What He Said, and What it Says About Us

By BitcoDavid

Texas – the state that’s turning execution into a pastime - publishes the last words of death row inmates. We got this story from an excellent piece in the Gray Lady. If you read it, pay particular attention to the comments section. We tend to forget that in America, most people view inmates with a mix of fear and hatred. I was really disturbed by the lack of empathy, sympathy or even basic compassion towards the condemned, in many of  those comments.

Texas' new and improved execution chamber - I guess it beats ol' Gruesome Gerty. Image Credit NYT

Texas’ new and improved execution chamber – I guess it beats ol’ Gruesome Gerty.
Image Credit NYT

Anyway, here’s the link to Texas’ page:


They publish the race of each offender on the main page, and if you click the individual links, they cite the gender as well as the race and gender of the victim. It provides a fascinating insight into the Texas judicial system. This site is well worth bookmarking and studying thoroughly.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

By Joanne Greenberg

English: Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Boo...

Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a memoir of fifteen months spent in Danbury Federal Prison work camp. In the range of prisons, this was the highest (best); the others were downhill from there. Piper had been a drug dealer, left the drug game, and ten years later was arrested in connection with a sweep arrest of her former gang members. This woman brought to her experience the absolute best possible strengths – she was healthy, young, attractive but not beautiful, cultured but not pretentious, and flexible.

The book reads well. The reader is brought into Piper’s  prison life as she goes through different levels of the experience, and the reader admires her ability to adjust to what are often uncomfortable but never horrific situations. Later, in jail, pending an appearance in court, things are not as manageable. The writing is smooth and interesting. I had some quibbles with her take on her fellow inmates. I don’t know of any group anywhere as comfort giving, stimulating, appreciative, or loving as how she describes her

fellow prisoners. The administration didn’t count at all. They appear and disappear in a mist with one or two exceptions that she managed to work around. The positive relations that she had with her fellow prisoners made me a little suspicious. I think she was using them to show how useless and ridiculous the modern American prison system is. I agree with her, but I can’t help feeling a little bit manipulated.

This book was highly recommended to me by a friend, and I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with her. I can see why the book would be very popular, because it strikes all the right notes. The prison system sucks, but ordinary people are the salt of the earth. As you already know, this is not the case. Most of the people I picked up when I was doing rescue just thought they were going someplace else. Occasionally, though, we got scuzzballs. I thing the police get bitter because of the scuzzball ratio and this influences their outlook.

The book can be purchased through Amazon.com as well as other outlets.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

It’s Not All Bad

One such court in San Fransisco gives out candy when the perps show up for their hearings.

ABC News reported on the growth and progress of Community Courts. I got the article from AnotherBoomerBlog – Marsha Graham. The idea, albeit quite new, is simply stellar. These are small local courts set up to deal with low level crimes – vandalism, drunkenness and prostitution.

Here’s the article link:


Instead of dolling out jail time in an already overcrowded and broken penal system, these courts encourage things like community service for drug offenses and painting walls for taggers.

And unlike the thousands of specialized drug courts across America, community courts are designed to provide quicker, cheaper justice while improving life in specific neighborhoods or police precincts. Defendants perform community service in the neighborhoods where they broke the law. Taggers must paint over graffiti. And shoplifters are required to help distribute clothes to the poor.

Now, I don’t really get why somebody would want this painted over, but…

So far, over a dozen states have adopted the Community court model. And the results are starting to roll in. 4500 defendants have been tried for low level crimes in San Fransisco alone – alleviating a some of the backlog being dealt with by the traditional courts in the area.

Police officers say that since sentences involve counseling and treatment – rather than incarceration – recidivism is decreased, and so is their workload.

Police Captain John Garrity, whose district is served by the Community Justice Center, says his officers can focus more on serious crime because the court gets the lower level offenders into social services, where they leave less likely to reoffend than they are from short jail stints.

The Midtown Community Court

The Midtown Community Court (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The point here is something that many of us have been saying for a long time. Treatment, therapy, social work and an ounce of compassion will inevitably do more for rehabilitation of offenders, than will harsh prison sentences, 3 strike laws and other even more draconian and cruel methods of punishment. As one who is no stranger to the criminal justice system – I can tell you – education and treatment go a lot further than steel bars and jump-suits.

Again, the link to ABC’s coverage:


Not Providing Interpreters for Deaf Persons Can Result in Tragedy as Loss of Life as Well as Be Costly for Jail Systems

Shawn Francisco Vigil, died in prison. He was not provided an interpreter during the medical/psychological intake process, was placed in isolation and committed suicide.

Below, the link to the Denver Post‘s coverage:

Jail officials had housed Vigil in a special unit away from the general population and failed to do any “meaningful analysis of whether he posed a substantial danger to himself,” according to the lawsuit that was filed by Debbie Ulibarri, Vigil’s mother.

In recognition of their negligence, Denver has agreed to pay a settlement to Ulibarri’s family in the amount of $695,000.

The suit alleged the city did not adequately train staff, didn’t have proper accommodations for hearing impaired inmates, failed to provide a sign language interpreter and did not screen the inmate for mental health concerns.

Progress in California

Beautiful aerial of California’s infamous Folsom Prison. Image courtesy of

I got this in my e-mail a few days ago:

Dear David,

We have exciting news that you helped make happen!  Two important victories today in California -
 Senate Bill 9 and Assembly Bill 1270 took major steps forward in the legislature.

First, Senate Bill 9 just passed the state Assembly 41-34!

After six years of hard work by many organizations and dedicated activists like you, we are closer than ever to reforming life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles. 

What’s next?  The bill  – which passed the state Senate in June 2011 – goes back to the Senate to get agreement on new amendments made in the Assembly since the Senate’s vote. Then it’s on to the governor!

We will need your help again – stay tuned and we’ll let you know when to take action to let Gov. Brown know you want him to sign SB 9.

More good news: Assembly Bill 1270 – a bill to restore media access to prisons that allows journalists to interview specific prisoners – today moved out of the Senate Appropriations committee. It was approved by a vote of 5-2.  Now it moves to the full Senate for a vote. Once it passes the full Senate, it’s on to the governor!

There’s still time to sign and spread the word about our petition  .  We’ll be taking your signatures directly to Gov. Brown when the time is right.

Last week, we printed out your 2,500 signatures and personally hand-delivered them to every member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Your petition signature is also sent directly to your personal Assembly member and Senator via email, and they are taking notice.  Thank you for your support.

Kevan Insko

P.S. Our all new website and online Action Center is finally here!

This is exceptionally good news – if it goes through. First, it will stop the barbaric practice of doling out life sentences to children. Secondly and moreover to my mind, is that it will restore the rights of the Press to interview prisoners. This is critical. As citizens, it is our right, privilege and responsibility to oversee our judicial system – and we can’t do that without a vibrant and unrestrained free Press.

The infamous lime green gas chamber at San Quentin, where all of California’s death sentences are carried out. Today the room is used for lethal injections; California abolished execution by poison gas in 1995.
Image courtesy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. but I got it from http://civilliberty.about.com/od/capitalpunishment/ig/Types-of-Executions/Gas-Chamber-Executions.htm

The School to Prison Pipeline Is Even Bigger for the Deaf

This is an article published in the New York Times. It states that children with disabilities are more likely to be suspended from school, than are non-disabled students. But, they didn’t need a study to prove this. They just needed to read DeafInPrison.com. We’re well familiar with both the school to prison pipeline, and the difficulties disabled students – in particular, the Deaf – are faced with. They are often disproportionately punished, in both schools and in adult life.

According to a new analysis of Department of Education data, 13 percent of disabled students in kindergarten through 12th grade were suspended during the 2009-10 school year, compared with 7 percent of students without disabilities. Among black children with disabilities, which included those with learning difficulties, the rate was much higher: one out of every four was suspended at least once that school year.

Want to read more? Here’s the link:


Too Many Prisoners – From Prisonmovement’s Weblog

Image courtesy of Prisonmovement’s Weblog

This is a reblog of an article that appeared in Prisonmovement’s Weblog, over the weekend. For those of you not familiar with them, here’s what they say about themselves:

Against the death penalty; the United States Criminal Justice System is flawed, broken, yet fixable; Prison Reform and Sentencing Reform should be major agenda’s for each state- we need to stop warehousing prisoners and ready those who are going to parole.
Inmate rehabilitation improves public safety and lowers prison costs.
“We have to care because we can’t afford not to”.

DeafInPrison.com loves Prisonmovement’s Weblog, and we hope you enjoy this post.

Here’s the link.




Juveniles in Prison

From The New York Times:

Justices Bar Mandatory Life Terms for Juveniles.

The justices ruled that such sentencing for those under 18 violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.


The Injustice of Lonliness as Punishment

[The tagline for DeafInPrison.com is Sentenced to Solitude in Silence. Our contributor JoanneGreenberg sent this in. --Ed.]

The hardest part of being deaf and in prison may not be the rapes, the missing of messages or the misunderstanding in general. It might be the absence of other deaf people. Imagine a Russian or Basque speaker in jail who knows very little English, and suffers the unappeased hunger for simple contact, conversation and communication. This absence, we hear from other prisoners, is what is so biting in solitary confinement.

What I remember from my trips to mental hospitals, before their patents were ditched into our local streets, was the complaint of deaf people there who had been placed geographically, instead of by medical definitions. This was a huge advance for the ordinary hearing mentally ill, because it didn’t discriminate between chronic and acute conditions, thereby allowing the chronic to be simply warehoused instead of being treated. For the Deaf, it was ruinous because they had no way of knowing who else might be there with whom they could communicate.

Now, the prisons have the same problem. If deafness could take prcedence over the type of crime or the length of sentence, deaf people could be housed together and services tailored to their needs could be instituted.

Interview with Mr. Jesse Doiron English Professor and Leader of Inmates Book Club

I interviewed my colleague, Mr. Jesse Doiron who is an English professor at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. For the past five years, he has led an interesting inmates’ book club. I asked him how he got the club started and how the inmates liked it. Implications for starting such book clubs for deaf inmates are also presented.

Biography of Mr. Jesse Doiron

Instructor of English

Department of English, Modern Languages, and Philosophy

Lamar University

Office O-38 Maes Building


Jesse Doiron spent 13 years as an educator and consultant in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  His work experience ranges from the University of California at Berkeley to St. Louis University, from the Spanish High Command School in Madrid to the Saudi Naval Forces School at King Abdulaziz Naval Base in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1991, Jesse witnessed the fall of the USSR as a Soros Teaching Fellow in Kiev, Ukraine, where he taught English at Skola #145, a math and physics lyceum. Before that, he was caught up in “Desert Storm” as an instructor for the Institute of Public Administration in Saudi Arabia.

Jesse has served as director of the Lamar Language Institute at Lamar University.  He also wrote and managed the Joint Education Project, a $300,000-plus consortium effort linking Lamar University with the Beaumont Independent School District, the Greater Orange Area Literacy Program, the Port Arthur Literacy Service, and the Beaumont Library System – Literacy Depot.  Jesse is now a full-time instructor in the Department of English, Modern Languages and Philosophy at Lamar University and an adjunct instructor of English for Lamar State College – Port Arthur.

Jesse has taught courses in literature (World, British, and American) as well as courses in creative writing, composition, and English as a Second Language.  In 2008, Jesse developed an on-line freshman composition course which he continues to teach as part of the expanding on-line offerings of Lamar University.  In 2009, Jesse helped develop the Department’s first on-line, dual-credit version of Freshman English Composition.  In 2012, Jesse developed and taught an on-line British literature course for Lamar State College – Port Arthur.


Most recently, Jesse has been focused on issues dealing with “Restorative Justice” and the rehabilitation of convicted felons.  In this area, Jesse has worked closely with Bridges to Life, a Christian outreach program that brings victims of violent crime face to face with convicted felons in prison.  He also volunteers with the Houston-based New Leaf prison rehabilitation program.

Jesse is a member of the Jefferson County Coalition for Victims of Crime and has served often as emcee for that group’s Candlelight Vigils as well as the Coalition’s Angel Tree Christmas events.

As a member of the Coalition for Victims of Crime, Jesse regularly volunteers with the Jefferson County Center for Victims Assistance in their training programs for police academy and sheriff academy cadets.

In 2007, Jesse began teaching English courses at state and federal prisons as an adjunct instructor for the Lamar State College, a position he continues to hold. He has taught composition, literature, and creative writing in a variety of prison environments from low-security to maximum-security penal institutions.  In addition to these college courses for inmates, Jesse also volunteers as a facilitator for an inmate book club at a local prison.

In 2008 and 2010, Jesse taught a multi-disciplinary Honors Seminar at Lamar University:

“Victims, Criminals, and Punishment.”  This 15-week seminar included the participation of guest speakers who were part of the criminal justice system, including victims of crime and perpetrators of crime.


Jesse received a Soros Teaching Fellowship in 1991 and was awarded an educational travel grant by the International Renaissance Foundation the following year.  He has consulted a number of organizations around the world on educational matters ranging from developing kindergartens in Central Europe to language training of military officers in Spain and Saudi Arabia.

In 2004, Jesse received the Courage Award from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty the TCADP annual conference in Dallas, Texas.  That same year, he was a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service in Beaumont, Texas.

In 2007, Governor Rick Perry gave Jesse the Governor’s Award for Restorative Justice.  That same year, Jesse received the Julie and Ben Rogers Community Service Award from Lamar University.

In 2009, Jesse was featured on I Survived, a reality program of the A&E Biography Channel that reports on people who have faced death and lived to tell about it.  In Season Three of the series (Episode 24), Jesse tells of being attacked by two men wielding a three-pound shop hammer.  The savage assault happened in the badlands of north Texas during a freak snow storm in 1983.  Before this program, Jesse’s victimization was featured in three local newspapers — The Beaumont Journal, The Beaumont Enterprise, and The Examiner.

In 2012, Jesse was recognized as Volunteer of the Year by the Bureau of Prisons –

Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas for his educational and religious work in their Medium Security Institution.

Interview with Mr. Jesse Doiron

May, 2012

How would you describe your “inmate book club”?

It’s a book club first.  Just as any book club in the “free world” it functions as a social activity through which people who enjoy reading can talk about what it is that they are reading.  The “inmate” part of the “inmate book club” is, of course, intriguing to most people who hear about the group.  For me, it is the only book club with which I have been associated.

In fact, when the prison administration first asked me to facilitate the book club, I called my big sister for advice.  She’s a librarian in the Dallas area.  The best bit she gave me was to let the book club be what it wants to be – don’t try too hard to make it what you want it to be.  She was wise in her warning.

While my book club is significantly different from the ones my sister facilitates as part of her job, it works the same in many ways. We select a book to read.  We read the book.  We talk about the book.  And just like the various book clubs my big sister has organized, mine often gets way off topic in our conversations.

How did you come up with this idea?

The inmates had already been meeting to talk books long before I got involved with them.  I suppose the prison administration wanted to organize their approach so as to better monitor their activities and to better focus their efforts – no one ever really explained what it was that I was supposed to do other than the rather vague concept of “facilitate.”  My first night was awkward because as soon as I walked in, there was an undeserved deference to me as some sort of “book club expert.”  Even after I explained to them that I had never been in a book club, they found it difficult to “suspend disbelief,” as we say in literary analysis.

I became the only “free-world” member of the club.  This distinction brought with it another responsibility that wasn’t clear until the charming educational officer introduced me to the inmates. Her demeanor and that of the inmates told me that I was not just going to talk about books; I was going to somehow represent the books.

How have the inmates responded to you?

I’ve been in the inmate book club for more than five years, now.  This year, the prison complex gave me one of four “Volunteer of the Year” awards.  Many of the inmates I met that first night have been released or transferred.  Over the years, some of the men have seen me gain weight and lose hair.  They have read a hundred books with me.  They have invited their best friends to visit the club, and many of them have joined it.  Every time I leave, they are flipping through a novel, smiling, waving good-bye, and trying to pin me down on a date for the next meeting.

How do you choose the books that the club reads?

Over the years, we have tried a number of systems to select our titles.  None of the methods have ever been bad, some have been chaotic, but most of the time consensus works.

The first year, I received a list of books that the administration had approved for use.  It was a wildly eclectic selection of novels that ranged from sci-fi series to New York Times bestsellers.  There wasn’t any Dickens.  No Hemingway.  Nothing bad.  Nothing old.

Once accepted as part of the club, I found the inmates asking me what I thought they should be reading.  It was the “free-world” mystic acting, as if I should know what was au courant in the world of belle letters.  The inmates and I started drawing up our suggestions for the administration, and, as I said, consensus works.  For us, it was never a problem selecting a title.  The problem was acquiring the title.  Funding is always difficult for this kind of a prison rehabilitation/recreation program.  We were lucky to get three copies of a book to share among us.  The system worked, but it often slowed us down in our reading.

One night – a particularly slow night, since the copies of the book had never arrived – we hit upon the idea of having multiple titles available for our discussion.  That way, if there were any prison glitches in getting a book, we’d always have a couple of fallback novels on hand.  Once we met and everyone just gave individual reports on whatever book he was reading that week.

Sometimes we focus on a genre.  For example, June is juvenile dystopia month for us – inspired by the buzz that The Hunger Games is getting.  The men know that I have kids in elementary and middle school, so they were interested in seeing what it is that young people have in their hands.  Many of the men are fathers, too.  I think this selection will be a great way to connect them with their children over the summer, and share some heavy philosophical ideas.  Even the fellows who don’t have sons or daughters were quite happy to join in on this idea. They all have family connections.  They all have some heavy philosophy hanging on the bars of their cells.  I knew the idea was a good one when I saw them arguing over the three copies of the book that we were allotted.

Do the inmates have preferences for genres – like fiction versus nonfiction?

Yes.  Individuals are individuals in prison or in the free world.  Our book club has rarely selected nonfiction.  The last one I recall was The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller. All of the men read more than I do.  They read everything.  I have learned their individual preferences, and I try to spread the focus so that each man gets a bit of what he most enjoys in literature.  One fellow could pass for a professor of philosophy at any academic conference.  Our youngest member, who taught himself to read in prison, loves anything that has mythology in it – Norse, Roman, German, Hindu – myths.  Many of the inmates are into sci-fi series or fantasy series.  Not many romance novels get suggested, but they do like love stories and family stories.  My western-novel guy got out a few years ago.

How long do your sessions last?

The inmate book club meets in the evenings from 6:00 p.m. to “call back.”  The actual hours depend on the daylight available – a security concern.  Usually we have at least two solid hours together; although, not everyone can make it on time because of prison schedules – feeding, work, recreation, religious services.  The men are not allowed to roam freely around the grounds, so one has to be flexible in starting and finishing a session.  Some months, I get out to the prison three or four times.  Some months, there are lockdowns that prevent our meeting at all.

Do you ever read books that have been adapted for the motion pictures?

Often we purposely select a book that has been made into a movie, or will be made into a movie, with the idea of viewing the film version for comparison.  A bit of self-censorship is needed here, because there are multiple restrictions on showing movies in prisons.  Some inmates have already seen a motion-picture adaptation of a book, and these inmates like to share their views of how successful screenwriters were in adapting the work for the cinema.  These discussions are particularly erudite on the levels of both film and literature.

Can men who have low reading levels participate in the inmate book club?

No inmate is excluded from joining the book club, but there is a territoriality that one can sense.  Book clubs usually are not big.  Usually they are made up of a few people who know one another well and enjoy getting together for other reasons to begin with.  Here, I am talking about a “free-world” book club.  Again, the same holds true in prison.  These men were together before I joined them.  They are the book club, really.  While a few inmates pop in from time to time to visit, the ones who stay seem to have another kind of established relationship with one of the men already in the book club.  That said, the inmates are surprisingly tolerant of those who want to try out the book club.  One year, we had a fellow who rarely read anything that we were discussing.  He came to the meetings, and he often made interesting comments – rarely about the books.  That said, none of the inmates ever suggested to me or to administration that the fellow be excluded from the book club.  And in the discussions, I never felt a need to monitor the inmate’s participation because the other inmates were able to do so with effortless charm.  It worked out well for the non-reader and the readers.

Could your inmate book club be adapted for deaf inmates who typically read below a third-grade level?

My experience in English as a Second Language leads me to answer, emphatically, “Yes.”

The book club is about people and their experiences with books.  A person’s experience can be profound even if the book is simple in structure.  I have seen this in ESL classes here in America and across the globe – Saudi Arabia, Spain, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Republic of Georgia.

As a father, I remember having tearful reactions to the books I read to my children.

Good literature does not necessarily mean literature that is difficult to read.  A good book club does not necessarily mean everyone in it has to read a book that is difficult. Add to the written word the technical opportunities afforded by multimedia presentations, and you can easily unloose a great deal of potential for the non-native speaker or for the hearing-impaired.  Book clubs with enthusiastic participants and skilled facilitators can accomplish much in difficult environments like prisons and with individuals who are challenged socially, culturally, physically, or mentally.

Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist with a knack for psychological observation, has a new book out called Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. He is not a Freudian at all, but he does note that people often act on impulses that are buried beneath their conscious understanding of situations.  “Blind sight,” for example, is when a damaged brain can still transmit enough peripheral information to allow for a kind of visual interpretation when there should be no capability for vision.

In a similar manner, readers understand much more than they read – sometimes by way of psychological osmosis or subliminal absorption.  Their understanding doesn’t necessarily come across at the conscious level, but there is obvious evidence of some level of comprehension because of the way they participate in discussion of the material.

An idea in a book might slip right by until another fellow mentions it in passing, then the idea bubbles up again and loses its ephemeral quality, becoming instead monumental. Suddenly the overlooked idea is important; the book is understandable.

In the inmate book club, our discussions help us all get our minds around ideas, words, actions, and beliefs.  I have never left the prison without a more intense feeling, if not a better understanding, for what we have discussed that night.  These discussions make the inmate book club invigorating, enjoyable, and inspiring.  The books make it a book club.

Sexual Victimization Reported by Former State Prisoners, 2008

svrfsp08.pdf (application/pdf Object).

Our 51st Post: A NYT Video

Prison Passion Play

Behavioral Control

Click this thumbnail to view post

Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison

Image courtesy of Catboxx (http://catboxx.blogspot.com/2010/05/parchman-farm.html). One of my favorite images of the old Parchman Farm chain gang.

The other day, I posted the DOJ report on prison populations as of Mid-year 2011. I did so, in an effort to respond to a question I was asked by a reader. Quite simply, how many Deaf inmates are there, in American prisons. In numerous searches, including having read the above report, I have not yet been able to find a reliable answer to that question.

One answer bothered me, however. On Yahoo answers, one respondent claimed that Deaf inmates are not sent to conventional prisons, but rather to special halfway houses or dorm facilities. Needless to say, anyone who reads DeafInPrison.com knows this is – sadly – just not true.

This is an article I found on About.com.

Deaf Prisoners – When Deaf People Are in Prison.

Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 – Statistical Tables

This beautiful shot of the front gate at the infamous Attica prison is courtesy of http://www.pbase.com/kjosker/image/25165269

jim11st.pdf (application/pdf Object).

"A" Block, from the same source.

Prisoners Helping Prisoners

by McCay Vernon, McDaniel College & Katrina R. Miller, Emporia State University

Doing Time

At the end of his trial, Mark Brackmann heard the verdict: nine years in prison. Shortly thereafter, he was in a jail cell awaiting transfer to the penitentiary. He had never been in a prison before and knew little about what he would face there. He was saddened that he would be separated from his family and friends, and was leaving behind the two successful businesses he had started from scratch. Literacy among state prisoners is typically lower than the general public (“National Assessment,” 2007). Like many educated men entering prison for the first time, Mark thought he would be very much alone and did not think he would find in prison anyone with whom he would have much in common.

Once assigned to prison in Wakula, Florida, Mark began to get acquainted with his fellow inmates, the guards, and other prison officials. He soon discovered that many of the prison inmates he met were similar to persons he had known on the outside. Some had a positive outlook, others were depressed and angry. Some had college degrees, others had only minimal education. Some had led interesting, productive lives on the outside, others had barely scraped by. Despite those differences, Mark learned that most of the men had dreams and ambitions for their futures, just as he did. For example, many who had spent their lives in crime-ravaged neighborhoods wanted to live where it was safe. Some prisoners hoped to spend time with their children, to be employed, and to have a home. Others dreamed of establishing their own businesses.

Few of these individuals had given serious thought as to how they would achieve their goals, nor had they made the effort to implement their future plans. In fact, only a tiny minority had worked out specific, realistic itineraries for their lives following discharge. As time wears on, inmate self-concept may degrade (Walrath, 2001).

Making Time Matter

In numerous correctional institutions, GED and vocational programming is strongly supported and sometimes court-ordered (“National Assessment,” 2007). Given Mark’s background as a college graduate, his first assignment as an inmate was to prepare fellow inmates to take and pass the GED test for their high school diplomas. He proved very effective at this task. About the same time, Mark formed a close friendship with another inmate, Jeff Botward, who had been a banker prior to his incarceration. Both men were appalled that so many of their peers were doing nothing constructive to prepare themselves for life after release from prison. Nor were they getting needed guidance from the prison staff regarding their futures and the hurdles they would face upon release.

It is notable that former inmates struggle more with keeping employment than acquiring a job. Many earn their GEDs, but lack basic social and life skills that are essential to the workplace (Koski, 1998). Rather than commiserate about the problem, Mark and Jeff decided to do something about it. They discussed the issues and proposed solutions to the prison chaplain, Reverend Allison, and to other interested prison officials. These officials were impressed by and supportive of the idea of helping inmates prepare for discharge back into society. Despite initial objections from some of the more traditional officers, the program Mark and Jeff had proposed was started.

Their first step was to write a book, Life Mapping, which was to be the text for their proposed course. The book detailed the specific steps prisoners should take while behind bars, in order to prepare for life outside prison. It also provided guidance on issues ex-convicts would face and how to cope with those problems after release.

Life Mapping

After Mark and Jeff finished writing Life Mapping, Reverend Allison and a few other prison officials who saw its value arranged to have the book printed. Once the book was available, classes in Life Mapping were begun despite continuing objections from some prison officials. Fortunately, key authorities supported the program and made it possible for Mark and Jeff to conduct classes using the text they had written.

From the beginning, the class proved to be a success. At the conclusion of the Life Mapping class, each student was required to take the poium and share his personalized Life Map.

Mark and Jeff were inundated with requests to open up more classes on Life Mapping. A volunteer professor from Florida State University, Dr. Mike Wallace, observed some of the sessions. Describing them, he said, “They are like a single flower in the desert. It is a miracle that the flower can survive in a harsh, inhospitable prison environment, yet it does. Its beauty is stunning, but even more so because of the austerity that surrounds it.”

Mark and Jeff were excited by Dr. Wallace’s evaluation, but knew they and their fellow inmates had to do more if they were to change the barren culture of the prison system. “We put everything we had into making Life Mapping class a success,” Mark explained.

Growing opportunities

About the same time Life Mapping classes started, another program was launched by an inmate who had studied how to write a business plan. He now teaches that course to fellow prisoners. His program was effective although rough in spots, and could be improved upon. Another class is currently forming, focused on credit and debt management.

The inmates involved in instructing these classes met and formed a steering committee that included Mark, Jeff, and another prisoner, Darrel Simpson. The committee’s goal is to oversee and plan so that the classes developed by inmates are organized, unique, and effective.

The inmates who did the organizational work wanted to brand what they were doing, so they chose the name Realizing Educational and Financial Smarts (REEFS) for the steering committee and bank of educational programs. As their work continued and time passed, the prison culture did change. By now, 6,000 prisoners have completed REEFS courses.

Ordinarily, as one walks through a prison dorm, the prevalent activities are gambling, card games, arguments, sports talk, or fighting. By contrast, today many of the prisoners in the REEFS Program are discussing business plans and goals, while others are reading about current events in business, religion, marketing, and trade journals.

These are positive changes, but they did not come about easily. For example, there were volunteers who wanted to teach, but were unqualified. Some volunteers sought to take ownership of the REEFS’ program and materials. Inmates found it difficult to say no to volunteers due to their lower social status. While most students in the classes were eager to learn, some presented a challenge to instructors. For instance, some wanted to fight when their academic work was deemed unsatisfactory.

The REEFS Program

The REEFS program has successfully demonstrated a way to improve prison systems nationally, not just in Wakula, Florida. It has been shown that exposing inmates to REEFS programming can effect a change in the attitudes and goals of a significant number of participants, as well as positively impacting the prison environment or atmosphere in general. Disciplinary actions decrease in correctional facilities offering educational and vocational programming (Torre & Fine, 2005). The REEFS participants were transformed from idle inmates with few realistic goals to life planners, using their time in prison for self-improvement and preparation for their return to society.

The REEFS Program addresses three crucial factors that prison administrators in the United States presently face: recidivism, costs, and unproductive use of inmates’ time. To implement the REEFS Program or others like it requires that key officials in state prisons adopt an approach similar to Wakula. Lower recidivism rates are associated with prison-based education programming (Torre & Fine, 2005). The financial savings alone would more than justify any costs associated with implementation of such a program.

In order to make the Wakula program a success, there was a high level of collaboration between prison officials and inmates. Cooperation between these two groups is a key element of building an effective program. Additionally, many prison chaplains value educational and vocational training as an avenue to change for offenders and may be a useful resource in program building (Sundt, Dammer, & Cullen, 2002)

Understandably, inmate-steered programs present a concern for prison officials, who are often hesitant to create opportunities for dangerous offenders to disrupt or take over the proceedings. To avoid this, careful screening of prospective participants is required at Wakula.

Most inmates self-select for educational programs in prison, which is considered a coping strategy (Jackson & Innes, 2001). Among inmates, there is a correlation between lower education levels and lack of participation in educational opportunities, suggesting that encouraging inmates to complete their GEDs may increase their interest in continuing educational pursuits (Jackson & Innes, 2001).

Utilizing Peer Resources

Many state prison systems today have sophisticated intake procedures that involve the use of educational achievement testing and data on previous schooling to assess the academic levels of incoming inmates. Some prisons also perform intelligence testing and obtain data on inmates’ work histories. Additionally, all prisons archive details relating to inmates’ criminal records.

While prisoners are outcasts, representative of drug addicts and alcoholics, sex offenders, and violent offenders, the prison population also includes a significant number of well-educated persons in professions and trades such as teacher, professor, business, cleric, physician, accountant, lawyer, and politician. While these inmates have been convicted of various crimes and are consequently serving time, they may also serve as a resource, helping other inmates prepare for the GED test and teaching life skills courses. Walrath’s 2001 study of a peer-run prison program found that in addition to behavioral changes, optimism among inmates was improved as a result of participation.

Because state prison systems do not typically harness inmate potential, a majority of prison inmates leave the system poorly educated and unprepared for life on the outside. Society pays the price in terms of recidivism and enormous criminal justice costs.

Attaining a GED and completing vocational training is not enough. A key problem that may ex-convicts face is not acquiring employment, but maintaining it. Because so many offenders have complex educational deficits, a multidimensional and internally consistent approach to self-improvement that includes life planning is recommended (Koski, 1998). The model that Mark Brackmann and Jeff Botward created at Wakula has proven successful in preparing inmates to re-enter life outside of prison. It provides an outstanding model of prisoners helping prisoners.


Jackson, K.L., & Innes, C.A. (2001). Affective predictors of voluntary inmate

program participation. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 30 (3/4), 1-20

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Summer 2007). National assessment of adult literacy and literacy among prison inmates. Alaska Justice Forum, 24(2), 2-4

Koski, D.D. (1998) Vocational education in prison. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 27: 3, 151-164

Sundt, J.L., Dammer, H.R., & Cullen, F.T. (2002) The role of the prison chaplain in rehabilitation. Religion, The Community, and the Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders, 59-86.

Torre, E.T., & Fine, M. (2005). Bar none: Extending Affirmative Action to higher education in prison. Journal of Social Issues, 61(30, 569-594

Walrath, C. (2001). Evaluation of an inmate-run alternatives to violence project: The impact of inmate-to-inmate intervention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 697-711.

Latest Letter from H.E.A.R.D.

We’ve been fortunate enough to be receiving some help from Heard. This is a great organization that is dedicated to advancing the rights of the Deaf through education.

If you are Deaf and behind bars, or you know someone who is, please contact Heard. They are building a database of cases, and may serve as a powerful tool in the effort to effect change within this dreadful system.

Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL – pjstar.com


Deaf Illinois inmates sue for access to interpreters – Peoria, IL – pjstar.com.

I’m looking for an update to this story. Will keep you posted.

Pre-trial Motions

[Editor's Note: Although this pertains to the Felix Garcia case, I wanted Pat to post it on the scroll, because I believe we can all benefit from any insight as to the inner workings of the Court system. After all, forewarned is forearmed, and where the Courts are concerned, there but for the grace of God...]

[Author's Note: This is sort of a monotonous time for most everyone involved. I say most as you still have those attorneys who find every aspect of the trial process exciting. At the September 25, 1981 hearing where Felix was given court appointed counsel, Attorney Raul Palomino entered a Not Guilty Plea on behalf of his client/defendant. With that, the pre-trial motions start. I will highlight some of them that I hope will give you, the reader, some insight into the motion aspect of a trial. I will leave out mentioning the Criminal Rule numbers, Constitutional amendments, any mundane speech, to try to make it informative yet not boring.]

1. Demand For Discovery.

This is where the defense demands the State to disclose within 15 days all the information they have against his client. It is pretty standard in every one:

A)   Names of all persons of interest relevant to the offense charged and to any defense with respect thereto.

B)   Any statements made by any person listed in preceding paragraph.

C)   Any oral or written statement by the defendant.

D)   Any tangible papers or objects obtained or belonged to the defendant.

E)   Any material or information provided by a confidential informant and name.

F)   Any electrical surveillance or wiretapping of the premise or conversations to which the defendant was a party to.

G)   Any search and seizure of any documents.

H)   Reports or statements of experts made in connection with this case, including results of mental or physical examinations, and scientific tests, experiments or comparisons.

I )   Any material information within the State’s possession or control which tends to negate the guilt of the Defendant as to the offense charged, or to        punishment, or the credibility of the State’s witnesses.

What the Defense here is requesting from the State is to inspect, copy, test and photograph this information so everyone begins the trial on equal ground. The Defense wants to know what the State knows that makes them certain they have the right person. The Defense then builds its defense on what it receives. If you heard the term Prosecutorial Misconduct, it generally stems from this request. The State may inadvertently or purposely leave out, misplace or hide information, or whatever, and because of it, the Defendant doesn’t get a fair trial. I might add that in return, the Defense shares their list of witnesses and exhibits with the State.

2. Motion For Statement Of Particulars.

This motion demands the State to show exactly what the evidence was that lead to an arrest of the Defendant. This motion is tailored to the alleged crime charged in the Indictment.

A)   Exact date on which the offense alleged in the Indictment occurred.

B)   Exact time on which the offense alleged in the Indictment occurred.

C)   Exact place or addresses where the offense alleged in the Indictment                        occurred.

D)   Particular description of the firearm which was allegedly utilized.

E)   Whether crime charged in the Indictment is predicated on the theory of

premeditated murder or felony-murder, and if on felony-murder, the type of  felony allegedly perpetrated at the time of the alleged homicide.

F)   Whether the Defendant was the actual perpetrator or an aider and abetter of  the offense alleged in the Indictment; if the Defendant was an aider and         abetter, whether or not the Defendant’s actions made him accountable for the    crime charged as an accessory before the fact or as a principal in the first             degree or as a principal in the second degree.

This is to pin down the State to exactness and not generalities or broadness. This can also be used as a factor if there has been a change in law during the period of the alleged transaction and the trial to determine, if found guilty, the degree of punishment at sentencing.

3. Motion For Statement of Particulars Relating To Aggravating Circumstances.

This case was filed as a Capital Felony (where the death penalty was a possibility). These trials are done in two phases –  Guilt Phase and Sentencing Phase. When the Defendant is found guilty, then the Sentencing Phase begins. At this juncture, the State will introduce aggravating circumstances to enhance the punishment – to prove that death is warranted. This motion is gleaning the proof the State intends to adduce at sentencing which is:

A)   Whether the State intends to prove that the Defendant has previously been  convicted of another Capital Felony or a Felony involving the use or threat of    violence to the person, and if so, the nature of the previous conviction, the          date thereof, the Court in which said conviction occurred, the style of the             case and case number, and any other relevant particulars.

B)   [ I’ll be more brief on the rest.] Whether the State intends to prove the            Defendant  knowingly created a great risk of death to any persons.

C)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed while  the Defendant engaged in, an accomplice, or attempt to commit another               criminal act: robbery, rape, arson etc.

D)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing lawful arrest or effecting an escape from   custody.

F)    Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed for     pecuniary gain.

G)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was committed to        disrupt or hinder lawful exercise of any governmental function or                             enforcement of laws.

H)   Whether the State intends to prove the Capital Felony was especially               heinous, atrocious or cruel.

This last particular  is generally the one the public is most acquainted with. And is the issue on appeal the most times before any court in a death sentence. There will be witnesses at the Sentencing Phase and the Defense will also ask the State for a list of their witnesses and experts, and what aggravating circumstance will they will be related to.

Just so you know, the Defense will introduce Mitigating circumstances at Sentencing to try to cancel out any enhancements towards death versus Life. We’ll get to that later.

Deaf slaying suspect had also stabbed another woman | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Deaf slaying suspect had also stabbed another woman | Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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