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LWOP & Other Sentences

Your Off-The-Record dated July 30th, 2014 mentioned the percentage of guys incarcerated without any possibility of release at right around 20%. There are those whose release from prison would always be some sort of a danger to society: some are mentally disturbed, some sociopaths, and some just incorrigible criminals. All tolled though, I would put the total in the range of 10% to 20%. The reason I say this is that as a Lead Facilitator in the Alternatives to Violence Project — AVP, I have seen some amazing transformations out of guys who no one thought could change for the better. Of course, some crimes are so heinous that prison is the best bet for that individual.

Years ago at the notorious High Desert State Prison in Susanville, not far from the Nevada State Line, a C/O (correctional officer) told a younger more gung-ho me something that relates to this subject: Although I was far from being an Angel and still “in the mix” so to speak, this C/O had apparently taken a liking to me, so on his last day on the yard before being transferred elsewhere within the system, he took me aside in the gymnasium and to my surprise took off his gloves, stuck out his hand, and said “I wanta shake your hand.” Since shaking a cop's hand for any reason in an active prison yard is, to put it mildly, a no-no in the eyes of other convicts as well as other cops, you can imagine my chagrin! But, since nobody else was around and given that we all respected this guy, the State Prison Guard Boxing Champ, a family man, and a volunteer at the local boys' home, and apparently not an asshole, I took his hand and shook it. He went on to say that he hoped I got a parole date some day as I deserved it and that a few other officers felt the same. He said: “We know who is who and there is a difference between a guy who will handle his business when he needs to and some of these other guys. If I saw you on the street, I would buy you a beer. But most of these guys, should they come around me or my family, the only thing they would meet would be the business end of a.45 cal.” I looked into the eyes of this wiry red-haired fellow of obvious Irish/Celtic stock and was gratified to see that he authentically meant the compliment he had given me.

INCARCERATION IN PERSPECTIVE

In the mid 1970s there were 300,000 inmates in prisons in the United States. Now we have 2.2 million behind bars: this works out/to be 716 per 100,000 of total population. China, with a population four times ours, and whose human rights record is often decried by our politicians, ranks second in the world with 1.64 million in jail: 122 per 100,000 people, about one sixth the US rate. If you are an African-American, the incarceration rate is much higher in the US — a staggering 6,838 per 100,000. Even in South Africa during the final years of Apartheid, the incarceration rate for blacks was only 851 per 100,000. Contrast this with Scandinavian prisons: Sweden incarcerates only 51 per 100,000 of total population and yet does not seem plagued by crime in the streets. The US Department of Justice says there is little correlation between the America's prison population and the crime rate, which is at its lowest level since the early 1960s. Instead we have more laws for more things, longer sentences, and higher recidivism rates due to the lack of rehabilitation programs for inmates while in prison. All of this contributes to the outlandish numbers of incarcerated US citizens.

One poignant observation by Leder, (“The Soul Knows No Bars,” 2008, page 195): “About 70% of inmates in the US are illiterate, some 200,000 suffer from serious mental problems, and 60% to 80% have a history of substance abuse. So many difficult problems and only one answer: prison cells.” In a report entitled: “The Treatment of Persons With Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails” by the Treatment Advocacy Center issued earlier this year, shows that there are now ten times as many individuals with severe and persistent mental disorders in state and county prisons than in state psychiatric institutions. The ratio may be even larger than ten to one since mentally ill inmates in federal prisons were excluded from the report as well as those being treated in private prisons, such as in Hawaii and Alaska.

THE WAR ON DRUGS MORPHS INTO THE DOMESTIC WAR ON TERROR

We once thought of the illegal drug problem as a mental and social problem concerned with addiction and with the treatment of addicts. The War on Terror was, at the time of creation of the Patriot Act, concerned with attacks by foreign entities upon unarmed non-combatants citizens in their homes and work places. We have now somehow combined these two threats under an institutionalized culture of suspicion, fear and retribution. For instance, in some jurisdictions drug warrants are served only by SWAT teams. In 1992, there were only a few paramilitary drug raids per year in the total US. By the 1980s this had climbed to 3,000 raids annually and by 2011 there were 80,000 paramilitary deployments. Not just for drugs either but for a much broader array of supposed misdemeanors such as the old lady making blackberry wine who was raided, as was an Amish farmer selling cow's milk across state lines. In 2010 CNBC reported that the US Army launched an operation called Unified Quest 2011 designed to study the implications of a large scale economic breakdown inside the US. In particular this operation examined the role that the US Army would play in “keeping domestic order amid civil unrest.” It is unnerving to note that the Pentagon and the department of Homeland Security are blurring the lines of separation between the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies headed by elected local officials. This “federalization” is being brought about in the form of grants and other economic incentives. The Associated Press found in a survey that $4 billion worth of surplus military equipment had been distributed to local police forces since 1990 ranging from bayonets to Humvees, even tanks, armored personnel carriers, mine resistant vehicles and other state of the art combat equipment and weaponry designed for warfare against foreign powers. The $500 million worth of military gear handed out by the Pentagon in 2011 far surpassed, according to the program's director, the record set in previous years. But this figure was still small when compared to the $34 billion in anti-terror grants to local police by Homeland Security. Putting advanced combat weapons and equipment into the hands of untrained civilian police officers transforms local police departments, once responsible for the protection of citizens and their property from criminal elements, into small para-military forces equipped for major combat roles.

Very recently, the Department of Defense issued a report saying that the government should be prepared for massive civil unrest in the likely event of an economic meltdown. I have been told by several correctional officers that they have been receiving mandatory crowd control and civil unrest training through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of such a nature that many of the officers, some veterans of tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, are disheartened and angry at the government and fearful for the future of the constitution and of society in general. Scary stuff! Especially if you realize that the United States is over $16 trillion in debt mostly to BRICS Countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

This puts a whole new spin on the truth behind Putin and the Ukrainian crisis, doesn't it? Especially since we helped topple the former government of the Ukraine. Even those of us who know just a bit of history realize that the US has less than a stellar record when it comes to toppling governments and supporting coups. All we have to do is think Vietnam, Chile, the Congo, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Iraq and Afghanistan and the dictators and war criminals we have supported. Now look at Iraq with its ISIL/ISIS uprising, a natural result of our earlier invasion and manipulation. To make the situation even scarier, I wonder how many Americans are even aware that the Obama Administration recently overturned the 206 year old Insurrection Act that limits federal military involvement in domestic law enforcement. Previously, use of force had to be authorized directly by the Commander in Chief (President) and only in the event of an insurrection or foreign invasion. The Obama Administration now says that military commanders can use force to put down unexpected civil disturbances in cases where prior authorization is deemed impossible.

All this seems to be leading towards an Orwellian state for real! Walter Cronkite said on National TV during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protests that “we are now living in a police state, that seems to be the only way to put it.” We seem to be on our way to the end of constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, and mass incarceration seems just another face of this. Author, linguist and historian Noam Chomsky suggested the existence of “a sector who are just superfluous, they're no use, that is, they don't contribute to profit” and as such they threaten the economic stability of the wealthy and of the middle class:

“The more you increase the fear of drugs and crime and welfare mothers and immigrants and aliens and the impoverished and all sorts of things, the more you control people: Make them hate each other: be frightened of each other; and think that others are stealing from them. If you do that you can control people. And that's what the Drug Law does.” (Chomsky 2003).

Soon it seems there may not be all that much difference between where I reside and outside the fence. The walls may be different but perhaps it’s really all the same prison.

Recommended reading if you haven't read them already:

• ‘935 Lies’ by Award Winning investigative journalist and former producer of ABC News and 60 Minutes: Charles Lewis documents what he and other journalists dub the growth of a legal institutionalized culture of lies and deceptions by the government, military, corporate America, and mainstream media: Excellent, startling, and well researched. (The number 935 refers to the statements by the top seven Bush Administration officials concerning Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and Sadaam's linkage to Al-Qaeda.)

• ‘No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State’ by Glenn Greenwald, who first interviewed Snowden in Hong Kong: If this was read by the average TMZ-watching member of our idiot culture, they might see Big Brother as more than some vacuous reality show and we might not be in this mess.

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