Monday, January 31, 2011

What if Obama Addressed Prison Reform And Mass Incarceration?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Millions of Americans are affected by the inconsistencies of the criminal justice system from police treatment and profiling to unfair trials and sentencing to an overwhelming need for prison reform. These issues affect Caucasian-Americans, Latino- Americans and African-Americans. The recent State of Georgia Prison strike and lockdown, the largest strike and lockdown in the history of the United States, and the investigated beatings of three African-American inmates by guards subsequently, is compelling evidence that this issue plagues the African American communities deeply.

President Obama should have addressed the millions of family members, activists, organizations and attorneys who fight for those on a daily basis who are dealt with unjustly by the system or have been wrongly incarcerated. President Obama should have given a call to action to Congress to create legislature for effective investigations into federal and state court systems regarding unfair and inconsistent treatment. President Obama neglected to address this often forgotten part of America."

Excerpt from article written by Jenny Triplett is co-Editor-in-Chief of Prisonworld Magazine. For more information log onto or click the below link.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thoughts on Healthcare in Prison

The following was written by an inmate in the Monroe, WA Correctional facility. This work is the property of the author[s]/creator[s]. Subject to the right of "Fair Use" as recognized by law, no person may print, reprint, publish, copy, perform, deliver, transmit or sell any work posted within the Voices from Prison. assumes no responsibility for the unlawful or unauthorized use of any work posted.

My name is                       ;
If that person has a life sentence, you can bet that at some point he or she will become a level one health care patient because we have been given a sentence that insists we die here in prison. It only stands to reason that the 20 and 30 something's of today are going to e the 50 and 60 year olds of tomorrow with their own ballooning health care cost stuck in the system that is bogged down by the overwhelming cost of incarceration specifically related to our health care system.

The first requirement states that any medical treatment must be essential to life or preservation of a limb, or reduces what is called intractable pain, or prevents significant deterioration of activities of daily living (ADL) There are several other requirements, but for the time constraints we are bound by here today, please allow me to move forward. To be deemed a level one health care patient, one of the requirements states that the cost of any treatment determined by the health care providers and the care Review Committee must exceed $25.000.00. Let me assure you that my health care from this day forward will only increase and eventually balloon into 100's of thousands of dollars over the remaining days of my life.

There are many men and women currently incarcerated in DOC that are even worse off than me and they are housed on the fourth floor here at Monroe or other medical facilities throughout Washington. Many of these men have served a significant amount of their sentences and are in poor health leaving no questions that their life of crime and their perceived threat to the community in which they came from are virtually non-existent.
When we talk about the budget and how DOC has to find ways to make even more cuts, you would think that this is one of the areas DOC would certainly take a look at. Yet they do not, and in fact it has been made even more difficult for offenders with health care problems to ask for clemency and this is especially true with lifers who can no longer ask for medical clemency by law.

I believe it cost somewhere around $45,000.00 a year to house an offender today. If we are talking bottom line dollars here then it is way past time to look at another functional Parole system that will allow for the sick and elderly to go home. If DOC is not geared for rehabilitation, then let us remind them what compassion is as it relates to the taxpayer's pocket books.

I do not believe the law makers accounted for this when the three-strike bill was passed and as I understand it today, it is something they are not looking forward to dealing with in the future. But they must. There are many incarcerated persons with a level one health care issue that would have been let go under the old guidelines Parole Board system. If we are talking bottom line dollars here then it is way past time to look at another functional parole system that will allow the sick and elderly to go home. If DOC is not geared for rehabilitation, then let us remind them what compassion is as it relates to the taxpayers pocket book.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Onion - Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried as a Black Adult

This would be funny if it weren't so closely tied to the way people perceive others based on race.  Unfortunately, this video speaks of reality for many African Americans. Also take a look at "Would You Stop a Bicycle Thief?" and examine your own racial biases.

Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult

Thursday, January 27, 2011

3and15 - Disproportionate figures in WA State

This statistic is from 2007 report from the Sentencing Guidelines Commission
Total Washington State African American Population - 3%
Total Washington State African American Sentencing - 15%

Full article at:

Quotes from a 'Century End Report' on SRA - WA State Sentencing Guidelines Commission

"Changes to sentencing law over the years have generally resulted in the growth of the prison population and in the lengthening of prison terms, which has put upward pressure on the amount of resources needed to deal with that increasing population.  In addition, the Act itself has become increasingly complex, which has arguably reduced public understanding of the law and may have compromised the ability of criminal justice practitioners to implement the law effectively."  
"Legislative amendments to the rules for “scoring” an offender’s criminal history have led some to conclude that sentences are often disproportionate to the offenses, particularly with regard to drug offenses." 

"The Commission is troubled by the problem of over-representation of minorities in the criminal justice system.  Many racial and/or ethnic disparities have arisen well before the time of sentencing, however, and therefore, there is not only a need to examine disparities in sentencing, but also to   focus on other points of discretion arising earlier in the justice process."
Full report at

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michelle Alexander on KUOW

Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds.

Justice Department begins preliminary review of Seattle police

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a preliminary review of the Seattle Police Department in response to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other groups seeking an investigation of officers' use of force, particularly against minorities.
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Justice Department has launched a preliminary review of the Seattle Police Department to determine whether its officers have engaged in a pattern of unnecessary force, particularly against minorities.
The federal review is in response to a request last month by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) and 34 other community groups that asked the Justice Department to investigate police use of force in several recent high-profile incidents, including the fatal shooting of John T. Williams.
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said Monday she met last week with officials from the Police Department and the office of Mayor Mike McGinn, representatives of the City Council and some of the community groups pushing for the investigation.

Durkan said attorneys from the federal department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., will travel to Seattle in early February to begin the process.
The review will be broad and include Justice Department scrutiny of instances of alleged criminal civil-rights violations by individual officers as well as a "global" look at the department to determine whether, as the ACLU and others allege, there exists a "pattern and practice" of civil-rights violations by officers.
Durkan described the process as a "preliminary or scoping review that will help us determine ... how deep we go" with an investigation.

Durkan, who has been deeply involved in use-of-force issues concerning the Police Department for nearly a decade, said she is concerned enough "to take the additional step to see if there is a systemic issue that needs to be examined and changed."

"Any time you start to see a number of complaints, you're obliged to ask whether there might be a ... cultural problem," she said. "Smoke does not always mean there is fire. Our obligation is to determine whether there is a fire."

If a full investigation is ordered, the Justice Department would conduct a top-to-bottom review of Seattle police operations. The federal agency could work with the department to remedy problems or, if constitutional violations are uncovered, seek written settlements to ensure changes.

The ACLU's request comes after highly publicized incidents in which officers have resorted to force, often against people of color. In their request, the ACLU and other organizations asserted that some Seattle officers appear to "inflict injury out of anger" at suspects rather than to protect public safety.
"Distrust of the police by communities of color grows as a result, and it becomes harder for the Seattle Police Department to do its job of keeping all Seattle residents safe," said the letter, which was sent to Durkan and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who heads the Civil Rights Division.
The confrontations include an officer kicking and threatening to beat the "Mexican piss" out of a prone Latino man in April; the repeated kicking of an African-American teen during an arrest inside a convenience store in October; and the pummeling of an African-American man in a police lobby in June 2009 in which officers were cleared of wrongdoing.

Also cited is an officer's fatal shooting in August of Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, which led, according to sources, to a preliminary finding by the Police Department that the officer's actions were unjustified. The shooting was the subject of an inquest that concluded last week.

Earlier this month, two former U.S. attorneys, brothers Mike and John McKay, wrote Durkan to support the investigation, claiming the department has stonewalled efforts to investigate a claim that an off-duty Seattle officer last summer threatened a 19-year-old man with a gun over a poor parking job then conspired to have the young man charged with a crime. Mike McKay's firm is representing the man in a claim against the city.

A source within the U.S. Attorney's Office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said investigative duties will be split in the initial inquiry.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake, a veteran federal criminal prosecutor, will look at individual incidents, such as the Williams shooting, to determine whether criminal civil-rights cases should be brought against specific officers, the source said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Diaz, in the Seattle office's civil division, will oversee the broader investigation into the department, the source said.
Police Chief John Diaz has said he would welcome a Justice Department inquiry. "We welcome any review and will cooperate fully," department spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Monday.
McGinn spoke with Durkan about the investigation last week and welcomes the review, spokesman Aaron Pickus said.

"Elevating these issues and bringing some sunshine to them is a good thing," he said. "We need to have an understanding about how widely certain values are held within the Police Department and what we can do to address those issues.

Also welcoming the investigation is City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who oversees the Public Safety Committee. He said Monday he hopes the Justice Department will focus on the role of the Police Department's front-line supervisors — the sergeants and lieutenants — "whose influence and importance within the department is underappreciated."
"You can have all of the advance training, all of the new rules you want," Burgess said. "But unless and until those front-line supervisors take on the role of coaching and nurturing and training our officers, we will continue to have problems."

Durkan said Burgess' observations "are exactly the sorts of things we want to hear."
Before her appointment as U.S. attorney in 2009, Durkan served as the civilian member of the Police Department's Firearms Review Board and played a key role in two citizen panels that have looked at the department's disciplinary practices and the function of the civilian-run Office of Professional Accountability.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or

Black Twitter

We could not say it better.  Please take a look at the post by TED Fellow Kyra Gaunt

In the words of Michelle Alexander, "Nothing less than a major social movement" is necessary to make a change in the plight of those affected by mass incarceration. There is no us and them in this endeavor. We much reach across racial and economic lines and embrace each others' humanness, felon or not.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Michelle Alexander is in Seattle TOMORROW!

The New Jim Crow: The Prison Industrial Complex

DATE | TIME: Monday, January 24, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: Mount Zion Baptist Church

Join us for an powerful discussion about the current Prison Industrial Complex! The event will be led by Michelle Alexander, professor and author. She joined the OSU faculty in 2005 and holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. She was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice and has engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

This lecture is part of the Diversity Speaker Series
The Bush School Diversity Speaker Series is free and open to the public. Unless noted, events will be held at:
The Bush School | 3400 E. Harrison St., Seattle | contact: Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., Director of Diversity | 206-326-7731 |
Sponsors:  ACLU | Bethany Presbyterian Church | Casey Family Services | Comparative History of Ideas-UW | Cross Cultural Connections | Empower Law PLLC | Giddens School | Mount Zion Baptist Church | Seattle Pacific University | Seattle Public Schools | North Seattle Community College | Seattle University | Starbucks | Seattle Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and Youth Council | UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center | WEACT  | YMCA of Greater Seattle

SPS CLOCK HOURS: Participants who attend a one-hour pre-lecture workshop and the lecture/discussion are eligible for three clock hours at a cost of $6 ($2/hour). Please bring a check made out to Seattle Public Schools. We are unable to offer clock hours for the lecture only. Contact Jenn Kovach, SPS, at with questions.


Brian C. Johnson
DATE | TIME: Tuesday, February 1, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Barbara J. Love
DATE | TIME: Thursday, March 3, 2011 | 7 p.m.
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Hsiao-wen lo
DATE | TIME: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 7 p.m. and Friday, April 29, 2010 (Upper School Privilege Day 2)
LOCATION: The Bush School Community Room

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thoughts on the Parole Board

The following was written by an inmate in the Monroe, WA Correctional facility. This work is the property of the author[s]/creator[s]. Subject to the right of "Fair Use" as recognized by law, no person may print, reprint, publish, copy, perform, deliver, transmit or sell any work posted within the Voices from Prison. assumes no responsibility for the unlawful or unauthorized use of any work posted.

My name is                   , and I would like to ask you now to forgive me. I have always been told that one should never curse in public or when making a presentation. Right now I need to let you know that there is no way I can make this presentation without cursing. So I will get the cursing out of the way now and then make my presentation. My cursing is "PAROLE BOARD".

Now that I have said that, I will continue. Until 1985 when a person was convicted of a crime, the judge in the case would sentence the person to the maximum amount of time the crime called for. The judge and prosecutor would send a recommendation to the Parole Board along with any mandatory that the crime carried.

At the time of sentencing, each person would receive 1/3 of his or her time off. This time belonged to the person and it was not taken away unless that person committed some offense in prison that the department felt deserved loss of good time, and even with this, the institution could only recommend that the person lose good time. That Parole Board had the last option on what to do with the recommendation.

When you saw the Parole Board, before going to your parent institution, they would set your time. which could be any amount of time they felt was correct or deserved for your crime. The time would include any mandatory time that was imposed. The time that was set at this initial meeting would/could have 1/3 removed for good behavior. An example would be if you were given 6 years on a 15-year sentence, you would be able to get 2 years off the 6 years if you kept your nose clean.

You would be asked when you wanted to see the Parole Board again. You could meet with them every year or any increment up to the year before your release. Each appearance would include an update on what you have or have not done since your last appearance. When you did appear before the Parole Board you had the option of just talking about what you had done since the last time you saw them, or you could present information stating why you felt you had earned consideration for a time cut. (The Parole Board at any time could look at your accomplishments and if they felt you had made some improvements, they could give you a time cut. A time cut could be taking the 6 years they had given you, and reduce the time to be served from 4 years to a lower number of years and a sooner release).

One of the good points about this system was the fact that the members could release a person when they felt the person had reached a point where a release would best serve the person and society. This would be opposed to keeping them locked up and have the person start to go down hill because they felt no one was looking at what they were doing and only at the crime. Often this was/could be considered placing punishment on top of punishment.

One of the negative outcomes of the change from the Parole Board to the SRA is that everyone who was under the Parole Board was given more time under the ISRB. The court ordered that old Parole Board offenders he placed under the SRA and given release dates consistent with the SRA. This is not what happened; they were given 'PAROLE ELIGIBILITY REVIEW DATES'. Since there is no such thing in the state of Washington as a parole. how can you give me a date to decide if I am eligible for it? When this all took place, I had a projected release date of April 24, 2005, after the conversion I now will be seen on November 12, 2020 to see if I qualify for a parole. Please explain that to me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Politicians, Money, and the Prison Industrial Complex

US Prison Culture blog - 8/17/2010

Source articleat:

6and44: This is a great post from US prison connecting commerce and prisons. Take a look-

Begin article

I have been meaning to blog about this subject in greater depth than I have. You cannot understand the Prison Industrial Complex without having some knowledge about corrupting power of money in our political system. I have over the past few weeks cataloged the intersections between commerce and prisons.  I have also highlighted the various connections between the passage of racist and anti-immigrant laws like S.B. 1070 and the expansion of private prisons.  Local and now Investigative reporting is explicitly linking Jan Brewer and her administration to big money supporters in the private prison industry and questioning whether the passage of S.B. 1070 might be connected to this.  These are steps in the right direction but much more still needs to be done to inform the general public.  When even high profile escapes from private prisons do not deter local politicians in Arizona from endorsing and advocating for private prisons, one knows that public pressure opposing these entities is not strong enough.
If you don’t do anything else, this week please take some time to review the following information about the Corrections Corporation of America’s Political Action Committee. In several easy charts, you can review which politicians received contributions from this private prison juggernaut in the 2008 cycle and you can begin to connect the dots on your own between our politicians and the expansion of prisons across the United States.  You will be able to see that while more republican politicians have received contributions from CCA, there are several democrats who are also patrons.  This is an equal opportunity attempt to grease the wheels in their favor.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

WA State Senator Adam Kline announces legislation to reform 3 strikes Law

In the state of Washington Senator Adam Kline, 37th District Representative, has recently introduced legislation that brings awareness to the issue of "Three Strikes Law". 

Here's Senator Kline's position on this issue:

In 1993, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a three-strikes law. Voters approved Initiative 593, assuming it would keep the most violent people in Washington State behind bars forever. But the law has not been effective and has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in corrections costs.

The most common conviction triggering three- strikes punishment isn’t a violent offense but Robbery 2, a B Felony. Under Kline’s proposal, Senate Bill 5236, the three -strikes sentence for individuals who have been convicted of only B level felonies – primarily Robbery 2 and Assault 2 – would be reduced to 15 years to Life. After serving 15 years of "hard time" (no reduction for good behavior), those individuals would be eligible to apply for parole with the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board. Any parole granted would be conditional on adherence to a closely-monitored behavior plan. Three-strikers convicted of any crime with a deadly weapon or with sexual motivation would not be eligible to apply for parole.

Want to make a difference on this issue? Head to your state capitol and lobby to reform or repeal Three Strikes legislation in your state. 

Below is additional information that addresses this issues and underscores the importance of Senator Kline’s legislation.

For anyone who has been involved in prison reform in the past three to four decades or anyone who has read Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, the following news may come as a shock.  This past Friday, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan published an article in The Washington Post entitled, "Prison Reform: A Smart Way for States to Save Money and Lives."  Though the focus is on dollars and sense, not human dignity or racism, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Republicans like Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan may have been instrumental in implementing policies such as the Southern Strategy and the War on Drugs and their "tough on crime" rhetoric, specifically targeting African Americans, but today conservatives are finally realizing that the current rate of incarceration in the United States is economically unsustainable. Because of The Great Recession, we have a unique opportunity to address the issue of mass incarceration from an economic perspective, and state governments are so strapped for cash they are more willing to listen than ever.

In Washington State, the governor has asked the Department of Corrections to cut their budget by $53 million, just over 6 percent.  Some of the cuts include eliminating electronic home monitoring, except for sex offenders and one day per month lock downs where inmates will only be allowed to leave their cells for meals. Other ideas proposed included shortening the length of socks. This change would result in a savings of approximately $20,000. Another proposal suggested limiting the number of sugar packets allowed to each inmate. Small potatoes when we really start talking numbers.

In the State of Washington, it costs taxpayers approximately $37,500 per inmate per year. The state prison population is now about 18,600, and approximately 11% of that population, or approximately 2,100 people, are serving Life Without Parole or are on Death Row.

Many of these inmates are imprisoned due to drug addictions and would be better treated through rehabilitation and recovery programs than they are through incarceration.  The recidivism rate among drug addicts is approximately 78%.  Without treatment, these individuals go in and out of the system, costing the public hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.  Many finally land in prison for life because they have never had adequate treatment for their addictions.

Millions of dollars are also spent to house inmates who have struck out under Three Strikes laws, approximately 300 in Washington. Many of these individuals commited non-violent crimes under the age of 25.  Recent medical studies have shown that dramatic changes occur in the brain development of teenagers and young adults, which affect the decision-making areas of the brain.  As these individuals mature, they should be given a chance to be rehabilitated and released to become productive members of our society.

Finally, statistics also show the rate of recidivism decreases dramatically for those over 60 years of age, but they cost the State more as they age due to age-related health costs. 

Lawmakers could be looking at all of these groups to save money without creating a danger to public safety.

Black Men in Prison: What Obama Must Fix Right Now - By Dr. Boyce Watkins

Black male incarceration

This article was written by Dr. Boyce Watkins. More information on Dr. Watkins can be found at   This article was of interest to 6and44 so we have posted it with the hope of reaching even more concerned citizens.

The prison industrial complex affects all of us. Most of us in the African American community have a relative or friend who has been hit hard by this system. Many of us have even been affected ourselves. What's most interesting about the prison system is that people have convinced us that racial disparities in sentencing, arrests and incarcerations are primarily the result of African Americans choosing to embrace their own demise. This could not be farther from the truth.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who is also the host of 'Keeping it Real With Rev. Al Sharpton,' a nationally syndicated radio show, has helped take the lead in liberating the black community from the shackles of mass incarceration. His approach of mentioning the health care debate and recent recession as possible driving factors behind our nation taking the necessary steps to improve our prisons and racial disparities is noteworthy.

In a recent article on the topic, Rev. Sharpton had this to say

"Why is it that more than half of all black men in America don't finish high school? Why is the unemployment rate in powerful cities like New York at 50 percent for Black men? Why did Congress abolish Pell grants for prisoners in 1994 that virtually eliminated all 350-incarceration college programs across the country?

"Is it any coincidence then that six out of 10 Black men who drop out of high school have spent time in jail by their mid-30s? With unemployment rates on the rise (and many would argue well in to the double digits among people of color), arrests for nonviolent infractions and petty crimes are leaving families motherless, fatherless and hopeless."

Rev. Sharpton is asking all of the right questions with his commentary, questions that we should all be asking. The truth is that when you look deeper at the prison system in America, you see a two-tiered society, where black men are on the bottom rung when it comes to education, economic opportunities and incarceration. This is not only a set of outcomes that are designed for our demise, they are outcomes that must be laid at the feet of President Barack Obama and Attorney Gen. Eric Holder. Holder and Obama's choice to give speeches to black men, telling them to stop misbehaving is no different from telling rape victims how to dress more appropriately. Our time might be better spent asking political figures why they do things that don't make any sense, such as spending $49,000 per year per inmate (as the state of California does) when they could provide effective education for inner-city children at a much lower cost. We might also ask why inmates have their rights to vote, get jobs or attend college revoked after they are released when we know that marginalizing the ex-convict only increases the likelihood of recidivism. Finally, we might ask why inmates are crowded in to prisons and allowed to rape one another, leading to the spread of disease that ultimately harms the general public.

If you want to know if I believe that all of these outcomes are coincidental, the answer is that I do not. While the sabotage of the black community by the prison system may not be entirely deliberate, the truth is that the politicians who allegedly represent us have made it clear that they simply do not care. Perhaps it's time to make them care, and we can start with our attorney general and president.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Would Martin Luther King Jr. Do?

In preparation for today’s post, contemplation over what to write in honor of Martin Luther King Day was difficult.  Should we rail against racism? Or, should we attempt to take a more thoughtful approach, one meant to inspire, engage, and provoke dialogue?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had the capacity to move people, to lead them. He shared his purpose, his dream, with others and inspired them to pursue it too.  We may not match his eloquence, but we can look at his example of leadership.  If he was here now to face the mass incarceration of African Americans, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. do?


“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

We have been visiting with prisoners inside prison walls for almost two months now. None of us at 6and 44 had ever done this before. We are not lawyers or priests. We don’t have family members there. What we had was a need to speak directly with African American men who are affected by this injustice.

On your first visit to a prison, you’re nervous.  You worry about your safety.  News reports, movies, and weekly TV crime dramas have painted a gruesome picture of the monsters housed within those walls. Once inside, what will protect you?  

You proceed through the scanner, past the guards, into a series of concrete vestibules contained by heavy metal doors, out into the yard, past the tower and into a narrow walkway controlled by tall metal fences topped with concertina wire.  The entire experience and architecture is arranged to ensure that anyone passing through remembers who is in control. And on your first visit, it heightens the anxiety you feel right before you meet the men.

What you find inside, however, is forgiveness, redemption, and hope, and these are all distinctly HUMAN qualities. 

Love and compassion come when you realize how many of the men are there with Life Without Parole for a series of misguided, youthful decisions.  Decisions that had they only lived in a different neighborhood, gone to a better school, or had parents who could afford an attorney, would have resulted in different, milder consequences.  

One man told us that as a juvenile he was never counseled on the consequences of his actions. He was told that if he just signed this paper he could go home. What 13 year old doesn’t want to just go home? He had no idea that every time he signed that paper he was racking up points, ensuring that as an adult, if he committed just one small felony, he would be locked away for life.

Some of the men have committed heinous crimes, and we have no illusions that certain individuals should remain behind bars. But they are still human, and should be treated with human dignity. No soul deserves to be simply thrown away like yesterday’s garbage.


“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Remember that what is illegal, and its resultant consequences, are determined by the State.  Most people would like to think that we would not let anything like the Holocaust happen here in the United States. But Hitler was able to decimate the Jewish population because the majority of German citizens remained complicit.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

The War on Drugs and Three Strikes laws are failed social policies that have had devastating consequences on the black community.  The U.S. now imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did during the height of apartheid, and what are we doing about it? What are YOU doing about it? Are you calling your legislators and letting them know that the current rates of African American incarceration are unacceptable?  Are you even registered to vote?  Washington State has changed its laws so that ex-offenders can regain their rights to vote as soon as they are no longer under Department of Corrections’ supervision. Are you exercising that power?


“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Too often we know instinctually that something is wrong and do not speak out. Fear and uncertainty hold us back. The poet and artist William Blake called this “mind-forg’d manacles." Though oddly apropos to our discussion of mass incarceration, what he meant was that when we accept the social order as “reality,” as something that cannot be changed, then we are complicit in our own enslavement. If you do not honor that voice in your head that says, “Something should be done about this,” and instead say, “I’m just one person, what can I do,” you are complicit in the problem.

The problem of racial disparities in the criminal justice system is so enormous that no one person can do it alone. However, if you hold a vision in your mind of how things could be different, it means that change is possible.

“Our longing for a more virtuous world is a sign that a better world is possible.” Robert E. Quinn, Building the Bridge as You Walk On It

You may not know how to get there, but if you can see the endgame, THE DREAM, and start challenging the status quo, the path will open up before you.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

To end the mass incarceration of African Americans, change needs to occur on every level of society.

If your friends and family are not aware of this problem, you need to make them aware. If you haven’t told them, what's holding you back?

If someone in your family is addicted to drugs and goes in and out of prison, you need to listen to the voice in your head that says to intervene.

If you are a teacher and you see a teenager at risk, don’t give up on him. There is a voice in your head that knows what will befall him without an education. Do something to engage him. Find him a positive mentor.

If you are acting up and getting in trouble, why do you insist on making our job so much harder?  Why would you choose self destruction and what could you choose that would be better?

If you are an academic, work hard to share your data with the world.

If you are a police officer, lawyer, juror, or judge ask yourself at the end of the day whether or not you administered justice equitably. Did the color of a person’s skin, his neighborhood, his education, who his parents are, or how much money he had influence where you went today and the judgments you made?

You get the idea. In your own mind, you know what needs to change at your level. Do it!

To end, we will share a quote from Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

“If we continue to tell ourselves the popular myths about racial progress or, worse yet, if we say to ourselves that the problem of mass incarceration is just too big, too daunting for us to do anything about and that we should instead direct our energies to battles that might be more easily won, history will judge us harshly. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch.”

What will you do today in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to address this issue? And then tomorrow? And the next day?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thoughts on Life Without Parole

The following was written by an inmate in the Monroe, WA Correctional facility. This work is the property of the author[s]/creator[s]. Subject to the right of "Fair Use" as recognized by law, no person may print, reprint, publish, copy, perform, deliver, transmit or sell any work posted within the Voices from Prison. assumes no responsibility for the unlawful or unauthorized use of any work posted.

When I was sent to prison more than twenty-five years ago, I was sent to Walla Walla which was considered the "end of the line" prison in this state. That is how                described it anyway. He was the one-eyed, hard-line lieutenant that everyone entering the prison had to go in front of. And what he meant by "end of the line" was that the only prisoners sent there in those days were ones who had worn out their welcome in other prisons, or who could not stay out after they had been released. The Walls was set up not only to manage these kinds of prisoners, but — let's be honest — it was meant to teach them a lesson as well. No one wanted to be sent there. Even though I was younger than other prisoners there and did not fit the criteria, they sent me because I had a brand new type of sentence: Life Without the Possibility of Parole.

When I arrived, the prison was filled with prisoners who were under the authority of the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB). This supported a much different function of the prison, and overall climate among prisoners, compared to that which exists today. In fact, it seems funny now when I think of                 , acting like a character out of a bad prison movie, referring to "his" prison as the "end of the line" for any one who was sent there. This is because that was not really true — not in the same sense that it is for so many today.

Although life for prisoners at The Walls has never been easy, under the ISRB they did their time with the assurance that they would be judged according to the merit (or demerit) of their own individual actions. They knew that if they worked hard to reform themselves, they might at some point be able to effect their circumstance. The crime for which a prisoner was sent to prison was always the focal-point from which he was judged. But also considered were other conditions: the age of the prisoner at the time of the crime, his degree of involvement, the amount of time he had spent in prison, and what he had done since he had been there. This did not mean that everyone earned release — if the circumstance of their crime or their actions since did not merit it, they would not — but everyone was reviewed, everyone was afforded the opportunity to give an accounting of themselves.

That is the difference between how the system operated at that time versus the way it changed when I was sent to prison, the way it operates now; indeterminate sentencing versus mandatory sentences. A mandatory sentence is a set period of time handed down to a prisoner with no requirement that he change his behavior or improve himself as a human being during his sentence, and no review at any point to determine his suitability for release. Whether a prisoner with this type of sentence is suitable or not, he will be released. The function of prison in relation to a mandatory sentence is solely to punish, and that is all many prisoners serving this type of sentence are able to accomplish — they merely make it through the punishment.

With indeterminate sentences, on the other hand, although the institution still punished (and don't think for a moment that it didn't), it also facilitated reform. Prisoners were required to work to reform themselves, and they had an obvious reason to do so. Despite the punishment, they had hope — and that is a powerful motivating factor for a person to change. Believe me when I say this — because I think that it is only those of us who have experienced life without hope that are fully able to appreciate what it means.

And that is how I was different from the prisoners around me when I was sent to prison. Because Life Without Parole is a sentence by which its very definition means that you will never be looked at, or be afforded the opportunity to give an accounting of yourself. Even in front of the judge in court, your circumstances are not reviewed or considered. And never afterward either... ever. As those of us who have it know, the reality of the sentence is that you are dead — and that is how you are regarded by the state. Prison is merely the place that they have sent you in order to wait for it to happen.

I have often wished that I could take people back to when I first came to prison so they could see what the reaction was, because it was so different from what the reaction is today when someone comes in with that sentence. When other prisoners found out what my sentence was, they were shocked, disbelieving. The reaction was the same from guards and other prison staff. Many prisoners were apologetic, "Oh... man...I'm sorry." I used to hate that because I knew why they said it. They saw me the same as I saw myself-- the same as my sentence said I was — as good as dead. They were apologizing for the way I had to die: death by culmination of the greatest fear of anyone who has ever been in prison; death by prison itself.

I remember the first time I spoke to a counselor in one of the filthy, overcrowded cellhouses at The Walls. Whatever I asked, he had to call another person in the prison or at DOC headquarters in order to find out the answer. No one knew what to do, because there was no policy on Life Without prisoners yet. When we started coming in, we did not fit into the system in place at that time. Prison officials literally had to make up the policy on us as they went.

One day, probably less than a year after I arrived at The Walls, Lt.            had guards escort me to his office. He outlined for me what the policy would be from that point forward. They had decided that prisoners with Life Without Parole would not be treated the same as other prisoners: we would never be allowed outside of the walls (not even to go past the work-gate to work in the license plate factory or prison laundry), we were not allowed to go to school, participate in any kind of state-sponsored self-betterment program, earn lower custody, nothing ... ever. That was it — that was the policy they came up with after we started coming in.

After that, prison staff stopped calling people to ask what to do with me — everyone knew. That is why even today, a prison counselor does not really mean anything to a prisoner with Life Without. They don't want to see or talk to us, because they can't do anything for us. Their job is simply to process the report to headquarters once a year notifying them that we have not yet completed our sentence.

Of course, the policy I described was only in the beginning. A steady line of others with the same sentence have piled in behind me. Today there are 550 prisoners in our state sentenced to Life Without Parole. We now make up a segment of the population of every medium, close, and maximum-security prison in this state. And the policy regarding us has been changed a number of times over the years. We can now earn medium custody. Young lifers (21 years old or younger) have the right to earn a GED. And we have long since been allowed to go past work-gates. In fact, it is hard to imagine how prison industries and maintenance could operate without us. But these changes have only come about because prisons are increasingly strained by our numbers (and in the case of GED's for young lifers, only because the state was sued).

These are also not the only changes that have taken place inside of prisons in our state during, this same period. There are no longer any state-initiated or supported programs prisoners can utilize to reform themselves, and this has done much to change the culture among prisoners. There is a vast difference between prisons in which the majority of the population is actively seeking to rehabilitate itself and work towards release, versus prisons in which prisoners merely bide their time and make it through the punislunent. The latter creates a harmful and dangerous environment inside prisons, and makes communities outside much less safe as well.

Yet, remarkably, the absence of any effort by the state to effect reform among its prisoners does not necessarily mean that there are not some who find ways to do it themselves. I have seen many prisoners change over the years, reform themselves into decent human beings — all of us in here have seen it. And the ability to do it is not exclusive to any one kind of prisoner, but it is most prevalent in those who were sent here when they were young. It is these prisoners who have the greatest potential and predisposition to change, to reform themselves. And even young prisoners who have been sentenced to Life are not excluded from this. In fact, it is my experience that they are the most likely to do it — because they have the greatest amount of time to work with and, frequently, the most reason to dislike who they were and what they did. Some come to realize that even if they are not able to pay anything back directly to the victim of their crime, by bettering themselves as human beings and helping others, they can honor them. Some prisoners do this even though they have no hope they can ever effect their own circumstance or earn release. And that, to me, is astonishing. Inspiring.

There is a difference between what is happening in prison today, versus what was happening when I was first sent here. When a prisoner reforms himself nowadays, it is in spite of prison and the circumstances he is faced with in here — it is despite what is clone to him, not because of it.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I have found comfort and encouragement in the fact that I now share this fate — the same sentence — with so many others. The feeling of difference I had in the beginning has abated in direct correlation with how many of us there are. But it is also this which has caused me to begin to question what has been done to us. When there were not as many of us in here, it was easier for me to believe that it was okay to do this. But so many others have come in that have made it harder for me to believe that now.
I know a prisoner who was thirteen when he was sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. I know prisoners who were fourteen when this happened to them. And fifteen. I know a prisoner who was put out onto the Yard at Walla Walla when he was fifteen years old. I was there — I saw it! Walla Walla is a treacherous place :.. for a full grown adult. It's treacherous for a hardened lifer. To put a 130  pound fifteen year old out there with a sentence of Life Without Parole, to my mind, is inexcusable. I don't care what he's done — you don't do that.

I know a prisoner who was struck out and given Life Without when he was twenty-one for a domestic violence charge against his brother. No one was even hurt. I know another who was struck out when he was twenty for stealing a leather coat. How do you sentence someone to Life Without Parole for being a career criminal before they are even twenty-one years old? How do you do that? Is that really justice? Or is it just throwing people away like they are garbage? I understand that people were mad when they sent us here — and they had every right to be — but to lock away young people and at no other point in their lives ever to review them ... that can't be right.

Do not be afraid to look at us — all of us in prison, and that includes prisoners with Life Without Parole. Please, allow us the opportunity many of us never had — the opportunity to give an accounting of ourselves and to be judged as we should ... as individuals.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Legislation Reduces Crack Cocaine Inequality...

Quarter-century-old law subjected tens of thousands of Blacks to long prison terms for crack cocaine convictions

By Chris Levister –
Addressing what both Democrats and Republicans agreed was a quarter-century old injustice in drug sentencing, Congress passed historic legislation that reduces the inequity between mandatory sentencing for crack and powder cocaine. The law many considered blatantly racist has subjected tens of thousands of Blacks to long prison terms for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient treatment to those, mainly whites, caught with the powder form of the drug.
The Obama administration has called the sentencing disparity “fundamentally unfair”.

Read the full article here:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mass Media and Racism (1999)

Note from the blogger: This is an older article, but ask yourself
'What has changed in 12 years?'

Yale Political Quarterly
Volume 21, Number 1

October 1999

Mass Media and Racism
by Stephen Balkaran

Mass media have played and will continue to play a crucial role in the way white Americans perceive African-Americans. As a result of the overwhelming media focus on crime, drug use, gang violence, and other forms of anti-social behavior among African-Americans, the media have fostered a distorted and pernicious public perception of African-Americans. 1
The history of African-Americans is a centuries old struggle against oppression and discrimination. The media have played a key role in perpetuating the effects of this historical oppression and in contributing to African-Americans' continuing status as second-class citizens. As a result, white America has suffered from a deep uncertainty as to who African-Americans really are. Despite this racial divide, something indisputably American about African-Americans has raised doubts about the white man's value system. Indeed, it has also aroused the troubling suspicion that whatever else the true American is, he is also somehow black. 2
Before attempting to understand racism and mass media, one must understand the history of racism. Race has become an institutional part of American society. From the Founding on, race has played an integral part in shaping the American consciousness. David Goldberg's Racist Culture argues that racial discourse may be interpreted as aversive, academic, scientific, legalistic, bureaucratic, economic, cultural, linguistic, religion, mythical, or ideological. 3 He also stresses that racialized discourse and racist expressions towards African-American have been widespread. Race matters exist in different places and at different times under widely varying conditions.
American race relations provides a case study in Marxist class theory. Marx argued that society has two classes: the exploited or working class, and the exploiters or owners of the means of production. He further stressed that one class will ultimately overpower the other using any necessary means. Looking at American society we can clearly see the development of the two class system. There were slave owners and slaves, and racism served as a means to overpower the exploited class.
Segmentation Theory
In the 1980's, Michael Reich developed the Segmentation Theory or the Divide and Rule, which attempted to explain racism from an economic point of view. In this theory, Reich proposes that the ultimate goal in society is to maximize profits. As a result, the exploiters will attempt to use any means to: (1) suppress higher wages among the exploited class, (2) weaken the bargaining power of the working class, often by attempting to split it along racial lines, (3) promote prejudices, (4) segregate the black community, (5) ensure that the elite benefit from the creation of stereotypes and racial prejudices against the black community.
Reich argues that the major corporations in the U.S. (e.g. Time Warner, Coca Cola, General Motors, etc.) all have at least one member on each other's corporate boards of directors. As a result, it is in the interest of these members to maximize profits while employing the above devices. The mere fact of these corporate executives' sharing economic corporate power, combined with the quest for economic profit has now paved the way for economic discrimination. But the question still remains, is the media one of the tools used to promote racism? Does the elite use the media to ensure profits are maximized by corporations?
The U.S. Media And Racism
Media have divided the working class and stereotyped young African-American males as gangsters or drug dealers. As a result of such treatment, the media have crushed youths' prospects for future employment and advancement. The media have focused on the negative aspects of the black community (e.g. engaging in drug use, criminal activity, welfare abuse) while maintaining the cycle of poverty that the elite wants.There are no universally accepted and recorded codes or rules, which apply to journalists in news selection and production. The media have devoted too much time and space to "enumerating the wounded" and too little time to describing the background problems of African-Americans. 4 What is not a crisis is not usually reported and what is not or cannot be made visual is often not televised. The news media respond quickly and with keen interest to the conflicts and controversies of racial stories. For the most part, they disregard the problems that seep beneath the surface until they erupt in the hot steam that is the "live" news story.
The Riots
The media have not studied important events in the African-American community today. Issues such as urbanization, education, poverty, and other elements have a significant bearing on positions of the black community. A good example of this is the media portrayal of the Los Angeles riot in 1992. What we witnessed in Los Angeles was the consequence of a lethal linkage of economic decline, cultural decay, and political lethargy in American life.Race was the visible catalyst, not the underlying cause, as media portrayed it to be. 5 The portrayal of this individual event encouraged the perception that the black community was solely responsible for the riots and disturbances. According to reports, of those arrested, only 36% were black and of those arrested, more than a third had full-time jobs and most had no political affiliation. 6 Some 60% of the rioters and looters were made up of Hispanics and whites. Yet the media did not report this underlying fact. The media portrayal of this event along with other race riots has again inflicted negative charges and scorn on black awareness. Race riots in Miami in 1980 were similar to the later Los Angeles riots. Here the media also refused to search for the underlying cause behind the protest choosing instead only to depict African-American males engaged in violence and destruction. The underlying factors behind these problems were never researched or explained in prior stories.
The Rodney King Story
The defense put on by the four white Los Angeles police officers accused of beating Rodney King in 1991 is telling. They claimed that they were scared and felt they might have been attacked or harmed, a legitimate excuse in the white American society. Their "fear" is a manifestation of a deep-rooted media bias that anything black is bad. This media stereotype of bad guys wearing black or that anything that is black is evil has been fostered for decades--e.g., the fact that the bad guy always wore the black in Westerns, and the movie The Birth of a Nation. This media bias has also been illustrated in the Susan Smith case. Smith was the South Carolina woman who made headlines when she claimed that a black male kidnapped her two young children. It turned out that Smith herself had killed them. However, the finger-pointing that her accusations set off are indicative of the media's reflexive need to blame blacks for social ills. This same reflex can also seen in the case of Charles Stuart in Boston who killed his wife and also blamed it on a black man. The media have taken a step further in Hollywood. Here, the portrayal of young African-American males (involved in gangs and other deviant acts of violence) has become a multi-million dollar industry. American society has now accepted these stereotypes which the film media have ascribed to the black community. Films such as Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society have become multi-million dollar success stories with criminal portrayals of young blacks. This portrayal, over time, has fostered false beliefs in white America regarding the way we perceive and view blacks. What the media refuse to acknowledge is that the vast majority of blacks are employed, attend school, and are not involved in gangs or other criminal activities. It is now quite common for young African-American males to be stopped and questioned by cops for any misfits. The profit motive behind continuing this stereotype is a fact. One can only conclude that Michael Reich's Segmentation Theory might be right. It is in the interest of the elite to use media to demean one class by using racial stereotype in order to maximize their profits.
The U.S. News, Media and Race
Clearly, the economic structure of the American news media and the local media make them subject to pressures from powerful interest groups. In 1967, the Kerner Report attacked the mass media for their inadequate handling of day-to-day coverage of racial events. The Report charged the media with failing to properly communicate about race to the majority of their audience. That is, white America needed to hear more about the actual conditions and feelings of African-Americans in the U.S. Only when events are associated with concern of the "white public" do they become newsworthy. Given the situation in America where the major news media have predominantly white reporters and serve a mainly white audience, it follows that the "public" which dictates newsworthy events is a white public. The day to day tensions of black existence and exploitation, which are crucial concerns of the black community, are not primary concerns of the white public. Only the symptoms of these conditions, such as freedom rides and social disturbances, impinge upon whites. Hence, it is only such "events" which become newsworthy in a white press.
One of the main reasons for the inadequate coverage of the underlying causes of racial stereotypes in the U.S. is that the condition of blacks itself is not a matter of high interest to the white majority. Their interest in black America is focused upon situations in which their imagined fear becomes a real problem. Events like boycotts, pickets, civil rights demonstrations, and particularly racial violence mark the point at which black activity impinges on white concerns. It is not surprising that the white-oriented media seek to satisfy the needs of their white audience and reflect this pattern of attention to these selected events.
Research has disclosed that most serious crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, and assault) in inner cities are committed by a very small proportion of African-American youth, some 8% by estimates. 7 Yet the tendency to characterize all African-American males as criminals continues in our society. It is now common for law officers to stop young black males and to harass them as a result of this stereotype. The negative stereotype has continued to affect the black community, as well as their prospects for employment and advancement. All this has been destroyed and, as a end result, it has contributed to high unemployment within the African-American community.
Some Selected Statistics
What the media refuse to acknowledge is the fact that between 1967 and 1990, the percentage of black families with incomes of a least $50,000 more than doubled from 7 to 15 percent. The median income of African-American families in which both husband and wife worked rose from $28,700 in 1967 to $40,038 in 1990, an increase of more than 40 percent. By comparison, the median of white family incomes with two wage earners increased 17 percent during this period, from $40,040 to $47,247. 8
Although there are significant variations in school dropout rates from community to community, nationally the dropout rates for both blacks and whites have decreased since the 1970's. The proportion of African-American high school dropouts fell from 24 to 13 percent from 1972 to 1991. When family income and other background differences are taken into account, African-American youths are no more likely than whites to drop out of school. For many African-American youths, staying in school has not improved their prospects for full- or part-time employment. In fact, unemployment among this group remains at more than twice the rate for white youths. 9 The consequence of racially biased coverage is to maintain racist stereotypes in popular culture and to lead us towards an increasingly dysfunctional society. Given that the news media are staffed and controlled almost exclusively by whites, it follows that the media-reinforced popular consensus is that of the predominant sub-culture. The dysfunctional aspect of this bias emerges when the realistic concerns of African-Americans are dismissed as irrelevant or threatening to the majority population.
The media have and will continue to portray a self-serving negative stereotype of the African-American community. The societal and economic factors of racism have become more than just a bias. They are also a profitable industry, in which the elite will continue to suppress the lower class in order to maximize profits. According to Harvard professor Cornell West, 1 percent of the elite holds some 48 percent of America's wealth. This means that media, racism, and stereotypes will continue to be employed so that those elite can be sure of their continuing economic stability.

Thanks to Ronald Taylor Ph.D., Director of the Institute for African American Studies and Professor of Sociology, Darryl McMiller, Ph.D. Professor of Political Science, and Rose Lovelace, Program Coordinator of the IAAS at the University of Connecticut for their help in researching and documenting this paper.
1 Ronald L. Taylor, "The Harm Wrought by Racial Stereotype," Hartford Courant, 19 March 1995, D1.
2 Ralph Ellison, What America Would be like without Blacks. (Preager Press, 1970), 4.
3 David Goldberg, Racist Culture (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 42.
4 Paul G. Hartmann, Racism and the Media (Rowman & Littlefield Press, 1974),147.
5 Cornell West, Race Matters (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 74.
6 Ibid., 3.
7 Ronald L. Taylor, "The Harm Wrought by Racial Stereotype," Hartford Courant, 19 March 1995, D4.
8 Ibid., D4.
9 Ibid., D4.

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