Archive for the ‘incarceration’ Tag

Balancing Act   9 comments

October 22, 2018

Do you believe everyone deserves a second chance?

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Ouch, hit me where I live why don’t you?

It’s that loaded word, you see – EVERYONE.

Do I think EVERYONE deserves a second chance? Oh, my!

As a born-again Christian, I am grateful for the uncountable “second” chances God has given to me to recognize His guidance and obey His will. I haven’t always “deserved” them. So, if I received forgiveness and a second chance, doesn’t everyone deserve forgiveness and a second chance? Well, the Bible doesn’t say we “deserve” forgiveness. In fact, it’s very clear that we don’t deserve forgiveness in our own right, which is why God Himself stepped down into human history as Jesus Christ to die for our sins. God forgives us because He loves us and He doesn’t want any of us to perish, but that forgiveness is a testament to His grace, not our worth.

The Bible is filled with stories of sinners given a second chance even when, by God’s rules, they didn’t deserve it. Adam, Cain, Moses, David, Solomon, Jacob, Rahab, Gomer, Paul, Peter, Japhthah … the Bible is a book of second-chance heroes. God is a God of second chances.

Charles MansonBut step down to the human level and ask, does everyone deserve a second chance from their fellow human beings, who are, collectively, a damaged and undeserving species? I still say, “Oh, my!”

My conundrum is tied up with the very clear Biblical admonition that we are to forgive those who hurt us 70×7, which is a Hebrew term that means “uncountable”. Seriously, don’t do the math. Just accept that God wants those He has forgiven to forgive without limit.

I try to live my life accordingly — to afford others a second or third or a million chances. I forgave my parents for the rather dysfunctional way they raised me and, in doing so, discovered a wealth of quirky human drama that I now appreciate in my writing. Brad and I would have divorced decades ago if I didn’t follow God’s guidance on this … and if Brad didn’t also, because I am far from perfect and he has had to give me multiple chances too.

I forgave Nora, my mother-in-law, for telling huge lies about me that had the police on my doorstep. I treat her nicely, I take her to lunch, I am her legal guardian and she’s invited to Christmas dinner. On the other hand, I don’t allow her to live with us again because I don’t want to go through another mess like that one. To be fair, I could probably be talked around, but my husband is adamant that his mother will never live with us so long as she is capable of dialing a telephone. Giving someone a second chance doesn’t mean you don’t set boundaries to avoid a recurrence of bad behavior.

I think society is incredibly judgmental and abusive to people in that we maintain open public records that forever mark a person as “less than.” We have a friend who was convicted of manslaughter 20+ years ago and we believe he deserves a second chance. It hurts us to see when people continue to “hold him accountable” for something he can’t change, after he’s done his prison time and parole, paid reparations to the family, built a business, and raised two wonderful children with his wife. It’s as if everything that he has changed is worthless. At what point has he earned a second chance? Well, there are those in society who would say he never can earn a second chance, and they’d say that if his crime had been selling a baggie of weed instead of getting drunk and driving.

He’s just one example among millions in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world and it is not to our national credit that we do this. People should be allowed a second chance after they’ve paid their debt to society. We have created a permanent underclass through our judgementalism.

This is why I am generally opposed to the death penalty. I think most people deserve a second chance just because I think all humans are depraved and, there but for the grace of God, it could be you or I condemned.

On the other hand, there are some people — a relatively few somebodies — who I don’t think deserve a second chance because the risk of allowing them to go free is too high for others. Serial killers, mass shooters, some pedophiles, paranoid schizophrenics with a history of going off their medication and being violent toward others during those un-medicated periods … they are my stumbling blocks. In theory, I think they “deserve” a second chance as much as anyone, except that the risk of the harm these people can do to others is simply not worth our forbearance, so in practice, I don’t believe they deserve a second chance.

So, everybody deserves a second chance, except ….

Oh, for the eyes of God, so that I might know the future outcome of giving everyone a second chance.



What Prisoners Want   1 comment

LELA: My guest today is long-time friend Bern S. He was a close friend and our entry into jail ministry. The friendship came first. We agreed we wouldn’t use your full name … that you’ve had enough of being infamous. So tell us a little bit about yourself.

BERN: I’m originally from the Northeast by way of Texas, but I’ve lived in Alaska for 35 years, so I think I can call myself an Alaskan legitimately. Right?

LELA:  Definitely. Alaskans don’t hand out that title casually, but you’ve done auto repair at 40 below zero, had the wits scared out of you by a bear, and hold a black belt in Copper River salmon fishing, so you definitely qualify. And you’re married to an Alaska-born woman and have Alaska-born children. You get bonus points.

Related imageBERN:  Ooo, like extra credit!  Love it! So your audience now knows I’m a family man and a salmon fisher. I also am a Christian who goes to church when I feel like it and an inventor of wood stove accessories. But that’s not why we’re here today, so ….

LELA: It’s been, what, 24 years?

BERN:  Coming up in September, yeah.

LELA:  You ended up in jail, right?

BERN:  For four years, yes. I don’t like to talk about it, but I stalk you on Twitter and this gal was going after you, so I called you up and said “Interview me!” You didn’t even know she was having a meltdown.

LELA:  I knew, but I was ignoring it. So, we’re not going to talk about what you did to go to jail. That’s in keeping with my belief that felons should have their records expunged when they’re done serving their time. If I could do that for you, I would.

BERN:  I know that. You’re one of the few people who knows the whole story. You’re also one of the few people who has supported me through all of it and I appreciate that.

LELA:  Ain’t nothing good in me. Tell me about prison.

BERN:  Yeah. It sucks. You think the punishment is having your rights taken away from you and visiting your family through glass, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

LELA:  Like?

BERN:  I think people think this is whining ….

LELA:  People think any complaint by a prisoner is whining. Just accept your punishment.

BERN:   Right. Out of sight, out of mind … unless you’re family or a good friend.

LELA:  So, whine away, man! Let them believe what they want.

BERN: Okay. If anyone qualifies for PTSD diagnosis, it’s gotta be prisoners. Not all the guards are bad. Some treat you human, but the whole system is set up to make you feel helpless and hopeless. I’ve had 20 years to think about this and they just want to break you down in hopes that you will never want to go back there again. They change cellmates, like, almost daily. You maybe get to have the same one for a month or two, but not usually. You get to know a guy and then he’s gone and you have no idea what this next guy is all about. Maybe he’s just trying to do his time like you are, maybe he’s an abusive asshole … and anything in between. And you’re sharing an 8×10 cell with him, so you are going to know each other far too well by the end of the first day.

LELA: That sounds chaotic.

BERN: It drives home that you have zero control over your life.

LELA: And you think that’s the point?

BERN: I hope they have a point. I know, you don’t think they have a point.

LELA: That’s how I’m going to write it when I use it, yeah.

BERN:  They wash all the clothes together so your underwear ends up blue or tan. I’ve heard that some prisons it’s pink. It drives home the fact that you’re sharing underwear with hundreds of guys. And then there are the scrubs and deck shoes you have to wear. At least at Spring Creek I got to wear sort of street clothes because I was one of the workers.

LELA: You got to work in prison?

BERN: I was one of the few. I wasn’t a career criminal. I had skills going in and so I got the highest paying job in the complex – 60 cents an hour doing maintenance.

LELA: By maintenance, you mean plumbing, heating, electrical repair … not janitorial.

BERN:  Technically, but when one of the guys in Mike Mod would flush his pants to cause a disruption on a Sunday morning, I’d end up having to clean up the backup, so in reality …. But the State of Alaska no longer does prison industries anymore, so I’m not even sure that my job would be available now.

LELA: Why’d they close down the prison industries? I know they used to make coffins at Spring Creek and there was a furniture store and they used to wash all the Alaska Marine Highway linens at Lemon Creek.

BERN: They said it was financial, but I don’t know how you could get cheaper than paying someone 30 cents an hour to wash clothes.When I would do maintenance, the real workers would never go into the really yuk places and they didn’t clean up feces. That was all me. And I was glad to do it because it meant I was doing something and I got paid.

LELA: Talk about how important that is.

BERN: Doing something or getting paid?

LELA:  Both.

BERN:  Boredom is the biggest punishment. I missed my family. I missed trees. I missed my dog. But I could focus on a date when I would get out and that got me through that. I’d write letters to my wife and talk to my little girl … and my dog … on the phone. But it was the day-to-day that just ate me up. You’ve got nothing to do. The prison library is mostly a joke. There are fewer books on their shelves than on yours. And if I had to read another Zane Grey novel …. There was schooling available then too (not anymore) and I made use of that. But the fact was that I couldn’t fill all the hours I had and working helped with that. Working eight hours a day at 60 cents meant I had $4 a day. I could buy shaving creme or a pad and pencil or an anniversary card for my wife. If I saved up, I could get a gift for my daughter without having to ask my wife to put money on my books so I could buy it.

LELA: I hear it in your voice. It’s humiliating even 20 years later.

BERN: Humbling but not as bad as the mind-numbing boredom of staring at four walls with nothing to do and knowing tomorrow would be exactly the same. Imagine doing that for two and a half years.

LELA:  I can’t.

BERN:  C’mon, writer chick, I bet you could if you tried. Guys would get into trouble just to break the monotony. Of course, that didn’t work out for them because they ended up in segregation staring at even closer walls and sometimes it added to their time. I was fortunate that I had a job to go to because I served exactly the amount of time I was required to serve and not one day more and I didn’t lose even an hour of good time. I couldn’t have done that with nothing to do.

LELA: Good time?

BERN: If you’re good, they take one day off your sentence for every three days served. So, I was sentenced to six years to serve (with probably after), but I only actually served four years.

LELA: And you served the last 18 months in a halfway house, right?”

BERN: That was a whole other kind of humiliating and frustrating, but the good thing there was I could go to a legal job with real wages. I remember how annoying it was that the halfway house would put it in an account and refuse to let me have more than about 20 bucks. I wanted to be able to contribute to my household and they wouldn’t let me. “Well, what if your wife decides to leave you? You’re going to need that money when  you get out.” My release counselor actually said that. I was, like, “man, if she didn’t leave me yet, she’s not planning to leave me now.” Meanwhile she’s driving a car that’s falling apart and working two jobs trying to keep our daughter in clothes and I’m still having to ask her to help me with my expenses. It sometimes seems like they were trying to break up marriages.

LELA: A friend who was a prison guard claims that is part of it and a part he really regretted being a part of.

BERN:  Tom?

LELA:  Yeah.

BERN:  One of the ones who treated us like humans and the administration made him pay for that.

LELA:  He’s enjoying his retirement. So, then you got out. You’re still married. You have two children … they’re adult-ish now. You own your own business. You own a home. You vote in elections.

BERN:  My wife is made of tough stuff … like one of those aspen trees that grows on the bluffs in Chitina. I can’t say enough good things about her. I kind of had to start my own business because the felony kept getting in the way. It just kept coming up. You’d think that after 20 years it wouldn’t be an issue, but employers … well, their insurance companies, anyway … never let you forget.

LELA: Which is why the borderline anarchists are working on a ban-the-box law. I’ll keep working to my dying day to make our criminal justice system stop stigmatizing people for life. It might not work, but I’m not going to stop. Is there something you want ordinary people to know about you and people who have been through what you have been through?

BERN: We’re people just like you. Some of us went into the system for something we didn’t plan and would take back if we could. Others made law-breaking a career, but you know, they don’t put people in jail for that in Alaska anymore. Human have brains and deserve better than staring at four walls for years on end. But more than that, there’s dignity in work and in getting paid real money for real work and prisoners deserve dignity. The reason I called you up was that the person going after you was totally wrong. I’m not illiterate or retarded and neither were most of the guys I was in with. Don’t make the mistake of thinking drug-dealers are ill-informed or idiots. They worked in a system that involves the voluntary exchange of goods. They ran a business, even if the government didn’t get a cut. So it’s not up to suburban housewives and college graduates with a degree in social fluff to decide for us what we can and cannot do with our lives and what few options we have when we’re inside. I participated in a university scientific experiment that involved giving a periodic blood sample and keeping track of what I ate. I actually bought my wife flowers for Valentine’s that year. I got asked last year to take part in a follow-up to that study and I did. If it was a good cause, I’d be glad to take part in an experiment like that now. There’s one where you get to spend a couple of weeks in a closed-up hotel while they try to expose you to the flu so they can develop a vaccine. They pay you $5000 for it. I’m trying to figure out how to put my name in for it because it sounds like easy money … depending on what the actual paperwork says when I read it. I’m obviously going to read that pretty carefully before I sign my name on the dotted line. But more than that … the flu kills and so I think an actual effective vaccine against it would be a good idea and I’m willing to help with that. And you see, that’s where I’m trying to find significance in my culture … a feeling that I’m still a contributing member of society even if society thinks I’m a pariah.

Your troll was partially right … in a broke-clock-right-twice-a-day way — that there were some awful things that happened in the past. Prisons were awful back in the day for very different reasons than they’re awful now. There were medical experiments that were done on prisoners that were cruel and just wrong. You knew about those?

LELA:  Sure. The LSD experiements and the Malaria Project come to mind. There were a lot more than that, but I’d have to look them up to remember them all. But those were decades ago (literally 40+ years ago) and prisoners prevailed in court and are now some of the most highly-protected medical research subjects in the country.

BERN: Absolutely. There are laws — informed consent laws that prisons and medical researchers have to abide by these days. You can even consult your own lawyer before signing. And there’s always a prisoner advocate about to consult too. They won’t let you not consult them. Your troll apparently doesn’t know about those. Which isn’t very surprising. A lot of people don’t actually study anything. They read something a website they agree with writes and they just agree with it without checking the facts. They do it on both ends of politics. And then again, there’s all the people who have never talked to someone like me, let alone anyone actually in prison now, and just assume crap as if they know. There’s this attitude … I run into it even now … that if you’ve ever had a run-in with the law, you must not be very bright. Sometimes I want to just grab people by the shoulders and scream “You could be next, you naive idiot.” Of course, that would be considered assault so I’ll settle for saying it on your blog.

LELA:  They’d probably arrest me for it too. Thank goodness for the internet where you can’t actually shake someone to death. Yes, there are ethical concerns in prisoners taking part in research. There are ethical concerns in non-prisoners taking part in research. It’s research and you could die of the flu if given the flu. But I can’t help think that people like her who object so strong have bought the line that research can be done with computer models instead of actual living subjects. They scream and yell about animal research, never asking if that means the drug will be tested directly on humans and then they scream and yell about human research … and I’m not sure what they think the alternative is. And yet if they get some condition, they want to be treated. Maybe doctors should just start saying “Well, sorry, but we had to stop that research because we couldn’t get enough test subjects.” Then they’d sue the doctor for not treating their condition.

BERN:  Your uncle is a researcher, right?

LELA:  Cousin … yes. I can’t imagine where MS treatment would be today if the attitudes that prevail now were in existence in the 1970s through the 90s.

BERN: More to our topic, HIV research was stymied in the 1980s by concerns about using prisoner research subjects. There’s more IV-drug users in the prisons than in the general population, but you know, they might feel coerced if asked to take part. Imagine how many people died because there were all these huge hurdles to allowing someone like me to take part in a clinical trial just because I was behind bars.

LELA:  And the amazing thing to me is that my advocating for that got me hit with a label of not being compassionate.

BERN:  There’s a lot of phony compassion out there … people who haven’t got a clue, but are certain they know better than the people who are actually involved. They define compassion oddly. And they frequently base their opinions on the opinions of those who haven’t been involved. Nobody should ever be forced take part in something they don’t want to take part in. Everyone should have a choice. Prisoners are pretty good at saying “hell, no!” when it’s something they don’t want to do because they’re already doing something they don’t want to do. But not understanding the basic need for people to have significance … to feel like they’re contributing to society … that seems pretty uncompassionate to me. Yeah, you need to make sure they know what they’re doing, but let people who have so few choices in life make their own choices about whether to give a little blood or whatever. It might just help them to feel like a worthwhile human being again.


Modern Day Slavery   2 comments

The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states:  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

I more or less agree with this amendment. I’m the descendent of abolitionists. Slavery and involuntary servitude are unchristian and destructive of liberty and should have been disallowed by the federal constitution a long time before this amendment was passed. I understand why the liberty-minded Founders compromised with the slaveholders, but they were morally wrong to do so.

While I agree with the basic amendment, the phrase “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” is a problem for me. It’s a narrow exception that allows modern-day involuntary servitude by way of criminal conviction and necessarily encourages discrimination while denying a convicted person “equal protection of the law” as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

Many states deny felons, even after their punishment has been served, the right to vote, the right to bear arms, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to run for and/or hold public office. The disqualification from most employment that public records disclosures encourages is “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8th Amendment.

A felon living in the United States of American might as well be a slave – at least then they wouldn’t have to worry about putting food on the table.

Therefore, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution is unconstitutional law because it allows slavery to exist under a narrow exception for those who have been “duly” convicted for a crime. As such, modern-day slavery, by way of criminal conviction, necessarily encourages discrimination and denies a convicted person “equal protection of the law” guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, i.e. right to vote; 2nd Amendment right to bear arms; jury duty; disqualified from running for and/or holding political office, etc. Modern-day slavery by way of criminal convictions also subjects a convicted person to “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The 13th Amendment was supposedly designed to outlaw slavery in the United States, but what it actually did was target African Americans for criminal convictions. African Americans have the highest conviction rate of any racial group in the country. That was wrong and should be denounced, but we have a bigger problem today because people of all races and ethnicities are becoming victims of the growing American police state. 

America was founded on the ideal that “all men are created equal”. We haven’t always lived up to that idea. For whatever reason, we seem always to be most comfortable with some group being officially less-than in our society. First it was black slaves, then it was Indians, then it was certain types of immigrants. In the 50s, it was people who held certain political designations. In our modern times, felons are the new “black.” That more of them are black than white perhaps feels justified to a small percentage of us, but increasingly, more whites are becoming felons.

I am not a drug user and do not think anyone needs to or should use drugs, but I see how great a segment of our population is or has been in prison for possessing small quantities of pot and I start to wonder what we think we’re doing as a nation that we’re creating so many felon-slaves. Worse, protest too vigorously at a public gathering and you too could become a felon, denied the right to bear arms, vote, take certain jobs, in some states, even hold a professional license.

It’s fashionable to say that these folks chose to break the law and therefore deserve what they get, but think about what is against the law now that wasn’t 30 years ago. What was not illegal when I was a kid is illegal today. Don’t pitch a fit on a plane if the stewardess treats you like a steer bound for slaughter, because calling her by the name she is earning could be called Assault and depending on how much force you put into those words, it’s a felony.  If you have to pee in the woods, make sure you can’t be seen from the road, because that is public indecency and if a child sees you, it could be sexual assault of a minor (a felony).

Felons are a special class of citizen who are denied natural rights. As the surveillance state and public records disclosure has increased, even felons who managed to become model citizens with no police contact in decades are now being laid-off of jobs they’ve held for years because of new federal guidelines that don’t allow felons to work. Hospitals that accept Medicaid funds cannot employ felons. This resulted in a friend of mine who spent a week in jail 30-odd years ago for selling pot to a cop (a felony that could have carried a year-plus sentence) losing his job as the director of a substance abuse program at a major hospital, a position he’d held for over 10 years. He went into private practice, but he can’t receive Medicaid funds, and his attorney is now researching if ObamaCare will allow him to receive ANY insurance payments. The man has a doctorate in Psychology and a Masters in Social Work and he may not be able to get a job in his field because of something he did when he was 18 years old. By the way, he hasn’t had so much as a traffic ticket in the intervening years.

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate. On average, other countries have about 100 prisoners per 100,000 population. The U.S. rate is 500 prisoners per 100,000 residents, or about 1.6 million prisoners in 2010. While 1 out of every 142 Americans is now actually in prison, 1 out of every 32 of us is either in prison or on parole from prison. About 3.1 percent of the total US adult population — 6.7 million adult men and women — are now very non-voluntary servants of the state and many of them cannot get decent jobs, so they are either dependent on the state or involved in criminal activty because legitimate work is not open to them. Lest we turn this into a racial issue, statistics show that among parolees in 2012, 42 percent were black, 39 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic and 1 percent were of other races. Yes, blacks are still incarcerated more often, but the gap is closing.

What do we think we’re doing by creating this permanent underclass and insisting it’s okay because they chose to break the law? Are we crazy?!! Permanent underclasses are ripe fields for revolution and not the sort that leads to liberty for all.

Our Constitution should reflect our values. If we’re serious about that clause in the Declaration “all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”, then we need to take a real hard look at the 13th Amendment and fix what’s wrong with it. The Constitution was written to protect the liberty of all American citizens except slaves. The 13th Amendment was meant to correct that odious flaw, except it just redefined who was a slave. We the people of the United States must combat the injustice of modern-day-slavery by protest and holding Congress responsible under Article 5 of the United States Constitution to propose an amendment in place of the unconstitutional 13th Amendment.

All forms of slavery must be abolished.

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