1) Action Alert: abuse and overuse of solitary
2) "What is "On the Ground Racism?" by Ed Steichen
3) Prison-based gerrymandering in the news: NY times
4) WHAT IS ‘ON THE GROUND’ RACISM?by Ed Steichen
ACTION ALERT : Overuse and abuse of solitary
We have become heart-sick and angry at a phenomenon I believe we can start to change now. The overuse and abuse of solitary confinement is more of a societal problem than a DOC problem. One large group often in solitary is the mentally ill- because we do not treat the mentally: Victim-Eyez by Christopgher Goodvine ill , we simply incarcerate them . The DOC must find a way to "contain" them and often they end up for years in solitary confinement. There is growing evidence and discussion in the country and around the world that the conditions in solitary cells do amount to torture and is similar to techniques use by the CIA. There are profound negative effects of long term solitary confinement on the healthy mind as well as on the already mentally ill. I have a hunch that part of the reasoning for making parole so difficult these days is that the DOC is aware of the monsters they are making. This is a problem for all of us. The DOC is giving us what we are asking for- an out of sight, out of mind prison solution. I believe with tiny steps we can begin to form a movement and join with similar movements around the country and DEMAND rehabilitation .
What we can begin to change now is the punitive structure of that solitary confinement in Wisconsin- with letter writing.
I am not familiar with the rule structure of every Wisconsin prison but I have written and tried to help enough segregation prisoners to know that most prisons give the most needy the least. Imagine my frustration when an inmate, in a solitary cell, asks me to help him learn cursive writing.or asks for history books. In many levels of segregation, books from outside are not allowed and those on the lowest levels, often diagnosed mentally ill, must rely on 2 books a week from the library and perhaps someone's poor xerox attempts. Parents also tell me of their sons not being able to make calls if in the lower rungs of the seg ladder .One parent complained that she wanted to buy her son a correspondence course and was not allowed because of her son's status. Some seg prisoners are not allowed to take GED programs or any education programs. The prison will call this a program by which the inmate learns to obey the rules and gradually gets more and more privileges as he obeys.
It does not work. This kind of punishment breeds anger, not compliance. Even when you train a dog, you train it by showing it alternative, more constructive alternatives- depriving or physically abusing it only makes the dog hate you. Basic needs MUST be met for any kind of positive change to come about.
The methods also do not take into account the racist nature of the system . When I really try to find out what the inmate needs to graduate out of seg- it is often vague-" he needs to be more interactive, he needs to act more respectful." Many people never get out of seg because they view the demands as a slave on a plantation views the demands for obeisances from his master. The prison staff does not allow talk as peers. It is not respect that is asked for and the staff does not understand it. Of course the problem is more complex and bigger than this paragraph or the medium will allow.
The draconian rules for segregation prisoners build up such an anger in the prisoner that he becomes a powder keg ready to explode upon being released to the public. In this newsletter will be articles on segregation, including offerings of the American Friends Service Committee, a taste of a series done by Wisconsin Public Radio, and others. . In the non inmate edition will be articles by prisoners who have spent years in solitary. A sample letter will also follows. Please write.
Matthew Frank, Secretary of Corrections; Po Box 7925; Madison, Wi 53707
Governor Jim Doyle; 115 East, State Capitol; Madison, Wi 53702
I am deeply concerned about the overuse of solitary in Wisconsin prisons. Recently it has been reported that Wisconsin leads the nation in prison suicides, and most of those suicides occur while prisoners are in solitary. We also lead the nation in having the highest per capita ratio of Black prisoners. I realize that the balancing of our present punitive system with treatment and rehabilitation is a long term project and will take the participation of the larger society but there are a few important things that can be done right now to help prisoners survive solitary confinement. The almost total deprivation inflicted in segregation cells does not cause the inmate to become more compliant, Instead he gets angry and sick. Many people spend their entire sentence in solitary and then are released to society with absolutely no social or job skills. Many are so angry they have no prospects of making a successful transition and wreak havoc on society before being returned to their cage.
I propose that certain uniform rules be imposed on all segregation units. These are a small steps toward allowing the families and friends to get involved. I propose that:
1) that all prisoners in segregation be allowed books sent in from the outside, that
2) all prisoners be allowed access to GED and other educational programs and that family and friends be allowed to buy correspondence courses.
3) all prisoners, no matter what status they are or if they have a huge legal loan , be allowed embossed envelopes sent from the outside.( as it is now in some prisons, if an inmate has a lawsuit and is indigent, he pays for law copies and postage with a "legal loan" and if that loan gets big enough, he cannot receive money
from the outside and gets only one stamp a week for the institution, has no canteen etc. )
4) All prisoners, no matter what status, be allowed to receive at least one call a week from the outside.
5) we ask that this be part of a general turn about in policy to a rehabilitative system .
WHAT IS ‘ON THE GROUND’ RACISM?
essay by Ed Steichen, Waunakee resident, life time activist and member of MUM and MEP
How many frogs did you see on the road or the sidewalk as you came to this meeting? Do you ever make it a point to count frogs when you travel from place to place? You don't?? Why Not? Because it isn't necessary, not even useful, for your survival to count frogs that cross your path.
How many times today were you conscious of the color of your skin? If you're white, it is about as important for your survival as it is to count frogs. If you're not white, it is as useful as it is to watch for cars when you cross the street.
Those of us who are white live in a white world. Those who are not white, live in a different world. In the following I speak of the black world because roots of the prison system are traceable to black slavery and because I am more familiar with it. Many of the observations apply in good measure to other racial and minority groups.
My point is this. The white world has built institutions, even terrorist institutions, that create chronic anger, fear and failure in non-white populations - based on the color of their skin. Life lived in an environment of constant hostility and harassment is destructive. At the same time, life lived in an environment of power over others is also destructive.
The World of White Entitlement
The White world is the presence of history. History is not just the past. It is also the present. Our Constitution was written by white Anglo Saxon property owning males. (I have read that they represented about 4% of the population.) The Constitution took great care to protect the property of those white Anglo-Saxon males. That property included black slaves. Black slaves were a major asset in the American economy – like computers are today. To this day the courts prefer property over people, white over black, rich over poor.
Cheap government land was distributed to whites. Blacks were excluded. Today “rural America" is white. White rural legislators have herded black prisoners into white rural areas to benefit the white economy. Many of the expenses of this rural prison system are put on the backs of the families of black prisoners.
Social security and workman's comp were passed for white people. Southern legislators ensured that blacks were excluded. Aid to widowed mothers was initially passed for white widows. General welfare - which carried a heavy load of shame - was for blacks. Low cost housing loans and the G.I. bill covering costs of college were provided for whites. Blacks were excluded. These laws built the white suburbs with access to the better schools and jobs. These entitlement programs for whites represent tens of trillions of dollars.
Several generations of these government entitlements built white family wealth and white community wealth, produced an educated white population, and white business, social and cultural institutions, systems that served whites, not blacks - health care systems, legal assistance, and political representation. Blacks were excluded.
Segregation was almost as effective as slavery for exploiting the wealth produced by black communities. Segregation created a terrorist society that very efficiently prevented education and political empowerment of blacks.
The thirteenth amendment was passed to abolish slavery, except as a punishment for crime. It abolished slavery in the private sector, but established it in the public sector. It became the tool for re-establishing slavery in the south. Emancipated black men were herded into plantation prisons. A lot of “prison culture” in this country came right out of those slave prisons.
In spite of vociferous white denial, the white world was built by white men for white men by extremely effective government programs. Government programs work - for the purposes of those who have the power to impose them.
The black world of Wisconsin.
Roughly 10% of the American population is black. Fifty percent of the prison population is black.Five percent of the Wisconsin population is black. 50% of the prison population is black. 65% of the supermax prison population has been black. Drug use is slightly higher among the white population. So is drug dealing.
In 1985 Wisconsin had less than 6000 prisoners. Today Wisconsin has nearly 22,000 prisoners. The crime rate has changed very little. This growth rate has been one of the highest in the nation. The rate of incarcerating blacks has been the highest in the nation. The rate for imprisoning whites has been below the national average. The rate of incarcerating blacks in this country is much higher than the rate of total incarcerations in all other countries. This country has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Wisconsin's supermax prison has been called one of the worst in the nation for psychological torture. Two of the past four Secretaries of the DOC have condemned the supermax for incarcerating far too many prisoners in these extreme conditions. The court appointed monitor of the supermax has reported that the DOC has no research to support its programs, no established guidelines, no clear expected outcomes and no means of evaluating its activities regarding supermax prisoners. It is basically a center of extreme mental torture applied by arbitrary decisions by staff with little competence for no institutionally agreed on purpose. This is the essence of terrorism. Terrorism is the worst type of psychological torture. It is irrational, arbitrarily applied pain approved by authority. The supermax inmate population has been 65% black.
Re-entry of inmates into the civilian population is extremely difficult. Consider this: a white male felon has a greater chance of getting a job than an equally qualified black male non-felon. Roughly one third of young black men are under the supervision of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Wisconsin is not one of the high crime states in the nation. There is no relationship between the rate of incarceration and the crime rate. The causes are political. That is the meaning of Jim Crow.
Wisconsin has had the second highest rate of black child poverty in the nation. Wisconsin has the worst record in the nation for graduating black youth from high school. Don't blame it all on poverty. Young blacks from middle class black families, from well educated black families, from adoptive families with well educated white parents have many similar race related problems in school.
There is a serious gap in achievement between white and black children who remain in school until graduation. There is a serious gap in access to valuable extra curricular courses - band, debate, plays, etc. (Football and basketball are, of course, exceptions.) White middle class PTA's are resistant to significant participation by black parents. Schools are internally segregated. Zero tolerance policies are applied more heavily to black children than to white children. We adults don't like to be forced into strange and hostile situations. Yet we expect it of small black children.
A black woman teen counselor told me that she always begins by legitimizing the suppressed anger of young black boys. Randall Robinson, one of the great blacks in the civil rights struggle, recently wrote a book named "Quit America". He has moved to the small black country of his wife where he is just another normal citizen. Imagine the impact on his life.
One last thought. There are prisons - hardly any in this country - where prisoners and staff are treated with respect, treated as human beings. The differences in inmate behavior and outcome are impressive, even for those pariahs - the sexual predators. The way America treats prisoners is cultural, not rational, not healthy, not necessary. It does not protect public safety. It reflects the values of this society. And it comes out of slavery.
Prison-Based Gerrymandering in the News
note:There have been a number of article lately about the following phenomenon- who gets to count the prisoners- the place where their homes is, or the prison town? It makes a big difference in tax money but especially in government representatives and the present practice disenfranchises millions.
Copyright 2006; The New York Times Company
Prison inmates are barred from voting in 48 states. Even so, state legislatures typically count the inmates as "residents" to pad state legislative districts that sometimes contain too few residents to be legal under federal voting rights law. This unsavory practice exaggerates the political power of the largely rural districts where prisons are built and diminishes the power of the mainly urban districts where inmates come from and where they inevitably return.
Prison-based gerrymandering has helped Republicans in the northern part of New York maintain a perennial majority in the State Senate and exercise an outsized influence in state affairs. A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has pushed this little-known problem into the public eye and could one day be remembered as the beginning of the end of the practice.
The court held that prison inmates did not have the right to vote, as the plaintiffs were contending. But the court expressed interest in the question of whether counting minority inmates in prison as residents there, instead of in their home districts, unfairly diluted the voting power of minority voters in urban districts. The issue was referred to the lower court for consideration, and this in turn has already led to a broader public discussion of the role that inmates play in the political process.
New York State's Republican leadership dismissed the court's ruling out of hand and tried to argue that counting inmates as residents of a prison's district was legal and no different than counting college students at their dormitories. That's absurd. Students live in dormitories voluntarily — and can actually vote. Inmates cannot vote, and their home districts lose representation when they are counted elsewhere.
Voters who come to understand how this system cheats them are unlikely to keep rewarding the politicians who support it.
by Christopher Goodvine , #310458;WCI;PO Box 351,Waupun, WI 53963
It pains me to see my folks
profiled by police
and sellout leader so evil
they throw smiles on our streets
to get elected…then neglect us
look down on our streets
That every corner has a booty bar
or Catholic Church
and liquor store- to inebriate
my path at birth. Reality hurts.
As if I’m seeing through the eyez
of Ms. Alice Walker.. reality stalks us.
Cuz while the victim I conceive
is the "color of purple"so forlorn are the things
that constantly lurks us
There’s gotta be purpose-
Why our past was erased, ancestors raped
Suspended from some branch with their necks in noose.