Recommended Reading and Viewing

Are you interested in prison, human rights, or legal issues?

Here’s a list of articles and videos we’ve seen recently that are well worth some of your time!

1. Texas Lawmakers are discussing reducing Solitary Confinement, which has large implications considering the amount of prisoners currently in ad-seg in our state. To find out more about Solitary in Texas, read the report “A Solitary Failure” by the ACLU of Texas.

http://www.chron.com/news/politics/texas/article/Lawmakers-step-up-efforts-to-reduce-solitary-6829257.php?cmpid=email-mobile

2.  George Toca was a minor sentenced to life at Angola prison in Louisiana. Recently released, he is now advocating for others like him to be released and given a second chance at life.

http://jjie.org/giving-inmates-with-life-sentences-2nd-chance-is-right-thing-to-do/192234/

3. Another minor, Kalief Browder, was held for several years at Riker’s after being accused of stealing a backpack. He was never convicted, but suffered significantly due to violence and isolation. He committed suicide last year after returning home but being unable to live normally. His mother is demanding that New York and the prison system admit that they are responsible for the mental health issues Kalief suffered during and after his incarceration, and ultimately for his untimely death.

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/02/17/what-kalief-browder-s-mother-thinks-should-happen-to-rikers?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sprout&utm_source=facebook#.cfFexFhCZ

4. At least in Houston, the local news often bombards viewers with shaming mugshots of dozens of accused sex workers and ‘johns’. Many women and men are incarcerated every year due to the illegality of prostitution and soliciting in Texas. Interesting and surprising, this article explores the history of sex work and the illegality of it in the U.S.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/when-prostitution-wasnt-crime-fascinating-history-sex-work-america

5. Kendrick Lamar’s visual tribute to prisoners at the Grammy’s made discussions of prison and race a hot topic. See more below:

http://pitchfork.com/news/63497-grammys-2016-kendrick-lamar-performs-the-blacker-the-berry-and-alright-debuts-new-track-in-politically-charged-performance/

6. Lastly, in relation to the debate on prison and race, Human Rights activists Angela and Fania Davis discuss Restorative Justice, a movement for Abolition, and a Truth and Reconciliation Process to heal our society and ourselves.

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34915-the-radical-work-of-healing-fania-and-angela-davis-on-a-new-kind-of-civil-rights-activism

Looking to get involved?

Books Through Bars Houston is searching for volunteers who would help get a Houston based organization off the ground. Currently Texas only has one books to prisoner program, Inside Books, which is based in Austin.

https://www.facebook.com/BooksThroughBarsHouston/?fref=ts

Upcoming Conference in Dallas, May 4-6th. Prisoner’s Family Conference. For more info:

www.prisonersfamilyconference.org

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on prison conditions and please consider reaching out to an inmate seeking a pen pal! Contact us if you are interested!

 

 

Film: The Darkest Hour

This short documentary film is most definitely worth 50 minutes of your time. Even the first 10 or 15 minutes gives you some profound knowledge and thoughts, and there are numerous spoken word and musical interludes from Brooklyn artists that are great too. This film is based on the writing of a Texas prisoner, who is still currently incarcerated despite having been ordered released several years ago, and Dr. Betty Gilmore who has written about the psychological effects of imprisonment. Nanon was put on Death Row as a juvenile and has since been moved off due to the court ruling against executing juveniles. He is incredibly intelligent, author of numerous books, and has worked on a prison newsletter for many years. Several people in Houston plan on getting together to read their book in the near future. Please watch and share:

The Darkest Hour Film (click to view) from GoodMedia Press on Vimeo.

“We live in the age of racialized mass incarceration. An age in which tens of thousands of human beings are caged in solitary confinement every day. Some for decades at a time. “The Darkest Hour” exposes the inhumane impact of extreme isolation experienced by those incarcerated nationwide.

Through intimate interviews with death row survivors like Nanon Williams, now serving life in general population, and the last words of men like Napoleon Beazley before execution by the state of Texas, these stories reveal the savage inner workings of our justice system.

Narrated in hip hop and spoken word by artist/activist Bryonn Bain, creator of the groundbreaking multimedia production “Lyrics from Lockdown” (executive produced by Harry Belafonte), the film’s soundtrack, the “Life After Lockdown: Digital Mixtape,” features founding hip hop DJ Kool Herc and an all-star cast of legends.

“The Darkest Hour” is a call to action for a complete paradigm shift. We will either be ruled by passionate cries for punishment, or heal ourselves with the compassion required to repair a broken nation. ”

Want to read and discuss with us?

Find the book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Darkest-Hour-Shedding-Isolation-ebook/dp/B00N51PW3Q

and contact us to let us know you want to join!

Report on “Overuse of Solitary” from ACLU of Texas

As some readers may be aware, in the last several years inmates in several states have protested against the use of long-term solitary confinement and the conditions in “ad-seg”. This has also recently been the case in Eastham Unit and on Death Row in Texas (Polunsky Unit) according to correspondence I have personally received from inmates in those facilities.

In February of this year the ACLU of Texas released a 50-page report finding that Texas greatly over uses solitary confinement, and that it has concluded that this practice has had a negative effect on (violence in) the prison system, our communities, our economy, and inmate mental health overall. The report states that Texas uses Solitary at a rate of over 4% in our prisons, for an average of 3.7 years and that “Texas locks more people in solitary-confinement cells than twelve states house in their entire prison system”. The report finds that a drastic decrease in use of Solitary in other states, like Mississippi, has either greatly decreased the rates of violence or had no negative effects. They also concluded that the damage Solitary does to inmates has absolutely no rehabilitative effects and increases the likelihood of recidivism and violence once they are released. This is probably greatly due to findings that Isolation worsens or creates mental illness in a large number of inmates. The report demonstrates these findings as well as giving proposed solutions to the issue of overuse of Solitary Confinement, which would save Texas tax payers millions of dollars every year. The report is relatively short and written in a easy to read manner; find the pdf here:

http://www.aclutx.org/2015/02/05/a-solitary-failure/

I think this report may change the way anyone views the current state of prisons in our state (and country) and the need for a major change. Furthermore, I recently watched a TED Talk by journalist Johann Hari which seemed relevant  to this report. The talk focuses on addiction and compulsive behaviors rather than Solitary Confinement, but his findings certainly seem to challenge us to consider isolation and the way we treat prisoners.  When I considered his reference to the mice experiments, I immediately saw a connection to the ACLU’s findings on isolation and mental health. So, I will link to this video as well. You can also read the transcript here.

“Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong”

Sources:

Protest in California: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/other/living-tombs-thousands-california-inmates-protest-solitary-confinement-hunger-strike-f6C10681430

Ohio hunger strike: http://wkbn.com/2015/04/14/activists-side-with-inmates-over-ohio-prison-hunger-strike/

Texas Death Row protests:  https://www.facebook.com/HumanRightsOnDeathRow/posts/1480982272162509 and

Eastham Unit protests: letters from inmate Jorge G.