Oklahoma’s prison system at a glance

A very short bit of information:

From NewsOK (The Oklahoman)

Published: September 12, 2010

Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of women put in prison, per capita. It is fourth in the nation in the number of men incarcerated, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Read more: http://newsok.com/at-a-glance/article/3494056#ixzz0zcfy7KOJ

Idaho Fines Private Prison for Contract Violations

The state is ordering private prison company Correction Corporation of America to pay thousands of dollars and fix problems with drug and alcohol treatment and medical care at the Idaho Correctional Center.

Ten of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the prison near Boise aren’t qualified to provide treatment under CCA’s contract with the state, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Additionally, a medical audit by Idaho Department of Correction officials earlier this year shows the private prison has extensive problems administering medical care, including inadequate records; delays in providing medications, immunizations and mental health care; and a lack of follow-up or oversight when inmates are returned to the lockup after being hospitalized.

The state ordered CCA to provide it with a plan to fix the medical care problems by May 25, but the company has already missed that deadline.

Idaho is also imposing liquidated damages against CCA for violating its state contract by failing to have qualified drug and alcohol counselors. The damages rack up at a rate of more than $2,600 a day; so far, CCA owes the state more than $40,000 for the violations.

“We’re very concerned,” said Rona Siegert, director of Idaho Department of Correction Health Services. “That’s the whole purpose of the audit, to find these things before they get to a level where they’re critical.”

Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA responded to questions about the problems through a prepared statement.

“Regarding the findings of recent medical audits completed by the Idaho Department of Corrections at Idaho Correctional Center, we acknowledge and share the concerns of our government partner and take them seriously. While the identified issues are not at a critical stage, we are working actively and deliberately to quickly and effectively resolve them,” the company said.

CCA also said it is trying to hire qualified staffers for its drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

“Our efforts to recruit qualified and credentialed addiction, alcohol and drug professionals from the available pool of local candidates continue. We are confident that these efforts will result in our company being in compliance in the near term with a fully credentialed Therapeutic Community staff, as local qualified professionals seek employment opportunities.”

Company officials also said several staff members are set to undergo certification testing in the coming months. But Natalie Warner, the Idaho Department of Correction’s contract administrator and quality assurance manager, said that under the schedule CCA provided for its current employees, the last of the certifications won’t be completed until June 2011. Meanwhile, CCA will have racked up more than $100,000 in liquidated damages.


In an April letter informing the private prison company of the issues, Idaho Department of Administration purchasing officer Jason Urquhart said the Correction Department feared that the drug and alcohol program violations could increase costs for the state.

Offenders often are required to complete the Therapeutic Community program to be released, so if the program’s integrity is compromised, offenders may have to stay in prison longer, increasing costs to the state, Urquhart wrote. He went on to say that the parole commission could require offenders to take part in drug and alcohol programs at other prisons — also increasing costs.

The medical audits, completed between February and April, suggest that in many cases, inmates are going without adequate care, Siegert said. Still, Siegert said the Correction Department didn’t know of any inmates who had suffered injury or harm because of the violations.

Among other problems found in the audits, inmates in the prison’s infirmary were sometimes left alone, without any working pager or call-light system to call a nurse or doctor in an emergency. They also were going too long between medical checks by nursing staff, according to the records.

“Our requirement is that a provider makes the rounds every day to see if they’re getting better or getting worse, what their vital signs are,” Siegert said.

Medical test results also languished unread for too long, raising the possibility that serious medical problems weren’t being addressed right away, Siegert said.

If the company doesn’t repair or adequately explain the audit findings, Idaho can impose liquidated damages for those violations as well.

“It’s going to stay on our radar and we’re going to continue watching it very closely,” Warner said.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/06/01/financial/f114357D89.DTL&type=science#ixzz0peqqAWjZ

Man dies of apparent suicide while in custody of Orleans Parish sheriff

A man died in the custody of the Orleans Parish sheriff Friday night, about two hours after he arrived at an intake facility on a charge of heroin possession.

In a news release, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman called the death of Michael Hitzman, 31, an apparent suicide.

Hitzman is the fourth inmate to die this year while in the custody of the sheriff’s office.

Hitzman arrived at the sheriff’s Intake and Processing Center at about 5 p.m. Friday. He was screened by medical staff, who observed wounds on his forearms consistent with intravenous drug use, the news release said.

According to the release, a physician prescribed an antibiotic and scheduled a follow-up appointment.

Hitzman initially appeared calm but subsequently attempted to leave through the emergency doors and began exhibiting “belligerent, uncooperative” behavior, according to the sheriff’s office.

For his own safety and the safety of others, Hitzman was placed into an individual holding cell at around 6 p.m., the news release said.

At 7:14 p.m., a deputy found that Hitzman had apparently attached his T-shirt to the cell door and strangled himself. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

“At no time during the booking and screening process for this arrest, or any prior arrests, or during any of his prior incarcerations, did Hitzman express or exhibit any suicidal tendencies,” said an e-mail sent by sheriff’s office spokeswoman Mary Martin.

An autopsy is being conducted by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office.

Last month, two Orleans Parish Prison inmates died about an hour apart, though the deaths were unrelated.

About midday on March 30, Shedrick Godfrey, 48, died of an apparent heart attack while working a community service detail with other inmates. About an hour later Chris Blevins, 22, died from a stab wound to the chest suffered during a lunchtime fight with another inmate.

Richard Scearce, 60, who was arrested after a daylong standoff with New Orleans police last fall, died of cardiac arrest Jan. 19 while in custody of the sheriff’s office. Scearce died at the Interim LSU Public Hospital, where he had been transferred for treatment of a urinary tract infection, Gusman’s office said.

Scearce had barricaded himself inside his Uptown apartment Oct. 30 after receiving an eviction notice. He fired an assault rifle several times and set fire to his home, police said.

In December, Gusman and several of his staff members were sued by the father of a New Orleans woman who died in restraints in the jail’s psychiatric unit.

Cayne Miceli, 43, had a history of asthma, panic attacks and depression but was denied adequate medical care after she arrived at the jail in January 2009, the suit alleges. Miceli was arrested after allegedly biting a police officer who tried to remove her from Tulane Medical Center, where she had been treated for an asthma attack.

A U.S. Department of Justice report last year raised numerous concerns about the jail’s medical services.

The report — which Gusman said was outdated and ignored post-Katrina difficulties — mostly singled out the jail’s mental health care procedures. It criticized the jail’s use of restraints on a tier reserved for mentally ill patients and the facility’s procedures for preventing suicide and dispensing medication to inmates.

The report did not criticize screenings for other medical problems at the intake and processing center, and it concluded that other aspects of the jail’s medical care met constitutional mandates.

Jeffrey Deskovic – Petition for Reforms

eforms Pertaining To Interrogations

(False confessions have accounted for 25% of the 208 DNA exonerations)

1. All interrogations should be videotaped, from beginning to end, which would prevent police from omitting abuse tactics they use from their testimony. It would allow a complete and accurate record of who said what, when, and what context. It would also protect honest police officers from false allegations of coercion.

1. 2. The use of the polygraph, lying to suspects about having evidence that they don’t have, prolonged interrogations over many hours should be outlawed because such tactics have been linked to false confessions. False confession studies show that these convey to suspects that no matter what, they will be arrested for something they did not do, it is just a matter of whether they will make it worse on themselves by lying through maintaining innocence.

2. 3. Interrogation of the mentally ill and/or retarded should only take place with a lawyer present because mentally ill and retarded people try to compensate for their deficiencies by being compliant.

3. 4. Before confession evidence is allowed into a trial, a pre trial hearing on the issue of whether a confession is truthful should be conducted, akin to a Wade hearing in which identification accuracy is reviewed, because confession testimony is devastating to defendants, resulting in a conviction 80% of the time, and the current pretrial hearing on voluntariness is not enough, since cases in which confessions have been proven to have been false based on DNA, judges have not suppressed such evidence.

Reforms Pertaining To Eyewitness Identification

(Misidentification has been the cause of wrongful convictions in 75% of the 208 DNA exonerations)
4. 5. Sequential lineups and photo arrays should be used, rather than showing many people at once to allow victims to focus intently on each photo or person.

5. 6. Everyone in the array and/or lineup should resemble each other, so that no one sticks out and to improve on the accuracy of identifications.

6. 7. The victim should be told that the perpetrator may not be present, so as to prevent victims from having undue confidence that the perpetrator is there, thus leading to a misidentification.

7. 8. Victims should be told that the investigation will continue if they don’t make an identification so that they don’t feel pressured into making an ID, lest the guilty party escape justice.

8. 9. The officers conducting the lineup should be in the blind as to who is suspected, so as to prevent inadvertent cues or clues from being given.

10. Confidence statements should be taken, in which a victim states, on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident they are about their identification, to give courts and juries further insight into an identification

9. 11. The lineup or photo array should be taped, to ensure its integrity.

Reform Pertaining To Incentivized Witnessing

Incentivized witnessing has been the cause of wrongful convictions in 15% of the 208 DNA exonerations
10. 12. The practice of incentivized witnessing, in which a witness’s gets a reward for testifying-whether a lesser prison sentence, having charges dropped, or just getting financial compensation should be ended; those who have evidence should come forward on a moral basis rather than being rewarded for doing so, because when desperate prisoners have been caught red handed for committing a crime and they have no truthful information to trade on, they falsely implicate others.

Reforms Pertaining To Evidence
11. 13. There should be a standardized evidence preservation system to ensure that evidence is preserved and available for inspection and testing. Right now there is no such system and the first obstacle for the wrongfully convicted is whether the evidence can be located and whether it has been destroyed. If it has, the innocent remain incarcerated with no way to prove innocence.

12. 14. It should be a crime whenever police and prosecutors purposely withhold evidence. History shows that with no personal penalties, morality alone is not enough to restrain some rogue policemen and prosecutors

Reforms Pertaining To Public Defenders

Without quality attorneys, unsaddled with the current disadvantages that public defenders have as opposed to the prosecution, innocent defendants will continue to be wrongfully convicted, and cases will not have just and fair outcomes.
13. 15. There should be one standardized system of defense for the poor statewide, as advocated for in The Spangenberg Group’s report for Chief Judge Judith Kaye on The State of Indigent Defence in New York, because such centralization would allow for more internal oversight, accountability, and review of public defenders. It would allow for more quality control.

14. 16. Those public defenders who have been found to have performed sub-standard performance for indigent defendants should no longer be employed by the state to do so. Because to do so would be to set the stage for future inadequate performances by that lawyer thus resulting in defendants, who are presumed innocent, to be victimized.

15. 17. The defense and the prosecution should have an equal and adequate budget to hire experts and other necessary personnel to assist in the preparation of cases rather than the defense having an extremely limited budget while the prosecution has a huge budget, because on such an unequal playing field, no confidence can be placed on the outcome of court proceedings or verdicts.

16. 18. Public Defenders should have the same size staff as The District Attorneys to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by sheer manpower. Each side should have enough personnel to adequately prepare a case.

17. 19. There should be a limit to the amount of cases each public defender is allowed to take on at one time. In the Bronx, NY, for example, it is not unusual for a public defender to have 120 cases at the same time. Overburdening a public defender prevents him or her from giving each case the time, preparation, and investigation it deserves.

18. 20. Public Defenders should be given pay equal to that of prosecutors, because otherwise the best legal talent will go to one side. Further, quality lawyers should not be discouraged from being public defenders by being given less pay, especially given the astronomical loans that young lawyers have as a result of going to law school.

19. 21. Indigent Defendants should be provided with court appointed attorneys to handle post conviction 440 motions, so that they can have competent legal representation, rather than trying to represent themselves against trained and seasoned prosecutors.

Reforms Pertaining To DNA
20. 22. Allow all of the wrongfully convicted to prove innocence with DNA, even in cases where defendants have pled guilty, because some judges have interpreted the law to prevent such defendants from having access to DNA. In 11 cases nationwide innocent defendants have falsely pled guilty, often as a result of fear of a higher sentence. Allowing the testing causes guilt to be confirmed or innocence to be established.

21. 23. Give Judges the authority to order crime scene DNA comparisons to DNA Databases; currently the law does not explicitly give them that authority, and whether the testing goes forward or not often relies on the discretion of the prosecution, whereas the power belongs in the hands of the judge.

22. 24. Current law allows judges the authority to order DNA in those cases in which DNA could affect the outcome, it should be that in any case in which there is testable material, a test should be done; because DNA will always be germane to guilt or innocence.

23. 25. Prosecutors should not be allowed to explain away negative DNA Test results at a trial by claiming the victim had a consensual sexual encounter, without first proving that such an encounter took place, because without requiring that a factual background first be established, it would allow prosecutors to mute such evidence.

24. 26. When a prosecutor argues that a rape or other crime was committed by one person, and then a post conviction DNA Test shows the defendant is innocent, prosecutors should not be allowed to then change their theory on appeal and claim that a crime was committed by two people, so as to be able to get around the DNA Test, because to allow otherwise would be a way to get around the power of DNA to prove innocence. Conclusions should be based on what the evidence shows, not by making evidence fit a conclusion.

Reforms Pertaining to Post Conviction Review
25. 27. The Court Of Appeals should review all cases, as a matter of a defendants right, as an additional level of review, with the goal of catching more wrongful convictions.

26. 28. There should be a review apparatus, independent of appeals and a pardon, which can review cases in which a defendant has a colorable claim of innocence, because often the wrongfully convicted have had their appeals exhausted, which shows that appellate review is not enough to protect the innocent, while it is a highly charged political environment for a Governor to issue a pardon. Rather, such a review should be independent of both, and be staffed by wrongful conviction experts, who have the power to overturn wrongful convictions.

27. 29. An Innocence Commission Should be created to study what went wrong in wrongful convictions, so that lessons can be learned from such wrongful convictions, and changes adopted, to try to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Reforms Pertaining to compensation
28. 30. An immediate sum of 15,000 dollars per year of wrongful incarceration should immediately be paid to those who have been cleared of a crime, aside from money awarded as a result of a lawsuit, to meet such immediate needs such as housing, cost of living, mental health services, health insurance, and education. A guilty person on parole currently receives more help than an exoneree, who receives nothing.

29. 31. Compensation Lawsuits should receive fast track processing in court, whereby priority would be given to such cases, because the wrongfully convicted struggle financially after being released, following such incarceration.

30. 32. Bad Case Law stating that if an exonerated person has contributed to his or her own wrongful conviction they are not eligible to receive any compensation should be changed, because the idea that anybody would intentionally get themselves wrongfully convicted, sentenced to prison, only to then clear themselves in order to be in position to then sue is ridiculous. To deny anybody who has been wrongfully convicted, is to add insult to injury.

Reforms Pertaining To The Parole Board which bear upon innocence
31. 33. The Parole Board should not be allowed to deny parole to those who profess their innocence based upon their not taking responsibility for their crimes or expressing remorse, because that does not take into account the reality of wrongful convictions. The wrongfully convicted should not be made to remain in prison, based upon their protestation of innocence. It is a fact that some wrongfully convicted prisoners were previously denied parole after finishing their sentence minimums but before they were cleared, based upon this, whereas they could have at least regained their freedom sooner.

32. 34. The Parole Board should not be allowed to deny parole to prisoners based upon their not completing the sex offender class, because such class requires prisoners to explicitly admit guilt to the other people in the class as well as to the instructors as a condition of completing the class. Such a practice places the wrongfully convicted in the catch 22 of either falsely admitting guilt to try to regain freedom, or to lose a chance at freedom as the price for maintaining innocence.

SIGN PETITION HERE

Prison as Punishment, Not for Punishment

Mar 26th, 2010

No one wants to go to prison, but there’s one particular prison in Idaho that’s especially feared. Why? According to the Associated Press, over the past two years, more prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have occurred at this specific prison — the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) — than at the other eight Idaho prisons combined.

During the past two months, ACLU lawyers interviewed over 30 prisoners who were viciously assaulted at ICC. The findings were so damning that a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Boise on March 11. The complaint, which exceeds 80 pages, chronicles more than 20 violent assaults that resulted in broken bones and bloodshed. The complaint does not include a number of victims who are so afraid of being assaulted again that they declined to have their stories included in the lawsuit. Since the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU has been contacted by more than 40 other persons who were assaulted while confined at ICC.

In what is a poorly kept secret, ICC is known throughout Idaho as “Gladiator School.” ICC staff not only condones violence amongst prisoners, it encourages and facilitates it as a management tool. In the United States, individuals are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, but that is not the case at ICC. It is worth noting that of the nine prisons in Idaho, ICC is the only one not run by the state, but rather by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, which boasts of being the largest owner and operator of private correctional and detention facilities in the U.S., has faced hundreds of lawsuits in recent years, including several brought by the ACLU.

Although our class action lawsuit was filed just last week, it appears that officials at CCA know that changes are needed. Mere days after our complaint was filed, CCA replaced the warden and assistant warden, the top two officials at ICC.

The lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief on behalf of all ICC prisoners. The injunctive relief would require ICC to make numerous improvements designed to ensure that prisoners are reasonably protected against assault.

Stephen Pevar, the lead attorney in the case, said: “I consider this case to be one of the most important cases I’ve litigated in my 39 years of practice, if not the most important. No other case of mine remotely approaches the level of profound human suffering that has occurred at ICC — nearly all of which could have easily been prevented by staff.”

Maximum sentence for the minimum crime

Eric Ruder at Socialist Worker.org

March 16, 2010

ROBERT FERGUSON’S nearly eight-year prison sentence in early March
for shoplifting a bag of shredded cheese from a California convenience
store made headlines around the world. How could such a petty crime
trigger such a lengthy sentence? Whether from a moral or public policy
point of view, the outcome seemed absurd.

But the harsh sentence represents only the final–and perhaps not
even the most outlandish–failure of California’s criminal justice to
deliver justice.

At Ferguson’s March 1 sentencing hearing, for example, prosecutors
urged the judge to impose a lengthy sentence because of Ferguson’s prior
convictions. As far as they were concerned, they had already shown
leniency by not seeking a life sentence. Prosecutors had only backed
down after a psychologist’s report concluded that Ferguson suffers from
bipolar disorder, which impairs his ability to control impulses during
manic phases.

Nevertheless, Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish still asserted
at the hearing that Ferguson is a “career criminal,” pointing to his 13
prior convictions that put him behind bars for 22 of the past 27 years.

Never mind that six prior burglary convictions occurred some 30 years
ago. Or that Ferguson’s misdemeanor assault conviction was for throwing
a soda can at a sibling when he was a teenager.

Or that the only reasonable place for a man suffering from mental
illness is a mental health facility, not the overburdened California
prison system–which a panel of judges two years ago found to be so
overwhelmed that it “worsens many of the risk factors for suicide among
inmates and increases the prevalence and acuity of mental illness.”

Those same judges ordered California to lower its prison population
by more than 40,000 inmates so that the system would not exceed 137
percent of its intended maximum capacity of 84,000.

Two years later, the state of California is still staring at one of
the highest incarceration rates in the nation and a sprawling prison
system that costs the state $10.8 billion–about 10 percent of its
annual budget–to house 170,000 prisoners. Today, California spends more
to lock people up than it does on the University of California system,
once the premier public institution of higher education in the U.S.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT ROBERT Ferguson is only the latest in a long history of
sentencing outrages stretching back to the 1990s, when voters
overwhelmingly passed Proposition 184, mandating a life sentence for
anyone convicted of a third felony.

Other cases that made headlines were the 1994 life sentence for Jerry
Dewayne Williams, who stole a pizza, and a 25-years-to-life sentence
for Johnny Quirino, convicted in 1996 of petty theft of razor blades.

What makes such stories all the more preposterous is the gaping hole
in California’s budget–in part the product of the rise of California’s
prison population in the wake of tough sentencing rules such as
three-strikes. It costs about $49,000 a year to house an inmate in
California’s prison system.

The painful cuts facing practically every social service and public
institution in California have yet to convince politicians and
public-policy makers of the need for a fundamental reform of
tough-on-crime laws.

Between the 1970s and the present, California’s prison population
more than quintupled–from less than 30,000 to around 170,000.

For three decades now, the logic of “getting tough on crime” has
justified harsh sentencing laws, a prison-building spree and worsening
police brutality. Defenders of the system say that such policies are
necessary to deal with the scourge of drugs and violent crime. But they
can only do so by ignoring the facts about drug use and crime.

Thus, law-and-order policies have filled the nation’s prisons with
hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders, disproportionately
Blacks and Latinos, even though whites use illegal drugs at very similar
rates.

In the words of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow:
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
:

President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in
1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the
war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with
racial politics.

The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican
Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of
crime and welfare to attract poor and working-class white voters who
were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and
affirmative action.

In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House
Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to
devise a system that recognizes this, while not appearing to.”

It’s time to stop the runaway freight train of California’s prison
system–and the whole country’s law-and-order drive that incarcerate
more people than any nation on the planet.

Buried Alive

They’ve got us confined to these cells, where we are intellectually suffocating, in desperate need of literature, books, love, compassion and support. Being in this graveyard is like walking down an endless, dark tunnel, with no end, no light, no hope in sight, trapped in a box with no visible exit. We have to be soldiers in these circumstances where the means of survival go beyond guerrilla warfare: this is a battlefield for the mind.

Looking at my situation, I see myself confined, locked down in the darkest layers of a dungeon cell, surrounded by animals: human animals. Animals who were once human, but who have been stripped of their sanity, and who have no control over their own mental capacity. These beasts have lost their souls and there’s nothing nobody can do about it, and they try to inflict their insanity upon me so that I can be miserable like them. Call it paranoia, but I feel like the administration has intentionally put these sick motherfuckers next to me, above me and around me, just so they can show me what type of ‘weirdo’ they want me to be; what type of sick monster they want me to become.

But on the contrary, the more I’m subjected to these miserable “mind-torturers”, the more love I have for myself, and the more I love myself the more I hate these pigs, ‘cuz I see what they’re trying to do to me. I strive to be stronger, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. The harder I strive, whether it be for strength, for unity, for solidarity, or even self-education, it seems, or feels like the more these pigs are trying to knock me to my knees. They try to knock me down and tear me apart, they try to tear my soul apart, my mind, they try to tear me apart from friends, family, comrades and fellow convicts. This is how I feel as these walls seem to close in on me, I feel like these pigs are trying to destroy me, I feel like they’re trying to bury me alive in this graveyard.

We sit here and rot in these chambers of torture, designed to murder our wills, break our hearts, devour our spirits and bury us in our own agony, in attempts of transforming us into animals like the weirdoes who are caged in the cells next to us, above us, and all around us.
So many youngsters get locked up in this foul ass system, and it seems like consciousness has died in the hearts and minds and spirits of many of the incarcerated youth. There’s no inspiration, no direction, no worthy cause to believe in, no reason for them to come together and settle their disputes, no reason to put their guards down and unite. I don’t see it, I don’t feel it, except in my own heart. People around here are lost, confused, mislead, and it’s a tragedy.

I want to encourage the prisoners at Ely State Prison who read this to start studying the law and find ways to buck the system, beat and cheat the system that’s beating and cheating you. Study anything you can study, whatever interests you. I want to encourage prisoners to start taking true strides to pick themselves up, to move forward, to better themselves, and to buck the system that contains you and holds you captive to this ongoing madness. I want to encourage prisoners to start turning their televisions off at least twice a week and spend the day reading, studying and writing. Do something to benefit and strengthen your mind. Do something to benefit and strengthen your position in life. Just ‘cuz they’ve got our bodies held captive, doesn’t mean we should let them hold our minds captive. Once we start taking serious strides to improve ourselves and improve our conditions, once we start doing something real with our time, then we can start doing something real with our lives.

Because they’re trying to bury us alive in these graveyards, leaving us to sit alone in these suffocating cells until our mind goes crazy, deteriorates, or until we are so messed up that all we can think about is murder, violence and revenge, because that’s what this long-term isolation does to us, if we let it.

I’m still alive, in good spirits and my mind is intact, so I must be doing something right. They try to knock me down, but I’m still standing. I have one mind, one heart and they can’t strip me of my soul, I’m too strong for that. The more they try to break my will, the stronger I have to be. It’s all about resistance, it’s all about keeping the mind, body and spirit in good shape. I’m sitting here doing things, elevating and educating myself, engaging others, talking and listening and there are people in here like me, just trying to maintain their existence. We’re living it the only way we know how. I live in struggle and I struggle to live, and this all I know! They want to bury me alive, but I’m plotting on ways to take that shovel out of their hands and beat them over the head with it! That’s what’s happening.

From the depths of this darkness,
Coyote
Ely State Prison, Nevada

For letters of encouragement, please send letters to Coyote:

Coyote Sheff #55671
P.O. Box 1989 Ely,
Nevada 89301-1989

Prisons

Note: We will be publishing a series of (parts of) Zines from Coyote on here. Prisons is another one he sent us. These writings form part of “an impressive collection of writings and artwork created by incarcerated persons from all over the United States. All of these zines are published and distributed by Rayson through his South Chicago ABC Zine Distro.”

Anthony´s collection can be visited, on the DePaul University website (here you can view all titles in the collection of Anarchist and other writings). Thank you Anthony.

Prisons are not here to help us. Prisons are not here to rehabilitate. US prisons do not stop, deter, or prevent crime and they never will. The people in power can continue to lock people up and they can keep building more prisons and crime is still going to happen, because we live in an unbalanced world. Everybody wants to be in control, everybody wants to be able to control other peoples’ opinions, actions, and options. Nobody wants to break away and take control of their own lives.

It doesn’t matter whether we are in or out of prison. The way we are living as people is foul. If you are in prison, however, then you have the opportunity to really sit back and think about things. Whether you take advantage of that opportunity or not, is up to you. We can sit back and think about revolution, freedom, life, and death. We can sit back and think about creation and destruction. We can use this time to destroy our old ways of thinking and reconstruct new ways of thinking and new ways of living in the world.

Prison has no place in this society because there are as many criminals in this society as there are in prison. Even the people in power can be considered criminals. What kind of people are they who let the poor suffer while the rich get richer? What kind of people are they who value money more than another person’s life? The people in power get to define the meaning of a criminal only because they are the people in power. I could tell you that the people in power are as criminal as I am, but it wouldn’t matter because I am in prison and they are in power. What they decide to do with their power will never be in my best interests because who am I but a prisoner? What the people in power do with their power will rarely be in the best interests of the people, because who are they but powerless people?

So, they leave us with two options: we can be powerful or we can be powerless. We can have or we can have-not. Of course, everybody is going to try to be a person of power and the ones who don’t are going to be the ones who end up getting controlled by the people who have power. In this way, we conflict with each other as we strive for power.

All the while, the people who really have all the power benefit from our conflicts, because they’re the ones who control our options. As long as we give them that control, they are going to do whatever they want with their power, whether we like it or not.

This is what I think about while I´m in prison, but one should not have to be in prison to think about these things. I should not be in prison, because this prison should not be here. Think about that…..

From a cell, I salute you!

El Coyote 2007
Ely State Prison
Anarchist Black Cross
Prison Chapter

Note: Here’s a revolutionary idea: “Lets hear what ´the scum of the earth’ have to say!”

Imprisoned Radical Intellectual


A Pamphlet/Zine by Coyote: IMPRISONED RADICAL INTELLECTUAL

Something as beautiful as freedom; something that good; something that great could never be free. It seems like it always comes with a price. Trust me when I tell you that it’s a high price we have to pay for our freedom, especially if you come from the gutter, born into oppression, born into poverty, it’s a high price for anybody who has to live in this world of capitalism because they have found a way to make all people pay for the good things in life.

I feel like I’ve been paying the price for my freedom for the past 17 years, so when these gates open for me, when I can feel the fresh air in my lungs and when I can feel the sunshine on my face, I want the feeling I get to be worth it. I want the feeling that I get as soon as I step out of these gates to be worth all the pain, all the heartache, all the suffering that I’ve endured. I want that feeling to be worth all the madness I’ve gone through in my life. I want to feel it in my soul. I want my soul to know what freedom feels like!

I’ve paid for my freedom. I’ve paid for it with the pain of my soul, I’ve paid for it with the blood of my flesh, I’ve paid for my freedom with damage to my heart and damage to my mind and I know that because I know how this incarceration has scarred my psyche. I’ve paid for my freedom, so give me what I´ve got coming, give me what I´ve paid for!

Everybody in the world needs to feel a sense of purpose. A purpose for living. A purpose for being. A purpose for feeling good. A purpose for suffering. A purpose for dying. Many of us in this world are lost, confused, damaged, partly because we don’t know our purpose. We subject ourselves to all kinds of abuse and torment; we search for a meaning and a sense of self-worth in materialistic things, like money and possessions. We join gangs, join religious groups, join the military. Women will sell their bodies, not only for money but also for the sense of purpose and people will cling to the first thing that pays them any serious kind of attention. People will do drugs, chasing that feeling, chasing that high ‘cuz to them that high feels better that being conscious in this screwed up world. We are running around lost in this world with no real sense of purpose.

I’ve sat in these cells, in this prison, going through all kinds of crazy, fatal and drastic situations. I’ve been afflicted by so many devastating things, that have somehow become normal in our everyday lives and I’ve seen this madness, I’ve seen its face, I’ve looked in its eyes, and my heart has been afflicted by all of the pain and suffering that we have to go through in this world.

I’ve lived in this tormenting hell, going through the motions, just trying to live this penitentiary lifestyle and trying to keep my head above the water, but I’ve found that no matter how you do your time you will still be afflicted by all of this foulness, you will still be damaged. I’ve sat in these cells, sat in solitude, trying to find myself, looking for my own purpose in life.

There were times when I thought being a gangster was my purpose. There were times when I thought being a criminal was my purpose. There were times when I thought being a convict was my purpose. I was all of these things and still am a convict, but these are not my purposes in life, they’re my struggles. I realized, as I sat here and reflected that those were only purposes that served me, and vet there are thousands of people who suffer and struggle just like me and worse. The more I reflected on that, the more I realized that it´s not about me anymore. I will always be a part of the counter-culture, but I’ve realized that my purpose in life isn’t about me, but about striving to assist others who struggle alongside me.

As we sit in these cells searching for meaning, searching for truthful understanding, we begin to comprehend things in ways we´ve never understood them before. We begin to understand ourselves, our situations and our struggles and once you’ve embraced these understandings you begin to take steps towards purging yourself from your old ways of thinking and constructing the old ways into a higher realm of thought, until you become conscious, not only by how you think, but conscious in all that you do. Once you become conscious you don’t see things like you used to and you begin to feel renewed, enlightened and alive. You take on a new passion for life.

I am a social prisoner. I have become politically conscious and spiritually motivated while in prison for a “social crime”. I don’t feel the need to twist up my crime to make it seem like I am a political prisoner because I am content with being a social prisoner. I don’t feel the need to be considered as a political prisoner to make what I have to say seems valid. I am living in these trenches, behind enemy lines, everyday. I am going through it on a daily basis and as long as I am truthful with who I am and truthful with what I’m saying I know people will be able to connect to it and deem it as valid, and if for some reason certain people choose not to take me seriously, that’s their loss.

I can understand why some ‘rades might feel the need to be considered political prisoners, because political prisoners get all of the attention. But as social prisoners, as conscious prisoners, as anarchist prisoners, or as imprisoned radical intellectuals, we have a place in this struggle too and if you are resourceful enough and active enough and it what you have to say is valid and as long as people can connect to it, then you can get your voice heard just as much as any political prisoner, but if you’re just doing this to get yourself some attention, or just to get your voice heard, with no real intentions of striving to make a difference, then you’re doing it tor the wrong reasons. If you are serious about your concerns and serious about your activism it wouldn’t matter whether you were considered a political prisoner, or a social prisoner. All that matters is that we want to do something good and make a difference. We want to help people who can’t help themselves. When it comes down to it, that’s all that matters and if you ain´t about that then you’re only living tor yourself.

When people on the streets read this zine, I hope they will want to get more involved with prisoners in meaningful ways. When prisoners read this zine, I hope it will inspire them to take a critical look at their own situation, and maybe even help them to get organized and to start taking action to make things better where they’re at. I want people to understand that prisoners are a people who long tor real human contact, we long for real social contact, we long to establish and maintain real, truthful relations and meaningful, substantial connections with people on the outs. We need people to stand by us during these hard times, we need people to get involved in our struggles, and we need people to help us ourselves.

Being institutionalized, addicted to drugs, materialism, violence, being a member of a street gang and being a prisoner and trying to overcome all of these things, these are my struggles, these are my afflictions, but this zine isn’t about one man’s struggle, this booklet is about the system, about prison, it’s about all the people in prisons who struggle just like me. This zine is not about anarchism, it’s a zine about imprisonment, struggle, resistance, life and survival, written by an anarchist prisoner.
I see prison as a place that takes people who have been damaged by poverty, neglect, abuse, racism, and addiction and keeps them damaged and damages them even more, so that they’re always held down in life. I write this zine to expose a piece of what the system does to us, how we can survive it, why people need to get involved in prisoners struggles and movements and I wanted people to understand, from the perspective of one man who has gone through it and who is still living it and trying to rise above it.

People do not realize that I have been fighting most of my life. Snatched up as a youth, against my will no doubt, and placed in various institutions and juvenile facilities for 7 years. I got out when I was 18 and came to prison when I was 19. I was already “institutionalized” before even coming to prison. It is a struggle that has made me stronger, though it is a sad situation that many of us face in these graveyards.

I don’t write about it to brag about it (I’m not that “institutionalized”) because it’s nothing to brag about, it’s nothing to be proud of. Though I feel no shame or self-pity for my own painful experiences, I don’t feel proud of them either. There’s mixed emotions and mixed blessings that come with all of this. I am appreciative of the things that have made me stronger, disgusted that there are millions of us living like this, grateful that my mind is not only still intact, but even sharper than ever, and I’m heartbroken that there are thousands and thousands of people who won’t ever be able to rise above this madness and oppression, ever.

I write about it to show people how this barbaric system deprives us of our youth, deprives us of our emotions, deprives us of our senses, deprives us of our freedom and our humanity. From an early age, many of us are deprived of these essentials and slowly we begin to manifest into institutionalized, anti-social, predatory savages.

There are lots of people who don’t understand, can’t understand that I’ve spent the majority of my life in institutions and prisons since the age of 11, but this is a very real situation. People need to be made aware of what we are going through in these institutions, even prisoners need to know what’s happening to them, what’s really going on, underneath the surface. People need to understand that our lives are real and that the things that we are going through in here are very real, and mothers and parents need to understand that they should keep their kids out of the hands of pigs.

I write about resistance, because there is nothing more important than resistance in a situation like this. Resistance is a means to survival. I have been resisting all of my life, since the age of 11, and for the first 3 years of my captivity, from the ages of 11 to 13, I spent most of that time strapped to a bed, alone in a cold, desolate timed-out room, where the walls were pale and the air was state, not much different than where I’m at now, but I´m not physically strapped to a bed anymore but psychologically, I am confined to a world of darkness, because I cannot envision or even imagine what life would be like, outside of this cell, outside of prison. I’m 30 years old now and as I sit here and try to reflect on the fact that I’ve survived for 3 decades, I try to figure out what that means, and all I can think of, is that it means I’ve lived 3 years longer than Bobby Sands and if I can survive for another 3 years, I will have lived as long as Jesus Christ and I guess that means that I’m surviving.

My mind is sharper than the razor-wire that surrounds the prison that contains me. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t have been able to survive this constant isolation and sensory deprivation for years on end, I’d already be brain-dead, or intellectually dead, or even delirious, like a lot of others in here who unfortunately suffer from some kind of mental illness. Nothing wrong with me, I’m no more messed up than most of the people in society. The only difference between them and me, is if you were to do a CAT-Scan or MRI on my brain, the image that you see on the cover of this zine, is the same as the image you’d see on the MRI: A BRAIN GRENADE! Explosive minds are created in these prisons, for those who resist, for those who think, and for those who strive to elevate themselves, in spite of the infectious and foul conditions we have to live in. Explosive minds, dangerous minds, revolutionary minds, for those who resist.
This place, this graveyard, cemetery, dungeon, hell-hole, whatever you want to call it to make you feel better about being in it, has devastating effects on all who dwell here, whether you’re resistant or not. But the more you resist the more you survive. I won’t say that being here and going through this madness hasn’t had any destructive or negative effects on me or hasn’t done any damage, I could never say that. This suffering, this madness has done plenty of damage to me, in so many ways and I may never recover from some of it, but the point is that nobody is immune to the effects of constant isolation, or constant prison madness. You cannot live like this and not be affected, no matter how strong you are or how much you resist, it has a devastating effect on everybody, more devastating for some than others, that’s why it’s important to stay active, stay healthy, and to keep resisting, keep striving, keep elevating yourself.

I’m conditioned to live in this place like this, I don’t have a life sentence, but I’m conditioned to live the rest of my life like this, living like a dog, and that’s sad. I have to get out of prison one day, some day and I’m going to have to get out and recondition myself and my mind, my life and readjust my way of thinking and living and that’s going to make surviving out there harder for me that it is to survive in here. In the back of my mind I know I have a life to go to out there, I have family and friends who love me and care about me, but as I sit here in the midst of this constant madness, all I can see is that I have made a life for myself, right here in this graveyard. I don’t yet recognize a life on the other side of these walls, fences, gates, so I don’t think about it much, I don’t think about getting released. So it’s a heartbreaking, painful situation for us in here. We can’t see a future for ourselves that exists beyond these walls, beyond this life; we don’t think about these things, we are stuck in a rut, stuck in a maze. We need people to get involved in our lives in real ways, get involved in our struggles in meaningful ways, to help us envision a life outside of prison; we need to have a c1ear picture of freedom inside our minds. We need people to help us grow, help us elevate, help us organize, help us survive, live and heal. We have a lot to overcome, a lot to heal from. We need people to help us see and recognize a life for ourselves on the other side of the darkness, and the people who don’t ever have a chance of getting out of here are in need of the most love.

A prisoner doesn’t need books to become a radical. If the lst amendment rights were completely stripped from prisoners and if they were to disallow any type of books, or reading materials into these prisons a prisoner can still be wild and radical as his or her heart is. They could take my books, zines and reading materials away from me, and if I just sit back and observe what goes on around here, thinking deeply about the things I see and think deeply of the underlying causes behind all of this, I can write about this madness all day long. So, you see ,we don’t need books to become radicals, we need books to become intellectuals. Books are powerful tools. Prisoners need people to send them books so that they can further their intellectual growth. We need people to send us zines and serious reading materials so that we can take it upon ourselves to resist the aura of intellectual death that permeates through these walls and steel doors. We need people to help us organize study groups and intellectual, spiritual and political movements on the inside of these coffin-like cells and to help us spread truth and intellectual growth amongst our comrades who dwell in these cemeteries with us. We need knowledge so that we can liberate our minds from this constant oppression, so we can gain consciousness and so we can take the initiative to rise ourselves, up and above this constant death, destruction and devastation.

I came to prison when I was 19 and I quickly learned and assumed the mentality and ways of being a convict, things aren’t what they were when I came to prison, they’ve gotten worse for us in here, but 1 haven’t changed much, I haven’t deteriorated. Once you’ve been sent to prison you have to keep in mind that there’s only 3 things that can be taken from you, or only 3 things that you can LOSE: Your mind, your manhood or your life. I’ve stood up many times, against my oppressors, and they came in and took my television, took my property and charged me restitution. But you see, they can take my T.V. (I don’t watch it anyways), but if I haven’t lost my mind, then they haven’t taken nada. They can take my privileges or my good time (life goes on) but as long as nobody has taken my manhood from me, they ain’t took nothing. They can take my money, my property or any other material possession they want, but as long as they haven’t taken my life, then they haven’t taken anything.

It’s been 10 years that I’ve lived inside the depths of the prison regime and I haven’t lost my mind, my manhood or my life, so I guess you can say I’m surviving. I was always taught that a convict is someone who sticks up for himself, stands up tor his rights and who looks out for other convicts and that it’s better to lose your so-called privileges than to lose your manhood, it’s better to take a stand than to be walked all over by people who think they’re mightier than you because they have the law on their side.

And so, in that sense, being a convict is like being a revolutionary, but on a smaller scale. Intact, all these struggles, riots, conflicts and acts of resistance against our oppressors is actually training and preparing us to take it to another level. We’ve turned these prisons into training grounds tor revolutionaries. We’ve come from being convicts and developed ourselves into imprisoned radical intellectuals, so you see; this has just been another way tor us to make a bad situation into a better one, because that’s what we do.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be destroyed by prison, we sit here contemplating, trying to find ways to destroy the prison. In Abbie Hoffman’s book, Steal this Book, when he gives instructions on how to build a pipe bomb, he writes, “The basic idea to remember is that a bomb is simply a hot tire burning very rapidly in a tightly contined space.” I think that’s what we are, we’re not just prisoners, as we sit and dwell and develop in the confines of these cells, our hearts burn like a raging fire, and our brains are like bombs, a hot fire burning very rapidly in a tightly confined space.

Consciousness permeates through these walls and fills the atmosphere of these graveyards, they can’t imprison consciousness, they can’t stop it, as long as we have our minds intact and continue to use them as weapons, and they can’t stop it. We sit here locked up, confined, and slammed down, thinking of freedom; the thing that’s so great, but costs so much, and the more we think about it, the closer we are to it.. ..

So here is some of my best, break the chains, smash the system writing, I hope you´re ready for this!

Until prisons have been abolished,
Coyote
ABC – Nevada
Prison Chapter
December 15th, 2007

NOTE:
Feel free to make copies of this zine and send it to prisoners, prison activist groups, free books to prisoner bookstores, newsletters and to advocacy networks, etc. Anyone who would like to write me, or make any comments, or who would like to get involved in my activism, struggles or movement could write to me at the address below. I am a prohibited from receiving letters directly from other prisoners, but would like to hear from everyone, everywhere.

This zine is dedicated to my fallen comrade: Silencio, (May you rest in resistance carnal) killed by the hands of the pigs in the Washoe County Sherriff’s Office, (the county jail in Reno, Nevada). We miss you Bro.

For letters of encouragement or support, write to:

Coyote Sheff #55671
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, Nevada 89301 – 1989

Or write to my comrade

Anthony Rayson
South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
P.O. Box 721
Homewood, lllinois 60430