January 24th-31st, 2011: In one of my previous blogs I wrote that the Chaplain was getting 25 guitars for a music program similar to other prisons where inmates have regular and easy access to instruments to play. This was the understanding of Randy, a Canadian here from New Westminster (near Vancouver) whose music business associations back home had his Canadian musician friends offer 25 Spanish guitars to DRJCI for inmate use, since hundreds of inmates here are musicians. The management here turned down this offer to have 25 guitars donated free to D. Ray James, no explanation offered.
Then, Randy’s understanding was that D. Ray James would provide these guitars, as of course they should. GEO Group receives $1,004,000.00 US EACH WEEK on this contract, enough to pay for standard inmate amenities. Yesterday I spoke to glum and dejected Chaplain Higbee who stated that he was unsure if GEO Group would provide for any musical instruments at all for D. Ray James. He was inclined to think they wouldn’t. Saving souls is his stock-in-trade, but I think he’s discovered he’s working for a devil of an employer!
So GEO Group turns down 25 free guitars for inmates, but won’t commit to providing any instruments with its total $2,450,000,000.00 (yes, $2.45 BILLION) received from the US taxpayers in 2010 alone! GEO’s competition, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), provide for inmates at the foreigner-only federal prison up the highway in McRae, Georgia; there they have a collection of guitars, drums, bongos, congas, and even two pianos for inmate use. There is a music practice room. Inmates put on concerts in the gym once a month for any musicians who put themselves on the concert performance list. There is a band practice room. There is a CD player room where inmates can plug in their headphones and listen to a CD currently playing. Most prisons have similar programs, but not this place.
One microwave oven per unit of 64-80 men is providing problematic. I put in a cop-out (request) for a second microwave in every unit and the written response was “no.” Yet the microwaves are in such constant use 18 hours a day they are burning out rapidly. It would probably save money and reduce wear and tear to have 2 microwaves in each unit, as well as easing tensions of long line-ups for use. Microwaves in Q building’s Pod 5 & 8 burned out in the past week, so inmates from those pods were invited into the pod next door (6 & 7) to use their microwave, making even longer line-ups and increased stress on the microwaves.
At McRae, there are seven (7) televisions in each unit or range: four in Spanish and three in English. Here we have just two televisions in each unit: one in Spanish (largely sports), and the other is supposed to be for English. However, because each unit here is 95% Hispanic [native language being Spanish], there is some unsubtle pressure in each unit to make both TVs Spanish-Language, a perspective I understand given the inmate population. But this brewing conflict is abetted by the stinginess of GEO Group management. When I posed this to the B.O.P. monitor on site, they remarked that the third TV for each unit is already here, but “coaxial and electrical issues” are the hold-up.
Nine days ago, ten exercise bicycles were put in the basketball courts for inmate use. As of today, all of them are out of order. I sat on every one of them and tested them myself. Despite a claim to have spent $2,000.00 per bicycle, they seem to be light-duty household models worth no more than $300.00 each. Something doesn’t jibe here. Bradley, another Canadian inmate here, just fixed them!
They installed a kiosk out in the yard area that is to be used to load songs onto the Mp3 players they plan to sell in commissary for $130.00 each. There is a satellite dish atop the rec office to receive the latest songs, which will cost inmates $1.60 per song to download onto their “Secure System” inmate Mp3 player (no iPods for us!). The Mp3 players are not for sale yet, so we’ll see how that goes. A critical matter is whether the $130.00 cost and $1.60 per song cost is to be counted towards the $320.00 monthly maximum limit inmates have on their commissary spending. For example, January has 5 commissary purchase days, which for my unit happens to be Mondays on January 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31st. As of today, January 24th, I’ve reached my limit, so next week, January 31st, I can’t buy anything from commissary, and I just typically order food. So if I order an Mp3 player, it means that month I’ll have to cut back on $130.00 worth of food (packaged meat, fish, condiments, tortillas, hot-sauce, spices, noodles, etc.) Ordering 20 songs in one month is a $32.00 purchase, and that means I’ll have to order $32.00 less of food. Even under regular circumstances like this month, I’m going to have to go a week on austerity rations. You can see someone is making money on these inmates because these songs are available from $0.79 to $1.29 per song from mainstream providers like iTunes and Amazon.
DRJCI now has an inmate photographer taking photos for $1.00 each in the visitation room every Saturday, Sunday and Federal Holiday, which is very good. Inmates will also be able to get a photo taken of themselves in the yard against a wall on every third Sunday for $1.00. The price is OK (although SeaTac FDC offered 2 copies for $1.00), but probably 200 to 300 inmates will be lined up to have a photo taken in the 7 hours (8:30 am – 3:30 pm) one Sunday a month. It means many will have to wait SEVERAL hours just to have their one photo taken. And if it’s raining and you have to wait outside, or on February 20th, raining and cold…? There’s no reason it can’t be done weekly, it just requires one camera and one inmate. After all, it will make money. The cost of a 4” x 6” glossy photo from a digital camera is approximately $0.20.
I’ve been reading numerous jailhouse lawyering and paralegal texts, and familiarizing myself with Lexus/Nexus, the database that contains all federal statutes. I made a disconcerting discovery in the last few days filling out forms, grievances, reviewing appeals, motions, requests for transfer of inmate funds, and all the useful activity I like to think I do on behalf of the inmates. When I started here on November 30th, the other paralegals, Guy and Darren, would fill out this “Half-Time” early deportation status request form on behalf of the largely Hispanic inmates and mail it to and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Atlanta, GA. All done at no charge, of course, as is all our paralegal work. This form was an application for an inmate who had never been deported before to get early deportation at the halfway point in their sentence.
Needless to say, this excited the inmates who “qualified”. Over the next six weeks I assisted a dozen inmates fill this “application.” A little leery, I asked my friend Loretta Nall to call the ICE office in Atlanta, GA to confirm the program existed. Buy by mid-January she had not done this for me. That is a glaring difficulty here, that there is no way for us to email or call any government office, lawyer or reference on the “outside” to corroborate the many legal concerns that come our way. Even though this is supposedly an Immigration & Naturalization Service Federal Prison for deportable “aliens”, there is no one here in any way knowledgeable in immigration matters to advise or assist us.
On Saturday, an inmate brought in a 2-page form (attachment B) called a “Motion for Sentence Relief under the Federal Prison Bureau Non-Violent Offender Act of 2003.” I found this suspicious immediately. It seems to be a motion, or application, for early release of a non-violent offender over the age of 45. It is framed as a motion, but H.R. 3575(a) is a House Resolution, meaning that this may have once been proposed legislation, but actual laws use differing numbering. Federal Prison Bureau doesn’t exist. It is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. When I put “non-violent offender relief act of 2003” into Lexus/Nexus, nothing came up. The so-called application was a fake; a hoax. The so-called law doesn’t exist. I came back to the inmate and said, “This is a fake.”
I then took it to Miguel, a Hispanic paralegal from Peru who has worked in law libraries for 14 years (1991-2004, 2009 to present), and is really knowledgeable around Lexus/Nexus, and he said, “of course it’s a fake. If it was real, I myself would qualify.” I asked him why hoax documents circulate in prisons, he said that so-called jailhouse lawyers charge money (commissary) to file these fake motions they’ve convinced other inmates are real, exploiting the hopes and frustrations of prisoners who are desperate to get out and whose English or knowledge of the law is unsophisticated. These unscrupulous people charge $5.00 or $10.00 or $15.00 or whatever they can to “help” inmates, largely Hispanics, to file bullshit motions, or writs of Habeas Corpus, or even these “half-time” early release applications.
Pondering this, I took a closer look at the so-called “half-time” release application we’ve dutifully assisted 30 to 40 inmates in filling out since I’ve been in the law library. I put the term ‘Stipulated Deportation Order’ and A.R.S. 41-1604.14’ and ‘Class 3’ ‘felony offense’ and ‘A.R.S. 13-1404’ and ’13-1405’ and ’13-1406’, ’13-1410,’ and ’13-604’ and I could not find ANY of these so-called statutes or terms anywhere in the Lexus/Nexus. For example, felonies are classified as “A, B, C, D, & E Class” felonies; there are no class 1-6 felonies. (Attachment A)
There is no term “Stipulated Deportation Order” anywhere in any deportation or immigration statutes or regulations. This “application”, too, is a hoax. I was careless and didn’t verity it early on, and sincerely helped a dozen inmates fill them in and send them off, no doubt giving them false hope of early release. After I “assisted” them, they looked at me and said “how much do I owe you?” and I was always so pleased to say “Nothing. This is my job to help you and I’m happy to do it.”
Now I feel foolish. I feel I should make an announcement in my unit that the half-time application is a hoax and apologize to the four people in my unit who got their “applications” filled out with me. I feel crestfallen giving false hope to those inmates. I even sent one by certified mail with $5.54 worth of my own stamps and I was somewhat curious when the ‘letter received’ signed portion never came back.
When I told Miguel of my discovery, he said, “of course it’s a fake. That is what I told them.” (‘Them’ being the two paralegals.) “What?!” I exclaimed, “You didn’t tell me!” “They didn’t want to believe me,” he said. “This fake notice is even at other prisons like Leavenworth (Kansas) and in Arizona.” The two paralegals are whom I learned from, so that disappointed me. They didn’t do due diligence on the authenticity of this bogus ‘application’. I went to them and said “The Half-Time for is a hoax. None of it checks out. None of it.” One said, “I’ve gotten a response.” Then he showed me his response (attachment C), which is a form-letter brush-off that doesn’t in any way acknowledge the “half-time” application. Basically the form-letter response says, “We don’t know you. There is nothing we are doing for you.” When I said we should tell the inmates it is a hoax, they said, “I don’t want to be the one to do that.”
This is the problem with having no connection to the outside world by email or phone. With only 300 minutes monthly, I can only afford brief 10-minute conversations once a day with Jodie; I have no minutes available to seek legal help from anyone. This discovery has made me a bit sad, but certainly wiser into doing my due diligence on any work, and not taking anything at face value until I’ve confirmed the actual facts of a matter.
Yesterday and today I filed two “Hail Mary” requests that are unlikely to get desired results with Bureau of Prisons. A “Hail Mary” is a very long shot attempt at something. Pablo, an Argentinean inmate in my unit, failed a urine test at McRae C.F. last year, a private prison run by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) in Georgia, north of here. His dirty u/a (as a failed test is called) showed ‘marijuana metabolites’ in his urine. His punishment was severe and draconian, totally over-the-top, for a failed urine test; he received:
– 90 Days total in solitary confinement (30-days while waiting for the verdict, 60 days for the punishment)
– 67 days loss of good time credit (67 days extra jail time)
– 1 Year loss of Visitation
– 90 Days loss of Telephone
– Disciplinary Transfer to another prison
This is extraordinary for a solitary failed urine test; loss of 67 days’ good time credit, loss of visitation (for a year!), phone, and 90 days solitary confinement! Wow! That’s really piling it on. And then to get moved to another prison – all over maybe one joint! So I’ve filed a request to have some of his good time reinstated, appealing for mercy. To get this request to the B.O.P. Department that can relevantly make a decision, we will have to file the request 5 to 9 times, going to the next level as it gets refused, as it certainly will the first 4 times because DRJ cannot reinstate good time, particularly from a disciplinary action that took place at another (non-GEO Group) facility. Only by the 5th appeal does it get dealt with by Bureau of Prisons (B.O.P.).
Today I met Mr. Peters, the inspector from Washington D.C. for Bureau of Prisons, and had a twenty minute conversation with him. I went over my list of what I feel are necessary improvements that ought to me made here; Corrlinks/email, exercise equipment, additional TVs, additional microwave ovens, shower curtains for privacy, more money spend on current books and subscriptions to the library, a music program with instruments, practices and performance opportunities, legitimate accredited courses, a career room with pamphlets and brochures for correspondence courses, all the amenities and opportunities that are at McRae (again, it’s a facility exclusively for foreigners like this one) or any Federal low security prison for Americans. I added, “What did I do that was so bad you had to send me to THIS place?” Of course, I was emphasizing my point with the last remark. He dryly responded, “The designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas sent you here, it had nothing to do with me.”
He went on, “but I will say that when McRae opened – and I worked there for two years – they had none of those things they currently have now. All that progress was achieved by having a continual dialogue between the Warden and inmates. So keep taking your case to the Warden. I can’t order him to do anything in regards to expenditure of monies. You keep bringing your concerns and requests to the warden and things will come. I’m aware McRae has seven televisions per unit and an excellent music program, but that didn’t happen right away. When McRae opened, there was nothing. It came about over time.”
In fact, at McRae they have dozens of pull-up bars, exercise equipment (treadmills, steppers). After the Chow Hall is closed, it’s turned into a games room. There are special meals on all religious holidays, celebrating even the Santeria holy days for the Haitians. There is a veggie tray for vegetarians and Kosher meals. There is a special meal for all inmates of each nationality’s Independence Day (any inmate with a population of over 100, so the national holidays celebrated are the Mexican, Dominican Republic, Haitian, Cuban, and Colombian Independence Days.)
I pointed out that while it’s true everything takes longer than you think it ought to, one of our washing machines hasn’t worked since October 15th, 2010, over 3 months ago, and has never been repaired. The fire-alarm issues persist after 14 weeks of aggravating aural assaults. As to Western-Union deposits to inmate accounts, we are being told that for Canadians and others outside of the USA, that service should be available within the week. We shall see about that, but I hope so, because Canadians cannot put money into a Canadian inmate’s account here by money order, Western-Union, or Canadian VISA or MasterCards, so it’s impossible to put money into MY commissary account from Canada. How discriminatory is that?!
My friend and fellow paralegal Avedis, or “Mike”, has been a powerful voice for the rights of Jews here at DRJ, in regards to religious services, dietary requirements, and religious observation. The Rastas, Muslims, and other faiths have similar grievances to Mike. (See Attachment “M”).
The water to drink here contains sediment, floating flecks of black and blue. Jodie saw this when she came to visit and the pop and water machines were broken; we were given styrofoam cups for the drinking fountain water, but warily examined bits of debris or paint or metal in the bottom of the cups we had to drink water in. The tap-water here comes from a giant and old water tower on the DRJCI property. I talked to the infrastructure person on staff today and told them in my opinion the water here was unfit for human consumption.
His first response was “I’ve been drinking it for 13 years and I’m OK.” I agreed that was a good sign, but I questioned whether the water tower had any filters and whether those filters had been kept clean. They said that the water was filtered on the way into the tower but were unsure if it was filtered on the way out and how often, if ever, the filters were cleaned. Mike’s family is in the water bottling business and is familiar with potable water and reverse-osmosis filtration. His opinion is that the water here is unfit for human consumption, and that the area surrounding Folkston is swampland. The water would be of very poor quality.
DRJ’s Library made its first acquisition of “new” books today, about 150 remaindered books of little use to the inmates – but it’s a start I guess, albeit pathetic, penny-pinching response at that. The library needs 500 to 1,000 contemporary bestsellers like Stephen King, James Patterson, Dean R. Koontz, contemporary business books, modern text books, and contemporary Spanish authors en Espanola. Notably the inmates were not consulted about the books they would like to read, nor were any of the Library Aides, and especially not me. I’ve only had 35 years of bookselling and library experience, what would I know?
Whatever was cheap and easily available with the least amount of thought was what was acquired, so they can refute my repeated refrain that no money has been spent on the library since DRJ opened in October 2010. However, still no money has been spent on relevant paralegal or prisoner litigation books or newsletters for the law library. I have had to provide all of that. B.O.P. regulations require a certified librarian for a prison of this size, but there is not a certified librarian at DRJCI. The D. Ray James Correctional Institution’s inmate manual states: “D. Ray James provides easy access to a full range of materials for education and leisure purposes.” There is virtually no educational material at DRJ however.
There is still no progress on the Laotian man, Nong, being granted permission (as is his right) to marry his fiancé here at DRJCI, after 10 weeks of complying with all the requirements. No updates on the man requiring replacement dentures after GEO Group lost them 7 months ago.
Recently an inmate came into the law library to tell us the sad news his mother had died. He’s indigent and has no money on his phone account. He went to the Chaplain, explained what happened, and asked if the Chaplain could arrange a free call to his family. The Chaplain told the inmate that rules here required the inmate to “write or call your family and have them fax the death certificate” and THEN he could get the free “family emergency” phone call that DRJCI procedures allow for! The next day the paralegals, including me, brought this up with the Assistant Warden, and he immediately agreed, “That’s the wrong answer. He should get his call.”
My Political Agenda
All of this time in prison is helping crystallize my political agenda to take to the people of Canada upon my release. Canada and America are broken, and I can fix this. But it requires not tinkering, not soothsaying; it requires a rational prioritization of what government can provide and what it cannot. It must not attempt to indulge the futile, the irrational, the impossible.
Currently, The Conservative Party of Canada, propped up by opposition political parties too timid to go to the polls to push them from government, are indulging in a (sterile) orgy of deficit spending, military aggrandizement and aggressive prison building and incarceration. All three of these self-destructive policies drain the blood and treasure of any nation that travels this path to its inevitable destination, a ruinous police state.
The Canadian Military has been unnecessary for 50 years, and today serves no valid purpose, as we are not under threat from any outside force (except from, perhaps, those whom our troops, alongside the American military, terrorize and kill in occupied countries overseas – so any attacks against Canada would be the direct result of our government’s own actions).
The Tory policy of spending $450 billion over 20 years is catastrophic folly. Think what $450 billion could do in the pocketbooks of ordinary Canadians: it could pay for staggering improvements in health care, education, job creation and individual well-being and personal wealth. Prison expansion is emblematic of a failed society. The goal is to abolish prisons. Prisons are schools for criminality, they do not rehabilitate, nor, as our criminal justice system is structured, can this be made possible. Our society is made more unsafe and more violent by the policies that make incarceration inevitable: Prohibition, and prisons themselves, whatever the offense, make criminality more pervasive.
As I speak across Canada when I return, I will explain how Canada can be made perpetually prosperous, demonstrably free and just by:
1) Repealing the prohibition of cannabis and all substances.
2) Abolishing the military and withdrawing from NATO.
3) Ending the ‘security & surveillance’ state apparatus and repudiating the US government ‘security’ state integration.
4) Abolishing the current prison system and replacing it with home detention, restitution, and in the case of violent threats, remote-area detention. We live in a sophisticated electronic ear where it is easily possible to restrain individuals with total monitoring and electronic pain-control to correct behavior. Public safety in this regard is the only legitimate use of the ‘security’ system. Housing criminals together at such huge expense and no benefit must end.
5) Ending all corporate subsidies, loans, and monopolies by the federal or provincial governments.
6) Abolishing the Income Tax and taxes on Canadian-situated investment. Taxation required will be through consumption/consumer taxes (sales taxes).
7) Ending taxpayer financed foreign aid while abolishing the tariffs on products from developing nations, which will truly help the ordinary African or Latin American worker.
8) Ending any preferred status or monopoly privileges for phone, telecommunication, cable carriers. Unlimited Canadian based competition is to be facilitated.
9) The government will continue to finance the nation’s health care and schools. The nation’s health care program will expand to include universal dental care. Taxpayers will choose the recipient of their tax dollars in choosing schools, medical and dental services. Competition among service providers will be robust.
10) Deficit financing, provincially and federally, is outlawed. Prioritization as I have described it is imperative to maintain Canada’s standard of living.
11) The tar-sands oil extraction project is environmental insanity. No government should permit such poisonous defilement of a nation’s natural heritage.
Decisions regarding the governments’ priorities need to be made: I choose schools, hospitals, doctors, dentists, universities, the CBC, a just society, competition, and genuine wealth sharing with our lesser-off fellow workers in the third world. I reject failed or irrelevant institutions of the past: prisons, prohibition, the military, income tax, deficit financing, and all of the crime, crisis and economic malaise that comes with them.
Write me at:
Marc Scott Emery #40252-086 Unit Q Pod 2
D. Ray James Correctional Institution
PO Box 2000