The season is coming when advocates and legislators will begin battling and debating about sentencing reform, retroactive sentencing changes and reducing incarceration rates in America. It is a long suffering battle. One that has HUMAN consequences. While men and woman are confined in holding pens, bound in chains, held in dark seclusion, being fed scraps that should be for dogs.....advocates and legislators debate their future. Their lives are so removed from that which they debate, they go home to families, having freedom to move about, having a hope and a plan for their future and free to embrace and challenge the world with their ambition.
Those held in prisons hold none of that hope, even when the chains are loosed, even when the prison doors are opened and they pass to the other side of the razor wire, they are still prisoners. Their past mistakes are the one chain that is never removed from their ankle, the weight they carry with them forever. We don't want them to forget, we can't let them forget that they failed once. We don't want them to forget that they wronged the world that they are trying to be a part of, leaving them forever ostracized.
Yet there is hope, one small ray at a time pushing through the cracks of cement walls. In Iowa this past week the Supreme Court of that state ruled that juvenile life without parole was unconstitutional and that the mandatory sentence of 60 years imposed on JLWOP offenders was unconstitutional as well because it was equivalent to life. When the US Supreme Court rulings came down stating that JLWOP for juvenile who HAD and HAD NOT committed murder were illegal, Iowa's governor quickly responded by passing a law converting all JLWOP sentences to mandatory sentences of 60 years. A travesty and one that has been thankfully overturned. This is a landmark decision and one that will be a standard by which other states will measure their move toward juvenile justice and sentencing reform. Desmoines Register
But it is slow, painful work. Work that seems unending yet we press on. There are many new advocacy organizations being formed and from the most unlikely places like Greece. The world is watching America and they are measuring us by the same rod that we have measured them and guess what? We aren't faring so well. We have been found merciless, draconian and vengeful. To treat children and youth the way we do shows a lack of moral character. Still the clock ticks on as we debate and the children get older and the youth age and hope fades. How long will you defend your condemning ways America and proclaim yourself morally righteous? Fight for the redemption of youth......not their condemnation.
NO MORE ADULT SENTENCES FOR YOUTH!!!!
A slide show of the last 12 years....while Jonny and I and his sister wait.....surely someday....someday they will be free.
With steady, firmly applied pressure, the advocacy world is beginning to see results in the battle against the over use of solitary confinement in this country. At the beginning of this year, TAMMS Supermax in Illionois closed it's doors forever! For the men who have been housed there, it is a sigh of relief and a breath of fresh air.....for the first time in many years.
(pic to the right: exercise cages for Tamms inmates)
The use of solitary confinement without the consideration of the lasting effects, the inhumanity is an argument that has been heard all the way to Washington DC. For the men and women held in these torturous conditions, it is a matter of life or death in slow motion. We are thankful for the tireless efforts of the organizations that fought to close this facility and we look forward to celebrating the closure of many more in the days ahead. Here is an excerpt from the article posted by Solitary Watch.
by Alan Mills, Legal Director of the Uptown People's Law Center, which played a pivotal role in opposing Tamms.
Put simply, men were sent to Tamms to disappear.
Tamms was sold to the public as necessary to control the “worst of the worst” prisoners in Illinois. Yet when it opened in 1998, the majority of prisoners had virtually no disciplinary history at all. Rather, Tamms was populated by men who had sued the Department, filed grievances, and otherwise complained about illegal conduct by prison officials—wardens were looking for a way to get rid of these headaches. Other men transferred to Tamms had long histories of mental illness—which had never been treated in prison. Many were sent to Tamms because someone had claimed, at some point in the past, that they were gang leaders—even though most had never been found guilty of any gang activity. When the Uptown People’s Law Center challenged the placement of our clients in Tamms, we were told that these men were not entitled to a hearing, and would not be told why they had been sent to Tamms.
Some of these men have spent the last 15 years in complete and total solitary confinement at Tamms.
Tamms officially closes its doors today, first and foremost because the men sent there did not disappear. Rather than buckle under the extreme psychological pressure of solitary confinement, they banded together, fought back, and reached out and educated and organized their families and friends.
Let me tell you how they did it.
Like other “supermax” facilities, Tamms was designed to ensure that prisoners could be housed in complete isolation—never coming in contact with another prisoner, and only rarely coming in contact with staff. There is no dining hall; there is no chapel; there is no library; there are no classrooms; there is no yard. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are brought to prisoners in their cells—passed through a slot in a steel door. Medical and mental health care is generally provided through the cell door—with no privacy, and minimal ability for medical professionals to examine or even conduct a meaningful conversation with the men they are supposed to be caring for. (click on Solitary Watch for the rest of the story).
Society as a whole would be outraged when they viewed the picture of this little elephant being held in this small confined space. Every activist organization would rise up to free him...no matter what the cause, purpose or circumstance.
Yet when a child, a woman, a mentally ill person, or a man is held in a confined space like this one for
days....months...years.....without human contact....no fresh air....no sunshine....we somehow think it justified.
Most nations do not agree with us. Not even China.
This week the U. N. Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting is happening in Buenos Aires to revise the Standard Minimum Rules For The Treatment Of Prisoners. The United States still defends the prolonged use of solitary confinement. Here is a quote from the ACLU and a link to the article. (emphasis mine)
"Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to defend the use of long-term solitary confinement. Several governments and NGOs endorsed a 15- or 30-day limit on solitary confinement, as well as an absolute ban on solitary for vulnerable groups like juveniles, pregnant women, and persons with mental illness. The U.S. delegation rejected all of these proposals. To be fair, the U.S. was not the only government resisting meaningful restrictions on solitary confinement, and the U.S. proposal did contain some positive elements, such as a provision that visiting shall not be restricted for prisoners in solitary absent security justifications. But it’s notable that the Chinese government endorsed without hesitation a 15-day limit to the use of solitary confinement." US at UN Prisoners Rights Meeting
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS TORTURE and juveniles charged as adults are almost without exception held in solitary confinement in this nation while they await trial. Once sentenced, juveniles are subjected to more solitary confinement in adult prisons for their own protection. Is this how we treat our children?
"They're all teenagers and teenagers by definition make bad decisions," Ross told Business Insider from "Sad Pictures of Kids Locked Up In America"
They stare at me across the table, room stark, no windows, no air to breath.
"Then we have no choice but to charge him with 1st degree murder."
PUNCH Right in my face!
"How can you do that? You have no evidence! You can't do that."
"We are and we will. Your son is coming with us."
PUNCH Right in my stomach!
A cry rises in my throat, stopped by unbelief, by fear as I hold my son as he cries,
"Mom, please! Whatever you have to do. Sell the house. Whatever mom!
Don't let me go down for something I didn't do!"
PUNCH! JAB! RIGHT CROSS! Right in my heart! My head!
A groan rises but is pushed down by fear.
They won't tell me where my son is. I don't know where my son is. He is lost in a system of horror, lost in bars and locks and chains and violence. I can't find my son! Finally I see him in court, shackles on his ankles, walking with chains dragging the floor, a waist guard with his hands chained to his stomach, a flack jacket on his body that causes him to look even more like a child. Guards with guns trained on my son....ON MY SON!
KIDNEY PUNCH! RIGHT CROSS! LEFT HOOK!
Screams rise in me. Anguished cries. MY SON! MY SON!
Eight by ten room, lights always on, disorienting my son, no contact, no sound, alone with his fear. Left alone to survive solitary torture. No sound but the screams from other cells, no shower, no touch. Is it day? Is it night? What day is it? Cement raised block, 2 inch foam mattress, he can't sleep....where is the world?
I see him, dark circles, hair standing up, drawn, tears, fear....so much fear.
PUNCH IN THE GUT! CAN"T BREATH! can't breath can't breath
FIGHT LIKE A GLADIATOR, PUSH THROUGH REJECTION, THROUGH HATE.
Two and a half years since I hugged my son...only a face through scratched plexi - glass. Finally a hug. Finally we touch hands as we talk about his choice. HIS CHOICE! HE QUIT! HE TOOK A PLEA! MY SON!!!
DOUBLE FISTS TO THE BACK OF MY NECK! I fall to my knees.....no, please no.
Victims cry, they hurl hate through the room, venomous hatred. They are consoled.
They cry and someone holds them.
They are in anguish....someone holds them. They suffer and their voice is heard.
MY SON! THEY TOOK MY SON! MY SON IS LOCKED IN HELL!
I CANNOT SAVE HIM! DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!
Can anyone hear me? Can anyone hear me? Would someone please hold me?
Family gone, face all over the papers, people cross to the other side of the street.
MY SON! I CAN"T PROTECT MY SON!
BOOT TO MY RIBS! I can't get up. can anyone hear me?
Razor wire, guard towers, commanding voices through speakers, guards in the tower with guns, razor wire.
Large iron gates clang open, move through, more iron gates, move through. Metal detectors, pat down.
Chains, cuffs, he is so pale, he is so thin. Life is gone from his face.
"I had no choice mom, they wouldn't fight for me. They just wanted me gone. Now I am."
My anguish has turned to mortar, my grief the stones of my life, they bind me together.
My voice is silent.
Years later....a picture, a story, a hand on my shoulder, hope of a future....
And from my belly comes a cry of anguish.....a river that overflows.
The mortar gives way.
The stones crumble.
Fall in a heap on the ground.
Mother of an Incarcerated Youth
“No one believes that locking a teenager in a closet is an effective way to improve either their behavior or their character, much less to protect them long term,” Kysel said. “Young people have rights and needs that are different from adults; jail and prison practices should reflect those differences and promote their ability to grow and change – we should invest in youth, not banish them.”
In May of 2012 in Aurora Colorado, a 6 year old boy was suspended for sexual harassment because he sang the words to a popular song to a classmate in the lunch line at school.
From the NY Daily News
"We have policies and protocol in place to prevent any disruption to the learning environment," spokeswoman Paula Hans wrote. "Due to privacy laws, we are unable to discuss appropriate disciplinary consequences about a specific student."
Critics say D'Avonte's case illustrates the problems with inflexible school policies.
"Sometimes when you go to a zero-tolerance policy, you end up with a zero-sense policy," Denver attorney Craig Silverman told the Associated Press."
This special needs boy was acting like....well...a boy. Trying to get attention and being a kid with no criminal intention. He was treated as an errant....not a child.
This is national Youth Justice Awareness Month which was started by a mother who's son committed suicide rather than face 30 years in prison. His story, the crime he was convicted of and the grim reality of our justice system is a stark reminder that we must change the way we treat our children.
I am using this month to present facts that every parent and every child should know. We cannot protect our children, educate them or help them to navigate in this world unless we are armed with the truth.
FACT NUMBER ONE:
Your child, through zero tolerance policies can and will be remanded into the custody of juvenile detention facilities for minor infractions that were once handled through counseling, disciplinary actions and activities that redirected behavior. This puts your child on the outside of the education system, outside of his peer group and outside of future education or activities that may very well have shaped his/her future.
When did we become some fearful, so draconian that we had zero tolerance for children or their behaviors?
Until now I have been re-posting articles written by Jonny. What you need to know is the experiences that Jonny has shared are not unusual and they are not unique. Jonny was a kid when he was arrested. He was a scared kid taken from his home and transferred into an adult arena, held in county jail in solitary, did not get to go outside for almost 3 years and then, after sentencing, sent to a facility where he was on 23 hour a day lock down. Four years of his life he endured isolation, fear and fought for his life. As a kid he was given a sentence of 66 years.... 3.89 times longer than he had been alive.
These are the conditions juvenile offenders face when they are transferred to adult court and face adult sentences to adult facilities. We like to believe that this only happens to juveniles that commit horrible crimes but as the above statistics show, that is not true. A life is a terrible thing to waste. Prison or Rehabilitation? Have our youth become disposable?
Help us Turn Back The Clock for juveniles who have been sentenced in adult court. They deserve a second chance. Help us turn back the clock on juvenile justice and let's get kids back in juvenile court, with juvenile consequences, juvenile sentences, rehabilitation, education and a future.
SIGN OUR PETITION (link)
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I believe these words are very timely given the upcoming elections, the attacks on our constitution and the bantering about "Freedom".
Recently we have been given more comforts here in ad-seg. More TV channels, more canteen selections and ultimately more distractions from our plight. Men loose themselves in a fantasy world on TV and slowly become content with the injustice of ad-seg. But isn't that the purpose of TV, radio and Internet platforms?
They are used to provide a distraction from the reality of life! Instead of thinking about what could be done to improve as humans, we worry about who is getting voted off of the island or what celebrity is doing what or who! We have decided that instead of educating ourselves on the causes that will effect us, we look to anchor men, analysts and politicians to provide the answers, to solve our problems, to plan our next move. We have sent our children to fight for the causes our "advisors" tell us are just. Yet when they are wrong or mislead us, how many look for what was truly the right or wrong cause? Very few.
The rest of us look to these same men to provide us with the answers! We have become a society that is blind and comfortable; a flock of sheep taught to believe their slavery is freedom! Debt, the key to the American dream....and what a dream it is because as long as you "own" through debt, you don't "own" anything! We fill our homes with "things", express ourselves through clothes and material possessions yet remain empty inside. Our life of chasing the American "dream" (paying the debt of that dream) rarely affords us time to grow into our full potential. I would rather be a full man in squalor than a shell of a man surrounded by lies. The belief in the modern American ideal (materialism, debt) is to believe a lie! Ruled by a totalitarian regime wearing the mask of democracy with our rights stripped in the name of freedom.
At least I know I am subject to restricted freedom as punishment. I don't know how America tolerates losing its freedom through the Patriot Act (who's name, in itself, is a joke) as a result of the acts of non-Americans. But I have noticed, as long as we are provided with distractions, living under unjust conditions becomes alright. This goes for both convicts and citizens. We must wake up! As long as we accept being oppressed, we accept not becoming whole. An oppressed man is only the shell of a real man. Like Nietzsche says, "Man may never be freer than when he fights for his freedom!" Jonny
Of the many posts that Jonny wrote, this was one of the hardest to read. Powerful! (The sister he speaks of is 18 months younger than he and autistic. This is our family.)
"Jon I need you to come home and put this toy together for me. I can't figure it out." Those were the words spoken by my sister Christmas day 2002, that nearly made me collapse with grief.
The strain and ultimate destruction the "system" causes families, and relationships in general, is probably the worst part of being caught up in the system. My sister is autistic and relys on help just to maintain her existence. She cannot cook her own food, tie her shoes...none of the simple things we take for granted. She is completely dependent on others. Since I can remember, I have cared for and tried to help my sister grow as much as possible. Change is difficult for her. She has got to have structure and for her whole life she has had her brother there. She can't comprehend what has happened to me or why. She just knows I'm gone and won't come home. Her world has been shaken and turned upside down. Not only by my incarceration but she has had to move twice, see her mother suffer the loss of her son and all without really knowing what is wrong. Guilt consumes me when I think of how I have let her down. Yet my story is not original here. So many times I have been the sounding board for grieving men as their wives leave or cheat, finding the distance of their love to much to bare.
The limited contact creates rifts and voids in relationships until they are finally torn apart. These strains are only intensified in ad-seg (Administrative Segregation) where phone calls are limited to 2 a month. Visits are behind glass and the written word is the major form of communication. An almost extinct form of communication in our high tech society. So you can sit on a concrete island waiting, watching each day, as the staff walk around passing out the mail, hoping for something to slide under your door. Not only is outside contact limited but contact with the men around me is forbidden! The goal must be to destroy social skills and shatter the person in ad seg. Yet we manage to foil any barrier placed in our way. A comb tied to string carries the kite (note or letter) to who ever I might want to communicate with. Yet the price if caught "fishing" is to lose your TV for a week and potentially extend your stay in ad seg. Yet our need for communication exceeds any fear of consequences. Even possessing string carries punishment. Losing your TV at a minimum. How ridiculous! DOC fears men who think but for what purpose? They built this world (prison). Isn't this what they desire as part of their plan? They say gangs are a problem yet secretly they encourage their progress to keep the inmate population separated and at odds with each other. This is to keep inmates from uniting against their captors. They say the weak shouldn't be preyed upon and must be protected yet they cut our pay from $2.00 a day to 60 cents per day. They say we need rehabilitation yet the one class ( anger management) required by 90% of my last facilities population, wasn't offered. How is this rehabilitation? How is this humane? How does this exist? The answer is the tax paying society allows it and only this society can change it! Jonny
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