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COOPS Weekly - Life from FRESNO #53

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

My next-door neighbor got taken by the Marshall's today.

He knew they were coming so he was waiting outside on a chair. That’s over 5 people that have violated in some way in less than a month. Here's how it went down:

A brand-new staff member (literally this persons 1st day on the job) was doing the count and he checked the room because this inmate was in the shower…. he found 1/4 pound of meth under his bed. (Picture a 1/4 pounder from McDonalds…that’s the size of the METH). He had been in camp for over a year (he lost 2 months for a dirty UA - weed). He would have gone home in just under 2 weeks. Now he will be facing drug charges. Crazy.

The world’s most incredibly lame punishments continue to be handed out at Leavenworth RDAP. Phones and cigarettes were found on the RDAP unit (which somehow continues to surprise staff…and/or they want inmates to stop other inmates from doing these things…. when that LITERALLY is one of staffs only job responsibilities). The punishment was to write letters to their loved ones explaining that these actions would cause everyone to stay longer in prison…. then write their loved one’s response back. Kind of ironic that one of the principles in RDAP is accepting responsibility for YOUR OWN actions (we recite those words every day in our creed) yet in prison you are somehow also responsible for the actions of others.

So, my hernia (with a belt) has been manageable…. This week it became an issue. While doing house chores (I was lifting trash cans) It got re-aggravated. Staff is well aware of my injury (I’m on a medical waiver so it prohibits me from working) so they shouldn’t even have assigned me anything that required lifting (but staff doesn’t communicate here and so they just told me to “do your best, you will be fine.” … then 2 weeks later the work coordinator saw me lifting stuff and freaked out…too late). So why did I do the chores anyway? Let’s see…not doing your chores is a sure way to piss off the other involuntary residents. That I will avoid doing if I can.

I don’t lose my temper often. But when I do … I really do. I have a whole other gear that kicks in. So, I decided it was time to get loud about this whole stomach thing…. first, I started sending emails (TO EVERYONE …. Including the director of the halfway house who is listed on all the forms/memos spread out throughout this place). I also brought a log with me each time I spoke with a case managers/staff to document that I complained about my injury and then asked them to sign off (which they wouldn’t do but it had the intended effect) …

Yesterday was Scott’s anniversary as an involuntary resident of the BOP

In short, I made it a point to say they didn’t feel my injury warranted immediate treatment and that if anything goes wrong, I WILL HOLD THEM RESPONSIBLE.

Now let’s be honest this probably doesn’t guarantee a winning liability claim against them but it scares most staff, especially when they watched me write their name down and exact response. I thought this would help facilitate me going to the emergency room but instead I am going to see a doctor. But of course, since again nobody talks, they scheduled my appointment 2 days after I am supposed to be going home (I thought it was an oversight but the other inmates here, that have experience in these things, say that is part of the BOP playbook). You can’t rely on going home when they say so I told them to keep the appointment. But what I find interesting is how quickly they did their job when accountability became a documented concern. I should have gotten mad sooner.

Craziest thing I have seen/heard at the halfway house new roommate edition.

So, I got a new roommate and this guy is fascinating. He gets in this knock down drag out YELLING at the top of your lung’s arguments on the phone (mostly in Spanish so I really only understand maybe 3% of the conversation). These conversations go on for HOURS (his willpower is amazing). After an especially brutal conversation I asked him “what was that about…you were furious.” His response was hilarious … “oh no, I was buying a car.” I wouldn’t have believed him since that would be the most intense car purchase ever, except sure enough the next day the car was here. He drove in on the lot and starting washing it (which infuriated staff, and is a whole other story).

So, after these brawl-calls he gets pissed off and then rides, one of the four bikes we have on the property, around in circles until he calms down (on our tiny lot).

What’s even funnier is the whole reason we have working bikes is because he stays up all night fixing them. He’s the perfect roommate for me since neither of us can sleep. We just play on our phones all night. Then I start walking at 4am (around our tiny compound) and stop at around 7 am to have a shake, then walk tell breakfast @ 8:30. I’m not tired so I’m not really mad about that part…but it is super boring, and that I don’t like.

Anyway, back to my roommate. He managed to get in trouble the first night here. He got here right before lights out (which is 10pm). He had little to no stuff so he called his buddy and asked him to drop off his stuff. Well, no staff was at the front desk so he just walked past the “out of bounds,” line to meet his buddy. You can’t step one foot past that line here without permission (and a signed off pass) …. he was fine and would have gotten away with it however for some reason he questioned staff about that magical line (telling them what he did). He received an incident report (wow…. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have known better but he just got here). This place does not give verbal warnings. Anyway, so now he just talks shit to the staff calling them all sorts of smart-ass names.

Lastly this is his 4th time at a halfway house. He has taken the RDAP aftercare program 3 times. Which I didn’t think was possible. Each time he gets busted for drugs and sent back they won’t let him take RDAP at the institution again (just the after program at the halfway house. RDAP continues to boggle the mind…. they don’t care if you do drugs while in RDAP, just before or afterwards).

This leads me to my first bit of unforeseen drama here at the halfway house. My accountability logs (my method of pushing for medical treatment) were seen by my roommate and several other inmates. There was an audience for one of my encounters, and of course they loved seeing someone assert themselves with staff. So, it was not surprising to see others attempt the same. After all I am not the only one who needs to see medical. Well over the last few days, multiple people went in and did the same thing to staff (tried documenting that staff is denying them treatment).

I’m not sure they convinced staff they were as serious as me but I know staff didn’t like inmates taking this aggressive approach. So, in a very strange way (unofficially yet officially) I was asked to not discuss my methods of seeking treatment with others. Now that was an awkward conversation. It was actually worth the blow back on me to see staff having to consider what to do next. When pressed for a response I very much enjoyed staying silent and acknowledging what they said but not answering on what I would do moving forward. Good stuff. I enjoyed that. No law against helping people…there is a better chance of the sun not coming up tomorrow then me helping them dissuade other inmates from advocating for themselves (especially when these are basic rights. Services we are supposed to receive but don’t).

Ever since I found out I was going to prison I have been fascinated with how little most people know about incarceration. Let’s call this “inmate trivia.” How many questions can you get right?

Has reading my Newsletter's changed your perception of prison/incarceration?

  • Yes

  • No

1.) What country leads the world in incarceration?

Answer- United States. Not only does the U.S. have the highest incarceration rate in the world; every single U.S. state incarcerates more people per capita than virtually any independent democracy on earth.

Note: there is some debate on this issue since China (a communist country) is in a dead heat with the US on incarceration… however let’s keep it in perspective …. China has a population that is over 4 times bigger than the US. Overall, the US leads in just about every category when it comes to locking up humans.

2.) what is the number one rule in prison?

Answer - Don’t snitch. Even if you haven’t been to prison you should know this

Note - Jailhouse informant testimony is one of the leading contributing factors of wrongful convictions nationally, playing a role in nearly one in five of the 367 DNA-based exoneration cases.

3.) What crimes incarcerates more people than any other?

Answer - Drugs.

Drug offenses still account for the incarceration of over 350,000 people, and drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system (makes you wonder if we need to rethink locking up addicts)

Of the roughly 226,000 people in federal prisons, 78,000 (47 percent of the convicted population) are serving time for drug offenses and 22,000 are being held by U.S. Marshalls for drug charges but have not yet been convicted. Drug crimes, drug use, the proliferation of drugs have gone up exponentially during the time we have put more people in jail. The US has gotten “tougher,” on drugs, built more jails, and thrown massive amounts of money at locking more people up during that same period, it’s a massive failure using any objective metric for evaluation. So, I ask why don’t we try ANYTHING different?

4.). What is the highest cause of death in prisons?

Answer- Suicides

Suicides are the leading cause of jail deaths. Fatal drug overdoses are the fastest growing cause of death. We look at why jail can be so harmful. And we talk about what mental health and substance abuse resources are available to inmates. Outside of RDAP (which again does not even drug test) …there are zero programs offered to help at most institutions. At Leavenworth we had AA/NA signs but no actual meetings…but then again, we also supposedly offered testing for GED’s & pottery classes…but neither of those happen as well.

5.). What state has the harshest sentences?

Answer- Iowa

So which states dish out the harshest prison sentences for various crimes? For drug-related offenses, Iowa ranked the highest with a mean of 9.3 years of jail time (Tennessee, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Hawaii made up the rest of the top five).

6.). What is the most violent state?

Answer - Alaska.

The most dangerous state in the US is Alaska, having the highest combined violent and property crime rate out of any state. Out of a population of 736,081, Alaska's crime rate was 32.14 per 1,000 people in 2022, making it the state with the highest crime rate

7.) in prison what does the term “fish,” mean?

Answer - A new prisoner

A 'stir' is the slang term for a prison.

8.) What country has the most successful prison system?

Answer - Norway

One of the biggest differences between the incarceration systems of Norway and the USA is that Norway does not have large, centralized jails. Instead, Norway utilizes a system of small, community-based correctional facilities that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

There’s a rehabilitative reason for having so many prisons in a relatively small country. The Norwegian government believes that incarcerated individuals should be geographically close to their homes, so they can maintain relationships with spouses, friends, and family.

Norwegian prisoners have the right to vote, attend school, learn new skills, exercise, see their families, and even participate in extracurricular activities. In fact, in many prisons, the security officers participate in activities like fitness and yoga right alongside the prisoners.

This is all very deliberate, as Norway’s philosophy seeks to treat prisoners as human beings even as they are incarcerated. This approach is believed to make reentry into society easier. People still feel as valued as other citizens, and they leave prison with skills, confidence, and self-respect so they can become contributing members of society.

Norway boasts a recidivism rate of below 20%. The US recidivism rate is above 70%.

True or false:

1. You are not allowed to run inside a prison?

True - if you are running inside guards see this as a sign you are doing something you shouldn’t be doing (I got yelled at myself for running down the hall).

2.In the US over 25% of people who commit a serious crime are caught?

False - The data show that consistently over the decades, fewer than half of serious crimes are reported to police. Few, if any arrests are made in those cases. In reality, about 11% of all serious crimes result in an arrest, and about 2% end in a conviction. According to this then it makes you wonder how any of us got caught…just lucky, I guess.

3. We spend over 75 BILLION annually in/on prisons?

True - The United States prison system costs an estimated $80-110 billion per year.

4. A kitchen CO is the highest paid job for low level staff?

True - Most kitchen CO’s make over 110k a year…you can look it up (for basically making oatmeal on the weekends & babysitting inmates)

5. At Leavenworth the UNICOR faculty profits more than 5 million dollars a year?

True - it’s closer to 10 million a year and a better question is where does that money go?

6. It's estimated that up to 40 percent of the U.S. prison population has some sort of active substance use disorder?

False - it’s far above 40 %, It’s closer to 70%.

So ChatGPT is the new thing (which fascinates me). I asked the question to AI “is it logical to send drug offenders to jail?”

No. But here is its answer. (I made it more concise)

Sending drug offenders to prison often lacks logical basis. It neglects underlying issues like addiction and mental health, worsening the situation. Financially, it strains resources that could be better used for prevention and rehabilitation. Additionally, research shows that alternatives like rehabilitation lead to lower reoffending rates, suggesting more effective ways to ensure public safety. Thus, there's a compelling case for reevaluating the practice in favor of more rehabilitative approaches.

Dad Comment: Scott is scheduled to transfer to home confinement on Wednesday. I assume it will happen.

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