Dear followers,

Lately we have been getting feedback from some of our readers who have experienced false positives from the Ion Spectrometry Devices used at federal institutions to screen visitors for illegal substances.  These machines are notorious for causing false positive readings on innocent people who have had no contact with illegal substances.  (Alternet: A new machine designed to ferret out drug smugglers among prison visitors is targeting grandmothers, substance-abuse counselors, and other innocent bystanders.)  Once removed by all federal prisons in 2010,  since 2014 they have seeped back into mainstream use in randomized screenings of visitors.  If you have experienced a false positive reading, please voice your complaint.  The only way to demand rigorous investigation into the accuracy and efficacy of these machines is widespread pressure from all who have experienced this problem.  A groundswell of effort the last time around with this issue caused the FBOP to withdraw their use, and pull the machines for maintenance, development, and better callibration.  If you or your loved ones have experienced a false positive, please follow the suggested steps provided by FedCURE to resolve your issue.  Please make sure to write letters of complaint to the warden of the institution, as well as the regional director, the deputy director, and your representatives in Congress.  Continue to exhert your voice until we get a response.  We all deserve time spent with our loved ones.

FedCURE Complaint Procedures

False Positives Cause Problems for Prison Visitors

Use of Ion Scanners in Correctional Facilities: An International Review

The Power or WHY

Posted: October 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

Recent talks have been centered around legal changes and other initiatives for inmates to be released earlier. While all of this is cool, as in most cases an act of injustice was committed, there is still another part, often forgotten, part of re-entry. That would be the rights and respect of the victims of these crimes. 

There are several legislations that protect the rights of the victims of crime. Unfortunately, as time goes on the victims are left behind in the process. After the final court proceeding everyone is left deal with there issues the best way they can. The perpetrator goes to jail and begins their sentence. The victims are left with the scrape pieces of their lives; they try their best to put those pieces back so that life has some sort of the prior normalcy it once had. The hardest part of that journey is healing. 
How does one answer the WHY? How does this relate to re-entry and the high rate of recidivism? 
Let me be clear. Crime is a choice. A choice that has consequences. Consequences that one has to be held accountable for. With that being said there are many factors that contribute to the choices that we make. While it is not a sufficient excuse to fault each and every bad thing that has happened to us, as a means to evade accountability for our actions, some of these bad things play a role in the decisions we make. 
In the case of a person who has been marginalized, under-served, and under-educated for most of their lives they may not share the same principles or morals as others who have not suffered those experiences. In most cases these environments and conditions create, within a person, a sense of hopelessness. There is a lack of disregard for life, their lives and the lives of others. Many from these community have been neglected and abused in many ways. It is a no brainer that most of the habitants from these communities over populate the prison system. The penal system has become the dumping ground for these people with these problems. 
Re-entry, as it is called today, has to be more than job skill training, record finding, federal bonding, part-time jobs and halfway house placement. There is a strong need for emotional intelligence enhancement, restorative justice work, and community development work. It is a shame that a person is told to do time in the name of paying back a depth to society while they are release with no commitment to society. There has to be some accountability on the part of those entering into society, and it has to be positive. Those willing to give back in a genuine, wholesome and productive way are telling society they want to earn their place back among them; they are willing to work hard to earn the trust needed from those around them. Those who are not willing to be held accountable, at the community level because penitence does not stop at the prison gate, are making it clear they do not wish to engage in pro-social activities. Making them easier to identify from those that are putting forth the effort needed to change. 

What I want to focus on is what I call the WHY, and how it relates to recidivism. We are whole beings. People I mean. We are not just our emotions, or out actions, or our imperfections and perfections. We are not our ethnic background and nationalities. We are more than just flesh and bone. We are whole people and all of the above adjectives, and more, make us who we are. As it concerns penal reform and successful reintegration into society we must look at and address the whole person. It is better that a person returns to society whole than bitter and broken. 
“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” (Nietzsche) Offenders returning to society have to have a why. A why should I do the right thing. A why should I not care about others when others have not cared about me. A person who has not answered his/her question of why will more than likely fail upon their return to society. They simply don’t see their place there. 
“Whenever there is an opportunity for it one has to help them understand this why for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He is soon lost.” Viktor Frankl 
How does one get to the why? By first learning to accept things for the way they are. By learning to forgive those who may have harmed them. By letting go, not forgetting, of the things that bind us emotionally. By re-training the way one thinks and behaves. 
These are the cues that one should look for as they work with those who have victimized others. Are they willing to address and answer the question of why.
I look around me and I and saddened by the state of affairs of the penal system. It has become a warehouse for bodies. When I read the demographic stats of whites, blacks and Latinos incarcerated, and see where there are disparaging numbers between the groups. I have to laugh. In here we just don’t see it that way. We see each other for who we are, who we say were were, or what we say we are going to do, for many the next time “I go home.” We talk about what is different now than before. We talk about our age now, the ages of or siblings and kids. We talk about the death of our loved ones. We talk about Allah, God, Buddha, and Yoga. We talk about the Quran, the Bible and any other self help books we can get our hands one. We talk about law and the changes of law. We talk about everything but the truth. 
When we talk about victims we always talk about ourselves. We have done a fine job of making victims out of ourselves. What we don’t talk about is the true change needed to get out and stay out. What we don’t talk about is the why. We are good at talking about the how. We just somehow conviently leave the why out. 
Why is that? At the source of our issues is the why. The why that is left unanswered. Why did I have to be born to a poor family? Why did dad leave us? Why did money date all those men? Why am I hungry? Why do I have to listen to others when others don’t listen to me? Why do I have to get a job when I can make faster money? Why do I have to obey the rules when others break them? Why do I have to be sober when others don’t. Do you see the progression here? At the end of every Why there lies the truth about oneself. The truth that many run from. It is much easier to talk about How we are going to do something. The how is often us lying to ourselves and dreaming about life. Answering the Why requires deep reflection, honest work and most importantly confrontation with the truth. As they say the truth will set you free. In the case of incarceration and offending it is the truth that is going to help on get out and stay out. 
This does not only apply to those incarcerated. I ask that those that read these posts think about that why in your own life. Understanding the why helps clarify purpose. Life lived with a purpose is one not wasted. It is a life lived with very few regrets. It is a life live that one can be proud of. It is a life that serves others just as well as it serves us. It a life worth living.

More than 10 percent of the District’s spiking number of homicides this year have involved previously known violent offenders who have recently been release from prison, D.C Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Thursday. “Multiple of our offenders involved in homicide have previous homicide charges and are recently back in the community, Lanier said at a news conference. Lanier said that police so far have identified 10 such people out of the city’s 91 homicide cases this year.

Yesterday Fox 5 news reported that many in the District are concerned about the way crime is classified. These statements from the Chief are just as concerning, and quite frankly, can be misleading. These statements mean that guys are being locked up and for some unknown reason are released from “prison” only to commit more crime, creating a cry for longer prison terms and stiffer prison sentences.

Many members of the community don’t have a clear understanding how the law works. There are a lot of misconceptions about how crime and offenders are handle once they are arrested.  In all cases the Constitution, and its application, determine how the law is applied to criminal cases.

Article 1. Bill of Rights, Section 5. Due Process. “The State shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The right of all persons to fair and just treatment in the course of legislative and executive investigations shall be abridge.”

Section 105 reads, Rights of accused in criminal proceedings. No person shall be held to answer for a felony offense, unless on a presentenced or indictment of a grand jury; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be tried put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself/herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

When D.C. officials speak of these issues it is important to inform the public what these statements actually mean. It is not unheard of for someone, take the case of the young man who was released in upper NW for a petty robbery who later stabbed to death the Metro bus passenger, to be released on one offense only to commit another shortly after release. The release of these individuals had nothing to do with whether the police, or other authorities, were weak on crime, but everything with due process of the law.

When a person is apprehended for an offense the first thing they are read is the Miranda warning. Most people have become familiar with the Miranda rights through TV. The right to remain silent anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. The right to an attorney, if you cannot afford one one will be presented to you. What most people who recite these warnings don’t know is that the difference between the accused walking for a heinous crime or going to prison for many years depend on the reading of these Miranda warnings. Supreme court ruling Miranda V Arizona requires the reading of these warnings. In short the accused has the right to remain silent when accused of an offense.

If the accused decides to not waive these rights it takes someone to come forth as a witness to the crime. Someone willing to give a statement and testify in the event of a trial. If the members of the community opt to remain silent there is nothing that law enforcement can do to make them talk.

The offender will sit in DC jail for a period of 9 months, the time it takes to bring forth and indictment. An indictment is evidence taken to a Grand Jury by the government. If the Grand Jury decides there is not enough evidence to indict that person, although they had been charged, the case cannot go forward to trial. A charge of murder simply means there is enough evidence to take a person off the streets. It does not mean there is enough evidence to convict them of the offense.

If the offender is not indicted within 9 months the courts are obligate to free them. They cannotbe held, by law, any longer than that time without an indictment. The case is dismissed and can lodged against that person at a later time without prejudice. There is no statute of limitation for murder offenses. So the case will continue to be investigated or closed.

If this is the case that is happening in DC it needs to be expressed as such. Why? As to not lead the public to believe that those who have been convicted of violent offenses are returning to the community, after many years in prison, to commit more violent offenses.

The key word is convicted. When a person is convicted of murder in DC they are sent to prison for many years. The law is enforced to the fullest extent. These men are not returning to DC to commit more violent offense. Most when they are release, and reoffend, do so for offenses not related to the offense that sent them to prison for many years. Often times they are sent back to prison for parole violations.

This is the way the law works. It is unfair to trust the law and ask for it to be implemented in certain cases but not in others. Due process of the law allows everyone equal protection of the law, regardless of the crime. Just at the law lock many up for years it is the same law that allow for repeat offenders to walk free. This is one of the issues many have with the law, and why it is often deemed unfair or unjust.

For the events that are taking place in the District there is a reason for it. But politics cannot be played at the expense of the lives of others. Many want answers. Many want to know what is going on and how the police and Mayor intend to address these issues. In the pursuit for answers they are entitled to the truth and explanation. Anything other than the truth and full explanation on how the law works only serves to further scare, and mislead the public.

maxresdefaultA young black teenager wakes up and rolls out of his twin size bed in a room he shares with two other siblings. It is hot muggy and smelly, but he dares not open the small dusty window. The window leads to the back alley and he fears letting in the big black flies that buzz around the trash scattered throughout the alleyway. The same flies that pestered him all night long.

He stares around the room and sighs, “how much longer will things be like this?” he questions himself as he pulls himself up out of bed. He pulls on a pair of dirty jeans and a stained t-shirt. The same outfit he has worn three times this week. He grabs a old worn out pair of Nike’s and the sweaty smell causes him to cringe. He heads down the short hallway to what passes as a kitchen, in search of something to eat.

“The same ole thing.” He murmurs as he stares into the half empty refrigerator. He finds more relief from the cool air that blows out the refrigerator than the food inside. All he finds is processed meat, cheese, milk and other food scraps. He grabs the milk and takes a big swig from the container.

He steps outside into the summer air and sits on the stump. The day is bright, but not that promising for him, the sun is shining, and the city is starting to come alive. He notice more and more white people, people he has never seen before. Young, old, hip and seemingly carefree, walking their dogs, talking on the latest I-Phone and drinking coffee. Some walk by him and stare, as if he is new to the neighborhood. Some hardly notice him at all. They are the ones that he despise the most.

He lights up some K2, he can’t afford a real bag of weed. Plus he is on probation and a dirty urine will send him back to jail. It is bad enough his probation officer is on his back to get at job. He was just given 30 more days to get at job, or else. The young man knows he is on borrowed time. He does not have a GED nor vocational skills. He has no money to get to and fro so he can’t get to the job interviews.

As he begins to feel the effects of the K2 he begins to think of what is to him a master plan. What is this plan? Commit a crime. What crime? A petty robbery. He thinks it is safe to snatch a phone from someone getting on the subway.

He heads out in search of a unsuspecting victim. He searches high and low. He begins to get frustrated and agitated that he cannot make his move. It is getting late in the day and his agitation beginning to mount, as well as his desperation to rob someone. As decides to stop and take a break. He stops in front of the corner store and sits on a crate. While sitting on the crate he notices an elderly man walking towards a new Audi. “Dam, if I can get that joint I can sell it and make some money.” He tells himself as he stares out at the elderly man. He creeps up behind him and hits him over the head with a bottle. The old man falls to the ground, stunned and bewildered. It takes him a minute until he realizes he is being mugged. He begins to fight back. The young man was not expecting this and panics. He begins to stomp and kick the old man. Blood is spurting all over the parking lot and the man has passed out, or so he thinks. He finally gets the keys, jumps in the car and pull off. He smirks to himself as he search for some music to blast as he heads back across town.

Two days later the old man dies. There is a police outcry and man hunt for the young man. The community is shocked and want justice for the old man. They want blood. They call for longer prison terms for violent offenders. They want to keep them in prison longer. They want to be safe from these violent people. Meanwhile in SE another young teen wakes up to the same conditions. Poor, living in an underprivileged/underserved community, where cheap synthetic drugs are easy to get, hopeless, plotting to pull off the master plan. A petty robbery. One that will almost certainly turn tragic.

This is the story of so many youth across America. This is the story of many of today’s incarcerated population. They are the victims of social disparities that cause them to victimize others.

Criminal offenders, by nature of their actions and involvement in the criminal justice system, are typically regarded as social outcasts. Truth be told they were social outcasts long before their direct run in with the criminal justice system. It is only after the act of a senseless crime that they are noticed. At this point the community wants to put them away forever. They are not to be trusted as they cannot conform to the decorum of society. So it is best to label them as violent, to invoke fear in the public, and keep them in prison for a long time.

There is a lot to be understood when it comes to criminal offenses and penal reform. First, crime is a result of poverty, racism, homelessness, substance abuse, mental health and social/psychological issues. Crime is a result of lack of education and ignorance. Crime is a problem that cannot be locked away. If the public response, if the President and other members of government, is to lock away crime then good luck.

That response to crime is the reason why there are 2.3 million people incarcerated. It is why the US spends 50 billion dollars a year fighting crime. In 1982 the cost of incarceration was 44 million. In 2001 that cost was 44 million. The current cost of incarceration is 80 billion dollars, annually. Each year the cost of fighting crime and incarceration increases while crime has not, significantly, reduced.

There are four goals of incarceration, and none of them actually addresses the problem of crime. The current practice of incarceration focuses on incapacitation, deterrence, retribution and rehabilitation. The way to reduce crime is to target it before it happens. All of the current measures used to fight crime and lock up its offenders are all post crime related. If this continues to be the means of addressing the rise in crime and the way it is dealt with, the chances are slim that there will ever be a significant decrease in crime.

The response by the public is motivated by fear. Many fear the stories they hear about across the news and other media outlets. It is as if they are only privy to the worst of the worst stories. The stories that make them feel unsafe when they see the “stereotypical” soon to be offender, or the recently released offender. The stigma and stereotypes play in the the psyche of many of them. These thoughts and ideas are hard to change and overcome. This is why the generalization of this term violent offenders should be used with caution. Every person convicted of a violent offense is not necessary a violent offender. Just as most drug offenses are connected to drugs, whether abuse or sale, most violent offenses committed are connected to drugs. In fact it is safe to say, with the exception of the most extreme cases, drugs is the major connector to almost all crime. So it is unfair, and not good penal reform, to discredit and disregard those violent offenders as people who do not suffer from the same social disparities as the rest of the members from their population.

Would it not be a good solution to include, as part of the sentencing process, violent offenders in the actual solution finding process. It those people who have, in hindsight and they say hindsight is 20/20, realized the error of their ways, and understand what it is that other members of their communities are experiencing, that have better ideas, ideas that are realistic, to solve these on-going problems. It is not uncommon for guys of rival crews, that have beefed for many years, to set their differences aside, while in prison, to live and co-exist in a peaceful manner. Most begin to realize how stupid it was for them to be at odds from the beginning. Now that they have come to this realization they look for ways to get those on the outside to stop killing and harming each other. Fact:  Never has law enforcement put an end to street wars and beefs. It is when, and only when, the members of those communities say enough is enough. Until that happens there is no stopping it. It is time for law enforcement and other law makers to open up their eyes and take note of this fact. As much as they may want to claim it was, some how, their work, they are sadly mistaken. Which is why when crime and violence surges again they are at a lost. They have no recourse other than lock’em up. If it was that simple the gang violence of Chicago, Los Angeles, and other places would have been solved years ago. Generations of gang members incarcerated yet gang violence has reached smaller cities and communities. As the tendency is to re-locate when things get hot. Not stop the violence but merely take it somewhere else.

Dealing with this issue is a challenge but there are effective ways to deal with it. People have to become properly educated, on all levels, and learn to work together. Everyone has to be included. Right now we live in time of arbitration. Everyone is pitted against someone else. The common news is cops against blacks. Or this group against that group. Or that group against that group. At some point people are going to have to come together. This means those incarcerated with those on the outside to bring about the solutions needed to save our communities. It is one thing to re-name incarcerated people as returning citizens. It is another thing to actually allow them to be citizens. Being a citizen is to be part of a community. If you want offenders to come home to the DC area and act accordingly they have to feel like they belong. They have to feel like citizens upon their return. If you change the way a person thinks of themselves so will their behavior change.

Violent Offenders???

Posted: August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

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In recent months there has been a lot of talk about penal reform. In these discussions many have resorted to language that is discriminatory, bias and prejudice to offenders. Whenever Obama or any other of the many elected officials talk about penal reform they are quick to point out the differences between violent and non violent offenders. This is another example of lack of understanding, as it concerns crime and punishment.

It is as if distinguishing between certain crimes justifies the act of committing crimes. As if somehow someway a person that sells drugs is somehow less violent than one incarcerated for murder. According to statistics most law makers, including President Obama, are not informed as to the accurate depiction of crime. What has happened is that nobody wants to be responsible for setting free, what they classify as, violent offenders.

In the case of murderers the recidivism rate is much lower than it is for drug offenders. Drug offenders are often the repeat offenders that commit the violent offense that worries the public. Most violent offenders are sentenced to long term incarceration and when released have out-grown crime. Yet, whenever there is a wave in crime and violence the public outcry we are not keeping violent offenders in prison long enough.

The recidivism rate of short term drug offenders is 70%. That means 7 out of 10 come back. This is a phenomenon I see every week. In the 23 years I have been incarcerated not one of the men who has done long sentences such as myself have every returned to prison. They are guys who have pulled 20 plus years, where incarcerated for violent offense, and took the time to educate themselves while incarcerated. I can count over 30, that I know personally, that are not back.

When I look up every week there is someone that participated in the residential drug program, where one gets a year of their sentence for completion, that is returning back to prison. Some return with new cases, the others for violations. This fallacy that guys that have served long term offenses for violent are somehow more dangerous than short term, non-violent offenders, is absurd. It is the short term “non violent” offenders that are being released earlier and committing all these new violent crimes.

In recent days there has been a surge in violence in DC and I am appalled by how many times I hear someone say this is the fault of violent offenders. In most cases these are drug users, abusers, and dealers engaged in drug wars that reek havoc on the DC community. But somehow it is the fault of people who have been incarcerated for decades.

The new war is the war on violent offenders. It used to be the war on drugs. Which in essence was the war on poor black neighborhoods. The long term prison population, 20 years and better, are the causalities of this war. If there is ever going to be a time to address this wrong it has to start with the victims of that war.

Take the case of the young man high of whatever he was high off that stabbed to death on the metro bus. Or the people driving around raping men. Or the crime wave over the weekend where 6 were killed. What does that have to do with those people who have been locked up since 1988, 89, 90 etc.? How do they play a part in what is going on out in society today? This is the mis-education of Obama and the rest of congress when they take about violent offenders.

Crime is crime and it is a choice. Victimization does not know the difference between violent and non violent. One may argue the point that there are guys in prison serving sentences for drugs and the time does not equal the crime. And, there is a need for reform to balance the scales of justice. If it means granting clemencies, allowing extra good time days, or implementing incentive based programs,

I will be the first to agree. Yet, I would have to argue, in the case of DC parole-able inmates, that we are not asking for time cuts, for extra good days, or sentence reforms that will put them in the street earlier. We are simply asking to be cut loose when our time comes. No one has asked the UPSC to make an exception to the rule for early release. Many of us have done the time, 20 or better years, and have not complained. In fact many of us are grateful for the 20 or 25 years we got considering the time being handed out in DC for similar committed offenses.

There is a need to implement the system of parole that is in place based upon the particulars of individual cases. It is not fair nor just to hold a man in prison, that has been in prison for 2 decades, because some young 20 year old kid, high off K2 decides to commit an act of violence.

For these, and many other reasons these old law, 1987 DC regulations, cases need to be highlighted. Logic has to be applied to the growing concern of the increase of crime. As long as Obama and those that support different treatment for “non-violent” offenders, without regards to those long term offenders, who may have committed violent offense but have served there time, the real issue will never be addressed. Not only will that issue not be addressed but we will create another unnecessary stigma, and fear, for returning citizens. Because of the mis-understanding and mis-interpretation of what is considered violent and non-violent crimes, we are only making it harder for returning citizens to re-turn successfully into the community.

Now is the time to speak up and take action. We cannot, for those of us who remember the campaign on the war on drugs, allow for these stigmas to be placed on offenders. Once the masses begin to view offenders and classify them with these terms, regardless of them having served their time. It will only make things worse. It is if these people have some un redeeming quality about themselves because of the classification of the crimes they have committed.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done. My primary concern is working to fix the way the USPC deals with DC inmates. We have to get the word around that something needs to be done. We have to rally family, friends and love ones around this issue. We have to ask them questions and hold them accountable, by their own guidelines and standards, in order for justice to be served. They have to know that what our loved one may have done 20 something years ago has not bearing on what is going on today, with crime and violence. If our voices are not raised and united, for what is right, this false perception of who and what is effecting crime today, is only going to hurt them in the long run. The USPC need to know that DC inmates have support from their communities: family, friends, and love ones. A silent voice does not get heard.

In upcoming weeks we will be putting together a petition letter. A letter that will address and outline the issues, needs and changes desired for DC inmates. When this comes on-line we are asking for your support to get as many signatures as possible. We are shooting for thousands. So please be on the look out for this petition.

Many people do not know about this report but it is important that everyone know about it. This report is the testimony of Dr. James Austin to Congress, at the request of Former Parole Commissioner Isaac Fulwood, with regards to the way the USPC handles DC parole-able inmates. In short it was determined that the way the USPC handles DC inmate was too harsh yet the USPC has yet to abide by the recommendations of Dr. Austin. These recommendations and the promise to implement them is a good start to push for change. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton is the primary representative for the way the USPC operates. It is certain she is aware of the testimony of Dr. Austin. The question is at what point will she make the USPC acknowledge and implement these recommendations.

Dr. James Austin testimony

Like our new page DC Coalition for Returning Citizens on Facebook to support the movement to recognize change to the handling of DC inmate’s parole.

bird with cuffsBringing together the experiences and voices of DC residents affected by incarceration, follow our latest project on FaceBook:  DC Coalition for Returning Citizens.  With this group, we hope to bring advocacy and attention to the unique quest for parole faced by DC’s inmates.  DC inmates are the only citizens in the U.S. automatically incarcerated in Federal Prisons, and not state prisons. They are also the only offenders besides federal inmates whose parole is overheard and determined by the U.S. Parole Commission, and not a state parole commission. As such, incarcerated individuals from DC face a special set of challenges in their journey toward freedom and release on parole. This page serves as a source for information, networking, and advocacy for DC inmates and their friends and families.  Show your support and “like” us on Facebook!