In Maryland, youth offenders get no second chances

Reblogged from: SF Bay View, Nov. 1, 2013
by Gary Cooper
I came to prison at the age of 14 charged with two first degree attempted murders 12 years ago to serve an original 20-year sentence. I inevitably received an additional seven and a half years for a framed second degree assault on staff and possession of a concealed weapon, bringing my sentence to 27½ years. It’s the ingenious design of prison to focus more on profit and perpetual imprisonment through antagonizing and framing inmates than on rehabilitation, human rights and community development.
prison isolation

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture cites North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, as notorious for its treatment of prisoners whose mental health is threatened by long term solitary confinement.

We get no second chances. African American youth like myself grew up in East Baltimore, never hearing about the tortuous prison structure, George Jackson, Angela Davis or Kwame Toure. We only heard about being a thug, not the consequences and reality that once you commit a crime, the sentencing cap is 30 to life with a plea bargain for 20-25 years.

Even if you shot a stick-up man once in the back for robbing you of someone else’s heroin and money or the rusty gun you found running the alleyways of the inner city accidentally discharged while you tussled over possession of it with a co-defendant, shooting a White woman once in the buttocks – both scenarios transpired in my case – you still get no second chances.
In 2011 the parole commissioner said that my crimes were too violent for me to be released back into society for a second chance. I did my sentence wrong, focusing more on introspective clarity and knowledge to have something on my mind so as not to come back to prison when I should’ve only been focusing on being subservient to the administration who come to work daily with an “us against them” mentality.
Because I didn’t learn that I have no win and didn’t allow myself to be dehumanized and castrated as a man, I am not ready to be back with my family because I have no right to be upset at the criminality of law enforcement. Just look at all that I have probably done wrong.

It’s the ingenious design of prison to focus more on profit and perpetual imprisonment through antagonizing and framing inmates than on rehabilitation, human rights and community development.

I am currently housed in what I believe to be one of the most racist and tortuous institutions in the country, the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland. This is the institution where they denied me parole, the institution where I was pusillanimously attacked by the administration and two correctional officers, Sgt. B. Bowman and Officer S. Lease, the institution where my many stresses all come down on me and where, though I hate to admit it, I had a mental breakdown.
My grandmother died in October 2011, but I didn’t receive notice until 30 days later and was denied a grieving call by the institutional chaplain because he forgot my mother’s message on his answering service a month prior and by the time the notice reached me through mail the matter was long overdue. Reality set in that all the knowledge I learned, the changes I made – it was all worth nothing.

I am currently housed in what I believe to be one of the most racist and tortuous institutions in the country, the North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland.

I’m going to be trapped in prison for the next 16 years and probably lose my mother as well as my only supporters because these demonic, racist correctional officers overshadowed my true essence within my case file out of pure hatred and malice. I couldn’t eat, sleep or move. I waited for death to take me.
There is no politically conscious support in Maryland inside or out, so the worst thing I could’ve done was make changes and dream while in prison, because that’s when life gets miserable and reality sets in.
On June 24, 2012, they placed me on suicide watch in a concealed cell where they are notorious for attacking inmates. I knew my date. The wolf was finally defenseless and out his mind. They came in at 7:00 in the morning and instructed me to wake up and lie on the floor to be handcuffed, then to shower and see someone.
Once I complied, I was immediately hit in my face with a blast of strong mace. Then they put the mace can in between my buttocks (up my butt!) and blasted me with mace again.
They repeated that motion all the while kicking me in my ribs. Then they dragged me out of the cell completely naked, punched me in my face around the medical station, then handcuffed and shackled me to a loop that they call the “D-ring,” putting me on public display for two hours burning with mace.
They concocted a story to cover their tracks that I was unresponsive so they came into the cell to check on me and I scooped up an unknown liquid substance with my hands and threw it – the liquid – across the cell, splashing both of the officers in the face. Ha! Where in the laws of physics is that possible?
All I request is what I wrote to Gov. O’Malley of Maryland, to order polygraph tests for myself and the officers on what really happened in that cell, revealing that these sick sadist savages brutalized me beyond belief. I want my freedom through parole, finally being given a second chance with my family, because if I can endure that and control my rage and hatred, then who are the parole commissioners to say that I don’t deserve to be given a second chance?
I am a freelance writer who has written many books, movie scripts, etc. I am hoping to find activists to network with and offer me support with finally getting my books published, exposing the modern day prison industrial complex and its new agendas.

I want my freedom through parole, finally being given a second chance with my family, because if I can endure that and control my rage and hatred, then who are the parole commissioners to say that I don’t deserve to be given a second chance?

I also urge the SHU prisoners and others across the country to stay strong and continue to fight. I know it’s hard, but daily I think about giving up because I’m alone in Maryland, but my desire to be better and to be heard drives me to keep reaching out, even if I have to reach all the way to another coast for help.
Send our brother some love and light: Gary Cooper, 311-499, NBCI, 14100 McMullen Hwy. SW, Cumberland, MD 21502.

Washoe judge sentences 16-year-old armed robber to prison

Something is clearly going wrong in Nevada, where young men are sentenced to serve time in adult prisons. Society has a duty to guide youngsters to the right path. Where did we fail them? We need jobs, not adult prison sentences. Our youngsters need mentoring and guidance, protecting them from going astray. Washoe Judge: the system has failed!

Reno Gazette Journal
Dec. 6, 2011
A 16-year-old father-to-be who played on his high school basketball team is now among the youngest inmates in the Nevada state prison system following a sentence of up to 10 years related to an armed robbery in Reno.

Jesus Oconitrillo-Calderon, whose nickname is “Chewy,” was sentenced Nov. 30 by Washoe District Judge David Hardy, who said the boy’s young age was not a criminal security blanket. The teen will be eligible for parole after serving just over two years in prison for guilty pleas of robbery and conspiracy to commit possession of a stolen vehicle.

Days after he was sentenced to prison, 13-year-old Jose Cruz, of Reno, was given a life term for his role in the Mother’s Day robbery-related murder of a 27-year-old man. Cruz is now the youngest state prison inmate, while Oconitrillo-Calderon joins a group of 33 Nevada inmates between 16 and 17, prison officials said.

Read the rest here

Washoe judge sentences 16-year-old armed robber to prison

Something is clearly going wrong in Nevada, where young men are sentenced to serve time in adult prisons. Society has a duty to guide youngsters to the right path. Where did we fail them? We need jobs, not adult prison sentences. Our youngsters need mentoring and guidance, protecting them from going astray. Washoe Judge: the system has failed!

Reno Gazette Journal
Dec. 6, 2011
A 16-year-old father-to-be who played on his high school basketball team is now among the youngest inmates in the Nevada state prison system following a sentence of up to 10 years related to an armed robbery in Reno.

Jesus Oconitrillo-Calderon, whose nickname is “Chewy,” was sentenced Nov. 30 by Washoe District Judge David Hardy, who said the boy’s young age was not a criminal security blanket. The teen will be eligible for parole after serving just over two years in prison for guilty pleas of robbery and conspiracy to commit possession of a stolen vehicle.

Days after he was sentenced to prison, 13-year-old Jose Cruz, of Reno, was given a life term for his role in the Mother’s Day robbery-related murder of a 27-year-old man. Cruz is now the youngest state prison inmate, while Oconitrillo-Calderon joins a group of 33 Nevada inmates between 16 and 17, prison officials said.

Read the rest here

Pepper spray in Ohio juvenile lockups unwarranted

From: NECN.com
Nov 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The pepper spraying of juvenile inmates in September broke numerous state rules and was without exception unwarranted, a court-appointed monitor concluded in a report. The state has argued a violent gang outbreak justified the spraying.

The analysis of several incidents in which gang members were pepper sprayed as they were transferred between units sheds more light on Ohio’s evolving youth prison system, which is both shrinking but also growing more violent as only serious offenders remain in state custody.

A member of a court-appointed monitoring team who reviewed 11 pepper spray cases found “not a single incident” where the use was justified, according to the 16-page report filed Monday in federal court in Columbus.

“None of the youth were armed; none were barricaded; none were physically violent; none were engaged in targeted aggressive movement toward staff; and none were engaged in striking, grabbing, pushing or punching of staff,” according to the report by team member Steve Martin.

Martin cited three cases where guards sprayed pepper spray into their hands, then swiped it on the faces of juveniles already being held down.

Applying pepper spray “in this fashion is extraordinarily dangerous and greatly increases the risk of asphyxia during a prone restraint,” the report said. Martin noted that “the ‘facial swipe’ tactic is unprecedented in my many years of experience reviewing and investigating hundreds of use of force incidents” involving pepper spray.

The monitoring team reviewed incidents in September in which the Department of Youth Services asked adult prison guards to help move youth identified as gang leaders. Seven youths from Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware and 12 from Circleville Correctional Facility were moved to a separate unit at the Scioto facility.

A Youth Services spokeswoman declined comment because the incident involves an ongoing lawsuit. But the state painted a dire picture in a Nov. 18 court filing justifying its use of the pepper spray.

In August and September, gang-related violence had exploded, with 11 large-scale incidents involving multiple youths. Teens were breaking out of their cells for fights, and numerous guards and juvenile inmates suffered injuries. By the end of September, 20 staff members were on leave due to injuries from assaults, the filing said.

Teens not involved in the violence were refusing to go to school or therapy sessions out of fear for their safety, according to the filing.

“The outright ban of pepper spray could make it impossible for DYS to restore order during extraordinary circumstances without resorting to more risky physical intervention techniques, making injury to youths and staff much more likely,” the state said, noting that no youth who was sprayed needed anything more than basic first aid afterward.

A court-ordered monitor continues to oversee Ohio’s attempts to make youth prisons safer following a 2004 lawsuit that alleged a culture of violence.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the state to ensure pepper spray is not used to quell disturbances in state youth detention facilities. He plans a hearing next month.

Marbley’s order also required the state to film forceful restraints of juveniles and to provide immediate explanations when outside guards are called in.

The monitoring team’s report said Youth Services failed several times to videotape pepper sprayings.

“Although ten of the eleven applications of … spray were planned uses of force, DYS personnel failed to properly record all but two of those incidents with handheld cameras,” the report said.

Read the rest here.

Political Prisoner Eddie Conway Speaks to Ujaama about Prisons and Race: The Impact On Our Community

The Cornell Daily Sun
October 25, 2010
By Lawrence Lan

Political prisoner and former Black Panther Marshall “Eddie” Conway spoke via telephone to an attentive crowd of students, staff, and faculty to spark Sunday evening’s Ujamaa Unity Hour discussion on prisons and their impact on the African-American community.

Conway, who is currently serving the 40th year of his life sentence at Jessup Correctional Insitution in Maryland, touched on the prison-industrial complex as it manifests in Maryland, where the majority of prisons are located in rural areas characterized by predominantly white populations. He also discussed his work in creating a mentoring program that emphasizes the need for positive role models in the Maryland prison system’s youth population.

Prof. Margaret Washington, history, contributed scholarly analysis to Conway’s lived experience, citing large increases in the incarceration rates of African American males in the United States since 1980. She also stressed the fact that the notion of economic labor cannot be divorced from that of incarceration.

“With the current [economic] situation being what it is, African Americans are no longer needed as laborers. When a huge population that has always served as labor no longer serves that function, what do you do with the surplus labor?” Washington said. “From an economic perspective, prison is a form of slavery, or you can say it’s a form of concentration camp.”

The historical context provided the framework for Prof. Mary Katzenstein, government, to contest the notion that prisons offer local benefits to their surrounding communities in the form of employment opportunities. She cited the example of Five Points Correctional Facility, saying that high-paying prison jobs discourage the predominantly white local population from pursuing higher education.

Speaking to the perception that prison successfully rehabilitates inmates, Katzenstein pointed out that people who spend long periods of time in prison exhibit the lowest rates of recidivism, while those who spend brief periods of time in prison most commonly become repeat offenders.

Jim Schechter, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program, added to the discussion, noting the strides that the program has made at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correction Facility since its inception, especiallly for the prisoners. The program provides a pathway to an Associate of Arts degree for men incarcerated at the Auburn and Cayuga Correctional Facilities.

“[The Cornell Prison Education Program] contributes to people’s self-esteem in what we all recognize is an otherwise dehumanizing environment,” he said, adding that the classroom functions as a “sanctuary” from the rest of the prison experience.Cornell faculty who participate in the program report a higher level of engagement from the inmates than from Cornell students, according to Schechter.

“There’s no sense of entitlement, no Blackberries, no laptops,” Schechter said. “The students at Auburn come to class having done the readings two, maybe three, times.”

Janet Nwaukoni ’12, president of Project Lansing, and Adam Baratz ’11, president of Art Beyond Cornell, explained the work their organizations do on campus to immediately address the needs of prisons near Ithaca.

Members of Project Lansing interact weekly with young females at Lansing Residential Center to build mentorships and friendships that foster intellectual and personal growth. Members of Art Beyond Cornell bring weekly art lessons to Lansing Residential Center and MacCormick Secure Center to offer a means of expression and growth for the institutionalized youth.

“We want these young women [at Lansing Residential Center] to know that there are African American females who come from similar backgrounds and that it’s possible to succeed,” Nwaukoni said.

“These facilities are extraordinarily understaffed, and Cornell has such a vast array of resources to help fill that void,” Baratz said. “The work we do is really important because the youth there really look forward to it each week.”

Ken Glover, residence hall director of Schuyler House and former residence hall director of Ujamaa, identified flaws with the prison system.

“If you wanted to change the rates of recidivism, you’d require [inmates] to get a GED,” Glover said, referring to a statistic mentioned by Schechter that approximately 250 out of 1,800 inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility have GEDs or high school diplomas. “How can you support your kids [when you get out of prison] if you can’t get a GED and you can’t get a job?”

He also brought the discussion back to Conway and the issue of political prisoners.

“The question of political prisoners goes beyond the context of the United States,” Glover said, citing notable political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Patrice Lumumba. “Whenever there’s been a movement for social change, people who speak out [for change] are imprisoned.”

“The discussion revealed how prevalent the incarceration system is just in upstate New York,” Khamila Alebiosu ’13 said. “While we like to stay within the Cornell bubble, there’s so much we can do to reach out and change this system that has dehumanized and degraded people that have come largely from the African American community.”

Theoria Cason, the residence hall director of Ujamaa, found the discussion informative and saw hope in the various Cornell programs that try to address needs of institutionalized people in local facilities.

“This discussion helped me recognize the dissonance that exists between Ithaca and the facilities that lie just 20 minutes down the road,” she said. “I really appreciate the work that is being done in the immediate areas around Ithaca.”

The discussion, entitled “Prisons and Race: The Impact On Our Community,” was organized by Black Students United.

Testimony before the Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

On Wednesday, April 14, Campaign For Youth Justice’s CEO Liz Ryan provided testimony before Nevada’s Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice.

The Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice is an ongoing statutory committee of the Nevada Legislature which meets between the biennial sessions of the Legislature and consists of three members from the Senate and three members from the Assembly. The Committee reviews and evaluates issues relating to the provision of child welfare services and juvenile justice in the state and recommends legislation concerning child welfare and juvenile justice to the Legislature.

On this occasion, the Committee heard testimony from a number of witnesses on juvenile justice issues, including the prosecution of youth as adults. In her testimony Ryan stated that,

“An overwhelming body of research shows that prosecuting youth as adults does not work. Over the past three years, we have witnessed a steady stream of research demonstrating unequivocally that trying and sentencing children in adult court does not reduce crime; in fact, it does just the opposite.”

Further, Ryan noted that,

“In light of the research, particularly the data showing that youth prosecuted in adult criminal court are much more likely to re-offend than similarly situated youth in the juvenile justice system, a number of states have begun to reexamine their states policies and several states have changed their policies.”

According to Ryan, states have undertaken or are considering undertaking a number of policy reforms in these areas:

1. Changing the age at which youth can be eligible to be considered in adult criminal court, which Nevada did in the last session;

2. Changing the types of crimes for which youth can be eligible to be considered in adult criminal court;

3. Ending the automatic prosecution of all youth at certain ages in adult criminal court, such as at age 16 or 17;

4. Narrowing the circumstances under which youth can be placed in adult jails pretrial;

5. Removing youth from adult jails and prisons pretrial and post-conviction;

6. Providing adult criminal court judges additional discretion on whether to send youth back to juvenile court rather than prosecuting youth in adult court;

7. Changing the law to disallow youth to be subsequently tried in adult criminal court if they have been tried in adult court once; and

8. Disallowing adult mandatory minimums from applying to juveniles.

A full copy of Ryan’s testimony to Nevada’s Legislative Committee on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice is available online at:

http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/cfyj%20testimony%20liz%20ryan%204%2014%2010.pdf (PDF)

Further testimonies in other states here.