An Interview With Prison Author Glenn Langohr

By Glenn Langohr

As most of your readers already know, you’ve spent some time in prison but have now turned your life around.  Can you tell us what happened to land you there and how your change/rehabilitation came about?

Two good parents raised me, but they divorced when I was 12 years old. Being a momma’s boy, I was brokenhearted when I didn’t go with her. I called my dad out for ruining everything and that didn’t work out well for me. I ran away. I got into selling drugs. The law interrupted me, many times.

I spent 10 years in some of California’s worst prisons with 4 years in solitary confinement for riots and investigations.

The prison system didn’t rehabilitate me, writing did. California has 35 state prisons and they are violent and gang riddled. While “doing time” it is all about surviving. I started waking up at 4 am to write before surviving another possible riot took over my being. Eventually, I built up enough momentum writing books to know in my heart that I had a new life.

You are obviously quite (rightly) dedicated to highlighting the plight of prisoners in the US correctional system (as well as the abuses therein).  Your personal experiences aside, anyone who has had dealings with it can understand why this is such an important cause to you, but most people don’t have any such experience. How would you respond to critics who would argue that prisoners get what they deserve – do the crime, do the time types?

First I would say that some crimes are worse than others. I think we are too easy on Child Molesters and Rapists. But, are we the Leaders of the Free World? No, we are the leaders of the incarcerated world. In California alone we have 35 state prisons that are bursting at the seams, with more people behind bars than any other country other than China! [Editor's note: Actually, while China does have a larger total prison population, we more than double theirs, per capita.] Why? Because we are locking humans in prison who are addicted to drugs, or who are below the poverty level, and therefore undesirable. That could be your kid, your mother, and your neighbor.

In prison, that addiction is bred into an affliction much harder to escape, where gangs are the solution, spitting out tattooed-down, displaced humans, without any job placement or anywhere to live.

So really, most of the prisoners are not getting what they deserve, because we look at drug addiction like alcoholism these days – like a disease. They need treatment, not prison. I am working on adapting one of my books, My Hardest Step, into a TV show about Addiction and Recovery. One of the girls who did a casting call has been to prison. It didn’t help. A drug treatment center did work. She has been sober for over 2 years and has her son back in her life.

What do you see as the way forward in terms of prison reform?  How does this come out in your books?

Prison reform isn’t going to happen until there isn’t enough tax money to keep the current system going. I’m just being real. The Politicians and Media promote the need for prisons to keep the rest of us safe. To get elected, you have to be tough on crime. To stay elected, you have to be tough on crime. This starts with the D.A. In one of my high profile drug cases, the head D.A. at the time had aspirations to become the Attorney General for the U.S., and for that to even be a possibility, he couldn’t look weak on crime, so he made sure he had a 99% conviction record. Ten years later, his son is doing time for heroin addiction.

My books take you inside of prison survival between the gangs and politics and what life looks like Inside.

If real prison reform were to happen, it would have to be extreme. How about work programs instead of prison? How about prisoners actually learning how to get a job while in prison with computer training, resume training, job placement, housing placement and a real chance upon release?

How about only sending people to prison for violent crimes and giving the rest programs for treatment and self-help?

It is also clear that you are a man of faith.  What role has that faith played in your work?  How does it come out in your characters?  How is it part of your ideas for reforming the prison system?

Thank you for bringing this up. I read the Bible in prison every day and found hope that God restores the hopeless.

My characters are divided into two groups, those who are trying to find their conscience, and those who aren’t, with a good cop verses bad cop theme as well.

In my books, my main character chases redemption by knowing he has to help other lost souls find hope and a new life away from prison and the drug war, yet just surviving takes almost all of his attention.

How have you been able to partner your efforts with research and/or faith-based organizations to spread the word on your mission?

Not that well. The church I attend is amazing because of a few things. The worship band is out of this world. Our teaching Pastor is amazing also. He loves my books. But they and most churches don’t want to face their own issues, drug addiction in their family and their community.

My writing has progressed from 10-Drug War and Prison books that are in Print, Kindle and Audio Book, to 4 Prayer Books, to my most recent self help books. My Hardest Step is based on the Twelve Step Programs.

My best selling Prison Book is Underdog, available at  Amazon. Click here to see a 2 minute video about it.

Most, if not all, of your books are based on real-life events.  How much did you write while you were still in prison?  How do you deal with the possibility of getting sued by people who may recognize themselves, particularly the more well-known you and your work become?

I spent 7 years writing my first book, Roll Call, in prison – on the back of my trial transcript paperwork. Once out of prison, I turned down a couple of big publishers to self publish. I got a review from Kirkus Discoveries Nielson Media out of New York, that blew my mind.  “A harrowing, down-and-dirty depiction–sometimes reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic–of America’s war on drugs, by former dealer and California artist Langohr. Locked up for a decade on drugs charges and immersed in both philosophical tomes and modern pulp thrillers…”

As for being sued for writing such raw and penetrating content, I use this quote in TV interviews: “I paint with the true colors of life on a fictional landscape to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.”

My newest Prison book, The Art of War: A Memoir of Life in Prison, is the most controversial yet. While I was finishing up my sentence at a hard-core prison on the California border of Mexico, there was so much violence, you just wouldn’t believe half of it. Being a White inmate where over 80% of the population is Mexican or Black, it wasn’t easy. We had a prison guard who gave us information about other inmates, one of which was a notorious “Child Molester”. You’ll have to read the book to see what happened. It is on sale for 99 cents, in Kindle format, at Amazon.

What one thing you would like for our readers to know about you?  Your work?

“Jesus is my landlord.” I got that quote from a homeless woman who told it to the police who were harassing her for living in her car. They stopped dead in their tracks and let her go. I used that quote in one of my books. God bless you.

“I went from obsessively pacing my cell to realizing that if I find a way to write what’s in my head, I can find a way out of this hole.” — Glenn Langohr Celebrates 50,000 Views!!!

By BitcoDavid

Congratulations to us – – who just received our 50 thousandth view! Of course all of you helped, but it was DoTheWriteThingTampa, who drove home the golden spike. In addition to the link on this post, they will get one on the sidebar as well. Thanks guys, your support is greatly appreciated.

And to everybody else who’s made a reality – our awesome contributors, our supporter contribs and guests, and all our worldwide readers – an extra special animated gif thank you, too!

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.

Hey, They Made Their Choices…

By BitcoDavid

English: Members of Colonel Martinez's Search ...

Members of Colonel Martinez’s Search Bloc celebrate over Pablo Escobar’s body on December 2, 1993. Pablo’s death ended a fifteen-month effort that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often hear the argument, people in prison made their choices – now they have to deal with the consequences. Many of us believe that the prisons in America are bursting at the seams with rapists, murders, thieves and pedophiles. And that – of course – isn’t completely untrue. On the other hand, many inmates are in for non-violent offenses, and far too often, many – Like Felix Garcia – are wrongly convicted in the 1st place. Studies have shown that right now, over 100,000 innocent people are living behind bars.

And what of those who are technically, guilty of a crime, but that crime was a letter of the law rather than a spirit of the law kind of thing. There’s a big difference for example, between a college kid who sells a few ounces of weed to pay for books, and Pablo Escobar. But in the eyes of the law, both men are guilty of the same crime.

The Crime Syndicate from Crisis on Two Earths.

The Crime Syndicate from Crisis on Two Earths. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I bring all this up, because the WaPo, today, published a first person op-ed piece about a guy who was trying to sell some baseball tickets in Washington DC. He got arrested, jailed for a few hours, and fined 50 bucks for the crime of scalping. Here’s what I found most interesting about his story. This guy – judging from his writing voice, and certain cues in the piece – is so White Bread and Middle American, he makes Dick Cheney look like Malcolm X. His surprise and indignation at his plight, I found almost laughable. If a run-in with law enforcement ends up in a couple of hours in holding, and a 50$ fine – consider yourself blessed!

See, I’ve lived most of my life on the razor’s edge. Aw, the hell with it – OK. I’ve been a guest of the State on a few occasions – ranging from a weekend to about a half a year. Nothing really serious – and nowhere near some of the horror stories written about on these venerable pages. People being gunned down in their beds, by dawn-raiding SWAT teams with misaddressed warrants, 30 year frame-ups by family members, decade long stretches in the SHU – that sort of thing.

Evil incarnate. Albert Fish, the Werewolf of Wysteria - murdered and ate children in NY state during the turn of the 20th century. Photo: Serial Killers Murderers

Evil incarnate. Albert Fish – the Werewolf of Wysteria – murdered and ate children in NY state in the early 20th century. Photo: Serial Killers Murderers

My response to Mr. Carr – the author of the WaPo piece would be:

See how easy it is, to end up on the wrong side of those bars? Do you get now, that not everybody is in there because they woke up one morning and decided to go on a killing spree? That when asked what they want to be when they grow up, few children – if any – ever answer with, I want to be a murdering scumbag? What one learns from even a few hours in lockup, is that life isn’t black and white. It happens in shades of grey – in subtle shifts. We don’t make our choices, as much as we have them made for us – or to us. One can do all the right things, and still end up in trouble, and conversely, the streets are teeming with people who should be doing time and aren’t. Good people often make mistakes, and bad ones often get lucky.

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.

A First for Florida Deaf Prisoner Felix Garcia

By Pat Bliss

[This article has been edited to remove the specific names of the researcher and her institution, by request of the original copyright holder - Ed.]

Fist, let me tell you that the clemency action is in motion and the interview article I mentioned in my last update, is on hold due to other commitments at the newspaper.

Something new happened for Felix when he met  a researcher on deaf communication in prisons who came to interview him last Tuesday, June 11, 2013. The researcher contacted me that she would like to do an interview. I led her to the proper authorities, she made the arrangements and the interview took place at Tomoka Correctional Institution.

Image courtesy of Pat Bliss

Image courtesy of Pat Bliss

But it was much more than your usual interview. You see, she is deaf and her language is ASL. Have you ever met someone new and wanted to just sit down and talk to get acquainted? You exchanged personal stories, your likes and dislikes, dreams and ambitions. You could carry on a conversation because you spoke the same language, you understood each other. This happened for the first time EVER in Felix’s life – that is, sitting down and having a normal conversation which he could be a part of and understand all what was said.

How is this so? While living in the free world, Felix was going deaf due to a untreated ear infection from the age of 3. When he was of age to have friends to hang around with, his hearing was cloudy as the disease was eating away his ear drum, puss leaking and suffering from migraine headaches and throwing up. He was not a kid who people would gravitate to. But he could not enjoy any communication anyway since he couldn’t understand what was said in an entire sentence, didn’t comprehend what the meanings were of words since he did not hear the teachers teaching – especially in high school English and Composition. Felix didn’t know what was happening but he felt he was not normal, he was different. A horrible event happened where Felix was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit but it was in prison he found out he was Deaf, and fellow inmates taught him how to Sign, to talk and pronounce words. That was the beginning of being able to interact with people – with full understanding.

The researcher comes in to interview. They are taken to a small room inside the visiting park area. At first he is prepared for an interview with pad and pen but she tells him to put it away, this is different. She opens with telling him something about herself in Sign. He signed back something about himself.  This two way conversation continued for about 3 hours. Felix was ecstastic. He never had an interview like this before, where he got to exchange ideas and convey his own thoughts – his way, in Sign. Felix called me and said “Mom, she is just like me!” [Felix refers to Ms. Bliss as "Mom." - Ed.] He realized there are Deaf out on the streets whom he can communicate with, as any normal human being. It was truly a eye opening moment for Felix. He has new hope of surviving when he gets his freedom. She is excited to have met such an exceptional deaf prisoner. She told me Felix is so different from the others, that he gripped her heart with his honesty and openness. We ended our Video Relay call with her words “I can’t walk away”. I said “I know, that is the reaction from everyone who meets him.”

[Editor's Note: We are still desperate for signatures on Felix's Pardon Petition. I have included the link on 2 of the 3 above graphics, but here it is as well, unformatted so it can be pasted into your address bar if necessary.

Please consider signing this important petition. We still need about 600 signatures before we can send it off to the Florida authorities, and we want very much for that to coincide with his Clemency Hearing. Thank you in advance - BitcoDavid]

Pat Bliss is a retired paralegal in criminal law. She continues to do legal work for indigent prisoner cases showing innocence. She is a Certified Community Chaplain, Certified as a volunteer for CISM (Crises Intervention Stress Management) and involved in community events.

In A Prison Times Three

By Jean F. Andrews

While some children learn to read effortlessly and on their own, I had to wait until the first grade. After my teacher taught me the 26 letters of the alphabet with the sounds they make, and taught me 20 to 30 sight words, she handed me a primer, my first book. Before my very eyes, the magic of story unfolded. I lurched forward through the talk to print connections, put it all together, until it made sense, I was on my way. Reading took me to worlds far and wide, real and imagined. And I have not put a book down since.

My ease in learning to read is not so with most deaf and hard of hearing children.

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison - Global Giving

Book Club for Youth in Federal Prison – Global Giving

For them it is a lifelong struggle to access visual language–both signed and written. The struggle begins at home in a sound-base environment and continues to school, another sound-based setting and if they have scrapes with the law, it continues into still another sound- based setting, the prison.

My colleague, who organized a book club for hearing inmates in our town’s prison, says his book club is transforming minds. Inmates read books and get together with him to discuss ideas from the novels and share their own experiences about situations and characters they read about. Not a bad way to spend their time while they are doing time.

But if you are deaf, it’s a different story.

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth.

The 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth.

Most deaf inmates can’t read beyond the second grade level. It would be impossible for deaf inmates who are illiterate to get into the biography of Malcolm X or To Kill A Mockingbird or Macbeth or read Robert Frost’s poetry. My colleague’s prison book club has created a shared humanity, an oxymoron in such an incapacitating and punitive setting as the prison.

While deaf inmates reading levels are lower than the average reading level of most deaf high school leavers which is 3rd to 4th grade, still deaf non-offenders have information sources around them through the Internet, YouTube, VRS, their signing deaf and hearing friends, signing hearing friends, Deaf sports, and Deaf associations and ASL/English bilingual e-books.

Alex Dixon - Flickr

Alex Dixon – Flickr

Not so, for deaf inmates.

Deaf inmates live in cells without books or signing companions. Not only are they locked up physically; they are locked within the prison of illiteracy and within the prison without signers. It is prison times three.

What a terrible, excruciating lonely and cruel existence.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

She Still Doesn’t Like Mondays

By BitcoDavid

Rarely but occasionally, my many favorite subjects coincide to form a great story. In this case, they would be history, music and crime. In a piece for MadMike’s America, I was reminded of the tale of Brenda Ann Spencer, the 16 year-old girl who didn’t like Mondays, and hence shot the whole day down.

On the 29th of January, 1979, Ms. Spencer unloaded 30 rounds from her home across the street, aimed at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California – killing the principal and a janitor, and wounding 8 children. The Boomtown Rats made her a cult icon in a song, titled with her infamous quote upon being captured. This happened before Columbine, before Virginia Tech and before Newtown. It serves as a reminder that shooting tragedies – and this type of mental illness – are nothing new. Many believe it also serves as a reminder that women are as capable of going off the rails, as are men. Still others believe that poor Brenda Ann stands as testament to the state of our broken world.

And yet others can’t stop laughing long enough to seek any meaning at all, from this senseless crime. Daddy’s little girl slips her trolley one morning, swipes his service auto, and starts blasting away – screaming that she doesn’t like Mondays. They’re not laughing at the tragedy – the destroyed lives of both the victims and the perpetrator – they’re laughing at themselves, at us. The Crown of Creation, a broken toaster.

Nobody really knows why people do what they do, we just know that they can be counted on to do stupid and destructive things. And in the end, we all suffer. We suffer as much from what Brenda Ann and her ilk do, as we suffer from what we do to them. Brenda’s in prison now – one of the first juveniles to be tried as an adult, and one of the first females – but that’s our failing, as well as her own. Somebody, somewhere, failed this girl. I’m not naive enough to claim her as an innocent – I’m simply saying that we all share in her guilt.

See, a prison – any prison – isn’t a symbol of our success in fighting social deviance, it’s a symbol of our failure. As long as there are prisons, we haven’t beaten crime – we’ve merely built an ineffectual bastion against it. People ask me why I write about prison so much. Perhaps it’s because I know how easy it would be for me to end up in one. Perhaps it’s because I thank Dog – or whomever daily, that I’m not already there. But I think it’s because deviance is an essential and necessary component of civilization. That without those who violate the social contract – no such contract could exist at all.

Brenda in an interview from Chino - 2012 Image: Today in Women's History

Brenda in an interview from Chino – 1999
Image: Today in Women’s History

My heart really goes out to poor schlemiels like Brenda Ann. She’s the flat tire on our Mercedes. The Trojan in our e-mail, the fly in our soup. But without her, our world wouldn’t exist. Flu doesn’t exist because you have an immune system – it’s the other way round. Police are our immune system – prison, our antibody – and Brenda Ann is our flu.

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.

Picture Glossaries in Jail: Do They Work?

By Jean F. Andrews

"Jail" in Sign Image:

“Jail” in Sign

“A picture is worth a thousand words. ” While this is true most of the time such as in family and nature photography, pictures don’t tell the whole story for the Deaf or ELL (English as a Second Language) offender. To address their language needs, jail and prisons officials are hiring graphic art designers to develop glossy, picture aids to assist the Deaf and ELL inmates. For instance, one jail in the south developed a pamphlet made up of a glossary of 25 terms such as “correctional officer,” “jails,” “pat down search,” “bail bond”—all illustrated with one colored picture for each term, followed by the word presented in English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, and Haitian-Creole. These materials I would term “good will” materials as

they show awareness and respect for the offenders’ primary language.

Sign for "Interpret" In ASL, one would add the sign for "person" to signify an interpreter. Image:

Sign for “Interpret” In ASL, one would add the sign for “person” to signify an interpreter. Image:

But these pictionaries don’t really provide the access that Deaf and ELL offenders need. During the jail intake procedures and during the offenders’ stay in jail there is a basic need for more in-depth, 2-way communication between the

inmate and the jail officers. Deaf and ELL offenders need qualified interpreters to explain to them the jail inmate handbook as well as the procedures for grievances while in jail. If they are sexually or physically assaulted, they need to know the procedures in getting help.

In short, picture glossaries “look good” to the outsider. But nothing replaces the need for qualified sign language interpreters for Deaf offenders, and other language interpreters for the ELL offenders.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

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 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.

Probation Forms and the Deaf Offender: A Complex Matter With a Simple Solution

By Jean F. Andrews


Re-Offender (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probation is a court order that allows a person convicted of a crime to remain out of jail. An individual on probation must follow certain court-ordered procedures and keep from getting into trouble with the law. Probation violations both occur when an individual either breaks the rules or fails to keep the terms of their probation, including getting arrested for another offense. Probation violations have significant consequences and penalties. When a probation violation occurs, it may result in the person returning back to jail.
For obvious reasons, offenders must understand the conditions of their probation and work with their probation officer to make sure these conditions are met on time. For instance, a court may mandate drug treatment or an anger management class, depending on the charges. For deaf offenders who are illiterate, understanding the conditions of probation, particularly reading the probation forms can be a nightmare. More often than not, deaf offenders are not provided with qualified interpreters consistently throughout their probation meetings. Further, the deaf offender may not be able to read the probation forms he or she must sign detailing the conditions for probation because they read below the 3rd grade reading level. And when the deaf offender takes the forms home, she or he cannot refer to them as a memory aid because forms are written at the 9th grade reading level or above as I found with one readability analysis of one probation form. That means you would need at least a high school reading level to comprehend this form.

Look. Even on a demo form, the perp is a Black male No comedy like reality. -- BitcoDavid. Photo courtesy of Quick-Court

Look. Even on a demo form, the perp is a Black male No comedy like reality. — BitcoDavid. Photo courtesy of Quick-Court.

To illustrate the linguistic complexity of probation forms, here is a sample sentence with a feared consequence.
Failure to answer all questions honestly or failing to fill out the forms by due date could result in a warrant for your arrest.
How can a deaf offender fill out the form honestly? How can he fill it out at all if he does not understand what he is reading? Such scenarios as this one are common. In one case, a deaf offender on probation was not aware of the fee schedule change as his probation officer failed to explain it to him and the deaf individual could not read the form he was given with the fee schedule changes listed on it. In another instance, an offender on probation was required to go to Anger Management classes but she could not get an interpreter nor could she read the class textbook which was written at the 9th grade reading level.

Probation forms are filled with difficult vocabulary such as termination, requirements, receipt, written confirmation, brackets, regarding, issued, self-addressed stamped envelope, cashiers check, that a deaf offender with a low reading level would have difficulty understanding. The probation forms are also filled with complex sentence structures, if-then cause and effect clauses, time clauses, sequencing, structures which low level reading deaf offenders stumble through. As such, both the linguistic complexity and the content of the forms with its sequencing of events and ideas on what the deaf offender should do, should not do, and the when and where the forms must be filled out and what conditions need to be made are complex and confusing for the deaf offender. Hearing offenders who are illiterate can simply ask a family member or the probation officer to explain the rules because they have a shared spoken language. However, deaf offenders are “up the creek without a paddle,” when such probation forms are placed in front of them and they are not provided with a qualified sign language interpreter. They are left to flounder and fail and oftentimes they end up back in jail because they did not understand the conditions for probation.

The solution is simple: Provide qualified sign language interpreters in all interactions with signing deaf offenders and probation officers.

Jean F. Andrews is a Reading Specialist and Professor of Deaf Studies/Deaf Education at Lamar University.

[Editor's note: Jean has touched on many important issues with this piece, but another probation / parole issue that needs mentioning is the use of urinalysis for drug testing. These tests are known to be wildly inaccurate - all the more so when administered by a non-professional such as a probation officer or cop. Something as mundane as a poppy-seed bagel can be enough to get an offender violated and sent back to jail. People should know that they have the right to refuse a urinalysis test, and instead to opt for a blood test administered by a medical professional. --BitcoDavid]


The Half Message

By Joanne Greenberg

Many people who have been through strongly negative experiences will declare afterwards, that their sufferings gave meaning and richness to their lives. I’ve never heard these emotions expressed by people who have been in prison. Incarceration is an experience its designers made for the purpose of changing lives. Each country’s prison system mirrors its society’s values. We prize liberty – liberty is denied. We prize individuality – prisoners are given numbers for their names, dressed alike and regimented. What stops the prison experience from bringing meaning and thus growth to the experience is the huge inconsistency of the system, which was once planned to be strict but fair, and has ended up being capricious and undependable hour to hour. What is OK on Monday is forbidden on Tuesday. Where there is randomness, meaning shrinks and dies and so does learning. Lab animals are driven mad by random rewards and punishments; people fare hardly better.

I could imagine Deaf people doing well in a structured, consistent and fair situation. They follow a lifetime of watching the body language of the Hearing, which may be inconsistent with what the hearing person is saying. Unfortunately, the randomness of prison life has militated against guards or prisoners expressing outward emotion at all. Deaf people can read displeasure, fear or rage by closely watching the pupillary reaction of a subject, with this beyond conscious control. Staring however, which is what such monitoring takes, is liable to land the starer in the infirmary, or worse. In addition, body language can tell what – anger, fear, etc. but not why. The half-message  is often worse than none.

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.

Digest Post 4/11/13

By BitcoDavid

Two weeks from today, I’ll be 56 years old. Who’d a thunk I’d ever make it this far? Worse, in 3 weeks, my marriage will be 19 years old. All the credit goes to Maureen. Woman’s a saint.  I wouldn’t have stayed with me, for a month.

I’m working on a new piece of gear, which will increase my blogging potential substantially – I’ll let you know more when it’s launched. I wrote an awesome Supporter Contribution for Jean Trounstine of Justice with Jean fame. It’s about the Gideon v Wainwright Ruling, and how states are trying to get away with denying legal representation to indigent defendants. Here’s the link on her site. There’s also still tons of video on the symposium to get to, plus several other Supporter Contributions and collaboration pieces, still in the mix.


Let’s get the tough stuff out of the way first. This video comes from my good friends at SolitaryWatch. There is some dialog, but it didn’t seem worth the effort to caption. What little dialog exists is covered pretty well after the break. Before you click on this bad boy, I should tell you that it’s a pretty tough video to watch. The subject is a mentally ill inmate, and the video contains language and graphic violence.

In the 24 minutes between Schlosser being sprayed and when he can wash the spray off his face, Welch strolls in and out of the cell holding the OC spray canister, telling Schlosser that if he doesn’t cooperate, “this will happen all over again.”

“You’re not going to win. I will win every time,” he says.

Welch says repeatedly, “If you’re talking, you’re breathing,” suggesting that as long as Schlosser was complaining, he was not in serious medical distress. Welch does call for a member of the prison’s medical staff.

At one point, he whispers to Schlosser, “Useless as teats on a bull, huh … What do you think now?” an apparent reference to an insult Schlosser directed at him two days earlier, according to the investigator’s report.

The investigator concluded that Welch’s treatment of Schlosser was personal.

“Welch continues to brow beat Schlosser and it looks like he has made this a personal issue,” said Durst in the report. “There is not one incident of de-escalation and in fact Welch continues to escalate the situation even after the deployment of chemical agent.”

In my discussions and interviews with Glenn Langohr, I have learned that the industrial strength pepper spray cops use, is much worse than what girls carry to ward off stalkers and drunks. The sprayer isn’t some little Binaca tube. It’s about the size of a small fire extinguisher, and it sprays a copious amount of a much more concentrated solution, Glenn told me that at one point, some inmates actually died from it. This officer is standing directly above the man, repetitively spraying right into his face. On top of that, the mask – called a spit mask - acts to trap the noxious substance in his face. When he complains he can’t breathe, I – for one – believe him.

Here’s the link to the SolitaryWatch story. They include a bit more coverage, and a second video of another extraction taken several years earlier.


You know how states have nick-names? The Sunshine State, the Keystone state etc.? Well, I’m convinced that Colorado and Texas are in a neck and neck battle for the name, the Nut-job State. This was brought to my attention on Lipreading Mom and Dads Network by Dan Schwartz. According to MailOnline, apparently, Dylan Quick – a Deaf student at a Texas community college – stabbed 14 other students. In a confession, he claimed to be trying to kill them all, but his knife broke before that could be accomplished. At least in prison, he’ll learn how to make a decent shank. Here’s the Brit’s coverage.


The SORT Team - CCA's Elite. Click the link to learn more about CCA's SORT teams.

The SORT Team – CCA’s Elite. Click this link to learn more about CCA’s SORT teams.

What would a Digest Post be, without a slam on CCA? Think Progress published this story this week. In Ohio, at the nation’s first completely privatized state penitentiary, government inspectors failed the company on none less than 47 violations, ranging from fire safety to food distribution. Inmates sleeping on the floor, inadequate medical care, poor diet, overcrowding and dirty facilities were but a few of the complaints the auditors had. They added this bit, at the end.

Despite the many abuses discovered at private prisons all over the country, CCA and other industry giants have greatly benefited from cash-strapped states’ attempts to save money. However, recent studies show that private prisons actually cost more than state-owned ones. Undeterred, CCA has started offering states millions to buy state facilities like the Ohio prison. Ohio sold the prison to CCA last year to help balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget, and CCA recently offered to buy another one in exchange for the state’s guarantee of 90% occupancy for 20 or 30 years.

Again, here’s the link to TP’s coverage.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, California has been embroiled in a battle with the Federal government over control of their prisons, and in particular their inmates suffering from mental illness. My nemesis – the Gray Lady – has been covering the story for quite some time now. Here’s their latest update. Briefly – before I go get knocked around the ring for the next hour – the overcrowding situation and the use of semi-permanent solitary confinement forced the U.S. government to step in, assuming control of California’s prison system. Jerry Brown – Governor – has been appealing the decision via the courts. You really should go to the Times, and read this article. It’s an important case, and could have landmark implications.

Well, that’s it for me.

Peace. Out.

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.


Saving Lives with Shakespeare

Jean TrounstineBy Jean Trounstine

Can you imagine teaching Shakespeare to men in solitary confinement?  And by that I mean men who are actually locked in 23 out of 24 hours a day behind metal doors with only a slit to see through into the hallway?  And along with that, try picturing a woman who sits in that hallway, coaching those men as they speak Shakespeare’s lines aloud talking to other men who they cannot see?

Image: Jean Trounstine

Image: Jean Trounstine

This is the mission of Laura Bates, an amazing woman who is an associate professor at Indiana University and in 2003 began teaching in Wabash Correctional in Indiana.  In an article for an Indiana State U publication, Bates says “We are the only Shakespeare program in the segregated unit in solitary confinement anywhere in the world….Never before attempted….never duplicated either.”

The process according to the article:  “Two officers escort each man into an individual cell in a separate unit inside segregated housing. Bates, as shown above, sits in the small hallway between eight individual cells with the imprisoned men sitting behind metal doors peering, talking and listening through open rectangular cuff ports.”

I met Laura Bates when we presented together along with others who had used Shakespeare behind bars and I was knocked out by her work.  While I worked for ten years at Framingham Women’s Prison in Massachusetts and directed eight plays with women in the regular population (See Shakespeare Behind-Bars: The Power of Drama in a Womens Prison), Laura worked exclusively with men in solitary.

The challenge is explored in a book just released, Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard.  She focuses on one particular prisoner and hence the title.  Larry felt Shakespeare saved his life.

In her book, Bates says that Larry read all of Shakespeare’s works and she feels that some of his comments are as insightful as any she has received in or out of prison, teaching the Bard.  He eventually made it into the general population of the prison. She is currently compiling his comments into The Prisoner’s Guide to the Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Here is a snippet from the book, reprinted below with the author’s permission on

Oh, man, this is my favorite freakin’ quote!”

What professor wouldn’t like to hear a student enthuse so much over a Shakespeare play—a Shakespeare history play, no less! And then to be able to flip open the two-thousand-page Complete Works of Shakespeare and find the quote immediately: “When that this body did contain a spirit, a kingdom for it was too small a bound”!

…“Act 5, scene 4,” my student informs me, again smacking the page with his enthusiastic fist. “Oh, man, that is crazy!”

Yes, this is crazy: I am sitting side-by-side with a prisoner who has just recently been allowed to join the general prison population after more than ten years in solitary confinement. We met three years prior, in 2003, when I created the first-ever Shakespeare program in a solitary confinement unit, and we spent three years   working together in that unit. Now we have received unprecedented permission to work together, alone, unsupervised, to create a series of Shakespeare workbooks for prisoners. Newton is gesticulating so animatedly that it draws the attention of an officer walking by our little classroom. He pops his head inside.

“Everything okay in here?” he asks.

“Just reading Shakespeare,” I reply.

He shakes his head and walks on.

“That is crazy!” Newton repeats, his head still in the book.

A record ten and a half consecutive years in solitary confinement, and he’s not   crazy, he’s not dangerous—he’s reading Shakespeare. And maybe, just maybe, it is because he’s reading Shakespeare that he is not crazy, or dangerous.

Many of the men Bates encountered committed violent offenses behind bars, and while solitary is extremely controversial as a way to help prisoners change their behavior, they are sent there as punishment, often for years. But no matter what you think of containing these people in cages, no prisoner is only their crime. Bates’s work points up the idea that to label people as un-redeemable belies our humanity. These men are not “the worst of the worst” as often referred to in article after article.  They are men who are also human beings indebted to the chance to turn their pain, loss, rage and deprivation into words.  Bravo.

Jean Trounstine is an author/editor of five published books, professor at Middlesex Community College and a prison activist. She worked at Framingham Women’s Prison for ten years where she directed eight plays; she published Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison about that work. She takes apart the criminal justice system brick by brick at and blogs at “Justice with Jean” at  Follow her @justicewithjean.


Judges Opt for “Drug Courts” in Non-violent Cases

By BitcoDavid

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Bu...

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the United States Department of Justice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the United States,  Federal judges and prosecutors are proscribing prison for drug-addicted, non-violent offenders in favor of treatment programs and community service. Unofficially known as Drug Courts, this is an effort to avoid overly punitive and destructive sentencing. Moreover, the Justice Department has backed this idea, allowing courts to dismiss charges in certain cases.

This is a Federal approach to a program that his been highly effective in numerous state level prosecutions. States are finding this method preferable to incarceration as it is less expensive and more effective than prison for many recidivist, drug dependent offenders. Recognizing this, the Federal government is now espousing it as a solution.

English: Cannabis plant from http://www.usdoj....

Cannabis plant. Image is credited to DEA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following states, many of whom already had such a system in place, have been chosen for the Federal program:  California, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington. So far, approximately 400 potential prison inmates have been spared incarceration and have begun treatment under the Drug Court program.

This is a win-win. Drug Courts focus on helping addicted users receive treatment and rehabilitation, and they save taxpayers the huge expense of warehousing inmates. It’s not an end to the inane and destructive drug war, but it can be seen as a Christmas Miracle cease fire.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (seal)

Federal Bureau of Prisons (seal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Defendants agree to accept responsibility, sign up for drug treatment and community service, and allow judges to track their success. If they complete the program and stay out of trouble, they receive a commuted sentence. Violation of any of these conditions will result in their receiving the full sentence they would otherwise have gotten. Drug Courts are not available to defendants who are accused of violent crimes, high value drug traffickers or gang members.

To learn more, go to this NYT article.

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.

Interview With Glenn Langohr, Author of Prison Riot

By BitcoDavid

While reading Prison Riot, I was struck by how similar this story is to the classic Melville novella, Billy Budd. Of course, the latter was written in a much more stilted voice, and was built on Biblical allegory – but the thread of the story is very much the same.

Here we have a power struggle between a cruel and sadistic Corrections Lieutenant, and a fair minded but ineffectual Warden. The victim in that power struggle ends up being the innocent – the powerless everyman, whom in the Melville book was represented by Billy, and in Prison Riot is represented by B.J. and his friend, Giant.

Where the analogy breaks down however, is that Billy Budd was fiction.

Suspension of disbelief is not necessary when the writer actually lived through the hell of the California prison system. As a student of literature, I can think of no author, better suited to tell the story of incarceration than a former inmate. Glenn Langohr’s writing is filled with tension, vivid characterization, in the moment conflict and a true pathos that dispels stereotypical thought. The reader sees his characters as people – not just inmates.

From the entertainment standpoint, Prison Riot is filled with all the stuff that a good novel needs. There’s plenty of action, violence, conflict and tension. From the educational point of view, one can use this book as a blueprint for how to behave, should the reader ever face the misfortune of confinement in an American penal facility. For example, at one point in a conversation with a fellow inmate, B.J. is asked a question that he sees as a violation of his personal space – the kind of thing that just wouldn’t happen in the outside world. His response? “I know how to do prison time.” Of all the prison books I’ve read – and there’s been a plethora of them – I’ve never read one that delved so deeply into the social mores and memes of prison life.

The book is short – only about 30,000 words. His writing style is quick and terse. The words race off the page. One can read this book in a sitting, but the impact will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.

As a writer myself, what I like best about Langohr is his voice. He writes for readers, not for the dictionary, and he peppers his books with argot. In short, this book should be a College textbook for all students of Law Enforcement, and a users manual for the rest of us. Read this book, and internalize it, and you’ll be able to walk the yard with confidence – and you’ll never sit at the wrong table.



The Destruction after the Fremantle Prison Rio...

The Destruction after the Fremantle Prison Riots 4 January 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BD: You refer to the term “Block Guns.” Could you describe these? I take it from one of your paragraphs, that they shoot some sort of inert charge (apparently made of wood) or blank round, but can also accept live ammo. Can you expound on that?

GL: Great question. I didn’t explain it well enough in Prison Riot. The prison guards in California State prisons have a supply of block guns in the gun towers. Each building has a gun tower that overlooks the interior of the building, and also has a view of the yard where that building releases inmates. The block guns look like shotguns, but only shoot wooden blocks. They don’t shoot live rounds. The tower guards also have rifles that shoot live rounds – that legally, they are only supposed to use when inmates are using deadly weapons, not for fist fights. The block guns are used for fist fights.

The wooden blocks are compacted into a circular shape about the size of a silver dollar, but are a little thicker then a ping pong ball. The block guns are extrememly effective – in part because of the noise. In the building, or on the yard, the echo “booms” so loud that inmates inside every other building on the yard can hear it.

At Centinella State prison in Imperial Valley on the California and Mexican border, the prison yards are close enough together that inmates can hear the block gun go off on other yards. At Centinella it is an almost daily occurrence. As an inmate you become trained to expect it shortly after you hear the alarm go off, followed by a tower guard yelling, “GET DOWN!! GET DOWN!!” and then, “BOOM!! BOOM!!”

To give you a feel for the prison politics at Centinella, the Mexican inmates are ordered [by their shot callers] not to stop fighting until the block gun has gone off. Most of the time they keep going for about 30 seconds after the “BOOM” for respect and effect. That means you can expect to see a fight or stabbing on the yard, continue until the alarm screeches a whining noise – that rises and falls in decibels – followed by the order to get down; followed by a swarm of a couple dozen prison guards running to the incident, with about every third guard carrying a block gun.

At close range, block guns hurt bad and will knock the wind out of you and put you down. At more than around 40 feet, the block begins to come apart. Seeing it up close so many times, I can tell you that it breaks apart into circular rings and sizzles – burning  on the ground – on fire from the explosion sending it.

Prison Tactical Team (riot control)

Prison Tactical Team (riot control) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find it interesting that in your descriptions of the riot – you make it clear that the guards are seen as a lower priority then the “enemy” inmates. Did you find that to be the case? In other words, was it common that an inmate would attack even at a time when an armed guard was standing there?

With this question you are getting really deep into prison life politics. It is the most eerie feeling to know a prison riot is coming well before it comes. Now you are getting into a gang riot or a Race riot. The gangs are where the pressure and most of the decisions are coming from. The prison guards don’t matter at all, compared to orders. To give you a better understanding, pretend you are in a California prison and you are told by your race, “If you ever see another race attacking one of us, you have to help and fight. If you don’t, you will be considered weak and you will be attacked.” This is the common mentality of every single race and to me, an ex prisoner of over 10 years, understandable and respectable.

I guess to fully understand this kind of thinking you have to picture being housed race by race, as far as who is in each cell. To watch your own race get outnumbered, attacked and possibly killed, while you are just watching, is a guarantee that you will be attacked by your own race later, as a form of discipline and order. So in that regard, as an inmate, the guard with the gun in the tower, or even 10 feet away in the chow hall, isn’t there at all.

Since we are getting so deep into prison life politics amoung races and gangs, I will explain it as it relates to other then race war and gang war situations. Lets say that I’m a White inmate and I watch another White inmate get attacked by a group of Black inmates – and instead of rushing to his aid, I follow the guards orders to “GET DOWN,” and just get on my stomach and watch the pummeling. For being in the area and not helping, I am in big trouble. In that situation, when the order is given to get me, the inmates will pick a spot to handle the business. That means that it will be done on the yard, as far away form the guards as possible. At times they – the guards, just can’t be avoided.  We call those suicide missions.

There has been a lot of discussion in the tech world and the media – over the past decade – of use of non-lethal but highly effective methods of stopping this kind of thing. Stuff like foam, high-pressure water, low frequency sound and pancake bullets – that sort of thing. In your experience, was any of this newer technology ever employed, or did the guards stay within the older framework of guns and gas?

While I was in prison from 1990, on and off through 2008, before I found a new path in writing books, I saw some changes in those deadly force measures. Keep in mind I’m talking California State prisons. First of all, the pepper spray works! It isn’t the kind of pepper spray you can imagine if all you are used to is what the police use on the streets. California prison pepper spray at one point killed a number of inmates because it was so pure that it stopped peoples breathing, caused shock and heart attacks. Somewhere in the mid 1990’s they finally toned it down slightly.

Don’t picture a little pepper spray bottle, picture a small fire extenquisher. Picture inmates drenched in so much pepper spray that it looks like they have been painted orange. I’ve seen white shirts and bald heads completely drenched in dripping orange fire. The pepper spray is so strong that if a fight is going down in the building, all of the inmates inside the cells will start coughing.  They will stand at the cell watching, with their faces covered with shirts like bandanas.

The next level of force was the old fashioned billy clubs. New laws changed the shape of them from the same kind the police use on the streets to higher tech ones that are spring loaded and eject a thinner steel outward. Those disappeared later. As mentioned earlier the guns start with the block guns and graduate to “LIVE ROUNDS COMING NEXT,” usually with that exact warning.

I have finally got around to writing about life at Centinella, where I spent my last amount of prison time and will use an example of a respectable gun tower guard. I had made it my business to develop conversations with gun tower guards, because I figured they would see me in a human light. I tried to pick their brains and make them laugh. One prison guard I talked to was an ex-military sharp shooter. When the Mexican inmates and Black inmates went off in a yard riot, that everyone knew was coming, that tower guard never fired a live round. That riot was a very serious one and prison made weapons were scattered all over the yard. More than a dozen inmates had puncture wounds from being stabbed. He probably should have fired live rounds, even if he only fired into the ground. But he had a lot of pressure on him to dance that fine line of which inmates can I righteously say are trying to kill. Later he was laughed at by many of the other guards as weak.

That Mexican and Black war was a long way from done. The next time they came off lockdown to wage another round, that same guard fired a live round in a smaller riot. He fired it through the middle of the basketball backboards right where the red square is.

I get the distinct impression that the guards’ reactions to you would have been no different, had you not been involved in the fighting. From your writing, I felt that they just kind of swept in and mopped up – paying no heed to innocence or guilt. In other words, even if you had hunkered down with your hands over your head, you still would have been tied up with zip ties and carted off to the SHU. Is that true, or am I missing something?

You have that part right on. In a riot like that they take everyone in the area and sort it out in ad-seg. To be found guilty of “being a combatant” it takes the written reports of eye witness accounts from the guards, pepper spray proof dripping off the inmate, injuries, hand evidence from punching or using a weapon and the very rare testimony from another inmate.

It’s clear to me that the financial rewards benefit the guards in these situations. Overtime, Hazard pay, etc. Bearing in mind that neither of us are corrections professionals, in your opinion, were the guards complicit in these riots? Did they see the financial benefits as incentives to foster dis-harmony among the many inmate groups?

Fantastic question and hard answer. Yes I have painted that picture in a number of my books that this is the case, and yes it does happen. However, it is rare where the guards do it in an evil way. For people who haven’t been there, this must be so hard to understand, but even the prison guards become affected by all the violence and pressure.

There are so many examples I can use of this but to be fair to how hard their jobs are, they can know a riot is coming just as well as the inmates – because a tiny percentage of the inmates send them written notes, telling them it is going to happen – yet they can’t stop it. What are they going to do, ship hundreds of inmates to other yards every time? I have been on over 25 different prison yards. In my experiences, I have seen guards get evil and instigate wars to continue, by what they say while we are locked down. When one side wins a yard fight in a big way – let’s say the Mexican inmates are attacked by the Black inmates and get their asses handed to them – and a Mexican veteran prison guard says things in the building like, “You guys aren’t getting off lockdown for years. You know that if you mess with one bean you get the whole burrito.” That is putting pressure on both races to keep the war going.

The prison guards and gun towers can pop cells open inside the building where both races are let out, in those situations, and the war reignites with what is called, on site orders. That kind of situation keeps the yard on lockdown and that hazard pay – time and a half continues.

Again, to be fair to the 99% of the prison guards who don’t deserve to be painted this way, it is a rare fact of California prison life. But, besides the extra money incentives, and overtime control, the prison guards are following a divide and conquer strategy because they would rather see the inmates fighting against each other versus fighting them!

There are 3 reasons that I can see for becoming a prison guard. A) One could have an anti-crime hard-on. Say one’s family or one’s self were victims of crime, for example. B) Money. It’s possibly the best paying and most in demand area of law enforcement. C) A genuine desire to help people turn their lives around. However, several psychological experiments conducted over the last half century would indicate that regardless of the motivations for joining up, the tendency is to move towards a culture of cruelty and corruption. Based on your experience, would you say you found that to be true? Were there any guards that you thought highly of?

Yes I found many that I respected and thought highly of. Most of those either usually looked like they could have been in prison themselves, and or they were militarily trained pros. As mentioned earlier I studied them like my life depended on it and this became getting to know them through conversation.

In California prisons you have regular prison guards, tower guards, free staff workers who work the clothing, food and other shops, Inmate Gang Investigators, Security Escorts, Special Teams for searches and cell extractions and Counselers that go all the way up to the Warden. They are hardly ever all on the same side themselves. Inmates are constantly studying this angle to find cracks in their structure. How do you think all the cell phones are landing in prisoners hands? How about a percentage of the dope and pretty much all of the tabacco? How about inside info?

For the most part most of the prison guards are there to earn a paycheck. On the serious level 4 yards where the inmate population is more then half lifers, there isn’t much room for a prison guard with a hard on to be disrespectful to inmates because he knows he will get stabbed. In a place where violence and pressure are a constant, moment by moment, 24-7 affair – 365 days a year, the senses are hardened and the culture becomes emotionless.

What is the relationship between I.C.C. and the store? You waited for a long time to get I.C.C. so you could buy essentials like toothpaste and deodorant. Why is it viewed as necessary for an inmate to be classified before he’s allowed store privileges?

Because an inmate has to be classified to a certain level for yard and store priviledges. I.C.C. is a collection of prison administrators mostly made up of counselors who do the paperwork. That part of the process is where they determine special needs situations. Lets say that an inmate gets off the bus and enters a prison, that person has to be cleared for yard before they get to go to yard and get store. I.C.C. looks through the file to determine if there are any enemies or reasons not to put the inmate on the yard. For instance, a well know rapist, police officer doing time, or even Charlie Manson, can’t just be put on a mainline prison yard because they are all consided, points to earn and will get stabbed. For that and many other reasons, I.C.C. keeps inmates locked down, without priveledges, until that process is determined.

Once determined, and you are on the mainline, and a riot or any form of discipline puts you in the hole-ad-seg (SHU), you have to go through that process all over again to get yard and store in there.

I get that it was terribly important for the I.C.C. to classify you as what you were – White inmates, but could you spell out for our readers why the Southern Mexican label would have been so detrimental.

In the true story I wrote, Prison Riot – I was involved in a massive riot that made the news at Solano in 1998. The southern Mexicans were outnumbered by the northern Mexicans and my friend Steve Smith, also known as Giant and myself decided to lend a hand to the southern Mexicans because we were friends with many of them.

Let me make this very clear, I’m a White man who doesn’t gang bang or claim a gang, and I helped them because I don’t like to see people bullied or outnumbered. Giant felt the same way. The problem with being 2 White guys in the midst of almost 100 Mexicans at war in a riot is that the prison guards had to assume we were what is called, Sleepers, who were Mexican gangsters. The massive problem for us as White inmates to be classified as southern Mexicans in the hole, is that when our SHU term ran its course, we were going to be housed as southern Mexicans. That is a massive problem.

Imagine getting off the bus at a new prison, being put in a cell with a southern Mexican, and having to tell him, “Look I’m sorry to disturb you but I’m a White inmate so please don’t tell me about who you guys are stabbing tomorrow.” On the other side of that coin you are also going to have to explain to the rest of the White inmates that you are indeed a White inmate!

I’d be very interested in some of your views regarding the impact of America’s drug war on these racial politics within the prison system. Could you give me a brief paragraph showing a connection between the Drug Culture in the U.S. and the struggle as it is currently playing out in Mexico – and could you tie that to the California prison system?

Perfect question to add to the last one, to show you how crazy it is –because of the drug war and the direct connection to it, breeding more violence and gangs, under the current policy where we incarcerate drug offenders!

In California prisons southern Mexican inmates are under enormous amounts of pressure to straight up be gangsters, and that breeds an army of gangs. That is also the case for every other race, maybe to a lesser extent. The amount of gangs in southern California is staggering and their reach is long. By not getting to the root of the problem – drugs and poverty – prison is the breeding grounds. People see the news that the Mexican cartels are powerful and they don’t understand that in California’s prisons, those cartel members don’t have the most influence. So if I’m in a cell with a southern Mexican all of those politics are crossing into a White inmate’s loyalties.

Back to the drug war breeding gangs. By incarcerating low level drug offenders we are turning an addiction into an affliction much harder to escape, where gangs and violence are the calling cards. The problem gets bigger when these displaced, tattooed down, harder to get a job, mentally taxed from post traumatic stress, human beings get released without any job training or housing placement.

Now you mentioned Mexico’s drug war also. Most people don’t know this but in Mexico it is legal to have up to an ounce of Meth, Heroin, Cocaine etc. You just can’t bring it to sporting events or sell it! I used to hear this on the radio in my cell in Centinella, on the border of Mexico, and scratch my head in exasperation. But guess what. By decriminalizing drugs you take the power out of them! Look at Canada, their policing of drug addicts is more of a nursing program to get them into treatment. If we treat drug addiction as a disease, which it is now looked at like alcoholism, we are being not only smarter, but more humane. We shouldn’t call drug addicts criminals. For those of you with kids who have become addicted you understand.

English: Aerial view of San Quentin State Pris...

Aerial view of San Quentin State Prison, in Marin County, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kind of a side note here, but the homemade lighter you spoke of is actually called a carbon-arc lamp. It was one of the first lamps used for film projection in the 1890s. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Can you think of some other prison fabrications you created that were of equal technical interest?

The Asian inmates are the most advanced, go figure. They made lighters with batteries that were almost like a regular lighter! We also used salt water lighters. Inmates can make cell phone chargers and so much more, but I personally am not that talented.

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.

Happy Birthday CCA! You’re the New Parchman Farm!

By BitcoDavid

This past Sunday marked Correction Corporation of America’s 30th birthday, making this article about as timely as a CCA guard feeding a diabetic inmate.

Let me tell you a little story.

English: Convict workers at Parchman

Convict workers at Parchman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1905, the state of Mississippi launched an experiment in crime prevention. The program was referred to as the convict lease system. Private companies could lease prison labor at a huge discount over paying traditional workers. That year, the state added 185,000 dollars to their coffers. The lessees were responsible for any and all manner of care for the inmates they rented. So, it can be plainly seen that the inmates received inadequate food, clothing and medical care. And those were the lucky ones.

English: A typical Parchman prison camp "...

A typical Parchman prison camp “Prison camps, such as the one above, could be seen at the Mississippi State Penitentiary prior to the modernization of the of the (sic) state’s correctional system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The facility that this system was implemented in was called Parchman Farm. Inmates that weren’t working at outside locations were bade to work the prison farm. The farm supplied food for these inmates, but what wasn’t used by them could be sold on the free market. Since production costs were significantly lower than the competition, profits were high. Another boon to Mississippi. Of course, in order to enjoy those high profits, it would be necessary to curtail how much of the product was consumed by the men who actually grew it.

English: The first official warden's residence...

The first official warden’s residence at Parchman. “The original official residence at Parchman.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The prison for profit idea paved the way for  entrapment and a high rate of convictions for minor offenses, starvation, abuse of prisoners and violence amongst inmates, as rivals competed for basics like food and medical attention. And since the farm was built in the Jim Crow South, the inmates of the segregated system were Black.

Now here’s where things got interesting. Paying guards really cut into this wonderful bottom line. So it was decided that White inmates from other institutions could be exploited by making them the guards. The term applied to these inmate guards was “Trustee.” Now these White trustees were hard men. They were all serving life sentences for violent crimes, themselves. It was thought that Lifers would make the best trustees, because they had the most to gain and were therefore likely not to object to the work. What happened in fact, was that these inmates considered the work offensive and took out their resentment on their charges.

English: Female prisoners in a Mississippi sta...

Female prisoners in a Mississippi state prison producing textiles “Date Unknown – Female inmates work producing textile products” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So you take a bunch of White men – violent criminals themselves – and you put them in charge of Black men in the segregated South Add to that volatile mix, a profit motive, as well as bitter resentment, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Until its closing and reorganization in the 1980s, Parchman was a notorious pit of abuse, torture, violence, starvation and death. The mortality rate was so high that inmates were actually buried in mass graves. Investigators to this day are still digging up corpses of Parchman Farm inmates.

It is for this reason, that I will never sanction the concept of private prison corporations. Whenever a profit is created by the suffering of our burgeoning criminal class there is no incentive to alleviate that suffering or shrink the size of that social group. In short, prison for profit not only feeds a system of abuse, but it does nothing to prevent crime. On the contrary, it gives birth to it.

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.

Your Money or Your Life

By Joanne Greenberg

Activism usually means my telling someone what to do for someone else, and it generally involves the transfer of money from one group to another.  The prison system here is fund-starved, but our idea, the one about grouping deaf prisoners together, isn’t costly at all.

Once deaf prisoners in a state system are brought together, all manner of help is available to them. Professional and volunteer attention is much more easily  enlisted for various kinds of help, at no cost to the facility.  Every State has an Association of the deaf. Every State has interest groups which can be enlisted in the work of communication and the improvement of conditions in the prisons.

There are prison writing groups and groups providing religious services and ceremonial items, books etc.   Deaf organizations find visits too difficult and time consuming when those being visited are scattered through the buildings in a facility, or in different prisons in the State.

As things stand now, deaf prisoners are not helped by programs made for hearing prisoners — writing programs, GED Etc. Housing deaf prisoners in one place costs no more and is of great benefit, even involving discipline and control.

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.

Yoga in Prison – a NYT Slideshow

By BitcoDavid

The New York Times did a photo-essay on the burgeoning trend of teaching yoga to inmates, as an attempt at corralling the recidivism problem.

Even though states’ spending on corrections has quadrupled during the past two decades, to $52 billion, the rate of recidivism has remained stubbornly high, with roughly four in 10 adult American offenders returning to prison within three years of their release, according to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts.

http://www.thehindu.comPage no longer available. Link is citation purposes only.
Page no longer available. Link is for citation purposes only.

This program was started 12 years ago in California, when a man named James Fox founded the Prison Yoga Project. Since then, 20 institutions throughout the U.S. have adopted similar programs.

At least 20 prisons now offer yoga through the Prison Yoga Project, a program that began in California 12 years ago when its founder, James Fox, began teaching yoga to at-risk youth. Mr. Fox holds trainings for yoga teachers and said he has sent more than 7,000 copies of his manual to inmates to practice yoga on their own.

The above images are not part of the original NYT article, as their artwork was inaccessible. However, you can go here to see the original slide show.

You can also find more coverage at:

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.

A Plea for Sanity

By BitcoDavid

As writers, we become sensitive to certain words and phrases. Just ask me to go 12 rounds on the word folks, and you’ll see what I mean. One phrase that is increasingly starting to bother me is prison industry. It’s a sad commentary on the state of our union when we have to industrialize incarceration.
Artists rendering of one of the 8 crematoria that worked 24/7 at Birkenau. At the height of operations, Birkenau claimed to “process 10,000 units a day.” shot of Stalin's infamous Magnitogorsk foundry. 15 million died in the building of Magnitogorsk.
A shot of Stalin’s infamous Magnitogorsk foundry. 15 million died in the building of Magnitogorsk.

During the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong oversaw the deaths of some 48 million Chinese peasants. Stalin – combining the Terror Famine and the Great Purges – was responsible for 30 million. Hitler and the 3rd Reich are credited with 14 million deaths, 6,000,000 of which were Jews. The only difference – and the true horror of the Holocaust – was that the Nazis industrialized murder. They actually built death factories. And they provided profit incentives to private corporations for facilitating these systems. People became units and murder became processing.

Industry is the wrong term – and the wrong mindset – to employ here. We are supposed to be the shining city on the hill – the bastion of freedom – the beacon of light that leads the world.

America – the world’s jailer – has 5% of Earth’s population, and 25% of her prisoners. Recently, the New York Times stated the following:

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. [And] they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations. developed in South Korea, how long is it before we start seeing machines like this one in American institutions?
Although developed in South Korea, how long is it before we start seeing machines like this one in American institutions?

From manufacturing Robotic guards to dumping the problem in the laps of private corporations such as C.C.A., we’re creating an entire economic sector devoted to caring for those unfortunate enough to end up behind bars. At the same time, we’re creating an entire 4th class – a criminal class – beginning in early childhood and ending up in dotage. A grand social experiment is taking place, wherein people are raised and schooled for lifelong prison careers. This insatiable machine preys primarily on the poor, the disabled and people of color. It begins with the school to prison pipeline and ends in the graying of America’s prisons.

I would like to see us take the money that we’re spending on paying guards and private prison corporations. I would like to see us take the money we’re spending on prosecuting the insane war on drugs.  We can use that money to create paid – college level – training programs that could actually help some of these people break this cultural cycle and rebuild their broken lives. I’d like to see a national effort on the level of the 1960s Space Program, dedicated to ending prison recidivism. Above all, I’d like to see us actually put our money where our mouths are, and indeed become that beacon of hope and light that we claim ourselves to be. A country where we rehabilitate and educate our dwindling prison population while helping our lost and forgotten non-prison population build lives for themselves that don’t include – and in fact mandate – incarceration.

Dismantle the school to prison pipeline. End the abuse cycle that leads to violent crime. Disarm the drug market by using education and social intervention to help prevent addiction before it starts. Remove any kind of profit incentive from the incarceration of human beings and the destruction of families and communities. Make the educational minimum for prison guards a Bachelor’s degree. These people have jobs that are as demanding and complex as doctors or airline pilots. Any goon with a club and a hard-on shouldn’t be the bar we set.

We have a problem in this country, and its reaching epidemic proportions. If we don’t fix our overzealous need to imprison an entire class of Americans, it will eventually destroy us.

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.

An Enlightening FaceBook Exchange

By BitcoDavid

We received this message from a FaceBook follower who – for obvious reasons – asked that I don’t post their name.

Okay so I’m going to be a prison guard myself (maximum security male prison if I get what I want) and am going to be learning ASL over the summer (I have an aunt that is deaf and may be able to spend a month or so with her learning the language and a bit about the culture).

What are some of the things I should be told about before I enter in my career field (currently a student and have a year left until I get my degree in criminal justice). Please help me to prepare, I want to help them when no other guard can. I would also like to point out that I do not claim to understand (nor do I think I will ever) the culture nor mind set of a deaf person (let alone one in prison).

I also will not baby them, but will attempt to treat them in a way that will put them on as even a playing field as their fellow inmates. One thing I was thinking I could do was to flash a light in their cells when it’s time to wake up (they couldn’t hear the door unlocking) or to do something similar if they have a visitor or if they are not hearing a warning that is being verbally stated. Especially if there are multiple inmates that are deaf and a

South Korea tests world's first robot prison guard. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.,news-14852.html

South Korea tests world’s first robot prison guard. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.,news-14852.html

limited amount of interpreter/s available. I think it wouldn’t hurt (I’m not going so far as to say that I’d be doing them a favor – which I’m not – but I’d be at least trying to restore some justice to the “justice” system if you know what I mean) if there was someone else on staff that could speak with them. Especially in cases where an interpreter is afraid of physical repercussions from other inmates if the interpreter were to translate an accusation or some such message that would incriminate another inmate.

Sorry about the length. Long story short: What are some of the things I should be told about before I enter in my career field as a prison guard (hopefully maximum security male) that will know (maybe not extensively, but a fair amount) ASL?

Here’s the short answer I replied with.

Well first off, sign up to follow Learning ASL is a great 1st step. You’ll be in the extreme minority of corrections officers. However – and you’re NOT going to believe this – but I have heard of cases where COs who DID sign, weren’t allowed to use it. Some institutions are afraid it can be used for secret code.The best short answer I can give you – and this applies to all your interactions with inmates, not just the Deaf – is be sensitive to the humanity of your charges. Inmates are people. Some of them may not be GOOD people, while others may possibly be unjustly incarcerated saints – but whichever, they’re still people. Treat people with dignity and respect, and they will always treat you with the same.

I closed by asking for permission to post our interaction, and this was the response.

Also, please ask the readers for their input and suggestions. I’m going to be writing a paper on the subject and would just looove (no sarcasm, I find the subject matter absolutely fascinating) to hear what others have to say. I’ve already spoken with a few interpreters and my thirst for knowledge is nowhere near quenched.

I’ve actually been reading some of the articles on your website and am disgusted that there are guards that would not report the rapes. This is part of the reason why I want to work with the men. There are more instances of rape. I want to be there as a fair guard. I look at corruption as a disgusting human flaw that I will attempt to stay away from. I don’t want to become that person. It makes me sad to think of such a thing.

I want to help in what small way I can, but I need your help to do it. I want to try to be as sincere and to best represent my mind set as best as possible (it was really late last night when I wrote that message). Also, you could just post this message as well, I’d be okay with that. I forgot to mention, I might consider, if I find working with the general population too stressful to work during the grave yard shift, when there are no interpreters and the most common time (or so I’ve been led to believe) for inmates to attempt to commit suicide. If there is no interpreter and one deaf inmate should commit suicide I would want to be there (as probably the only guard that can speak ASL) to get their last message, to see what last words for they may have for loved ones.

In closing this post, I’m going to do what she requested. That is, I put it to you, our readers. Please comment on areas where you believe this person can study that will help them to be the kind of CO they want to be, and someone who can make a difference in our badly broken prison system.

English: Folsom prison

Folsom prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

[Editor's note: While looking for artwork for this post, I discovered two very disturbing trends that I plan on looking into further for future posts. 1) The testing of robotic devices for use as prison guards. 2) Several sources report that becoming a prison guard - especially in California - is now seen as a more desirable career path than pursuing a professional career such as doctor or lawyer.]



State Crime Data Log Is Lacking Due to Drug War

By Glenn Langohr

The criminal records system California relies on to stop child abusers from working in schools, and violent felons from buying guns, is so poorly maintained that it routinely fails to alert officials to a subject’s full criminal history. The other side of this issue is that a list of possible matches appears, denying work or gun ownership for those without a criminal history, or one that has been expunged. Imagine trying to get a job, in an already depressed economy, and the background check returns a bunch of possible arrest and convictions, that aren’t even accurate.

Information from millions of records buried at courts and law enforcement agencies has never been entered in the system. This overwhelming amount of information is then haphazardly rushed into possible matches and isn’t accurate. Tough on crime platforms have destroyed the criminal justice system because for a District Attorney seeking to climb the ladder or enter politics a soft on crime look will stain their reputation or get them fired. In Orange County, California, a ninety nine percent conviction record is where the bar is set but look at the fact that six out of ten convicted cases that reach the Supreme Court are overturned for reasons like ineffective councel, leading the nation. This means justice has been thrown out the window and the right to a fair trial and the right to adequate defense is no longer viable. In other cases brought before the district attorney, police officers are trained to charge the suspect of a crime with as many possible charges relating to one charge as possible to make it easy for a plea bargain, also helping keep that ninety nine percent conviction ratio. Imagine just being released from jail or prison after not being defended properly or over zealously prosecuted, and now you are trying to find employment and the background check the employer runs shows a list of possible crimes not even committed!

Image courtesy Google Images - Public Domain photo.

Image courtesy Google Images – Public Domain photo.

Are we creating laws faster than good sense provides in the interest of tough on crime political stances? Are all these new laws creating a police state and only beneficial to people who have government jobs and unions to push even more law and early retirement benefits? When considering that unemployment in California is leading the nation at approximately ten percent and then realize even those numbers don’t show the percentage of released prisoners who aren’t even on the radar. The unemployment numbers are actually much higher and the result of too many petty laws putting too many people in jail or prison and completely forgetting about redemption or rehabilitation.

“I went from obsessively pacing my cell to realizing that if I find a way to write what’s in my head, I can find a way out of this hole.” — Glenn Langohr

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