Monthly Archives: November 2006

recipe for prison pruno

i’m in nyc for a punishment conference at the new school. after today’s academic sessions, richard gere and carey lowell offered a dramatic reading of prison writings.

the actors were working with some great material, of course, since there are some amazing writers behind bars. prison writing is challenging because simple, matter-of-fact reporting can come off as melodramatic to those of us on the outside. the best writers, of course, juxtapose telling descriptions of the mundane and taken-for-granted — the ceaseless noise, the odors, the lack of natural light — with the high drama and harsh reality that punctuates prison life.

for example, patricia prewitt’s contraband brilliantly conveys the small absurdities of prison life from an inmate’s perspective. other writers addressed heavier issues involving fear, pain, violence, and hopelessness. i found the pieces by jarvis jay masters to be especially moving. pieces such as “mourning exercise” make clear that mr. masters is not just a good prison writer. this one knocked me out:

recipe for prison pruno

Take ten peeled oranges,
Jarvis Masters, it is the judgment and sentence of this court,
one 8 oz. bowl of fruit cocktail,
that the charged information was true,
squeeze the fruit into a small plastic bag,
and the jury having previously, on said date,
and put the juice along with the mash inside,
found that the penalty shall be death,
add 16 oz. of water and seal the bag tightly.
and this Court having, on August 20, 1991,
Place the bag into your sink,
denied your motion for a new trial,
and heat it with hot running water for 15 minutes.
it is the order of this Court that you suffer death,
wrap towels around the bag to keep it warm for fermentation.
said penalty to be inflicted within the walls of San Quentin,
Stash the bag in your cell undisturbed for 48 hours.
at which place you shall be put to death,
When the time has elapsed,
in the manner prescribed by law,
add 40 to 60 cubes of white sugar,
the date later to be fixed by the Court in warrant of execution.
six teaspoons of ketchup,
You are remanded to the custody of the warden of San Quentin,
then heat again for 30 minutes,
to be held by him pending final
secure the bag as done before,
determination of your appeal.
then stash the bag undisturbed again for 72 hours.
It is so ordered.
Reheat daily for 15 minutes.
In witness whereof,
After 72 hours,
I have hereon set my hand as Judge of this Superior Court,
with a spoon, skim off the mash,
and I have caused the seal of this Court to be affixed thereto.
pour the remaining portion into two 18 oz. cups.
May God have mercy on your soul.
Guzzle down quickly
Mr. Jarvis Masters.
Gulp Gulp Gulp!

California State Prison-San Quentin
1992

recipe for prison pruno

i’m in nyc for a punishment conference at the new school. after today’s academic sessions, richard gere and carey lowell offered a dramatic reading of prison writings.

the actors were working with some great material, of course, since there are some amazing writers behind bars. prison writing is challenging because simple, matter-of-fact reporting can come off as melodramatic to those of us on the outside. the best writers, of course, juxtapose telling descriptions of the mundane and taken-for-granted — the ceaseless noise, the odors, the lack of natural light — with the high drama and harsh reality that punctuates prison life.

for example, patricia prewitt’s contraband brilliantly conveys the small absurdities of prison life from an inmate’s perspective. other writers addressed heavier issues involving fear, pain, violence, and hopelessness. i found the pieces by jarvis jay masters to be especially moving. pieces such as “mourning exercise” make clear that mr. masters is not just a good prison writer. this one knocked me out:

recipe for prison pruno

Take ten peeled oranges,
Jarvis Masters, it is the judgment and sentence of this court,
one 8 oz. bowl of fruit cocktail,
that the charged information was true,
squeeze the fruit into a small plastic bag,
and the jury having previously, on said date,
and put the juice along with the mash inside,
found that the penalty shall be death,
add 16 oz. of water and seal the bag tightly.
and this Court having, on August 20, 1991,
Place the bag into your sink,
denied your motion for a new trial,
and heat it with hot running water for 15 minutes.
it is the order of this Court that you suffer death,
wrap towels around the bag to keep it warm for fermentation.
said penalty to be inflicted within the walls of San Quentin,
Stash the bag in your cell undisturbed for 48 hours.
at which place you shall be put to death,
When the time has elapsed,
in the manner prescribed by law,
add 40 to 60 cubes of white sugar,
the date later to be fixed by the Court in warrant of execution.
six teaspoons of ketchup,
You are remanded to the custody of the warden of San Quentin,
then heat again for 30 minutes,
to be held by him pending final
secure the bag as done before,
determination of your appeal.
then stash the bag undisturbed again for 72 hours.
It is so ordered.
Reheat daily for 15 minutes.
In witness whereof,
After 72 hours,
I have hereon set my hand as Judge of this Superior Court,
with a spoon, skim off the mash,
and I have caused the seal of this Court to be affixed thereto.
pour the remaining portion into two 18 oz. cups.
May God have mercy on your soul.
Guzzle down quickly
Mr. Jarvis Masters.
Gulp Gulp Gulp!

California State Prison-San Quentin
1992

pubcrim and (in)expert knowledge

i presented some research today before the minnesota supreme court’s statewide racial fairness committee, a distinguished group of supreme court Justices and other Justice professionals. they weren’t wearing robes, of course, but it was still a bit intimidating, perhaps because my adolescent appearances before judges were not always so pleasant.

my schedule has been a bit hectic this week (or, more precisely, completely freakin’ nuts), so i was racing from campus to capitol with little time to spare. i think the talk went well, although i had the horrifying realization at about the 25-minute mark that i was beginning to lecture the Justices about the law (i tend to have all my horrifying realizations at the midway point of presentations — being onstage sharpens the senses, i suppose). this would have been profoundly stupid and arrogant, in light of my very limited knowledge and experience with the law. i therefore beat a hasty retreat back to some solid social facts (e.g., race differences in punishment and disenfranchisement) and the conceptual tools of sociological theories (e.g., group threat) that help us make sense of them.

this seemed a good strategy, at least as measured by a dramatic increase in note-taking, questions, and eye contact during the talk. although i don’t always make the best use of them, i’m once again convinced of the extraordinary utility of my discipline’s methods and theories.

pubcrim and (in)expert knowledge

i presented some research today before the minnesota supreme court’s statewide racial fairness committee, a distinguished group of supreme court Justices and other Justice professionals. they weren’t wearing robes, of course, but it was still a bit intimidating, perhaps because my adolescent appearances before judges were not always so pleasant.

my schedule has been a bit hectic this week (or, more precisely, completely freakin’ nuts), so i was racing from campus to capitol with little time to spare. i think the talk went well, although i had the horrifying realization at about the 25-minute mark that i was beginning to lecture the Justices about the law (i tend to have all my horrifying realizations at the midway point of presentations — being onstage sharpens the senses, i suppose). this would have been profoundly stupid and arrogant, in light of my very limited knowledge and experience with the law. i therefore beat a hasty retreat back to some solid social facts (e.g., race differences in punishment and disenfranchisement) and the conceptual tools of sociological theories (e.g., group threat) that help us make sense of them.

this seemed a good strategy, at least as measured by a dramatic increase in note-taking, questions, and eye contact during the talk. although i don’t always make the best use of them, i’m once again convinced of the extraordinary utility of my discipline’s methods and theories.

the o.j. – arbuckle discrepancy?

erin aubry kaplan of the los angeles times penned a head-scratcher of an op-ed this week. in the la times, it was titled, “The O.J.-Kramer discrepancy — Recent PR disasters reveal greater tolerance for a white man’s unsavory behavior than a black man’s,” while the strib named the piece, Kramer-O.J. discrepancy says a lot about inequality — Richards’ racist rant is brushed off as an isolated incident, while Simpson is condemned for his character.

huh? i understand the idea of a racist double standard when it comes to crime and Justice, and to public opinion about crime and Justice. as a criminologist, i’ve seen racial disparity in the operations of the Justice system and i’m personally committed to uncovering and redressing these inequities. while michael richards’ racist comedy club meltdown was awful, however, mr. simpson was accused of murdering two people.

ms. kaplan reassures us, after 11 paragraphs, that she isn’t “equating racist invective with charges of double homicide.” fair enough, i suppose, but isn’t this comparison precisely the point of her editorial?

Richards’ “racist rant” has been described as a terrible but isolated incident. O.J., meanwhile, is condemned for his character.

if ms. kaplan believes that o.j. simpson has been unfairly condemned because of his race, couldn’t she have found a more fitting comparison? i dunno, perhaps the situations involving senator ted kennedy and roscoe “fatty” arbuckle were somewhat more comparable to the accusations against mr. simpson — at least when stacked up against mr. richards’ cringe-inducing speech.

though the now-senior senator was never tried for murder, his behaviors were alleged to have contributed to the death of another person. senator kennedy’s public image has never quite recovered from chappaquiddick, but he remains a powerful and generally respected public figure to this day. mr. arbuckle’s career was pretty much cooked after he was tried for manslaughter in the death of a young actress, but it may have been even worse for him if he hadn’t been white. mr. arbuckle never wrote an if i did it book like mr. simpson; given the public outcry over his alleged crimes, however, would it stretch credulity to suggest that a black fatty arbuckle might have faced a lynch mob?

so, i am sympathetic to ms. kaplan’s larger point about race and Justice, and i think some data could be martialed in favor of her assertions about mr. simpson’s public image. but c’mon, comparing OJ and michael richards? unlike brentwood in 1994, only one person died at the laugh factory that november night: the formerly-likeable actor who played cosmo kramer.

the o.j. – arbuckle discrepancy?

erin aubry kaplan of the los angeles times penned a head-scratcher of an op-ed this week. in the la times, it was titled, “The O.J.-Kramer discrepancy — Recent PR disasters reveal greater tolerance for a white man’s unsavory behavior than a black man’s,” while the strib named the piece, Kramer-O.J. discrepancy says a lot about inequality — Richards’ racist rant is brushed off as an isolated incident, while Simpson is condemned for his character.

huh? i understand the idea of a racist double standard when it comes to crime and Justice, and to public opinion about crime and Justice. as a criminologist, i’ve seen racial disparity in the operations of the Justice system and i’m personally committed to uncovering and redressing these inequities. while michael richards’ racist comedy club meltdown was awful, however, mr. simpson was accused of murdering two people.

ms. kaplan reassures us, after 11 paragraphs, that she isn’t “equating racist invective with charges of double homicide.” fair enough, i suppose, but isn’t this comparison precisely the point of her editorial?

Richards’ “racist rant” has been described as a terrible but isolated incident. O.J., meanwhile, is condemned for his character.

if ms. kaplan believes that o.j. simpson has been unfairly condemned because of his race, couldn’t she have found a more fitting comparison? i dunno, perhaps the situations involving senator ted kennedy and roscoe “fatty” arbuckle were somewhat more comparable to the accusations against mr. simpson — at least when stacked up against mr. richards’ cringe-inducing speech.

though the now-senior senator was never tried for murder, his behaviors were alleged to have contributed to the death of another person. senator kennedy’s public image has never quite recovered from chappaquiddick, but he remains a powerful and generally respected public figure to this day. mr. arbuckle’s career was pretty much cooked after he was tried for manslaughter in the death of a young actress, but it may have been even worse for him if he hadn’t been white. mr. arbuckle never wrote an if i did it book like mr. simpson; given the public outcry over his alleged crimes, however, would it stretch credulity to suggest that a black fatty arbuckle might have faced a lynch mob?

so, i am sympathetic to ms. kaplan’s larger point about race and Justice, and i think some data could be martialed in favor of her assertions about mr. simpson’s public image. but c’mon, comparing OJ and michael richards? unlike brentwood in 1994, only one person died at the laugh factory that november night: the formerly-likeable actor who played cosmo kramer.

spare me my life!

throughout japan’s protracted economic recession, crime rates remained low by international standards. as a visiting american criminologist, my japanese friends would often ask questions that seemed to presume scarface-level crime rates all over america. for example, a middle school student in osaka asked me whether my (middle-school-aged) children brought guns to school, to little league games, and other venues (they also asked about illicit drugs, but that’s another post). i guess one can blame american cultural products, which tend to feature lots of violence. plus, by any measure, we really do have a lot of guns in this country.

perhaps all this explains the disturbing content and peculiar selection of commonly used english phrases in the video above. never in my forays into spanish, french, japanese, and norwegian language instruction, do i recall learning the phrase, spare me my life.* maybe i did learn it, but just can’t remember because there wasn’t a video featuring george castanza with half a brassiere on his head and a catchy dance number to accompany the lesson. as for the other bizarre features in the clip (is this thing for real? what’s with the zoom into the shoulder? the marching and smiling?), you’re on your own.

*sadly, i failed miserably at all but norwegian, in which i failed semi-respectably. i have tremendous respect for folks with real language skills. let’s see, i think they started me off with food (“pass me the butter”) in intro norsk, and we spent a lot of time on monsieur thibaut’s hat in french. i came across some interesting phrases involving etiquette in japanese public baths, but nothing life-threatening.

spare me my life!

throughout japan’s protracted economic recession, crime rates remained low by international standards. as a visiting american criminologist, my japanese friends would often ask questions that seemed to presume scarface-level crime rates all over america. for example, a middle school student in osaka asked me whether my (middle-school-aged) children brought guns to school, to little league games, and other venues (they also asked about illicit drugs, but that’s another post). i guess one can blame american cultural products, which tend to feature lots of violence. plus, by any measure, we really do have a lot of guns in this country.

perhaps all this explains the disturbing content and peculiar selection of commonly used english phrases in the video above. never in my forays into spanish, french, japanese, and norwegian language instruction, do i recall learning the phrase, spare me my life.* maybe i did learn it, but just can’t remember because there wasn’t a video featuring george castanza with half a brassiere on his head and a catchy dance number to accompany the lesson. as for the other bizarre features in the clip (is this thing for real? what’s with the zoom into the shoulder? the marching and smiling?), you’re on your own.

*sadly, i failed miserably at all but norwegian, in which i failed semi-respectably. i have tremendous respect for folks with real language skills. let’s see, i think they started me off with food (“pass me the butter”) in intro norsk, and we spent a lot of time on monsieur thibaut’s hat in french. i came across some interesting phrases involving etiquette in japanese public baths, but nothing life-threatening.

call to Justice tv – saturday night at 8

twin cities public television will show highlights of the council on crime & Justice’s call to Justice forum on racial disparities tomorrow night. i can’t vouch for the production values and, being one of the less exciting speakers on the bill, i don’t know whether any of my remarks will survive the editing process. nevertheless, it was a lively event that could make for good tv. you can check it out on channel 17, saturday november 18th, from 8:00 to 9:00 pm.

here’s a blurb on the conference and panelists:

In early 2006, the Council completed a five year research project known as the Racial Disparity Initiative (RDI). RDI consisted of 17 studies that examined both the causes and consequences of the racial disparities throughout Minnesota’s criminal Justice system. In June of 2006 the studies’ key findings and recommendations were revealed at the Call to Justice Forum, attended by over 700 community members and leaders representing a diverse range of perspectives and expertise in the area of criminal Justice or related areas.

The goal of the event was to bring community members, organizations, and leaders together to collaboratively and actively address the disparities. Panelists included: Senator Julianne Ortman; University of Minnesota Professor Chris Uggen; University of St. Thomas Professor Kenneth Goodpaster; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak; Dr. Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya, African American Child Wellness Institute; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page; University of Minnesota Professor Michael Tonry; Jim Rowader, Target Corporation; Donna Zimmerman, Health Partners.

call to Justice tv – saturday night at 8

twin cities public television will show highlights of the council on crime & Justice’s call to Justice forum on racial disparities tomorrow night. i can’t vouch for the production values and, being one of the less exciting speakers on the bill, i don’t know whether any of my remarks will survive the editing process. nevertheless, it was a lively event that could make for good tv. you can check it out on channel 17, saturday november 18th, from 8:00 to 9:00 pm.

here’s a blurb on the conference and panelists:

In early 2006, the Council completed a five year research project known as the Racial Disparity Initiative (RDI). RDI consisted of 17 studies that examined both the causes and consequences of the racial disparities throughout Minnesota’s criminal Justice system. In June of 2006 the studies’ key findings and recommendations were revealed at the Call to Justice Forum, attended by over 700 community members and leaders representing a diverse range of perspectives and expertise in the area of criminal Justice or related areas.

The goal of the event was to bring community members, organizations, and leaders together to collaboratively and actively address the disparities. Panelists included: Senator Julianne Ortman; University of Minnesota Professor Chris Uggen; University of St. Thomas Professor Kenneth Goodpaster; Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman; Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak; Dr. Bravada Garrett-Akinsanya, African American Child Wellness Institute; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson; Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page; University of Minnesota Professor Michael Tonry; Jim Rowader, Target Corporation; Donna Zimmerman, Health Partners.