Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Prison Industrial Complex

(This is an edited version of an article I wrote in Septemeber of 2011)

To deny prisons in The United States have become their own industry is to deny reality. Every day in this nation multiple television shows are aired depicting life behind bars. Prison has become the norm in our culture, and according to University of Puget Sound professor Stuart Smithers, it is one of our fastest growing industries. Smithers knows his facts. A graduate of Columbia University, he also volunteers at the women’s correctional facility in Purdy, Washington. He teaches a course at the facility called “The Good Life” because for the women imprisoned there, life truly is much better behind the walls that outside of them. However, this cannot be said of all prisons or all conditions for all prisoners. Smithers talked to about thirty people at The University of Puget Sound on Friday September 16, 2011 about the prison industry.

A discussion about prisons must begin with the infamous inmate uprising at the Attica Correctional facility near Buffalo, New York on September 13, 1971. After the uprising at Attica, the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in New York issued an outcry against plea bargaining. Of the 32,000 inmates imprisoned in Attica, only 4,000 to 5,000 of the cases had been tried in a court of law. Plea bargaining was described in a final report as follows:

The final climactic act in the plea bargaining procedure is a charade which in itself has aspects of dishonesty which rival the original crimes in many instances. The accused is made to assert publicly his guilt on a specific crime, which in many cases he has not committed; in some cases he pleads guilty to a non-existing crime. He must further indicate that he is entering his plea freely…and that he is not doing so because of any promises made to him.

Plea bargaining is an extremely political move made by prosecutors. The accused pleads because it costs the state or county less money in exchange for the promise of a less severe punishment.

In 1971 the prisoners in Attica near Buffalo New York had had enough. The uprising left 39 people dead. Fifty-four percent of the inmates were African-American, one hundred percent of the guards were white. Two thousand rounds of ammunition got fired, The National Guard was called in by Governor Nelson Rockerfeller and eleven of the victims killed were not killed by inmates, but by the bullets of The National Guard. To say prison is a complex mirrors the warning President Eisenhower issued in his farewell speech on January 17, 1961.

Eisenhower was speaking about the military industrial complex, but the same mitigating factors apply to prisons. Eisenhower said, “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

The United States has the highest documented rate of imprisonment in the world. We have the highest number of total prison and jail inmates in the world. We represent five percent of the world population and yet we incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. In 1971, President Nixon instigated the War on Drugs and the prison population exploded in 1972 and has continued to explode.

From 1982 to 2000, California’s prison population grew 500 percent. The result was the construction of 23 new prisons. Despite the crime rate being lower in 2011, the incentives to keep people in prison are much higher. The Federal Prison Industries is a stock traded openly on The New York Stock Exchange. Since 1999, the state of Texas has employed prisoners for as little as ten cents an hour to do labor. Since the prisoners have nothing to do and no money to buy sundries and in fact must pay for such things themselves, corporate America has moved in.

Companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing and Ralph Lauren to name but a few offer prisoners work for almost no money. In 2011, Americans simultaneously cry out against corporate corruption by outsourcing to other nations when in fact we are sourcing out jobs to inmates within our own borders who are denied parole and yet sixty-six percent of all inmates in this nation are imprisoned on non-violent offenses. Social workers and civil rights activists across the country are scrambling to assemble gang prevention programs.

In Tacoma, Washington I see one resident’s face light up when I see him. He knows I am a voice for him and his family. He still has that look of hope in his eyes. He hopes for a better life and a second chance. Meanwhile, some hold standards of zero tolerance. This attitude backfires and ultimately victimizes not only individuals, but families and the entire community. I think we need to ask people who are vested in keeping offenders with minor drug convictions in prison forever. Do the people who make this decision have investments in The Federal Prison Industries?–Alison Whiteman

Friday, January 27, 2012

Comedian Teri Garr and MS



In 1998 I listened to a teleconference with comedian Teri Garr.

She said a complete stranger walked up to her and said, "You poor thing! You have MS!"

Ms. Garr said, "Well, one day there will be a cure for MS, but there will never be a cure for stupid."

A near relative last summer told me I have a much worse life than her. I found this incredibly offensive and ignorant.

Don't place other people into the role of victim because it is only for your satisfaction. It's cruel. Please don't patronize people with disabilities. If you don't know what to say, don't say anything until you educate yourself. -AW

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

MS And Two Presidential Candidates

Ann Romney was diagnosed with MS in 1998.
Newt Gingrich simply has to go away! It's bad enough he has been married three times, but he left his second wife in part because she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Not only did he leave her, he engaged in a six-year affair with his current wife. Is this the kind of man we want running our nation?

At first I thought it was inappropriate and not relevant his second wife discussed his desire to have an "open marriage." Now I commend her for refusing to participate in a "tell all" book about what must have been her hellish journey with this unethical and obviously cruel person.

What is even more startling is Mitt Romney's wife of 42 years is also battling multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed in 1998 and keeps her symptoms at bay with a combination of traditional and alternative treatments. Clearly Romney is the most ethical of the two candidates which leads me to question why Gingrich won in conservative South Carolina.

Stephen Colbert also deserves a boot to the head for suggesting MS is terminal on his comedy show which aired on January 23, 2012. MS is not usually terminal. In fact, the majority of patients live a normal life span. His reference to Gingrich's campaign being "terminal" in a comment linked to MS was absolutely ignorant.

The most recent civil rights movement in this nation is The Americans With Disabilities Act. It passed in 1990 and was a rather short document. The battle for rights in the past twelve years has resulted in confusing and contradictory laws and documents that could literally fill several rooms. Like every civil rights movement it begins on a personal level. As many activists say, "The personal is political." Gingrich gets my official proverbial boot to the head today. May he trail in the polls for his behavior. -Alison Whiteman

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sir Isaac Newton On MS And Alchemy

Words always mean something else
the way departed souls

are beyond the world
redeeming light from inertia

digging and planting herbs
to turn the digestive tract

luminous
a thief could cut me open

find the golden river
the gleaming kidney

he could cut and polish and sell
the priceless soul

three gray sparrows on the line
and one golden finch

amibiton transmuting desire
to pure gold

it's always like that
the cure-all

never arriving

-Julia Mishkin (The New Yorker, December 19th edition)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ten Movies Ignored by The Golden Globes


2012 Golden Globe Winners & Nominees
I'm not entirely sure where I'd put this if I won a Golden Globe. In fact, what is it?

1. The Exterminator

2. Wall Street Sweepers

3. My Snack With Andre

4. St. Elmo's Arson

5. The Near Graduate

6. The Way We Are

7. Not Being There

8. No Country For Old Liberals

9. Kramer v Kramer, a LLC

10. E.T., Text Me!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Words Used By Teenagers And Why I Am Running Away From Them

"Man, this is a hella fair!"

"Dude" (hand signals I cannot figure out)

"It's not that great, like, not as great as last year, ya know?"

"Hey, it's a warm sunny day. We should be happy. I'm just sayin' "

"It's boring. The exact same thing as last year."

"I need to check my text messages."

"That woman is wearing 80s jeans!"

The teens continue to pretend to be with one another as they check their cell phones. -AW

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Bad Career Ideas From Television Shows

view galleryPardon the blurry picture posted on this blog. I could not pull one off the "Project Runway" site that came out clearly.

Some young people have been scaring me lately. They scare me because some of them are never going to be able to leave their parent's basement. I recently could not figure out why one young person informed me she was going to go to school to "sew things." I said, "Really? You are going to be a seamstress?" She said, "No, I am going to sew things other designers have designed. I am going to go to school to learn how to do this." This sounded flat out bizarre.

Then there I was, bored off my rocker flipping through a myriad of boring cable channels. I saw this show called "Project Runway." In five minutes or less I figured out where this young person got such a career idea. While camped out watching a huge flat screen television in her parent's basement she has been watching this show. She actually thinks there is a career out there for her doing this work. Well, I hope she likes factories in China or flying to New York City to compete with top of the line designers like Ralph Lauren to do this work.

I guess what I am trying to say is that some young people have incredible delusions about life based on television shows. Furthermore, if you could actually see the design of this dress, you would wonder where on earth a person would actually wear it. Here are some places one would not wear it: working at a fast food place; the take out counter of some low end restaurant where one aspires to be a waitress; an office; school or even most parties. It concerns me that this young woman will be living in her parent's basement for the rest of her life.

Then again, it delights me this is not my daughter. I would pray I had produced a child with an IQ over 70 had I chosen to be a mother. Had this not happened to me, I might be looking at leaping from a large bridge. Thank God none of this is my problem. I have enough problems. Seamstresses, by the way, make less than 20K a year. That is enough to get you out of your parent's basement assuming you live with two or three other people. I bet all of them would be fighting over the remote to the flat screen television. AW