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Here you can search for articles that have been published in our newsletter. Our newsletter is primarily written by and for prisoners, their friends, and families. You can receive a paper copy at your home (or send one to your relative or friend in prison). We request a donation of $20 or more for four issues to help cover editing, printing, and mailing costs.

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Oct 09, 2017

A Lesson to be Learned

Curtis Sanders

keywords: prisoner article, abuse, guard misconduct

I write this article from United States Penitentiary Atwater, in Atwater, California, on day one of what Is going to be an extremely long lockdown after a couple of abusive and disrespectful officers were targeted and ambushed by a group of the inmate population. Now will come the time of needless group punishments. This is always the over-reaction of the prison administration, to punish the whole when in truth, they should be more concerned about reestablishing professionalism in their officers to ensure that future acts of unprofessional abuse and disrespect by their officers do not force such drastic reactions by the inmates in their care. However for the inmates, and yes, even the line officers themselves, I believe they all see the underlying truth of what caused this incident and view the inmates actions as perhaps a necessary evil taken in defense against some staff who have time and time again always been intentionally out of hand and abusive and disrespectful to the inmates. For in truth, all inmates and officers know how very hard we, the inmate population, try to never target or injure prison staff. It’s for all intents a cardinal rule, for we well know all the repercussions that will come from targeting prison staff. And in truth, prison administrators know it too; it takes a whole lot of abuse to force the inmates to take such serious action against prison staff, especially for a whole group of inmates to take action together. It’s not just an officer being slick at the mouth, but continually being abusive and disrespectful riding rough shod over the inmate population.

However, as said for the inmates and regular officers, they all see the similar truth that as a rule officers who remain professionals and respectful are never targeted and attacked out of hand. It is always the ones who intentionally want to push and be disrespectful. For those readers not accustomed to prison environment, just picture the guard Percy in the movie, “The Green Mile” or the ignorant and abusive sheriff in the move, “First Blood” and how far he pushed John Rambo until he eventually snapped. For in truth it’s the same in here every time a prison staff is targeted for an attack, it is always them who first pushed and pushed and drew first blood; pushing the inmates to take such desperate action. For in truth no one in here wants to attack the police nor face the severe repercussions that follow. It takes a lot, and I mean an awful lot of abuse to force such dire actions. However this is often a simple truth that is ignored by prison administrators for it would place the blame not only on their officers but the administrators themselves for allowing or even embracing such unprofessionalism by their officers.

This is definitely true here at US Penitentiary Atwater where the warden Andre Matevousin openly embraces a desire to continually victimize the inmates in his care which signals a green light to his officers to do the same. For here the warden himself commits numerous illegal actions with virtual impunity victimizing the inmates and continually violating their constitutional protections, such as illegally restricting our incoming and outgoing mail, even refusing/destroying our incoming mail unless it is strictly on white paper and white envelopes, any mail arriving in manila envelopes are destroyed as are letters on non-white paper, and restricting us from writing outside contacts unless personally approved by himself, inmates are no longer able to receive books from bookstore or publishers unless purchased through the prison at a 307. Mark up, persona money accounts are frozen on targeted inmates and all grievances on these matters are simply not processed denying us access to the courts. These illegals gestapo style tactics serve no legitimate penological interest, they are in fact open illegal victimization by the warden upon the inmates and this in turn instills the same attitude into his officers who believe they can be abusive with virtual impunity. However maybe now that officers have been attacked and hurt, just maybe Federal Bureau Brass in western regional headquarters and in the central headquarters in DC may finally open their eyes to illegal tyranny happening at Atwater under the direction of Warden Andre Matevousin.

Curtis Sanders

Nov 27, 2017

The Case of Poverty

Eric McCaa

keywords: prisoner article, poverty, the new jim crow

In America, poverty produces poverty. The rich get richer, while the poor become poorer. This tired adage still holds relevance, and is especially true for the American “underclass.” The underclass are a demographic that exist below the upper, middle and lower classes of society, and predominantly consist of minorities, felons, high school dropouts and female-headed households. Statistics prove that the underclass suffer inordinately from income inequality and social inequities. Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen argues that:

The core problem associated with poverty is that of “capability deprivation.” Capabilities are what allow people to obtain what is intrinsically important to them such as good healthcare, adequate food, shelter, education and employment. Sen also sees low-income as one of the major courses of poverty, since it can be a principal reason for a person’s capability deprivation; but there are other factors that can affect a person’s capabilities as well, such as age, race and gender in societies that offer unequal opportunities based on these types of characteristics (Iceland 32).

A factor that Amartya Sen failed to mention is the stigma of being a convicted felon in America. Because of the systematic hardships of “social exclusion” in areas of concentrated poverty, and because of the repercussions created by the criminal justice system, many inhabitants of high poverty areas find equal opportunities in employment, education and housing elusive.

Social exclusion is a multi-dimensional causation of poverty. Neighborhoods in high poverty areas are easily identifiable by dilapidated buildings, litter-strewn streets, forlorn men loitering, and the ubiquitous liquor store. The conditions listed above are just a fraction of the visible environmental aspects of social exclusion. Other environmental adversities include high crime rates, substandard education, employment, healthcare opportunities, and racial, ethnic and class segregation. Social exclusion also causes individualistic hardships such as low income, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, psychological disorders with a propensity for criminal behavior, race, age, convicted felon and gender discrimination. When experienced alone, any one of these factors will magnify economic instability, but when confronted with multiple causes of poverty, as many residents of high poverty areas are, the inevitable outcome of capability deprivations are unavoidable.

Some analysts refer to social exclusion as “marginalization,” which means to relegate to an unimportant position within a society or group. Other analysts prefer the term “social stratification,” which means to divide or arrange into classes, castes or social strata. Regardless of the terminology used, people living in areas of concentrated poverty are burdened with a distinct disadvantage in resource equality. Minorities, felons, high school dropouts, children and female-headed households are especially vulnerable and overrepresented in poverty statistics – “Nearly half (46%) of families in extreme poverty areas are headed by a female householder” (Iceland 57). The children raised in these single-parent households face dire circumstances and often lack a positive male role model living at home. In the 1960s, anthropologist Oscar Lewis wrote,

“By the time slum children are age 6 or 7, they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture, and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities which may occur in their lifetime” (Iceland 57).

Researchers have classified this type of causation “intergenerational transmission of poverty” (I.T.P.). Three prevalent factors help explain I.T.P.:
1. Family and environmental stresses (the daily pressures of ghetto life psychologically impede on the impoverished household)
2. Resources and investments (the parents’ lack of resources, specifically time and money to invest in their children’s developmental endowments, such as quality daycare, a computer, helping with schoolwork, and imparting moral values)
3. Cultural perspectives (the lack of an ethical community conduct system, and also a sense of despondency that influences the behavior of the impoverished creating a cultural poverty).


“This culture manifests itself in sexual promiscuity, drug use, a high incidence of single parent households and crime in poor communities.” (Iceland 50) The transference of poverty ensures that the perpetuation effects of poverty becomes the cause of future poverty. “42% of children born to parents in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remained at the bottom.” (Iceland 49) Minorities account for 79% of people living in areas of concentrated poverty. “From 2005 to 2009, Blacks made up 45%, Latinos 34%, and Whites 17% of people in high poverty areas.” (Iceland 56) These minorities are alienated from suburbia by class economic instability, and discriminatory practices. Segregated to the margins of mainstream society, the residents of high poverty areas are denied access to the legitimate economy, and as a result of social exclusion are forced into commerce in the underground economy.

The American criminal justice system is being used as an institution of racialized social control. This is not the first instance of the United States government using racialized social control. America has used: enslavement of Africans, internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, reservations for Native-Americans, and Jim Crow laws against Blacks. In the early 1800s, America also experimented with “poorhouses” in an effort to alleviate poverty. The poorhouses were yet another form of social control employed by the United States to subjugate its most vulnerable citizens. Mass incarceration is America’s latest attempt to control a specific demographic, and the penitentiaries are the new poorhouses. In the 1970s, African-American comedian Richard Pryor defined American criminal “justice” as, “Just-us minorities suffering from the unwarranted searches, police brutality, racial profiling, arrests, convictions and imprisonment. In the forty-plus years since Mr. Pryor’s observation, the situation has worsened – the prison population has increased over six times, and the population of people living in concentrated areas of poverty has doubled. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and no other country imprisons so many of its racial and ethnic minorities. Mass incarceration has oppressed areas of concentrated poverty severely. Not only does the “lawbreaker” get penalized, but their family members and the community also suffer. Fathers are being taken away from their children, causing the mothers the added responsibility of child-rearing alone. Civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander writes,

“Once released, former prisoners enter a hidden underworld of legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion. They are members of America’s new under caste. I use the term racial caste in this book the way it is used in common parlance to denote a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom. Jim Crow and slavery were caste systems. So is our current system of mass incarceration.” (Alexander 13)

Statistics point a grim picture in regard to poverty and mass incarceration. “The imprisonment rate for U.S. residents in 2009 was: 487 per 100,000 for White men, 1,193 per 100,000 for Hispanic men, and 3,119 per 100,000 for Black men. White males were arrested 7,066,154 times and Black males were arrested 2,846,862 times.” (Almanac 123) This disparity in the imprisonment and arrest rates emphasize the effect of white privilege. “In 1972 fewer than 350,000 people were being held in prisons and jails nationwide, compared with more than 2 million people today, and a staggering 5.1 million people under “community correctional supervision” – i.e. on probation or parole.” (Alexander 94) Law enforcement officers specifically target areas of concentrated urban poverty, and label such areas as high crime neighborhoods. The “War on Drugs” wreacked havoc on high poverty/crime areas. Police across America used paramilitary tactics, S.W.A.T. teams, and paid informants to decimate the high poverty neighborhoods. “Between 1970 and 1990 the number of people in high poverty neighborhoods nearly doubled, from over 4 million to 8 million. High poverty neighborhoods are typically defined by researchers as those where over 40% of the population is poor.” (Iceland 55)

Michelle Alexander states,

“Nationwide, nearly 7 out of 8 people living in high poverty urban areas are members of a minority group. Mass incarceration thus perpetuates and deepens pre-existing patterns of racial segregation and isolation. The racially segregated, poverty-stricken ghettos that exist in inner-city communities across America would not exist today, but for racially biased government policies for which there is no meaningful redress.”

Mass incarceration and social exclusion have caused a systemic devastation of familial stability, economic solvency and ethical morals in the sector of American society that is most lacking these characteristics. Minorities are isolated from mainstream America due to social exclusion, economic inequality, mass incarceration and discrimination. Concentrated areas of poverty have spread like the plague across America, and no longer is just a problem for metropolitan areas. Rural communities now face increased hardships due to globalization, deindustrialization and the opioid epidemic. Poverty and class separation in America demand curative measures.

Works Cited
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The New Press. Pub 2012
Almanac, The World and Book of Facts 2012
Infobased Learning. Pub 2012
Iceland, John. Poverty in America: A Handbook
University of California Press. Pub. 2013

Apr 30, 2018

Business Over Humanity at Salinas Valley State Prison

Carlos Johnson

keywords: prisoner letter

Hello, my name is Carlos. I am a prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison. I've been incarcerated since the age of 15. I'm about to turn 35 in April. Through the years I've seen and been through all that the California prison system has to offer. Good and bad. I spent close to 10 years in the SHU... However, I am writing you awesome and inspiring Organization for a different reason. I have an approaching release date in June 20/20 So, I am both grateful and blessed... I am also a bit nervous to return to society after being away for so long. I know it will take some time to adjust to the Free World. But I am ready for the challenge. And I aspire to make a positive impact in any way that I can. Just as you all do it Prison Focus.. So I have been working on my patience, work ethic, social skills, trade skills, communication and overall self to position myself for the future.

Nevertheless, since my arrival to Salinas Valley, it has been difficult to maintain my goals. The program here is so inconsistent, that it leaves you feeling unbalanced. There's always some reason to place the facility on modified. From bogus threats on staff, the shortage of staff to some inmate deciding he wants to roll up and go SNY. I've been here since January, and I've only witnessed a couple of fist fights, yet we've been without program multiple times. Every aspect of this facility seems to be run in a manner that promotes discouragement. Canteen is routinely closed and/or missed due to some complication. Some men have missed their opportunity to go to the store 4 or 5 months straight making it difficult to maintain hygiene and food. Moreover, and if not more important, the suspect” modified program” that frequently happens, is making rehabilitation hard. It’s difficult to get into a consistent routine of attending, comprehending and applying the reentry skills taught in a rehabilitative program here due to the inconsistent program. These things (rehabilitation) should be at the forefront of any prison program. But it's not the case here. And that's sad on so many levels…

Prison has changed so much over these last 10 years. There's more opportunities to build yourself up and grow as a person along with the chance to go home for thousands, where it wasn't before. The public has contributed greatly as well, which is all super positive and uplifting... Yet, even with all the changes, propositions included, there is still a problem with the applications of these things both, programs and preparing inmates for their freedom… The rehabilitation must be at the forefront of these institutions to really work. Because of emotional stress, mental stress etc. that is a part of being incarcerated, it's vital to make rehabilitation a priority, especially for the people who will be released back into society. If that's not the case, then the Free World has been done a disservice, as well as the individual returning to society. Knowing this I ask this question; is the business aspect more important than the humane one? I would hope not. Yet, I not only see the true answer, I've been living it for the past 18 years. The change needs to continue one day at a time because the application of these new laws and prison reforms are productive in theory, but fail to accomplish any real lasting change, mostly because the core of the problem is being overlooked. So, although changes happening, it's not getting things corrected... Never the less, I hope it gets better. Hope you do too. Thank you for your time. I appreciate the platform to use my voice, and hopefully be a part of the change…

Striving Towards Success,

Carlos

My name is Hatari Olugbala, and in 1987 I was shot, captured, and imprisoned. I entered the prison system shortly before Pelican Bay SHU was opened and I became one of the prisoners shipped to the SHU in those first few buses. I have been incarcerated for over 30 years. Mistreatment, isolation, cruelty and loneliness where my cellmates. Being that I was young (16), I was not prepared for the mental, emotional, and psychological impact that Pelican Bay Shu would have on me, and would continue to have on me even years after I was finally let out of the SHU.


Pelican Bay Shu was hell for me, but I survived. I found a place within myself where I could shield myself from some of the effects, a place where the damage would not be as thorough, a place where love, communalism, compassion and hope remained.


Upon being let out of the SHU, I was placed on "C" status, for despite what was being expressed to the public, the effects of long-term isolation were well-known. I required social, mental, and emotional reintegration in order to function around people. I will never be fully free of the effects of the SHU, and I accept this. However, I will never give up hope in the healing process.


I started to recognize that I had developed proximity issues. Every time someone would get too close to me or if a brother would embrace me, I would immediately tense up and go into combat mode. This was just one of the many effects of the SHU. I also recognized that I could not form pure connections with people, and that my social interactions were not organic but rather forced. I could not form connections for it felt foreign- human connection and contact felt foreign.


As I was trying to adjust, I was actively involved in the Prisoner's Rights Movement. I dedicated myself to the prevention of prisoner on prisoner violence and changing the perception of prisoners in the minds of the public. At this time, the image of prisoners was controlled by politicians, and those who had an economic stake in the negative perception of prisoners. Anytime prisons or prisoners were mentioned it always highlighted the violence and mayhem.


The public was led to believe that we were vicious animals, that we were not human beings, and the propaganda was pushed so often on the public that when incidents of cruelty and mistreatment were exposed, they were ignored and dismissed. The prisoners were always somehow to blame.


(Society doesn’t hear how prisoners who work for nothing (literally 5 cents an hour) still send their paychecks home to contribute to their families. People don’t hear about the father who finds creative ways to express his love to his family and children. They don’t hear about the prisoner who enrolls in a Defy Ventures or a College program so that he can become a better man, a better son, a better husband, or a better father.)


By the time I had arrived to prison, there were very few remnants left. Those of us charged with and were brave enough to carry on were at a major disadvantage, and we had to be creative for our elders- those who came before us and handed us the blueprints- had been removed, some turned while others were discredited in one way or another. We lost a lot of ground. So we had to adjust and began regaining some of that ground back by turning already existing platforms into revolutionary and cultural educational groups.

I myself created a group called Afrikan Spiritual and Educational Study Service in 1996. We focused on prisoner to prisoner social relations and unification strategies. We worked on methods designed to reduce violence among ourselves and bring awareness to the problems we faced as prisoners, especially Black prisoners.

Apr 30, 2018

LETTER: The Board Took Three More Years of My Life

anonymous

keywords: parole, prisoner letter

I remember back in the 1990s with the Prison Focus first started. I was in Pelican Bay shoe doing 16 years in SHU for 4 staff assaults. I got four years in SHU for each of the assaults… Geez, I thought, I’d never get out of SHU. But I met Corey Weinstein and many others, and other humanitarian groups… I finally finished that long SHU - MERD in 1997, and got released to the general population in August 1997… I truly commend you, for the truth you wrote about in your 2018 Prison focus: I’ve been out here over 20 years going, around and around and around with the California prison board, my MEPD was 1994. I was told at my parole hearing in 1994, “Oh, Mr. S, you’re doing remarkably well, but you’re in SHU and all we need is to see you get out of SHU and see you hold you are seven years clean time record. Mr. S, they told me, get out of SHU. Program good, as you are now, and yes, you got your date coming… And yes, I believed their lies… I have 31 years clean time now… And yes, I am a role model programmer. I made my U-turn Way back before I left old San Quentin in 1987. The California Prison Board has done nothing but nit pick me, and lie to me. All of my psych reports, from 2004 to 2007, have been low risk, low risk, low risk, except one. Into 2013, I was given a moderate psych report. The psychologist that gave me a low risk psych report in 2008 and 2010, switched up on me and gave me a moderate evaluation, because in 2013, when reviewed, I didn’t have a written relapse plan: they denied me supposedly, based on that and told me I was doing very good, but I needed to dig some more. I had 27 years clean time when Commissioner Turner told me, I needed to dig a little more… That’s my last parole hearing, on May 10, 2017, I had over 30 years clean time, and again, they denied me three years. Supposedly because I answered one of their trick questions wrong. Commissioner Roberts, tells me he wants to ask me a question. The important thing is to tell the truth, because they are looking for honesty. He tells me to just be honest. He says if you were in a halfway house and you see someone go and bring drugs into the house, would you go and tell the cops??? I told him no, I would not, because my position in the halfway house is to keep out of trouble and make sure to not violate the rules of the halfway house. I got denied three years for honesty. The trickery that was involved, was he already knew I have nothing in my C file, that said I report people, so I was thinking he knew this already. If I say 'yes, I would turn this guy in', he’s going to say, your lying, and possibly deny me for lying. So, I simply told the truth, and he still denied me. He said he denied me because I said I was rehabilitated, but yet I show no concern for crime prevention. I told him, there’s many law abiding citizens such as lawyers, doctors, judges, etc., who do not get involved in other people’s crimes. But for honesty, the board took three more years of my life. I’m 68 years old, I’ve been in the California prison system for eight years in October 2008. No murder case. I came to prison in 1978 for a kidnap, for ransom. I was given seven to life. I got into it with staff in my seven to life was changed to 16 to life. But, I’m still trying. Thanks for letting people know what’s going on with parole boards. Yes, I believe seriously, 90 to 95% of people at parole hearings are denied. Certainly, I am one who has been denied unfairly and recently. Thanks so very much for truth, honesty and realness, pertaining to California’s parole board.

Stay cool, stay strong and stay in touch.

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