from The New York Times, article on “Momentum on Criminal Justice Repair“:

[The] bill would sentence most first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to probation rather than prison; give judges more discretion to grant leniency; create alternatives to prison, like drug-treatment and mental-health programs; reward prison contractors for reducing recidivism; largely end federal prosecution of simple drug possession; and confine mandatory-minimum sentences to high-level traffickers.

In a joint interview last week, I asked Mr. Sensenbrenner about his evolution. And he gave a frighteningly honest response for a man who has sat for decades on the House Judiciary Committee: “We really aren’t exposed to the practical aspect of the criminal-justice system, or what happens or doesn’t happen in the prisons.” So when he and Mr. Scott held hearings on the subject beginning in 2013, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, he got an “education.”

 …The legislators’ praise for their own handiwork consisted of repeatedly calling it “evidence-based,” rather than just, right or moral. Which prompted a question: “Isn’t all legislation evidence-based?”

They laughed. Mr. Sensenbrenner said, “No! No! No!” Especially not with criminal-justice bills, Mr. Scott added, recalling the adage “No politician ever votes against a crime bill named after somebody” — meaning a victim. Now America will learn whether a nameless crime bill, defending faceless and unpopular prisoners, is a rare moon with a chance.

IMG_2125This piece was written by Trevor and is posted on our blog for the RISE UP! youth empowerment program at the Oregon State Penitentiary (www.riseuposp.com). The photo is of another prisoner, and is posted on the tumblr site: We Are the 1 in 100.

I wake up at 4:55 AM each and every morning. Why? Well, in part, because I can, because I have the freedom to choose at what time I’m going to start my day. This is not true of every day mind you, as many things can change an individual’s schedule or routine. That said, I get up that early, again in part, because when my door most often unlocks, at about 5:15 AM, I don’t want to be in the cell any more where I’ve been for the last number of hours.

I most often choose to eat plain oatmeal with peanut butter, (unless it’s Sunday when the chow hall typically serves eggs, potatoes and toast) because in part I don’t want to experience anymore of the chow hall that I reasonably have to, and because I can afford to eat oatmeal (at $1.00 per pound) and peanut butter (at $2.15 per 16 oz. container) for breakfast.

Work starts at 6:00 AM and I count myself as extremely fortunate to have what we call an industries job. This is an 8-hour a day, 5-days a week, job, in the penitentiary’s industrial laundry. We process linen from the surrounding hospitals, colleges, institutions, etc. Between 1 million and 1 and a half million pounds per month of linen gets processed through our facility. I work in the maintenance department, which is responsible for keeping the equipment running smoothly, maintaining operation of the machinery, scheduling down time for repairs, etc. This job also pays exceedingly well (comparably speaking) as instead of the average monthly income of around $45.00 I earn roughly $150.00 monthly. This has allowed me to maintain regular contact with family through phone calls at 0.16 per minute ($4.80 for a 30-minute phone call) purchase some items to make life more livable through supplementing the food provided from the chow hall with items from canteen / commissary, as well as pay off my restitution and court fees over the last 17-years of roughly $15,000.00 so that should I one day regain an opportunity to live in the community, I’ll be able to start that life without monetary debt.

Typically, around noon I’ll have lunch, which most often gets eaten in that place I’d rather not frequent, the chow hall. Our menu rotates every 3-months (by seasons) with few exceptions, and while that isn’t horrible for a couple of years, when you start passing decades by, it gets redundant and the desire to consume food outside of what gets offered day in and day out grows. I’ve come to think of what I eat as simply fuel.
Between 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock I’m off work and might try to get outside for some sunshine if I’m lucky enough, maybe some exercise, jog around the track or just walk some laps with someone who I need to catch up with for however long. Otherwise it’s reading, studying for work, educational purposes, etc.

Dinner is around 5 PM, that same chow hall that I’d most often rather not go to, however I don’t want to suggest that the food is so bad that we can’t eat it because that’s not the case, many here are well overweight, it’s simply the choices those individuals choose to make in how and what they consume, what level of activity they participate in, whether due to their abilities or basic drive, and what medical conditions may exist in their lives.

During the evening hours I try to write letters, read, call family and friends, maybe attend a function or fundraiser if I’m fortunate enough be involved in something of that nature, educational opportunities, youth outreach programs, etc. For many however, it’s nothing more than watching TV or staring at a blank wall. Again, I’m fortunate, both in my personal agency and my outlook on life.

When I’m asked about “what prison is like” I offer that it is an extremely lonely place, where every moment of every day is dictated for you, and where there’s tremendous opportunities for self-reflection. In the movies, on TV, and through media coverage, you see individuals that get swept up into the justice system and there’s this emphasis on the crime, the trial, entry into prison…then there’s a few scenes of portrayed prison, walking the yard with the tough guys, pumping iron, watching your back in the shower room, etc. and lastly this great experience of being released from prison, back to spending time with family and friends, BBQ’s in the summer-time, and so on and so forth. All very “event orientated” without the day-to-day experiences put on display. In part that’s because you can’t show the day-to-day loneliness, the feelings of exclusion, the feelings of shame and cowardice that accompany an individual’s incarceration. The realization that we’ve not only victimized our actual victims through whatever offense(s) we’ve committed, but we’ve additionally victimized our own families, the community, society as a whole, our friends and loved ones, everyone in fact that we come in contact with. The courts, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, juries, corrections officers, police, detective…and the list goes on and on!

So what do I hope to get across here? For starters, we as prisoners are human beings, individuals who have failed society for whatever reasons and though no excuse relieves us from our poor life decisions, without hope and help to be better people, without redemption, society is all but lost in its entirety through our bad behaviors. In a discussion group with college students not long ago, after describing some of the opportunities available here in the penitentiary in which I reside, one student asked me if we as prisoners deserved such opportunities. I paused before answering that society deserves us to have such opportunities, because if we do not come out of prison with more skills and a more productive mindset then we came in with, we are destined to once again fail society.

This is a day in the life of a prisoner…one who considers himself extremely fortunate in countless ways and for just as many reasons.

enhanced-29979-1408463203-7With full approval of the administrative team at the Oregon State Penitentiary, I’ve started and will be curating a blog for the RISE UP! youth empowerment program that is largely run by Lifers in the prison. The men of RISE UP! (Reaching Inside to See Everyone’s Unlimited Potential) hope to use the blog to give a unique perspective to youth who may be struggling or who could simply benefit from advice and encouragement from men who may have made bad decisions in their younger days but are now working to better themselves and the community. The men of RISE UP! work with Oregon high schools, including students as well as concerned teachers, parents, and counselors; youth outreach programs; community groups; and religious organizations. Their desire is to end the cycle of incarceration, especially for youth.

I’ll post testimonials and short essays written by the members of RISE UP! to the blog as regularly as possible, and we hope anyone caring for teenagers and young people will find the advice and honesty in their words helpful. Criminologists, you may find their stories, perspective, and advice useful in your own thinking and teaching, as well. The guys want to do everything they can from within the prison to help young people avoid making the kinds of mistakes and decisions that may one day get them in serious trouble. Please share the RISE UP! blog (www.riseuposp.com) with anyone who you think might be interested. If you have questions or comments for the men of RISE UP!, please feel free to put them on the RISE UP! blog. We’ll respond as quickly as possible, but it may take several days as we work through the prison’s channels for communication.

The RISE UP blog is a great, more in-depth companion piece to our We are the 1 in 100 site, which features photos, facts, and brief testimonials from my Inside-Out students (both those inside the prison and the youth correctional facility and the Oregon State University students who shared class with them) over the past several years.  Please check out both sites, if you have the time. The men inside have a lot of great positive advice and life lessons to share.

LIfe-Change-Ahead-760I’ve written quite a bit about my Inside-Out classes and my work teaching and volunteering in prisons and youth correctional facilities on this blog.  I’ve shared less about my efforts to connect my on-campus classes to those same facilities and the individuals living within them through service-learning projects, volunteer opportunities, and interactive community impact meetings.  These activities affect a much larger number of my university students and can be extremely powerful.

I recently published an article on “‘A Lot of Life Ahead’: Connecting College Students with Youth in Juvenile Justice Settings through Service-Learning,” which is freely available in the Fall 2014 issue of Currents in Teaching and Learning. In the article, I discuss some of the challenges and rewards of trying to organize 45-50 university students to lead interactive sessions with incarcerated youth in a short 10-week quarter and offer advice for other instructors who might be inspired to try it.  There’s always quite a bit of chaos involved, but the positive outcomes for all involved make it very worthwhile.

Several of my Oregon State University students are graduating this week, and at least four of them are going into jobs working in state youth correctional facilities.  By my count, I’ll have at least eight former students working as staff members in Oregon Youth Authority facilities, with virtually all of them finding this career interest through the direct exposure to the system in my classes. I’m really proud of these students and the fact that I was able to help kindle their passion to work with troubled youth.  For me, that’s the real heart of Public Criminology.