Washington State Top Court Nixes Life Without Parole for Minors

life without parole for minors

By Christopher Zoukis The trend by states moving to reject life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders continued this year when the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the practice unconstitutional on October 18. In State of Washington v. Brian Bassett, the court noted that states were “rapidly…

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Slicing and Dicing the Prison Commissary Business

Three american prisoners in orange jump suits surround a picnic table outdoors enjoying their prison commissary

By Christopher Zoukis The Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit advocacy group, recently released a study examining how state prison commissaries operate. One observation made in the report: commissaries often exploit incarcerated persons, by shifting the costs of incarceration from the state to inmates and their families. The central problem, according…

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Food-Related Outbreaks Sicken Prisoners Six Times More Often

a tray of prison food

By Christopher Zoukis Prison food usually makes news only when blamed for hunger strikes or riots, or a supplier is found providing rancid or insect-infested food. Yet it also poses an important but little-studied public health issue, recently tackled by a research team from the Centers for Disease Control and…

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News Bites

Alabama: A March 2, 2014 fight at the Elmore Correctional Facility resulted in eight prisoners being transported to Jackson Hospital, where three were admitted for further treatment. Details on the extent of the prisoners’ injuries and the circumstances of the fight were not released. Argentina: Raunchy photos depicting female jail…

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Darnell’s Corner: Daily Thoughts, Opinions, Quotes, Inspirations, Motivations & Observations

Transformation (Part 1) By Brian Darnell Berkley Sr. I’d like to share a true story. This is a story about a guy who I once knew better anyone else. I really don’t know this Young Man any longer, but I do know him as he was way back then and,…

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The Truth About Incarceration

By Wayne T. Dowdy

Prison can be rough: It can also be a positive experience for those who seek and receive help for the issues that lead to prison, which does not occur often. A cast of personalities comprise the abyss of prison. From some spring enlightenment, displays of moral fortitude, exemplary characteristics; others demoralization, sexual perversion, denigration, debauchery, the darker side of humanity. The truth is that many aspects of prison are degrading and humiliating to those who have maintained their dignity and self-respect; however, prison is not always as portrayed in books and movies. A “snap shot” will not reveal the whole picture. Even documentaries on prisons leave a false impression about the whole of prison life or the prison experience. I know. I have lived most of my life behind steel bars, concrete walls, and fences layered and lined with row upon row of razor wire to separate me and my peers from civilized society. I write this to assure the youth that there is nothing glamorous about incarceration, since I have read and heard how some juveniles and young adults give props to those who have been to jail, prison or “juvvy,” for having survived the experience.

In some segments of society those returning from prison are given a favorable street-status: a reputation of being a “tough” person, a Gangster who may have had to fight daily to make it out alive; someone solid who rode hard, did not “rat” and did his or her time without taking down the neighborhood. Some may have done similar things and been all of that, but for the most part, very few have that experience. But, with the State of Georgia prison system having thirty-two prisoners and one guard murdered since 2010, it proves that prisons can be a dangerous place. Statistically, though, and in actuality, the vast majority of people who go to prison never have a physical altercation. In relation to “riding hard” and not taking out the neighborhood, an overwhelming number of criminal defendants plead guilty to shorten their sentences; only a small percentage do not assist the government by implicating others in crimes in order to get the reduced sentence. (See note below for clarification about guilty pleas.)  Some who testify and make deals are worse than Judas in the Bible who betrayed Jesus Christ and got him executed, because they lie to get a deal. Numerous criminal defendants fabricate higher drug quantities and exaggerate other committed criminal acts so that the prosecution recommends a larger sentence reduction for providing “substantial government assistance.” Personally, I do not see that as honorable, or something that is worthy of praise or favorable recognition.

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Four Letter Words: Learning How to Write from a Federal Prison

By Christopher Zoukis

While walking on my prison’s recreation yard yesterday, a man approached me.  He was a casual acquaintance and had questions about how to seek a publisher for a graphic novel that he’s been working on.  Since I do a lot of writing for prison-related outlets (e.g., http://prisoneducation.com and http://prisonlawblog.com), and used to teach a class on writing here at FCI Petersburg, I have lots of such discussions, even with complete strangers.  While I didn’t know much about publishing graphic novels, I agreed to look into the matter for the man and try to help guide him along in his path as an incarcerated writer.  It reminded me of when I first started writing from my prison cell.

As Americans, we are very used to having information at our fingertips.  Have a question?  Simply power on your laptop and Google it.  It really is that simple.  Don’t have a computer handy?  You could always pick up your cell phone and call someone to point you in the right direction or use your car’s GPS to direct you to your nearest public library.  But what if the library had few books (and almost all of which were trashy fiction)?  What if you didn’t have a car, or a cell phone, or even a computer?  What would you do to find the answer to a fairly simple question like how to publish a novel?

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Energize: The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Technological Revolution

By Christopher Zoukis

As I write this, I sit at a TRULINCS computer in a federal prison’s housing unit.  A set of in-ear JVC earbuds pump out Bush’s “Reasons” hit.  This is accomplished through the SanDisk MP3 player that the headphones are connected to.  This was not the case when I arrived in the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2008, and it has greatly improved my quality of life.

Over the past 6 years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has made leaps and bounds in terms of the technology made available to the inmate population.  Back in 2006 — and in the early 1990s, for that matter — federal inmates were allowed to purchase Sony AM/FM Walkman radios.  These days this radio costs $39.95 from any federal prison’s commissary.  For as long as many prisoners can remember, these radios have been their primary contact with the outside world.  Today they are required to hear the televisions in inmate housing units, which have their speakers removed and are mounted high upon the walls in the housing units.

The technological revolution has also expanded to the Inmate Telephone System, where inmates can now place both collect and debit calls to their friends, family members, and others outside of prison.  Of course, most federal prison telephones now require the inmate to type in a nine-digit security code and state their name.  The name-recognition feature is to ensure that the prisoner attempting to call a particular authorized phone number is actually that prisoner.

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons has most certainly been analyzing these new technologies for quite some time, they have only recently become commonplace in federal prisons across the nation.  In 2012, FCI Petersburg — the medium-security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia where I am incarcerated — installed Trust Fund Limited Inmate Communication Systems (TRULINCS) computers in every housing unit.  This coincided with the removal of all in-unit washers and dryers.  The trade was a good one.

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