes a long time to get a boy's brain back into some semblance of order after meth, and it doesn't help that there's no real treatment at the pen.  They have drug/alcohol classes, but only an hour a day.  And often nothing until they're 6 months away from being released.  Then it's back to the cell-halls where they're bouncing off walls again.  More and earlier would be helpful.

BTW, right now there's no AA / NA at the pen, (1) because Covid disrupted everything, and (2) also partly because you have to be able to pass a background check, and there is a certain percentage of AA / NA attendees who are prison graduates and so unable to host them.  Ironically, they would be the best at it, because they would understand the situation right down to its core.  (Zoom meetings aren't allowed, for security reasons.)  

But the workshop went really well.  There's hope.  A lot of hope.  And many of the graduates came back for the Refresher the next weekend.  

I'm also back doing the Lifer's Group.  We're currently working on trying to get some new legislation written before the next session begins January 11, 2022.  (South Dakota has, I believe, the shortest legislative session in the country - 38 working days - and I'm still making up my mind as to whether that's good or bad.)  Here in South Dakota, all life sentences are life without parole, and you can also get a life sentence for first degree manslaughter.  So the Lifer's Group is working on: 

(1) Ending life sentences for first degree manslaughter - remember, manslaughter is "the unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice." (Merriam-Webster)  So why should they get life without parole?  
(2) Changing life sentences so that only certain crimes would get life without parole:  first degree murder, certain criminal sexual conduct, terrorism, etc.  

Wish us luck.  And if you know any good constitutional lawyers who would like to volunteer their time, send me their names. 

On a more fun note, the Lifer's Group has a Religious Enlightenment Conference and a Talent Show to plan.  

Oh, and for those of you who might be in the neighborhood, the Lifer's Group will have a lot of artwork in the Tallgrass Recovery Art Show at the Post Pilgrim Art Gallery, 2121 E 10th St, Sioux Falls, SD.  The Opening is on Friday, August 27th at 7:00 PM.  Come on down and join me!


It's good to be back.

24 May 2012

Notes from the Penitentiary


     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.