Five (Or Seven) Links from a Criminal Justice System: Art, Emus, Criminalization of Poverty. But Hey, Emus!

Five (Or Seven) Links from a Criminal Justice System: Art, Emus, Criminalization of Poverty. But Hey, Emus! March 8, 2016

“Rarely Seen Images of the Real San Quentin”:

The pictures, for the most part, are prosaic, like outtakes from a yearbook photo shoot. One shows five members of an amateur rock band. Another depicts uniformed football players gathered for a team photo. In yet another, a man is shown carving an ice sculpture. Occasionally, though, the subject matter is much darker.

One photo comes with caption information: “Martinez Killed in Yard, 1963.” It shows empty bleachers and what appears to be blood spatter in the foreground. The yard is in San Quentin Prison. And once you know that, there is nothing prosaic about any of the photos.

There are at least 10,000 negatives, most of them unprocessed, that date from the late 1940’s to the late 1980’s, stuffed into cardboard boxes and unexamined for decades.


“Prison Labor: Trauma as a ‘Marketable Job Skill'”:

…Eventually I saw the parallels to slavery: neither are a choice, and both motivate workers with coercion and fear. Hoe squad bosses put the fastest at the front and punished anyone in back who couldn’t keep up. Bosses reprimanded us and rewarded fast workers for bullying “lazy” ones. Other women became our enemies and bosses were our merciful masters.

There were porta-potties and a water tank; we got to use both if we were lucky. Some days the heat climbed up to 114 degrees. I got sick the first winter, but there are no sick days and “only sorry hoes complain.” The boss told me to vomit as I worked, as long as I didn’t stop moving.


“Andrea Fraser: The Artist Turning the Whitney Into a Prison”:

…Visually, there will be nothing to see because Fraser is leaving the Whitney’s fifth floor empty. She wants to concentrate visitors’ attention on the ambient sounds of correctional facilities, which she recorded at institutions including Sing Sing. Her intention is not to create a spectacle of the prisoners for museum-goers (“God forbid”), but to put Whitney visitors “into the acoustic space of incarceration”.

The noise of a prison, she says, depend a lot on whether cells have doors or bars. Solid doors create a sound of silence: “You’re hearing the acoustics of an architecture of confinement and the apparatus of incarceration,” she says. “You’re hearing doors and footsteps and a big, hard, cold, empty, confined and containing space. You feel the dehumanisation of confinement through those sounds.”

At Sing Sing, where the cells have bars, prisoners are physically confined but their sounds travel. Unexpectedly, there is birdsong: “There hasn’t been a significant renovation since the 1920s, there is no air conditioning for example – and birds come in the windows, sparrows,” Fraser says. “We were told that the inmates feed the birds.” The sound blew her away, she says. “It’s like a European train station.”

more (I don’t know that the rest of this article is very interesting tbh, but I liked the soundscape idea a lot)

“The Jail Without Bars”:

…Ada County Jail is typically quiet, with uncluttered hallways, steel mesh instead of bars, and no rancid smells. It was recently highlighted in a Human Rights Watch report as exemplary, because of low use-of-force incidents. The numbers were so low that the report’s researcher initially thought the jail’s data were wrong. In 2015, it was one of 20 U.S. jails to receive a MacArthur Foundation grant to find ways to keep people out of jail, including through diversion programs, which focus on keeping people out of the prosecution system altogether. Instead of jail, first-time or low-risk offenders may be diverted into a program that helps them with problems like substance use or unemployment. This prevents them from entering the system and reduces the likelihood of getting into trouble again. …

Yamada-Anderson contradicts many people’s expectations about jail deputies. She has a college degree in philosophy, was one of Idaho’s first applicants for a license to marry another woman, and sees jail work as akin to being in sales.

“I don’t tell people what to do,” says Yamada-Anderson. “I ask. I convince them it’s to their benefit to do what I ask. They’ve already lost a lot, so I don’t want to take it all from them.” In the dorms, for example, if an inmate stays in her pajamas rather than changing into her jail daytime clothing, Yamada-Anderson will talk to her about how getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself. She and other staff members know that they can’t just order; they need to give reasons for what they ask inmates to do. This is a first step to returning to the community.

more (I included that first paragraph because while the in-jail stuff is grabbier as a news story, keeping people out of jail is a crucial piece. Anyway two of the people in the article think of jail and prisoners in terms of “loss,” which I’m not sure I’ve ever heard from other people working in the industry.)

Here are two extremely random samples from a cornucopia of local horrors. A private probation company ran a “March Madness” bounty scheme in which you could win vacations by extracting cash from probationers. And indigent defendants have to pay $92/hr for a public defender in South Dakota, because that definitely sounds Constitutional. And charge them for it, always.

But ok, I promised you guys at minimum one emu, so here’s “Inside the Florida Jail That Doubles as an Exotic Animal Zoo”:

MIKE SMITH was out of prison for 10 days when he blacked out while drinking and was arrested alongside a busy street in Key West. When he sobered up, he was back in jail. By his own admission, he was not surprised to be there. The blacking out, it had happened before.

“I’m done,” Smith told himself. “If I don’t stop I’m gonna spend the rest of my life in prison.”

He has no recollection of being arrested, half a block off Duval street.

This time, Smith knew he would have to do a small stint before he could get a spot in a substance abuse program. In the interim he signed up to be a trustee at the jail, working on a farm that for the last two decades has become a corner of Monroe County where abandoned, abused, confiscated and donated animals from around the country have found refugee behind razor wire. A place where a miniature horse named Bam Bam grazes his days away on a pasture, as men in orange jump suits muck stalls and make sure water dishes are brimming.

more (HI I’M AN ALPACA HI) (cute photos and a moving story)

links via Radley Balko and the Marshall Project

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