Category Archives: Crime, Punishment

Prison Experiments

prison expA little over a decade ago, in one of my first psychology classes under the tutelage of Dr.Cook at Trinity Valley Community College, I came across the work of Stanford psychologist Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and was literally blown away by how closely Dr. Zimbaro’s had adequately reproduced the conditions of prison life with his Stafford Prison experiment.

This learned man-made be believe in the power of laboratory experiments to reproduce and study the conditions of everyday life and experience. Since first coming across his work more than a decade ago, I have been a huge fan of this great man who had so eloquently provided a voice to, over 2 million voiceless American prisoners scattered around the nation.

Although Dr. Zimbardo’s work is now several decades old I find it as chilling in its accuarcy today as it was when first published.

What follows is a short summary of his work that he prepared for the U.S House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary: Hearing On Prison Reform

The Psychological Power and Pathology of Imprisonment by Phillip G. Zimbaro:

In an attempt to understand just what it means psychologically to be a prisoner or a prison guard, we created our own prison. We carefully screened over 70 volunteers who answered an ad in the Palo Alto City newspaper and ended up with about two dozen young men who were selected to be part of this study.  They were mature, emotionally stable, normal, intelligent college students from middle class homes throughout the United States and Canada. They appeared to represent the “cream of the crop” of this generation. None had any criminal record and all were relatively homogeneous on many dimensions initially.

Half were arbitrarily designated as “prisoners” by a flip of a coin, the others as “guards.” These were the roles they were to play in our simulated prison. The guards were made aware of the potential seriousness and danger of the situation, and their own vulnerability. They made up their own formal rules for maintaining law, order, and respect, and were generally free to improvise new ones during their 8-hour, 3-man shifts. The prisoners were unexpectedly picked up at their homes by a City policeman in a squad car, searched, handcuffed, fingerprinted, booked at the Station House, and taken blindfolded to our jail. There they were stripped, deloused, put into a uniform, given a number, and put into a cell with two other prisoners where they expected to live for the next two weeks. The pay was good ($15 a day) and their motivation was to make money.

We observed and recorded on videotape the events that occurred in the prison, and we interviewed and tested the prisoners and guards at various points throughout the study. These data will be available to the committee in a forthcoming report. Some of the videotapes of the actual encounters between the prisoners and guards can be seen on the NBC news feature Chronolog, November 26, 1971.

In the short time available at this hearing, I can only outline the major results of ‘this experiment, and then briefly relate them to the “experiment” which our society is conducting using involuntary subjects.  Finally, I wish to suggest some modest  proposals to help make “real” prisons become more successful experiments.

At the end of only six days we had to close down our mock prison because what we saw was frightening. It was no longer apparent to us or most of the subjects where they ended and their roles began. The majority had indeed become “prisoners” or “guards,” no longer able to clearly differen­tiate between role-playing and self. There were dramatic changes in virtually every aspect of their behavior, thinking and feeling. In less than a week, the experience of imprison­ment undid (temporarily) a lifetime of learning; human values were suspended, self-concepts were challenged, and the ugliest, most base, pathological side of human nature surfaced.  We were horrified because we saw some boys (“guards”) treat other boys as if they were despicable animals, taking pleasure in cruelty, while other boys (“prisoners”) became servile, dehumanized robots who thought only of escape, of their own individual survival, and of their mounting hatred of the guards.

We had to release three “prisoners” in the first four days because they had such acute situational traumatic reactions as hysterical crying, confusion in thinking, and severe depres­sion. Others begged to be “paroled,” and all but three were willing to forfeit all the money they had earned if they could be “paroled.” By then, the fifth day, they had been so pro­grammed to think of themselves as “prisoners,” that when their request for “parole” was denied, they returned docilely to their cells. Now, had they been thinking as college students acting in an oppressive experiment, they would have quit once they no longer wanted the $15 a day we used as our only incentive. However, the reality was not “quitting an experiment,” but “being paroled by the parole board from the Stanford County Jail.” By the last days, the earlier solidarity among the prisoners (systematically broken by the guards) dissolved into “each man for himself.” Finally, when one of their fellows was put in solitary confinement (a small closet) for refusing to eat, the prisoners were given a choice by one of the guards:  give up their blankets and the “incorrigible prisoner” would be let out, or keep their blankets and he would be kept in all night. They voted to keep their blankets and to abandon their brother, a suffering prisoner.

About a third of the guards became tyrannical in their arbitrary use of power, in enjoying their control over other people.  They were corrupted by the power of their roles and became quite inventive in their techniques of breaking the spirit of the prisoners and making them feel they were worthless Some of the guards merely did their jobs as “tough but fair” correctional officers. Several were “good guards” from the prisoners’ point of view, since they did them small favors and were friendly. However, no “good guard” or any other one ever interfered with a command by any of the “bad guards”; they never intervened on the side of the prisoners, they never told the others to ease off because it was only an experiment, and they never even came to me as Prison Superintendent or Experimenter in charge to complain. In part, they were “good” because the others were “bad”; they needed the others to help establish their own egos in a positive light. In a sense, they perpetuated the prison more than the other guards because their own needs to be liked prevented them from disobeying or viola­ting the implicit guard’s code. At the same time, the act of befriending the prisoners created a social reality which made the prisoners less likely to rebel.

By the end of the week, the experiment had become a reality, as if it were a Pirandello play directed by Kafka that just keeps going after the audience has left. The Consultant for our prison, Carlo Prescott, an ex-con with 16 years imprisonment in California’s jails, would get so depressed and furious each time he visited our prison, because of its psychological similarity to his experiences, that he would have to leave. A Catholic priest, who was a former prison Chaplain in Washington, D.C., talked to our “prisoners” after four days and said they were just like the “first-timers” he had seen.

But in the end, I called off the experiment not because of the horror I saw out there in the prison yard, but because of the horror of realizing that ^ could have easily traded places with the most brutal guard, or become the weakest prisoner full of hate at being so powerless that I could not eat, sleep or go to the toilet without permission of the author­ities’.  I. could have become Galley at My Lai, George Jackson at San Quentin, one of the men at Attica, or the prisoner quoted at the beginning of this report.  I believe you could too.

Significance of these findings

(1)   Individual behavior is largely under the control of social forces and environmental contingencies rather than “personality traits,” “character,” “will power” or other empir­ically unvalidated constructs.  Thus we create an illusion of freedom by attributing more internal control to ourselves, to the individual, than actually exists.  We thus underestimate the power and pervasiveness of situational controls over behavior because:  (a) they are often non-obvious and subtle, (b) we often can avoid entering situations where we might be so controlled, (c) we label as “weak” or “deviant” people in those situations who do behave differently from how we believe we would.

Each of us carries around in our heads a favorable self-image in which we are essentially just, fair, ‘humane, understanding, etc.  For example, we could not imagine inflic­ting pain on others without much provocation, or hurting people who had done nothing to us, who in fact were even liked by us.  However, there is a growing body of social psychological research which underscores the conclusion derived from this prison study. Many people, perhaps the majority, can be made to do almost anything when put into psychologically compelling situations—regardless of their morals, ethics, values, attitudes, beliefs, or personal convictions. My colleague, Stanley Milgram, has shown that more than sixty percent of the popula­tion will deliver what they think is a series of painful electric shocks to another person even after the victim cries for mercy, begs them to stop, and then apparently passes out. The subjects complained that they did not want to hurt him more, but blindly obeyed the command of the authority figure (the experimenter) who said that they must go on.  In my research on violence, I have seen mild-mannered co-eds repea­tedly give “shocks” (which they thought were causing pain) to another girl, a stranger whom they had rated very favorably, simply by being made to feel anonymous and put in a situation where they were expected to engage in this activity.

Observers of these and similar experimental situations never predict their outcomes, and estimate that it is unlikely that they themselves would behave similarly. They can be so confident only when they are outside the situation, but since the majority of people in these studies do act in these “non-rational,” “non-obvious” ways, then it follows, that the majority of observers would also succumb to the social psycho­logical forces in the situation.

(2)   With regard to prisons, we can state that the mere act of assigning labels to people, such as “prisoners” and “guards,” and putting them into a situation where those labels acquire validity and meaning, is sufficient to elicit patholog­ical behavior. This pathology is not predictable from any available diagnostic indicators we have in the social sciences, and is extreme enough to modify in very significant ways fundamental attitudes and behavior. The prison situation, as presently arranged, is guaranteed to generate severe enough pathological reactions in both guards and prisoners as to debase their humanity, lower their feelings of self-worth, and make it difficult for them to be part of a society outside of their prison.

General Conclusions and Specific Recommendations for Reform

Prison is any situation in which one person’s freedom and liberty are denied by virtue of the arbitrary power exer­cised by another person or group. Thus our prisons of concrete and steel are only metaphors for the social prisons we create and maintain through enforced poverty, racism, sexism, and other forms of social injustice. They are also the physical symbol of the psychological prisons we create for others, by making even our loved ones feel inadequate or self-conscious, and, worst of all, the imprisonment we impose on our own minds and actions through neurotic fears.

The need for “prison reform” then is a cry not only to change the operating procedures of our penal institutions, but a more basic plea to change the conditions in our society which make us all prisoners, all less happy, less productive, less free to grow, and less concerned about our brothers than about our own survival.

Our national leaders for years have been pointing to the enemies of freedom, to the fascist or communist threat to the American way of life.  In so doing, they have overlooked the threat of social anarchy that is building within our own country without any outside agitation. As soon as a person comes to the realization that he is being “imprisoned” by his society or individuals in it, then, in the best American tradition, he demands liberty and rebels, accepting death as an alternative.

The third alternative, however, is to allow oneself to become a “good prisoner,” docile, cooperative, uncomplaining, confor­ming in thought and complying in deed.                                                                                             Our prison authorities now point to the “militant agitators” who are still vaguely part of some communist plot, as the irresponsible, “incorrigible” trouble-makers.  They imply that there would be no trouble, riots, hostages, or deaths if it weren’t for this small band of “bad prisoners.” In other words, if they could break these men, then everything would return to “normal” again in the life of our nation’s prisons.

The riots in prison are coming from within—from within every man and woman who refuses to let The System turn them into an object, a number, a thing, or a no-thing.  It is not communist-inspired, but inspired by the spirit of American freedom. No man wants to be enslaved. To be powerless, to be subject to the arbitrary exercise of power, to not be recognized as a human being is to be a slave.

To be a “militant prisoner” is to become aware that the physical jails are but more blatant extensions of the forms of social and psychological oppression experienced daily in the nation’s ghettos. They are trying to awaken the conscience of the nation to the ways in which the American ideals are being perverted in the name of “justice,” but actually under the banner of apathy, fear, and hatred, if we do not listen to the pleas of the prisoners at Attica to be treated like human beings, then we all have become brutalized by our priorities for property rights over human rights. The consequence will not only be more prison riots, but a loss of all those ideals on which this country was founded.

Recommendations:

1)                      Do not demand simple solutions for the complex problems of crime and law enforcement.

2)                      Do continue to search for solutions, to question all assumptions regarding the causes of crime, the nature of the criminal, and the function of prisons. Support research which might provide some answers to these issues, and continue to keep the legislature and the public informed about these issues.

3)                      Put the specific question of prison reform in the broader context of societal reforms and social injustice which may account for why many commit crimes in the first place.

4)                      Investigate the public’s latent attitudes about punishment and retribution, and then initiate programs to reeducate the public as to the rehabilitative purposes and goals of our correctional institutions.

5)                      Insist that Judges have a continuing interest in what happens to people they sentence.

6)                      Help make the public aware that they own the prisons, and that their business is failing. The seventy percent recid­ivism rate, and the escalation in severity of crimes committed by graduates of our prisons are evidence that current prisons fail to rehabilitate the inmates in any positive way. Rather,
they are breeding grounds for hatred of the establishment, a hatred that makes every citizen a target of violent assault. Prisons are a bad investment for us taxpayers. Until now we have not cared, we have turned over to wardens and prison “authorities” the unpleasant job of keeping people who threaten us out of our sight. Now we are shocked to learn that their management practices have failed to improve the product, and instead they are turning petty thieves into murderers. We must insist upon new management or improved operating procedures.

7)                      Remove the cloak of secrecy from the prisons. Prisoners claim they are brutalized by the guards, guards say it is a lie. Where is the impartial test of the truth in such a situation? Prison officials have forgotten that they work for us, that they are only public servants whose salaries are paid by our taxes.  They act as if it is their prison, like a child with a toy he won’t share. Neither lawyers, judges, the
legislature, nor the public are allowed into prisons to ascertain the truth unless the visit is sanctioned by “authorities” and until all is prepared for their visit. I was shocked to learn that my request to join this committee’s tour of San Quentin and Soledad was refused, as was that of the news media. However, after talking with convicts, it is apparent that such a guided tour would be the same kind an American
general would get in Moscow. Did this committee visit A section of the South Block, the upper floors of the adjustment center, B section, third tier, any floor above the bottom one in the hospital? It is likely they did not, because these are not part of the prison “show rooms” in San Quentin.

8)                      There should be an ombudsman in every prison, not under the pay or control of the prison authority, responsible only to the courts, state legislature and the public. Such a person could report on violations of constitutional and human rights.

9)                      Guards must be given better training than they now receive for the difficult job society imposes upon them. To be a prison guard as now constituted is to be put in a situation of constant threat from within the prison, with no social recognition from the society at large. As was shown graphically at Attica, prison guards are also prisoners of the system who can be sacrificed to the demands of the public to be punitive and the needs of politicians to preserve an image. Social scientists and business training personnel should be called upon to design and help carry out this training.

10)                  In line with this new human relations training, would be changes in the perceived role of the “guards.” They would instead be “teachers” or “counselors” and the “prisoners” would be “trainees.”  The reinforcement (bonus, advancement) for such a “teacher” would be contingent upon the “trainees” learning new social and technical skills which will enable them to leave the “training-rehabilitation” center as early as possible, and not: come back.

Positive reinforcement would replace coercion, threats and isolation as means of behavior management.  Most prisoners want to return to their community, to be capable of earning a living, to be socially responsible and to be needed by others. Many are in prison not because they don’t have a manual trade, but because of deficits in social training. Prisons should be constituted to provide the opportunity for such people to have positive social experiences, to be responsive to and responsible for others. This could be done by giving them training as psychiatric aides and social workers who must care for other disturbed prisoners. This “peer management” is the best way to build an individual’s sense of self-worth and a feeling of community. In addition, these skills are vitally needed in the communities to which the “trainees” will return. College students and professional social scientists could volunteer their services or be part of a Vista campaign to produce such training.

11)                  The relationship between the individual (who is sentenced by the courts to such a center) and his community must be maintained. How can a “prisoner” return to a dynam­ically changing society, that most of us cannot cope with, after being out of it for a number of years? There should be more community involvement in these rehabilitation centers, more ties encouraged and promoted between the trainees and
family and friends, more educational opportunities to prepare them for returning to their communities as more valuable members of it than they were before they left.

12)                  Once a trainee has finished the prescribed course and is judged ready to leave the institution, there should be no stigma attached to his training, no need to report to pros­pective employers that he/she was a “prisoner,” no need to be labeled an “ex-con.”

13)                  Finally, the main ingredient necessary to effect any change at all in prison reform, in the rehabilitation of a  single prisoner, or even in the optimal development of your own child, is caring. That is where all reform must start — with people caring about the well-being of others, especially people with power, like those on this committee, really caring about the most hardened, allegedly incorrigible prisoner in solitary confinement. Underneath the toughest, society-hating convict, rebel, or anarchist is a human being who wants his existence to be recognized by his fellows and who wants someone else to care about whether he lives or dies and to be sad if he lives imprisoned rather than lives free.

Celebrating Success

Celebrating SuccessControl by the media and lazy group think which promotes the idea that it’s easier to accept the official version than to question things on our own. Too many people take a negative approach toward men incarcerated as if by virtue of finding yourself in a adverse legal situation automatically reduces you to a less than.

Perhaps this is one of the side effects of runaway capitalism — the tenet that if you not producing or at the very least fully engaged in the rat race, you’re no good and a waste of time. One of the reasons the first question most people ask when they meet you is what you do. And if it seems you don’t do nothing, at least nothing significant to that person or society then you are nothing.

So every chance I get I want to trumpet the success of formerly incarcerated men. Nothing spoils the doomsday sayers day more than a fat dose of success.

Exactly what K.B. Webb, one of my former cellies who I co-authored a book with back on the Wynne unit is doing — succeeding on a grand scale. In a mere six months, the brother has started his own business Chiselers Fitness, found employment as a truck driver, reestablished a relationship with his son and is diligently rebuilding his life after spending 8 years locked in a cell being treated as less than.

I wonder what all the talking heads who seem to only want to increase penalties for this or that, while labeling every man in prison as a current or future Charles Manson. Which is nothing but a bunch of hogwash and propaganda that politicians and wannabe TV personalities spread to make a living, seem important, and keep a job.

A real success story like this will never make it onto the nightly news shows that are only interested in scaring the people with horror tales to increase their ratings. Yet somebody has to tell the world “the rest of the story”, and since they won’t, I will!

Check this brother K.B. Webb and Chiselers Fitness out on Facebook and Instagram because he’s the truth. When you’re in the Houston area, look him up so he can help you drop a few pounds, mention the “Prison Griot” and he’ll probably give you a discount. Real talk.

A Righteous Stand

Righteous standI stand unified with the MEN of Pelican Bay in support of the strong stand they have taken to secure what Thomas Jefferson called, “inalienable rights” by the holding of mass hunger strikes.

Beginning on July 8, 2013 over 3000 MEN currently held in the California Department of Corrections refused to eat for 9 consecutive days in a effort to receive improved conditions.

The focal point of this movement is the Pelican Bay Security housing unit where MEN are tortured psychologically 23 hours a da by being confined to their cells.

You see, as a incarcerated MAN myself, I know what the public don’t care to know. Which is that prisons are harsh, hostile places designed to completely crush the souls in their charge. Places where most men and women leave out worse than when they arrived. Someone once remarked that most people misunderstand the design and constructions of prisons; they think the fences and towers are strictly to keep inmates in, while never realizing they are equally there to keep the people out. Because much of what’s done couldn’t stand up under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

This is the sad state of Corrections within America. It’s also noted even within the same state some prison are much, much worse others. Such is the case with Pelican Bay. The first time I ever heard of Pelican Bay was when the scandal broke involving several guards who were running a gladiator school at the prison by placing rival gang members in the same cells and forcing them to fight while the guards watched and took bets.

In a place with this type of history it didn’t surprise me that conditions at the facility are so deplorable that a group of MEN have declared, ”Give me liberty or death.” According to the United States Constitution the people have the right to petition the government for redress. But when these people happen to be incarcerated MEN, the powers that be have taken an adverse position that seeks to escalate rather than deescalate the situation simply by fixing the problems.

Bureaucracy being bureaucracy, they have refused to meet any of the inmates five reasonable demands:

*  Eliminate group punishments for individual rule violations.

*  Abolish the debriefing policy

*  Comply with the 2006 recommendations of the US Commission
on Safety and Abuse in Prisons

*  Provide Adequate food

*  Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges
for indefinite SHU inmates.

The California department of corrections response to these reasonable demands and calls for human rights has been to petition the Federal Courts for permission to force-feed the 70 remaining inmates still striking in a effort to keep them from starving themselves to death. Wow! And to think this is what’s going on while most people sit around the water cooler discussing the latest occurrence on hit TV Show Scandal or Under the Dome. Men are starving themselves to death to secure their human rights while politicians debate how to stop Bashir Assad in Syria from violating the human rights of his people. The old people use to say, that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How can we concern ourselves with human rights abuses around the world without concerning our­selves with the human rights abuses right here at home. The media will show you on every station several times a day what Bashir Assad is doing to his people but want show you what your tax dollars doing to your own people. But that’s what those fences and towers are for to keep you out.

When the supposed enemy combatants held at the military base in Cuba went on hunger strikes to protest their conditions, our governments response was to petition the courts to force-feed these men. Now the same thing that was done to supposedly enemy combatants is being done to United States citizens in California – and you don’t have a problem with that, but have one with what’s going on in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere in the world. Something’s severely wrong with that.

Russian writer Feodor Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

How civilized are we?

Same Old Soup

same old soupFor a brief moment try to imagine this. You are a poor Hispanic or African-American in any of the this nation’s high-crime, impoverished, predominately minority neighborhoods; Watts, South Central, 3rd Ward, Southside, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York. I’ll let you pick your own poison.

Now on top of being a poor racial minority let’s say you’re unemployed and like to hang around your neighborhood and maybe even smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to ease the pain of a constrained existence.

One day while hanging out at the local barbershop, corner store,  nightclub etc, a guy you kinda, sorta know-one of those friends of friend’s cousin’s baby-moma type of things. But this guy approaches you, it has been a while since you last saw this friend of a friend and by all appearances it looks like he’s doing well for himself. After shooting the breeze for a few, he asks you what you into, how you getting by. Since that’s all you doing is getting by, there really isn’t much to tell him. Before long he’s flashing his bankroll and telling you what he’s got going and asking if you’re interested. This is like asking a man lost in the middle of the Sahara desert in 115 degree temperatures if he would like some water. You think?

Still, this’ the streets so you got to keep your game face on. So you pretend to think about it for a while then say what the hell. Why not, you’re broke, unemployed with little future prospects – I mean what do you have to lose? And according to your new buddy from around the way he knows a guy who has a lick (robbery) set up. Supposedly there’s this cartel stash house with 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine plus a few hundred grand inside, but this friend of a friend’s friend needs some guys to do it. He can’t do it hisself because the people inside know him.

Wooed by the prospect of quick riches and a escape from the soul-killing poverty that has destroyed and is destroying nearly every person you know, you agree to go along. The only problem is you don’t have a gun, but your new friend waves you off, that’s no problem, and says he will hook you up with one, and since you don’t have a car he’ll even pick you up.

After a brief discussion a date and time is agreed upon and when the time comes, your new buddy who is going to help you get rich picks you up and drives you to the scene of the crime.

A few moments later you and your friend setting down the block from the alleged stash house supposedly casing it out. Eventually your friend reaches in the glove box and hands you a gun while asking you if you ready? You nod, never expecting that nod to cost you the next ten to twenty years of your life.

Before you can get out of the car large red-faced aggressive men in Dupont made Kevlar body armor welding American-made machine guns rush the car and snatch you out, “ATP”, they scream, while slamming you on the ground face first, “you’re under arrest.”

The scenario I just asked you to imagine might sound like a scene out of the latest Triple Crown urban novel, but it’s not. It’s a real life sting operation currently being conducted in these United States of America to unsuspecting potential criminals with the prospect of quick riches.

In these stings, the ATF who selects the alleged criminals to target begin the operation with a paid informant (the friend of friend flashing cash). This informer, paid snitch, legal criminal, introduces the target to an ATF agent who provides the transportation, weapons, along with the who, what, and where of the robbery. Nationwide more than 1,000 people have been duped by the federal government and subsequently incarcerated in these “stash-house” operations over the previous decade.

More likely than not this injustice would’ve continued to rob young minority men of their liberty and the general public would’ve been none the wiser, had US District judge Ruben Castillo not noticed a peculiar thing about all these cases. Of the 26 “stash-house” cases filed in the Chicago Federal courts, all of the defendants were either black or Hispanic.

Which is even more troubling when you consider how these cases begin. Unlike a normal criminal case that begins when a person breaks the law, with these cases the government selects the person, proposes the crime, and provides the means of carrying out the crime.

What they were doing was so blatant that it forces even a conservative Republican judge to conclude that the government was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics and to call for a full investigation.

So here it is once again in our supposedly best justice system in the world, in our post-racial no need for Affirmative Action, or voting laws society. Those entrusted with the power of life and death s well as liberty are caught red-anded breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold and targeting the most vulnerable among us .

“You tell me things have changed… and I say not enough.

You tell me justice for all… and I say all who can afford it.

But you tell me a Black man is President… and I say ride through the bedrocks of the ghetto and tell me what that has meant

No Justice…No Peace to me is evident

Upset you turn away…scream why can’t I see?

Oh but I do see that our ideals are myths

Myths propagated to make me behave…

and send me passively to my grave

Perhaps some would say even make me a slave”

While operation “stash-house” as reported in the USA Today, Friday August 2, 2013 edition might surprise some people. For most blacks and Hispanics living daily up under the heavy arm of the law, this story was nothing more than a mainstream expose of of their day to day reality.

Don’t Forget To Check The Scrap Pile

Have you ever seen a junk collector or metal recycler? If you have then you probably noticed them picking up old broken stoves and refrigerators, A, C units, sometimes discarded furniture and other items. All things that another person judged as useless, unfit,  outdated, and a waste of vital space. So they threw them out.

While you and I may drive by and see only useless junk, a collector sees potential, not to mention $$$$. Because he’s not looking at what is, but what will be. You see, it’s all in a matter of perspective. The person who threw it out was looking at the past and present, while the collector has his eyes on the future.

That’s how I liken my prison experience. As I look around I see a sea of human, wreckage-wasted lives and unused potential. People who just like that junk on the side of the street society have been declared as unfit, useless, outdated, as vital waste of space and resources.

But every now and then, I run into men like myself who do more than refuse these harmful labels. They scoop them up and hurl them right back into the faces of the senders. So fast that they begin to wonder how did he do that, he’s a convict? Who does he think he is anyway? I’ll tell you. He thinks he’s someone with more potential in his future than calamity in his past. Someone who knows that it’s not what you say about me that counts, but what I say about me. As British author Zadie Smith so eloquently states, “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines ME.”

For that reason I was excited when I ran into a group of incarcerated brothers who have created a community service problem solving organization called OnDaVerge.com and I wanted to share it with you that you can be inspired as well. Check these brothers out as they are doing big thangs.

http://www.ondaverg.org/

From the brochure:

On Da Verg.Org is a community service organization geared towards educating & assisting people in problematic situations about proven methods they can use to alleviate their burdens. We also offer vital resources to prisoners, their families & children of incarcerated parents.

Founded in 2004, On Da Verg.Org’s pioneers have designed and developed informational products called Solution Based Models, which are the blueprint or problem or crisis resolution!

At this time, our main focus is on youth ages 12-19 who are faced with various negative circumstances, and at-risk. Our models also assist the parents & guardians of troubled youth, providing easily understood steps to totally eradicate the problem at hand. Our social networking spectrum is wide-ranged & very resourceful, as we direct parents & guardians to the proper agencies who specialize in dealing with specific problems.

Our On Da Verg.Org team is filled with crisis survivors and our crisis response team have effective tactics to intervene in certain problems when necessary.

Everyone is looking for solutions to problems. The problem is, ‘Solutions’ are very limited. This creates a Demand!

Perfect Business Model. The illusion in the world is that everyone is solving their problems. Fact is, almost no one is solving their problems effectively. 99.9% are actually trying to avoid their problems. The
average person’s life is rife with problems. This is what makes the name, On Da Verg.Org what it is? People are constantly on the verge of some extremely important decision(s)….

 

On da verge broch 1

on da verg broch 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Young African-American Survival Guide – Go Get It for Free!

I can’t explain how good it feels to do some good from a bad situation which is what I feel this book will do.
As a result of my own struggles and troubled childhood, I have developed a strong desire to work with disadvantaged African-American youth from inner city communities, particularly those from single parent homes, to encourage them to make better life decisions.

Using the gift I’ve been given, I have written an illustrated book of some 200 pages, a workbook for Africa- American youth, entitled “The Young African American Survival Guide for ages 8-18”.
The book is built around the topics of sex, drugs, hustling, education, gangbanging, and violence.

The book is certainly needed in many African-American communities:

• 67 % of all black children are born to single mothers
• African-American women and their children make up 60 percent of all new AIDS/HIV cases in the United States
• 50 % of black female teenagers have contracted a sexually transmitted disease by age 18
• At birth a black male child has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison
• In 2002, 1,772 black youth died from gunshot wounds
• 1 out of every 21 black men will be murdered. The murder rate for black males is 10 times higher than the murder rate for white males
• 40 % of prisoners on death row are African-American
• 64 % of black students cannot read at grade level in the 4th grade, compared with 29 percent of white children

For many of us, these are only numbers, and essentially not our problem. But it’s the human beings behind these numbers that concern me and all individuals who have love and concern for their fellow human beings.
I decided to try to make a difference, even if it’s just a small one, in the life of some inner city child with my book “The Young African American Survival Guide”.

Access my book for free on Prisonsfoundations.com

Crooked Officer

“Oh, he got a problem with the police. No, I do not have a problem with the police. I have a problem with the police putting drugs on me that I did not have.”

— James Prince, founder of Rap-a-lot Records, on the chorus of 90’s rap song “Crooked Officer” by the Ghetto Boys

In Houston local activists are up in arms again after another Houston police officer has killed yet another unarmed citizen. This time it was Brian C. Claunch, a mentally challenged white man with one arm and one leg, confined to a wheelchair.

If you know anything about the Houston Police Department, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, then you already know that the police had the same old, tired, scripted, illogical, common sense defying story: “Officer felt threatened and in fear of his life as wall as the life of his partner, and as a result used deadly force to protect himself and partner. We regret the unfortunate loss of life.”

What got the “folks” pissed off is how in the hell could any able-bodied, armed, supposedly trained police officer feel threatened to the point that he was in fear of his life by mentally disabled man with one leg and arm confined to a wheelchair holding a pen.

Tragic as it was, Mr. Claunch’s death was only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The Malcolm X Grassroots Organization (mxgm.org) released a new report that chronicled police shootings of citizens from January 1, 2012 — June 30, 2012 and found that every 36 hours a black person is murdered by the police in the United States.

According to the report, out of the 120 people killed during this period, 55 percent of them were unarmed at the time that they were killed by police.

Keep in mind that this study only covered a six month period. What’s going on? Have the police declared open season on blacks? Is killing citizens the new form of interactive target practice?

James Prince had a problem with the police planting drugs on him. I have a problem with police officer appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner and killing unarmed people and you should too.

Talk to Your Daughters

Asia Graves, a former teenage prostitute

Disclaimer: I’m from the hood which means I know what it is to go without. What it means to have your lights or water turned off. What it means to see your single mother rob Peter to pay Paul and try to stretch a dollar thinner than the paper it was printed on. So I understand Poverty and the soul killing, ambition stealing nature of it.

I stated the above to stress that I understand hustling and what people in poor communities have to do to make ends meet, even when their actions sometimes puts them on the wrong side of the law. Even as a Christian man, I can’t knock a person in their battle for survival .

However, there is one hustle that I personally never appreciated or condoned, which is pimping, where a man uses force, mental coercion, manipulation, material possession or whatever to convince a woman to sell her body for his financial benefit. And to be honest with you, it upsets me every time I read or hear about it, especially when a young girl is turned out and either forced or tricked into this soul-crushing lifestyle.

But it’s happening everyday right up under our noses and it happened to Asia Graves the beautiful young woman whose picture is at the top of this article. Like a lot of black girls from the hood, Asia had a rough childhood which consisted of a drug-addicted mother, and being bounced back and forth to different relatives homes.

Until at the tender impressionable age of 16, she found herself broke and homeless on the streets of Boston. One night while she was out on the streets, broke and cold, a well-dressed man approached her smiling as if he had the world at his beg and call. He told Asia that she was pretty and much too beautiful to be outside with no place to go. Encouraged by his nice words, she accepted what she naively thought was the man’s kindness. Kindness that consisted of food, clothes, money and a place to stay. To tell the truth, she felt like she had been rescued by a nice wealthy man whom she had no idea was a pimp.

After a few days of providing her a place to stay and feeding her, the man told Asia that it takes money to live in this world and that she had to start earning her keep — pimp talk for whoring.

But he told her not to worry about it, that he would take care of it by setting her up with a “date”. Only this date involved Asia having sex with men in exchange for money. Soon this one date turned into two and three, until Asia found herself having sex with multiple men a night for money. Money that she had to quickly turn over to the man who has supposedly “rescued her”. Asia said, “If we didn’t call him daddy, he would slap us, beat us, or choke us.”

For nearly two years Asia found herself stuck in this destructive lifestyle as a result of her need for material support and a place to stay, and fear of what her pimp would do to her if she tried to leave. And because it was Asia along with some other girls that he had selling his body for him, he was able to convince them that they were all one big family and used them to recruit other girls for his “stable”.

”It’s about love and thinking you’re part of a family, a team. I couldn’t leave because I thought he would kill me.”

Fortunately with the help of the police and FBI, Asia was able to break free of her pimp after he nearly killed her and she had to be hospitalized for her injuries. But not every girl is so lucky – too many wind up dead, or strung out and on the streets for life.

Today Asia works with “Fair Girls” a D.C. organization started by Andrea Powell that offers a four hour curriculum entitled “Tell Your Friends” about how young girls in general, but especially black and Hispanic girls from single parent households are these predators number one target.

Since it began, “Fair Girls” has reached thousands of teenage girls. However, that is still a drop in the bucket compared with the millions of young girls in these predator’s crosshairs .That’s why we all each individually have to do something. We have to talk to our teenage daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins and neighbors. Don’t think it can’t happen to anyone who you love and care about. Girls have been exploited from the suburbs to the Subway and from the Penthouse to the Poorhouse pimps and sex traffickers don’t discriminate.

Asia Graves put herself out there on the front page of a national newspaper so we call could see the face of teenage prostitution.

Now the ball is in our court talk to the teenage girls in you life, don’t assume it can’t happen because it can and is happening everyday all around this country.

What IS Black?

Is being black an act?

Is it a walk, or talk or, better yet, an attitude?

Maybe it’s the way you dress, or the car you drive?

Does being black equate a life of stress?

Is Clarence Thomas Black? What about Republican J.C. Watts?

What does being black mean?

Does being black meaning standing on the corner smoking marijuana?

Why or Why not?

Does it mean embracing the fictional American Dream?

A dream that was only intended for a few

Does it mean getting a so called good education?

To prepare you for a good job

Or getting the Clock and ski mask to rob?

Does being black mean dying young, or being strung out on crack?

How about doing time in jail?

Does it mean black women raising kids alone,

Or leading the country in rates of HIV?

Will someone please explain this to me

Or just answer the question…

What is Black?

 

Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press

Stolen Lives

One Million black men 

Not marching in D-C

Brought together by force,

legal farce

Victims of a common fate

Residents of America’s penal

institutions

Whitewashed plantations,

littered across the nation

No longer confined to the

South

Descendants of slaves

Confined to the big house

One million stolen lives

 

Reprinted from ”A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press