Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Tennessee Department of Correction Money Pit

Tennessee citizens and taxpayers should know how their government leaders are spending their tax dollars. In the case of Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield, spending appears to be unchecked. Every year, the legislature asks for budget cuts, yet Commissioner Schofield seems to find new ways to spend extravagantly at the people's expense.

He recently increased salary and benefits at the highest level by nearly triple when he created new positions for associate wardens. Thanks to these new expenditures, all institutions now have at least two associate wardens. The larger facilities will have three associate wardens. These newly hired executives will of course have salary and benefits commiserate with their experience. In addition to increasing the administrative staff at the individual institutions, Commissioner Schofield has also instituted several executive positions in Nashville as well as regional directors, which also come with handsome salary and benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to, state cars, food and travel reimbursement, and new i-phones.

In his pursuit of "safer and more secure" prisons, Schofield has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for portable cell phone detectors. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on paint alone, as each institution was repainted a uniform gray and white. Each facility now has a "CERT" team, separate from other security staff, who escort the wardens and associate wardens on the compounds and assist with routine cell inspections as well as searches. The CERT members have military-style uniforms, equipment, and training and, it appears they set their own hours and are not subject to the massive mandatory overtime with which other security staff must comply. All of these new expenditures come on top of the aforementioned overtime outlays due to constant staff shortages coupled with a large employee turnover rate. Some corrections officers work double shifts 3 or 4 times per week.

The one thing the Commissioner is NOT overspending on is the food and health budgets. Inmates currently receive no fresh fruit or vegetables (with the exception of lettuce and an occasional banana). All menu items are pre-cooked at the State's Cook Chill plant and transported to the individual facilities. Medical care is woefully lacking. More and more inmates are being forced to purchase needed medical items from the prison commissary whether they can afford to or not. Several of the men's facilities (including West TN) recently staged sit-ins by refusing to leave their cells and refusing to purchase commissary to protest the substandard menu and poor medical care.

The Commissioner has also implemented ineffective changes in housing rules, controlled movement, no-talking zones, and walking in straight lines with hands at the side (even in inclement weather). All of these changes reflect an extreme militaristic approach that is quite counter-productive. Violence has increased by more than 20% during Commissioner Schofield's brief tenure. In an effort to curtail the appearance of increased violence, directives have been given not to write submit disciplines. Staff has been directed to write "other" disciplines. At least three men have been stabbed at West Tennessee in the last few months, and one was stabbed last month at the Turney Center, resulting in a lock-down of a sizeable portion of the population. Commissioner Schofield's approach is not merely ineffective and wasteful; it is dangerous to inmates and guards alike.

Most recently, new stratification process has been planned, which purports to be a viable move to decrease recidivism. However, implementing the program will require mass movement of inmates from prison to prison, creating even more unrest in an already high-stress environment.

Now the Commissioner has begun taking personal property items that have been allowed in the system for decades. As of July 31,2014, inmates will no longer be allowed to keep their personally purchased hotpots. The moc personal property list had allowed this item as recently as December 1, 2013. Rumors are swirling that fans and televisions may be next to go. Many institutions are old with faulty air units, and the fans are necessary in the event the air goes out. While televisions may seem like a luxury, they are the only connection to the outside world for many inmates. If Schofield wants to see violence, unrest, and recidivism skyrocket, he should continue to disallow items that have been allowed without incident for decades, items that were purchased at the expense of the inmate or the inmate family. This places an undue hardship on everyone involved except for Department of Corrections administrators, not to mention violating constitutional due process principles.

As of July 17, 2014, inmates are being forced to sign up for any activities, such as the library, the recreation yard, religious services, etc., one to two days ahead of time and be issued a pass before they will be allowed to exit the housing unit. This unnecessary procedure generates more paper costs as well as payroll expenditures for the staff member who have to prepare all of the passes for no good reason. This is on top of extremely controlled movement already in place.

At least Commissioner Schofield is transparent about his attempts to remake the Tennessee Department of Correction into the state system from whence he came, Georgia. Ironically, Georgia Corrections have discontinued many of the ineffective changes implemented by Schofield while he was there, changes now being replicated in Tennessee. All the while, Schofield's stated goal of "safer and more secure" prisons has yet to be realized, as violence and tensions seem to steadily increase. Finally, since the Select Oversight Committee was dissolved as of July 1, 2011, the Commissioner is no longer being held accountable for the excesses currently taking place with the Corrections budget.

Wake up, Tennessee, to the wretched state of your prison system. Tell others, and do something about it by calling your legislators and informing them that the we should stop blindly throwing tax dollars into the TDOC money pit.

by Esther

Monday, August 25, 2014

Look at Me

Are you a recycler? Do you spend any time separating your refuse into different bins in order to spare the world from expending unnecessary resources? It seems that most of society is beginning to understand the importance of being more "green." The fact is that if we only consume and never find additional uses for the materials, then the supply will one day become exhausted. We can't imagine living without paper products, or drinking water, or bottles and cans to hold our beverages.

Economics has taught us that society's choice of whether and how much to recycle depends basically on monetary factors. Recycling becomes economically attractive when the cost of reprocessing waste or recycled material is less than the cost of processing new raw materials.

With that being said, let me suggest to you that we need to begin recycling human life – the greatest material and resource known to man. Perhaps we don't consider this to be a valid recycling project since new humans are being born every minute of every day. Maybe we feel like it's not worth the energy and trouble it would take to pick through the human refuse to see if any vitality and good is left.

Right now Tennessee has over 21,000 humans in large refuse centers – prisons. They are hoping and praying that they will be recycled. Will someone see the value that they still have for society? Will someone take time to separate them from the unusable waste that surrounds them? In order to do that it requires you to look at them, not as a statistic like I just mentioned, but as a person - a person that has a pulse, life, worth and sustainability.

So look at me! Look into my eyes so you can see that I am flesh and bones, not a statistic, not a product of the justice system, but a human being. After you see me and I see you, we no longer can pretend that we don't exist. Once this is realized, we can move forward in ways that benefit us both. Programs that bring outside people to our inside world behind these fences are a great avenue to connect humans to humans, eyes to eyes.

We are visual creatures. When we can visualize something or hold it living in our mind, we can make it a reality. So when people look into each other's eyes, when they experience the living presence of another person, they become real beings that take up this world's space. We only have so much space in our world for garbage, so we must begin to recycle, even human beings. So while Tennessee has these 21,000 pieces of recyclable products, what is being done to refine the material? How are citizens' tax dollars being spent to make these rough materials into productive, useful and viable members of the world?

In 2011, Tennessee stated that it recycled over 14,000 inmates. That is, while these people had been housed for a time in Tennessee's recycling centers, they had since been released back into the community to serve the world once again. However, Tennessee also admits that almost half of these 14,000 return to prison, apparently somehow defective in their transformation. By that logic, what if we sent 14,000 cans to the recycling center, and half of them returned with holes in them, not being able to hold the liquid they were supposed to contain? Would that be an acceptable return on our investment? Most logical people would likely be dissatisfied with the flawed process.

Consider author Peter Rollin's explanation of the perpetuation of a problem in his book Insurrection. He suggests, "Donating money to the poor without asking why the poor exist in the first place, for instance, allows us to alleviate our guilt without fundamentally challenging the system that perpetuates poverty. As the Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara once said, 'When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.'"

Until you see the landfills polluted with unwanted trash, it's impossible to get the full effect of the waste we produce. That is why we must get in there and get our hands dirty, scouring the landfills for items that can be brought back to life and still have value. Programs that foster outsiders and insiders coming together to help change the prison system, causing it to recognize the potential of the souls trapped inside the razor wire, are essential for any real change that we may hope for.

It is true that insiders' lives are forever changed when outsiders enter our world and make a connection. However, it is also true that the outsiders' lives are changed as well. When you are able to embrace the presence of all of humanity, then you must include those that may have stumbled, fell from society's graces, and yet have living blood running through their veins. And when you are able to do that you have embraced God.

Therefore I suggest to you that until we look at the system and how we are giving up on our most precious materials – human lives – then people will continue to be taken to recycling centers across the nation and left there to sit for years or decades, without being converted into new and precious beings.

So look at me face-to-face and tell me that I am not worth your thoughts, your time, and your prayers. Until then, you are only using your tax dollars to cover up your own guilt, your own shame, or your own disregard for human life and your ability to build recycling plants that do not work.

by David

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Slavery: Legalized by the Thirteenth Amendment - Part II

Since we know that criminal justice policy is developed by people with a vested interest in what happens to our people, what motive could our lawmakers have for creating policies that disproportionately enslave the same group of people (African-Americans) who were enslaved during chattel slavery? Could it be for the exact same reason as the first institution of slavery? Common sense seems to dictate that incarcerating criminals makes our society safer. I would argue that common sense is not so common when we compare it to reality.

For example, according to The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison,"We have a great and sometimes even a greater chance of being killed or disabled by an occupational injury or disease, by unnecessary surgery, or by shoddy medical services, than by aggravated assault or even homicide!” (Reiman/Leighton, p. 71). Reiman and Leighton assert with passion that the "Typical Criminal" is not the greatest threat to which we are exposed.

Many people assume that the majority of the 2.4 million prisoners incarcerated in the United States are violent offenders. The contrary is true. "The percentage of state prisoners incarcerated for violent offenses has actually declined from 57 percent to 48 percent." (Reiman/Leighton, p. 19). Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow points out that "although African-Americans do not engage in drug crime at significantly higher rates than whites, black men do have much higher rates of violent crime, and violent crime is concentrated in ghetto communities. Black men, they say, deserve to be locked up. Typically, this is where the discussion ends. The problem with this abbreviated analysis is that violent crime is not responsible for the prison boom. Violent crime rates are at historically low levels, yet incarceration rates continue to climb." (Alexander, pp. 204,99).

So what do we make of this seeming paradox? Glenn C. Loury emphasizes in his book, Race, Incarceration, and American Values that "one-third of inmates in state prisons are violent criminals, but a more convincing argument [for increased incarceration] is that we have become progressively more punitive: not because 'crime' has continued to explode (it hasn't) but because we have made a collective decision to increase the rate of punishment." (Loury, p. 6-7). Basically, my point is that "crime" is a socially defined, power based term that gives false impressions to the unsuspecting taxpaying American.

Crime is also a tool used for deception by politicians for the main purpose of misappropriating tax dollars for personal gain. Part of this deception comes from the habit of the media to sensationalize violent crime, projecting black faces on the screen and creating fear in the minds of the American public. This false impression of too much violence causes white voters to endorse politicians who use propaganda as a means to magnify crime as an existential threat, though in reality Blacks are far more likely to be violent toward other Blacks.

For example, Tennessee Governor Haslam campaigned on getting tough on prisoners (a code word for crime) and stated that "prisons should not be five star hotels," relaying the false impression that Tennessee inmates were living in luxury. Not long after, Tennessee's fiscal budget increased to nearly $1 Billion Dollars for the Department of Corrections and that money (tax dollars) would be overseen by a handpicked African-American Commissioner from Georgia, a state where 40,000 inmates had a non-violent sit down due to deplorable conditions in 2010. Now Tennessee's Commissioner has militarized the Department of Correction, and violence in its prisons has increased sharply.

Although it may be a counterintuitive concept, when one examines the larger context, it becomes evident that an inmate is worth more to the economy than a poor working or unemployed citizen. While the working poor make around $17,000 dollars a year, income which will then be spent and circulated through our economy, around $30,000 a year is allocated for each inmate. This money comes from the taxpayers and ends up in the pockets of those who service or work for the prison industry — the real revolving door of mass incarceration. The incarcerated body of a prisoner thus cycles more money through our economy than it would as a poor (possibly unemployed) laborer. Almost all prisoners suffered from severe poverty before incarceration. The reality is that slavery by whatever name has always been about control, labor, and profit from human bodies.

The Prison-Industrial Complex is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that comodifies the bodies of poor people. The justification for this network of capitalistic greed is crime, and the beneficiaries are rich corporations which siphon money from the taxpayers into their own coffers. Reiman and Leighton support my argument by exposing that "the prison-industrial complex includes companies that regard the $80 billion in corrections expenditures each year, not as a burden on American taxpayers but as a lucrative market." (p. 183). They also quote Donna Selman and Paul Leighton's book, Punishment for Sale, when they say "private prisons were born from an incarceration binge that has fostered injustice and that these entities, pursuing their own economic interest rather than the public good, perpetuate policies causing injustice because they profit from them." (Reiman/Leighton, p. 182).

While my aim is not to attack capitalism, it is worth noting that the workings of the free market do not see human beings, only numbers. My problem is that it is acceptable to exploit human beings for profit under the guise of justice and punishment, permitting modern-day plantation owners to operate as private prisons to profit off of the misery of poor people and questionable definitions of crime.

Corrections Corporations of America operates two prisons in West Tennessee where the majority of the inmates (slaves) are African-American, where the conditions are the most severe, and where violence soars. This type of business is too close to chattel slavery, and as a Black man in prison, I find it very scary. Slavery never ended. Loury informs us that "we have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter Century." (p. 5).

In her book, The Law is a White Dog, Colin Dayan illuminates the meaning of Civil Death and shares the words of Justice Christian: "The bill of rights is a declaration of general principles to govern a society of freemen, and not of convicted felons and men civilly dead. Such men have some rights it is true, such as the law in its benignity accords them, but not rights of freemen. They are the slaves of the State undergoing punishment for heinous crimes committed against the laws of the land." (p. 61).

To deny that slavery exists by using sanitized language to identify today's slaves is to pretend prisons are working in the best interest of society instead of only certain sectors of society. When we see that prisons are so ineffective at what they propose to do, and we know that the definition and the application of criminal justice is skewed against the poor and minorities, we are forced to ask: whose best interest is really being served?

In order to go beyond prison, we have to be honest about the past and set the record straight. Personally, I am calling on the church and all Christians, those who claim to love God (whom they have never seen) but hate sinners like me for missing the mark, to condemn this modern practice of enslaving the poor and to participate in shaping new policies that allow healing in both the lives of incarcerated Americans as well as in the lives of any they may have harmed. The facts don't lie; 150 years after the end of slavery, 13 percent of African-American adult males – 1.4 million people – are disenfranchised.

I close with Tupac Shakur's words:
"They ask us why we mutilate each other like we do. They wonder why we hold such little worth for human life. To ask us why we turn from bad to worse, is to ignore that from which we came. . . . you see, you wouldn't ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals. On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity, and we would all love its will to reach for the sun. Well, we are the roses, this is the concrete, and these are my damaged petals. Don't ask me why. Thank God, nigga. Ask me how."

25 years a slave and counting,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Slavery: Legalized by the Thirteenth Amendment

Americans tend to believe that slavery ended in 1865. However the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America reads in part, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." (Emphasis added).

Slavery was actually legalized by this amendment and later reinstituted over and over again by the force of law. Americans should not be surprised that slavery did not end. In fact, President Lincoln stated clearly in a letter dated August 22, 1862 to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley,
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. (The African-American Odyssey 234).

This pseudo-abolition of slavery was actually a legislative compromise to placate the pathology of those few slave states that did not secede from the union (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri) and allow them to criminalize the practice of dominating and peddling the flesh of human-black-bodies for economic gain. To ignore the dehumanizing legacy of chattel slavery is to erase the truth of a past that gave birth to American culture.

Post-Thirteenth-Amendment slavery is somehow morally acceptable, deliberate, camouflaged, and systematically organized with a coolness that its predecessor would envy. Making slaves of criminals is akin to racism in that it is a practice controlled by white men and tailor-made for maximum economic gain with political support and approval from a majority of religious institutions, specifically the Christian church. Without substantial Christian co-operation, post-Thirteenth-Amendment slavery would not exist as it does today.

Prior to the abolitionist movement against chattel slavery, Christian proponenets utilized biblical authority and racial hermeneutics to theologize African enslavement. Supporters of slavery used interpretations of the story of Noah to claim the curse of Ca’naan applied to Africans in America: "Ham, the father of Ca’naan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without." (Genesis 9:22). "And [Noah] said, 'Cursed be Ca’naan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.'" (Genesis 9:25).

Sanctified dehumanization justified the old slavery. Religious approval always makes it easier to violate an unwanted group of people. For example, the religious tone of Manifest Destiny made it okay to exterminate Native Americans and pursue economic progress by expanding the boundaries of the United States in the 1840’s under the banner of God’s alleged approval.

As it was with the old version of slavery, so it is with the new: someone has to gain and someone has to lose. The difference between the two, aside from the forms of brutality, is legality. Africans did not do anything to warrant enslavement, whereas individuals like myself and others who are incarcerated committed crimes or so-called crimes, the sole justification for Post-Thirteenth-Amendment slavery.

But who gets to define what crime is? According to The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, "The fact is that the label 'crime' is not used in America to name all or the worst of actions that cause misery and suffering to Americans. It is reserved primarily for the dangerous actions of the poor." (Reiman, Leighton, p. 66).

When it comes to crime and judgment, most Americans simply look at the act (actus reus or "guilty act") and from there cast judgment. Occasionally we look into the state of mind (mens rea or "guilty mind") of the person committing the most serious acts in order to distinguish between crimes such as premeditated murder and lesser degrees of homicide. But by focusing on the individual through the lens of such legal definitions in practice denies justice because it can ignore the wider context of the behavior in question. Laura Magnani and Harmon L. Wray begin their discussion of crime in Beyond Prisons with a quote from Yazzie: "A crime is evidence that there is something wrong with relationships. An event must be seen in the context of what created it." (p. 8). Our criminal justice policy ignores the context of the crimes of the poor and denies the greater threats posed to society.

We know that elected officials are influenced by powerful lobbying groups, political action committees, individual campaign contributors, and so on. Therefore, crime defined by legislators does not necessarily reflect what is in the best interest of society. Rather, it may reflect the best interests of those who can afford to influence the development of policy at the expense of taxpayers and the poor. Lawmakers not only define the meaning of crime, but they decide who becomes a slave. "Crime" is a word which can be used to mean "legal slavery" for the purposes of my argument.

A slave by definition is a human being who is owned as property by, and is absolutely subject to the will of, another. A slave is one who is divested of personal rights. Post-Thirteenth-Amendment slavery is not a complete replication of its former practice. My focus is on the control of human bodies under the guise of criminal justice. Michelle Alexander reveals the cold truth of today's slavery when she identifies mass incarceration as The New Jim Crow, stating that "more African-Americans are under correctional control today — in prison or jail, or on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began." (p. 175). Alexander traces the roots of the criminal justice system, the New Jim Crow, back to slavery, Black codes and the convict leasing system.

Who can the new slaves turn to for help? Is this style of slavery a problem?

With the next part of this two-part series, I will explore who actually benefits from Post-Thirteenth-Amendment slavery.

25 years a slave and counting,

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Inadvertent Assassin

I woke in a strange room to a familiar face. Though I was 27 years old, I was in a childlike state, a state of confusion with an inability to comprehend what was going on around me. I could see the familiar face speaking, commanding, pleading, "Jack if you hear me squeeze my hand, Jack, squeeze my hand." I knew the voice. This was the voice of my mother, so like a child I blindly complied. She was overjoyed; her only son was back from the brink. I had been unconscious for four days, put into a medically induced coma to combat the severe brain swelling going on in my skull. Swelling of the brain became the primary concern only after doctors had stopped the bleeding from the compound fracture of my leg from which I had lost enough blood to require a blood transfusion. They also had to reattach my head to my neck; it had literally been knocked off from the force of the collision. Yes, that can happen, and no, I should not be alive. Thanks to the tremendous skill of the emergency medical technician, surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all the medical staff at Johnson City Medical Center, I was given a second chance, an extraordinary gift, a gift I did not want.

This ungrateful attitude was not my immediate response. As I said, I was in a childlike state, or worse, a zombie-like state, only able to comply with simple commands like "Squeeze my hand." I have been told I would look right through people blankly, as if there was nothing going on in my brain. In a picture taken just after I had regained consciousness, my normally expressive eyes looked soulless and dead. I looked like an empty vessel, and in many ways, I was. Slowly, I regained human-like qualities, still lacking, but I now had the ability to understand these word from the doctor: "You were in an accident. You broke your neck." These words shook me; I thought my life was over. I assumed I was paralyzed, though I was not. My broken neck, by comparison, was the good news. Once I regained some reasoning ability, I asked if anyone else had been hurt, and got what I later realized was a ridiculous response. My family did not want to give me more than I could handle, so they lied. At that time, I was more than happy to accept this lie, though I had my suspicions. Another day had passed, and I could tell something was not right. When I would try to watch the news, my family or friends would change the channel. I could feel a tension in the air. It was palpable. Realizing this, my mother finally told me the truth in my I.C.U room. She told me what my subconscious already knew. She told me two girls had been killed in the wreck, and authorities believed I was at fault. Those were the most difficult words I have ever heard. Heart broken, I started crying. The hopelessness and guilt set in the instant I heard those words from my mother. I then spoke the second most difficult words a mother can hear. Tears running down my cheeks, I had a selfish request: "Let me die." Through tears and a cracking voice, my mother squeaked, "I can't." Six days earlier, I was responsible for someone delivering the most difficult words to two other mothers.

"Your child is dead."

Public opinion was revealed to me while still in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace, feet and ankles freshly re-broken from surgery the day before. I was parked next to a gentlemen who was also waiting for a C.A.T. scan. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he became the first person to ask me the question I would face many times: "What happened?" I told the man I had been in a car accident. He asked if I had been drinking. Feeling paranoid and helpless, I lied. I told him no. He then proceeded to tell me about a guy who was driving drunk on the wrong side of the road who ran into two local girls and killed them both. He told me he had driven by the site the morning of the crash. He also told me he wished that they would give that guy the death penalty. Little did he know I was that man. Lying defenseless next to him, I said nothing. I just replied "huh." I did not have the desire to defend myself, nor the strength. Around this time I started to develop some denial. I could not accept the fact that I had killed two lovely young girls named Kimberly and Taylor, who were on their way home after working late trying to raise money for a spring break trip. It was too much for me. Denial for me was a life preserver in a hurricane; it only helped for a short while and brought no real comfort. After being arrested and posting bond from my hospital room, I went home to continue my recovery.

These were dark times. I spent the next three months in relative isolation in bed flat on my back, unable to bear weight on my legs, but still bearing a great weight on my heart. I had started to accept the fact that I was responsible for this tragedy. This reality was overwhelming; it was strangling what little life I had left within myself. I was contemplating a self-imposed death sentence, but I continued to come to the conclusion that it was too late. Along with the families of my victims, I too must endure the consequences of my actions. I had no contact with my victims' families until about four months after the crash. After my first court appearance, I was working my way out of the courthouse when I was approached by a woman with rage in her eyes, and when she spoke the words, "You took my Kimberly from me. She was my only child," her rage turned to a level of grief totally unimaginable. Her pain and the hurt those words caused me overshadowed any physical trauma I had suffered. Tears were rolling down her face. At this sight and those words, I started to crumble. My back hit the wall and a shower of tears started falling from my eyes. At that moment there was no escape. I responded with the words, "I am sorry. I would take her place if I could." These were not just words; I would give my beating heart just so that Taylor and Kimberly could spend just one more minute with their loved ones, but these words were no help to her. That was and still is what I want, but it can never be.

The next words I would speak to Taylor's and Kimberly's families came after I pled guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication. This guilty plea was not a product of a plea deal; it was the product of the guilt I felt. It was all I could offer. After my guilty plea, I turned to the families and said that I was sorry and that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do right by their girls. This means no matter how tempting it is to end my own life, I cannot. I now have a duty to make a positive contribution to this world, because Kimberly and Taylor surely would have. Their families and friends would have to wait three more months until my sentencing at which time Kimberly's mother, grandmother, and uncle, as well as Taylor's mother, grandmother, and brother took the stand to tell me and the court how much hurt I had caused. I felt an obligation to look them in the eyes and listen to all the sorrow and grief I had caused. I wept. Their pain was too much for me to bear. The pain I had caused. They held pictures of the two promising young lives I ended; these pictures are all that is left.

I wear many scars from the wreck, but one in particular acts as a question mark. It is the prompt that leads people to ask the question I was first asked in the hospital by a guy who thought I should be put to death: "What happened?" It is a ten-inch scar that runs from my skull the length of my neck. Many people see this scar and cannot help but to ask the question. Though few people are prepared for the answer, I tell them, void of any tact, that it is from a wreck I caused while drinking that killed two girls. I have yet to find anyone those words do not silence. There is usually a pause of several seconds before they say something to the effect of "That’s awful." Then they quietly retreat. This makes me extremely uncomfortable as well; I will never escape the constant reminder of my reckless behavior. This scar gives me the opportunity to stay true to what I had told my victims' families, that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do right by their girls. I take this opportunity, no matter how uncomfortable, to warn people of the dangers of drinking and driving.

This is no cry for help; this is no plea for pity. This is an attempt to stay true to my word and do my duty to Taylor and Kimberly. This is an attempt to shock people by making them feel the emotion and pain caused by these events in the hope that they will stop and think before making the reckless, life-changing, and life-ending choice to drink and drive. I do not want people to refrain on my behalf. They should refrain for themselves and their families. For Kimberly and Taylor. They deserve it.

by Pain

Monday, August 11, 2014

5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry

Here is an article explaining five connections between academia and the prison-industrial complex.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Response to "12 Years a Slave"

The 13th Amendment allows slavery on the condition that one has been convicted of a crime. Dehumanization is dehumanization, no matter what line of reasoning we use to justify it in our society.

When I watched "12 Years A Slave," it chilled my bones to see the same look of evil in the eyes of the slaveholder that I have seen in those of the prison guards who openly deny that we as prisoners are human beings, while joking about the "good old days" when they could abuse and whip us with impunity. My blood ran cold when I recognized the same cowering fear in the slaves’ eyes that I have seen in the eyes of inmates who were threatened with transfers away from their friends and family to the violence-ridden prisons hidden away from public view simply because they didn’t walk in a straight line and the warden happened to be angry that day. And in the main character’s struggle to hide the fact he can read and write, and to obtain pen and paper to free him, I see my own struggle to smuggle computer science textbooks disallowed by the prison administration over ten years ago. I am a computer programmer and a writer, facts I must hide for fear of losing my job and being transferred to the same killing field as the poor victim mentioned above.

The fact is, the violent, belligerent slaveholder in that movie would be promoted to the top ranks of our prison system. Although there are many blessed exceptions, his very same attitude and behavior only slightly modified by (deteriorating) legal protections permeates these institutions, justified by a voting public who are in fact complicit in this sin.

Slavery exists. I am a slave of the state. The law of our land upholds it.

No matter how thoroughly I repent and seek to live a productive life in peace as one who would give back to those I harmed, I am forever consigned to this treatment, to these stressful and insecure conditions, because that is what the people of Tennessee want. The hand of the slave owner and the threat of violence from my fellow slaves are the desired weapons of retribution and oppression in the hands of good citizens all over the U.S.

How long O Lord?

by Moses