Witness to a Reprehensible and Uncaring Prison System

(from Joe Power-Drutis)

Twenty four hours ago I visited Sr. Jackie Hudson at the Blount County Correctional Facility in Maryville Tennessee, and the information she conveyed was deeply disturbing. By bravely speaking the truth about a reprehensible and uncaring system, Jackie chose to take a personal risk and I want to honor this by passing her message on to you.

This is an account of the struggles of four inmates and their attempts to receive basic medical care.

First is the indomitable and quick-witted (soon to be 84), Jean Gump. Like Bix, Jean’s age and physical presence conceal an interior spirit deeply rooted in the power of love that will always be underestimated by the dark forces so prevalent in our world.

She, like the others, would rather be home with family and friends but is not afraid to pay the price of following the dictates of her conscience. She like the others, consented to going to jail; but, expects these places of confinement to follow the law regarding human rights and rules of imprisonment. But, in the Blount County Correctional Facility, expectations and reality part ways.

Jean is a relatively healthy woman who has obviously taken care of herself; however, she is also under the care of a Nurse Practitioner in Portage Michigan. Jean has been diagnosed with hypertension and carotid artery disease; in other words, the high pressure in her arteries is further complicated by the narrowing of the large carotid artery that feeds her brain. Jean must take one anticoagulant and 2 blood pressure medications to thin her blood and lower her pressure. Failure to do so puts her at high risk for a stroke.

For these chronic conditions she has faithfully taken her medications each day – each day that is until she was remanded to the Blount County Correctional Facility. Though she has made numerous requests for help, she has received no medical assistance, not once has her blood pressure been taken, and she received no medication for nearly 2 weeks. She filled out paperwork for the jail to notify her husband, health care provider and pharmacy; they have received no calls from the jail.

Just for the record, Ralph Hutchison, Erik Johnson and I sang one verse of a less than spectacular barber shop quartet Happy Birthday to You. Moved beyond herself by emotion Jean said, “Don’t give up your day job boys.”
The reality is much the same for 63-year-old Sr. Carol Gilbert. Carol has taken an antihypertensive medication for many years. She too has gone without her medication and no one at the jail has taken her blood pressure.

Three months ago, 76-year-old Sr. Jackie Hudson underwent surgery that left her with residual periodic left-sided chest pain. Several days ago she began to experience severe musculoskeletal pain and made repeated requests for medical assistance. Eventually a nurse arrived and said “Your just one of 500 people here and I am way behind in my work.” Jackie received nothing. That night, many hours after the onset of pain, the night nurse provided her with 2 tabs of Tylenol. Well after this acute onset of pain she was able to receive a “one time” packet of 20 tablets of Tylenol and Ibuprofen due to her indigent status; but was informed she would receive no more. Jackie also suffers from asthma. She was able to take one of her inhalers in with her but is without the needed second one. Jackie also filled out paperwork for the jail to notify Sue Ablao, her health care provider and pharmacy; they also have not received any calls from the jail.

75-year-old Sr. Ardeth Platte is also under the care of a doctor. I do not know the extent of her medical needs but, like Jackie and Jean, Ardeth is receiving no medications or health care.

Though serious, the above matters are straight-forward and easily resolved.
The following is not so.

A woman in the jail experienced a Grand Mal Seizure. Apparently in the early stages of the seizure she was able to tell other inmates a seizure was about to occur, and as the seizure commenced and she was falling they were able to catch her and guide her to the concrete floor.

They called for medical help and the nurse and another woman arrived and stood next to the woman. Several minutes later – while the seizure was still in progress – a half-dozen large men entered the cell block. While a younger guard began yelling at all of the inmates “return to your cells” another of the men kicked the woman repeatedly. Later, inmates reported that kicking a person undergoing a seizure was commonplace, “They think someone is faking it.”

The following day the woman began to experience similar symptoms that occur prior to a seizure and she related to the inmates that another seizure may occur. The inmates called for assistance and a voice over the intercom instructed the inmates to put her on the concrete floor. No staff person, medical or otherwise ever responded. Fortunately the woman’s premonitions did not result in a seizure.

Complicating the health picture even more, the inmates know that, if a medical problem or emergency occurs during the weekend, they are out of luck. No nursing staff are available during the weekend. During weekends, either non medical, non licensed jailers perform nursing duties or inmates get no response at all.

As a LPN I have worked in a number of medical venues over the past 35 years and I have seen nothing to compare with this. How did this high risk, cruel “medical response” become commonplace? These standard operational procedures are not only inhumane; they are illegal.
I wish to share this with you, as I seek guidance and support from leaders in the local community here in East Tennessee about where to go from here.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Epilogue: As I was being given this information yesterday, prison eyes (cameras) and ears (phone surveillance) were upon us; as we spoke between a wall of glass, I wrote down each detail.

It is important to remember that the playground bully is one filled with fear, and the need to control; but, knowing he/she must be careful to protect themselves from the truth.

I just received phone calls from Joe Gump and Sue Ablao; someone from the Blount County Correctional Facility phoned them today inquiring as to what medications Jean and Jackie were on. They were told that Jean and Jackie’s prescriptions will be filled by day’s end and they will be receiving all of their prescribed medications no later than tomorrow, May 23rd.

Female prisoners and forced prison labor in Arizona (2011)

From: Prison Abolitionist weblog:

Margaret T. Hance Park

May Day 2011

What immediately follows is an excerpt from one of two letters I received this past week regarding prison labor at Martori Farms, which I read at the May Day Rally today. The second letter is pasted at the bottom.

Note that refusal to accept these jobs is grounds for transfer to a higher security yard or detention unit- is that what we want to be spending our corrections money on, instead of programs and health care for these women?

May Day was awesome, by the way. More on that soon…

Remember Women Prisoners

Pinatafest, Margaret T. Hance Park

May Day 2011



Dear Peggy,

Happy Easter 🙂!!! I hope all was great for you today!!!

Well friend I regret to tell you this letter will not be a social call. I’m calling on you to advocate for me and do what you do. I’m in a TERRIBLE situation here. And I need help from the outside. We are totally being oppressed!!! And ABUSED by the system. The prison is out of control!!!! OK ready?….

It’s a doosey friend. You’re gonna be totally shocked. Perhaps you’ve heard already but we need help! I NEED help before they kill me!!

OK it’s about my job. I work on a work crew for Martori Farms. We work 6 days a week for 8 hrs. It’s a mandatory overtime job. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants currently until it’s harvest time then it will be 12 hrs a day. It’s insane. Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for 8 hrs. Many times we run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! And if we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our “good time”!!!

We are told we get ‘2’ 15 min breaks and one ½ hr lunch like a normal job but it’s more like 10 min and 20 min. They constantly yell at us we are too slowand to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that’s not acceptable.

The place is infested with spiders of all types, scorpions, snakes, and blood suckers. And bees because they harvest them. On my crew alone there are 4 women with bee allergies but they don’t care!! There are NO epinephrine pens on site to SAVE them if stung.

There’s no anti venom available for snake bites and they want us to use windex (yes glass cleaner) for scorpion stings!! INSANITY!!! They are denying us medical care here.

If we are “red lined’ meaning we have a DR or Nurse or Psych appt any other job holds you back because medical takes precedence over every thing. But not at this job. If we don’t go to work and choose to stay for medical we get a Major ticket. And if they’rereally short people or too many people are like screw it give me the ticket like last week they take you to “CDU” the hole!!! It is so not fair!!! COIV xxx is going crazy trying to find people to fill this contract it’s rumored to be a $40 Million contract but also heard $4.5 mill either way it’s big money. They are going to any lengths to fulfill this. Not caring about our civil rights, safety or health!!

Women have made their complaints on inmate letters and verbally to Lt., Sgt, Captains, DW, COIII, COIV, and the major. Their solution was to give us an extra sack lunch and agree to feed us breakfast sat mornings. UGH!! Really… food is not what we were asking for. Though being fed on Saturdays is nice. Yah! They were not feeding us Sats because that’s a day Kitchen opens late because they give brunch on weekends. No lunch so we were getting screwed! But as of this past Sat they said they would feed us before work! Let’s see how long it lasts. Because they also said they would allow us to be “Red lined”. But it only lasted 1 day.

They wake us up between 2:30 and 3:00 am and KICK US OUT if our housing unit by 3:30am then we get fed at 4:00am and our work supervisors show up between 5am and 8am. Then it’s an hour to 1 ½ hr drive to the job site. Then we work 8 hrs regardless of conditions. Even the porta potties are usually dirty. Sometimes NO SOAP and never any seat covers and women on my work crew are HIV+ and Hep C positive. Not sanitary at ALL!

They give us 1 long sleeve shirt to wear for 6 days! 2 pairs of pants, 2 socks, 2 short sleeve shirts, and 2 pairs of used panties, bras, and javascript:void(0)socks!!! YUCK!!! We need help Peggy...

—————ASPC-Perryville/San Carlos———-

It’s come to my attention that the women from ASPC-Perryville who are providing the prison labor to Martori Farms are being coerced into taking the jobs by the guards responsible for recruiting them, and are reportedly working at times without water, sunscreen, adequate nutrition and full breaks, and without regard to medical concerns or age. Those who refuse the jobs or don’t work sufficiently hard enough in the fields – or who even just complain – are threatened with being written up (a major ticket which can cost good time), or thrown into the hole.

The women are afraid for their health and safety; some are allergic to the bees they are harvesting, and others have been told to work through serious symptoms such as chest pain, still being dismissed as malingering – reminiscent of what happened to Brenda Todd and Susan Lopez, when they begged for medical care. They’re presently working 8-hr days/6 days a week (not including the 1+ hour trek to and from the farm). Come harvest time, they’ve been told they’ll be working 12-hour days.

Upon receiving this information, I called OSHA – the Department of Labor doesn’t have jurisdiction over prison labor, even when contracted to private farms. The only department in the state, outside of Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) they referred me to was the AZ Department of Administration’s Risk Management people – they’re the only ones who care about prisoner-worker “rights”, it appears, because they want to minimize liability (which has little to do with taking responsibility in practice, it appears).

The Department of Administration referred me back to the ADC, to a guy by the name of Barry Keith. I told them I already contacted the ADC”s general counsel’s office about the issue, and want outside eyes on the prison to assure worker’s rights are being protected. They had no one else to refer me to, though, so I left a message for Mr. Keith. We’ll see who gets back to me with what – I’m not on the best of terms with them these days.

Again, I’m urging people to contact the Chair of the AZ House Health and Human Services Committee, Rep. Cecil Ash, and request hearings on the conditions in the prisons.

He can be reached at:

Arizona House of Representatives

1700 W. Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85007


cc me (see margins), the Phoenix New Times (PO Box 2510, Phoenix, AZ 85002 / Phone: 602-271-0040 / Fax: 602-340-8806) and your own legislators on your concerns, please…let me know if I can print what you write.

Finally, here’s some info about prison labor, from a good DAILY KOS story in December 2010. An older Christian Science Monitor article about AZ prison labor as it relates to the issue of immigration comes first…and here’s something from another blog post last June: Slaves of the State: Prison Labor


With Fewer Migrant Workers, Farmers Turn to Prison Labor

By Nicole Hill, Christian Science Monitor

Posted on August 22, 2007, Printed on April 29, 2011


Picacho, Ariz. — Near this dusty town in southeastern Arizona, Manuel Reyna pitches watermelons into the back of a trailer hitched to a tractor. His father was a migrant farm worker, but growing up, Mr. Reyna never saw himself following his father’s footsteps. Now, as an inmate at the Picacho Prison Unit here, Reyna works under the blazing desert sun alongside Mexican farmers the way his father did.

“My dad tried to keep me out of trouble,” he says, wearing a bandanna to keep the sweat out of his eyes. “But I always got back into the easy money, because it was faster and a lot more money.” He’s serving a 6-1/2 year sentence for possession and sale of rock cocaine.

As states increasingly crack down on hiring undocumented workers, western farmers are looking at inmates to harvest their fields. Colorado started sending female inmates to harvest onions, corn, and melons this summer. Iowa is considering a similar program. In Arizona, inmates have been working for private agriculture businesses for almost 20 years. But with legislation signed this summer that would fine employers for knowingly hiring undocumented workers, more farmers are turning to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) for help.

“We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor,” says Bruce Farely, manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI). ACI is a state labor program that holds contracts with government and private companies. “Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don’t want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative.”

Reyna and about 20 other low-risk, nonviolent offenders work at LBJ Farm, a family-owned watermelon farm, as part of ADC’s mission to employ every inmate, either behind prison walls or in outside companies. The idea is to help inmates develop job skills and save money for their release. “It helps them really pay their debt back to the folks who have been harmed in society, as well as make adequate preparation for their release back onto the streets.” says ADC director Dora Schriro.

If it weren’t for a steady flow of inmates year-round, says Jack Dixon, owner of LBJ, one of the largest watermelon farms in the western US, he’d have sold out long ago. Even so, last year 400 acres of his watermelons rotted on the ground – a $640,000 loss – because there weren’t enough harvesters. Mr. Dixon had applied for 60 H2-A guest worker visas, but only 14 were approved because of previous visa violations.

“We are in desperate need for hand labor,” says Dixon, who started working on the farm when he was 9, alongside mostly migrant workers. “It’s hard to get migrant workers up here anymore, with all the laws preventing them. It’s not what it used to be,” Dixon says. “It’s dangerous for them with all the coyote wars and smuggling.”

Other farmers wonder if inmates could be their solution. Dixon has received calls from a yellow-squash farmer in Texas inquiring about how to set up an inmate labor contract as well as from another watermelon farmer in Colorado seeking advice on how to manage inmate crews.

For labor-rights activists, federal immigration reform is the only viable solution to worker shortages.

Marc Grossman, spokesman for the United Farm Workers of America, says inmate labor undermines what unionized farmworkers have wanted for years: to be paid based on skill and experience. “It’s rather insulting that the state [Arizona] would look so poorly on farm workers that they would attempt to use inmates,” Grossman says. There is also the food-safety aspect, he says: Experienced workers understand sanitary harvesting.

“Agriculture does not have a reliable workforce, and the answer does not lie with prison labor,” says Paul Simonds of the Western Growers Association, a trade association representing California and Arizona. “This just underscores the need for legislation to be passed to provide a legal, stable workforce.” A prison lockdown would be disastrous, he points out, with perishable crops awaiting harvest. Other crops, like asparagus and broccoli, require skilled workers.

Although the ADC is considering innovative solutions – including satellite prisons – to fulfill companies’ requests for inmate labor, prison officials agree that, in the end, the demand is too high. “To go into a state where agriculture is worth $9.2 billion and expect to meet a workforce need is impossible,” says Katie Decker, spokeswoman for ADC. At any given time only about 3,300 prisoners statewide (out of a prison population of about 37,000) are cleared to work outside.

ACI provides inmates to nine private agricultural companies in Arizona, ranging from a hydroponics greenhouse tomato plant to a green chile cannery. Unlike other sectors where federal regulations require that inmate workers be paid a prevailing wage and receive worker compensation, agricultural companies can hire state inmates on a contract basis. They must be paid a minimum of $2 per hour. Thirty percent of their wages go to room and board in prison. The rest goes to court-ordered restitution for victims, any child support, and a mandatory savings account. Private companies are required to pay for transportation from the prison to the worksite and for prison guards.

For Reyna, his work on farms over the past couple of years has added $9,000 in his savings account and given him a renewed respect for his Mexican father’s lifetime of stoop labor.

At Dixon’s farm, it’s 103 degrees F. The inmate crews, wearing orange jumpsuits, work in a rhythmic line, calling out the number of the watermelons, and alongside the trailer. Just a few yards away, Mexican workers also work in a line. The inmates will quit at 4 p.m., while the immigrant laborers may work 13-hour days. “We go back, they stay out here,” Reyna says. “It really isn’t the same.”

In the farm’s office, watermelons line the counter, and photos of migrant workers hang in dusty frames. When asked why he doesn’t sell the farm, Dixon says, “the inmates, the migrants, these people are part of the family – that’s why I keep this darn place.”

Dixon says he supports the idea of a reformed, guest-worker program that would employ migrant workers during the harvest and return them to Mexico in the winter. But until that happens, he’s willing to fight for the workers he’s shared the land with for most of his life.

“People are crossing the border because they are starving to death,” Dixon says, “I don’t care what their status is. If they are hungry and thirsty, I am going to feed them.”

“I could sell this and quit,” he continues, “But I believe in supporting the American farming industry.”

© 2011 Christian Science Monitor All rights reserved.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/60497/

INSOURCING – Identifying businesses involved in prison labor or supporting those who are

byBob Sloan


Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 03:23 PM PST

Many readers have asked how a corporation can be identified as participating in the use of inmate labor. Actually there are three “categories” of those involved in prison labor and prison industry operations:

  1. corporations, businesses and companies that use direct inmate labor for manufacturing and service jobs,

  1. corporations, businesses and companies that contract with other companies to purchase products or services made by inmate labor (such as McDonalds), and,

  1. individuals, corporations, organizations and investment companies that support the use of prison labor or enable prison industry operations by contributing financial support to those directly involved in using inmates for labor or invest in or support private prison corporations.

To demonstrate how difficult involvement in prison industries and the use of inmate labor is to identify, we’ll begin with an investment firm involved in many of our 401(k) and retirement accounts.

Fidelity Investments (Fidelity). This “financial investment” corporation is involved in holding the retirement and 401(k) accounts of millions of Americans. Many of the largest companies in our country offer Fidelity Investments as the sole source of retirement investing for their employees.

Fidelity was previously identified as a funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in an earlir Insourcing blog. ALEC is deeply invested in supporting Corrections Corporation of American (CCA) and Geo Group (Geo) – that are both corporate members of ALEC. ALEC has willingly accepted responsibility for enactment of laws authorizing and increasing the use of inmates in manufacturing of products as well as the housing of those inmates by private corporations such as CCA and Geo.

Unfortunately if your retirement savings, 401(K) or other investments are held by Fidelity, chances are some of your money is invested by Fidelity in either the use of prison labor or in other operations related to the prison industrial complex (PIC).

I purposely mentioned McDonald’s in the intro because though they are not “directly” using inmate labor in their food service operations, they are dependent upon the use of inmate labor to reduce costs associated with those operations. The way they do this is by contracting to purchase their uniforms and some of the plastic utensils provided to customers from a company using inmate labor to make those uniforms and utensils. The uniforms are made by Oregon Inmates. Wendy’s has also been identified as relying upon prison labor to reduce their cost of operations – and they fund ALEC.

Two other U.S. companies relying upon prison labor for products sold in their stores are K-Mart and J.C. Penny. Both sell Jeans made by inmates in Tennessee prisons. The same prison in Tennessee provides labor for Eddie Bauer’s wooden rocking horses. There are other products we would not associate with prison made products: dentures, partials, eye glasses, processed foods such as beef, chicken and pork patties sold to and served in our schools, grocery stores and hospitals. I don’t know about you but putting dentures made in prison in my mouth just somehow causes me concern…just as buying a box of breaded chicken patties and fixing them for my family does.

What about services such as Insurance? Banking? Utilities – gas, oil, electricity? Prescription drugs? Are all of these services or commodities tied to prison labor and the PIC? Unfortunately, yes. Many insurance companies are tied to ALEC…as are corporations involving utilities provided to you in your city or town. To name jut a few brand names you’ll recognize that are invested in prison labor or PIC through ALEC are:

BANKS: American General Financial Group, American Express Company, Bank of America, Community Financial Services Corporation, Credit Card Coalition, Credit Union National Association, Inc., Fidelity Inestments, Harris Trust & Savings Bank, Household International, LaSalle National Bank, J.P. Morgan & Company, Non-Bank Funds Transmitters Group

ENERGY PRODUCERS/OIL: American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Corporation, ARCO, BP America, Inc., Caltex Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, ExxonMobil Corporation, Mobil Oil Corporation, Phillips Petroleum Company.

ENERGY PRODUCERS/UTILITIES: American Electric Power Association, American Gas Association, Center for Energy and Economic Development, Commonwealth Edison Company, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., Edison Electric Institute, Independent Power Producers of New York, Koch Industries, Inc., Mid-American Energy Company, Natural Gas Supply Association, PG&E Corporation/PG&E National Energy Group, U.S. Generating Company.

INSURANCE: Alliance of American Insurers, Allstate Insurance Company, American Council of Life Insurance, American Insurance Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Corporation, Coalition for Asbestos Justice, (This organization was formed in October 2000 to explore new judicial approaches to asbestos litigation.” Its members include ACE-USA, Chubb & Son, CNA service mark companies, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., Kemper Insurance Companies, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, and St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Counsel to the coalition is Victor E. Schwartz of the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C., a longtime ALEC ally.)

Fortis Health, GEICO, Golden Rule Insurance Company, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance, MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company, National Association of Independent Insurers, Nationwide Insurance/National Financial, State Farm Insurance Companies, Wausau Insurance Companies, Zurich Insurance.

PHARMACEUTICALS: Abbott Laboratories, Aventis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Bayer Corporation, Eli Lilly & Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, Inc., Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., Merck & Company, Inc., Pfizer, Inc., Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of

America (PhRMA), Pharmacia Corporation, Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., Schering-Plough Corporation, Smith, Kline & French, WYETH, a division of American Home Products Corporation.

MANUFACTURING:American Plastics Council, Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, AutoZone, Inc. (aftermarket automotive parts), Cargill, Inc., Caterpillar, Inc., Chlorine Chemistry Council, Deere & Company, Fruit of the Loom, Grocery Manufacturers of America, Inland Steel Industries, Inc., International Game Technology, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Keystone Automotive Industries, Motorola, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee Corporation.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: AT&T, Ameritech, BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., GTE Corporation, MCI, National Cable and Telecommunications Association, SBC Communications, Inc., Sprint, UST Public Affairs, Inc., Verizon Communications, Inc.

TRANSPORTATION: Air Transport Association of America, American Trucking Association, The Boeing Company, United Airlines, United Parcel Service (UPS).

OTHER U.S. COMPANIES: Amway Corporation, Cabot Sedgewick, Cendant Corporation, Corrections Corporation of America, Dresser Industries, Federated Department Stores, International Gold Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Microsoft Corporation, Newmont Mining Corporation, Quaker Oats, Sears, Roebuck & Company, Service Corporation International, Taxpayers Network, Inc., Turner Construction, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

ORGANIZATIONS/ASSOCIATIONS: Adolph Coors Foundation, Ameritech Foundation, Bell & Howell Foundation, Carthage Foundation, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, ELW Foundation, Grocery Manufacturers of America, Heartland Institute of Chicago, The Heritage Foundation, Iowans for Tax Relief, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, National Pork Producers Association, National Rifle Association, Olin Foundation, Roe Foundation, Scaiffe Foundation, Shell Oil Company Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, Steel Recycling Institute, Tax Education Support Organization, Texas Educational Foundation, UPS Foundation.

As the foregoing illustrates, many U.S. companies and corporations not only fund ALEC’s activities regarding prison labor and PIC, they have foundations that also contribute handsomely to ALEC. Many are represented upon ALEC”s Private Enterprise Board.

Commodities, services and various products sold to U.S. consumers provide profits to these companies/corporations that are used to further the goals of ALEC. They sell us our vehicles, Chrysler, Ford, GM…sell us the fuel to power those vehicles, insurance to cover our cars and trucks. Some of our homes are mortgaged through banks and mortgage companies affiliated with ALEC. Our homes are insured by carriers supporting the use of inmate labor. Our phones are provided by those who are also involved and our medications also fund these same ALEC activities. Even the fast food places we depend upon are part of the overall PIC operation – McDonalds and Wendy’s.

Reservations we make for American Airlines and the likes of AVIS rent-a-car are taken by inmates. More and more call centers are coming on line every day manned by inmates in both state and federal prison operations. Each position taken by an inmate, used to belong to private sector workers who are now unemployed.

Another industry I’ve briefly touched upon needs to be discussed here. That is the agriculture industry. One side effect of immigration laws being enacted in the Western states is the reduction of migrant workers in those states that have passed tougher immigration policies. Not one to miss such an opportunity, prison industries are vying to fill the voids created by these laws.

Colorado has been one of those states hardest hit because of new laws similar to that of SB 1070. In an effort of providing labor to the farmers in that state, the legislature has partnered with the state DOC to implement a new program allowing for the use of inmates on private farms.

To meet the needs of the capitalist farmers, the state legislature has partnered with the Colorado Department of Corrections to launch a pilot program this month that will contract with more than a dozen large farms to provide prisoners who will work in the fields. More than 100 prisoners will go to farms near Pueblo, Colo., to start the program in the coming weeks.

Prisoners will earn a miserable 60 cents a day. The prisoners will be watched by prison guards, who will be paid handsomely by the farmers. The practice is a modern form of slavery.

The corporate farm owners and capitalist politicians are defending the program. They claim that business needs to be “protected” for the sake of capitalist production in the agricultural sector.

There were many indicators that this was on the horizon over three years ago, when articles began to appear about several states switching from migrant farm workers to inmates:

As states increasingly crack down on hiring undocumented workers, western farmers are looking at inmates to harvest their fields. Colorado started sending female inmates to harvest onions, corn, and melons this summer. Iowa is considering a similar program. In Arizona, inmates have been working for private agriculture businesses for almost 20 years. But with legislation signed this summer that would fine employers for knowingly hiring undocumented workers, more farmers are turning to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) for help.

It isn’t surprising that agricultural and farming needs would be pointed in this direction by state legislators…where ALEC’s efforts of eliminating “illegal” aliens from agribusiness work coincided with their SB 1070 and earlier state legislative efforts. They realized the impact the laws would have upon immigrant workers and that a labor force would be necessary to take the place of immigrants picked up or scared off by laws like SB 1070. CCA, Geo and state prison industry operators were informed of the expected future labor needs of U.S. farmers and began to gear up in 2007 when ALEC successfully proposed and was able to enact one of the first restrictive immigration laws in Colorado. I believe ALEC projected the impact on farming, predicted the labor need and advised prison industries to be prepared to put inmates out in agriculture work on short notice. As soon as the Colorado law went into effect, prison industries had inmates picked, vetted and with the proper custody level ready to step into the shoes of the missing migrant workers.

All in all a very effective business plan put into place by ALEC and their members – eliminate an entire industry workforce and replace it with a workforce supplied by their members at a wage scale of less than $1.00 per hour. At the same time salaries of the prison staff guarding the workers is paid for by the farmers. Talk about a win-win-win business plan.

Prison labor had been used in Arizona for more than two decades prior to SB 1070. However the enactment of that law made the need for inmate labor to treble – along with profits from that labor.

Other occupations are being impacted by privatization of prison related healthcare. Many doctors are now choosing to work in prison rather than private practice. Obviously this switch lowers the number of doctors available in the private sector. One reason for this change in direction by physicians is retirement benefits and free malpractice insurance offered by prison healthcare corporations, such as PHS.

If more information is needed to clarify the financial impact of continuing incarceration upon us as a society take a brief look at Washington State’s latest efforts to address the state deficit. The below cuts are necessary to reduce the budget by $600 million. A substantial need for such reductions was created because of the state’s continued reliance upon incarcerating more and more citizens, reducing private sector jobs through the use of prison labor by large WA. corporations such as Boeing and Microsoft.

Among the cuts approved by legislators: nearly $50 million from the Department of Corrections, including the closure of a prison facility; $50 million from K-12 education, including funding intended to keep class sizes small; $51 million from higher education, including at several of the state’s flagship universities; nearly $30 million from a state-subsidized health insurance program for the poor; and the elimination of non-emergency dental care for poor adults.

What a trade off, huh? More cuts to education and social programs that benefit the poor while they pay out millions to prison industries and private prison operators – and give tax breaks to Boeing and Microsoft. Washington citizens are getting the shaft – especially their students and the poorest among them.

While Washington state is making terrible cuts to the budget, elsewhere prison workers and their supporters are successfully keeping unnecessary prisons open to keep prison staffers from losing their employment. An action that keeps taxpayers funding their salaries – needlessly.

ETOWAH COUNTY, Alabama — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have agreed Thursday to delay removal of more than 300 inmates from Etowah County’s detention center until at least the spring, the Gadsden Times reports.

ICE officials had notified the county Saturday that they would be removing the inmates from the Etowah County jail, which is the only facility in Alabama with a contract to house ICE inmates.

On Thursday, after intercession by the county’s congressional delegation, ICE agreed to keep inmates at the facility and use Etowah County’s prisoner transportation services until March 31, 2011, according to the Gadsden Times, which cites a news release from Sheriff Todd Entrekin.

The decision stops what would have been a substantial economic loss for the jail and could have resulted in the loss of some 49 jobs.”

While this fight to keep jobs and inmates in AL. is fought, another fight results in the loss of a successful privately operated reentry program for ex-offenders in Virginia. The state has decided to “re-vamp” its reentry efforts and closed this and 12 other successful programs. Even in instances where volunteers and organizers step-up to address recidivism, the state steps-in and thwarts their efforts. It’s almost like there are efforts going on at the state levels to keep incarceration and recidivism rates up.

Our country is being turned into a nation of prisoners and those who pay for their incarceration costs – period. Everything else is being cut to keep the PIC in place and profitable. Medicare and Social Security are next in line in the next U.S. Congress. Don’t you find it odd that of all the rhetoric about our failing economy, the cuts to social and community programs, unemployment and unemployment compensation arguments – none of our lawmakers are openly voicing calls for any reduction in imprisonment? I mean there have been hundreds of articles identifying incarceration costs as being responsible for necessary cuts in funding for education and other necessary programs…but no one wants to go on the record as supporting a stop to mass incarcerations? How is it that our elected officials continue to cut more and more out of annual budgets to pay for incarceration and make no effort of reducing the need for that incarceration? I believe it is because they’re paid handsomely to avoid any effort of reforming laws or reducing incarceration. It is simply too profitable to allow us to stop sending men, women and our children to jail and prisons.

This is exemplified by a recent article on Louisiana’s practice of housing state prisoners in local Parish jails:

Legislators wonder why the budget for the Department of Corrections is so large,” said one state employee who is familiar with the department. “As long as they keep trying to criminalize everything they find personally offensive in the name of law and order for the benefit of the folks back home, the budget is going to keep growing.

”Each legislative session, dozens of bills are introduced by Louisiana lawmakers to either create new criminal statutes or to increase penalties for existing laws. Only rarely does a bill attempt to reduce penalties for crimes. In the 2010 regular session alone, for example, 68 of 93 bills addressing criminal procedure and crime, called for jail time for new crimes or longer sentences for existing laws. Those included crimes ranging from “unlawfully wearing clothing which exposes undergarments or certain body parts” to cyberbullying, and terrorist acts.

“Local sheriffs relish the opportunity to house state prison inmates because it infuses needed cash into the local coffers. One state official said the actual cost to sheriffs to house the state prisoners is only a fraction of the $24.39 daily income per prisoner. “It’s a big bonus for the sheriffs,” he said.

Right now prisoners in Georgia are striking due to being used as slave labor by that state’s prison industries. Such strikes are unheard of and one reason is the huge amount of “get-back” available to the prison staff and their willingness to use physical means to force compliance. My heart goes out to these men, as I’ve been there and know how dire their circumstances must be to cause such a dangerous mission from behind bars. Many are trying to provide assistance to them through phone and email communications with prison authorities, but so far the prisons involved (6) remain on indefinite lockdowns with reports of retaliation at each facility being reported via cell phone calls from the inmates. There has been limited media coverage of this historical strike (and no mainstream media attention) – again, it is not in their best interests to publicize this action to the public, for fear of creating a discussion on the merits of using inmate labor in a “slavery like” manner – though from reports, thousands of inmates are participating in the strike. These men represent those who are now performing the work previously performed by Georgia private sector workers, and doing it for pennies on the dollar.

As shown by the above information, every facet of our lives are now touched in some way by prison privatization, prison healthcare, feeding of prisoners or by working prisoners in the PIC. This puts their products in our homes, on our grocer shelves, in our produce consumption and reduces available private sector jobs – including positions for physicians. Sadly we must realize that all of this is financed with our tax dollars that are quickly converted to “profits” once received into the coffers of corporations participating in the PIC.

Many comments have been made to my Insourcing Series saying we should identify those involved and boycott their products and services. As this segment demonstrates, it is nearly impossible to identify each corporation, group, organization or individuals involved in PIC and prison industries. Their products are so vast and diverse, each of our homes now have one or more of those products in use. Even picking up the phone and calling for technical assistance with products, making a reservation or inquiring about services may put us in touch with an inmate on the other end of the phone. The Prison Industrial Complex is simply too vast to avoid or boycott – in a manner typically used by consumers and concerned citizens.

Boycotting is usually an activity used to refuse our business to those involved in practices we object to. In this case it is just too difficult to accurately identify prison industry participants.

I’m working on developing a program now that may allow all of us to identify those companies, businesses and corporations not involved in any way with prison labor or the PIC. We can eliminate the profits realized by corporations using inmate labor, by reducing sales of their products. Just as those participating in the PIC transfer our tax dollars into profits, we can transfer their anticipated future profits back to the private sector worker through participation in this program. The only thing these corporations understand is “profit”. Money drives them and is what gets their attention. So let’s get their attention by denying them sales – not boycotting.

I intend to set up a website allowing those not connected with the PIC, not investing in or funding prison industries and not selling any products made by inmates or inmate provided services to be named. The site is intended to list corporations, retailers, providers and businesses certified as not involved in PIC operations. Links to these certified non-participating company websites and online catalogs, local outlets and products lines will be made available. In addition those industries, corporations, investors, banks, finance companies and others identified as profiting from PIC or prison industries in any form will be identified and “blacklisted”. In this way one comprehensive site can be used to identify those products, services and companies to avoid while providing links to U.S. retailers and companies not involved, that provide the same products or services without the use of prisoners.

In order to participate, these companies must “Certify” in writing that they use no inmate labor, do not invest in or sell products made in prison. Secondly they will be required to use the “Made in U.S.A.” labels with products and services provided by American workers and offer those products to U.S. consumers.

Prison made goods include those made in China and elsewhere that are finding their way to our retail shelves more and more of late. There are strict prohibitions against allowing imported products into the U.S. when those products were made by prison, slave or child labor. These strict provisions are being circumvented in some instances and deliberately ignored by our Custom Service in others. Companies, businesses, retailers and manufacturers wishing to be listed within the proposed site, must certify non-use of those foreign prison-made goods as well.

The site is intended to allow consumers to identify those not involved in prison labor related products and offer shoppers a discount direct from participating U.S. manufacturers, retailers and service providers for purchasing their products or services made by U.S. workers in our private sector markets. This will help increase jobs and deny continued profits to those using inmate labor.

This effort will be time consuming and expensive to develop and put into operation. Sponsors and volunteers will be needed to assist in this endeavor. This is going to need the expertise of a website developer, software programmers, advertising and accounting assistance. We are going to need people to submit to us the names of businesses they own, work for or invest in that are not associated or affiliated with prison labor or products. Money is going to be needed to advertise the site and make consumers aware that such a site exists to provide them with alternatives to prison made products. If successful this will put money into the pockets of those manufacturers and retailers who refuse to become involved in prison made goods for profit. It will provide those businesses with income to hire more workers due to increased production and sales.

Any volunteers…suggestions…advice…assistance? If you believe this is a good idea to help us take back our jobs, eliminate the vast profits made off of cheap prison labor and promote “real” products made by free American workers, write and let me know. If you want to participate or assist in this development, I’m listening…

Originally posted to Bob Sloan on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 03:23 PM PST.

Marie Mason at Carswell, TX, in rumored CMU

As of August 6, 2010, Marie Mason is at the federal prison in Carswell, Texas.

It has long been rumored that Carswell is the location a third CMU (Communications Management Unit). The CMUs were previously secret detention wings of prisons which severely curtail prisoners’ access to the outside world; for more on them, see: http://www.supportdaniel.org/cmu/

Please write to Mason:

Marie Mason #04672-061
FMC Carswell
Federal Medical Center
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

Marie Mason is serving almost 22 years for two acts of environmentally-motivated property destruction in which no one was harmed. This is the longest current sentence of any of the Green Scare prisoners. (The Green Scare is the name given to the recent prosecution of eco-saboteurs and animal liberation activists, in which the government has labeled them as “terrorists” and sought huge sentences.) Mason was turned in by her then-husband, Frank Ambrose, who had secretly spied on activists for years and then filed for divorce the day she was arrested. Mason eventually plead guilty to 14 actions; 13 were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and one by the Animal Liberation Front. At her sentencing, the judge said she had “violated the marketplace of ideas” and gave her an even longer sentence than the prosecution had asked for (15-20 years).

More information on Mason is available at www.supportmariemason.org.

Cruel But Not Unusual: The Punishment of Women in U.S. Prisons, An Interview with Marilyn Buck and Laura Whitehorn

From: Monthly Review
August 5, 2010
by Susie Day

Marilyn Buck died on 3 August 2010, less than a month after her release from federal prison. The interview below was first published in the July-August 2010 issue of Monthly Review. — Ed.

After years of neglect, the issue of women in prison has begun to receive attention in this country. Media accounts of overcrowding, lengthening sentences, and horrendous medical care in women’s prisons appear regularly. Amnesty International — long known for ignoring human rights abuses inside United States prisons and jails — issued a report, two days shy of International Women’s Day 2001, documenting over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse of U.S. women prisoners by their jailers. However, we seldom hear from these women themselves. And we never hear from women incarcerated for their political actions.

Here are the voices and observations of two women political prisoners. Laura Whitehorn, released in 1999, served over fourteen years behind bars for a series of property bombings, including one of the U.S. Capitol building, to protest police brutality and U.S. foreign policy (the “Resistance Conspiracy” case). Marilyn Buck, Laura’s friend and codefendant, was also convicted for her alleged role in the 1979 prison escape of Assata Shakur, and a number of armored car expropriations in support of the Black Liberation Army. She is serving a total sentence of eighty years and remains in the Dublin California Federal Correctional Facility. (Her codefendants on that case include Dr. Mutulu Shakur and Sekou Odinga, both also incarcerated in federal prisons.)

While it was possible to talk to Laura at length about her time behind bars, Marilyn was able only to make four long-distance phone calls, each summarily cut off by the prison after fifteen minutes. After reading Marilyn’s words — and having known and lived beside Marilyn for years in prison — Laura added to what Marilyn wasn’t able to say, as well as expressing her own experience and recollections.

SD: You both were arrested and imprisoned in 1985. How have prison conditions around you changed over those years?

MB: They’ve become much more repressive, particularly since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Each year, there’s been slippage. And certainly Clinton played a big role with the Anti-Terrorism Act, which further limited people’s legal rights.

The balance of who is in prison has also changed. There’s a much higher percentage of blacks and Latinos, and — at least in the Federal system — an enormous number of immigrants. Not just immigrants but foreign nationals, who’ve been arrested for incidents in crossing borders. People are detained for years without ever being given any kind of judicial decision.

LW: I think it’s typical of Marilyn not to complain in an interview about her own conditions. When we look at the two million people now in the federal and state systems, the proportion of women in those numbers has gone way up. What that means to someone like Marilyn is tremendous overcrowding: you’re living the rest of your life in a tiny cell that was built for one person and now houses three. It means you have no property, because there’s no room. Little by little, they took away any clothing that was sent to you, and put down much more stringent requirements. It means that you have no desk. Marilyn Buck, like many prisoners who fight very hard to get an education, has to sit on a cot and write on her lap. The overcrowding means that people are treated like problems and like baggage.

The other thing is the federal conspiracy laws, which are particularly pernicious for women. In 1985, when people heard that I was facing thirty-three years, they were astounded. That seemed like so much time. In 1990, when I ended up with twenty-three years, people were less astounded, because the laws had changed and sentences were much longer. By then, my cellmate had a twenty-four-year sentence on a first offense. This was a drug conspiracy case where it was really her husband who had run this drug ring, and she was swept up in the indictment. Or there’s our friend Danielle, who has a triple-life sentence for another drug conspiracy — her crime was basically refusing to testify against her husband. We found many more women with those kinds of sentences.

SD: How do you think these last fifteen years have affected you, personally?

MB: Imagine yourself in a relationship with an abuser who controls your every move, keeps you locked in the house. There’s the ever-present threat of violence or further repression if you don’t toe the line. I think that’s a fairly good analogy of what happens. And imagine being there for fifteen years.

To be punished, to be absolutely controlled, whether it’s about buttoning your shirt; how you have a scarf on your head; how long or how baggy your pants are — all of those things are under scrutiny. It’s hard to give a clinical picture of what they do, because how do you know, when you’re the target, or the victim, what that does to you? But there’s a difference between being a target and being a victim.

LW: The largest proportion of guards in federal women’s prisons are men. That’s who’s in your living unit. That’s who’s looking through the window in your door when you might be using the bathroom or changing your clothes. There’s the total loss of ability to defend your person.

For me, the hardest part was the pat-searches. In the federal system, it’s legal for male guards to pat-search women prisoners. That means they stand behind you and run their hands all over your body. The point is not to locate contraband; it’s to reduce you to a completely powerless person. If I had pushed a guard’s hands away they would have sent me to the hole for assault. In fact, that did happen once. It reduces you to an object, not worthy of being defended. The message is, “your body is meaningless, why don’t you want this man to put his hands all over you?” Very, very deeply damaging.

Marilyn talks about being “a target or a victim.” She makes a distinction. That’s really important because the struggle inside prison is to refuse to be victimized. Once you allow yourself to be a victim, you lose your ability to stand up and say, “I’m a person; I’m not a piece of garbage.”

But over the years, when you have to put up with that again and again, you avoid situations because you just don’t want to go through it. You have to exert an enormous amount of psychic energy to remove yourself from the situation, where this guy’s running his hands over your body. You end up exhausted at the end of the day, and your nerves are shot. Your only life is resisting these situations.

SD: Is there a portrait of a typical woman prisoner you could draw?

MB: No, except in the broadest strokes. Typically, she’s a woman of color. When she first comes to prison, she’s twenty-three to twenty-four years old. Probably the median age of women here is thirty-five to thirty-six, which is much older than it used to be because women stay in prison much longer. Presently, in this particular institution, over 50 percent of the women are Latin American, a large percentage of that, Mexican. You could also say — and this is not news — a lot of the women here come from abusive relationships, whether parents or husbands. . . . If you look at the statistics, it says up to 80 percent.

LW: I would also say that a huge number of the women are mothers. It means that, on the outside, there are basically a lot of orphans. I consider the prison system today to be a form of genocide. Prison has been used against third-world populations inside the United States, in particular African-American and Latino populations. These women are very young when they come to prison. They have sentences that will go through their childbearing years. Their children are either farmed out to relatives, or they become wards of the state. It means that the women, who would form some sort of collective bond when there’s a need for struggle, are gone from the community. And it means that their children may well go to prison themselves. Those of us who grew up with mothers have complaints that we didn’t get enough love. What does it mean to have your mother in prison?

One thing that would strike me whenever people came in from the outside for something like an AIDS health fair — we fought very hard to have those fairs — is that these straight, middle-America types would be sweating bullets, they were so scared. And they would be so expansive and warm when they left. They would say, “My picture of you all was so wrong. I pictured these killers with knives in their teeth, and I find you’re just like my neighbors.”

If you look at the number of women in prison, some of us are your neighbors. I don’t care where you live. People who read Monthly Review: your neighbors are in prison, OK? I must have met thousands and thousands of women over almost fifteen years, and I would have to say that, of the women I met, there are probably ten or fifteen who, in a socialist society, would need to be in prison.

SD: Do women ever get “better” after they go to prison?

MB: Sometimes. I think there’s the possibility of coming to terms with the fact that you were abused. Basically, you have two things happening. One is that you have this potential, because you’re not running around, doing the things you had to do as a mother, a wife, a partner, or as someone who had to go to work. When that daily activity stops, then the potential exists to discover a sense of independence.

The other side is that we’re in a situation where we’re absolutely controlled. That sort of enhances another abusive relationship. It can limit your imagination and shut you down. So a lot of women become more creative here, in terms of arts and crafts, but it doesn’t necessarily open them to their potential as human beings.

LW: Also, a lot of women who have been in abusive relationships get into lesbian relationships. And one of the things the chaplains do is preach against homosexuality, because they’re terrified of it. I was once in a prison where there was a progressive chaplain who told other chaplains that for a lot of the women, these relationships were the first time someone looked at them and saw beauty and not something to be used and abused. There were also some horrible lesbian relationships that were a recreation of the worst in straight relationships.

Can we talk about medical care? The women are getting older. A lot of women in prison are going through menopause. Many have gynecological problems. I had surgery when I was in prison. There you are: you’re bleeding; you’ve had surgery a few hours before. You’re strip-searched, shackled, chained, and you have to walk back to a van. If you’re lucky they’ll have a wheelchair for you to take you back to your unit.

I now work at POZ magazine, and a woman in Danbury Prison wrote a column for the magazine. She has HIV and goes to the male gynecologist to be told that she needs surgery on her cervix. She says to him, “I have to be completely sedated for this operation.” And he says, “No you don’t.” And she says, “Yes, I do. I have a history of sexual abuse and I have a panic attack when I have to lie on my back with my legs spread open and chained in front of strangers.”

And he laughs at her. He tells her, “Well, then, we can’t do the surgery.” And she writes, “I hate my doctor. And that’s a problem. For me, but not for him.” That’s so profound. That relationship of being “cared for” by someone who sees you as their enemy is completely deleterious to your health.

I hope everyone who reads this article is familiar with the medical crisis in the California Women’s prison at Chowchilla. “Health care” there is left to the guards: they are trained as low level EMT’s and they do the first stage of triage, deciding whether a woman should be seen by a doctor or not. Seventeen women died in that prison last year alone and independent investigations concluded that medical incompetence or refusal of medical attention contributed to the deaths.

The other thing I saw so much in women was the further erosion of already-low self-esteem. What does it do to you to have to go stand in line and get a man’s attention and ask him for sanitary napkins and then be asked, “Didn’t you ask me for some yesterday?”

SD: How do you deal with the deaths of family and friends while you’re in prison?

MB: My mother died about six weeks ago. She became ill in September, so I went through a phase of real guilt that I wasn’t there. And real sorrow and real anger. I think I’ve looked at the guilt a little more. I just couldn’t be there. But the sorrow of not being able to hold my mother’s little bird hand by the time she was starving to death from the cancer … just breaks my heart. And there’s nothing I can do about it.

I could intellectualize it. I could have been on a ship halfway around the world, and we got stuck in the trade winds and couldn’t get there in time. But I’m an extreme realist and understand who I am as a political prisoner. I knew that I would not be allowed to go to her bedside, nor to her funeral. That was just the reality. She died on a Sunday. And she was buried on my birthday. So it’s just all very hard.

I talked to my mother every week I could. And she came to visit me once a year. It was hard for her to get here. My mom was seventy-four. She had to drive a long way and go through all the emotional turmoil that you can’t avoid when you see somebody you can’t do anything for. So I had to look at her anger, too.

In a certain way, I want to be able to lie on the floor and bang my heels and cry and scream, but that just hurts my heels… So what can I say? I’m having a hard time. I’m having a very, very hard time. I . . . you know, it’s grief. But it’s grief under dire conditions. I’ll always miss my mother.

LW: One of the hardest things about being in prison is losing somebody you love and being unable to be there with them while they’re dying, or go to the memorial service afterwards. Being in prison through some of the worst years of the AIDS epidemic meant that I lost friends, both on the outside and the inside, very dear women who were among the best friends I’ve ever had in life.

My father died while I was in prison. I was very fortunate that there was a chaplain who allowed me to phone him twice while he was in the intensive care unit. It’s just an emblem of how families are destroyed by prison — the fact that Marilyn was not permitted to go; that I was not permitted to go to my father’s funeral; that there was no question of ever being permitted to go.

SD: What kinds of internal resources have you developed to deal with these years in prison?

MB: For me, the main thing is that I recognized, after the first five years of being imprisoned and on trial a lot, that one tends to build one’s walls. Which means that you begin to censor yourself, so that they can’t censor you.

I censored how I spoke to people, how I interacted. It goes in tandem with, “If I button my shirt the way they want, they won’t attack me for not buttoning my shirt properly.” In some ways, I found myself trying to be a “good girl,” because then maybe they’d see I wasn’t a “bad girl.”

When I got a handle on what I was doing, I was horrified, because how can you be a women’s liberationist and worry about being a good girl or a bad girl? What I believed in my gut was being turned inside out by my actual life. And it made me understand a lot more about how any woman — it doesn’t matter who you are or what you think — can get in a relationship with another person — generally a man, but not always — who can become your abuser, your owner.

So once I could begin to see that, I tried to find ways to tear down my walls, to protect myself less. It’s always a risk, because when you open a door, you don’t know what’s going to come in, or what’s going to go out. And everyone is needy in prison. When you’re a prisoner, you’re needy. It’s emotionally, psychologically devastating. But I felt like, if I didn’t take that risk, that I was going to smother the essence of who I was.

What I do is that I write. I write poems. Over the years I’ve moved from being a rhetorical, frozen writer to try to put out more of who I am, and how I feel. . . . I think that ultimately, if we want human liberation, we have to be able to be honest with ourselves and other people about our desires, our resentments, as we say these days, our “issues.”

So I look to that as a little flame before my face. I can’t say I’m there. But I can at least keep that in my mind.

LW: I think the hardest thing to maintain over the years, for me, was my sense of outrage. After a while, your heart hurts so continually, you begin to build a sort of padding around it. For example, one of the hardest things for me in prison was at the end of the visiting period, when you see children being led away from their mothers and they don’t understand, especially the little ones are just screaming and crying. I got to a point where I would try to leave my visits early because I couldn’t stand that any more.

I really started to disrespect myself for that. I felt like, the mother’s going through it, how do you get the right to remove yourself from it? I think from that, I understood something of why people don’t want to know about prisons, because it’s too hard; there’s something so painful about seeing a woman being removed from her baby. A woman who gives birth in most U.S. prisons gets somewhere between eight and twenty-four hours before she is taken back to the prison and separated from the infant.

When people say, “God, how did you survive prison?” I think the way I did it was by touching the lives and being touched by the lives of women around me. I mean, I was in prison with women who had been raped repeatedly by a stepfather when they were between seven and eleven, who had to go through pat-searches every day, through shakedowns where some man comes in your cell and paws through your underwear. They would call home and find out that their daughter, who was thirteen, was again being abused by that same stepfather, who was back in the picture. They had to deal with the most intense levels of abuse, and yet were able to stand up through it, were able to survive.

I learned early on how people can communicate with each other on a really deep level without having to give up their own personal strength. I learned how to get emotional sustenance from the women around me and how to try to give some to them. That’s the main thing I learned from prison. And it was easy for me because I knew I had a release date. For someone like Marilyn, or our friend Danielle, finding the strength to survive is an enormous job.

SD: What reactions do you get as a political person from other prisoners?

MB: Most people don’t know my politics specifically. As I get older and tireder, and more beaten down by being in prison, I’m not out there as much with the population. I don’t go to the dining room very much. I’m too tired to do that. So less and less, people know me.

But some people do understand my politics. You know, one woman who’s twenty-two years old just left. A young black woman, we talked sometimes, and I have been supportive and critical of her in a couple of situations. When she left, she said, “Thank you. You helped me a lot.”

So, to me, what your politics are in the abstract don’t mean a damn; it’s how you practice them. For myself as a white woman, I ask, how do you treat people; how do people receive you as a human being? Are people abstractions to you, in terms of racism? Or do you treat people as real equals, even given all the issues of privilege? Because they exist in prison, too.

Sometimes I’m treated differently by the administration. I know that my mail gets opened. That’s not true of everyone else. So I end up getting envelopes without any contents. Every time you say anything about it, it’s “Oh, it must be the post office.”

LW: Marilyn’s right that people knew us as political prisoners by how we dealt with people and situations every day. I remember feeling that the main impact I’d had was when I would intervene when a guard was picking on a woman, or help somebody get her privileges back when they’d been taken away unjustly. More than if I gave them a lecture on the history of something.

But Marilyn’s also way too modest. When we were in prison together, all the other women knew she represented the politics of struggles for justice, human rights, liberation. Women would always approach her for help in understanding not only incidents on the news, world affairs, but also incidents of racism and hostility among different nationalities in the prison population. She may tire of talking about it, but I know for a fact she never tires of acting on all of it, treating people with respect, making peace in difficult situations, basically doing the right thing no matter how tired she is, how long she’s had to do it.

One thing that changed while I was in prison is that there were many more women political prisoners. It was a shock to the prison system itself because they were terrified of us.

The government created a control unit. They tested it out on two of the Puerto Rican women, Lucy Rodriguez and Haydee Beltran. Then they put Alejandrina Torres and Silvia Baraldini and Susan Rosenberg in an underground unit at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lexington. It was actually a basement unit and they were supposed to be there for the rest of their sentences, which were fifty-eight and forty-three and thirty-five years. It was a big mistake because it got international attention. It was one of the first times Amnesty International got involved in the conditions of incarceration in the United States. Part of it was that they were terrified we would revolutionize the rest of the prison population.

A few years after that unit was closed down, I was in Lexington and working in the landscape crew, mowing grass, and my boss was a guard who had been assigned to that basement unit. She told me that they had been told not to speak to the prisoners there because they would brainwash them. I thought it was hysterical. I said, “You’ll see after we’ve worked together, whether I brainwash you.”

About three months later, that guard asked me, “Who’s that guy who’s the biggest mass murderer ever?” And I said, “George Bush.” Then we got into a discussion about who is a mass-murderer — someone who kills five people or a president who — ? And she says, “You know, you’re making a lot of sense, Whitehorn. Uh-oh. I am being brainwashed.”

SD: Some people say that political prisoners get more recognition and support than social prisoners. What’s your reaction to that?

MB: There’s a misconception that political prisoners always get so much support. There are some who were in prison for years before they got any support at all, except for a few people they’d worked with in the world. We could look at Mandela. All these people worked to free Mandela. What was done about all the other [African National Congress] prisoners? Probably ninety-nine out of one hundred political prisoners didn’t join the struggle to become famous.

Also political prisoners tend not to get parole. Particularly men political prisoners, they’re in isolation for years and years. There’s a lot of things we don’t get that sometimes other prisoners do get.

LW: If you want to understand prisons, you have to understand both political and social prisoners. They’re two sides of a program of repression. One is, you terrify communities and tell them the law is all-powerful and people will lose their freedom for many, many years if they transgress. The other is, you give huge sentences to anyone who says, “There are such egregious social injustices that we have to go up against the government.” You lock those people up for long periods of time, and that will prevent the rise of a new generation of leaders or activists. If you leave out one side of that equation, you’ll never understand what prisons are. You’ll think they’re just about making money, which is ridiculous.

Having said that, I think the current building of a mass movement about the prison industrial complex began with political prisoners. There is absolutely no division between supporting political prisoners and fighting for an end to the prison system. Angela Davis has been instrumental in it. Who’s she? She’s an ex-political prisoner. The people who have organized a lot of young activists in that movement are political prisoners or ex-political prisoners.

Every single political prisoner did prison work before they went to prison. We were the people who supported the Attica brothers; we were the people who were in the Midnight Special Collective back in the early ’70s in New York, which was a prison support collective. We’re not the ones who don’t think social prisoners are important.

And political prisoners often need extra support. Marilyn Buck has an eighty-year sentence and she has never been accused of actually hurting a single person. Or Teddy Jah Heath, who just died in prison. He had been convicted of a kidnapping, where a big-time drug-dealer was put in a car, driven around, talked to, and let out. No injury; no nothing. Jah did twenty-seven years in prison. After twenty-five years, he went to the parole board and was rejected. Two years later, he died in prison of colon cancer. Because his act was a political act. It was done in line with the programs of the Black Liberation Army, growing out of the Black Panther Party, to stop the drug trade in the black communities.

SD: Marilyn, what do you need from people on the outside?

MB: What I need from people is what we all need: to seize our human liberation as much as possible as women, as lesbians, as heterosexuals. To support the right of human beings to have their own nations, their own liberation, and their own justice. If we stopped police brutality; if black women and men were treated like equal human beings, that would make me feel really, really good, because I would be less dehumanized as a white person in this society. I would not be objectified as the oppressor.

I would like us to be more creative; to be the artists that we all are. I don’t want to see child prostitution. That to me is oppression in the concrete; people having to sell their children to stay alive. Or watching their children in the clutches of the police. Or a woman standing on her feet as a waitress for ten hours a day when her veins are breaking and still not be able to pay the rent and be there for her children.

I was thinking about this the other day — I think about the vision I had when I was a nineteen-year-old of justice and human rights and women’s equality. It was a wonderful vision. I think how it got implemented — how we became rigid and rhetorical within that — took away from that vision. But without a vision, you can’t go forward.

SD: Laura, now that you’re out of prison, what do you want to do?

LW: I don’t ever want to forget. That would be like putting calluses over my heart. It would be forgetting the people I owe something to. I guess the hardest thing for me about getting out was leaving so many people behind. I’ve been working in release efforts. We filed papers for clemency with Clinton for all the federal political prisoners. I try to do work for HIV+ prisoners through my job at POZ magazine. And when people ask me, “How can I support your friends who are left behind?” that makes me feel whole.

It’s made me sad that I’ve tried to interest different groups of women in supporting young women in prison on these ridiculous [drug] conspiracy cases. The “girlfriend crimes,” like Kemba Smith. There are hundreds of Kemba Smiths in the federal system. And I have been singularly unsuccessful in interesting any organized women’s groups to fight for those women.

One thing that makes prisons so criminal is that they damage people over time. I’m very damaged, and I had tons of support. I did prison work for years before I was arrested, so I knew what to expect. Nothing could really catch me off guard. Yet I find I have places in me that I don’t know how to go to, that are so filled with pain.

Especially late, in the middle of the night, when I think about some of my friends, these young women who are doing life sentences. They didn’t kill anyone. They didn’t hurt anybody. They gave a fucking message to someone, or maybe they didn’t turn their husband in, and they knew he had killed someone. They’re doing life, and they have very little chance of getting out. There’s a pain in me that I don’t know how to deal with.

You know, it’s very difficult to carry on relationships with people on the outside while you’re in prison. Your friends shield you from things because either they think you don’t want to hear about the great dinner they had the night before, or you’re going to think their problems are trivial because, after all, they’re not in prison. It damages your ability to have human relationships. And I have to say that the people I’ve seen who carry on friendships with prisoners are few and far between, and I honor them.

So I need to continue to struggle for prisoners and to win their release. And to say, it’s extremely important for people on the outside to understand what prisons are and who’s in prison and to visit them. To bring that kind of humanity into the prisons — but most of all, to bring those prisoners out, back into the communities.


The Sentencing of Lynne Stewart

The Sentencing of Lynne Stewart
by Michael Steven Smith, in MR Zine
21 July 2010

“At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” — Karl Marx

Lynne Stewart is a friend. She used to practice law in New York City. I still do. I was in the courtroom with my wife Debby the afternoon of July 19th for her re-sentencing. Judge John Koeltl buried her alive.

We should have seen it coming when he told her to take all the time she needed at the start when she spoke before the sentence was read. It didn’t matter what she said. He had already written his decision, which he read out loud to a courtroom packed with supporters. It was well crafted. Bulletproof on appeal. He is smart and cautious.

After about an hour into his pronouncement, he came to the buried alive part. He prefaced it by citing the unprecedented 400 letters of support people had sent him, all of which he said he read. He noted Lynne’s three decades of service to the poor and the outcast. He stressed that she is a seventy-year-old breast cancer survivor with high blood pressure and other serious health problems. And then he laid it on her: 120 months.

Everyone in the courthouse divided 120 by 12. He had given her a death sentence, we all thought. She’ll never get out. He almost quadrupled the 28 month sentence he had originally pronounced. She had told him that 28 months was a horizon, that she had hope. But no more.

Lynne’s granddaughter gasped. Then started sobbing. She kept crying even as Judge John Koeltl kept reading. And reading. And reading. It was awful. The sentence was pitiless and cruel. How to understand it?

Lynne’s lawyer Jill Shellow Levine rose after the judge finished. She asked him why. He was candid. He was told to do it by his supervisors, the judges on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This court is an institution of the elite. It is considered the second highest court in America next to the Supreme Court because it presides over the financial center of the empire, not its capital, that is in D.C., but its real capital. This court makes policy and Lynne Stewart was to be made an example of in “the war against terrorism” just as a half a century before, in the same court, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were condemned to death in the war against communism, told that they had caused the deaths of 50,000 U.S. soldiers in the Korean War, and found guilty of the ridiculous charge of “stealing the secret” of the atomic bomb, when there was no secret, it was only a matter of technology. The sentencing Judge Kaufman knew they would leave behind two orphan children, Robert and Michael, ages six and three.

In 1947 George Kennan, the ideological father of the cold war, wrote that the United States had but six per cent of the world’s population and fifty per cent of its wealth. The problem was to keep it. Anti-communism served as the ideological cover the U.S. ruling classes used. But communism ceased to exist after capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union in 1991. A new ideological cover has been constructed in the wake of the September 11th criminal attack on the World Tread Center and the Pentagon: the War against Terror. Nationalist opposition to U.S. economic and foreign policy in parts of the Arab world is no longer led by communists but by fundamentalist Muslims.

Lynne Stewart represented one of them, Sheik Abdel Rahman, who was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, which gets more money from America than any other country in the world except Israel. In 1993, at the behest of the Egyptian government, Sheik Rahman was criminally indicted and later convicted of the crime of “sedition” for suggesting to a government informer that rather than blow up New York City landmarks he choose “a military target.” It was on the occasion of a post-conviction prison visit that Lynne helped her client. She released his statement to Reuters press service announcing his withdrawal of support for a ceasefire between his group and the Egyptian government. This was in violation of a Special Administrative Measure (SAMs) that Lynne had agreed to with the U.S. Government. She wasn’t supposed to be a medium for communication between her client and the outside world. She should have challenged the constitutionality of the SAMs, she now realizes, and not just have violated them.

She wasn’t prosecuted for what she did, not under the Clinton administration, nor during the first years of George W. Bush. Then came 9.11. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft flew into New York City in 2003 and announced Lynne’s indictment on the David Letterman show. The crime? A novel one. Conspiracy to provide material aid to a terrorist organization. What was the material aid? Her client. When Ashcroft did that, as the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, he committed an ethical violation for which any other attorney would have been sanctioned. He made sure that from the very beginning of her ordeal Lynne Stewart never had a chance. Not with the level of fear the government was able to generate and the scare they put into her jury.

In 2006 she was convicted and sentenced. The maximum was 30 years, but thanks to the superb legal work of National Lawyers Guild attorneys Elizabeth Fink and Sarah Kunstler and the outpouring of public support Judge Koeltl gave her 28 months. The government appealed the sentence to their U.S. Court of Appeals. Game over. The selective prosecution of Lynne Stewart was accomplished.

Judge John Walker, George W. Bush’s first cousin, sits on that court. His family made their fortune selling munitions during WWI. He wrote that the 28 months was “shockingly low.” Judge Koeltl was given his orders. The seemingly kindly boyish-looking jurist about whom it was said that he walks to work and looks after an elderly mother — not exactly a sadistic old lady killer — then reversed himself and on the same evidence nearly quadruped the sentence, putting a seventy-year-old grandmother on chemotherapy away for ten years and two years’ probation after that for good measure. This is much more than meanness. It is ideology.

Michael Steven Smith is the co-host of the WBAI radio show Law and Disorder and sits on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Back from Exile: Marilyn Buck is free!

This is the best news I’ve had in a long while, and came to us just moments ago from Vikki Law, who wrote the book on women’s resistance in prison…today is truly a day to celebrate freedom.

Welcome Home, Marilyn. It’s about time.


Activist, Poet, Writer, Translator, Teacher –

Former Political Prisoner Marilyn Buck Freed!!!

On July 15, 2010, Marilyn Buck was released from the federal prison medical center in Carswell, Texas. She is paroled to New York.

More news will be posted on http://marilynbuck.com/ as it becomes available.

Mother’s Day: My Son’s Birthday

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My Son’s Birthday
by Deanna Lynd
You came into the world fast and furious,
when I held you, you looked up at me with eyes wide and curious.
My heart changed in an instant.
For once my own childhood seemed so distant.
I vowed to do my best, to love and cherish you
and trust your father to do the rest.
From my arms you were taken
back to my cell I was sent
fifteen years will never compare to what losing you meant.
The ache in my heart is so deep,
not being beside you to watch you sleep.
I never knew your smell I could only pick up the telephone
and ask if you were doing well.
Months went by as I watched you grow
through photographs missing all the hugs, kisses,
the love and laughs.
I awaited my fate,
not yet knowing my release date. Time went by
you began to talk and walk on your own
I learned I would not be free until you are grown.
I try to remain strong and pay my debt.
It is an extravagant bill living each day
with the heartache I feel.
Sometimes I pray for death
then I look at a recent photograph
and I am reminded I owe you, if not myself
one more day, one more breath.
Deanna Lynd #Y24235 C1112 Lower
Homestead Correctional Institution
19000 SW 377th St. Suite #200
Florida City, FL 33034-6400
Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance
is a project of Beyondmedia Education.
Beyondmedia Education
4001 N. Ravenswood #204 C
Chicago, IL 60613
tel: 773-857-7300
fax: 773-857-7301

Mother’s Day: Prison Devalues Families

This is a very long, but appropriate, article for Mother’s Day today. It is taken from the journal “Federal Probation” which is published by the US courts, and will likely be the only “professional” source I use today. The rest of what I have for you comes from Mothers in prison and the children of the incarcerated directly.

Families and Children

Jeremy Travis
President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice 

The “Gender Imbalance”
The Impact of Incarceration on Parent-Child Relationships
Impact of Parental Incarceration on Childhood Development
Impact by Children’s Age Group
Reconnecting with Family at the Time of Reentry
Looking Forward

AS THE NATION debates the wisdom of a fourfold increase in our incarceration rate over the past generation, one fact is clear: Prisons separate prisoners from their families. Every individual sent to prison leaves behind a network of family relationships. Prisoners are the children, parents, siblings, and kin to untold numbers of relatives who are each affected differently by a family member’s arrest, incarceration, and ultimate homecoming.

Little is known about imprisonment’s impact on these family networks. Descriptive data about the children of incarcerated parents only begin to tell the story. During the 1990s, as the nation’s prison population increased by half, the number of children who had a parent in prison also increased by half—from 1 million to 1.5 million. By the end of 2002, 1 in 45 minor children had a parent in prison (Mumola 2004).1 These children represent 2 percent of all minor children in America, and a sobering 7 percent of all African-American children (Mumola 2000). With little if any public debate, we have extended prison’s reach to include hundreds of thousands of young people who were not the prime target of the criminal justice policies that put their parents behind bars.

In the simplest human terms, prison places an indescribable burden on the relationships between these parents and their children. Incarcerated fathers and mothers must learn to cope with the loss of normal contact with their children, infrequent visits in inhospitable surroundings, and lost opportunities to contribute to their children’s development. Their children must come to terms with the reality of an absent parent, the stigma of parental imprisonment, and an altered support system that may include grandparents, foster care, or a new adult in the home. In addition, in those communities where incarceration rates are high, the experience of having a mother or father in prison is now quite commonplace, with untold consequences for foster care systems, multigenerational households, social services delivery, community norms, childhood development, and parenting patterns.

Imprisonment profoundly affects families in another, less tangible way. When young men and women are sent to prison, they are removed from the traditional rhythms of dating, courtship, marriage, and family formation. Because far more men than women are sent to prison each year, our criminal justice policies have created a “gender imbalance” (Braman 2002), a disparity in the number of available single men and women in many communities. In neighborhoods where incarceration and reentry have hit hardest, the gender imbalance is particularly striking. Young women complain about the shortage of men who are suitable marriage prospects because so many of the young men cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.

The results are an increase in female-headed households and narrowed roles for fathers in the lives of their children and men in the lives of women and families in general. As more young men grow up with fewer stable attachments to girlfriends, spouses, and intimate partners, the masculine identity is redefined. The family is often depicted as the bedrock of American society. Over the years, we have witnessed wave after wave of social policy initiatives designed to strengthen, reunite, or simply create families. Liberals and conservatives have accused each other of espousing policies that undermine “family values.”

In recent years, policymakers, foundation officers, and opinion leaders have also decried the absence of fathers from the lives of their children. These concerns have translated into a variety of programs, governmental initiatives, and foundation strategies that constitute a “fatherhood movement.” Given the iconic stature of the family in our vision of American life and the widespread consensus that the absence of father figures harms future generations, our national experiment with mass incarceration seems, at the very least, incongruent with the rhetoric behind prevailing social policies. At worst, the imprisonment of millions of individuals and the disruption of their family relationships has significantly undermined the role that families could play in promoting our social well-being.

 The institution of family plays a particularly important role in the crime policy arena. Families are an integral part of the mechanisms of informal social control that constrain antisocial behavior. The quality of family life (e.g., the presence of supportive parent-child relationships) is significant in predicting criminal delinquency (Loeber and Farrington 1998, 2001). Thus, if families suffer adverse effects from our incarceration policies, we would expect these harmful effects to be felt in the next generation, as children grow up at greater risk of engaging in delinquent and criminal behavior. The institution of marriage is another important link in the mechanism of informal social control. Marriage reduces the likelihood that ex-offenders will associate with peers involved in crime, and generally inhibits a return to crime (Laub, Nagin, and Sampson 1998).

In fact, marriage is a stronger predictor of desistance from criminal activity than simple cohabitation, and a “quality” marriage—one based on a strong mutual commitment—is an even stronger predictor (Horney, Osgood, and Marshall 1995). Thus, criminal justice policies that weaken marriage and inhibit spousal commitments are likely to undermine the natural processes of desistance, thereby causing more crime. In short, in developing crime policies, families matter. If our crime policies have harmful consequences for families, we risk undermining the role families can play in controlling criminal behavior.

This chapter examines the impact of incarceration and reentry on families. We begin by viewing the antecedents to the creation of families—the relationships between young men and young women—in communities where the rates of arrest, removal, incarceration, and reentry are particularly high. Then we discuss imprisonment’s impact on relationships between an incarcerated parent and his or her children. Next we examine the effects of parental incarceration on the early childhood and adolescent development of children left behind. We then observe the family’s role in reentry. We close with reflections on the impact of imprisonment on prisoners’ family life, ways to mitigate incarceration’s harmful effects, and ways to promote constructive connections between prisoners and their families.

The “Gender Imbalance” 

To understand the magnitude of the criminal justice system’s impact on the establishment of intimate partner relationships, we draw upon the work of Donald Braman (2002, 2004), an anthropologist who conducted a three-year ethnographic study of incarceration’s impact on communities in Washington, D.C. In the District of Columbia, 7 percent of the adult African-American male population returns to the community from jail or prison each year. According to Braman’s estimates, more than 75 percent of African-American men in the District of Columbia can expect to be incarcerated at some point during their lifetime.

One consequence of these high rates of incarceration is what Braman calls a “gender imbalance,” meaning simply that there are fewer men than women in the hardest hit communities. Half of the women in the nation’s capital live in communities with low incarceration rates. In these communities, there are about 94 men for every 100 women. For the rest of the women in D.C.—whose neighborhoods have higher incarceration rates—the ratio is about 80 men for every 100 women. Furthermore, 10 percent of the District’s women live in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates, where more than 12 percent of men are behind bars. In these neighborhoods, there are fewer than 62 men for every 100 women.

This gender imbalance translates into large numbers of fatherless families in communities with high rates of incarceration. In neighborhoods with a 2 percent male incarceration rate, Braman (2002) found that fathers were absent from more than one-half of the families. But in the communities with the highest male incarceration rates—about 12 percent—more than three-quarters of the families had a father absent. This phenomenon is not unique to Washington, D.C., however. In a national study, Sabol and Lynch (1998) also found larger numbers of female-headed families in counties receiving large numbers of returning prisoners.

Clearly, mass incarceration results in the substantial depletion in the sheer numbers of men in communities with high rates of imprisonment. For those men who are arrested, removed, and sent to prison, life in prison has profound and long-lasting consequences for their roles as intimate partners, spouses, and fathers. In the following sections, we will document those effects. Viewing this issue from a community perspective, however, reminds us that incarceration also alters the relationships between the men and women who are not incarcerated.

In her research on the marriage patterns of low-income mothers, Edin (2000) found that the decision to marry (or remarry) depends, in part, on the economic prospects, social respectability, and reliability of potential husbands—attributes that are adversely affected by imprisonment. Low marriage rates, in turn, affect the life courses of men who have been imprisoned, reducing their likelihood of desistance from criminal activity. Thus, the communities with the highest rates of incarceration are caught in what Western, Lopoo, and McLanahan (2004, 21) call the “high-crime/low-marriage equilibrium.”

In these communities, women “will be understandably averse to marriage because their potential partners bring few social or economic benefits to the table. Men, who remain unmarried or unattached to stable households, are likely to continue their criminal involvement.” Braman quotes two of his community informants to illustrate these ripple effects of the gender imbalance. “David” described how the shortage of men affected dating patterns: Oh, yeah, everybody is aware of [the male shortage]. . . . And the fact that [men] know the ratio, and they feel that the ratio allows them to take advantage of just that statistic. ‘Well, this woman I don’t want to deal with, really because there are six to seven women to every man.’ (2002, 166) The former wife of a prisoner commented that women were less discerning in their choices of partners because there were so few men: Women will settle for whatever it is that their man [wants], even though you know that man probably has about two or three women. Just to be wanted, or just to be held, or just to go out and have a date makes her feel good, so she’s willing to accept. I think now women accept a lot of things—the fact that he might have another woman or the fact that they can’t clearly get as much time as they want to. The person doesn’t spend as much time as you would [like] him to spend. The little bit of time that you get you cherish. (2002, 167)

The reach of our incarceration policies thus extends deep into community life. Even those men and women who are never arrested pay a price. As they are looking for potential partners in marriage and parenting, they find that the simple rituals of dating are darkened by the long shadow of imprisonment.

The Impact of Incarceration on Prisoner Families

The Family Profile of the Prisoner Population 

Before turning to a closer examination of the effects of imprisonment on the relationships between incarcerated parents and their children, we should first describe the family circumstances of the nation’s prisoners. In 1997, about half (47 percent) of state prisoners reported they had never been married. Only 23 percent reported they were married at the time of their incarceration, while 28 percent said they were divorced or separated (Figure 1). Yet most prisoners are parents. More than half (55 percent) of all state prisoners reported having at least one minor child. Because the overwhelming majority of state prisoners are men, incarcerated parents are predominantly male (93 percent). The number of incarcerated mothers, however, has grown dramatically in the past decade.

Between 1991 and 2000, the number of incarcerated mothers increased by 87 percent, compared with a 60 percent increase in the number of incarcerated fathers. Of the men in state prison, 55 percent have children—a total of about 1.2 million—under the age of 18. About 65 percent of women in state prison are mothers to children younger than 18; their children number about 115,500 (Mumola 2000).
A mother’s incarceration has a different impact on living arrangements than does that of a father.

Close to two-thirds (64 percent) of mothers reported living with their children before incarceration, compared with slightly less than half (44 percent) of fathers in 1997. Therefore, as the percentage of women in prison increases, more children experience a more substantial disruption. We should not conclude, however, that the imprisonment of a nonresident father has little impact on his children. Research has shown that nonresident fathers can make considerable contributions to the development and well-being of their children (Amato and Rivera 1999; Furstenberg 1993). They contribute to their children’s financial support, care, and social support even when they are not living in the children’s home (Edin and Lein 1997; Hairston 1998; Western and McLanahan 2000). Therefore, a depiction of families’ living arrangements only begins to describe the nature of the parenting roles played by fathers before they were sent to prison.

The national data on incarcerated parents also fail to capture the diversity of parent-child relationships. According to research conducted by Denise Johnston (2001) at the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents, it is not uncommon for both incarcerated fathers and mothers to have children by more than one partner. Furthermore, these parents may have lived with some but not all of their children prior to their incarceration. This perspective leads to another conclusion: Individuals who are incarcerated may also have served as parent figures to children not their own—as stepparents or surrogate parents in families that blend children into one household.
We know little about the nature of these parent-child relationships. As was noted above, even absent fathers can provide emotional and financial support prior to their incarceration. However, the profiles of incarcerated parents also point to indicia of stress and dysfunction within these families.

More than three-quarters of parents in state prison reported a prior conviction and, of those, more than half had been previously incarcerated. During the time leading up to their most current arrest and incarceration, nearly half were out of prison on some type of conditional release, such as probation or parole, in 1997. Nearly half (46 percent) of incarcerated fathers were imprisoned for a violent crime, as were one-quarter (26 percent) of the mothers. Mothers in prison were much more likely than fathers to be serving time for drug offenses (35 percent versus 23 percent). Nearly one-third of the mothers reported committing their crime to get either drugs or money for drugs, compared with 19 percent of fathers. More than half of all parents in prison reported using drugs in the month before they were arrested, and more than a third were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime. Nearly a quarter of incarcerated mothers (23 percent) and about a tenth (13 percent) of incarcerated fathers reported a history of mental illness (Mumola 2000). Clearly, these individuals were struggling with multiple stressors that, at a minimum, complicated their role as parents.

The portrait of prisoners’ extended family networks is also sobering. According to findings from the Urban Institute’s Returning Home (Visher, La Vigne, and Travis 2004) study in Maryland, these networks exhibit high rates of criminal involvement, substance abuse, and family violence (La Vigne, Kachnowski, et al. 2003). In interviews conducted with a sample of men and women just prior to their release from prison and return to homes in Baltimore, the Institute’s researchers found that about 40 percent of the prisoners reported having at least one relative currently serving a prison sentence.

Nine percent of the women said they had been threatened, harassed, or physically hurt by their husband, and 65 percent of those who reported domestic violence also reported being victimized by a non-spouse intimate partner. No male respondents reported this kind of abuse. The women reported that, other than their partners, the highest level of abuse came from other women in their families—their mothers, stepmothers, or aunts. Nearly two-thirds of inmates (62 percent) reported at least one family member with a substance abuse or alcohol problem and more than 16 percent listed four or more family members with histories of substance abuse. These characteristics highlight the high levels of risks and challenges in the families prisoners leave behind.

The Strain of Incarceration on Families 

We turn next to a discussion of the impact of parental incarceration on the families left behind. One obvious consequence is that the families have fewer financial resources. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1997 most parents in state prison (71 percent) reported either full-time or part-time employment in the month preceding their current arrest (Mumola 2002). Wages or salary was the most common source of income among incarcerated fathers before imprisonment, 60 percent of whom reported having a full-time job. Mothers, on the other hand, were less likely to have a full-time job (39 percent). For them, the most common sources of income were wages (44 percent) or public assistance (42 percent). Very few mothers reported receiving formal child support payments (6 percent) (Mumola 2000).

During incarceration, the flow of financial support from the incarcerated parent’s job stops, leaving the family to either make do with less or make up the difference, thereby placing added strains on the new caregivers. Eligibility for welfare payments under the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program ceases as soon as an individual is no longer a custodial parent—i.e., upon incarceration. In some cases, a caregiver may continue to receive TANF payments when the incarcerated parent loses eligibility, but because these benefits are now “child-only,” they are lower than full TANF benefits. Food stamps are also unavailable to incarcerated individuals.

New caregivers often struggle to make ends meet during the period of parental incarceration. Bloom and Steinhart (1993) found that in 1992 nearly half (44 percent) of families caring for the children of an incarcerated parent were receiving welfare payments under TANF’s predecessor program, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children). Under the recent welfare reform laws, however, TANF support is more limited than in the past, as lifetime eligibility has been capped at 60 months, work requirements have been implemented, and restrictions have been placed on TANF funds for those who have violated probation or parole, or have been convicted of certain drug crimes (Phillips and Bloom 1998).

Even under the old AFDC program, most caregivers reported that they did not have sufficient resources to meet basic needs (Bloom and Steinhart 1993). Moreover, these economic strains affect more than the family’s budget. According to several studies, financial stress can produce negative consequences for caretakers’ behavior, including harsh and inconsistent parenting patterns, which, in turn, cause emotional and behavioral problems for the children (McLoyd 1998).

Other adjustments are required as well. Because most prisoners are men, and 55 percent of them are fathers, the first wave of impact is felt by the mothers of their children. Some mothers struggle to maintain contact with the absent father, on behalf of their children as well as themselves. Others decide that the incarceration of their children’s father is a turning point, enabling them to start a new life and cut off ties with the father. More fundamentally, Furstenberg (1995) found that a partner left behind often becomes more independent and self-sufficient during the period of incarceration, changes that may ultimately benefit the family unit or lead to the dissolution of the relationship. At a minimum, however, these changes augur a significant adjustment in roles when the incarcerated partner eventually returns home.

In some cases, the incarceration period can have another, longer-lasting effect on the legal relationships between parents and children. In 1997, Congress enacted the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) to improve the safety and well-being of children in the foster care system as well as to remove barriers to the permanent placement, particularly adoption, of these children.2 The ASFA stipulates that “permanency” decisions (determinations about a child’s ultimate placement) should be made within 12 months of the initial removal of the child from the home. With limited exceptions, foster care placements can last no longer than 15 months, and if a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the previous 22 months, petitions must be filed in court to terminate parental rights. At least half the states now include incarceration as a reason to terminate parental rights (Genty 2001).

This new legislation has far-reaching consequences for the children of incarcerated parents. According to BJS, 10 percent of mothers in prison, and 2 percent of fathers, have at least one child in foster care (Mumola 2000). Because the average length of time served for prisoners released in 1997 was 28 months (Sabol and Lynch 2001), the short timelines set forth in ASFA establish a legal predicate that could lead to increases in the termination of parental rights for parents in prison (Lynch and Sabol 2001). Philip Genty (2001), a professor at Columbia University Law School, made some rough calculations of ASFA’s impact. Looking only at reported cases discoverable through a Lexis search, he found, in the five years following ASFA’s enactment, a 250 percent increase in cases terminating parental rights due to parental incarceration, from 260 to 909 cases.

In addition to those legal burdens placed on incarcerated parents, the new family care-givers face challenges in forging relationships with the children left behind. Some of these new caregivers may not have had much contact with the children before the parent’s incarceration, so they must establish themselves as de facto parents and develop relationships with the children. Contributing to the trauma of this changing family structure, prisoners’ children are sometimes separated from their siblings during incarceration because the new network of caregivers cannot care for the entire sibling group (Hairston 1995).

In short, when the prison gates close and parents are separated from their children, the network of care undergoes a profound realignment. Even two-parent families experience the strain of lost income, feel the remaining parent’s sudden sole responsibility for the children and the household, and suffer the stigma associated with imprisonment. However, prisoners’ family structures rarely conform to the two-parent model and are more often characterized by nonresident fathers, children living with different parents, and female-headed households. In these circumstances, the ripple effects of a mother or father going to prison reach much farther, and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the foster care system must step into the breach. In addition, these extended networks feel the financial, emotional, and familial weight of their new responsibilities.

Incarceration has yet one more effect on the structure of prisoners’ families. One of the important functions that families perform is to create assets that are passed along to the next generation. These assets are sometimes quite tangible: Money is saved, real estate appreciates in value, and businesses are built. These tangible assets can typically be transferred to one’s children. Sometimes the assets are intangible: Social status is achieved, professional networks are cultivated, and educational milestones are reached. These intangible assets can also translate into economic advantage by opening doors for the next generation. Braman asks whether the minimal intergenerational transfer of wealth in black families is related to the high rates of incarceration among black men. Taking a historical view, he concludes:

The disproportionate incarceration of black men…helps to explain why black families are less able to save money and why each successive generation inherits less wealth than their white counterparts. Incarceration acts like a hidden tax, one that is visited disproportionately on poor and minority families; and while its costs are most directly felt by the adults closest to the incarcerated family member, the full effect is eventually felt by the next generation as well. (2004, 156)

The ripple effects of incarceration on the family are far-reaching. The gender imbalance disturbs the development of intimate relationships that might support healthy families. Families’ financial resources and relationship capabilities are strained at the same time they are scrambling for more assets to support their incarcerated loved one. Yet, despite the hardships of incarceration, families can play an important role in improving outcomes for prisoners and prisoners’ children. Several studies have shown that the “quality of care children receive following separation and their ongoing relationships with parents” are “instrumental forces in shaping outcomes for children” (Hairston 1999, 205). According to one study (Sack 1977), the behavioral problems displayed by children of incarcerated fathers diminished once the children got to spend time with their fathers.

On the other hand, in a small percentage of cases, continued parental involvement may not be in the child’s best interests. For example, BJS (Greenfeld et al. 1998) reports that 7 percent of prisoners convicted of violent crimes were convicted of intimate partner violence. Even more disturbing are those cases involving child abuse and neglect, where the child’s best interests argue against parental involvement. According to BJS, among inmates who were in prison for a sex crime against a child, the child was the prisoner’s own child or stepchild in a third of the cases (Langan, Schmitt, and Durose 2003). Yet there has been very little research on the nexus between this form of family violence, incarceration, and reentry.

Discussion of prisoners convicted of violence within the family only raises larger questions—questions not answered by current research—about whether some parent-child relationships are so troubled and so characterized by the patterns of parental substance abuse, criminal involvement, mental illness, and the intrusions of criminal justice supervision that parental removal is a net benefit for the child. It is undoubtedly true that removing a parent involved in certain types of child abuse is better for the child. But we know little about the critical characteristics of the pre-prison relationships between children and their incarcerated parents, especially as to what kind of parents they were, and how their removal affects their children.

Even without a deeper understanding of the parenting roles played by America’s prisoners, we still must face several incontrovertible, troubling facts. First, expanding the use of prison to respond to crime has put more parents in prison. Between 1991 and 1999, a short eight-year period, the number of parents in state and federal prisons increased by 60 percent, from 452,500 to 721,500 (Mumola 2000). By the end of 2002, 3.7 million parents were under some form of correctional supervision (Mumola 2004). Second, many children are left behind when parents are incarcerated. By 1999, 2 percent of all minor children in the United States—about 1.5 million—had a parent in state or federal prison. (If we include parents who are in jail, on probation or parole, or recently released from prison, the estimate of children with a parent involved in the criminal justice system reaches 7 million, or nearly 10 percent of all minor children in America [Mumola 2000].) Third, the racial disparities in America’s prison population translate into substantial, disturbing racial inequities in the population of children affected by our current levels of imprisonment. About 7 percent of all African-American minor children and nearly 3 percent of all Hispanic minor children in America have a parent in prison. In comparison, barely 1 percent of all Caucasian minor children have a parent in prison (Mumola 2000). Finally, most of the children left behind are quite young. Sixty percent are under age 10, while the average child left behind is 8 years old.

In this era of mass incarceration, our criminal justice system casts a wide net that has altered the lives of millions of children, disrupting their relationships with their parents, altering the networks of familial support, and placing new burdens on such governmental services as schools, foster care, adoption agencies, and youth-serving organizations. As Phillips and Bloom succinctly concluded, “by getting tough on crime, the United States has gotten tough on children” (1998, 539). These costs are rarely included in our calculations of the costs of justice.

Parent-Child Relationships during Imprisonment
When a parent is arrested and later incarcerated, the child’s world undergoes significant, sometimes traumatic, disruption. Most children are not present at the time of their parent’s arrest, and arrested parents typically do not tell the police that they have minor children ( ABA 1993). Family members are often reluctant to tell the children that their parent has been incarcerated because of social stigma (Braman 2003). Therefore, the immediate impact of an arrest can be quite traumatizing—a child is abruptly separated from his or her parent, with little information about what happened, why it happened, or what to expect.

The arrest and subsequent imprisonment of a parent frequently results in a significant realignment of the family’s arrangements for caring for the child, depicted in Figure 2. Not surprisingly, the nature of the new living arrangements depends heavily on which parent is sent to prison. Recall that about two-thirds of incarcerated mothers in state prison lived with their children before they were imprisoned. Following the mother’s incarceration, about a quarter (28 percent) of their children remain with their fathers. Most children of incarcerated mothers, however, are cared for by an extended family that is suddenly responsible for another mouth to feed and child to raise. More than half of these children (53 percent) will live with a grandparent, adding burdens to a generation that supposedly has already completed its child-rearing responsibilities. Another quarter of these children (26 percent) will live with another relative, placing new duties on the extended family. Some children have no familial safety net: almost 10 percent of incarcerated mothers reported that their child was placed in foster care (Mumola 2000).3

The story for incarcerated fathers is quite different. Less than half (44 percent) lived with their children before prison; once they are sent to prison, most of their children (85 percent) will live with the children’s mother. Grandparents (16 percent) and other relatives (6 percent) play a much smaller role in assuming child care responsibilities when a father in incarcerated. Only 2 percent of the children of incarcerated men enter the foster care system. In sum, a child whose father is sent to prison is significantly less likely to experience a life disruption, such as moving in with another family member or placement in a foster home.

The nation’s foster care system has become a child care system of last resort for many children with parents in prison. Research by the Center for Children of Incarcerated Parents (Johnston 1999) found that, at any given time, 10 percent of children in foster care currently have a mother—and 33 percent have a father—behind bars. Even more striking, 70 percent of foster children have had a parent incarcerated at one time or another during their time in foster care.

When a parent goes to prison, the separation between parent and child is experienced at many levels. First, there is the simple fact of distance. The majority of state prisoners (62 percent) are held in facilities located more than 100 miles from their homes (Mumola 2000). Because prison facilities for women are scarce, mothers are incarcerated an average of 160 miles away from their children (Hagan and Coleman 2001). The distance between prisoners and their families is most pronounced for District of Columbia residents. As a result of the federal takeover of the District’s. prison system, defendants sentenced to serve felony time are now housed in facilities that are part of the far-flung network of federal prisons. In 2000, 12 percent of the District’s inmates were held in federal prisons more than 500 miles from Washington. By 2002, that proportion had risen to 30 percent. Nineteen percent are in prisons as far away as Texas and California (Santana 2003). Not surprisingly, in an analysis of BJS data, Hairston and Rollin (2003, 68) found a relationship between this distance and family visits: “The distance prisoners were from their homes influenced the extent to which they saw families and friends. The farther prisoners were from their homes, the higher the percentage of prisoners who had no visitors in the month preceding the survey….Those whose homes were closest to the prison had the most visits.”

Geographic distance inhibits families from making visits and, for those who make the effort, imposes an additional financial burden on already strained family budgets. Donald Braman tells the story of Lilly, a District resident whose son Anthony is incarcerated in Ohio (Braman 2002). When Anthony was held in Lorton, a prison in Virginia that formerly housed prisoners from the District, she visited him once a week. Since the federal takeover, she manages to make only monthly visits, bringing her daughter, Anthony’s sister. For each two-day trip, she spends between $150 and $200 for car rental, food, and a motel. Added to these costs are her money orders to supplement his inmate account and the care packages that she is allowed to send twice a year. She also pays about $100 a month for the collect calls he places. She lives on a fixed income of $530 a month.

Given these realities, the extent of parent-child contact during incarceration is noteworthy. Mothers in prison stay in closer contact with their children than do fathers. According to BJS, nearly 80 percent of mothers have monthly contact and 60 percent have at least weekly contact. Roughly 60 percent of fathers, by contrast, have monthly contact, and 40 percent have weekly contact with their children (Mumola 2000). These contacts take the form of letters, phone calls, and prison visits. Yet, a large percentage of prisoners serve their entire prison sentence without ever seeing their children. More than half of all mothers, and 57 percent of all fathers, never receive a personal visit from their children while in prison.

Particularly disturbing is Lynch and Sabol’s finding (2001) that the frequency of contact decreases as prison terms get longer. Between 1991 and 1997, as the length of prison sentences increased, the level of contact of all kinds—calls, letters, and visits—decreased (Figure 3). This is especially troubling in light of research showing that the average length of prison sentences is increasing in America, reflecting more stringent sentencing policies. Thus, prisoners coming home in the future are likely to have had fewer interactions with their children, a situation that further weakens family ties and makes family reunification even more difficult.

In addition to the significant burden imposed by the great distances between prisoners and their families, corrections policies often hamper efforts to maintain family ties across the prison walls. The Women’s Prison Association (1996) has identified several obstacles to constructive family contacts, some of which could easily be solved. The association found that it is difficult to get simple information on visiting procedures, and correctional administrators provide little help in making visiting arrangements. The visiting procedures themselves are often uncomfortable or humiliating. Furthermore, little attention is paid to mitigating the impact on the children of visiting a parent in prison.

Elizabeth Gaynes, director of the Osborne Association in New York City, tells a story that captures the emotional and psychological impact of a particular correctional policy upon a young girl who had come to visit her father. Because inmates were not allowed to handle money, the prison had drawn a yellow line three feet in front of the soda vending machines. Only visitors could cross that line. The father could not perform the simple act of getting his daughter a soda. If he wanted one, he had to ask his daughter to get it. According to Ms. Gaynes, this interaction represented an unnecessary and damaging role transformation; the child had become the provider, the parent had become the child.4

Family Contact during Imprisonment: Obstacles and Opportunities 

For a number of reasons, it is difficult to maintain parent-child contact during a period of incarceration. For one thing, many prisons narrowly define the family members who are granted visiting privileges. The State of Michigan’s corrections department, for example, promulgated regulations in 1995 restricting the categories of individuals who are allowed to visit a prisoner. The approved visiting list may include minor children under the age of 18, but only if they are the prisoner’s children, stepchildren, grandchildren, or siblings. Prisoners who are neither the biological parents nor legal stepparents of the children they were raising do not have this privilege. Finally, a child authorized to visit must be accompanied by either an adult who is an immediate family member of the child or of the inmate, or who is the child’s legal guardian.5 Many prisoners’ extended family networks, including girlfriends and boyfriends who are raising prisoners’ children, are not recognized in these narrow definitions of “family.”6 Limitations on visiting privileges are commonly justified on security or management grounds, but fail to recognize the complexity of the prisoner’s familial networks. Rather than allowing the prisoner to define the “family” relationships that matter most, the arbitrary distinctions of biology or legal status are superimposed on the reality of familial networks, limiting meaningful contact that could make a difference to both prisoner and child.

Telephone contact is also burdened by prison regulations and by controversial relationships between phone companies and corrections departments. Prisoners are typically limited in the number of calls they can make. Their calls can also be monitored. The California Department of Corrections interrupts each call every 20 seconds with a recorded message: “This is a call from a California prison inmate.” Most prisons allow prisoners to make only collect calls, and those calls typically cost between $1 and $3 per minute, even though most phone companies now charge less than 10 cents per minute for phone calls in the free society (Petersilia 2003). Telephone companies also charge between $1.50 and $4 just to place the collect call, while a fee is not charged for collect calls outside of prison.

The high price of collect calls reflects sweetheart arrangements between the phone companies and corrections agencies, under which the prisons receive kickbacks for every collect call, about 40 to 60 cents of every dollar. This arrangement translates into a substantial revenue source for corrections budgets. In 2001, for example, California garnered $35 million, based on $85 million of total revenue generated from prison calls. Some states require, by statute or policy, that these revenues pay for programs for inmates. Most states simply deposit this money into the general budget for their department of corrections.

Yet who bears these additional costs for maintaining phone contact with prisoners? The families of prisoners do, of course. In a study conducted by the Florida House of Representatives Corrections Committee (1998), family members reported spending an average amount of $69.19 per month accepting collect phone calls. According to this report, “Several family members surveyed stated that, although they wanted to continue to maintain contact with the inmate, they were forced to remove their names from the inmate’s approved calling list because they simply could not afford to accept the calls” (1998, 23).

This monopolistic arrangement between phone companies and prisons makes families the unwitting funders of the prisons holding their loved ones. In essence, the states have off-loaded upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars of prison costs on to prisoners’ families. Subsequently, families are placed in the unacceptable position of either agreeing to accept the calls, thereby making contributions to prison budgets, or ceasing phone contact with their loved ones. Of course, there are other, deeper costs attached to this practice. If a family chooses to limit (or stop) these phone calls, then familial ties are weakened and the support system that could sustain the prisoner’s reintegration is damaged. If the family chooses to pay the phone charges, then those financial resources are not available for other purposes, thereby adding to the strain the household experiences. In recent years, efforts to reform prison telephone policies have been successful in several states.7 Yet, while these reform efforts are under way, tens of thousands of families are setting aside large portions of their budgets to pay inflated phone bills to stay in touch with their imprisoned family members.

Fortunately, a number of communities have implemented programs designed to overcome the barriers of distance, cost, and correctional practices that reduce contact between prisoners and their families. For example, Hope House, an organization in Washington, D.C., that connects incarcerated fathers with their children in the District, hosts summer camps at federal prisons in North Carolina and Maryland where children spend several hours a day for a week visiting with their fathers in prison. Hope House has also created a teleconference hookup with federal prisons in North Carolina, Ohio, and New Mexico so that children can go to a neighborhood site to talk to their fathers in prison.

In another instance, a Florida program called “ Reading and Family Ties—Face to Face” also uses technology to overcome distance. Incarcerated mothers and their children transmit live video recordings via the Internet. These sessions occur each week, last an hour, and are available at no cost to the families. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice in 1992 initiated the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program, the first mother-daughter visitation program of its kind. Twice a month, more than 500 girls across the country, much like other girls their age, participate in Girl Scout programs, but in this program these Girl Scouts meet their mothers in prison. Finally, in Washington State, the McNeil Island Correction Center has launched a program that teaches incarcerated fathers the skills of active and involved parenting, encourages them to provide financial support for their children, and facilitates events to bring prisoners together with their families.

These programs—and many others like them—demonstrate that, with a little creativity and a fair amount of commitment, corrections agencies can find ways to foster ongoing, constructive relationships between incarcerated parents and their children. It seems particularly appropriate, in an era when technology has overcome geographical boundaries, to harness the Internet to bridge the divide between prisons and families. Yet the precondition for undertaking such initiatives is the recognition that corrections agencies must acknowledge responsibility for maintaining their prisoners’ familial relationships. If these agencies embraced this challenge for all inmates—and were held accountable to the public and elected officials for the results of these efforts—the quality of family life for prisoners and their extended family networks would be demonstrably improved.

Impact of Parental Incarceration on Childhood Development 

Limits of Existing Research 

Having examined the impact of incarceration on the institution of family and the relationships of incarcerated parents with their children, we turn next to an assessment of incarceration’s impact on the children involved. Given the current state of research, it is very difficult to measure the consequences for children when a mother or father is arrested, convicted, sent to prison, and returned home. Very few studies have been conducted that directly examine the lives of the children of incarcerated parents. Most of these studies suffer from methodological limitations in that they examine only a small sample of children or fail to use appropriate comparison groups. Few studies use standardized assessment tools to measure the emotional and psychological well-being of these children. Few researchers talk to the children themselves, relying instead on parental or caregiver opinions to construct a picture of the child’s changing world. Ideally, we could draw upon one or more longitudinal studies that assessed the children’s well-being, the nature of the parent-child relationships, and the changing family environment beginning at the parent’s arrest and continuing through the trial (when the parent may be in jail or may be released on bond), to the point of sentencing, throughout the period of incarceration (including the moment of the parent’s release from prison), ending with the dynamics of post-prison adjustment. Unfortunately, no such study exists.

The extant sparse research literature only underscores the importance of more research in this area. These studies suggest that children of incarcerated parents are more likely to exhibit low self-esteem, depression, emotional withdrawal from friends and family, and inappropriate or disruptive behavior at home and in school. Two studies, each with a very small sample size, suggested that children of incarcerated parents may be more likely than their counterparts to enter the criminal justice system (Johnston 1991, 1993).8

One way of assessing the impact of incarceration on children is to draw connections between other research and our general understanding of the collateral costs of imprisonment. For example, several studies have found that children of young and unmarried parents experience behavioral problems, unstable family relationships, and diminished economic support (Amato and Rivera 1999; Hagan and Dinovitzer 1999; Kandel, Rosenbaum, and Chen 1994; McLanahan and Sandefur 1994; Michael and Tuma 1985; Thornberry, Smith, and Howard 1997; Wu and Martinson 1993).

Similarly, economic strain can lead to harsh and inconsistent parenting, which can lead to behavioral problems in the children in the household (McLoyd 1998). Reduced financial resources can also lead to increased exposure to abuse in the family (International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies 2003).9 Finally, children in single-parent households, particularly those born to single mothers, have higher rates of incarceration as they grow up. Indeed, as Harper and McLanahan (1999) have found, children growing up with stepparents have still higher rates of incarceration. So, to the extent that incarceration increases economic strain, the number of single-parent households, and absent fathers, then our imprisonment policies are likely to result in more developmental challenges and criminal justice involvement for the children left behind.

Understanding Parental Loss 

We can also draw upon the general literature exploring how parental loss affects child development to create some hypotheses about the impact of parental incarceration. According to this literature, children always experience the loss of a parent as a traumatic event. Whether the loss is due to death, divorce, moving away, or incarceration, this event has negative consequences, including attachment difficulties, anger, depression, regression, and other antisocial behaviors. Similarly, a traumatic event in a child’s life diverts energy from the developmental work that child is normally performing.

When life becomes overwhelming for a child, emotional survival may take precedence over developmental tasks, resulting in delayed development, regression, or other maladaptive coping strategies (Wright and Seymour 2000). Given these general principles of child development, parental incarceration should be viewed as a traumatic event, limiting the child’s emotional growth, producing stress and anger, and isolating the child from needed social supports.

It is also well documented in the child development literature that children have difficulty coping with uncertainty. The criminal justice process is filled with uncertainty. A child might have to live with such questions as, “Will Mom be arrested again?” “Will Dad be convicted and, if so, sent to prison? If so, how long will he be there?” “Will Mom get released on parole? If so, will she be sent back to prison if she uses drugs again, or if she is in the wrong place at the wrong time?” This uncertainty, which is inherent in the workings of our criminal justice system, is often compounded by the family’s reluctance to tell children exactly what is happening to their parents. In his ethnographic study in Washington, D.C., Braman (2002) found that most family members rarely discuss their relative’s incarceration at all outside the immediate family, even in neighborhoods where incarceration rates are high. Most family members explained that their silence stemmed from concerns about the stigma associated with incarceration. Although well-intentioned as a protective response, withholding basic information about a parent’s status may only heighten children’s feelings of stress and uncertainty.

Finally, the children themselves must deal with the issue of stigma. When a mother or father is imprisoned, a child may experience the disapproval of his or her peers, teachers, or other family members, resulting in feelings of shame and low self-esteem. Perhaps in neighborhoods of a high concentration of incarceration among the adults, losing one’s parent to prison is so common that the social stigma is diminished, but the experience still requires the child to work through a complex set of feelings about the actions of the parent in prison. In addition, even those children who are coping well with parental incarceration may have the added challenge of overcoming the stereotype that they are destined for a life of behavioral problems and failure.

Impact by Children’s Age Group 

The child development literature also provides a framework for assessing the differential impact of parental incarceration on children of various ages. The chart developed by Gabel and Johnston (1995) clarifies the intersection between developmental markers and the removal of a parent to prison (Table 1). For example, among infants (0–2 years), parental incarceration’s major effect is likely a disruption of parental bonding, with the potential for later attachment difficulties. Research on this age group also shows, however, that infants can recover quickly from the loss of a parent if they experience a new, nurturing, care-giving relationship (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000).

During the early childhood years (2–6 years), children have a greater ability to perceive events around them, but have not yet developed the skills to process traumatic occurrences. Children at this age have not yet completely separated themselves from their parents, so they tend to perceive threats or harm to their parents or caregivers as directed at themselves. Several studies suggest that traumatic stress at this age may have profound long-term effects, particularly if there is no intervention to help the child sort through those experiences (Furman 1983).

In the middle childhood years (7–10 years), when children are developing their social skills and a sense of independence, separation from a parent creates a sense of loss because a role model is taken away. If a child has poor coping skills to begin with, and particularly if he or she moves from home to home following the parent’s departure, such disruptions may accelerate a spiral of strain in the child’s life. Johnston and Carlin (1996) use the term “enduring trauma” to describe a situation where a child experiences several traumatic events with no time to recover and where the cumulative effect may overwhelm the child’s ability to cope. A child experiencing this level of trauma may display aggression, hypervigilance, anxiety, concentration problems, and withdrawal.

The impact of incarceration on adolescents (11 to 18 years) is likely quite different. Adolescence is a time when young people test boundaries, begin to navigate the world of romantic relationships, exercise more independence, explore the adult world of work, and develop a sense of self. The arrest and incarceration of an adolescent’s parent can derail those transitions to adulthood. These children may question the authority of the incarcerated parent and doubt the parent’s concern for them. They may take on new roles as parent figures to fill the void left by the incarcerated parent. Some studies have shown an increase in dependence and developmental regression among adolescents of incarcerated parents (Johnston 1992).

About 1.5 million minor children have a parent in prison, most frequently a father. In many ways, these children are no different from others of their age group, but they are experiencing a distinctive disruption in their lives. They have the same emotional needs to bond with a parent or other caregiver, to establish themselves as unique individuals in a social context, and to test their independence from the adults in their lives. All these development processes are made more complicated by the loss of a parent to prison, and more complicated still if the parent was arrested for behavior involving harm to the family or child.

Reconnecting with Family at the Time of Reentry 

In this section, we shift our focus from an inquiry into the impact of incarceration on parent-child relationships and child development to ask what role prisoners expect their families to play in the reentry process, what role families actually play, and what consequences befall families during this critical period.

When prisoners return home, they face multiple hurdles, many of which relate directly to the functioning of their families. They need to find housing, which may be with their relatives or immediate families. They need to find employment, which could add income to family budgets. Some have health concerns and may need to receive care for an HIV infection, secure medication for mental illness, or find substance abuse treatment to reduce the risk of relapse, all of which, if successful, would avert additional burdens and risks for their families. Many will owe the state child support payments, which, according to an extensive analysis in Colorado and Massachusetts, averaged more than $16,000 (Thoennes 2003).10 Most prisoners will be under legal supervision, bringing a state parole agency into their homes and lives.

The Returning Home Study 

In its Returning Home study in Maryland, the Urban Institute provides the first empirical look at the complex issues of family support for returning prisoners (La Vigne, Kachnowski, et al. 2003). The research team constructed a “Family Relationship Quality Scale” to assess the quality of familial connections.11 This scale was repeated four times over the continuum of the project—twice in the pre-release interview (first regarding family relationships before prison and again regarding prisoners’ expectations for these relationships after release) and once in each of the two post-release interviews conducted about one and four months after release. The Returning Home study reveals interesting dynamics in the prisoners’ perceptions, expectations, and experiences of family support. Prisoners characterized their family relationships as more close than distant. This conclusion is based on respondents’ scores on the scale, with mean values that range from one to four, one representing distant family relationships and four representing close family relationships (Visher et al. 2004, 110). During every stage of data collection, respondents provided mean scores that exceeded three, indicating that these family relationships were considered close.

They were also optimistic about renewing those relationships after their release; more than three-quarters expected this would be “very easy” or “pretty easy” to do. Interestingly, the prisoners expected their families to be more supportive after their release from prison than they had been before their incarceration. This finding is subject to a number of possible interpretations. Perhaps these families were undergoing strain at the time of the arrest. Perhaps there had been an improvement in family support during the prison sentence. More likely, the prisoners—all of whom were near release at the time of the interview—were projecting their hopes that their families would be supportive during the reentry phase.

The returning prisoners had very concrete expectations of the kinds of support their families would provide. Half of the women and 39 percent of the men expected their families would provide financial support. Well over half of the women (61 percent) and about half of the men (52 percent) planned on talking to a relative about getting a job. At least two-thirds of them (75 percent of women, 63 percent of men) expected to live with family members after their release from prison, including about one-third with their mothers or stepmothers, and less than a quarter with an intimate partner.

Importantly, they viewed family support as more than just providing money, jobs, or housing: Half of the inmates surveyed said that this support would be an important factor in keeping them out of prison.

These expectations were generally realized. Nearly half of the released prisoners slept at a family member’s home the first night they were back in the community. Nearly half sought assistance from relatives in finding a job. As a general matter, more than 80 percent of the sample interviewed about a month after release “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that their families had been supportive. In fact, when these ex-prisoners were interviewed again a few months later, these percentages increased to about 90 percent. Furthermore, the share that believed family support was important to staying out of prison also increased. It seems plausible that, as other challenges to successful reentry proved more difficult to overcome, the relative value of family support was enhanced.

These findings from Returning Home underscore the importance of family in the reentry process. When facing the prospects of succeeding in the outside world, prisoners place a high value on the support that their families will provide. Moreover, families generally keep their end of the bargain, becoming even more important with the passage of time. Future analysis of the Returning Home project will shed even more light on the dynamics of these familial relationships.

La Bodega de la Familia 

Other research suggests that, as critical as family support may be to successful reentry, it often comes with a price. The most insightful research on this issue comes from La Bodega de la Familia, a demonstration project launched on New York City’s Lower East Side in 1996 by the Vera Institute of Justice (Sullivan et al. 2002). La Bodega’s mission was to test the proposition that support provided to families of offenders with histories of drug abuse could reduce their drug use and their criminal activity. The intervention was called “family case management,” a novel approach to the problems of drug use and crime that utilizes the strengths of families to influence the behavior of a family member who is under criminal justice supervision. Although the overarching goal was to reduce the drug use and criminal activity of the family member under supervision, the immediate goal was to strengthen families so they could, in turn, support the drug user during treatment (Sullivan et al. 2002).

In La Bodega, the case manager spends considerable time with the offender’s family. Together, they construct an “ecomap,” which illustrates the public and community agencies on which the family relies, in order to find ways to coordinate existing services in the family’s best interest. They construct a “genogram,” a map of the family network that allows the drug offender to identify potential sources of support within the family. With these two analyses in hand, the family case manager, the offender, and the probation or parole officer construct a “family action plan,” which might include drug treatment for the offender, a support group for the family members, or counseling for a child in the family who faces difficulties in school. Based on this plan, La Bodega staff members become advocates for the family in approaching social service agencies and provide 24-hour crisis interventions when an arrest, relapse, or potential eviction occurs.

An evaluation of La Bodega found that the program did result in improvements in family members’ lives: they were receiving more medical and social services and their health had improved. The evaluation also found that drug use in the target population declined, just as the program designers had hoped. While 86 percent of the participants had used at least one substance during the month prior to joining the program, this proportion declined to 50 percent after six months in the program—a statistically significant reduction greater than that found in a comparison group. The participants’ overall physical health also improved. Finally, program participants were also about half as likely to be arrested and convicted for a new offense than members of the comparison group, but the numbers were too small to draw statistically sound conclusions.

There were two surprises in the evaluation, however. First, there had been no increase in the proportion of La Bodega participants who received drug treatment, nor in the amount of time spent in treatment. So, these impressive declines in drug use came about without greater reliance on traditional treatment programs. Family support apparently can make a difference in and of itself. But the research also found that, notwithstanding improvements in their services, support networks, and health status, the families participating in the La Bodega program reported higher rates of emotional problems and stress than at the beginning of the program, and higher than in the comparison group.

The evaluator suggested a possible explanation: “Perhaps as a consequence of having the issues surrounding drug abuse out on the table and having to deal with them openly, the La Bodega users and their family members experienced increased conflict in their relationships” (Sullivan 1993, 51). For program participants, the average overall “support index”—the measure of family support as experienced by the drug-using member—actually dropped during the six-month study, while it increased in the comparison group. As the evaluation concluded, “These unexpected results may point to the emotional burdens that La Bodega placed on the families and drug users with whom it worked” (Sullivan 1993, 51).

The story of La Bodega carries two important lessons pertaining to families’ role at the point of reentry. First, families matter. They provide the innermost concentric circle of support for returning prisoners.12 Providing support for families can translate into behavioral changes for the individual coming out of prison. Drug use can be reduced without increased reliance on traditional treatment, an important reminder in these times of fiscal constraints. Second, this is hard work for families. Even with a dedicated family case manager, a crisis intervention team available around the clock, and improvements in service coordination and health care, the family still feels the stress of helping a family member in need.

If we are to design policies that support families, we must remember to pay attention to the family’s emotional needs. The experience of La Bodega, now incorporated into the work of a new national nonprofit called Family Justice, points the way toward a new form of service delivery for returning prisoners that strengthens the ability of families to provide support.

In sum, this recent research from Maryland and New York City underscores the centrality of family in the reentry process. Prisoners have high expectations of family support that are often met. However, when families play a more active role in supporting the ex-offender’s transformation toward pro-social behavior—particularly moving away from substance abuse—they pay a price.

Our challenge is to work with prisoners and their families to maximize the support they can provide to each other, giving families the tools necessary for the hard work of family interventions, and providing the family network with external sources of emotional and other sustenance. This research suggests that, if done properly, this form of intervention might effectively ease the transition from prison, reduce substance abuse, and reduce crime.

Looking Forward 

Imprisonment causes ripple effects that are felt throughout a prisoner’s family network. The policies that have resulted in the imprisonment of well over a million people have magnified those effects in a strong undercurrent that is eroding the familial infrastructure of America’s poorest communities. Virtually every social institution that deals with children—including families, schools, child welfare agencies, foster care, and kinship care systems—is touched by the high rates of parental imprisonment. At the center of these community institutions are children—1.5 million of them—who are buffeted about between prison visits, time with foster parents, and life with grandparents and other new adults in their lives. These children are likely to grow up in families that have been weakened, increasing the challenges they face in staying out of the criminal justice system and leading productive lives. As they reach early adulthood, they will find that their choices of life partners are more limited than a generation ago, and their family structures will be quite different.

In view of the negative effects stemming from current imprisonment policies, we must ask whether society has an obligation to mitigate these harms. The research literature provides some limited guidance as we consider the efficacy of policies that would reflect such a social commitment. Keeping families strong would reduce future criminality, enhance child development, reduce child and family trauma and stress, and increase the likelihood that the children left behind would lead productive lives. Beyond these calculations of preventable harm, the next question pertains to who would be responsible for carrying out policies that would produce these results. Certainly there is much more that corrections agencies could do, but they would first have to see family strengthening as part of their mission. This, in turn, would require governors and state legislatures to lead efforts to expand both the mission statements and the financial support of state departments of corrections.

With this support, corrections agencies could improve their visitation policies, encourage rather than discourage phone calls, provide video links between prisons and community centers, find secure means for Internet communications between prisoners and families, bring families to their prisons, create family advocate positions within their organizations, eliminate the imposition of child support payments during the incarceration period, offer classes in parenting skills, and assist prisoners in asserting their rights in custody proceedings. We have no shortage of ideas, just a lack of mandate and the needed resources to carry out the new mandate.

Yet even if corrections agencies were provided adequate resources to implement a new mission to support families, they would need substantial assistance from the community. The existing network of agencies that serve children would need to recognize that these children need special attention when their parents go to prison. If communities embraced a mandate to support the families of incarcerated community members, a broad consortium of agencies would be called upon to meet the mandate. Schools would need to offer counseling to children at critical stages in the criminal justice process. Foster care agencies would have to ascertain whether a parent in prison would serve as a suitable parent upon release before moving for the termination of parental rights.

Youth-serving organizations would need to help young people with family members in the justice system work through their feelings of shame, anger, confusion, and denial. Government would have to fund a network of nonprofit agencies, such as Hope House, to provide the supportive environment where children could talk to their parents over video links or Internet connections. In addition, at the point of reentry, organizations similar to La Bodega de la Familia would need to be deployed to support the family networks that struggle to absorb the reality of a family member’s return. Organizing this effort would require a community-wide coalition, with strong support from local government, and partnerships with a state corrections agency committed to the same goals—to recognize the important role that families can play in successful reintegration, to minimize harm experienced by the children of incarcerated parents, and to promote strong and healthy families for each prisoner.

Solidarity with our South Bay Boston Sisters! RESIST!!

From: NEFAC-New England <newengland@nefac.net>
Date: Sun, Apr 4, 2010 at 11:25 AM
Subject: Women in House of Correction in Boston resisting! Call in this week!
To: newengland@nefac.net


Women at South Bay are being served bug-infested food, are forced to live  in flooded cells, and daily face unsanitary and dangerous conditions.  Women are refusing meals and demanding that the situation immediately be  put to rights.

Grievances have been filed about food infested with maggots*; rat  droppings have also been found in prisoners’ food.  The late rain may have been an annoyance to some of us, but it was flooding the women’s cells in the tower where they are held.  One woman was given a plastic trash bag to deal with the leaks, which bag was soon filled with water.  Another woman took to using her personal property, blankets, towels, sheets, and clothing to stuff up the leaks, all of which was soaked almost
immediately.  Even the ceiling of the visiting room was severely damaged by recent rain.

The facility is fewer than 20 years old.  In response to the complaints, the institutional grievance coordinator declared the food and flooding situations “resolved,” despite the fact that the leaks have not been fixed and the food sanitation situation is merely being “investigated.”

Hidden in plain sight, this Boston facility is right off Mass Ave by Boston Medical Center.  The repulsive conditions at South Bay are bad enough in their own right, but consider that the captive population is much more likely to have compromised immune systems, whether because of
hepatitis C, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or an array of other conditions.  For people suffering from chronic medical issues, South Bay’s filth is nothing short of a threat on their lives.

Call Sheriff Andrea J.Cabral this week at 617.635.1000, ext. 2100 and tell her that she is responsible for the health and wellbeing of those in her custody.  An effective public relations machine is not enough.  Demand that meaningful changes are made immediately with input from those women
most suffering from the issues at hand.  The two most important issues to the women inside right now are 1. the food and 2. the leaky cells.  We encourage people to leave call back numbers and demand a response from the administration.  We also encourage you to write bostonabc@riseup.net and tell how your call went!

A woman wrote, “I just need some help.  No one helps the women here.” Please prove her wrong!

*When one prisoner complained to a guard about the maggots in her food, the guard retorted that it was “protein.”

Open Records Suit filed against Department of Corrections over Policies governing Pregnant Prisoners

This comes from the ACLU:

FEBRUARY 1, 2010

The Rhode Island ACLU and the R.I. Chapter of the National Organization for Women have today filed an open records lawsuit against the Department of Corrections (DOC), contesting the agency’s refusal to release its policies relating to the use of restraints on women prisoners when they are in labor, delivering a baby or in post-delivery recuperation. The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Neal McNamara and Jillian Folger-Hartwell, seeks a court order releasing the requested documents, imposition of a fine and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Issues surrounding the use of restraints on pregnant women prisoners by correctional institutions have been the subject of recent public debate nationwide. In an effort to examine the propriety of Rhode Island’s practices, the RI ACLU filed an open records request last September with the DOC to obtain its policies and procedures on the subject. Citing “security” reasons, however, the Department refused to release the documents. The DOC did acknowledge, though, that most pregnant women are handcuffed while being transported to, and while in bed recovering from labor at, the hospital.

The lawsuit notes that RI NOW and RI ACLU “share an interest in reviewing and analyzing the requested [DOC] policies and procedures and advocating for changes to them in order to better promote the health, safety and well-being of pregnant women prisoners,” but have been precluded from doing so due to the DOC’s refusal to release the documents.

For the Complete article click Here