Do Not Pass Go… The Great Big Jail Fail

Black and white jail

Ah, the United States prison system.  So necessary, yet arguably the current rendition could be considered quite a failure.  In fact, it was probably more successful when a jail looked like the photo above.  From consistent gang warfare; constant segregation; an astounding internal drug trade; extensive amounts of repeat customers; and very little rehabilitation, it is easy to wonder when it will ever be revamped and why it hasn’t already.  Iit also does absolutely zilch to decrease racism and dissolve stereotypes- which are big gateway factors to violence in the first place.  If there’s one thing that prisoners should and could learn on the inside is that we are all equal.  It is only our choices that make us different, and most of the inmates (there are some innocents) made some bad ones to get there.

There are 5,000 prisons nationwide.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), as of 2012, 1 in every 108 (almost 2 million) adults were incarcerated in prison or jail.  About 1 in every 35 (almost 7 million) adult residents of the United States were under some form of correctional supervision.  (http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4843).

Though these numbers were on a decline for the fourth straight year in a row, the U.S. still has a greater percentage of its population locked up than any other country.  A very large portion of the guilty cases are drug-related.  We house more inmates than the top 35 European countries combined.  (http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-freedom/statistics-on-prisoner-population-rates/)  Before we get too excited about the steady decline, it is not due to the stellar system we have created nor to Americans becoming better human beings, but mostly due to immigration and lack of birth control and abstinence.  Simply put, our population grew faster than the rate of incarceration.  California’s Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011- which redirected non-serious, non-violent and non-sex offender inmates from federal penitentiaries to local facilities or parole supervision- also accounted for incarceration decline because all shuffled inmates were now counted as paroled citizens rather than imprisoned.

1.  Gangs/Racism

gang signs

Prisoners are allowed very few freedoms inside.  But they are allowed the freedom to congregate in groups by their own race.  In fact, it’s not only permitted, it’s expected- in almost every single prison in the country.  Wardens can complain about gangs and violence as if they are completely helpless against it.  But as long as races are allowed to segregate themselves in the yard and talk in close quarters then plans will be made, murders will be committed, drugs will be passed and gangs will remain.  As made evident in an earlier post, racism is a learned tragic flaw.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/10/new-evidence-that-racism-isnt-natural/263785/)  It isn’t positive, progressive or intelligent.  We aren’t born to hate someone based on color of skin or place of birth.  Our friends, family and culture teach us this dangerous and unhealthy mental block, which we may fully acquire by the age of three or four. (http://www.boston.com/jobs/news/articles/2012/06/10/harvard_researcher_says_children_learn_racism_quickly/)

Gang members free on the streets exhibit the extreme- marking their bodies and territories so others know who belongs where.  These gangs are often separated by race.  Members start at young ages and are made to believe that someone should be killed simply for entering their neighborhood and it’s fake yet established borders.  These children join the gang to feel that they belong- no matter how well they were raised to think that gang activity is wrong.  The same comradery and brotherhood can be achieved had they joined their school football team.  But there is something about the human attraction to danger coupled with peer pressure that makes being a member the obvious (and they feel ONLY) choice to them.  Often someone they look up to has already joined so it’s the next natural step or it’s the way of the land where they live.  When these gang members get arrested for a crime and end up in prison, they will pick up inside right where they left off- separating themselves from “the enemy.”

Of course there are plenty of gangs outside of prison that fight within their own race, but in jail oftentimes race will outweigh.  If prisoners were forced into intense conversation therapy and  belief-crushing team-building exercises for days and months and years upon end, they would most likely discover more in common than they ever might have imagined and break down some of these walls.  If they were all forced to work consistently to perform any number of jobs (that are usually shipped overseas), then the repetition of teamwork coupled with the reward of proficiency at a new trade could work wonders both in and out of prison.

2.  Drugs, Drugs, Drugs

drugs 3

Drugs have been around for centuries and though conservative people like to pretend they are only enjoyed by the lower echelon of society, all classes, races, cultures and ages consume narcotics by the boatload.  Albert Einstein, George Washington, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates (and many more “important” figures) partook in hard drugs and most of them even considered the drugs to be integral in their mental and social development.  If someone has a negative attitude about pot yet takes recreational Xanax that weren’t prescribed to them then they can’t see the forest for the trees.  In this day and age of pill-popping gone mad, there are more people on some type of drug than ever before.  And just because your drug of choice is “less dangerous” than someone else’s, that doesn’t make you any better of a person.  One person may drop dead of a prescription pill overdose while one person may do heroin and live.  Consuming too much of any narcotic is problematic and we all have our own scale of tolerance.  So let’s stop pretending that only ingrates and dirtbags do drugs.  This is a huge reason the war on drugs is an obnoxious waste of money and resources.  Luckily, the powers that be are starting to wake up:  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/30/smarter-sentencing-act_n_4696889.html). Because of this, we may finally see a valid decrease in our prison population as non-violent offenders are released and properly handled.  But more on that another day.

As of now, the drug trade in prison is estimated at $300 million.  80% of inmates are drug users.  35% are drug addicts.  Clearly there is no successful drug rehabilitation going on.  Why?  How in the world are the most secure places in the country (outside of Washington D.C.) funneling $300 million worth of narcotics?  We can’t get one joint past one TSA agent at an airport anymore but thousands of prison residents easily ingest everything from weed to Oxycontin to ecstasy to crystal meth.  Programs like Narcotics Anonymous have dismal success rates (and a 95% drop out) because they teach the user that they are powerless against the drug.

This is similar to many programs that are available in prison and they negate the responsibility of the user to remain drug free.  It is not the drug that makes someone habitually use it.  It is the user and the feelings they have associated with this drug.  It is the reasons that the users have chosen to escape reality (more than recreationally) in the first place.  Telling prisoners that they are powerless against drugs allows them to shirk their personal responsibility for not only taking them but also any other crimes they may have committed while on them or to acquire them, including, perhaps, the very crime that got them into prison in the first place.  This is counter-productive and dangerous.  Every person is capable of kicking a drug habit with the proper strong will, help and support.  They must first address the emotions that are bringing them down.  They must first conquer the demons that keep them from appreciating their reality.  With the exception of heroin, tens of millions of people use the very same drugs (both for recreational and medicinal uses) and do not get hooked.  If it were the drugs and drugs alone, then nobody would ever be able to touch them without heading for destruction.  With proper education, support, and guidance, prison inmates can have a much higher success rate at kicking their habits.  There is a reason that the drugs are kept flowing through the system.  It’s our job to find out what that reason could be.

3. Repeat Business/Lack of Rehabilitation

Go-to-jail

95% of all inmates will be released, about 700,000 each year.  50% will be released in two years or less.  Scarily, up to 2/3 of the parolees will end up back behind bars within 3 years.  Why?  Well, it’s not always because they are just bad souls who love to cause trouble.  Being a felon is no picnic.  When someone is released from jail, the stigma is the same whether they have committed a murder or simply got caught with an ounce of marijuana near a school.  They must still check “felon” on their job and some housing applications.  And no matter how much this should not sway someone’s decision without a full interview and analysis of the individual and his resume, it most certainly does.  So much so that California has now banned having a felony section on all job applications.  But the other 49 states have not.  So when you are a criminal and you are denied employment, housing, and voting and your family and/or community treat you like a second class citizen, then a very courageous few will turn that rejection into fuel to succeed while the rest will go back to the lives that they had before.  Author Michelle Alexander just released a book entitled “The New Jim Crow” (http://newjimcrow.com/) that is stunning.  She states that poor families of color are born into the system and destined to be stopped, frisked, targeted and swept in so that even if their paths could have been something greater, they will most likely fall prey.  Once they are released from prison it is nearly impossible to get back on their feet.

But some of this could certainly be avoided if what happened inside the prison were at all therapeutic.  Isn’t the idea of prison to teach criminals that their actions were wrong and that they shouldn’t ever do them again?  With a failure rate that high, we have to wonder how much longer this archaic system will continue.  It costs taxpayers $60 billion to send unchanged offenders back into society.  Correction:  in many cases the animal-like conditions and heightened sense of danger and desperation DO change the criminal- by making them worse.  This occurs no matter the age:  (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/06/17/2166481/study-throwing-kids-in-jail-makes-crime-worse-ruins-lives/).  On average, one inmate is murdered every week across the nation.  The amount of non-fatal violence is astronomical.  Would this all be happening if inmates spent their days working; learning right from wrong; building their compassion levels; going through extensive therapy; and breaking down barriers of race, ignorance, irresponsibility and prejudice?  It may sound “kumbaya” but ideology isn’t impossible.

When prisoners are allowed to live similar social lives in jail (gangs, drugs, fighting, killing, scheming) then nobody can expect them to change before their release.  What if inmates were never allowed to congregate by race or even in any unsupervised groups?  The entire design of modern day prisons could be renovated so that inmates were never allowed communication unless under strict supervised conditions.  If all violent criminals served solitary sentences fully constructed to rehabilitate and reshape their lives for a successful release without return then perhaps the re-incarceration rate might plummet. The physical and mental abuse, rape, horrid conditions, food quality, lack of sexual release, lack of support, ability to get and stay high, and complete sidelining of therapeutic recovery in animalistic conditions have made prison a cyclical stain on our society.  It is time for us to demand change rather than making things worse.  If we change the way we think and feel about violence and crime as well as rehabilitation, then we can change the way our society unfolds.

Perhaps this quote sums it up best:

“Everybody in here; good, bad and the ugly.  We were all once somebody’s little bundle of joy.  Every parent had hopes and dreams.  They didn’t see killers who would perpetrate some of the most heinous crimes against their fellow man staring back at them.  This is all taught.  It’s all taught in this system.  It’s all taught out there.”

Casper Crowell – Aryan Brotherhood

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Big Brother and the Thirty Year Gap

BIG BROTHER

George Orwell’s novel “1984” grips the reader into a world where the government has total surveillance of all citizens and an unprecedented social public mind control.  Published in 1949, technology was just a canvas for Orwell’s imagination.  He could have no evidence to fear that the current state of affairs would ever truly match his intuitive prose.  “Big Brother” (a term coined by Orwell in “1984” which then became an actual social state and part of our vernacular) is a reality TV/game show that had it’s 15th season last Summer.  The show, which spans the globe with versions, is always a hit in the U.S.  All three of its weekly episodes are very frequently in the top ten Nielsen ratings for that week all season long. What appears to be the perfect case study for how everyday people interact with each other as they compete for money could also be just a smaller version of real life as we know it today.  The TV show has become life in fast forward.  We are all currently in a rat race to acquire either as much money as we can or as much as we need to survive during these trying times while being silently watched… and every single move of ours captured, studied and dissected.  The cast members lie, promise, beg and form instant “relationships” with absolutely no contact with the outside world.   Facebook, the internet, texting and TV/Celebrity/Media obsession have made the majority of American citizens full time real-life cast members but at the end of this show there is no $500,000 prize.

1. Big Brother:  Art Imitates Life.

w3c-sponsor

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web. W3C tries to enforce compatibility and agreement among industry members in the adoption of new standards defined by the W3C. Incompatible versions of HTML are offered by different vendors, causing inconsistency in how Web pages are displayed. The consortium tries to get all those vendors to implement a set of core principles and components which are chosen by the consortium. This is all good. But lately they’ve been pushing to make code and structures behind websites more difficult for people see, and they are also pushing to make it illegal to play around with these things – which is how we have so many advances in the first place. Part of the reason for this tendency to be more closed is so that website coders can allow marketing companies, corporations, and governments to monitor what you do.

Cory Docorow says it best: http://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/post/72759474218/we-are-huxleying-ourselves-into-the-full-orwell

2. Net Neutrality is Over

Internetfree

Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Until recently, the FCC required Internet service providers to operate under this principle, and some governments have considered making it a law. In the US, internet and telecom companies want to assert the right to create a “tiered” model to their service. This can work in two ways.  First, the user will have to pay one price to have “standard internet” and another price to have “premium internet” in terms of both what content is permitted and also how quickly things load. Second, the service providers will charge certain websites more money. This can either be because they use more bandwidth, or – *gulp* – because they support the providers business, political, and personal rivals.  Don’t take our word for it:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/net-neutrality-ruling-opens-door/

There are many who say it’s not as bad as it seems, and perhaps they are right:  http://www.policymic.com/articles/79633/remember-that-epic-court-ruling-that-killed-net-neutrality-well-almost-everyone-got-it-wrong  But the worry is that once you chip away at this a little bit, it’s only a matter of time before there is no more free internet, and hosting a website will cost as much as opening a brick & mortar business on Main Street.  Then, imagine how quickly it might extend to the government preventing people from seeing things on the internet that they don’t want them to see, or perhaps just flagging site visits for use later. As life has shown you, once Americans get the wrecking ball rolling, we can’t stop and we won’t stop.

3. Surveillance

surveillance

It has now been revealed that the U.S. government is collecting information on everything that everyone does on their phones and on the internet. This is not an exaggeration: everything that everyone does: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-program-online-data.  We know this as a direct result of the Edward Snowden leaks:  http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/multimedia/timeline-edward-snowden-revelations.html.  We as citizens seem to be exhibiting that we either don’t really believe it or don’t really care enough to be worried.  Not when there are too many other real world problems:  Kanye West beat someone up and Justin Bieber got arrested.  It’s not just the U.S., either.  Most countries with the capability are doing this, as well.  But we live here and we have to be aware of the reality.   Corporations have been doing all this for a while- with cookies and Adware programs in place so they can focus what they market to you. Depending on the country you live in, you’re either living in “1984” – http://books.google.com/books/about/1984.html?id=yxv1LK5gyV4C ; –

or a “Brave New World”- http://books.google.com/books?id=niDNtZoYsAUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=brave+new+world&hl=en&sa=X&ei=0x_lUqbXK4zNsQSSh4LIDA&ved=0CCoQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=brave%20new%20world&f=false ;

or a scary mix of both – http://biblioklept.org/2013/06/08/huxley-vs-orwell-the-webcomic-2/.

George Orwell guessed that 1984 would be the time of this imminent future.  He was thirty years off.  So what happened in the thirty year gap?  Well, as our brains and minds were numbed with technology and entertainment, our book stores were closed, our physical education was cut, our school budgets were destroyed, and our food supply became poison.  It’s not very hard to paint by numbers.

To sum it up, folks:  these three things in conjunction are a very bad sign. (1) The internet designers and creators are in bed with (2) corporations who are trying to rig the game and get as much money as possible, and (3) the government would be stupid if they didn’t get in on this action and spy on everything everyone does.  Hold on, we think there’s a knock at the door…

Laugh Out Loud

LOL

When is the last time that you actually laughed out loud before the acronym replaced the action? Notice how LOL was literal at first- as in you really did laugh out loud while reading that last hysterical text. Then you LOL so much that you knew it no longer held it’s meaning. Suddenly it’s lazy counterpart Lol or lol was getting strapped onto the end of every single sentence. So you started LMAO, even though you were clearly never really laughing your ass cheeks so hard that they slid down to the floor. What a mess that would be. LMAO now dictated that you were indeed LOL but just couldn’t say it with the proper acronym because you and your minions had watered it down.

Soon you added an F for super emphasis. Because this meant you thought something was really, really funny. So funny that your ass became your fucking ass. By this very time, nobody in real life (non-cellular) was LMFAO at all, because they were no longer seeing the people they were texting and therefore the personal delivery was lacking- and the humor solicited only a quick laugh out loud- or a QLOL, which is brand spanking new but will never catch on.

When you realized all hell-ol had broken loose, then you had to kick it up to the nth degree by ROFLMAO. A universal acronym was made for an action that has rarely ever occurred in real life, if at all. You clearly aren’t rolling on the floor because you are sitting slouched in your chair supposedly working and if you were rolling on the floor laughing your ass off your boss and co-workers would probably call the looney bin for the upper half of your body and the morgue for the lower half.

As a result of all this madness, things that are downright hysterical won’t earn more than 5 seconds of your jovial emotion. This now also translates to the few times you DO actually have funny conversations face to face and your barometer for what is funny has been raised to dastardly heights. What started as laziness in an AOL instant message over a decade ago has lead to the desensitization of America and the dehumorization (not a word lol) of our random quips.

Do you see how deep the hole has gone? For shame.

The Facts of Life: 5 Things to do Right Now

Facts-of-Life

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have… The Facts of Life.  These didn’t come from Mrs. Garrett per se, but she would probably agree:

1)  Don’t be racist.  It illustrates immaturity, ignorance and a lack of progression.  We are all human beings.  Period.  We all have our own stories, our own fears, our own need to be loved.  It’s that simple.  You are no better or worse than any other human being born in any other country or from any other nationality.  We are all struggling (internally, externally or both) to survive in this world and it’s hard enough without hating each other because we all weren’t born on the same continent or don’t share the same skin shade.  The universe is a big place.  You don’t own it and cannot dictate who is allowed to live in it.  Racism is a learned tragic flaw.  Get over it quickly and see your life improve. (http://www.racismreview.com/blog/2009/04/16/racism-harmful-to-healt/)

2)  Stop blaming everyone else.  You and you alone are responsible for every single choice you make in your life.  You will always run into obstacles, events, and people who may shape your decisions but it is up to you to take each and every step.  How you were raised certainly plays a part in your disposition but you ultimately make the calls.  Life will throw curve balls out the ying-yang but it’s up to you to take them in stride and knock them out of the park.  Or at least a bunt.  Always worry about how you feel and what you can do to rectify or improve the current situation.  Even if someone else is to blame for something specific, it is you who can get yourself back on track.  You can’t depend on anyone else in this life when it all comes down to it.  We all feel like someone is out to get us once in a while.  But if you look hard enough you will find out that the person is almost always you.  (http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/the-power-of-making-decisions/)

3)  Put the cell phone down.  Even if you’re reading this on it.  OK, after you read this.  Chances are if you are like most people around you, you certainly aren’t speaking on it very much.  The more your communication revolves around your fingers on an electronic device instead of your voice with a living being, the more removed you are becoming from society and the real world that’s spinning around you.  Almost everyone we know would rather text than hear our voices- and don’t even think about actually meeting all of those friends to spend quality time together.  The constant textual relationships have silently alleviated our past need for live personal interaction.  Soon, our children won’t know how to hold real conversations and important things like job interviews and dating will be next to impossible.  We have reached a social epidemic.  It’s not conjecture.  It’s frightening.  These days, social interaction is a commodity, even in public places like restaurants and bars.  People make and break plans; start and end relationships; and plan their entire social calendar with two thumbs.  Want proof you might have lost touch with humanity?  When’s the last time you called all of your close friends and family to wish them a happy birthday?  Not to mention that the extensive use of “smartphones” with constant WiFi turned on leads to excessive radiation exposure and can cause tumors in the brain, head, neck, and wherever you store the phone on your body.  No game of candy crush or text war with your ex’s next victim is worth several rounds of chemotherapy.  70% of us also have digital eye strain from overuse which leads to blurry vision, headaches, and neck, back and shoulder pain.  If continued, this could lead to loss of vision much earlier in life than anticipated with old age as well as permanent posture damage.  Put.  The.  Phone.  Down.  (http://www.medicaldaily.com/5-reasons-why-cellphones-are-bad-your-health-247624)

4)  Curb Your Facebook Addiction.  Studies show that people who spend more time on Facebook have less regard for their own lives and, whether they know/believe it or not, end up depressed and socially awkward.  What we started enjoying as just a cool way to stay in touch with long lost friends or specific groups  has become the main source of communication for millions of people- including close friends who have no business completely supplanting phone calls and hanging out for pointless back and forth Lucida Grande banter.  Limit your Facebook obsession to one hour a day.  Or, if you’re really daring, don’t sign on for two entire days in a row.  Trust us, the world will not end.  The statuses will all be there for you to look at and catch up on.  As a matter of fact, you will have lots of exciting stuff to see by that point.  Want proof you might be addicted?  When’s the last time you called all of your close friends and family to wish them a happy birthday?  (http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21583593-using-social-network-seems-make-people-more-miserable-get-life)

And if you are scrolling through your Facebook page (or texting) WHILE YOU’RE DRIVING, then you should commit yourself.  You are clearly insane if you think the dangerous steel, glass, and rubber death machine you are operating will keep you safe while you look down long enough to comprehend full status sentences.  People just like you die or kill people doing both of those things on a regular basis. Of course, you aren’t really insane. But what you are is desensitized to a solid fact you have known since your teenage years: driving distracted is beyond hazardous.

5)  Unlock your love.  No matter who you are or where you came from the most important thing you will ever feel, need and want is love.  We all want it.  We all fiend for it.  We all feel less without it.  Some will deny it.  But that doesn’t change it.  Whether it’s from a dog or their mothers, even the most sadistic murderer is capable of wanting and needing love.  In fact, many say that love is the meaning of life.  Universal love for yourself and your neighbor.  Imagine, for a second, if we did all feel it- as preposterous as it sounds.  No war, no crime, no hatred, no abuse, no segregation.  There would still be pain and sadness and hardships in the world.  But what a Utopia it would be if we no longer had to worry about being hurt by our fellow man.  Life is too damn short for petty drama.  This ideology only sounds farfetched because we are so far removed from it- certainly not because it’s not humanly possible.  “Well, if everyone won’t do it, why should I?”  Because it always starts with one person:  you.  You can’t worry about everyone else.  But you can pass this along and maybe someone else will join you.