Prison is Not Only a Place

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Prison is also a spiritual condition.  And, I am concerned that all the well-meaning movements to change legislation and expose conditions don’t emphasize this nearly enough.

It is easy to communicate what we can “see.”  The walls, the bars, the frisk, the food, the bedding, the garb, the CO’s, the laws.  It is not nearly as easy to translate the everlasting feelings one is left with after having their freedom and identity severed.

I’m thankful there are people who care and want to change the prison industrial complex.  But, these things still focus so squarely on lengthy articles/essays and qualitative/quantitative research to inform.  Not only does this continue the disspatialized understanding society already has on so may crucial subjects, but it disregards the individual spirit that has been incarcerated and left to wonder if they ever really existed.

I have to do a lot of reading in my research for this project, and the element I see most frequently in my readings are numbers and quotes supporting or countering one methodology, theory or whatnot.  The individuals providing the information are lost in the data sets as are the readers.   Those inside are quoted and their voices edited to fit the purpose of the essay, the book, or the point being made.

Prisoners are not data.  The internal prison condition cannot be understood when edited or categorized.

What is lacking horribly, probably because it takes more time than most want to invest, is turning up the volume of that inner voice.  We talk about education, re-entry, recidivism and living conditions, but we rarely acknowledge the one thing that affects all of these others.  The spirit of the people they apply to.

With that said, my project has taken a formidable turn.  The name will change and my goal will change.   The blog will change.  It’s all taking shape now, with help from some very experienced individuals.

I introduce the first of many first-hand voices of value:

  • From Corrections to College: The Value of a Convict’s Voice by Leyva, Martin and Christopher Bickel (2010); Western Criminology Review 11(1):50-60.
  • Abstract: The rise in mass incarceration has been accompanied by an abandonment of first-hand, in-depth accounts of crime and incarceration. Too few criminologists have stepped foot inside a prison, let alone served time within its walls. Situated within a growing movement of convict criminology, this article provides a first-hand account of the abuse convicts often experience in the home, the streets, and later in prison. Breaking from the traditional scholarly format, this autobiographical article not only highlights the importance of a convict’s voice, but also calls on criminologists to move beyond official data sources and crime reports to a more in-depth exploration of complex lives of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.

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Prisoners of Identity

December 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

When people are content with their roles, self-defined or other-defined, they live in illusion.  “Who am I?” remains a question never asked, thus tightening the trap of a singular identity.  The idea that they can be more, can achieve more and can influence many, sadly, never crosses their mind.

What if we were able to open people up, en mass, to the idea that in a lifetime they can have more than one identity.  These identities can exist together, and should exist together, because they create a comprehensive human being.  In essence, we tell them that they do not have to forget who they were or leave it behind.  The “old” identity can be brought into the new identity as a guide, a source of wisdom and personal power.

In the case of My Prison Journal Project, we are speaking of the incarcerated population of the United States.  Many of them have lived a life with one identity.  One mental outlook guided them before incarceration, during incarceration and after.   The Journal will provide a platform for all of the honest reflections, inspiring stories, heart wrenching defeats to make a vast impression – inside and outside of the walls.

There are so many efforts organized at intercepting and destroying the “criminal” mindset before incarceration. NPJP is focused squarely on this type of internal change, marrying the mind and the heart AFTER people go behind the walls.  Incarceration is a prime opportunity for unlearning, re-learning and new comprehension.

  • Exposure to stories from people who have “been there, done that” and transformed there lives through the creation of a new identity, that paid homage to the knowledge of the older identity, can be inspire hope.
  • Reading or listening to submissions from people who cannot identify with the experience of incarceration, but still care enough to share articles with them, begins to add color to the invisible.
  • Victims that identify themselves by the crimes against them, can begin to lessen their loads by speaking out and making an entire population think of their victims as human too.  Do unto…

This is a good time to point out that the final Journal will not use the words prisoner, inmate, etc. in its narratives.  The 2 million incarcerated are reminded everyday that they share one name,  one identity and are not individually seen.  This is an intentional identity theft – a stripping of power.  In all NPJP content, except letters and works from the incarcerated themselves, the use of “you” will be required.  The Journal will speak to the readers, aiming at the personal connection.

This journal will be a beautiful collaboration, introducing fresh ways of thinking and new opportunities to regularly connect with millions of people at once.  Again, this is not only for those behind the walls.  Readership among the “free” will be necessary for holistic transformation and for stirring the winds of change.

 

“M” – Message from the Inside #1

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

I received this message today from a dear friend of mine.  We will be working on project for the women who leave our prison system to have employment.  Although the National Prison Journal Project is for all prisoners, we cannot underestimate the need of more specific initiatives respecting the different needs of men and women behind bars.

My dear, 

I am here due to a medical issue—I have been at the Camp in Lexington—you will have a good laugh when I tell you why I left Danbury.  Ms. R nearly lost her baby—as we were exposed to truly lethal doses of toxic mold—I was taken to NY, then here.   I have about 36 months until I am out—I want to have much in place before that—so I will advise you as to the persons working on the project and what can be done.  You will not mind if I were to “pimp” you out—we can truly do some real good for these women—trust me it is worse than you can believe.

I will try to write you soon–and will e-mail—-I am weak –had surgery – got a horrible infection, re-operated on two weeks later—left with open wound from my belly-button to my crotch–.  Been on antibiotic drips—etc. and lots of medicine–am healing and truly being given good care.  Okay–lots more to tell you—take care.
Love,  M

Education and Correctional Populations

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

This report is disturbing.  It’s contents and the information is the latest, dated 2003.  Another example of how invisible the prison population is.  I will discuss  this invisibility shortly.

http://www.policyalmanac.org/crime/archive/education_prisons.pdf

Summary:

About 41% of inmates in the Nation’s State and Federal prisons and local jails in 1997 and 31% of probationers had not completed high school or its equivalent. In comparison, 18% of the general population age 18 or older had not finished the 12th grade.  Between 1991 and 1997, the percent of inmates in State prison without a high school diploma or GED remained the same — 40% in 1997 and 41% in 1991. Of inmates in State prisons, 293,000 in 1991 and 420,600 in 1997 had entered prison without a high school diploma, a 44% increase.

Over 9 in 10 State prisons provided educational programs for their inmates. Half of State prison inmates reported they had participated in an educational program since their most recent admission to prison. About a quarter of State inmates had taken basic education or high school level courses, and almost a third, vocational training.

The Value of a Print Publication

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Much of this article, save the emphasis on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, explains very plainly, the value of achieving the goal of a National Prison Journal in the written form.  There is still value in the old school print form.  The Undercurrent is laid out simply on newsprint and is how I envision the National Prison Journal to be.

The Value of a Print Publication

As a print publication, The Undercurrent can play a unique role in the spread of Objectivism. A small amount of effort on the part of distributors creates a huge impact on the campus environment. The paper injects the name ‘Ayn Rand’ and Objectivist viewpoints into the physical spaces that students frequent, giving Objectivism the familiarity that comes from persistent presence. The paper makes the Objectivist voice a part of the intellectual debate on campus. Further, as a national effort, the project has the potential to outlast individual campus clubs and pool the best talent from schools across the country.

Attracting New Objectivists
The Undercurrent, as a newsletter, is a great medium to expose sympathetic students to the philosophy. Unlike a website, a print publication makes it easy for any student to pick up an issue at the library, a coffee shop, or his dorm lounge, and begin an interest in Objectivism that he otherwise would not have developed. The comprehensive list of club and community events on our last page indicates to the neophyte the scope and progress of the Objectivist movement in America. Students who already have some knowledge of Objectivism are encouraged to learn more.

Ministering to the Needs of Campus Clubs
A multi-campus paper, as the calling card of a broader movement, aids campus clubs in their efforts to promote Objectivism. By distributing The Undercurrent, even the smallest clubs can make a big splash, attracting new members, promoting events, and forging a connection to the larger Objectivist student movement. Besides benefiting from the calendar of campus club events (which includes meetings) printed on our last page, club leaders can stamp their clubs’ contact information on each paper, or enclose a flyer for meetings and events in each copy.

Advancing the Careers of Committed New Intellectuals
Finally, The Undercurrent is hugely beneficial to its staff and writers, the young Objectivist intellectuals who will go on to carry the Objectivist banner into a variety of fields, both academic and professional. It develops and fine-tunes their understanding of Objectivism by involving them in an extensive, self-directed writing and editing process. Although geographically distant, the staff and writers are able to work closely with each other in an inspired joint venture to change the values of the culture.

Bureau of Justice Statistics – This will be a huge undertaking!

December 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)

There are several distinct sub-populations of prisoners, inmates, etc. within the entire system.  NPJP aims to reach all of them.  But, then I wonder, would it be better to reach the population of a particular sentence length?

Then I go back to the long conversation with myself, every time I broach this subject of target audience.  “Something we print may be read by someone affect someone as powerfully with a 1 day sentence as it may  with someone serving 100 years.”

So I go back to reaching the entire federal prisoner, state prisoner and county prison population.  What an undertaking!

Now onto the STATS I’m currently looking at:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics maintains several collections to compile data on prisoners and prison facilities using administrative records maintained by the each state’s department of corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and personal interviews with inmates in state and federal prisons… State and federal prisoner populations differ from the jail inmate population in terms of conviction status, offense distribution, and average length of stay. The federal prisoner population is also unique from the state prisoner population, most notably in the offense distribution. Similarly, prison facilities differ from local jail facilities in average size, treatment and programming resources, and crowding, among other characteristics.

Using information gathered from these data series, BJS regularly publishes reports and tables of prison population counts, prisoner characteristics, facility characteristics, capital punishment, deaths, and assorted special topics, such as recidivism, substance abuse and treatment, mental health, education, and incarcerated parents.

Summary findings

Latest statistics:

State and federal prisoners –

State and federal prison facilities –

  • From June 30, 2000, to December 30, 2005, the number of state and federal correctional facilities increased by 9%, from 1,668 to 1,821. The number of inmates held in these facilities increased by 10%, while the number of correctional employees rose 3% (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005)
  • Private correctional facilities (up 151) accounted for nearly all of the increase in the number of adult correctional facilities between June 30, 2000, and December 30, 2005. Most of the growth in private correctional facilities during this period was in facilities under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005.)

This information brings up much more to be considered:

  • The fluidity of the population – how many issues will be sent to a facility.  People are released, apprehended, voluntarily surrendering and escaping everyday.
  • The sharing tendency among the prison population – often magazines and papers pass through multiple prisoner hands, prison units and sometimes sit in a “public” library.  These leave the opportunity to send in fewer issues with the belief that they will be circulated via a natural process.
  • 1.6 million is a lot of people. The race, class and education distribution can vary greatly. How do we develop content that will appeal across these lines?  Do we want a journal that does that or one that does not fear to address particulate issues that may endanger it in some institutions? An example is found here: Banned in Texas Prisons:  Books…
  • Nearly 2,000 correctional facilities with a mixture of government and private management could also prove an interesting undertaking.  But I’m wondering if as a private journal with the intention to educate the populations will ease many barriers that have fallen other papers that purposely feed the divisions the current penal thought culture.
  • NON PRISON POPULATION. It is equally as important to reach these people.  They are the lawyers defending and prosecuting.  They are the wives, husbands, partners, children and other family members left behind.  They are the judges sentencing.  They are the politicians advocating both sides.  They are the researchers dreaming of more access to a broader spectrum the prison population.  They are the academics that write on about the incarcerated, who would be able to write TO them.  They are the ex-offenders that can ease the anxiety of not knowing what re-entry will really bring by sharing their experiences on a vast scale.

NPJP is about bringing the marvelous efforts of the many individuals and organizations out there helping a few at a time to the entire population.  So often we hear stories about people we wish we could have reached out to, with a message that would have really helped them.  NPJP’s goal of a national prison journal is like being in front of an anxious audience of 2 million strong waiting to hear your message.

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