Sunday, October 01, 2006

Page 123

Zheon challenges. Turn to page 123 of the book nearest you...no cheating...and write the sentence and a few following...

"Carpet-bag n. travelling-bag, orig. made of carpet-like material.
Carpet-bagger n. colloq. 1. esp. US political candidate etc. without local connections. 2. Unscrupulous opportunist.
-The Oxford Dictionary of Current English

It is nearly always the book nearest me when I write. My spelling is atrocious and here at "classic blogger" spell check was designed by a defective droid.

The cover is black, with white font and red and green diagonal slashes. "The biggest paperback dictionary of its kind."

On the edge of the pages, in ballpoint pen, in my handwriting, is the name of an inmate on Death Row in Illinois and his prison number. He'd asked for one with "lots of words." I sent it and months later, beat up, with torn wrapping, it came back to me with a letter stating it was contraband. Television is not "contraband" in prison. Neither is most pornography. You can let an inmate watch game-shows or stare at naked women in lurid positions but you don't want him knowing how to spell a word or improving his mind.

Thinking about the Kafkaesque "rules" of most prisons leads me to thinking about the prison population in the US. Last time I checked, over the population of some states. Our current prime minister is now trying to get a "three strikes" law passed. Even though the Attorney General of the US has responded by saying Canada is ten years behind the time. The US tried it, he says, and it didn't work. Didn't deter crime. Swelled the prison population beyond imagination.

Carpet-baggers make laws. Unscrupulous (or possibly simply stupid, uniformed) politicians campaign on "three strikes" and "truth in sentencing" or "tough on crime" platforms. They play on fear, and use statistics to fuel it.

The most often used is the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), tabulated by the FBI. According to The Real War on Crime : The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, most criminologists deem this report to be inaccurate. Why? In 1973, while citizens reported 861,000 aggravated assaults, the police recorded only 421,000. By 1988, record keeping improved and 910,000 were recorded out of the 940,000 reported. The crime rate had risen very little in actuality, but the statistics made it look like a catastophic rise.

Secondly, if a crime is committed and two people are arrested, many police departments record it as two crimes. Police department budgets are allocated on this type of information.

Third - there is a distinct difference between crimes of violence and crimes against property and no distinction is made. At the time The Real War on Crime was published, only one in ten crimes in America was violent. Only three in a hundred resulted in injury.

Page 123 of The Real War on Crime, now the closest book to me, sentence five:

"All other things being equal, minority youths faced criminal charges more often than white youths for the same offenses. Also, African-American youths are charged more often than whites with a felony when the offense could be considered a misdemeanor."

And I'm thinking about how many of our fears are based on ignorance and how eager we are to let officials think for us. And about how our uninformed fears, be they of crime or other cultures or religions, motivate us to approve laws and policies that actually create or increase the very things we fear.

Page 123. Pretty interesting reading. I wonder how we're all going to feel when we see watch towers in the hundreds built along the US/Mexico and US/Canada border. Safe? Will we feel safe then?

Me? I've visited prisons and seen watch towers and electric fencing razor-wired at the top - and I can tell you that personally, I can't think of anything more terrifying than physical representations of that kind of fear.

21 comments:

chuck said...

And to think how much the economy depends on incarceration as social policy: from prison building to food service, from prison labor to correctional officers and other prison personnel, to lawyers, judges, police personnel, parole officers, to those who stitch and sew uniforms and prison garb.

How we, as humans, have shackled our vision of community to such a stunted vision of collective collaboration...and how this social organization repeatedly punishes the socially stigmatized.

Were we honestly to attempt to educate, to rehabilitate, to formulate socially INCLUSIVE visions and plans in public policy;
to trust the "voice of the people"
when that voice embraces "life and liberty", we might relate one to another in a manner much more powerfully than fear, intimidation, and violence
have offered to us as a human collective.

LJ said...

Amen, Chuck. Well said.

Darkmind said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LJ said...

DM- And when the guards are tossing cells, they couldn't just FRIGGIN' check the book?? I know. A bloody plastic spoon can be melted into a weapon. But still - I figure a tv, hurled hard enough, full of glass at the front, could also be used as a weapon, but because it doesn't ever give anybody a good idea, it's ok. And the guys are allowed library books! I'm preaching to the choir, here aren't I? Yes. I am.
Sorry. I know. I know. You're right.

Prerona said...

Thanks for your comment :)
I'm really glad u liked it ...

Mary said...

I'm tiptoeing around this post feeling that any comment of mine would be inadequate.

Well done for writing this.

LJ said...

Welcome Prerona.
Thanks M. (But you're never inadequate.)

goatman said...

I tought math in a prison in central Missouri for General Education Degree (high school equivalency)tests given for the guys. I was not allowed to bring in a newspaper to help teach how math applies to everyday life--not to mention giving news of the day and encouraging reading--which was quite distressing.
It seems to me that the people who run institutions for other people to live under have really lost sight of what it would be like to be one of "them".

Thanks for the visit.
Peace

goatman said...

I forgot but meant to mention that US has now over 3 million incarcerated souls, most for drug charges. I am told that this is more than any other "industrialized" country (read: "civilized").

Welcome to the gulag!

LJ said...

Goatman...tried to reply earlier but blogger wasn't functioning...

The newspaper thing is interesting and typical. Did you ever feel like you were Alice falling through the Looking Glass went you went in...and like dealing with everyone there was like a conversation with the mad Queen of Hearts? It's surreal...in a hellish kind of way. Those experiences redefined the word "paranoia" for me. And yes, "the gulag" is just a perfect label. And here's a defination of "civilized" that I can live with, from a columnist who wrote for years for The Globe and Mail, Richard Needham:
"A civilized society is one which doesn't have and doesn't need Childrens' Aid"
Thanks for your visit.

herhimnbryn said...

Am feeling like Mary here. Have come back twice now to re-read this thought provoking piece lj. our words have stayed with me. I cannot comprehend dictionaries as contraband.

'Who guards the guardians?'

herhimnbryn said...

ps. That should be 'Your' not our!

Jessie said...

I'm overwhelmed too, and now wondering why prisoners can't have newspapers? Is it the paper or the news? Thanks, Darkmind, for explaining the book thing.

The whole issue of justice has been more than a little scary lately where I live. People are ending up dead here at the hands of the police, and I am not talking about hardcore criminals, rapists, murderers, or even thieves. Just ordinary people who have troubles of their own. One (Sept. 16) was a suicidal teenager with a knife he threatened to use only on himself. His mother called the police to get help, and they ended up shooting him dead right in front of his parents and friends. They shot him in the back eight times. Part of the news article:

"Two Washington County sheriff's deputies, responding to a frantic 9-1-1 call for help from Glenn's mother, shot the young man after he refused to drop the knife he was holding and headed back into his house, which contained family members.

"Only 10 minutes elapsed from the time Hope Glenn called police at 3:05 a.m. and the time her son lay dead near the family's front door step. Lukus Glenn was described by family members as extremely distraught and inebriated in the minutes leading up to the shooting."

The boy was reportedly holding the knife to his own throat. The police justify the killing by saying they were afraid he might harm someone in the house if he went in.

A few days later, in another incident, a man died after being arrested:

"According to police, officers spotted Chasse acting oddly as if he either were on drugs or had a mental disorder, and then possibly urinating in the street before they walked up to him. When he ran, they chased him. Police said one officer pushed Chasse in the back, "which caused him to stumble to the ground."

"Witnesses, though, said three officers forcefully tackled Chasse to the pavement and landed on top of him, then wrestled with him, repeatedly kicking and punching him in the chest and head.

"Police say that Chasse tried to bite one officer, and that one officer pulled out a Taser gun and placed it to Chasse's torso to stun him. Police said the Taser didn't have an effect. Witnesses said it appeared Chasse went unconscious, and an ambulance and firefighter medics were called."

Chasse was not taken to the hospital, though, he was taken to be booked. Later the jail would not accept him because of his condition (among other things, he was bleeding from the mouth), and he died in the police car being taken to the hospital.

"James P. Chasse Jr., the 42-year-old man who died Sept. 17 after three officers struggled to arrest him, suffered more than a dozen fractured ribs, some that punctured his left lung and caused massive internal bleeding, according to an autopsy report released by his family's attorney Tuesday.

"The state medical examiner's report revealed 16 of Chasse's ribs were fractured; 26 individual rib bones in the front and back of his rib cage were broken, splintered or crushed after his initial encounter with two Portland officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy.

"He also suffered multiple bruises, contusions and abrasions to his head, chest and abdomen. Toxicology tests revealed no alcohol or drugs in his system."

Personally, I don't really want people urinating in the street, but do they deserve to be beaten to death for it? Chasse was mentally ill:

"Chasse's father, James Philip Chasse Sr., said his son, the older of two children, was bright and sweet as a boy and began suffering from severe mental illness in his late teens.

"He said his son, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, was so severely mentally ill that anyone who spoke to him would have realized he was ill."

"He was probably the gentlest person I've ever known," said Mark Chasse, Chasse's younger brother."

[All quotes are from news articles at www.oregonlive.com.]

I'm having a really hard time wrapping my mind around any of this.

I'm sorry, LJ, I know the topic was prison and, like you, I did not want to respond carelessly. With these stories in the news, my first thought was that here are people who are not even getting a day in court for "crimes" (crimes? these seem more like "questionable activities") that aren't prison-worthy anyhow. They're just freaking dead at the hands of the public employees who are supposed to be keeping people safe.

I feel so disturbed, distressed... and all the moreso because my son is a police officer. I fear that someone who deals with criminals daily must surely become inured, to some extent, and lose sight of people's individuality and what is really the right thing to do. I was visiting my son one time and we went somewhere in his car. On the freeway, he drove about 100 mph, well over the speed limit. I mentioned it. What I gathered from his answer to me was that he was doing it because he could... because he, I guess, felt like he was above the law by virtue of being a policeman. He had the authority.

Man. That's scary.

And on the flip side, of course, I know he (i.e. any police officer) has to make judgment calls all the time, and the price of calling it wrong could be ending up dead yourself. It's not a job I could do, nor would I want to, and I'm so thankful that there are people who have the strength to do it, because I don't want to live in a lawless society.

I don't know what to do with any of this.

LJ said...

Jesse, hi.
To play devil's advocate here, even though it's sometimes difficult for me..
My father was an honest cop for years. Once, when a ticket he got was squashed, he went in to complain to his boss. But he was a guy doing a job for a living. The things he saw, rather than hardening him, made him sadder than hell. He quit after 12 years on the force.
In Missouri, I met two outstanding Correctional Officers (CO's). One guy I spent hours talking to in-between visits because he worked a second job as doing security at a mall right beside my hotel. He was black (and the majority of prisons are not filled with white people)..and he felt that it was kind of divine luck that his life had worked out so that he wasn't on the other side of the wall. His attitude was that he was there to protect the prisoners and keep them safe. He knew Lamar, and it turned out that he was the one who'd flabberghasted Lamar by greeting him with, "What's up, Dawg?" when Lamar first transferred there. Lamar told me that this CO was trusted by the prisoners & liked. He didn't break rules, but he treated everyone like a person.
The other guy was white and an ex-CO and Vietnam vet who I hired to drive me to the prison and back. He was one of the kindest men I've ever met. I didn't know he'd been a CO. He was married to the motel manager & I'd asked her to help me find someone (no taxis in these towns). He broke the news to me on the first trip and told me that his attitude had been that it was miserable enough to be there without the staff adding to it. He'd kept the rules, too, but he tried not to make things worse than they had to be.
And yes, I met psycho sons-of-bitches I wouldn't have wanted to meet in an alley - and they were NOT wearing jumpsuits. But it gives me hope that I finally met two COs who were decent people.
The atmosphere in a prison is so twisted that it screws everyone up. Guards have a huge numbers on suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence. A cage is not good for anything.
As to cops, I think they deal with people who make mistakes, or are mentally ill and they also deal with actual scum. I figure it's just as hard to keep your head on doing that job, as it is to walk the halls of a prison.
The danger factor, in both cases, must make some attitudes seem justified.
Don't let the discussion up-end you, Jesse. It's never one thing or another , entirely...and cops, COs, prisons all are just a microcosom - not a bit different than the rest of the world, just more concentrated.
Good and bad. Light and dark.

Katie said...

"And I'm thinking about how many of our fears are based on ignorance".

That is an impactful statement LJ.

It is worse to not have the knowledge. In most cases ignorance is not bliss.

And I keep thinking to myself as I read articles in the paper and the magazines, as I read a post such as this one, as an American - as a young American, what will this country be like given more time?

The statistics are scary.

A very powerful post here.

Hope you are doing well otherwise.

Darkmind said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Page 123:

Although sum + the participle function together in Latin as a verbal unit, the participle in essence is a type of predicate adjective; i.e., puella laudata est = puella est laudata. Consequently, and logically, the participle agrees with the subject in gender, number and case.

Whew, good times.:)

BTW, your post on sugar daddies has made me reconsider my blanket ban on the issue.:)

LJ said...

You banned blankets? Grinning. So it isn't just swearing that's banned? How y'all doing over there?

Anonymous said...

"Facilitating emergence included creating that openeess --a learning culture in which continual questioning is encouraged and innovation is rewarded. Organizations with such a culture value diversity and, in the words of Arie de Gues, 'tolerate activities in the margin: experiments and eccentricities that stretch their understanding.' "

This is exactly the sort of thing you can all look forward to upon my iminent coronation as God Emperor of Earth. LJ, you're my new Minister of Information.

First orders: Fucking post something.

-marko

Anonymous said...

Argh. I meant openness. OpeNNess.

Guards, have the right index finger lanced.

-m

Jess D'Zerts said...

Guards, stand down. No bloodshed for marko since he has courageously, if somewhat indelicately, done his part to encourage a certain party's return to the blogosphere:

"Fucking post something." Nope, nothing misspelled there--the meaning is perfectly clear.