Showing posts with label privatized prisons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label privatized prisons. Show all posts

01 September 2017

The Lock-Up: Prison Fiction and Reality


by Thomas Pluck
About 11 million men and women cycle through U.S. jails and prisons each year, according to a September report by the online media outlet AlterNet. The report, which cited data compiled by the Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S.--with 5% of the world's population--is responsible for a quarter of the world's prison population. At any given moment, more than 2.3 million people are housed in "1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails, as well as military prisons, immigration detention centers and prisons in the U.S. territories," and in some parts of the country, more people are in jail than in college.
--John Corley, "Prisonomics," The Angolite, Dec. 2016 issue
That was written by John Corley, a lifer at Louisiana State Penitentiary, and editor of The Angolite magazine, the prison's newspaper. Better known as "The Farm" or Angola, the former plantation houses the most life-sentenced prisoners in the U.S., if not the world. The peace is kept through occupational programs that give the inmates opportunity to stave off boredom and better themselves, to spend quality time with family on park-like benches rather than plastic orange chairs, sports, and faith-based groups.

You would think, with 2.3 million in jail or prison, that we would have more prison stories. There's Orange is the New Black, which is an entertaining fairy tale, but we have had few prison novels of note in the past few decades, as the population has soared. The time is ripe for accurate stories that depict the school-to-prison pipeline, the vicious circle of probation fees and jail, recidivism and parole, and lifers dying in hospice. All too often our stories begin at the prison gates--like my own novel, Bad Boy Boogie--and pay little attention to what happened before. We let the imagination do the job, but our imaginations are thirty or fifty years out of date, if we're still thinking like The Birdman of Alcatraz and The Shawshank Redemption or even American Me.


Inmate Damien Costly on suicide watch. from Mother Jones

Our genre has many tropes about prison, and they come from our cultural beliefs, which come from stories, so it is a vicious circle. Many of our beliefs about incarceration are outdated. For one, no one says "shiv" anymore. That went out with "cordite." There is violence in prison, but it is usually not how it is depicted in fiction. The majority of reported sexual assaults against prisoners is committed by faculty. Rape does occur, but there are plenty of inmates who will willingly trade sex. There's no need to get an assault or murder on your jacket. When rapes occur it is often paid for as revenge, or to make the victim seek protection within a gang. I wrote about this with the Heimdall Brotherhood (a fictional white supremacist gang based on several real ones) in Bad Boy Boogie, as well as what causes some prison riots. Racial lines used to be uncrossable, but things have changed. A friend of mine who is not Latino joined the Latin Kings during his time, to have protection, for example.

The biggest fantasy is that chimo's (child molesters, in prison parlance) will be punished by the population. This seems to be the greatest wish of half the internet commenters whenever a sex offender is charged, but it rarely happens. Most will seek Protective Custody (aka "punk city") which is similar to Administrative Segregation; you're in your cell 23 hours a day, but without the punitive rules regarding visitors and reading material, etc. Incarcerated former police often opt for this as well, putting to rest the "killed by the people they put away" myth. Anyone who can be victimized probably will be, but threats and long con games are more likely than getting shanked to death. When you're dead you can't pay for protection.

The classic prison novels like On the Yard by Malcolm Braley and The Animal Factory by Edward Bunker are still good reads, but they served time in the '50s. Better is Just Like That by Les Edgerton, which involves convicts after release, but gives a great view into the criminal mindset and how well (or not) prison works as a deterrent to the outlaw kind. Les served time in the '70s and stayed current. For an outsider's view, the book Games Criminals Play is a must-read, especially if you plan on writing to prisoners, or working with prison literary or education programs. It explains the long con games some use to get favors and coerce you into illegal behavior. If you have read about psychopathic behavior or how emotional abusers "gaslight" and coerce, the methods will be familiar, and they work outside of prison as well, when a criminal wants to infiltrate a business, or blackmail a government or law enforcement worker.

They start small, asking for the tiniest of favors. Can I bum a cigarette? What time is it? This is also how con artists find victims: Hey, can you help me with something? If you say yes, you are malleable. It depends. What happened? is a better answer, if you don't want to just keep on walking, which is usually the best option. Giving an inmate a cigarette is a violation. So now when they ask you for something bigger, they can use that against you. C'mon, you gave me a smoke. You're not like the others. And when you get adamant: You have a pretty good job here, but John saw you give me the smoke, and he's a rat, he needs to look good, but I can stop him from ratting, if you help me out...

If you give in a second time, they have more to use against you, and eventually this can lead to cases like the officer in Jersey City, New Jersey accused of tipping off gangs. Or the ubiquitous stories of Corrections Officers caught smuggling in contraband. It doesn't help that they are often underpaid; New Jersey has a strong CO's union, but most states don't. And with the private prison industry, things have gotten much worse. Low pay, and corporate-style accountability; it's only a problem if you get caught. Investigative journalist Shane Bauer infiltrated a Louisiana private prison and worked as a guard, and his story is illuminating not only to show how prisoners are treated and mistreated in such facilities, but how the corrections officers are. And what leads them to taking the job. It's a long read, but worth it: My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard, by Shane Bauer.

Another good read is the Phoenix New Times's reporting on Sheriff Joe Arpaio. They have collected it all here: Phoenix New Times Arpaio columns.

Inmate at Angola prison in Louisiana dries his eyes before
the Traveling Vietnam War Memorial Wall. From The Angolite.
Now this is not to say everyone in prison is good or bad. If you follow the Innocence Project, DNA has exonerated hundreds of inmates who served decades in prison. Some fall into a spiral and can't dig their way out. After cuts to mental illness care, law enforcement and prison often take the place of treatment. And then there are the ones who really deserve to be there, our favorite subjects. Just ask Norman Mailer, who worked to get Jack Abbott out of prison, only for him to stab a waiter who angered him. In the Belly of the Beast is still worth reading, for its outlaw insight. Dated as they are, You Can't Win by Jack Black and Killer: a Journal of Murder by Carl Panzram are also helpful in seeing two very different sides of criminal thinking, one the low-grade hobo scammer, the other a seasoned and heartless serial rapist and murderer, frank in his feelings toward humans, and how he was made into what he was.

 America's ignominious position as the leader in incarceration is unlikely to change any time soon, so if you want to write about prison, make sure you are informed. There are many stories to tell, and they are not all the same. The Kafkaesque circle of parole and probation, fees they must pay, losing your driver's license for a drug/etc conviction, not being able to find or hold a job because you can't drive a car and public transportation isn't available, and going to jail for not paying your fines, is horrible to watch. I've seen it up close, and all it does is shift the monetary burden to the family. Who then burden the addict or convict with guilt, which pressures them to use or violate probation again, which...

Well, maybe I should write a story about it, instead.

Here are some more sources on prison and parole:

Games Criminals Play, by Bud Allen & Diane Bosta
Subscribe to The Angolite, the magazine of Louisiana State Penitentiary, by sending a check/m.o. to The Angolite, c/o Cashier's Office, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola LA 70712
Watch "Life on Parole," online at Frontline PBS.





08 February 2015

A Death a Day


by Leigh Lundin

Imagine a prison system in which a person a day diesone man every day of the year. This unsurprisingly takes place in a land with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

This isn’t North Korea or Iran.

Florida DoC
Hearses waiting at Florida DoC © WFSU
We’re talking Florida, a state that incarcerates 75% more per capita than the next highest competitor… Cuba.

We’re talking Florida’s lucrative privatized prison system in a land that competes in executions with Texas and a couple of other states, but this isn’t about capital punishment…

We’re talking about ordinary prisoners who hoped one day to get out but died at the hands of other prisoners or … commonly… prison guards. Indeed, a Santa Rosa Correctional Institute inmate complained in letters to his family and in legal filings he’d been sexually assaulted by guards and his life had been threatened if he talked. He talked. He died. And so have others.

FDLE Gerald Bailey
Gerald Bailey © Bill Cotterell
State Archives of Florida
Inmates have written their families that if they’re found dead, it wouldn’t be by suicide but homicide by guards, guards who obscure their name tags to evade identification, who inmates could only identify as, for example, Sgt. Q. Many prisoners have complained about being sexually assaulted and ‘gassed’ into compliance with a noxious chemical agent. State inspectors have investigated and found for the prisoners. Florida's death statistics are so far off that the US Department of Justice is now investigating.

In September, more than thirty guards were fired for sexual assault, physical abuse, starving, poisoning, gassing, or beating inmates to death and in one case, killing a prisoner who'd soiled himself by steaming him alive. The Governor’s office and the Attorney General dismissed the allegations. Not one guard has been arrested or indicted.

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks prisoners deserve all they get. They deserve rancid, moldy, vermin-infested food. They deserve rape. They deserve beatings. And damn it, if they get killed in prison, they deserve that too. Or perhaps you simply believe in the right of a company to protect the bottom line and not the general population.

Because Florida

I staunchly support free enterprise, but there’s a problem here. Traditional prisons were subject to oversight by its citizens. Not now. A corporation owes responsibility only to its stock holders… and perhaps the political cronies who landed them the contract.

Beatings, rapes, and killings are taking place in your name and mine. Not everyone approves. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey thought that was a problem.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Fl. Gov. Rick Scott © Miami New Times
Governor Rick Scott disagreed. Because Florida, because America. Because of a governor who committed the largest Medicare/Medicaid fraud in the country, who’s never seen the inside of a prison although he deserved to.

Remember that name, Commissioner Gerald Bailey, the head of Florida’s law enforcement. Because Rick Scott brought the private sector corruption he was infamous for into the public realm.

Good Cop, Bad SOP

Under Bailey, the FDLE was investigating those suspicious prison inmate deaths, assisted the search for juvenile remains at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, and was looking into the destruction of emails following Scott’s transition into office in 2010. The Governor was not pleased.

“The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification. I don't know why this woman was in the cross hairs.”
FDLE's Gerald Bailey
The governor’s office, in an attempt to deflect criticism of the prison system under the governor’s control, instructed Bailey to frame an Orange County Clerk of Court, stating she was the target of criminal investigation who allowed inmates to use forged papers from her office. Bailey refused, saying she wasn’t a suspect at all: the forged papers came out of the prison complex. A governor’s press aide asked Bailey if he was refusing a direct order, to which Bailey replied in the affirmative. The Governor was not pleased.

The Governor’s office expressed concerns that State Representative Alan Williams of Tallahassee was fomenting student sit-ins at the state capitol and asked Bailey’s office to keep them posted about Williams’ activities in incidents reports. Williams complained he was politically targeted and singled out by name, and that the governor’s office was trying to shape the protests as being organized not by students but by his political opposition.

After the FDLE discovered a Los Angeles criminal investigation of a Scott campaign donor and Miami businessman suspected of money laundering, a man the governor wanted to groom for a political appointment, Rick Scott personally asked Bailey to help bring the investigation to a close. Bailey refused to get involved. The Governor was not pleased.

Bailey received solicitations to contribute to the governor’s campaign through the state’s email system. Bailey informed the governor’s legal counsel this was inappropriate, in fact, illegal. The governor’s office said “Then ignore it. Delete it.” Bailey pointed out to the governor’s lawyer that’s illegal too: You can’t lawfully delete official communications from state computers. The Governor was not pleased.

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Scott © ABC News
In his first weeks in office, Governor Scott worked with the new legislature to pass a bill legalizing illegal campaign donations. At the time called a “Whore of Babylon” by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, they okayed payoffs, directing them into a political slush fund, a corrupt practice that had been banned two decades earlier.

The governor ordered Bailey to a summer conference for Scott’s election campaign. Bailey refused, saying it was inappropriate for a law officer to engage in partisan politics. The Governor was not pleased.

The governor continued to treat the FDLE as his own private security force. His campaign instructed the Department of Law Enforcement to provide transportation for campaign workers. Bailey’s office refused, saying their sole responsibility was the safety of the governor and first lady, not campaign staffers. Bailey also refused a $90 000 check from Scott’s campaign, saying it wasn’t appropriate for law enforcement to accept funds from a political party. The Governor was not pleased.

Governor Fires Chief Cop For Not Breaking The Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Gov. Rick Scott © Politico
Scott calls the above incidents ‘petty’. So petty he fired the FDLE head, Gerald Bailey.

What hasn’t been mentioned here is that the FDLE reports not only to the governor, but also three cabinet members. Governor Jeb Bush and the three cabinet members unanimously voted Gerald Bailey into the post nineteen years ago and presumably only the cabinet can fire him. None of the cabinet apparently took part in Bailey’s termination as required by Florida law. Rick Scott merely says they didn’t object.

I’ll give the last word to former FDLE commissioner Jim York. He said the firing could create a lasting perception that politics has compromised the independence of the agency amid investigations of corruption.
“If it’s perceived that the agency is under the thumb of any politician, particularly this governor, it’s going to be devastating to the morale of the agents. They wouldn’t be interested in doing investigations where they felt that the governor was looking over their shoulder, looking out for his donor friends.”
Thus we have further corruption in the Governor’s office and prisoners dying at the rate of one a day.

What is your take?