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Sunday, November 29, 2015


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Bars-N-Stripes is not responsible for any comments made by contributors in the Comments pages. However Bars-N-Stripes will exercise its right to moderate and edit comments which are deemed to be offensive or unsuited to the subject matter of this site.

Comments deemed to be spam or questionable spam will be deleted. Including a link to relevant content is permitted, but comments should be relevant to the post topic.

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Comments containing language or concepts that could be deemed offensive will be deleted.

The owner of this blog reserves the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice. This comment policy is subject to change at any time.

Monday, November 2, 2015

20th Anniversary: And This We Celebrate?

It was the Beatles who gave us the line, "it was 20 years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play...." That was an anniversary worth remembering. Here at LCC, next Friday will mark 20 years since this facility was opened and the administration is going all out to celebrate. How odd, they want to celebrate a place where 1 out of 3 offenders ends up cycling back in to the system within the first 12 months of release; they want to celebrate a facility that costs Virginia taxpayers over $27 million each year to house, clothe, feed, and not much else; approximately 1000 offenders, most of which have been through the system at least once before. They want to celebrate their successes, except there are no matrix to measure success.

You know how things run around here--the worst building on the compound is the "re-entry" building. The guys are off the chain and the staff will tell you they have little control over how things run. The state spends over $100k on an "evidence Based" manager of reentry who is regularly cussed out by the residents of his re-entry pod because he isn't a straight shooter. The re-entry programs--which the state spent millions on to a private contractor--are long on touchy-feely “clap for the word of the day" and short on actual drug and alcohol programs and work skills necessary to succeed.

Participants in re-entry can miss school; their re-entry programs are "that important" to the offender's overall "success." Really? Every study done suggests offenders (at least 50% of whom lack even a high school diploma) need more education, more training in real skills for living outside of ere.

But that doesn't matter. See DOC operates as an independent body; there is little government oversight over control. No one, it seems, is looking at the massive expenditures in money and manpower wasted throughout the system. And before you say, "these guys deserve it," LCC is not a high security facility. Most of Virginia's prisons are level 1 and level 2 which means the vast majority of the men (and women at other spots) are within 5 years of release.
Where is the oversight? Where is the independent audit and control? Where is the real effort at "corrections"? It certainly isn't here.

Know why all these prisons are around? Because Bill Clinton, facing public embarrassment and scorn sold his soul to the Gingrich controlled congress and signed the Prison Litigation Reform Act. In it, the Feds gave billions in block grants to the states to build more prisons. And the states did just that. Only it backfired because the fed money dried up, incarceration rates went through the roof and the system became even more bloated and corrupt. Both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich admit today they erred; both now are advocates of criminal justice overhaul.

Anniversary celebration? Celebrate this--entire generations of low income, low educated citizens are cycling through the system and nothing being done in here is either making you safer or correcting the problem. You want punishment, that's fine. But the ramifications of a corrupt system that overwhelmingly punishes
and fails to rehabilitate is anger, bitterness and the likelihood that once released you'll be back.

"Happy" anniversary--hardly. Those folks who live out here know the real score--no other businesses want to locate near the prison. And the staff? They've been busy taking employee surveys to understand why morale is so bad and attrition is so high. Instead of an anniversary celebration perhaps there should be a wake.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lessons From Dennie

The former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, agreed the other day to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from his payment of over $3.5 million in "hush money" to a young man Hastert used to coach back in the 1960s. The charge involves him failing to file proper federal financial disclosures on payments he made WITH HIS OWN MONEY. Apparently, that is a crime; worse for Hastert, when asked about it, he lied to the feds...a big no no (just ask Bill Clinton and Martha Stewart). But what's really troubling about this case is that someone in the federal prosecutor's office "leaked the info" that Hastert was paying hush money to a former high school wrestler. Innuendo piled on innuendo and before you knew it, the word was out that Hastert was hiding a sex crime from his days as a high school coach.

Whether or not he did commit a sex crime (and the Illinois police have already said there cannot be any prosecution for it) the Hastert case raises troubling question about people leaking info and the resulting effect. And yes, the point of this is to the troller (anonymous) who apparently likes to hide behind his/her purported anonymity and write things about me that he/she proclaims are "facts."

Everyone's life has dark moments and failures/errors--including anonymous. And here’s something anonymous should remember: there is no such thing as anonymity in the world. Answers to blogs leave traces and I can figure out who reads and who doesn't. And I wonder, knowing that if "anonymous" would be so forward and confrontational knowing they are just one more blog post from their life's foibles being exposed.

See, people love to hide behind the curtain and say things as "fact." But here's a real fact: the truth always comes out and when you leave telltale signs (such as use of the expressions "POS" or logging on to the blog, you make yourself known).

Am I a thief--yes. Not proud of it, but that's what I did. Does my crime justify prison time? You bet. I told the sentencing judge that. But that doesn't mean the system isn't rigged, nor does it mean that what is going on inside DOC at a cost of $1.23 billion this year is smart or efficient for the taxpayers of this state. Nor does it answer the question, "is this how a moral and just society should act"?

Dennis Hastert may have broken some obscure federal finance law (a law we all should be concerned about) but does that mean his entire life should be played out in front of the world?

During Jesus' ministry on earth there was only one group he ever condemned, one group he ever challenged--it was the Pharisees, those self-important, legalistic purveyors of "truth" who couldn't see their own failings yet were quick to pass judgment and condemn all those around them.

So anonymous, keep reading--you increase my readership and my exposure; but be ready to see your own life flashed across the small screen. I wonder how reading your worst moments will feel? Me... I know what I am and who I am and where I've come from. Now who's the POS?

Cheaters and Nincompoops

They promoted the "chief of security" to assistant warden the other day; it figures. This guy has been here less than two years and the compound is more poorly run than ever. There has been a massive turnover of long-term staff; may new officers stay just a few months and then leave; drug use is rampant; the attitude of the general offender population worse than ever; so why not promote this guy? It makes sense if you see how money...and lives...are mismanaged in here.

Of course, why wouldn't you promote a guy like this to assistant warden when the general inmate population is how it is? Just a week ago there was a small "cheating scandal" in one college class. Two guys way too close to each other (isn't funny when a 30 something sex offender finds his soul mate in a 19 year old sex offender?) decided to cut corners on a take home math test. Like so many other scams run in here, however, these two Einstein’s wrote down the exact same wrong answers (the only two in the class to miss those questions!) and turned their papers in "together." Yeah, being arrested and convicted and sent to prison doesn't say much about your intellect--I know it first hand.

The compound is awash in "rats"--guys who will sell out anyone for a kind word from the investigators even though that won't do anything for their sentence; there are degenerate gamblers who spend what little they have every week chasing one of a dozen parlay tickets only to lose and then--with huge debts owed to usurious "scoreboxes" --"check in" (they go to the hole and then get moved to either the other side of the compound or to another level 2 facility); you get drug users crying all day about their pills - the med unit won't give them heavy enough psychotropic drugs (and why do they give out so many pharmacologic scripts to a population overwhelmed with drug use and abuse? why indeed!).

Re-entry is a failure. You can't convince guys to "live clean" when they have no education, no job skills, no hope. So instead they create some silly "word of the day" classes with names like "thinking for a change" and "ready to work" even though their entire time locked up has been just the opposite. And the people who run all that, they get more responsibility even as they waste more money and get the same--or worse--outcomes.

So am I surprised our illustrious "big hat" the chief of security with no significant higher education got promoted--no. It happens all the time.

In here life truly is lived "through the looking glass." The more incompetent you are, the more disrespectful you are as a CO, the quicker you'll move ahead. And the offenders... they keep getting dumber and younger; and the cycle goes on.

Will it ever change? Maybe. It’s beginning to in other places in the country. The states and the Federal government are starting to see that costs outweigh the results...and that is the only sensible thing in all of this.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All These Questions

I have all these questions that keep popping up every time I hear some politician comment on the need for "get tough" policies that keep folks incarcerated for long stretches.

Here I go:
  1. What’s the real cost for locking someone up? Yeah, I know you claim it costs $27,000+ a year to keep someone behind bars; but that person also isn't working and paying taxes; and, if that person has kids, chances are that child is living under the poverty level and getting government aid; even worse, that child's likelihood of ending up in here dramatically increases. So, what is the real cost to society?

  2. You talk a lot about Virginia's low recidivism rate, yet every independent study conducted on state recidivism rates always notes that Virginia's approach to collection is different from the rest of the countries. And, as low as it is, it hasn't changed a bit since parole was abolished back in 1994. It's still a little below 30%. The difference is, back in '94 there were 9500 inmates; today there are about 40,000. And today, Virginia spends over $1.1 billion on corrections even though there isn't a whole lot of correcting going on. Programs for drug and alcohol treatment are a joke. Mental health treatment largely consists of high doses of antipsychotic meds. Safety? Go to a higher level and see the number of stabbings, rapes, assaults. Drugs are everywhere in the system; officers and staff are walked off every day for fraternizing with offenders. No one is held accountable--wardens and security chiefs keep their jobs; money gets flushed every day. There is no one who is held responsible. Rules--such as daily schedules and policies--are routinely ignored by the officers while offenders are nitpicked over silly housing policies which breeds further contempt and distrust. We always hear how low the recidivism rate is; yet most adult offenders started out in the Virginia juvenile system-- how effective is the Department of Corrections really?

  1. Why is it that DOC signed a consent order and settled a class action law suit brought by 5 women at Fluvanna over the poor medical care in the system, yet the same problems that existed there exist at every facility and still DOC fails to take control over the medical care? Hepatitis C positive inmates are daily denied access to treatment; injuries requiring surgery are put off; specialist’s orders are ignored by contract doctors who know that their private company's profit margin will only exist if treatment is denied. And still, DOC does not comply with the order of the Federal Court.

  2. How much does GTL, Keefe, and the other corrections- industrial corporations spend on lobbying Virginia politicians to keep their contracts in place and how much does Virginia receive as "commissions" under those contracts? How much does Virginia spend each year in legal fees and expenses when DOC loses cases for violations of inmate rights?

  3. Why do states--mostly under the control of Republicans--that have implemented prison reform with early release show better results in their DOC's than Virginia?
Yeah, I have a lot of questions I'd love to ask those in charge. Problem is, they don't want to discuss the issues, nor do they want to come out here and see what takes place behind bars. But hey, all I've got is time. So every fight, every OD, every wasted dollar, I write down. And one of these days, someone will listen. Prisons are needed; but the way things operate in Virginia does nothing to alleviate crime, nor prevent a person from coming back. And the sad fact is, most in here have neither the education, the job skills, or the hope to make it on the outside without changes. 


“In the clearing stands a boxer, 
And a fighter by his trade 
And he carries the reminders 
Of ev'rye glove that laid him down 

And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving." 

But the fighter still remains”

Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" reminds me of two dear friends who left this past week. Chuck and DC both have gone home to begin new lives, real lives, lives outside this cesspool with family and friends who love them and respect them and understand they are not the total of their "update sheets."

DC--like an older brother to me; 43 years--imagine that number, 43 years, locked up. He was ruthless and cruel and ignorant and he is a man with dreams and ambitions and knowledge. He never shirked responsibility for his wrongs. That was one of things I loved about DC. He always told me he got what he deserved. I don't think so. I think he got very much more than he deserved and he never complained. More importantly, he never gave up hope.

And Chuck? Chuck was just a decent guy; a military retiree who on one night made a terrible mistake. And it cost him. It cost him a marriage, and time with his three sons; and the birth of a grandchild; and his job; and his freedom; and his self-respect. And Chuck wore his guilt and his pain much like I do. But the beautiful thing about Chuck was, he never let it sour him. He cared about people; he helped people; and he found the inner strength through his faith to make a difference in a lot of younger men's lives in here.

Chuck and DC were my "go to" guys. On those days--more than I care to admit--that I felt the whole world crashing down around me, it was those two who would listen and then tell me to fight on, see the good, and never give up.

Prison is not a place for relationships and yet I love these two men like a brother loves his brothers. They were real in a place where almost everything else was phony. And I miss them both dearly, but know they are doing great.

Don't misunderstand me--I hate this place; I hate what it stands for; I hate the waste of money, and lives; and I hate the lack of accountability and the lack of honesty from those in charge. Prisons are failures--nothing, I repeat nothing, good comes from doing time. But these two men, good men, men who would stand with you no matter what, they survived and thrived and overcame this place in spite of the system's failures.

The boxer--my friend DC was a boxer and I know from his stories he was hit and knocked down and left on the mat more than a few times; but he always got up. "The fighter still remains."

If there is a silver lining to all this, it is in the fact that even in an environment like this you can find humanity. And, even when it looks like someone is beyond repair--even when we think there is no hope a person will ever be "right" we never can tell what is in that person's heart.

So Chuck is watching his beloved Red Sox in Tampa, and DC is going to see his Skins, and I'm still here a much better man for having friends like them.

“I'm on your side. When times get rough 
And friends just can't be found, 

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.”

Old Paul and Art knew what they were singing about. Live wonderful lives my two dear friends.

Postscript: I've been thinking a great deal this summer about the meaning of incarceration, faith and the failure this system has to actually rehabilitate the vast majority. See it every day; you will see it on the pages here for the next few months. Governor McAuliffe is looking at parole--he needs to know the truth about this place. And if he reads the upcoming blogs, he will. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Super Bowl … And Winter Inside



            Past couple of weeks have been interesting in here. There’s been the security audit – a sham of a process where everything looks good for a few days; then the “system” goes back to normal and cluster rules the day again. There have been fights, dirty urines, new tattoos, more weed, more tobacco, no bagels on commissary, even after 22 day stretches. Days pass … but it’s like the movie “Groundhog Day;” you’ve seen it all before. The shifts change, the rules are rewritten, and then everything returns to how it was: poorly run.

            What breaks the monotony? Super Bowl for one thing. In my former life there was always a Super Bowl party. First, at our house with twenty or more friends and the table packed with food and drinks. Later years, there was Vegas – special invitation to high roller casino parties with more food and drink than is imaginable. Beautiful women everywhere. It was hedonism to the nth degree. Then came arrest, and lock up, and the Super Bowl didn’t matter until …

            I got here. Sports matter inside; and, the Super Bowl is celebrated in here just like on “the street.” It is an event that allows you to feel part of everybody else. You’re doing the same thing everyone else is.

            Food is everywhere: Pizzas, dips, nachos, wraps, cheesecakes, banana puddings, snack mix; it’s all here and it’s all made “fresh” (as fresh as prepackaged foods can be when mixed with Ramen and Rice and block cheese). Hours upon hours guys line up for access to the microwaves. Meatballs, pepperoni, bacon, ham, roast beef – the smells fill the air. Popcorn, cheese doodles, Fritos, Doritos – chips are unbagged and placed on newspaper. Kick off and tickets: bets for a dozen lines with quarter boards (1 soup equals 1 pick) flood the room. It’s loud and exciting and as close to “not here” as you can get. And as the game progresses into the 4th quarter every eye is on the field. Nothing can break the feeling except “Count Time. TVs off.” It’s 9:30 count and for five minutes the building is silent and we remember, we are still inside … Football and the Super Bowl, they remind you of what is beyond here.

            Then, winter hits. First the arctic blast – it’s 0° and no rec is called. The snow starts and by Tuesday we have over six inches. No school. Stuck in the building, you read, watch TV; some play cards or bones (dominoes). You watch the news and again you’re reminded the world outside, real life, is so much like yours in here. They can’t keep the weather out. They try and take away your dignity, truth, self-respect, freedom. But those things, like the weather, find their way in here.

            The playwright Eugene O’Neil, remarked that “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

            As I walk out the door and head down the boulevard to chow I think instead that the grace of God is snow. It is cold - 5° with the wind chill – and it is pristine and it is quiet; and it pierces the despair that is life behind bars. Winter, contrary to so many poets’ words, really is a fresh season, a new beginning. Keep your spring; I’ll take Super Bowl and snow and running shirtless with my breath hanging in the air. Prison has no answer for winter.