Friday, June 30, 2006
A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Page 1: Announcing Two New FFUP Sites
- Some FFUP Projects Where You can Help
- HOW TO APPLY for a penpal at FFUP
Page 2: A handful of over 200 inmates looking for penpals
Page 3: Update on the WI Secure Program Facility (WSPF) by Peggy Swan
Page 4: The war at home: our jails overflow, by Sanho Tree
Page 5: Equal Justice? Drugs, race, and some pretty skewed numbers
- Just Take These Shackles Off Me So I Can Tie My Shoes, Marvin Wilson
- PAC picnic, August 19th
Page 6: Who Says Wisconsin Doesn’t Have a Death Penalty? By Mustafa-El Ajala
- Caught Dead Between Two Walls, by Dejaun Jones
Page 7: Crime Has Been Prevented, But How Much? By Phil Brinkman
Page 8: Prison mental health crisis must be fixed, by Todd Winstrom
Page 9: Justified Racism! The Reality No One Wants To Talk About, by Prince Atum-Ra Uhuru Mutawakkil (Aka, Norman C. Green JR)
Page 10: Harsh Justice: Criminal Punishment and the Widening Gap Between America and Europe, by James Q. Whitman (Oxford University Press), Book Review by Mark Lewis Taylor
Page 1 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Announcing Two New FFUP Sites!!!
Yes, they’re up and running, with essays, pictures, essays and poems.
Web: forumforunderstandingprisons.org or: the mirror-site at: geocities.com/forumforunderstandingprisons.
Our Blog: friendsofprisoners.blogspot.com.
The website includes a treasure trove of information on prisons as well as penpal information and wrongfully convicted information for specific inmates. The blog is devoted solely to presenting the inmates searching for pen pals, their writings, essays and artwork.
FFUP offers our post office address for those who do not want to give inmates their real address, and we offer support—however needed—if you have any problems. We hope you will give this a try, as the need is great. Many of these inmates have no access to the outside world and no nurturing contacts at all. Many prisoners have much to give and have become wise during their incarceration.
Because we have so many requests from prisoners for penpals, we are also trying to put the penpal ads on other free sites. We ask that family members and friends of prisoners do this also. They only accept adds via email, so these inmates must have help. Here are some free sites we know of:
Lostvault.com: you need to register (free) if you want to add an inmate to their list.
Friends4lifers.com: also for not-lifers; features inmates from other countries as well.
Americanindianprisoners.com: free site for Native Americans only.
Also one for in-prison penpals:
The Massachusetts prisoner penpal cooperative connects prisoners who can write directly from prison to prison. Run by a MA prisoner/activist, there is no cost. Contact:
Timothy J Muise #W66927;
PO Box 8000,
Shirley, MA 01464-8000
HOW TO APPLY for a penpal at FFUP
FFUP has mostly Wisconsin inmates who are looking for penpals on its sites. We "specialize" in prisoners who are held in isolation. It doesn’t require much to get on our site—a picture is nice, introduce yourself with a few paragraphs and please give your release date. To be also put on other free sites, we should have more information. Here is a compiling of what they ask–answer just what you want: name number, location, release date, race/tribe, convicted of, home state /city (before incarceration), nickname, physical characteristics, interests, looking for… And finally, introduce yourself to your perspective penpal. Pictures help.
The final request, for inmates, is to be patient. We do not guarantee you a penpal. Most people find writing to an inmate very scary and in that sense you are part of an effort to open up hearts. Even when a person timidly looks over the pictures and essays and poems you have submitted and doesn’t write, terms like “criminal,” “convict,” and “felons” will have lost some of their potency. You are putting a human face on the thousands of human beings we have entombed in our prisons. Good luck in finding friends.
Some FFUP Projects Where You can Help
Once one becomes involved in prison work, the horror of our system can be overwhelming. There is a period of what the inmates call “shock and awe,” where step by step we learn about the systematic corruption. In the five years we have been doing this work, we have sought the remedies offered by government and other beleaguered charities, and find we must make new paths. Real Help will not come from within the government—their controls are too strong and the money too sweet.
We at FFUP are at capacity as far as work we can take on. Below is a summary of some of our work and where we need help. Donated funds, so far, are enough to pay for this newsletter, but all other funds come from the pockets of FFUP members. If you would like to aid us in anyway, please contact FFUP: swansol at mwt.net, 1-608-536-3993.
1) One of the most important things anyone can do is write to inmates. Look at the penpal page in this newsletter and check out the web sites and blogs.
2) Connecting families with their inmate loved ones. Often, inmates are gradually abandoned by family because the heartbreak is too great. Serving as go-betweens, as support for the family, we can aid them in reconnecting. Besides supporting through phone conversations, we have a transportation program in which we arrange to drive family members (usually mothers) to and from the prisons. As it is now, there are no buses that go to prisons. We are also trying to set up a relay system, where each driver takes the mother halfway to/from the prison. Naturally, we need gas money.
3) Internet help. Even an hour a month would be of great help. Many inmates have no access to courts and ask us to download law cases for them and we simply have no time. Also, many non-profit organizations offer resource materials, prison how-to on the Internet. They do not distribute. And there are always the more personal requests from inmates. FFUP will help pay expenses where needed.
4) Postage is a big expense. A few of us write over 200 inmates and send them legal materials, etc. We also have a free book program, whereby we send used books to inmates. Our penpal program also consumes much postage.
5) Returning inmate help. The fact is that once the inmate gets out of prison there is often no support for him. At this time we buy exit clothes for a few, and offer psychological support, but the need is infinite.
Our dreams are large but not impossible. I envision a small group of activists working at each prison, advocating for humane treatment and gradually opening the hearts of our most fearful citizenry to the necessity of treating all humanity as brother and sisters. We envision a network of homes that assist in housing newly freed prisoners and a self-supporting organic farm run by the would-be homeless ex-inmate. A shuttle system for families and friends to see their loved ones is not beyond our reach.
Page 2 A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
This is just a handful of over 200 inmates looking for penpals. More on our website and blog. As Always, FFUP is available with phone, letter and email support. We recommend that children under age 18 not write inmates. If you do not receive an answer the inmate may have been moved. Call inmate records at 1-608-240-3750 (for WI inmates) or contact us.
Desjaun Jones #302605: W.R.C.; PO Box 220, Winnebago, Wi 54915
I am 30 years old with two beautiful girls. I write poems and I have four more years before I come home. I look for a person with an understanding heart who will give this brother a chance to share his feelings.
Mr.Tommie Lee Crawford #102646; WCI; PO Box 351; Waupun, WI 53963
Age 46; “I am looking for a penpal. I have no one to write me. No mail for me. My home city is in Madison, WI. I am on Social Security Disability (SSI). I am into work and into getting me a home. I have no children and no help from family. My family is mad at me. I do thank God, I be in God. I am going back to school and getting help with my reading. I am in need of friendship. Please write!
Craig (Ke) Dixon #202197; WCI; PO Box 351; Waupun, WI 53963
My release date is 3-22-08. I’m a black male. I’m very spiritual but non denominational. I’m from Milwaukee, WI. I’m hoping to find unique and open -minded individuals to correspond with. I’m in desperate need of positive influences who can help me put my life back on the right track.
Calvin Clarke #153726; CCI PO Box 900 Portage, WI 53901
African American; Age 41; Christian & Zen Buddhist I am so lonely that I am becoming physically ill. I need to connect with someone in the real world because as I get closer to being released it gets increasingly difficult to relate to those around me who have given up all hope. So this is my SOS. I need a life raft of friendship to be launched before I sink any further.
Jackie Carter #348415; GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307
This man loves his children. He is accused of murdering his daughter, but says he is innocent and his wife also says he is innocent. He continues to fight for his freedom.
Manuel Williams #303943; GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307
Manuel man is in solitary and desperate for contact. He is a poet and has trouble keeping mentally stable. His poetry helps him. He is very young, and very much needs friends.
Edward L. Jackson #244447; GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307
Age 28; An articulate, intelligent man, knowledgeable about law cases and writing briefs. He will give you friendly correspondence and stimulate your thinking, and do it in a well-mannered way.
Jose Soto #307830; GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307; A caring man, befriends inmates around him and works to educate and better conditions.
Jesse Watkins #253557; GBCI; ("Jae-skey”) GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307
Born in 1976; lost parents when very young; At present busy with a barbering and cosmetology course, a fine poet and writer, very actively seeking a new life.
Ron Schilling #322196; RGCI; P.O.Box 925; Redgranite, WI 54970
A wise and gentle man, imprisoned for 30 years and has turned his life around. He is a deep thinker, a litigator and philosopher, now caught in the catch 22 of no parole. He can write/talk about anything and is a joy to write. Honesty is important with Ron.
Larry George #88022; OSCI; PO Box 3310; Oshkosh, Wi 54903; 44 years old, single, white male, no children. Hopes to get out soon. “I lived in Reno from 1995 - 1998 I returned to WI in 1998 and have been in prison ever since.” Has little family support and would love a regular pen pal.
Juan Zarine-Berchar #139017;OSCI; PO Box 3310; Oshkosh, Wi 54903
Juan says “It gets very lonely for me at times as I do not have any family in the US. I am half Spanish and half French; I am 42 years old; I have never been married. I have two beautiful daughters. My oldest just passed away 3 months ago- she was in a car wreck. Note: Juan has no one to write or visit him and has not had a visit in 6 years.
Frederick Spence #132827
CCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, WI 54307
A Cherokee, his Native American Name is Standing Bear; he is a poet and deep thinker
Chaz Moseby #418060; WCI; PO Box 351; Waupun, Wi 53963;; A young man, dedicated to his little boy. Has been in prison since age 15 , is now 21. “I came to jail when I was 15 years old and now I am 20. I came to jail for being party to the crime of bank robbery and all my co-defendants got less time than me.” Fun to write.
Cornell Terry #169624; WCI; PO Box 351; Waupun, Wi 53963
Originally from Illinois, Cornell came to Milwaukee in 1993. He is 40 years old, 5’4", has 8 1/2 years of prison left and has one son. “I don’t like to beat around the bush about anything. I like to speak my mind but I don’t like trying to hurt other’s feelings.”
Marcus Porter #251029; WCI; PO box 351; Waupun, Wi 53963;
Marcus has been locked up for 10 years, since he was 17. “I shot one time inside a home killing a guy—the dumbest thing I ever done in my life. I see the parole board for the first time and want to go home so bad because I have a ten-year-old daughter. We’re so deprived in here of so many things just to converse with a woman would do wonders for my life."
The following inmates are at:
PO Box 9900,
Boscobel, Wi 53805
Christopher Berry #219210; WSPF:
Christopher claims innocence, has all documents. He claims DA withheld evidence at trial, that “star witness” recanted his testimony. Litigates.
Luis Heredia #365192; WSPF
Listen, I’m not looking for anyone specific; just someone who’s sincere and isn’t quick to put a label on me or be judgmental about my past; cuz you know, not everybody makes all the proper choices in life; someone with whom I can have an understanding and deep conversation.
Johnny Lacy #071373; WSPF
“I am a 48 year old male. I live the Jewish way of life as best I can under the circumstances. I have compiled a book of poetry, prose and what’s called “gansta rap” and started to write my first novel. Will answer all letters.
LaRon McKinley-Bey #42642; WSPF “Progressive- minded prisoner held within the nation’s most draconian and dismal Supermax, seeks intercommunication with concerned free world progressives as well as similarly situated prisoners in order to network in an exchange of information, ideas and resources.”
Page 3 A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Update on the WI Secure Program Facility (WSPF) by Peggy Swan
I have been avoiding this essay because it is so difficult. After doing prison work for 5 years, our dealings with WSPF have brought us much heartbreak. Many of the inmates have been there the full 5 years and the new rules promise to keep them many more. We have watched the inmates we write to and visit with become ill with stress-related illness. There are even a few who I no longer visit because they have become paranoid and enraged—inmates I used to enjoy talking to.
Last year there was much hope and everyone was excited. Walter Dickey, the court appointed monitor, proposed to a room full of activists that WSPF build a school, a factory, gymnasium, cafeteria, etc., for a general population prison. We thought the DOC was acknowledging that this behemoth should never have been built.
Mr. Dickey emphasized his point by comparing the prison system as it is now with what he worked with while he was the head of the DOC in the 80s. At that time he said there were 12 inmates needing long-term solitary confinement. Because they were so few, he sent them to California to be housed. California released them to general population, stating they were not dangerous. Mr. Dickey then stated that because the prisoner population has quadrupled, perhaps there are currently 40 inmates in all Wisconsin that need permanent isolation. “Let’s be generous, he said, and say there are 100.“
All of this proposal was scrapped. There will be no building programs. The inmates remain isolated, now under more severe restrictions. WSPF is trying to bring in 100+ inmates from general population in other prisons, housing them in the same gulag. When we asked at a public meeting announcing changes what space will be allotted to these general population prisoners for congregating (there are only two small gathering rooms in all of the prison) WSPF’s warden, Mr. Schneiter said “Don’t worry, it will all be up to code.” For now, the transfer of general population prisoners to WSPF has been halted by the courts.
So what is the new program at WSPF? The level system has been scratched for a new “phase system.” At first, the inmates called it “the level system in drag” but now they say it is worse. There is no criteria for moving out of WSPF and many inmates will be serving much more time there than under the old level system. It is all very secret; key figures like Ed Garvey have only heard about it from the newspaper. Understanding it is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
The phases green, yellow and red, (green is the highest) are assigned without inmate input or right to appeal. In the “red phase” they are putting inmates who refuse to take the infamously ineffective “programming” or those deemed "too dangerous" for maximum security general population into long-term administrative confinement—most with no hope of graduating from WSPF. One inmate told me he was told he would be on "red" until he "stopped litigating and went with the program." There is also still in use the “step system,” where inmates have no property, no books, no hygiene supplies etc.
There is much fear and uncertainty about what is planned. Many of the inmates we talk to on the yellow and green phases complain that they have been sent back to the beginning of "the program" (For example level 4 to phase yellow) and will be serving much longer time at WSPF now and those that were cleared to transfer out of WSPF to general population months ago but are still there fear that they are to be the first inmates in the new WSPF so called "general population" program.
Although inmates can have more t. v. stations and more books, any elation over this small expansion of rights is more than counterbalanced with harsher general rules. For example, inmates cannot send legal material or books out on a visit from family and friends. Many have no money to mail out books, so they are destroyed and their legal work is hampered. Inmates are particularly angry about the pettiness of the system, the mean-spiritedness, and believe the prison is trying to make an example of all those inmates who choose to litigate.
I recently received an essay by inmates Michael Woodword and Nate Lindell, an eloquent appeal for rehabilitation. Here are a few paragraphs (rest is here):
“WSPF strips us of the humanity we have ....What sense does it make to torment and degrade people who have been tormented and degraded their entire lives? Why smash any hope of our becoming fully developed human beings? By exposing guys to severe isolation and severe lack of physical interaction with other people, the coldness most of us learned at a young age stays with us. Where is the social interaction necessary for anyone’s growth? By treating us as if we were wild animals …we become worse by the repetitive treatment of staff and psychologists. The more you are told you are bad and the more a person is treated as if he is bad, the more he will believe he is bad. ...If there is a complete lack of empathy and love and desire for us to succeed, I cannot reasonably see how anyone can justify the so-called 'programming' going on here at WSPF.”
It is important to remember that many of these inmates came to WSPF from general population, that it takes very little to be labeled “the worst of the worst” in Wisconsin and that most inmates here are no more dangerous than the average maximum general population prisoner. More to the point, no person should be treated like we are treating these 350 plus men.
Wisconsin has never had the type of violence in our prisons that warrant an institution like WSPF. From the beginning the DOC has been embarrassed by the cost of running this facility, and the lawsuits from WSPF have been a further embarrassment. We fear that WSPF will become a template for other control unit prisons to follow and are launching a campaign to force an investigation into who is in there and why. For more details on what is going on, and if you want to help with the effort, please contact FFUP. All input is welcome.
“Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality--all with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes us human and each of us who we are.” Nelson Mandela
Submitted by a Wisconsin inmate
Page 4 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
THE WAR AT HOME : OUR JAILS OVERFLOW, by Sanho Tree
MAY-JUNE 2003 Sojourners
In 1965, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy tried to promote an enlightened drug policy before our country declared war on its own citizens. He told Congress, “The fact that addiction is bound up with the hard core of the worst problems confronting us socially makes it discouraging at the outset to talk about ‘solving’ it. ‘Solving’ it really means solving poverty and broken homes, racial discrimination and inadequate education, slums and unemployment....” Thirty-eight years later, the preconditions contributing to drug addiction have changed little, but our response to the problem has become overwhelmingly punitive.
When confronted with illegal behavior, legislators have traditionally responded by escalating law enforcement. How much coercion do we need to make this problem go away? Yet countries such as Iran and China that routinely use the death penalty for drug offenses still have serious drug problems. Clearly there are limits to what can be achieved through coercion.
As the drug war escalated in the 1980s, mandatory minimum sentenc¬ing and other Draconian penalties boosted our prison population to unprecedented levels. With more than 2 million people behind bars (there are only 8 million prisoners in the entire world), the US has one-quarter of the planet’s prisoners. We operate the largest penal system in the world, with more drug prisoners than the entire European Union incarcerates for all offenses combined (and the EU has over 90 million more citizens than the US). Put another way, the United States now has more non-violent drug prisoners alone than we had in our entire prison population in 1980.
Our current policy seems to follow its own unique budgetary logic. A slight decline in drug use is used as evidence that our drug war is working and therefore we should ramp up the funding. But a rise in drug use becomes proof that we are not doing enough to fight drugs and must therefore really ramp up the funding. So when Nixon won reelection in 1972, the annual federal drug war budget was approximately $100 million. Now it approaches $20 billion. Our legislators have been paralyzed by the doctrine of “if at first you don’t succeed, escalate.”
Internationally, our drug war has done little more than push drug cultivation from one region to the next, while street drugs have become cheaper, purer, and more plentiful than ever. Meanwhile, the so-called “collateral damage” from our international drug war has caused incalculable suffering to peasant farmers caught in the crossfire of eradication policies and the lack of economic alternatives to feed their families.
In recent years, there has been an increasingly lively debate on whether nonviolent drug offenders should receive treatment or incarceration. As legislators gradually drift toward funding more badly needed treatment slots, an important dynamic is still left out of the debate: the eco¬nomics of prohibition. Trying to manage the drug problem without discussing the consequences of prohibition is like taking one’s car to the mechanic for repair but not allowing the hood to be opened.
Under a prohibition economy, escalating law enforcement often produces the opposite of the intended result. Attempting to constrict supply while demand remains high turns relatively worthless commodities into substances of tremendous value. For centuries, the alchemists of the Middle Ages tried in vain to find a formula to turn lead into gold, but it took our drug warriors to perfect the new alchemy of turning worthless weeds into virtual gold. Some varieties of the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana, are now worth their weight in gold (around $350 per ounce). Cocaine and heroin are worth many, many times their equivalent weight in gold. We cannot make these substances disappear by making them more valuable.
The drug trade evolves under Darwinian princi¬ples—survival of the fittest. Increasing law enforce¬ment ensures that the clumsy and inef¬ficient traffickers are weeded out while the smarter and most efficient drug operations survive. Indeed, these survivors are richly rewarded because we have constricted just enough supply to increase prices and profits while “thinning out the herd” by eliminating their competition. Similarly, we have been unintentionally breeding “super crops” in the vast regions of the world where these plants can flourish. Drugs are articles of commerce that do not respond to fear, pain, or congressional dictates. For every trafficker that our “war” manages to stop, a dozen others take his or her place because individuals — whether acting out of poverty, greed, or addiction — enter the drug economy on the assumption they won’t get caught, and most never are. Guns and helicopters cannot solve the problems of poverty in the Andes or addiction in the US. Such a war can never be won.
Moreover, our policies of employing more police, prosecutors, and prisons to deal with the drug problem is like digging more graves to solve the global AIDS pandemic. As sociologist Craig Reinarman notes, our policies attack the symptoms but do little to address the underlying problems. “Drugs are richly functional scapegoats,” Reinarman writes. “They provide the public with a restricted aperture of attribution in which only the chemical bogey man or lone deviant come into view and the social causes of a cornucopia of complex problems are out of the picture.”
Because we have witnessed the damage illicit drugs can cause, we have allowed ourselves to fall prey to one of the great myths of the drug warriors: Keeping drugs illegal will protect us. But drug prohibition doesn’t mean we control drugs, it means we give up the right to control them. Under prohibition, the people who control drugs are by definition criminals—and, very often, organized crime. We have made a deliberate choice not to regulate these drugs and have been paying the price for the anarchy that followed. These are lessons we failed to learn from our disastrous attempt at alcohol prohibition in the 1920s.
Until we provide adequate resources for drug treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention, the US will continue to consume billions of dollars worth of drugs and impoverished peasants around the world will continue to grow them. The enemy is not an illicit agricultural product that can be grown all over the world; rather, our policies should be directed against poverty, despair, and alienation. At home and abroad, these factors drive the demand for illicit drugs which is satisfied by an inexhaustible reservoir of impoverished peasant farmers who have few other economic options.
[We must] accept the premise that mind altering sub¬stances have always been part of human society and will not disappear, and find ways to minimize the harm caused by these substances while simulta¬neously minimizing the harm caused by the drug war itself. We have reached the point where the drug war causes more harm than the drugs themselves—which is the definition of a bankrupt policy. Drug abuse and addiction are medical problems, not criminal justice problems, and we should act accordingly. Some examples of harm reduction include comprehensive and holistic drug treatment for addicts who ask for it, over¬dose prevention education, clean needle exchange, methadone maintenance for heroin addicts, and honest prevention and education programs.
We already know what doesn’t work— the current system doesn’t work. Our current policy of doing more of the same is doomed because escalating a failed paradigm will not produce a different result. However, by approaching the problem as managers rather than moralizers, we can learn from our mistakes and make real progress. It is our current system of the drug war that is the obstacle to finding an eventual work¬able system of drug control.
Some day, there will be a just peace in Colombia and a humane drug control policy in the US. Until then, we are mortgaging the future, and the most powerless among us must pay most of the interest.
Page 5 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Drugs, race, and some pretty skewed numbers
Only 12 percent of the nation’s drug users are African American, but blacks constitute almost 35 percent of those arrested for drug violations, more than 45 percent of those in federal prisons for drug violations, and almost 60 percent of those in state prisons for drug felonies.
At every stage of the criminal justice process, minorities bear the brunt of the drug war: Fifty-three percent of African-Americans convicted of drug offenses get sentenced to prison vs. 46 percent of whites convicted of the same offenses; 57 percent of African-Americans are sentenced to prison for trafficking while 42 percent of whites are sentenced to prison for the same crime. From 1986 to 1996, the number of white youth imprisoned for drug offenses doubled, while the black youth being sent to prison for drug crimes increased six-fold.
The main casualty of our war on drugs has been the concept of equal justice under the law. While our government estimates some 94 million Americans have tried an illicit drug, only a small fraction of those users are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated. Not surprising, law enforcement tends to be directed toward the poor and communities of color. Assuming recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, the Department of Justice estimates 1 of every 20 Americans can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime—for African-American men, the number is greater than 1 in 4.
In an era when we cannot even find a major political figure who can say they haven’t used illegal drugs (Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, and George W. Bush to name a few), we must ask: Would a good stiff prison sentence have helped them in their lives and careers? If the answer is no, then why is it such a good thing for all the poor people and people of color languishing in prison?
Just Take These Shackles Off Me So I Can Tie My Shoes
Marvin Wilson, #297343
PO Box 9900
Boscobel, WI 53805
I had a dream of Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in a chair in shackles and handcuffs and in a mournful way he said, “Just take these shackles off me so I can tie my shoes.”
We all know Martin Luther King Jr. as a peaceful man. But Amerikkka shackled him down like a slave, found him guilty of spreading peace and wanting justice. And today in the so called "land of the free", still practices this.
It wasn’t King’s violent, thuggish nature that made Amerikkka shackle him. It was his skin color. Just as Amerikkka brought us to this country in shackles and chains, we are still in them because Amerikkka says so.
The vision I had of Martin Luther King Jr. in the chair bound symbolizes the many, many young Black men who find themselves in that unfortunate position The dream seemed to be saying that all of his hopes, his beautiful dreams, had diminished. The prevalent racial divide still exists decades after his dream and death. The direction his people chose to take of falling fall for the US government’s traps of drugs and prison The lack of unity, self-reliance and solidarity among his people.
King’s life was about confronting injustice and helping other s unselfishly. And now with hands tied behind his back, head down and shoes untied he couldn’t even help himself. He wants us to tie his shoe. This shoe symbolizes his dream. His dream is to tie his shoe. His hands cannot help us now. We must grab hold of the laces of unity and bring them together to fulfill his dream. If we don’t come together, we’ll never get free. All he wanted to do was to tie his shoe- but when I woke from my dream, his shoe was still untied.
I am Adam Due
from a poem by Patrick Duerton:
“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take the first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe one of two things will happen: There will be something solid for you to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.”
Submitted by Jerry Price #171022 Alger Max Prison, Michigan
NOTE: PAC, Prisoner Action Coalition, is planning a picnic get-together for inmate families and friends and the general public on August 19th, at Washington Park, area 6. PAC is planning on having a panel of ex-prisoners to help stimulate discussion. Hours are noon to four and bring a picnic lunch or dish to pass. For information contact Frank Van Den Bosch At 1-608-822-4253 or Email
Page 6 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Who Says Wisconsin Doesn’t Have a Death Penalty?
By Mustafa-El Ajala, on Psychological Death Row
Green Bay, WI.
Technically, Wisconsin has no death penalty. However, it does have a penal system with a prisoner mortality rate exceeding the execution rates of any state in the US. Here, it is the conditions of confinement that exact the ultimate form of punishment.
A January 2006 report by WI Dept. of Corrections (DOC) mental health director Kevin Kallas and psychology director Don Hands reveals that suicides are committed within WI prisons at a rate far greater than the national average. Wisconsin averages 25 suicides per 100,000 prisoners, compared to the national average of 14. During the period of 2001 – 2005 there were 28 suicides in the state’s prisons.
The latest death-by-suicide was that of prisoner John Virgin, a striving brother of the incarcerated Islamic Ummah and a personal friend. We spoke to and saw each other regularly; this is, until he was taken to the segregation unit of Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) and placed in “the box” (the box-car cells of the unit). John, just 25 years old, with 15 months remaining of a 2-year sentence, reportedly hung himself on April 7, 2006.
In the box, prisoners are isolated from the general population and subject to much harsher conditions: 23-24 hour cell confinement, limited communication, sleep deprivation (cells illuminated 24 hours per day), loss of property (t.v., radio, books, etc.), no–contact visits, denial of food, clothing and running water, among other hardships.
In July 2000, while confined to WI’s Supermax, Emir Siddigi (f.k.a. Micha-El Johnson) and I filed a class action lawsuit which resulted in The US District Court for the Western District of WI finding that such conditions as described above violated the 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment when prisoners experiencing psychological problems, or with a history of them, are housed there. (See Jones-El V. Berge, 164 F.Supp.2d 1096—W.D. WI. 2001.
In spite of the Jones-El decision 5 years ago, the Kallas and Hand’s report show a steady increase in mentally ill prisoners being subject to the conditions of “the box.” In fact, officials report that they are placing prisoners with mental illnesses in these “segregated settings” at twice the rate of other prisoners. Quoting Kallas, “We recognize that being in a segregated setting can lead to more mental health issues.”
So, there is clearly no lack of awareness of the debilitating and potentially lethal effects of the Wisconsin segregation units, and especially at GBCI.
In July 2001, mentally ill and epileptic prison Kelvin Brooks was placed in GBCI’s box and accused of violating the rules. As a result, he was placed on a food restriction known as “seg loaf” (a medley of congealed food particles) which caused him to vomit, making it impossible to keep down his anti-seizure medication. On July 12, 2001, disturbing videotapes show Brooks bucknaked in the cell (on “clothing restriction) and having repeated full-blown seizures. GBCI staff claimed he was faking to get his clothes back. He was already in rigor mortis when medical personnel did respond. On November 1, 2004 his family settled a wrongful death suit against DOC for $600,000 in Brooks V. Bertrand, #01-C-1017.
Just last year GBCI’s notorious “box” claimed the life of prisoner Joe Sumners on Oct. 17, 2005. Method of death: suicide by hanging. Who says Wisconsin doesn’t have the death penalty?
While WI seg units make up on 10% of its 22,00 person prison system, more than 50% of its suicides occur there. Most of these occur at the state’s 6 maximum security prisons where more than half of the seg units are, in some cases making up 10 – 25% of the prison.
GBCI has approximately 20% of its available bed space in seg cells. Its operating capacity is 749 but at this writing it houses 1080.
However, instead of building more general population units, the DOC has chosen to build more control seg units, and is using them in place of general population units. Once built, these units, as a matter of necessity, must be filled. Since WI prisons aren’t know for frequent homicides, rapes and riots, these units are being filled up mostly with prisoners who have committed only minor offenses (shoes untied, pants sagging, talking too loud, etc.) … and the mentally ill.
Moreover, WI prisoners housed in out-of-state prisons (MN, TX, TN, MS, OK & federal prisons) invariably report doing no more than 30 – 90 days in seg for offenses such as fighting, soliciting staff, etc. These offenses would earn them several years in seg in WI. It’s basic mathematics. If most suicides occur in seg units and by the mentally ill, and WI is keeping its mentally ill in seg units at rates higher than other states, even for minor offenses, there will predictably be more suicides.
So why was our brother John Virgin placed in “the box”? For having a pair of state-issued pants that didn’t have his name and prison number on them. And it cost him his life.
The message should be clear to the current proponents of an official death penalty in WI: Before worrying about instituting a new death penalty, try fixing the one you already have.
A.K.A. Dennis Jones-EL, #223971; GBCI; PO Box 19033; Green Bay, Wi 54307
Caught Dead Between Two Walls
Such a turn in this position
in an environment
broke from time within
as tears stream
roll down my face
express my deepest sorrow
wash away by guilt convicted
still remain the pain in my heart
Black is my color
but jail remains my home
such harsh words but pay attention
this just beginning
of Black man struggle
Deep inside a man’s four cornered cell
He realizes the beast within
Which man himself chose to not understand
Justice has brought about vicious persons
Inside these walls
They call it pay back.
By Dejaun Jones, #302605
Po Box 351,
Waupun, WI 53963
Page 7 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Crime Has Been Prevented, But How Much?
By Phil Brinkman
Wisconsin State Journal, March 2, 2005
In one key respect, Wisconsin’s growing prison population appears to be having exactly the effect policymakers intended—crime is down. Reported crime in Wisconsin has fallen from 4,395 incidents for every 100,000 residents in 1990 to 3,104 in 2003 - a drop of 29 percent.
That’s a benefit often overlooked by critics of tough-on-crime legislation, especially “truth in sentencing,” which abolished early release on parole, said state Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“Obviously the most important benefits are safer communities and peace of mind for victims and their families,” Gundrum said. “But if we want to talk about dollars and cents, let’s start talking about the millions of dollars saved by not having criminals committing more crimes.”
But no one can say how much crime has been prevented by such policies. Consider:
- Crime rates have gone down nearly everywhere during the past 10 to 15 years, including in states where the incarceration rate has risen at a slower pace than in Wisconsin. In New York, for example, the crime rate plummeted from 6,364 crimes per 100,000 residents in 1990 to 2,713 in 2003, a 57 percent decline. Over the same period, New York’s incarceration rate climbed just 11.5 percent. In contrast, West Virginia, one of just two states whose incarceration rate grew faster than Wisconsin’s - from 85 people per 100,000 in 1990 to 260 in 2003 - saw a 4.6 percent increase in its crime rate over that period, from 2,503 incidents per 100,000 residents to 2,617.
- In Wisconsin and elsewhere, crime rates were already falling before certain celebrated anti-crime policies took effect.
New York City, for example, began “zero-tolerance” policing in 1994. But Cambridge University criminologist Michael Tonry noted that homicide rates had been on the decline there as in every other big American city including, notably, San Diego, where the police department had explicitly rejected the approach in favor of community policing. Likewise, Wisconsin abolished parole at the end of 1999, even though the crime rate had been heading down for eight years.
- Most crimes except for the most serious — murder, rape and aggravated assault — are either never reported or never solved. Unless they’re already serving time for some other offense, the perpetrators are never caught.
- Most offenders are not under any form of supervision—such as probation or parole—at the time of their arrest. Corrections simply didn’t know about them. Those include Meng-Ju Wu, 20, accused of killing three men in Verona over gambling debts in 2003; Brandon Grady, 30, who beat a 20-year-old Madison escort to death with a hammer in 1997 then raped and mutilated her body; and Lester Riesterer, an 83-year-old Manitowoc County man who pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 2000 and has admitted having 500 sexual encounters with children over the past 30 years.
Effects on Community
Incarceration of repeat offenders certainly prevents some crime, said University of California, Irvine criminologist Joan Petersilia. But the best research on the question suggests tough sentencing laws may have contributed to about 15 percent to 25 percent of the decline in the crime rate, Petersilia said. “The more interesting question ... is: at what cost?”
Even the most intensive supervision of offenders in the community, where they can continue to work, go to school and maintain family ties, is cheaper than prison, which costs taxpayers more than $28,000 a year per inmate.
Recent research suggests incarceration on a large scale may even have the opposite of the intended effect. In a study of selected poor neighborhoods in Tallahassee, Fla., Todd Clear of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, found crime initially declined as the number of young men locked up from the area increased. But as more were removed, the neighborhood reached a “tipping point” causing it to destabilize and sending the crime rate up sharply. That’s because, while police and the criminal justice system play a part, communities ensure public safety mostly through the informal social controls of family, friends and neighbors, Clear said. In many cases, those controls—imperfect though they may be—are provided by some of the same people who go to prison.
“The bottom line is that young men who are involved in criminal activity are doing a lot of things in a neighborhood that are not criminal activity,” Clear said. “When you remove them, you remove not just the criminal activity, but you also remove all the stuff that they did which was useful.”
William Author Ward says: ”It is wiser to lead than to push, to request rather than demand, to suggest rather than insist, to inspire rather than compel, to motivate rather than to manipulate.“
Submitted by Jerry Price, #171022
Alger Max Prison, Michigan
Page 8 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Prison mental health crisis must be fixed
By Todd Winstrom, April 12, 2006
The Capital Times and reporter Anita Weier performed a great public service through their April 3 stories on mental illness and suicide in Wisconsin’s prisons. The stories painted a compelling and accurate picture of a very real crisis.
The Department of Corrections does not have nearly enough mental health staff to provide adequate treatment to the more than 5,000 inmates with mental illness locked within Wisconsin’s prison walls. Mental health staffing in Wisconsin’s prisons fall far below the standards set by national accrediting bodies and professional organizations, such as the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Association of Correctional Psychologists. Courts, mental health professionals and correctional administrators accept these standards. The DOC has acknowledged that the mental health care provided in Wisconsin’s prisons should be based on these standards. And yet, Wisconsin’s prisons fall far short.
To provide minimally adequate treatment to inmates with mental illness, the DOC would need to dramatically increase mental health staff by adding 50 full-time psychologists (a 55-percent increase in staff) and 17 full-time psychiatrists (a 155-percent increase) and 101 full-time certified nursing assistants/licensed practical nurses.
No amount of competence or dedication on the part of the DOC’s mental health staff can overcome understaffing of this magnitude. Without increases in staff, the conditions described by The Capital Times will continue. As a result, an inmate with mental illness is twice as likely to be locked in segregation as an inmate without mental illness and twice as likely to be locked in segregation than placed at the Wisconsin Resource Center, the prison system’s mental health treatment facility for men (there is no comparable facility for women).
Segregation is highly dangerous for inmates who have a mental illness or are suicidal. According to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, segregation is contraindicated for inmates with serious mental illness as the conditions make their illnesses worse. The commission also states that placing suicidal inmates in segregation increases the risk of suicide as shown by the much higher suicide rates among inmates in segregation.
The ultimate result of these conditions is a prison suicide rate twice the national average and inmates with serious mental illness who leave prison more symptomatic and less able to function than when they entered, and are therefore more likely to re-offend and return to prison.
The current DOC administration has made some attempts to address this crisis. They have brought in national experts, consulted with groups such as Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Governor’s Council on Mental Health and have developed a series of recommendations to address the problems of suicide and mental illness in Wisconsin’s prisons. Sadly, the most important of these recommendations, which require increased staffing levels, sit on the shelf due to lack of funding.
There are solutions, however, and they include:
1) Increase prison mental health staff to the levels required by national standards, so that the DOC can provide adequate mental health care and suicide prevention.
2) Provide female inmates with mental illness access to the same level of intensive mental health treatment available to male inmates at the Wisconsin Resource Center.
3) Stop the revolving door that returns inmates with mental illness to prison by providing adequate supervision and treatment following release, implementing the same cost-effective and successful service model used for forensic patients returned to the community.
4) Decrease the numbers of people with mental illness who are sent to prison by providing more funding to the currently under funded Wisconsin community mental health treatment system. Far too often, the consequence of untreated mental illness is behavior that results in incarceration.
No one benefits from the current situation, and many are harmed. The prisons become increasingly difficult to manage, public safety is put at risk, and most importantly, inmates with mental illness suffer needlessly and die from preventable suicides.
We know what to do. The only thing that is needed is the will from the governor, the Legislature and Wisconsin citizens to address this crisis.
note: Todd Winstrom, member of Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, is responding to April 3rd Capitol Times article Wisconsin prison suicides twice national average.
Page 9 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
CASE 02 CV – 3480
Justified Racism! The Reality No One Wants To Talk About
By Prince Atum-Ra Uhuru Mutawakkil (Aka, Norman C. Green JR) - A Supermax Political Prisoner
I recently read MEP’s Spring 2004 report. On page seven there was an article by Laura McNeil, et al., on “Midwest Racial Justice – Gathering, Feb. 20-21”. In Ms. McNeil’s article, she encouraged people to confront the often-ignored institutional white superiority in Wisconsin. She said that Supermax staff and other people in positions of authority, who, by design, seem to be damn near all white, need to be held accountable for their white supremacy attitudes.
What really got my attention was her saying that white individuals need to start supporting Akebulan (Black or Afra-American) leaders and organizations because some solutions to the problems in prisons require personal knowledge that can only be gained by experience, i.e., that which the Black woman and man experience.
I don’t know Ms. McNeil personally, so I now will offer her and anyone else the opportunity to truly make those encouraging words a reality. Further, before this seemingly simple task can be finalized, some truths and reality checking must be acknowledged.
First of all, let’s deal with the language that society and the world at large has become so accustomed to that they don’t realize they are in essence propagating the foundation of white supremacy by the continuous use of the words “race” and “racism” when dealing with the human community. Good intentions and humble hearts may say we are all one family, but that family is divided when we use the word race. Why? Because there is only one race of people, the human race.
The term “race” was propagated to bolster the white supremacy attitude that white people are wholly human and every other ethnic group of people are sub-races. This is one reason why institutionalized racism, or, correctly stated, white supremacy, still exists — because even those attempting to eradicate this school of thought unconsciously teach it as part of their anti-racism philosophy. Even the most elite universities, through their use of the word “race,” teach this division.
And the latest way to enforce this false division of humankind is to simply label someone a gang member or gang leader. Such a label currently justifies any kind of abuse, harassment and even death to an Akebulan or Taino (Black and Latino) youth. This is the new cloth concealing white supremacy through seemingly legitimate state action. This is the new reality of white supremacy that no one is willing to address.
No, I am not dismissing the legitimate concern in regards to negative behavior, misdirected and ill-guided youth and self-destructive conduct. On a daily basis, I encourage young men to discard harmful attitudes (gangster mentals) and behavior because these only further the supremacist’s master plan and justify their claim to power and control. However, what people who support this state-sponsored white “ism” tend to not see is that the prisons and government have persistently prevented us from discarding these harmful attitudes. Through political rhetoric, the creation of discriminatory laws and punitive incarceration, the existence of the gang culture is assured.
Why would they do something like this while claiming to want to destroy the gangs? For, those who have studied world governments and institutions, two words will clarify: “power & money”. History has shown that when groups of men – I have yet to see a gang or organized group of women move from illegal to legal enterprise – mature and matriculate into the democratic/republic, they become a political and economic threat—a competitor in the national and international arena. This is why white men don’t want Akebulan and Taino gangs moving from self-destructive to self-determination.
Few want to acknowledge that myself and others are political prisoners at the state Supermax merely because we have been identified with certain political and philosophical beliefs that are embedded in our heritage, culture, and spiritual existence. But because white supremacists have labeled these beliefs as “gangs,” they have been given the right to persecute as they like. This is why most of the youth out in the communities are miseducated about the Ghetto social club or Ghetto fraternity (called gangs by those that don’t want to see them evolve). Of course, most of these kids and even grownups act out negatively, because when you don’t know the basics of what you claim to be about, you will act out contrarily.
Why are they miseducated? Because of the censorship of those who are courageous enough to teach them. Despite that the United States Constitution protects the right to associate, white supremacists classify almost everything associated with Black and Latino – i.e., mainly hip-hop – as gang related.
There is no space here for the longer discussion on gang culture and its many unsuccessful attempts to matriculate into the democratic society. But those who seriously desire to join Ms. McNeil in supporting Black and Latino leaders to move their struggles into the next level must first confront the white superiority within this state. I and many other Akebulan and Taino men of positive influence are ready not only to talk about our struggles, but to take the American dream to another level so that this is not only a white man’s dream, but an American reality encompassing all segments of our human society.
So, if you’re serious about the idealism that Ms. McNeil calls for, I’m not hard to find. Look me up at your state’s proudest symbol of institutionalized oppression, properly called, White Supremacy State Enterprising.
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."-- Carl Jung
Submitted by Jerry Price, #171022 Alger Max Prison, Michigan
Page 10 - A Bridge of Voices - Summer 2006
Harsh Justice: Criminal Punishment and the Widening Gap Between America and Europe, by James Q. Whitman, Oxford University Press
Book Review by Mark Lewis Taylor
June 28, 2003 in Christian Century
German and French prison rules require prisoners to be addressed respectfully as “Herr So-and-So” or “Monsieur So-and-So.” Prisoners also receive good health care and even paid vacations. Why are such practices inconceivable in the U.S.? Why are prisoners punished much more harshly in the U.S. than in Europe? James Q. Whitman, professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale University, devotes himself to answering such questions.
The U.S. criminalizes a larger number of moral offenses, subjects more classes of persons to criminal liability, and more frequently enforces standing laws. Mandatory prison sentences are longer, and punishments are less likely to be adjusted for mitigating circumstances.
Since 1980, the population in U.S. jails and prisons has quadrupled, the largest and most rapid expansion of the prison population in world history. Most of the 2 million now incarcerated are nonviolent offenders. Some 500,000 people go into U.S. jails and prisons each year, while an estimated 600,000 come out annually, carrying the wounds inflicted in prison back into the larger society. One-and-a-half million U.S. children have a parent in prison.
One reason why we are so much harder on prisoners than Europeans are is that the U.S. has had a different way of understanding social status. Europe has a long history of maintaining high- and low-status positions in a social hierarchy. This has involved adjusting punishments according to the status of the one being punished.
In imprisonment, high-status offenders (Voltaire, and even Hitler, before he came to power) were confined with dignity, comforts and rights, while lower-class folk suffered overcrowding, neglect, flogging, and worse. When movements for equality impacted punishment practices, Europeans tended to create fairness by “leveling up” — i.e., by bringing all punishment practices up to the level that historically had been allotted to privileged prisoners of high social status.
In contrast, Whitman claims, the U.S. since colonial times has displayed a pervasive resistance to high-status rank, and thus also to high-status privileges in punishment. The U.S. drive for fairness in punishing has tended toward a “leveling down,” a generalizing of low-status punishments for all.
Other determinants of our harshness in punishment cannot be ignored. In his introduction Whitman says that race and racism will be “put to one side” in his book, but he is forced to return to these issues repeatedly. He stresses that Americans’ historical identification of prisoners with slaves is “of central importance” to the generalization of low-status treatment. Slavery’s baseness not only kept U.S. punishment practices tethered to low-status forms, but also pulled low-status punishment practices down still further, toward the kind of treatments meted out to slaves (forced labor, flogging, branding).
The religious dimension of our punishment practices also needs to be explored, as Whitman’s occasional comments on religion make clear. “Fierce American Christian beliefs often identify all social disorder as ‘sin,’ mitigating our ability to distinguish major from minor infractions, a necessary distinction for a more calibrated, less harsh, justice system,” he notes.
Whitman’s study of social status, state power and punishment in Europe and America adds important pieces to the puzzle of American harshness. We must now integrate his claims with a consideration of the ways that status and power have been viciously marked in the U.S., especially in terms of race and class.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
A Bridge of Voices - Newsletter of the FFUP
Soon the latest issue of our Bridge of Voices will be published here. It contains stories of prison life from inmates in Wisconsin and beyond, and also stories, analyses and outlooks of those who visit inmates in Wisconsin and who correspond with them, as well as advocating for some.
You can return to the main website of the Forum For Understanding Prisons (FFUP) here!
Also check out our penpalsites listed in the column on the left. Inmates can heal but we as outmates have to help them. By simply sending a letter or a card we already do a lot to help them feel human again.