Important changes may be ahead for juvenile offenders convicted of murder in the state of Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether sentences of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for juvenile offenders falls under the category of cruel and unusual punishment under the state’s constitution, thus prohibiting such practices. The case…

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By Christopher Zoukis

Few things in this world anger me more than grown men who attack or torture small animals and think it’s acceptable.  Sadly, I’m often reminded of how much I hate this occurrence due to the apparently large population of animal abusers who reside at FCI Petersburg, the medium security federal prison in Petersburg, Virginia where I am incarcerated.  Tonight was no exception.

This evening I spent a good two hours playing Ultimate Frisbee on the recreation yard.  At 8 pm, when we finished playing for the night, I was on my way to the gate and had to pass the basketball courts.  I witnessed a grown man, who had just finished playing basketball with his friends, throwing rocks at the sleeping pigeons up in the rafters of the overhanging roof.  Yes, you heard that right, a grown man, with his friends cheering him on, attacking small animals with rocks.  I was furious.

I was so angry I walked right out onto the basketball court and confronted the man.  Obviously not a very good idea, but I couldn’t allow such reprehensible behavior to continue and I didn’t see any of my friends present to back me up.  So, I, the one white guy confronted a group of perhaps eight basketball players.  All of them looked at me as if I was the crazy one since I thought torturing small animals was outside of the range of acceptable conduct.  Perhaps they thought me as crazy for confronting them alone.  Words were spoken and we went our separate ways, but when I left my blood was boiling.

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I’m angry, I can admit it. Today I received a copy of my list of approved visitors in the FCI Petersburg institutional mail. This is commonplace for when new additions are made to a federal prisoner’s visitation list.*1 After all, several weeks ago my aunt and uncle submitted visitation applications so that they could visit…

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By Dr. Elaine J. Leeder

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Dr. Elaine Leeder, Dean of the of the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University, offers a concise, compassionate view of the life and psyche of California prisoners serving term-life sentences. After a long career that has included volunteering to teach prisoners in New York State, and, later, for a decade in San Quentin State Prison, Dr. Leeder has blended her deeply personal humane support of the underdog with her expertise as a sociologist to show that people “thrown away” by society upon being convicted of murder are still people, capable of rehabilitation and eager for the chance to gain the tools for reintegration into society through intensive education while incarcerated.

My Life with Lifers chronicles Dr. Leeder’s interaction with life-sentenced prisoners at San Quentin in a round table discussion group she leads at the facility, called “New Leaf on Life.” Each month, Dr. Leeder brings a guest speaker – a professor or student – to lead the group in discussion on a topic far removed from prison life. The speaker engages the lifers’ minds in thought processes that take them to new levels – daring them to learn, interact in dialogue and yearn to learn more. Many of the prisoners also participated in college-level classes offered by volunteers from a local private university.

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By Christopher Zoukis

Today I put a water container — like a plastic shaker cup — down on a table in my prison’s housing unit and walked over to the computer area to check my email.  I was on the computer for perhaps 10 minutes, then I returned.  Upon my return I was very disappointed to find that someone had broken the plastic which connects the water container to its lid.  Since nothing was missing, the only motivation for doing so, that I can imagine, is that some inmate in my housing unit was feeling like being sadistic.  That someone was feeling like making another’s day a bit worse, for no other reason than to do so.  While this is not new to me, I still found it disappointing.

A lot of the work I do is thankless work.  I advocate for prisoners and their rights.  I do so for free and am often disconnected from the response to the work due to being imprisoned and not able to be online or use normal email.  While I have had a good response from those outside of prison, inside prison is a different story.  Inside prison I’m just some young white guy with red stars tattooed on his hands.  Inside, I’m simply some sort of target which fellow prisoners feel that they should try to take advantage of, not because of the color of my skin or because of my age, buy because I’m a fellow prisoner.  For some reason, prisoners seem to feel as though it is ok to screw one another over because we’re in the same position.  It makes no sense at all to me and it is very disheartening.  It’s as if the guards aren’t kicking you or putting you down, a fellow prisoner is more than willing to fill the void.

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By Christopher Zoukis Prison commentator George Hook recently published an article at PrisonEducation.com entitled “How Should An Inmate Deal With Troublemakers.”  The article suggests that the prisoner should first try to understand the conflict (analysis), then seek input from knowledgeable persons (either plainly intelligent, or those who have relevant experience), try to resolve the matter…

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By Christopher Zoukis For the past year I have been seeking meaningful dental care.  This isn’t to say that I’ve only been seeking it for the past year, but that the current matter has been on my plate for the past year.  Thus, my teeth hurt. The story starts in 2009.  Five years ago I…

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