Aug 162015

This essay comes from a friend of a friend.  I do not know who she is.  However, I have heard many stories from people who believed in the criminal justice system in this country, until they or a member of their family learned first hand that their experience was the polar opposite of what they had believed.  This is one mother’s reaction to such an experience.

July 26, 2015

0816thematrixWhat I want people to know is what I’ve learned over the past two years – how my life is upside down both philosophically and emotionally. Philosophically, because what I learned, believed about our justice system is just thrown under the bus. I am angry. Angry at people who are charged with our wonderful, ideal system and have perverted it and made us all accomplices in torture and harm. We were standing shoulder to shoulder with prison guards who abuse prisoners; DAs and police who lie, who give up honesty and integrity to convict.

We became part of the problem. Only we didn’t even realize there was a problem. They lie. They suck us in to be their accomplices. We asked no questions. We believed them. No. We believed the idea of a system. We believed they were the embodiment of truth. They kept us safe from people who would harm us, who were really terrible people.

But what do they do? “Lose” evidence, lie to protect themselves, serve as judge and jury to convict whom they have decided is guilty. Screw looking at evidence. How did they get to the place where they are in such a hallowed system of our country, protecting our country’s ideals, being the keeper for those ideals and now corrupting those ideals.

Am I naïve? Not now. Was I? Yes. But I’m in the company of the majority of our country. I listen over and over and OVER again to “I had no idea how this system works! I was shocked to learn how it really works.” Problem is – no one does know until it happens. No one believes until it does happen.

I’m angry that I was blindsided. Is it my fault? Should I have known better? WHY SHOULD I!?!! Where’s the disconnect here? That our system as taught to high-schoolers is just too much of a fairy tale? I should know better than to believe such a fairy tale could actually work? Are the people in the justice system just laughing at me for being so naive?

Or is the disconnect in how people have subverted the ideal? The people who have gotten used to having it their way? People who have decide they are smarter than tedious “truth and justice” and will improve a hopelessly naïve system?

Are we in The Matrix*? They have created this fake world that they’ve sold us on that every thing is right in our world, that they have the knowledge and expertise to keep it the ideal it is.

But behind their words and assurances that create the perfect illusion is a world of crumbling, moldy, derelict laws. A blighted world wildly out of control with more and more laws, penalties, and incarcerations for longer and longer times. A world destroyed with smoking embers, blown out, burned down buildings, haunted people. Out of sight behind the illusion they create with their paternalistic, mesmerizing lies! Do we choose to believe their lies because it’s just easier? No! I think we believe because we truly believe that they are the pillars of our justice system. We hear their excuses—which they call “reasons”—and that reinforces what we already instinctively believe.

But now pieces of their façade may be cracking. Can they hold it together and continue to make us believe their fake world? We know what is really behind their world of “safety, justice and truth”. We’ve seen and heard the destroyed lives, the money taken from society and spent to warehouse people and then return wasted people with wasted lives and difficult options. The LIES – The harm – The self-supporting arguments.

What will it take to bring down the phony façade of a tough on crime, retribution, vengeance model of justice and return us to where most people already think we are: convicting wrong-doers but with consideration of mitigating or extenuating circumstances, incarcerating only people who are a threat and then rehabilitating them so they can live as successful citizens. Giving people a chance to pay for their crime and then re-joining society. Being humans helping humans.

My passion. I want people to know what I’ve learned. I want to shock them awake to what our criminal justice system has become. No, ladies and gentlemen, it is not what you believe it is.

Unfortunately, most of you will never really find that out. No, it’s not fortunate that you will never have a loved one, or yourself, caught up in this horrible system. It’s not fortunate that you’ll never have an accusation made at you of something you never did. It’s not fortunate that you get to keep living oblivious to how our criminal justice system has lost its way in mandatory sentencing. Because unless you are unfortunate enough to have personal contact with this devastating system, you won’t try to do something about it.

(From Wikipedia: The Matrix movie depicts a dystopian [an imaginary community or society that is undesirable or frightening] future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality called “the Matrix”, created by sentient machines to subdue the human population,)

Personally, I find what she has to say believable and compelling.

Apr 252015

Here’s the latest celebrity attempt to help prisoners.

0425LegendJohn Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration.

The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday. He will visit and perform at a correctional facility on Thursday in Austin, Texas, where he also will be part of a press conference with state legislators to discuss Texas’ criminal justice system.

"We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country," Legend said in an interview. "It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration."

Legend, 36, will also visit a California state prison and co-host a criminal justice event with Politico in Washington, D.C., later this month. The campaign will include help from other artists — to be announced — and organizations committed to ending mass incarceration…

Inserted from <AP>

Click through for more.  Kudos! This is so necessary!

Apr 062015



Jennifer Thompson is an advocate for judicial reform and the healing power of forgiveness.  Her strong convictions were born of a brutal rape she suffered as a twenty-two year old college student.  Her compelling testimony sent a young man to a life term in prison for a crime he did not commit.  That man, Ronald Cotton, was eventually freed thanks in large part to newly developed DNA tests which eventually identified the true perpetrator. Together they co-authored a joint memoir, Picking Cotton, a New York Times best-seller, which recounts their journeys and the tragedy that brought them together.  They have successfully lobbied state legislators to change compensation laws for the wrongly convicted, to abolish the death penalty, to revise police eyewitness line-up procedures, and for many other causes.  She has appeared on Oprah, Sixty Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, 20/20, The View, NPR, Diane Rheams, People magazine, RedBook, Newsweek, and in other media outlets.  Her Op-Eds have appeared in The New York Times and elsewhere.  Jennifer and Ronald speak before a variety of audiences about race, class, judicial reform, human error, and forgiveness.

Inserted from <OIP>

Mercy Corps Action Center
28 Southwest 1st Avenue
Portland, OR 97204

Thursday, May 14, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (PDT)

To purchase tickets, click here.

Oct 272014

I’m Pleased to announce that Partnership for Safety and Justice has just released a new plan to reform our public safety system.

PSJlogoPartnership for Safety and Justice, along with crime victim advocates and criminal justice reformers from around the country, released Bridging the Divide: A new paradigm for addressing safety, crime, and victimization. This report highlights the importance of reforming our public safety system for both victims of crime and people accused of and convicted of crime. When we work for survivors of crime, as well as people who have committed crime, more individuals and communities can get safe, become healthy, and thrive. A core objective of this approach is eliminating racial disparities for victims of crime and people accused and convicted of crime.

PSJ pioneered this model to address safety, crime, and victimization in Oregon. We’ve had many successes along the way. Most recently, in 2013, PSJ helped pass justice reinvestment legislation that flatlines prison growth for the next 5 years and reinvests savings into other vital parts of our public safety system, like addiction treatment, mental health services, reentry services, and victim services. Because of smart sentencing reform, Oregon doubled funding for lifesaving domestic and sexual violence services…

Inserted from <PSJ>

Click through for more.  I see this as an excellent plan to move from retributive to restorative justice.

Oct 272014

From time to time, I hope to bring you creative writing from men  inside the walls.  The following is prose from a long time 7th Stepper, Jack Ball, who chose not to have this posted anonymously.  It involves his recovery from drug addiction.

knowledgeI am a man who is 59 years old. My name is Jack and I am an addict. I have spent the last 26 years of my life inside a prison made of steel and stone, before that I lived in a prison I carried in my mind. My low self esteem was beaten into me by the hard angry fists of my grandfather. You cant bury something awful inside yourself and then pretend its not there while you fight another war, that makes you break all of your own rules. Maybe I am simply talking about honor, I could not define it in myself, but I recognized it when I saw it in others. I was convinced that as a virtue it had little to do with being reasonable, I knew that absolutely it was as dishonorable for a man to allow himself to be used, as it was for him to use others. I have moments of memory where I slip back into an era that would always be mine, whether I wanted it or not. Where I lived a life of" NOT ENOUGH "… not good enough, not fast enough, not quiet enough, every statement punctuated with violence, I can feel myself begin to sink into a dark recess of pain and grief that will not cauterize with time. I can feel the caution lights start to flash in my head, then I know by the heated energy that rushes through my stomach and surges through my chest and rips open the sealed up places in my brain that I had forgotten or wanted to believe never existed. The hyena will have its way, just as the caution light is locked on red, you cant even have the pleasure of loathing yourself, because the metamorphosis to which you’ve committed yourself is now the only self you have. Everyone has a need for their past, sometimes it pulls harder on you than your future. I have liked the past better than the present or even the hope of the future. There have been times when I have fallen and betrayed my future with my past. The past is like a rodent that eats its way inch by inch through entrails and chews at your liver and stomach, severs tendons from organs until finally when you are alone in the dark it sits gorged and sleek inside your head, its eyes resting, its wet muzzle like a kiss, a promise whispered in the air. I have found in the rooms of recovery, a place of redemption, and a road to a bright future where hope and peace lay, a chance to be part of my own life instead of being ran over by it. There is no trap so deadly as the one we set for ourselves.

I’d like to add one more thing.  Jack recently learned that he will be a free man in less than one year.  Congratulations Jack.  I am confident that you have learned how to make it as a productive, law abiding citizen.

Oct 272014

I’m sorry there has been so little activity here in recent months.  Because we are a small organization, personal health issues have been problematic.  In addition, we are reorganizing our Board of Directors, and will have announcements on that shortly.  I hope that from this point forward, I’ll have more regular articles for you.

Feb 102014

Senator David Vitter (R-LA), joined by several other Republicans, tried to prohibit people, who have ever been convicted of certain sexual offences, from receiving food stamps.  Fortunately for our communities, they failed.

0210VitterToday [Feb 4], the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill conference agreement that effectively neutralizes an effort by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to ban food stamps for life for people with certain felony convictions.

In May, Senator Vitter offered an amendment to the farm bill that would have denied food assistance through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for life to anyone ever convicted of certain violent offenses. The measure would have resulted in reduced SNAP benefits in households with people convicted of such offenses, affecting children as well as adults. The House later adopted a similar amendment to its farm bill.

About one in six of the 1.6 million people in state or federal prison has been convicted of an offense targeted by these amendments. Over time, the ban would have applied to more than a million people. Disparities in the criminal justice system mean African-Americans and Latinos would have been disproportionately affected.

The Sentencing Project joined a diverse group of civil rights, faith, labor, and criminal justice advocacy organizations in strongly opposing Senator Vitter’s counterproductive food stamp ban…

Inserted from <The Sentencing Project>

Hat Tip: CURE National

Realistically, the most important thing in dealing with offenders of this type is that they do not reoffend.  The Vitter Amendment would have made that goal more difficult.  First, people receiving food stamps are less likely to move without notifying authorities, making it easier for authorities to supervise them.  Second, that availability of help, gives former offenders a stake in their communities, and with it, a greater incentive to stay crime-free.

Vitter’s motivation appears to have been purely political, a great irony, given his own sexual history.

Kudos to all who joined in defeating this measure.

Dec 282013

Here is an excellent article about the use of online Registries to track people who have committed sexual crimes.

28a-researchContrary to popular belief, offender registries are not a recent phenomenon. Offender registries are government-controlled systems that track the movements and other activities of certain persons with criminal convictions. While today they are most commonly used for sex offenders, registries have been adopted

since the 1930s to regulate persons convicted of a wide variety of offenses including embezzlement, arson, and drug crimes.

Early registries were widely criticized as ineffective and overly punitive, and many were eliminated through litigation or legislative repeals. Others simply fell into disuse over the course of the 20th century. Now, there is a growing body of research that demonstrates that modern sex offender registries are similarly ineffective at reducing crime. Sex offender registries are costly, vastly overbroad, and error-ridden.

Even worse, the overwhelming stigma of public notification provisions may actually increase recidivism among offenders.2 [sic] Despite their repeated history of failure, enthusiasm for publicly available, internet-based registries for every offense imaginable has only grown in recent years. There have been proposals across the country to register those found guilty of animal abuse, arson, drug offenses, domestic violence, and even failure to pay child support.

Existing registries are expanding and becoming increasingly punitive. Without a concerted effort to stop the tide of offender registration, we are at risk of repeating past mistakes on a much larger and more treacherous scale.

Offender registries are backwards, punitive measures that do not make communities safer. Unfortunately, those in favor of more nuanced, data-driven methods of reducing violence and sexual abuse face substantial barriers in overcoming precedent from years when registries were far narrower in scope than they are today… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <Sex Offender Statistics>

I am personally acquainted with cases where such online registries have thoroughly disrupted the lives of individuals, who had completed treatment and lived productive lives in their communities.  The greatest danger to the community comes not from offenders, who have completed treatment, but6 from those, who have not yet been discovered.  I urge you to click through to the original article.  It contains a wealth of information on why we need to be concerned with restoring such individuals, not heaping additional punishment on them.

Oct 222013

I’m sorry to learn of the passing of Sister Antonia Brenner, one of those rare indivisuals with a genuine heart for prisoners.  She is an inspiration to us all.

055454.ME.1115.antonia.1.DPBSister Antonia Brenner, a Beverly Hills-raised mother of seven who became a Roman Catholic nun and moved into a notorious Tijuana prison where she spent more than three decades mending broken lives, easing tensions and dispensing everything from toothbrushes to bail money, has died. She was 86.

Brenner, who had been in declining health, died Thursday of natural causes at the home of her religious order in Tijuana where her fellow sisters had cared for her in her final days, said Christina Brenner, her daughter-in-law.

She was born Mary Clarke in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1926, to Irish immigrant parents. Her father grew wealthy running an office supply business, and the family counted Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant among their neighbors. She married and raised four daughters and three sons, all the while becoming deeply involved in charity work.

In 1977, after her children were grown and two marriages had ended in divorce — a source of sadness that she rarely talked about — Brenner gave away her expensive clothes and belongings, left her Ventura apartment and moved to La Mesa penitentiary. She had delivered donations in the past to the prison, each visit filling her with compassion.

"Something happened to me when I saw men behind bars. … When I left, I thought a lot about the men. When it was cold, I wondered if the men were warm; when it was raining, if they had shelter," Brenner told The Times in a 1982 interview. "I wondered if they had medicine and how their families were doing. …You know, when I returned to the prison to live, I felt as if I’d come home."…

Inserted from <LA Times>

Please click through for the rest of this excellent article.

Thanks to CURE National for pointing this article out.

Aug 102013

Many times I made telephone calls from prison, knowing that the person I was calling would be cheated with ludicrous telephone rates.  Feeling guilty, I often did not call, or sent money out of my meager prison wages to pay for the call.  I’m most pleased to say that we have won that battle.

prison phoneAfter a protracted battle to end inordinate charges for phone calls from prison that exceeded $17 for a 15-minute phone, the Federal Communications Commission voted Friday to cap the rate for interstate calls at 25 cents per minutes, meaning 15-minute calls could no longer cost more than $3.25.

The 2-1 FCC decision not only relieves the burden on inmates for whom phone calls are the primary means of contact with loved ones, including young children. It also curbs exploitation of a largely unregulated sector of the phone market, which fostered generous profits and what amounted to legalized kickbacks to states in exchange for lucrative contracts

Inserted from <Think Progress>