"No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child." Abraham Lincoln

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Over the years, Sonny has written, and had published, many articles, most pertaining to "problems" with the California Correctional system. You can read those articles here.


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View From Inside: Budget Crunch Hits Inmates Early

by Dwight Abbott, Pacific News Service,  Feb 11, 2004

Editor's Note: A 62-year-old inmate in a California prison finds cutbacks in prison educational and medical programs are already hurting inmates, before a state budget has even been passed.

As an inmate in the Salinas Valley State Prison, I am one of thousands who, if everything goes well in a rare "incident free" week, is allowed out of his cell for "exercise" a total of 10 hours. Until two months ago, I was given four hours each day.

What were, at best, sparse vocational training programs no longer exist. Once semi-tolerable medical care is now poor, even by prison standards. Always minimal portions of food are even smaller.

Every couple of days we might get a shower.

"Why is this?" I asked.

"Recent budget cuts," I was told.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his first budget, has proposed about $400 million in unspecified cuts for the state corrections department. That budget, of course, has not yet been passed. But within these walls, the prison administration is already preparing for expected cuts.

They tell us "there are no longer enough guards on duty to supervise inmate movement and activities." But sitting in my cell, I often see half a dozen guards walking around or sitting at concrete prison tables in the empty prison yard.

I first entered the California State Prison system at age 18. I have no hope of being released. I am a 62-year-old inmate who is physically disabled as the result of suffering a stroke and two heart attacks. I have high blood pressure, and I am in the early stages of emphysema.

I am one of nearly 100 men in my facility who was placed into a "chronic care program," ordered and established as a result of a successful class action suit (Plata et al. v. Davis et al., No. C-01-1351). Through this program, we are to be constantly monitored by medical staff and examined by a prison physician once or more each week.

Three months ago I saw a doctor, and have not seen one since, though at least a dozen times over the last seven weeks I've requested medical attention. In response, medical personnel have consistently told me, "The doctor has to leave early, and does not have time to see you."

Vocational training programs, which include masonry and landscaping, help inmates learn a trade so that upon their release they can seek gainful employment instead of preying upon others. They've been cancelled, as has much of the school educational program that taught inmates to read and write.

"I do not know what I am going to do now," one inmate recently shared with me. "I have been locked up nine years. I don't have much education. I was actually learning something for the first time in my life. All I had to do was get my certificate, and I could get a good job when I am paroled in two months.

"To hell with it all," he went on. "I tried! I'm just going to get a gun. I am not going to live on the street."

Strangely or not, the supposed "budget cuts" do not appear to have affected the guard's paychecks. As I type this, in fact, there comes an announcement over the intercom to prison staff: "Anyone wishing to work overtime should call..." A person could become financially comfortable on a guard's "overtime" pay.

I have little doubt the reader is asking, "Why should anyone care that prisoners are suffering in this manner, the result, so it is said, of budget cuts?"

First, because you are being deceived.

California state prisoners do not, contrary to popular belief, enjoy tennis courts, swimming pools or other activities the media proclaims we do. The little we are allowed is now being taken away, while the public is told it is the guards and their families who will suffer from the cuts.

Second, you should care because 86 percent of all convicted felons will be released from prison at some point. It should be a well thought out concern, at least for the neighbors of ex-convicts, what their attitudes are, their dreams, their hopes, and what their goals are when they come out of prison.

Cruel, uncaring treatment breeds disillusioned, angry men and women. Fair, not "coddled," treatment, coupled with an environment conducive to rehabilitation will, in a large number of inmates, instill a determination to be productive, one that may not have existed in the individual prior to his or her incarceration.

But if you, as taxpayers, are unable to find any other reason, care because you are being deceived, lied to, and played like a cheap fiddle by an agency you think you can trust.

PNS contributor Dwight Abbott is author of "I Cried, You Didn't Listen: A Survivor's Expose of the California Youth Authority," (Feral House, 1991, CreateSpace Revised 2012).

When Prison Rape Begins

by Dwight Abbott, New America Media, Nov 04, 2005

Beginning the day we enter prison, to the very day we are paroled, the process of our dehumanization by our keepers is consistent and deliberate.

"Strip all your clothing off, stand in a line and face me. Raise your hands above your head. Run your fingers through your hair. First turn your head to the right and then to the left. Lift your penis, your scrotum. Turn around. Lift your feet and wiggle your toes; now bend over and spread your butt-cheeks. Now, do knee bends and cough loudly until I instruct you to stop." Nothing fell out.

"Turn to your left and walk though the metal detector." An alarm goes off. The prisoner is taken to have an X-ray done of his anal cavity, and a knife is discovered. The other 19 inmates are told: "Get back into the cell [naked] and sit there until we bring you your clothing."

There were 20 prisoners, 4 male guards, some female personnel in the immediate background acting as if they were not aware of what was going on before them, and dozens of other prisoners waiting their turn.

After nearly 50 years of incarceration, during which I've suffered through thousands of these strip searches, I've never observed "contraband" being found by prison staff poking into their captives' cavities. Only when the process ends with the use of a metal detector are our keepers occasionally successful. So why not just use the detector and an X-ray machine? Answer: The "strip search" serves no other purpose than to embarrass, humiliate and begin the process of twisting a prisoner to obey the will of his keeper.

I, as have thousands of other men, once experienced another form of rape when I was suspected of secreting drugs in my anal cavity. My wrists and ankles were bound in chains. I was taken to the prison infirmary where my pants were pulled down. I was forcibly bent over and held in that position by several prison guards while a male nurse inserted his finger into my rectum in search of drugs.

No drugs were found, yet I was forced into a cell, strapped naked onto the bed and allowed to get up only to poop into a plastic bag placed on the cell floor as my guards watched. I had to do this three times over three days before they were satisfied that I had no drugs. A simple X-ray would have sufficed. They didn't need someone who was not a doctor driving a finger into my anal cavity. They didn't need to have me lying naked strapped to a bed for three days. But an X-ray would have meant treating me as a human being; it would have allowed me to retain my self-respect.

Surely, there are many who would say, "They are criminals and deserve whatever they get." Fact is, a large number of men in prison enter redeemable, but they leave shamed, angry, emotionally unstable, psychologically damaged and determined they "will get back" for what has been done to them.

Anyone who believes that the inhumane treatment that prisoners receive is but a consequence of their actions would do better to understand that there is more than one consequence -- when prisoners are released and these broken men victimize others.

The strip search is known to produce only the breaking of wills and destruction of souls. Once "broken," a man will never again be normal. There will always be that memory of a society which did not care, of a system that raped him.

Dwight Abbott, who is incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison, is a regular contributor to The Beat Within, a weekly magazine of writing from inside juvenile halls, published by PNS. His book, "I Cried, You Didn't Listen" tells of growing up inside the California Youth Authority.

Look Homeward for Proof of Prison Torture

by Dwight Abbott, New America Media, Dec 08, 2005 

Editor's Note: You don't have to look abroad for "secret prisons" to know that the U.S. government resorts to torture. Just ask residents of the California prisons, writes PNS contributor Dwight Abbott, who has spent more than half his life in the California penal system.

SOLEDAD, Calif.--More than a year since the brutal treatment of prisoners inside Abu Ghraib was exposed, the Washington Post has reported that the CIA has been operating a secret system of "black site" interrogation centers in eight foreign countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Thailand.

Fact is, you don't have to go far, not to Thailand or Afghanistan, to find a "black site" that appears "beyond the reach of U.S. law." Get in your car, drive around the state of California, and you will drive by dozens of these sites -- the prisons, jails and Youth Authority detention centers that dot the rural landscape. As in all black sites, each successfully defies the law every day, and is rarely held accountable.

President Bush insists that "No one in U.S. custody is being tortured," despite testimony from some detainees who have been held in these secret prisons describing such techniques as "waterboarding" (prisoners strapped to a board and immersed in water until they feel they are drowning) and isolation in unlit cells, sometimes for years and with no legal access or human contact except for their CIA interrogators. At the same time, Bush has threatened to veto any legislation, like Sen. John McCain's amendment, banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners.

All of this sounds so very familiar to those of us who have been attempting to get the federal government to take over the California prison system because of proven corruption and continued abuse in many forms, not the least of which is physical.

I was a pre-teen child inside the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall. I graduated as a teenager into most of California's toughest Youth Authority penal institutions. As an adult who's spent nearly 50 years in our state prisons, I have long personally experienced much of what is now being described as torture of "terrorists" in our custody.

Though not "strapped to a board," I have been left naked, handcuffed to cell bars above my head, left with only the tips of my bare toes touching the concrete floor, and blasted with water from a fire hose until water filled my lungs and I knew I was drowning.

Once I lay naked upon the concrete, hands cuffed behind my back, a canvas bag over my head for four or five days (I cannot remember), without food or water as my keepers tried to destroy everything that I was.

I've been confined in a cell that had no lighting, no sink, no toilet and no bed other than a blanket on the floor next to a hole that was my bathroom. I lived in continuous darkness for five years. I received no correspondence, no visits other than from my keepers, who were intent on making me regret I was human. It was inside this cell that I wrote my first book on a roll of toilet paper after finding a guard who would crack open the steel door to allow dim light to seep in three hours each night.

I'm aware of hundreds of deaths from "unnatural causes," such as strangulation, asphyxiation and blunt-force injuries, that were blamed on "inmates unknown," when in some of those cases it was the guards who committed the murders. I've looked on as guards took a prisoner up to the fifth tier at San Quentin State Prison, handcuffed his wrists behind his back and chained his ankles together, knocked him down to the concrete floor and proceed to drag him by his feet down five flights of steel steps, leaving the inmate horribly bruised and bleeding, impressing upon those who watched from their cells what happens to those who don't follow the rules.

I've been "punished" and placed on a "Rationed Diet," which consisted of two cups of water and a soybean patty given twice a day for three days (you got a "hot meal" once). This went on for months at a time. I've watched men get pulled from their cells and forced to receive a "shock treatment" as punishment for being "uncooperative."

Over the years, there have been occasional protests regarding this abuse of prisoners right here at home, and there have been the standard denials -- "It never happened" -- as well as rare admissions when the abusers are caught with their pants down.

Anyone familiar with the California prison system knows that the practices of starving prisoners, beating them, "waterboarding" and murdering inmates continues to this very day. Can anyone take seriously the promises of a government that abuses its own citizens that "no (terrorist) in U.S. custody is being tortured?" Can anyone honestly expect such torture to stop?

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has decried the practices in the "black site" prisons abroad, stating that "starving, beating and waterboarding our enemies in secret gulags is not what this country is about." He has obviously never spent any time in the California prison system.

PNS contributor Dwight Abbott is incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison.

Why I Wrote: I Cried, You Didn't Listen

by Dwight E. Abbott, New America Media, July 18, 2006 

Editor's Note: Dwight Abbott, currently locked up in Salinas Valley State Prison, wrote the book, "I Cried, You Didn't Listen," first published in 1991 and now reprinted by AK Press, to expose the widespread abuse of incarcerated children. He has written a sequel and is seeking a publisher.

SOLEDAD, Calif.--What began as a distraction, something I hoped would help me to retain my sanity as I sat inside a dark and fixtureless solitary confinement cell for five years, became a "diary," if you will, that would later evolve into the book "I Cried, You Didn't Listen."

Though I realized I would likely be made to answer to my peers for exposing the dirty little secrets we keep hidden through our lives, I knew I had to give this story to all who might now be willing to read it. When faced with the choices between peer retribution or the chance to expose -- and hopefully end -- the widespread abuse of incarcerated children, it was not difficult to choose. I had no idea that my exposé would nearly get me killed -- not by fellow convicts, but prison guards!

Beginning in 1961, through the 46 years I have been incarcerated within the California state prison system, nearly every prisoner I have ever become acquainted with was first incarcerated while a minor child in the California Youth Authority (CYA) -- a powerfully dismal fact when you consider how the failed and dysfunctional youth penal system prepares children for the even more dysfunctional and failed adult prison system. The thousands with me here who were state-raised inside the CYA (newly called the Division of Juvenile Justice within the newly named Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), are testament to the profound degree of that failure. They represent the consequences of the unchecked, progressively brutal administration of the state's juvenile institutions in place of the nourishing care and treatment that are the necessary prerequisites for "rehabilitation" to take place. Because our political "leaders" are in bed with the powerful guards' union (CCPOA) -- which hands out millions of dollars in campaign contributions to those who will do their bidding -- our incarcerated children continue to be beaten, sexually abused and confined in environments that are too often more psychologically destructive even than what adult prisoners must endure.

Newsworthy events these past several years confirm these conditions: Several children have committed suicide while being "cared for" inside solitary confinement cells; youth have been set up by staff to engage in "gladiator battles" for the amusement of staff; young boys have been videotaped being beaten by staff while face down on the floor and handcuffed behind their backs; sexual and physical abuse by staff on wards (not to mention by wards on wards) continue to occur. And while we hear endless promises of reform, experience tells us that these promises will not be kept as corrections officials strike a pose for the cameras, then duck for cover and wait out the storm they know will pass.

As someone who has spent the better part of his adult life locked up, I can understand how difficult it is for the public to be sympathetic to our plight. But what I fail to understand is how a society that considers itself humane and decent can give up on its children. In the festering conditions that we have allowed in these institutions, even the meekest of the meek, feeling left with no other choice, will eventually turn and fight like tigers for the sake of their souls, for in the end, the evil done to them will be the evil they do in turn.

I lived these conditions, and it is the "education" that I received there, which I spelled out in my book, both as a way to expose conditions that our officials will deny exist (and which too many of the public would rather not know about), and as a way to recapture a sense of my own childhood that was stolen from me. It was from the darkest and deepest hole in our deep and dark prison system that the tears -- and the words -- finally began to flow in a stream of brutal memories that became "I Cried, You Didn't Listen." In turning to face the demons that were engendered in me then, I have written this book in one last desperate hope to bring us to our senses, and allow us to see our children -- all of them -- as our future.

As an Inmate Dies, Why Not Save a Million Dollars?

wby Dwight E. Abbott, New America Media Sept. 01, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s prison medical system is dysfunctional, costly and wasteful, says the writer, a longtime prison inmate. Dwight Abbott, who is currently locked up in Salinas Valley State Prison, offers a practical solution to the problem. Abbott is the author of, "I Cried, You Didn't Listen," first published in 1991 to expose the widespread abuse of incarcerated children. Revised 2012 and available at Amazon.com, CreateSpace and other book outlets. 


SALINAS VALLEY STATE PRISON -- When an inmate’s health begins to deteriorate and he accepts that death is near, the prisoner rarely seeks anything more than to end life upon this Earth with dignity and some creature comforts. Instead, he’s given, as it always has been, meager care and is most often treated no differently from inmates with minor complaints.

Among a number of problems detrimental to a chronically ill prisoner’s existence in a “general population” setting, is the fact that they’re among often rebellious inmates, gangbangers and troublemakers, who create a constantly violent and stressful environment.

There are the bullies who are under the misconception that they get respect by picking on handicapped inmates, many of whom are confined to wheelchairs. Then there are the guards whose sole focus is, understandably, “security.” They’re not trained to care for the growing geriatric population, nor do they have time to pick and choose as they quell daily physical confrontations among the young and healthy prisoners, in which handicapped inmates are often caught in the middle.

There are many inmates with lung diseases such as emphysema, laboring to inhale life-preserving oxygen and are often forced to share that air with clouds of pepper spray.

“I was sitting outside in my wheelchair,” one inmate exclaims. “there was a fight nearby and several guards began to pepper spray the combatants. I lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital; that pepper spray damn near killed me.”

“If we complain we are taken to C.T.C. (medical facility) and put into an empty cell,” a 76-year-old man shared with me.

“All we got there is a blank wall to stare at, as if we are being punished for having the nerve to ask for decent care. After 87 days, I had to sign out against medical advice to get back into general population.”

By so refusing treatment, the above inmate has cleared the way for medical personnel to absolve themselves of negligence should there later be “complications.”

I’m a criminal; I’ve been one since I was a teenager. For this rebellious behavior, my punishment has been to exist nearly my entire life incarcerated, beginning in 1957. Through this time I’ve suffered unbelievable punishment with little complaint. I’m the first to admit I’m not a nice person and that I don’t deserve to be free. Yet, as bad as I am, I’ve never stood and watched another human being suffer, without reaching out and attempting to help -- even those who have been my enemies.

There’s a way to do the right thing here for everyone, and it can have a twofold effect as it will also create the alleged “much needed additional beds to deal with overcrowding.”

Instead of building “two prisons,” as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with a representative of the powerful guards union, CCPOA, would have you believe is “the only way to resolve the immediate crisis,” why not build two prison hospitals? One would be for the chronically ill, the seriously handicapped and the frail elderly inmates, where they would be compassionately cared for as all human beings deserve, no matter their faults in life.

The second prison hospital would be for the thousands of mentally ill inmates currently assigned to nearly every state prison in California. In this hospital they would get the long-term care and treatment they require and deserve, without being taken advantage of by predators on the prison yards.

At long last, the California Department of Corrections could perform its lawful duty to care for those who have difficulty caring for themselves. The taxpayers, finally, would get what they’ve been paying for all along but not receiving, and save tens of millions of dollars in the process. All of this by simply centralizing habitually ill inmates, voiding the need to rush them out to public hospitals each time a medical crisis arises.

To appreciate this proposal, consider the current cost of each in-town “doctor’s appointment” scheduled every day, throughout all of California’s prisons, for dozens of inmates who must then be transported by armed prison guards. Also, there are the hundreds of inmates each year, mostly elderly and chronically ill, who periodically suffer life-threatening medical emergencies that often require admission into a public hospital. With so much taxpayer money to go around, prison guards “bid,” using their “seniority,” for emergency medical transport duty. For each guard, often three per inmate being transported, so-called overtime pay amounts to nearly $1,000 for each 16-hour period.

The California Department of Corrections currently owes in taxpayer money approximately $56 million that has not yet been paid to hospitals, air and ground ambulance services and doctors utilized to treat inmates who had life-threatening medical emergencies. This is but a fraction of what has been paid out in recent years, but there are hospitals that haven’t been paid that refuse to admit sick prisoners.

In addition, take into consideration that each and every time an inmate is taken from prison and escorted into town, citizens are placed at risk. Many prisoners are dangerous; they range from the extremely desperate and most violent of all criminals, to the pathetic, non-violent, recently-made-desperate drug user serving a life sentence under California’s Three Strikes Law.

Right now we have the opportunity to reform a dysfunctional and costly medical system that has long ripped off taxpayers and unnecessarily taken the lives of more than 1,040 inmates in the past 20 years. Fix it now or fix it later -- I suppose that will depend on how much money we choose to continue flushing down the proverbial toilet.

Black Market In Tobacco Makes Prisons More Violent

by Dwight Abbott, New America Media April 14, 2007 

Editor’s Note: The new ban on tobacco products in California state prisons has created a valuable black market commodity --with all the dangers that go with it, writes Dwight Abbott. Abbott is serving a long prison sentence at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California. His book, “I Cried, You Didn’t Listen,” about growing up in the California Youth Authority in the 1950s, has just been republished by AK Press.

SALINAS VALLEY STATE PRISON, Soledad, Calif. -- The Department of Corrections (and Rehabilitation) knew it was going to happen before it banned tobacco products from California prisons. An “experiment” was conducted for several years earlier in the California Medical Facility state prison in Vacaville banning all tobacco. Within weeks, tobacco was being smuggled into the prison by visitors and guards. One $10, six-ounce can of Bugler tobacco then sold for $50.00, gradually increasing to $300.00. Individual cigarettes or “rollies” (400 can be made), first priced at $1.00, became $10.00 each. Three months passed, and a pack of Camel cigarettes was selling for $150.00 plus. Violence erupted as profits proved tobacco to be more valuable than drugs. Everybody wanted a piece of the action.

No matter those disheartening findings, to “improve working conditions and cut health care cost among inmates,” the DOC bulled forward: there would be no smoking by inmates or guards beginning July, 2005. The results, as expected, mirror exactly what occurred at the California Medical Facility. Black marketing of tobacco became more profitable than marijuana or heroin, with penalties — if caught — a misdemeanor criminal offense, at worst. “So what if I get caught? What are they going to do to me?” asked one mother. “My son smokes, I smoke, and I won’t be in jail but a minute, if that.”

“Hell, my family was smuggling drugs in to me so I can help support them. Now, they bring me tobacco instead. We are living better, and they don’t have to worry about going to jail on a felony,” bragged one prison friend of mine.

Lt. K. Calhoun, a correctional officer at Northern Sierra prison camp, told one reporter, “I’ve never seen anything like it. A pack of cigarettes sells for $125.00!”

At 172,000 convicts, California has the largest prison population in our nation, filled with some of the most criminally sophisticated men and women in this country. Rather than limiting prisoners to “smokeless” tobacco products only, as most of the other states have done, state officials decided California would be one of only a few states to ban all tobacco products.

“We’re going to get ours,” one “gangster” told me. “Money is good.”

“Yeah,” his comrade followed up. “DOC knew what they were starting. All it has to do now to stop it is allow ‘smokeless’ products like the other states do.”

Tobacco will always be in prisons, just as there has always been every kind of illegal drug. There has been an increase in family members and friends willing to smuggle tobacco in, viewing it as a harmless pastime for incarcerated loved ones who have few to no other pleasures.

Inmates caught smoking risk little to no discipline. Most of the guards who once smoked here are now chewing tobacco (a violation) while others continue to smoke, discretely, when working. They are not going out of their way to enforce a law they view as ridiculous, and for the most part unenforceable.

Inmates on outside work crews pick up cigarette butts along the roadside and smuggle them back into the prisons where other inmates line up to buy the tobacco that has been culled. Brawls have broken out between different groups, and there have been a number of violent assaults as groups argued over who would get how much.

Recently, at the maximum-security prison at Pelican Bay, a convict who had been paroled hours earlier was found sneaking back onto prison grounds holding a pillowcase filled with 50 ounces of tobacco worth nearly $10,000. He had intended to throw it over the institution’s fence where his associates were waiting to retrieve it.

“It’s becoming a better market than drugs,” shared Correctional Officer Hawkes, an anti-gang coordinator at Pelican Bay. Actually, from where this writer sits, it already is.

A guard at Solano State Prison was discovered smuggling tobacco. He admitted earning “several hundreds of dollars each week” in this way. A prison cook at Folsom Prison chose to quit his job after plastic bags filled with tobacco were found in the pockets of his jacket. He admitted to earning approximately $1,000 a week. “It was more than I was being paid by the DOC to cook for the inmates.”

Another Folsom prison chef admitted she was being given $300 for every six-ounce can of rolling tobacco she smuggled into the prison. The convicts were having money orders mailed to her address.

“I didn’t see any harm in it,” she said. “It’s not like I was bringing in the heroin and crystal meth these guys get.”

“How you going to stop it?” questioned one guard. “We can’t keep narcotics out of here, and God knows we try. Personally, I’m not busting an inmate smoking a cigarette in his cell calming his nerves.”

“Corrections has always gone overboard, as if to punish the inmates as much as possible,” explained one of the doctors at Salinas Valley Prison. “It appears the U.S. states that ban smoking but not chewing tobacco do not have the additional problems California has created for itself.”

He is correct. Known for cutting off its nose to spite its face, the DOC has added additional and unnecessary woes to a system already burdened with trouble. As a result of its own actions, inmate violence has risen, which increases costs — along with the dangers that prison guards face every day as different groups vie to control the lucrative black market created by making all tobacco products into contraband.

Magicians, Creating an Illusion of Change   

by Dwight Abbott, New America Media, April 13, 2010

The three judges who stayed their order to reduce the state’s prison population , I believe to be naïve, or possibly tired and becoming fatalistic. Schwarzenegger has absolutely no intention of complying, only delaying. Before the Supreme Court considers the state’s appeal, he and his bunch will be long gone, and another administration will begin the process anew — using our system of “justice” to grant a seek a postponement until California’s new ruler has had time to “study the proposal,” and in turn, begin submitting his discourse, and “revised plan.”

It has now been nearly fourteen years since this fiasco began, fourteen years of evasive legal maneuvering. All the while, inmates continue to die unnecessarily, the direct consequence of the overcrowding that perpetrates violent confrontation and overworked doctors, unable to provide reasonable, basic medical care.

The facts today are now known by anyone who reads the newspaper; California’s Corrections Administration has always known them. Yet, it took a federal takeover to squeeze out an admission that “there are problems.” This from the same people who immediately after, refused to comply with demands to repair what is broken. All the while, both sides — the courts who have the authority to force the reform, and the state officials not wanting it to — appear to have forgotten the inmates who are continuing to die unnecessarily because of the inhumane conditions being wrangled over… Collateral damage.

End overcrowding? End warehousing and abusing incarcerated juveniles? Compel California to act on previous court orders issued through the years? The Administration has no fear of the courts, with good reason. No person calling the shots in this matter has yet to be charged (much less jailed) for being in contempt of a court mandate after refusing to comply. Until that changes, the children will not be “rehabilitated.” They will not be allowed an education (locked inside a 4’x4’ screened cage five hours a day), participate in therapy, or to partake in vocational training, watched over by an independent watchdog group assuring what is supposed to be happening. The 90% recidivism rate among juvenile offenders will not change. They are fodder to fill the state’s bloated adult prisons.

What programs could be brought to life to change this dismal, unending record of failure? In the long run, only a return to indeterminate sentencing, with built-in incentives (like early release) for prisoners to participate can work to reduce a cycle that no one seems able or willing to break. If prisoners knew that immersing themselves in programs that teach them to read, to address their addictions, to learn violence reduction strategies, to have access to vocational training that actually prepares a prisoner for meaningful employment, you would see a dramatic decline in the worst aspects of prison life, and a dramatic increase in legal and productive behavior when they hit the streets, as almost all will.

What to do right now about overcrowding? Admit parole is a fake! Under California’s sentencing guidelines, those today being paroled have, in reality, completed their sentence. The problem lies with the courts adding on years of parole, to be served after a sentence is completed. Implemented, perhaps, with the best of intentions, in truth, parole only serves a huge number of men and women employed by the state as Parole Officers at a cost of over a billion dollars annually. They in turn guarantee the CDCR its prisons remain overcrowded with “technical parole violators,” which then guarantees prison guards (whose annual salary ranges between $50,000 and $60,000) an opportunity to pad their checks with an additional $100,000+ of taxpayer’s money in overtime pay each year.

What should be obvious to anyone reading this: there is no need to release so much as one convict who has not yet completed his/her sentence. Instead, release those who have, and are presently among the 30,000 “technical” parole violators who, at any given time, languish in California’s overcrowded prisons for up to one year, trapped by a broken system which has recidivism rates of close to 70%, the highest in the United States.

If you want to know what you get for the $32,000 it costs to imprison these parole violators (a billion dollars annually), take a look, for example, at San Quentin’s South and West cellblocks where hundreds of men lie sweltering in bunks stacked three high out on the tiers, who must duck and dodge 24/7 the trash thrown from the four tiers above. They are among the 30,000 parole violators who should be released, and thus end — even if only temporarily — the overcrowding crisis, eliminating the need to release inmates who have not completed their sentences. Once prisoners have completed a prison sentence, they should remain in society, unless they commit a new crime.

Thus, having temporarily resolved the overcrowding problem, those truly interested in serious reform of this failed system will then have time to sit back, take a deep breath, and present a multitude of ideas that have worked in other states, without the necessity for short-term fixes demanded when the system is in crisis, and inmates are dying.

I cannot end without drawing on my five decades of experience in this system to add that whatever plan is given over to CDCR to improve conditions inside its prisons, will be abused. I have lived it. The CDCR is comprised of magicians, creating the illusion that it is a faithful steward of the people and their billions of tax dollars that allow them to operate. Their magic gives those who want to believe the illusion that its intentions are honorable. The truth is quite the opposite.

Dwight Abbott, the author of  I Cried, You Didn't Listen and CONSEQUENCE: the aftermath, is serving four life sentences at Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad, California

CDC Policy

This piece by SunMansLight (Dwight Abbott) sheds light on the worsening situation in California’s prisons. Describing the “get tough” approach that just keeps getting worse, with its numbing effects on prisoners’ souls, he reminds us that most will re-enter society more bitter and unprepared to deal with it than when they left it for prison. He wonders if it isn’t all a deliberate policy to break men down. This is a man who’s been around the track more than once, an OG who speaks from bitter experience. (We just received a letter from him chronicling the eight days in June during which Salinas Valley State Prison, where he resides, found their water source was contaminated, and were rationing water while confining prisoners to their cells.)

 

Recently I spoke with Mark Martin of the San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper. Our conversation lasted no more than ten minutes over telephone before Mr. Martin suddenly ended our conversation leaving me wondering how what I was sharing with him was received. He did tell me he would be in future contact.

Of course, we discussed prison conditions and events that are of interest to the media right now – until something else comes along that will sell more newspapers and magazines.

The upcoming “no smoking policy” that will take effect on or before January 01, 2004, and has not got the attention I feel it deserves, I was unable to discuss with Mr. Martin as time did not permit. I have a considerable amount of concern as to the true goal of the Department of Corrections as it implements this policy.

While State Correction Officials claim such a policy will save California taxpayers “ millions of dollars in health care cost each year,” will it, and is that its primary purpose?

Or could this new policy be no more than another silent step of many the CDC has already taken toward assuring inmates live within an environment so restrictive, so emotionally and psychologically devastating it aids in possibly “brain washing” inmates?

Could it possibly be next phase in a plan formulated within the DOC several years back to form a population of inmates in which their guards’ primary duty will soon consist of little more than watching over broken, numb men so destroyed by their experience here they leave totally dependent upon society’s mental health and welfare programs because they are no longer able to care for themselves?

Before you toss this to the side with the thought “some crazy” has written it, please read it through.

Years back I wrote an article that was published on “Brain Washing and Breaking of The Spirit.” It described the process to accomplish it, and its long-term effects. I wrote it when it became obvious to me my jailers were up to something more than their usual abusive treatment of inmates inside level three and four prisons.

Then governor Pete Wilson paved the way by stripping from us what was known as the prisoner bill of rights. He did this without first seeking approval from the courts that supported this bill which better protected inmates from becoming victims of sadistic and violent guards. Actually, in theory, it protected us from a long list of abuses too many to list here.

With a simple swift stroke of his pen, Wilson opened the long closed door, without scrunity of media since prisoners were no longer allowed contact with news reporters without first going through a near impossible process put in place by the CDC afterward, for the Department of Corrections to inform its inmates they must all begin to wear similar clothing, identical short haircuts, be at all times clean shaven (and to tell anyone questioning the new policy that its purpose is to “enforce personal hygiene.”)

With these new “rules” in place, the systematic destruction of one’s very important, in most cultures, sense of individuality began.

Next, another policy was issued which informed inmates they were no longer allowed to display personal photographs inside their cell, nor use “clothes lines” to hang wet clothes to dry, and personal property was to be limited to what would fit inside a 1x2x3-foot steel box bolted to cell walls. In other words, the cells were at all times to appear bare.

One by one, all ‘privileges’ were then eliminated. The first two were the boxing and weight lifting programs which served to teach inmates how to properly rid themselves of frustration and aggression. Then the eight hours each day allowed outside on the prison yard became four hours, then two, and now it is two hours every day other day.

Most job and vocational trade assignments were eliminated other than those essential to running the prisons, such as janitorial, food services and some “Prison Industries.” This left more than 135,000 inmates without jobs, without tasks to occupy and stimulate them.

Families who were once allowed to enter prison seven days a week to visit their incarcerated loved ones were informed “visiting” would be reduced to four days a week. Soon, it became three days. Recently under the guise of a “budget crisis,” it became two days. As the result, tens of thousands of family members and inmates have been effectively denied physical contact with one another.

Inmates were once given by the DOC, (as was budgeted for, and still is), items necessary to keep himself and his cell clean. Again, under the guise of budget problems, most of these items have been severely limited. Others have been eliminated altogether such as disinfectant, cleanser, and rags with which we were once able to clean our cells, toilets and sinks.

If we are lucky, and the “weekly “ allotment of “supplies” arrive at the prison, we are now given a 1/4 ounce bar of soap with which we are expected to wash ourselves, our personal clothing and our cells. On rare occasion, we are given a 1/4-ounce tube of toothpaste.

If we use up the roll of toilet paper we are given weekly, we are told to use our fingers.

For several years now, prisoners have been periodically locked inside their cells for periods lasting up to twenty months, as the media recently exposed happened at Folsom. Through the past fourteen months here art Salinas Valley State Prison we have been confined to our cells, twenty-four hours a day, a total of nearly eight months.

While the media reporters and the “bleeding hearts” (as prison “reformers” are referred to by prison administrators) are told these lock downs are for the “safety and security of the institution, staff and inmates while an ongoing investigation continues, “ inmates are denied all access to the prison canteen.

It is at the canteen where prisoners with money on their “account” can buy, and share with others, detergent, bath soap, toothpaste, shampoo, toothbrushes, and skin care products, as well as writing paper, pencils, envelopes and postage stamps. (Inmates with funds on their account cannot obtain “frees postage.” As a result, most of us during these lengthy lock downs are unable to correspond with those in the outside world.)

Therefore, months into these lock downs, every prisoner becomes totally dependent upon his guards to supply him with “minimal necessities.”

Further, during these lock downs we are not allowed to make phone calls, and there are lengthy delays between three to six weeks, at times longer, in which prisoners are not given correspondence mailed to them from the outside.

Visiting was always suspended during lock downs, but that practice raised considerable public outcry because it was happening so often. It is now rarely halted.

With this, now that inmates are separated from all they have known to be ‘normal’ throughout their lives, and no longer surrounded by supporters consisting of family and friends, sleep deprivation appears to become our captors’ goal. From the early morning to late night we are constantly yelled at. Throughout the night there are blaring ‘announcement’ over the intercom system. Guards constantly walk by our cells whistling, talking loudly, striking the bars and doors with their batons, allowing any equipment they carry to bang loudly together.

As unnecessary as this activity obviously is, could it be part of a plan to systematically ‘break down’ human beings? Whatever the reason, along with the cumulative events I have listed to this point, it leaves a prison population psychologically and emotionally defeated over time, and dependent upon their jailers to care for them in every conceivable way. At that point “based upon an individuals behavior” it determined who will be given a “ privilege,” and who will not.

This is brain washing in its simplest form. Many may state it is not, and attempt to explain it is no more than necessary consequences to “ control” the prisoners, but the reality is there are many other avenues to oversee and control a prison population without destroying lives.

History has proven brainwashing leaves a trail of broken human beings who will doubtfully ever again be productive, self-supporting individuals; who will forever more be dependent upon the goodness and generosity of other people, and who will be a drain upon societies resources.

These men and women will be released back into society, as eighty-five percent of all convicted felons will be again, and what will not be obvious is their well-hidden frustration and anger.

Long before they, or someone else, can seek out the professional help needed to reverse –– if indeed it is reversible –– the damage done, the prisoner will have failed in his attempt to integrate back into society. He will have returned to prison as one of the statistical seventy-six percent of the 125,000 California inmates paroled each year who violate conditions of their parole or commit a new criminal act.

(Also note: there are 25,000 inmates presently serving life sentences under the Three Strikes law, all who had been on parole at some time.)

The California prison system has been a failure since its conception, and it is not the prisoners alone who suffer as the result. Often more importantly –– depending upon what side of the fence you are on –– it fails those members of society who depend upon the California Department of Corrections to protect them from convicted felons.

Release an angry, confused, frustrated human being from prison, who is often suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that person will victimize innocent people again.

I think it’s also notable and telling, the amazing difference in attitude, outlook and demeanor of inmates depending upon the prison facility they are incarcerated. Those serving their sentences at Level One and Two prisons appear to have lives filled with hope for a future that will not include further incarceration, and their overall conduct reflects that.

Could this be in part because they are not confined inside cells for indefinite periods of time, work at job assignments, learn vocational trades to prepare them for release, enjoy daily recreational activities, eat food that has not been watered down, interact with guards who are not threatening and abusive, and are participating within an environment that is conducive to rehabilitation?

Enter Levels Three and Four here at Salinas Valley State Prison, and observe the opposite. Here you will see the wolf in a cage staring back at you, no recognition of your humanity. He sees nothing more than a shape, and is wondering how to get at it. There will be an obvious and notable strength, but, it is purely predatory. There is none of the softness of morality or conscience, only strength and will.

Our keepers might explain that this is the reason for the different Levels. In theory, understandable. In ‘fact,’ it is a system bent on breaking the spirits of these men.

 

The CDC has created a prison environment in which they cultivate psychological and emotional repression. Beware! The often subservient, servitude demeanor one observes in its prisoners is but a surface appearance serving much like a dam holding back all manner of repressed rage and frustration.

That dam occasionally leaks in an orderly controlled way that is most often ignored by the prison Administrators for the warning it is. When that dam breaks, and it most assuredly will, the waters of rage, frustration, and tormented souls will sweep uncontrolled, down through and over the valley before it, leaving a wide path of death and destruction that did not need to happen. Torture the prisoner, and he will fight like a tiger, relentlessly, viciously. The most gentle and tender of spirits are always the most terrible when they fight for the sake of their soul.

Most often, the DOC sets the stage for prisoner unrest and violence, creating an intense need in those incarcerated to secure a safe private space inside prison, and it runs deep. For it is in that space we struggle to keep our sanity. Prevalent circumstances mold the need for such a sanctuary into something appearing, and may well be, psychologically irrational –– until those who observe this phenomenon understand how the California penal system makes this so.

For the most part, the world outside deals with invasion of their space with indignation. The incarcerated are forced to deal with it in a manner that is often violent, and with deadly consequences. How else can we save who we are when our keepers will not let us be?

Politician’s in cohort with big business, astoundingly profitable for its DOC employees who make up one of this country’s most powerful unions, has somehow convinced gullible citizens taxpayers that there are no other ways to deal with “the problem.”

In truth there are a number of ways to approach “the problem” that would end the abuse of society’s outlaws, and better serve California’s law-abiding citizens.

 

I am certain there would be many, should they read what I have written here, who would assume these words are no more than the ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic with “too much time on his hands,” someone with “an axe to grind.” That is exactly what prison administrators said when my non-fiction book about the California Youth Authority was published. Yet everything I wrote about the abuse of children in that system thirteen years ago has recently been proven true, and continues today.

Writings of a man gone mad or a penal system gone amuck?

Whatever anyone’s take on our penal system, one fact should stand out above all else: The time to fix something that is broken is while it’s in the repair shop, not after.

 

 

The Beat Within Articles

Sonny was a frequent contributor to  The Beat Within - writings for and by incarcerated juveniles - (http://www.thebeatwithin.org/) . The following are articles taken from there. (Note: dates are not available for all of them so I apologize if they are not in any sort of order).

Cop Killing

Writing from Salinas Valley State Prison, veteran BWO writer SunMan’sLight, shares his light on the controversy now surrounding the shooting of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza. While the police cry for the death penalty for the alleged shooter, SunMan’sLight asks why they haven’t shown the same concern for the many, many people of color (all colors, including white) who have been the victim of murder in the Projects.

 

The “Message” Has Been Heard

   Since the murder of a police officer in San Francisco recently, not a day goes by I have not heard how his fellow officers now  “want to send a message that the justice system has the backs of police officers who put their lives on the line everyday. “

“Send  a message,“ they cry out to the San Francisco  district attorney, the California attorney general , and to Governor Schwarzenegger.

Each time, I am left wondering why are these same law enforcement officials never heard in unison, as they now are after the murder of one of their own, when someone is murdered in the Projects?

If no one else heard their cries, I am certain those men, women and children, living inside the Projects, their lives “on the line every day,” have, loud and clear. “The police don’t care until it is one of their own.”

How many children, how many adults, black, brown, white, have been murdered in San Francisco? How many times have the police united, and demanded the lives of the perpetrators who committed those murders be taken by the state? How can they, with this kind of message being sent out to them, believe in and trust the system?

Is it any wonder that the attitude of those living in the Projects is, “Us against them?”

A young black woman living in the Projects, who was shot six times as her son watched through the window, recently requested “the system” she is trapped in move her to another area where she and her family would be safe. That request was denied. If she was a member of the San Francisco Police force, would her request have been granted?

There is no way to know how many years of work and effort put into giving troubled  children hope that the system will eventually work for them has been ripped away by this. Just as we began to sense they are listening, and will act upon those ideas we share that are conducive to positive change in their lives, a message is sent out that the system does not care about them.

What do we now do in turn?

I suppose what we always have done: tell them the truth, that the system is imperfect, and often outright sucks –– as they have known all along.

But, be sure they know the only way out is to care about themselves.

Is Writing Enough?

Out of the darkness of deep depression, SunMansLight ultimately shines through. In the darkness that came with four life sentences plus 100 years, this OG at Salinas Valley State Prison (where prisoners spend more time locked down than not) contemplated suicide. Though he gives credit to letters received from his brother and a friend, we believe it is his own innate spirit, a powerful life force that has always coursed in his blood that prevented him from carrying out his plan. Instead, he rediscovered the power of writing which has saved him in the past and –– it is both his and our hope –– will reach the hearts of some youngsters in time to save them as well.

Salina’s Valley State Prison

Recently, an article I wrote about Salinas Valley State Prison was published. This has served to increase my motivation to back into writing.

For now there is nothing else available to me. Will it be enough to take me away from the reality I now live in?

I suppose I have known for a long time that forcing an upbeat optimism could not get me through this. Surely I realized that if I am to overcome the normal emotional upheaval, and psychological trauma which naturally occurs as a person experiences devastating, life-changing events, I needed to get real with myself, but I was reluctant to look that deeply into myself.

There are many like me who tend to hide all thoughts and feelings from everyone around them. In their place a face is presented upon which there reflects none of the apprehension, the pain, the tears wept when no one else is looking. We do not want anyone to view us as being “weak.” Besides, everyone has their problems. Who would want to deal with our woes?

Here inside prison, my first year as a “lifer” recently passed. It has been the most difficult time I have ever experienced, a roller coaster ride that has taken my emotions down, under, and over. Though it has slowed, it has not yet stopped.

I am left certain I will never again experience joy and happiness as once I did, but I do know if I can find my way to “acceptance” I will stabilize. Will I achieve that? Who the hell knows?

When the judge sentenced me to four life sentences, plus one hundred years, my life as I had to know it was over. Never again would I experience those things, big or small, that made my life one filled with purpose, direction, joy and sadness, laughter and tears. No, life as I knew it through the years was at an end.

During the first few months of my incarceration, I could not keep my thoughts from playing out like a video taped movie, over and over, a “movie” detailing the events which led me to stand before that judge; the events during which I felt betrayed by most who I love, took care of, who I lived my life for.

Some will understand that what made it even more painfully difficult was I could not stop loving those who became my Judases, for I truly believed they did what they felt they had to do to survive another day.

I decide to give myself “one year.” Three hundred and sixty five days during which I would go to battle against all that threatened to destroy me psychologically and emotionally. I would fight to rid myself of demons attempting to consume me. Should at the end of that year I continue to feel defeated, “I would kill myself.”

From the beginning, I knew I was not going to make it, but I felt I owed it to the four proven friends in my life, as well as myself. Upon my arrival at San Quentin, I wrote letters that were never responded to. I began to believe, at times became convinced that the few who I felt cared were no longer emotionally strong enough to go on with me in their lives. Much as I tried to, I could not blame them. Though I may have felt better if I could have, it was not in me to do so.

As the days passed, I began to weaken in my resolve to “wait one year.” The very evening I decided I could not go on, that I would hang myself before nights end, I received two letters, one from my brother, and the other one from one of my friend, Michael.

Though I have never told either of them, those two letters kept me from suicide. With the two hundred dollars Michael had included with his letter, I was able to purchase much desired items, such as writing material, craved-after Folgers instant coffee, and contraband cigarette tobacco.  Ever so slightly, I began to feel better. I had been able to gather a few comforts in an otherwise uncomfortable and hostile environment.

Weeks would pass, all efforts to overcome my severe bouts with depression would fail.

Never before had I so personally experienced anything like this. It would hurt as nothing else had ever hurt me; not stab wounds, not bullet wounds, nor the many good old fashion ass kickings I got growing up. This felt more like I had been placed into a press of some sort which slowly squeezed, caused the air to rush out from my lungs while every bone in my body was being crushed into a fine dust. I was unable to take a deep breath. Even my shallow breathing hurt. My entire body would spasm, and my thoughts would jumble together. I could not eat. Slight movement caused the pain to explode.

(Though one might think it was a “drug withdrawal” I have just described, it was not. I had already gone through that inside the county jail.)

When I would look at the few photographs I possessed, the memories they would conjure up caused me to cry. I had to remove them from all my cell walls, and place them where I was unable to see them.

Over time, though, letters began to arrive on a regular basis which helped to keep me from being grasped by the insanity lurking just beyond. There were minutes, days, sometimes weeks, during which I silently screamed as I continued to lose my battle with depression during which I became convinced I would eventually kill myself.  No way was I going to live like this.

There came a time I realized I was writing two, three, often four letters each day to my friend Michael, to my brother Skippy, and to my lady friend of many years, Heather. I felt forced to ask myself, “Why?” After all, I had concluded I was not going to receive the many letters I had expected in response.

Within the darkness of my depression, I was unable to “see,” to understand that people on the “outside” do not have the luxury of time to write as often as I needed and wanted them too. That it was not because they did not care. As a result, I would continuously ask myself, “Why do you keep writing, you idiot? They are not going to write back.” Just as often, I would decide to stop. “If they are not going to write me back, to hell with them.” How unfair I was.

Of course, obviously, I did not stop. I continued my letter writing campaign.

I “knew” I was losing my mind. Even though I began to feel I “may as well write to my frikking cell wall,” I continued to write eight, nine, fifteen page letters everyday. With every letter I mailed out, I continued to ask myself, “What the hell are you doing?”

In the darkness a light came on. Suddenly I could “see.”

In the light, it was clear the reason I did not stop, despite the fact I was not receiving the “dozens of letters” I felt I should, was that writing gave me something to do. It was the only tool available that offered me a way to express my thoughts, what I was feeling, the fears which chilled me, my disappointments, the pain in my heart, and my concerns that I would lose my sanity.

Though I would write about all those things that were so very painful for me, those things I feared were dooming me to insanity, and wished I could stop thinking about, I discovered something. Writing had the magical effect of taking me away from the “bottom line” that was the root of all that was haunting me: the cold, hard, indisputable fact I am to die in prison.

I traded fifteen hand rolled Buglar tobacco cigarettes for a dictionary, and began to rewrite each letter, sometimes several times, before mailing it. Not only did I want every word spelled correctly, but I discovered the definition of each word I looked up would send me to another word with the same, or similar meaning that I could use.

I began to spend hours each day reading through my dictionary learning much about the English language, along with the dozens of different ways I could word every sentence I wrote. Though it was, and continues to be, important to me, as well as a need that I have, to hear from those standing with me, I have realized while I am thinking out what I choose to write, while placing my pen to the paper upon which I ink words, that I am utilizing the most powerful weapon in this world.

With pen in hand, I am a warrior. I have decided I will not live upon my knees, nor crawl through the muck of self-pity. If I must, with my pen I will manipulate my environment rather than fall prey to it. With pen and paper, I am prepared to move forward, and onto whatever lies ahead. I am determined to be victorious in the many battles which now lay in wait before me, prepared to raise their ugly heads and strike out.

Today, February 29, 2004, I give myself another year. Only this time instead of two reasons, I now have three. Not only do I owe it to myself and the few who love and care for me, I now do so again with the hope that what I write will make a difference in the lives of others as it is surely making a difference in mine.

 

It was sixteen years ago, during a time I wrote a book that would later be published, when I began a quest to change the corruption and abuse inside the California Youth Authority. Though many called me a “liar” back then, recent exposés of that system have proven I, in fact, did write the truth. I would like to think my book, in some small way, helped to bring the political controversy waging today.

I have no idea what the future holds for me. I have no idea if I will win all my battles. I doubt it. I cannot promise the battles I do win will win me the war. I will take it one day at a time and do the best I can. After all, we only fall by quitting.

In the meantime, I will take up that which is directly responsible for the fact I continue to breathe air, my pen. There is nothing more powerful, more life changing, more satisfying than the words we write.

Of course, we have all read a lot of b.s. There is a lot of it out there, but whoever wrote what they wanted others to hear, surely they felt better afterward. That is one of many positive effects writing has. Not all of us can be a Sydney Sheldon. For sure, I will never be. And though each of us has at least one book inside of us, kicking and screaming to get out, not all of us will write and have it published.

I have read pieces riddled with typos, and obviously not written by Harold Robbins, yet they were so very powerful, worthy of reading, and moved me to better understand the person who wrote them. The writers who I know have never won a spelling bee. I surely did not. I spend a lot of time in my dictionary as I write.  Not many of us have a graduate degree in literary arts. It’s a sure bet there is no way I am going to get one.

It took me many years to write as I do today, and I still screw it up more often than I care to admit. I make up for it with the fortitude and determination writing has instilled within me.

A knuckle head, it took awhile for me to realize the only way I am going to be ‘heard’ is if I pick up a pen, place its point upon a piece of paper, and labor to make words I want “heard” to spring from it.

For those of us who are incarcerated, there is nothing more powerful  than the pen we have married to paper. With it, we can escape, take ourselves anywhere we want to go, create worlds where we can frolic rather than vegetate twenty-four-seven inside our cells.

When there is no one around to share our thoughts and feelings with, we can put it down on paper, and The Beat Staff will make sure thousands of people “hear” us.

For as long as we have pen and paper we will be heard. We will never be alone. We will make a difference in our own lives, and the lives of others.

Many years ago, writing changed the very bad person I had become. Strangely or not, when I stopped writing the last three years I was on the outside, I managed to destroy my life. Now that I have found it again, things are slowly getting better. It is never “too late” until we say it is.

Thank you David I (The Beat) for giving me this forum. Thank you Michael for the many years of loyal and honorable friendship you have giving me, and your constant encouragement, not only of my writing, but in all aspects of my life. You and Jimmy have taught me much.  

If the Beat Staff indulges me, I would like to thank my brother Skippy, and his wife, Terry, for always being there. And Heather, my lady friend of many years, I have always loved you. I shout out my respects to you and your mother.

                  

God

Although we received this as a personal letter (we have been friends for some years), it is so full of profound thinking that we had to share it with The Beat. From a near-lifetime spent in cages, this remarkable writer now imprisoned in Salinas Valley State Prison ponders the meaning of life, the existence of God –– and concludes that whether one believes or not, the world would be a better place if all lived by the religious commandments that boil down to this: love one another.

 

Is This All There Is?

 

This morning I awakened with a question in my thoughts that caused me to understand after 62 years my existence has had little, if any, meaning.  I sat upon the edge of my bunk; I looked around to seemingly, eerily, see for the first time the bare concrete walls of my cell, its steel door, my prison uniform folded neatly inside my metal locker.

At the age of nine years I sat upon another bunk, inside another cell at the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall and looked around in the same manner, bewildered, feeling abandoned, scared and lost within a cold and uncaring world. 

Again at the ages of twelve through seventeen years inside the cells at Nelles, Paso Robles, and Preston School of Industry, each an emotionally and psychologically abusive and destructive "Correctional" facility administered by the California Youth Authority.  Except for seven years, I have existed in this manner since the young and tender age of nine.  This morning I ask myself, "What happened?  Why?  Is this all the life I was given is to be?" 

I am led to consider: I have loved, hated, robbed, murdered, been abused, have abused.  "Is that life?  Is this all there is?  Or is there something always elusive until one's life is near end that will suddenly appear to reveal there has been purpose and meaning to what is past, and what is ahead?  Will I at that very moment be given the prize I have sought throughout my lifetime, peace?  Will it set me free for the first time since the age of nine?  Or will I learn, as I have always feared, 'life' is a mistake - a freak of nature?"

Here it is nearly days end and I still have no answers though I understand I had choices and decisions to make, and had I made the right ones, no doubt things would have been different.  Would my life have been better?  Would it have been worse?  I cannot say.  All I know for sure is it would have been different.

Should I try, I know I could never imagine the hell I have lived upon this earth getting this bad had I not been so angry that I refused to listen to anyone, believe in anything, and ignored that 'gut-instinct' we all have.

I've no idea what is after death, if anything.  People have a variety of theories regarding that.  Most appear to believe in a God who promises eternal life in exchange for a "blind-faith" belief in Him, or Her.  Others believe we die and return to earth as someone, or something else.  Others are convinced we 'evolved' from the dust and to dust we shall return.  I have done a lot of reading on all these subjects.  I have done a lot of soul searching.  Any answers there may be have eluded me.

The world is so messed up it would be a terrible joke upon us all if there is nothing more after death. It is so screwed up that I am forced to reason that if there is not a God, we have reason to make Him up.  Having read the Bible numerous times inside solitary confinement cells, my human logic could reasonably dismiss it as the writings of some con-man, or miserable people who needed a God to give purpose to their lives.  Or I could accept and believe it all.

What I have done instead is conclude, God or no God, this would be a much better one if we lived our lives as if we knew we would go to some Heaven afterward.  I am unable to find wrong in living life in accordance with the Ten Commandments.  Does it matter who wrote them, or why?  I do not think so within the hypothesis I write here. 

I am forced by reason to question, "Why is it that those who believe that God did not write the Ten Commandments dismiss them as not worthy of their consideration?  Frankly, I am not a religious man, nor do I believe most, if any, of the stories written in the Bible.  I have difficulty believing in a God who "sacrificed his own son out of His (God's) great love for us," and in turn allows so many children here on earth to live their entire young lives physically brutalized, and emotionally and psychologically tormented leaving them painfully scarred their entire lives.  But, I damn sure know had I lived my life allowing the Ten Commandments to guide my judgment, decisions and choices, I would not have lived forty-six years of my sixty-two inside a prison cell. 

The question, "What if there is a God?" scares the hell out of me.  (No pun intended.)  What if all we have heard about this guy is true, and in our arrogance denied the possibility, however slight, that he exists, and went on about our lives as we are, doing whatever pleases us, and totally disregarding how anyone else feels about it?  I say we would be in for a rude and miserable awakening far beyond any nightmares we suffered in this life.

What if when we die we learn we were wrong; that there is some guy with wings waiting to inform us, "You were wrong, Joe, Mike, Jimmy, Debbie, Lanna (whoever).  You failed the test and now must pay the price for that failure?"  What if instantly after we find our butts sitting on some red-hot coals realizing, too late, that our experience on earth was a cakewalk compared to what was then happening?  For sure, every one of us have learned during our life to this point in time that anything is possible.  How many times have we thought "no way" actually was?

I wonder how many people are gamblers like myself?  I love the game of poker, and I have bet thousands of dollars on one hand many times.  I have won, and I have lost.  A good gambler is calculating and covers all bets.  Life for me, as for most others, has been a "gamble" most of the time.  Using gambler's 'instinct,' I suspicion those of us "godless folks" who are miserable as the result of choices and decisions we have made, no matter the reason we did so, can only improve our miserable selves should we decide to live honorably, not steal, not rape and murder, do unto others as we would like for others to do unto us - all that stuff.  Got to make things better. 

Am I on the right track here?  Who knows?  If we live in this way, even those who do not believe in God, and if we learn He does exist after we die, He might take into consideration that though we doubted His existence we did live as He said we should, and covered our bases best we could.  Maybe we should ask ourselves, 'What do we have to lose?  What do we have to gain?'  The obvious answer is, we have much to gain and nothing to lose - God or no God. 

Here it is nearly days end and I still have no answers though I understand I had choices and decisions to make, and had I made the right ones, no doubt things would have been different.

What I have done instead is conclude, God or no God, this would be a much better one if we lived our lives as if we knew we would go to some Heaven afterward.

CCPOA Horrors

 Although this came to us as a personal letter, we felt the need to share with our readers the insights and profound disappointments of this long-time prisoner (and long-time friend of The Beat). Once hopeful that reason and rationality would persuade an ignorant public that abusing people, even “criminal people,” was counterproductive, and therefore would be reversed with knowledge, SunMansLight now believes the public does not want to be burdened with this guilty knowledge, thus allowing a system that victimizes us all to perpetuate. In a more recent letter from Salinas Valley State Prison, he writes, sadly: “The past couple of weeks I often lay upon my bunk trying to figure out how I can take myself to the place we all have inside our heads where we can be alone and at peace… I have decided if I find that spot I will not allow myself to return from it.” We wish him peace.

 

 

I am sitting here angry, and near end of my patience. I just overheard a guard I have never seen before – squat, muscular, shaved head, commando-like in dress –– get into a war of words with an inmate locked inside his cell.

The guard loudly proclaimed, “We all know you are a f****g child molester! Do your fellow inmates know it?” He then walked off and began laughing with the other guards. For a few moments, the entire cell-block became to silent I could hear my heart beats.

Is this the answer – my keepers’ response to all the media blitz, all the threats made by the Federal Courts to “take over the system?” Did not the CCPOA representatives repeatedly assure they “have things under control,” and deny that anything their officers do in the course of their duties place the lives of inmates in jeopardy?

Here is a situation, which most likely will have a violent ending somewhere down the line.

Our reality is, nobody can assume, nor feel reasonably safe here. Our reality is, we are safer surrounded by a hundred inmates than if we are surrounded by a dozen prison guards.

The guards think, and for good reasons, that they have immunity no matter what their actions inside the walls and fences hiding them, and us, from view.

I am sick of breathing pepper spray and tier gas, but I am even more disappointed that I am unable to shut down my feelings as I watch men around me break, strike out, and then be physically abused. I want to shut it out, ignore it, but I cannot. Just writing about it as I am here is enough to get me killed or locked deep into solitary confinement never to be seen again should my keepers suspect I am in a position, which I am not, to expose and disrupt their secure, tightly knit large group of rogues.

There have been times, as the results of all that goes on here, I have been so deep into depression that I wish they would take me somewhere and kill me. I often feel that I am much more afraid of living than I am of dying, but I fight hard to stay on my feet, to regain – somehow – my hope, my will to live.

Something deep inside me screams out that goodness will defeat evil, that your society will, at long last, bring forth men and women who with their goodness smother the evil existing here. I want to believe the bridges can be built resulting in communication and understanding leading to a sharing of ideas and goals, which will benefit  everyone – society at large, our keepers and ourselves.

 

      The ever-increasing psychological abuse takes it’s toll, and the devastating resulting emotional upheaval will have long-term serious consequences. Those who fail, whatever the reasons, to control their emotions, cannot control their aggression.

Of course, anger is a fact of life most of us are able to keep under tight reign when it lurks. While activities around us are “normal” and consistent, we have the ability to retain our balance, our equilibrium. During these times, anger can be constructively directed, as in my writing.

When that “balance” is deliberately, or otherwise, consistently interrupted, that ability to remain in control of one’s emotions erodes. Aggression is exposed and at some point becomes uncontrollable.

Solitary confinement cells are filled with men who were marked, for whatever reasons, by guards whose actions literally forced those men into the experience. Most of them are now raging lunatics, which might be the best thing for them since they most likely will never be removed from their solitary cells.

So much for what the politicians have proclaimed, the “Court Orders,” and threats of a Federal takeover “if things do not change inside the California prisons.” Those “threats” have accomplished nothing more than to ruffle the feathers of a system long convinced it is so powerful not even the laws of this state can touch it.

Recently I read that Governor Schwarzenegger has agreed to concessions which further empower the California Correctional Peace Officer Association, allowing it to contiue “business as usual.” As I read the response to this by Sen. Gloria Remero, once a person I considered a voice for prisoners which gave us hope for prison reform, that “the renegotiation was ‘weak’ but it is not a reason to launch a Federal takeover,” I realized we have lost our fight to live as human beings.

So much for nearly a decade of what has, apparently, been political grandstanding, the result of proven widespread physical, psychological and emotional abuse of inmates, and over a dozen inmates’ deaths caused by prison guards under “suspicious circumstances.”

Is there a responsible explanation why, as the results of similar and same events and conditions existing inside Iraq’s prisons, why “reform” came about in a matter of only a few weeks once the abuse of Iraqi prisoners became public knowledge, and why reform cannot be accomplished inside America’s prison the past 150 years?

I have always known the Department of Corrections has failed everyone since its conception. It took awhile, but I now know, as well, your society has failed itself and its own.

Question, and my keepers will tell you, as they did a news reporter, that I have a “pathological aversion to authority.” One of their very own state-paid psychologists wrote those words about me in the State’s attempt to discredit me and the works I write describing abusive prison conditions. That psychologist failed to write of my response to him when he suggested to me I fit that label. I explained to him “I have a legitimate aversion to the notion that a bunch of elitists should tell everyone else what to do and what to think; I have an aversion to self-appointed experts.”

It is not the truth that matters to my keepers – only what works for them.

I risk repeating myself with the following, but it is worth repeating: Politics aside, the fact is prison is a society that cultivates psychological repression. The often subservient, servitude attitude one observes in prisoners is but surface appearance serving much like a dam holding back all manner of repressed rage and frustration. That dam does occasionally leak, in the same manner as a tea kettle releases steam, mostly in an orderly, controlled way, and is often deliberely ignored by the Administration for the warning it is

When that dam break –– and it will, it has –– the water of rage, frustration, and broken souls will sweep uncontrolled down through and over the valley before it, leaving a path of death and destruction that did not have to be.

Again I repeat: Place men and women into my enviroment, and return here one year after. Now, look at them. Look closely and you will see the wolf in a cage staring back at you through the bars, no recognition of your humanity. He/she now sees nothing more than a shape and is wondering how to get at it. You will see there is a strength there, but do not be fooled, it is purely predatory. There is none of the softness of morality or conscience, only strength and will.

Imprison anyone inside my world where the abuse I describe prevails, and the prisoner will fight like a tiger, relentlessly, viciously, for even the gentlest and tenderest of spirits are always the most terrible when they fight for the sake of their soul.

Imagine a still, dark wet fog hugging the ground. You are standing before it. There is a lack of any movement around you, and an eerie silence you have never before experienced. A chill passes down your back as apprehension sets in. you begin to “know” something is hidden in that fog, and it is looking at you. You want to run, but you know that inside prison there is nowhere to run to.

That is a prisoners experience every day. We watch and we wait. We know that before the fog lifts, from it will spring evil sent to prey upon us when the time is right. How patiently it waits. It is cunning, and so powerful.

I do not ask, nor do I expect, anyone to feel sorry for us in our experience. What I hope for is that a society will eventually form which seeks justice, not vengeance, on both sides of the fence, and demand a system be set into motion that will meet the needs of society as a whole –– which the incarcerated are a part of no matter their address, and who will eventually return back into your midst.

Their psychological and emotional state as they move into your neighborhoods is something all of you have a vested interest in. Even more, I hope for a system that will bulldoze the long-broken Juvenile halls and Youth Detention Centers, replace them with a system that works to keep our troubled children (who are, accept it or not, products of a society made up of individual family units which have failed them) from graduating to prison.

Stop it there and you will have fewer people like me here. Once I believed all it would take to bring about reform of our juvenile and adult penal system would be to educate society’s members, give to them facts along with options and consequences if they do or do not demand and force reform. I once believed they would then conclude the system is, as it serves society today, a mistake long ago made, has been a failure in many ways since its conception, and would set out in righteous indignation to fix it.

What a foolish young man I was back then. Society’s members do not want to be faced with their mistakes and failures. As long as they are not witness to the pain and suffering, they can somehow reason denial. Without constructive avenues to explore, programs in which prisoners better themselves, and become filled with pride of accomplishment, in place of abusive conditions serving to confuse, frustrate, anger and then enrage, many will self-destruct as the consequence of a society that chooses to ignore, or not care, what is happening here inside its “Correctional Department.”

 

There have been times, as the results of all that goes on here, I have been so deep into depression that I wish they would take me somewhere and kill me.

 

I have a legitimate aversion to the notion that a bunch of elitists should tell everyone else what to do and what to think; I have an aversion to self-appointed experts.

 

When that dam break –– and it will, it has –– the water of rage, frustration, and broken souls will sweep uncontrolled down through and over the valley before it, leaving a path of death and destruction that did not have to be.

 

What I hope for is that a society will eventually form which seeks justice, not vengeance, on both sides of the fence,

Just One More Chance

While Dwight Abbottt’s remarkable book about growing up in the California Youth Authority (I Cried, You Didn’t Listen) continues to be passed from one juvenile hall detainee to another, he again reaches out to the young to take stock of their lives — and to warn of the consequences unless you do. Drawing on a lifetime of concrete walls and bars, violence and repression, he remembers back to those young days when he, like you, promised POs, counselors and judges, his family and himself,  that he would change his ways if only given another chance. He recalls how sincere those promises were… and how, despite his best intentions, he was unable to keep them. The consequences for that failure — spending more than 50 of his 64 years locked away from the word — he has now written about in detail in a new book he calls, appropriately, Consequence (though it has not yet been published). All of you who have promised to change (how many times?) but have not been able to pull it off yet should read what Sunman’s Light has shared from the “home” he will occupy until he breathes his last at Salinas Valley State Prison.

 

Just One More Chance

 

It’s not easy for a person to verbalize or write that their choices and decisions have been the wrong ones… until they are incarcerated. What is it about the inside of a cell, it’s only lock affixed on the side of the door we cannot reach, that encourages us to confess we are wrong, and to swear, our hand to God, “If you let me go this time, I will never do it again”? I call it a “Reality check!”

            Experiencing the consequences of our wrong choices and actions, possibly for the first time, we begin to understand we are obviously not doing the right things. It is then we understand we do not want to do those things that lead us like lambs to the slaughter to what awaits when we are arrested.

            As we feel suffocated by the concrete and steel enveloping us, there is absolutely not a doubt we are being totally honest when telling ourselves, and anyone else who will listen — especially mom, the unit counselors and judges — that we won’t do it again: “Just one more chance?”

            Our problem, after being given that chance, is within the time it takes to get back to the ‘hood, or maybe two days (might even amaze ourselves and last week), we have forgotten about the emotional and psychological nightmare we just left. As we swagger down the street, pants so low on our hips we keep pulling them up ( of course we have to be just like all the homies, right?) a phenomenon occurs: our minds erase any memory we had had of juvie, the ranch program we just completed, the year at CYA. All we care about is reaching “homie’s house” where we will sit in his bedroom blasting blunts, drinking forties, and talking bad about the ____ (fill in the blank) living on the other end of town. Absolutely nothing has changed, no matter we meant every word we said when we were locked up.

            Each of our lives return to exactly what it was before we went to juvie. Everything is “cool and mellow.” We give no thought to the fact that within a short period of time we will be back, weeping, pleading, as we sit on the hard wooden bench while being processed, then in the counselors office, through the night inside “that room,” the one with the lock only on one side of the door, sobbing uncontrollably during visits with our family, if we are fortunate to one more chance. “If you let me go this time, I will never do it again!”

            Again, we will mean every word of it; we are not lying. We really know if they give us one more chance we will never again return to lock-up. Only something seems to have changed this time. We are thinking, why am I having so much trouble getting someone to listen to me? We are beginning to realize we “have a problem.”

 

            It is exactly what I did as I grew up in the juvenile penal system, where I sat at stupid little desks, facing front, told not to talk while listening to someone who “thinks he know everything…” Where I would sit with my little bird-chest stuck out, chin up, lookin’ hard, until the next time I was begging the counselor, or the judge, to “give me a break,” tears would make Niagara Falls proud flowing from my eyes, down the cheeks of my face.

            After each court hearing I would be escorted back to the Hall. Just before I stepped through the entry way and found myself back on the unit, I would remember the large wet spots near the collar of my undershirt that I had pulled up to wipe the tears from my eyes. My fingers fumbled with the top button of my shirt. I’d tell my homies, “It ain’t nothing” and talk shhh about “the system” trying to convince everyone that life didn’t make them any harder and tougher than me.

            I did the same for years at the California Youth Authority, until it finally dawned upon me I did not have any more “chances” coming, that they were no longer listening to me; that the only way I was going stop resembling the dog chasing its tail, was do my time, and do what I said I would do the next time I went to the streets.

            Fifteen years young, playing the game, working my way up “the pecking order” there was an accident. I killed another kid at El Paso De Robles School for boys (CYA), and life as I had hoped to experience it was never going to be, no matter I did not intend what happened. I cut his throat, was “just going to scratch him,” with a shoe leather trim knife blade, and went too deep. He had attempted to put smut on me, and I wanted the others to know they should not “mess with me.”

            I have never forgotten him. I will always remember his name and the look in his eyes asking “Why?” He had been just another boy struggling to be accepted, doing and wanting nothing more than I did, and for that I killed him.

 

 

            I am 64. It has been 49 years since that day above, and I continued on with this journey that began when I was nine. I understand now that had I chosen to ‘remember’ to keep the promises I had sobbed to my family, to my counselors, and as I stood before the judges, that if they would only “give me one more chance and I will never do it again,” the last fifty-five years would have gone much differently. It’s not too late for most of you. You do not have to look into a mirror and find me staring back out at you.

            “But I got to go back to the ‘hood and the homies, know what I mean? I’m ‘in,’ you know?”

            Yeah, I do “know.” Been there, done that. What are you asking me for? You already know the answer: Stand up, take your lumps from the homies when they jump you out, and then go on with the life you just earned by being what a man is really all about.

            Of course, you can continue on with the alternative: let homie the shot caller keep dictating how you are going to live your life, because you are not smart enough to call your own shots. But you have to remember, when you get caught up for that “last time” don’t bother sniveling and crying to your family, your counselors, and the judge; they aren’t listening anymore.

 

CONSEQUENCE

 

I recently completed penning the sequel to I Cried, You Didn’t Listen, and have titled it Consequence. Should you get the chance to read it, you will learn that what you have read in I Cried, You Didn’t Listen is “Child’s Play,” when compared to what awaits all who enter my house here.

            Upon the pages of CONSEQUENCE journey with me through Soledad, San Quentin, Folsom, and other prisons, where nothing is nice. I’ll share with you the truth about ‘our’ politics, and the gory murders of those who continue to make wrong choices, don’t play by our rules when they arrive here. You will ‘hear’ the muffled cries and moans of a young man, a new arrival unfortunate enough to get caught slipping. I will put you “in the car” to ride along with the gangs, the same ones that will keep you in your place should you come here, “ a “Place” you have no idea exists, though you might think you do because of the lies homie has told you there at juvie about my house.

            I am doing all I can to find someone to put the manuscript in print so that The Beat can get it to you. As the publishing world is extremely fickle, I cannot promise anything except I will not quit trying. I shout out my respects to all of you.

 

 

 

Choose to Live

From his experience as a prisoner for more than half his life, starting with his incarceration in the California Youth Authority fifty years ago and continuing right up until his current imprisonment at Salinas Valley State Prison, our old friend SunMan’sLight shares his considerable expertise about the abuse that defines our criminal justice system. Convinced that the abuse will never end, and that the public will never care, he argues powerfully for a simple notion: each one of us can make our future better or worse, depending on our own, individual choices.

 

Decision Making Time

 

One must only question the content of a prisoner’s character to keep a society from caring.

 

I think with each passing day, week, month, that I edge closer to the reality I fight a battle nearly impossible to win,

First I learned of GB, an American military prison inside Cuba where even the most basic human and legal rights are denied those incarcerated as “enemy combatants” by our American government.

Later, I heard of the torture and abuse of those prisoners which was somehow justified when it could be, excused when it could not be, denied when at all possible, and human sacrificial offerings made when all else failed. “Business as usual,” we refer to it.

(What is it about prisons that have always drawn those to work inside of them who enjoy abusing the incarcerated? Melvin Belli, a famous defense attorney, once said, “If you want to see the scum of the earth, watch the changing of the prison guards.”)

Yesterday, I listened to a television news program. I heard about the systematic sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside prisons there by “Iraqi’s liberators:” –– American soldiers who sodomize, torture, and then explain, “It’s not our fault. We were just following orders.” (So said Nazi war criminals.)

Following, in the very same news program, was a media outcry, “Prisoners are being coddled. Oregon inmates get to watch flat screen television panel as incentive for good behavior.” Shame on treating inmates like human beings.)

In response to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners are familiar denials, and excuses resounding by government and military officials in Washington. Brig. General Janice Karpinski tells the world, “I had no idea this was going on. I was not on site. I was in charge of seven prisons and I delegated responsibility for the care of these prisoners to my staff.”

Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of Coalition Operations, speaking for the military, shares with us that, “… procedures and practices are being implemented that will assure the abuse of these prisoners will end. We will open every door, turn over every rock during this ongoing investigation… We are certain these incidents are isolated.”

Sound familiar? I seem to recall these very same statements in response to reported abuse inside the California Youth Authority and Adult Corrections system.

In my mind, even more damning and telling for the incarcerated was the statement by a woman to a television news reporter: “They deserve everything they get. Look what they did with the bodies of Americans they killed over there.” That statement voiced the thought and feeling of many like her who believe wrong makes right.

Could this be why the California Department of Corrections has been able to survive though it has been proven to abuse, murder and torture those placed into its care?

Recently a district attorney and the California Attorney General confirmed what I, and many like me, have constantly accused our justice system of, and that is it protects its own. The beatings of two young men inside the California Youth Authority caught on tape, “… is not enough evidence to obtain a conviction,” so said they.

Instead of presenting it to a jury, and letting its members decide the evidence, the district attorney and attorney general chose not to. Why? Did they fear others would see it differently, and hold the state accountable fore this abuse?:

After giving it considerable thought, I can figure no other reason they would not, at the very least, submit it to a Grand Jury, just as they did recently in the Michael Jackson abuse case without a video tape.

I am left asking: If this, and the many other events caught on tape in recent years, does not sway and reform, how can words written upon paper do so? If all that has come to light proving widespread systematic abuse inside our penal institutions will not bring about the end of it, then what will?

The answer to that question comes too late for me and many others. Whatever our choices from here on, we shall live our lives out inside this abusive system.

But they will work for most who read this.

Each of you has the choice in your behavior. Each has the choice to follow society’s rules which will ultimately determine if you give over the power to someone else to do with you as they will. You can, with all you have experienced to this point in your life –– the negative and the positive –– take back the power and never again make a decision that will return it to the “the system.”

I am more convinced now than I have ever been that the ability of the Department of Youth and Adult Corrections to convince the panic-stricken, frightened general masses that they are all that keeps society safe will always be so. This leaves it up to each person, individually, to make the decisions that will dictate if their life is, or is not, controlled by someone else. Until that is realized, a system is in place that preys upon helpless troubled men, women and children, and each of us must find our own way out.

Each can hope there is a system beyond the walls and fences that will be there to assist those who want to be productive, whose lives are so troubled it will be difficult at best without assistance, understanding and compassion.

But, what if such a system does not exist? Does that mean I will fail? No! It will remain your choice, your decision. With real strength and character you can decide your own destiny. But, if you are a follower, someone else will decide it for you.

If you do not take the first step in that journey now, the alternative is that your experience while incarcerated will consume and destroy, with rare recourse toward healing.

I am serving four life sentences (plus 100 years)! One of the three major reasons for this is when I was in the California Youth Authority no one told me that I could rip that power over my life out the hands of my keepers if I made the right choices then –– not later.

Very possibly, though, because I was not very bright, had someone told me, I likely would have been too into feeling sorry for myself, and too busy blaming everyone else for my misery and suffering, to listen. I can but hope you never get that busy.

Always be aware, no matter what your situation is right now, you will make it worse or better by the choices you make. If you get a little busy feeling sorry for yourself, remember what Abraham Lincoln said: “I once felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”

 

CHOOSE TO LIVE, NOT EXIST!

 

           

All the World's a Stage...

From our old and dear friend, SunMan’sLight at Salinas Valley State Prison, comes this terribly sad piece about what it means to have spent most of one’s life wearing a prison mask. And while he commits himself to laying down the mask as he faces his mortality –– and life sentences –– even sadder is the realization that the only ones who read his words (the only ones who seem to care) are “the captive audience who are also reaching out for answers as I am, and find very few.” How much this man has to teach! How little the world is interested in learning!

 

All the World’s A Stage… And Prison Is More So

 

Youth and adult penal institutions are no more than a stage upon which a cast of actors are flung to perform. Without written script to guide them, each has a role they must act out to the best of their ability all the while realizing the play will have one of many predictable endings.

As these actors, we put on another face: Eighteen year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed Sonny acts out the role of “white boy;” frightened twenty-year-old Michael becomes “187;” intelligent, determined Nathan is convincing in his role of “Weasel;” and shy, introverted, baby-faced Justin, debuting on the big stage after several years as an understudy in CYA, convincingly takes on the role of “Judy.”

As actors, we become someone we are not in “real life.” To survive this profession we have chosen, we must be successful in moving our audience to forget we are actors, and convince all its members we are in fact who we portray on the stage. It is a fact, only the actors who originally survive their critics, and become respected in their profession, will be those who are 100% convincing.

Upon this prison stage we change one face for another. We step before our audience with this story titled “life and death,” and we understand our survival depends upon how well we do. 

Unfortunately, “success” has its disadvantages. First, most of us are so good in the roles we have taken on that without conscious thought, we bury somewhere deep inside of us who we really are, or were, and become what we once recognized as a character in a role play.

Young, troubled, often frightened Sonny becomes the shaved head, tattooed, racist.  20-year-old, frightened Michael lives up to his role name of “187” when he stabs a man to death for staring at him.  Intelligent, determined Nathan is beyond suspicion in his role of the devious “Weasel” as he survives by preying upon the weak and unsuspecting. Shy, introverted baby-faced Justin becomes lost in the role of “Judy” as he seeks out men who will protect him.

Lost deeply within the character, having long forgotten it is in fact only a role, rarely is the journey back to Sonny, Michael, Nathan and Justin began. It is too long, too arduous, often felt not to be worth the effort, risking the niche fought so hard for. Few choose to begin that journey back.

Yes, prison is a stage. To survive it we have been pre-warned as we enter that we must change our face, take another, along with a role and unwritten script that we hope will cause the audience members to applaud rather than to boo. Those of us whose acting abilities are poor will be booed from the stage, soon to become prey to ridicule and disrespect. Those who succeed will be allowed to continue on, will be respectfully applauded but –– we must remain astutely aware –– the audience is filled with people who are always looking for reason(s) to critique and bring suspicion that as we age our acting abilities should be checked and questioned.

There is no way around it. That time will come each of us are much older, and the years will have taken their toll. As is the way in a pack of wolves, only the strong and those who remain able to contribute to the survival of the pack are allowed to remain. Those who cannot are either left behind to fend for themselves or are set upon and killed by the others. We perform, very much aware that it is extremely rare an actor does so well that he gains such stature he will be surrounded and protected as he further ages and becomes lame.

This is what I have known for 43 years. Motivated by nature’s survival instinct, I have continued to play the game, act out my role, though aging has forced me to slow it down. I am aware around me are those who have begun to glance my way and no doubt silently, for now, are questioning if I am going to keep up or not. I am asking myself, “Well, old boy, what do you do now that you have made your journey? Will it become obvious you have found who you really are and are now struggling not to expose yourself?  Does it really matter now that you are in your sixties and tired of “Prison Hollywood?”

“Not really,” I tell myself.  “All my life I cowardly hid behind the character I created and in which I so successfully convinced my audience I deserved respectful applause as well as, however grudgingly given, acceptance in a world filled with critics.”

My character was convincing. I played a murderer, a predator, a shot-caller, a friend, an enemy. I did well. Now, as I look at the kids who graduated from CYA, the upcoming and blossoming young actors around me, I know my time is near up –– the competition is too keen. The only question I can reasonably ask myself now is, “Have I entertained well enough I now deserve not to be left behind, or could it be that the best I can hope for is that I will not be preyed upon?”

This life sentence I am serving gives me reason to hesitate, but what really sways me is, I know it takes much more man to be who I was than to bend over to peer pressure.

So, I have decided I am going to leave the stage, retire as an actor, and be who I left behind when I entered prison at the age of eighteen. If that becomes unacceptable amongst my peers, so be it.  After all, there are things in this life worth dying for, as there are worth living for. Being myself again, being who I “really” am, is one of them.

 

 

Untitled

It has been a while since we’ve heard from one of the most remarkable people and gifted writers The Beat has ever known, SunMan’sLight. This veteran of nearly fifty years of experience in the California Youth Authority and state (including other state’s) prison systems, has now settled into one of the most dehumanizing prisons he’s ever experienced at Salinas Valley State Prison. The first piece, “Dear Michael,” is a personal letter in which he describes a life he loved and lost due to drugs, and serves as a cautionary note to all who think they can escape the consequences of their own choices. The second, “Prison Rape,” describes the deliberate dehumanization that prisoners are subjected to, and the consequences to us all. Read them both as fair warning…

 

 

Dear Michael,

After a great night’s sleep, the result of having been exhausted from long hours at labor yesterday, I groggily awakened to the feel of my alarm clock — the touch of my dogs cold nose nudging my arm to let me know he had to go outside. I pushed aside the elaborately embroidered comforter from atop me, and slid out from between the silk sheets I have spoiled myself with.

            Walking through my kitchen, I heard the steady drip-drip of percolating coffee, its aroma tantalizing in the air; an elaborate cappuccino machine, I decided I would this morning make an espresso with foamy milk, and this time flavor it with cinnamon.

            Closing the back door after letting Buck out, hoping he would stay in the back yard, I then retraced my steps to the bath area where I drew water through the showerhead after adjusting it to forcefully massage. I stripped off my white velour robe and stepped from my cotton slippers into the water as I closed the curtain. The pulsing water immediately beat down upon the seemingly never-healing sore muscles that I use each long day as I labor along side my crew. The steam opened my pores, and as my shoulders relaxed I slowly washed myself.

            From the shower I stepped to the bathroom sink, brushed my teeth, and quickly ran an electric razor over my gray-stubbled shadow of a beard. Inside the walk-in clothes closet, I gathered a shirt I had neglected to set out the night before with the other clothes that lay over the back of my recently bought soft Italian leather lounge chair I had placed next to my bed.

            Fully dressed, promised espresso in hand, I joined Buck outside where he romped upon the grass. I sat. The new day sun peeking over the roof of a house across the street touched me, its sensual warming effect upon my skin warned it will assist to exhaust me, again, by this day’s end.

            Buck began to sniff around my 2001, double full-cab Silverado work truck as my Nextel two-way radio beeped. It was my lead-man letting me know the entire crew would be waiting at the new job site.

            My contract today, Tuesday, is with a homeowner to refinish her wood floors, rip out her old landscape, and prepare the ground for new sod and plants. Wednesday we will prep and paint the exterior of her house, and Thursday install her new landscape, which includes a rather elaborate in-ground automatic sprinkler system and outdoor lighting. It’s an $18,000 dollar job from which I will net $6,500 dollars after labor and material cost. Not bad for three days work. I remember thinking at this point, as I do at some point in time each day, “Son, after serving 36 years in prison, you have come a long way.”

            I am now sitting in my office before a very cluttered desk. I have completed here all I need to do in preparation for the entire day. A moment ago, I leaned back in my oversized leather executive desk chair, and gazed upon the wall before me to pleasure in the exhibit of an extensive antique knife collection affixed upon it. To my right are several large oil paintings I enjoy so very much, though only one has considerable monetary value.

            I best go now, Michael. I stood a second ago and Buck went wild in anticipation of his and my leaving. He loves riding beside me inside the truck.

            I have to get into the safe and remove a few hundred dollars to assure I have enough to cover possible emergencies, and to treat my crew to lunch at the 7-11. Nothing but the best for my workers, bro.

            “TWENTTY MINUTES TO CHOW! IF YOU AIN’T READY YOU DON’T EAT. YOU KNOW THE DRILL.” What the …?! What the hell is going on? What is that screaming voice echoing through my house? Who the hell put those bare concrete walls there? I know damn well I didn’t have a barred steel door when I went to sleep last night… or did I?

            Startled rudely from my dream, and, I assure you, my very “short-stepped” sleepwalk, I desperately looked out onto the tier at the long row of cells across from mine and thought, “The only thing about that dream resembling this ‘home’ I now live in is the unlimited drugs I can procure, if I chose to.” Ironically, I decided three years ago not to get high again.

            Sorry about the false alarm. I opened my eyes to discover I had been dreaming of a time long ago; of a time that will never again be possible for me. I made sure of that when I chose to use drugs, and in a drug induced stupor picked up guns to terrorize the town I lived in, and its residence whom I honestly cared about — the very people who took a chance on me and who had come to trust and respect me as an honest businessman in their community, no matter the “ex-convict” label, and my extensive criminal past.

            Hey, you know about choices, my friend. The decisions made today will be dealt with again in the future. One’s past choices, especially the wrong ones, will always haunt one’s future.

            Your friend, always,

            Sonny

 

 

 

Prison Rape: When The Process Of Dehumanization Begins

By Dwight Abbott

 

Beginning the day we enter prison, to the very day we are paroled, the process by our keepers to dehumanize us is consistent and deliberate.

            “Strip all your clothing off, stand in a line and face me. Raise your hands above your head. Run your fingers through your hair. First turn your head to the right and then to the left. Lift your penis, your scrotum. Turn around. Lift your feet and wiggle your toes; now bend over and spread your butt-cheeks. Now, do knee bends and cough loudly until I instruct you to stop.” Nothing fell out.

“Turn to your left and walk though the metal detector.” An alarm goes off. The prisoner is taken to have an X-ray done of his anal cavity, and a knife is discovered. The other 19 inmates are told: “Get back into the cell [naked] and sit there until we bring you your clothing.”

Twenty prisoners, four male guards, female personnel in the immediate background acting as if they are not aware of what is going on before them, and dozens of other prisoners waiting their turn. After nearly 50 years of incarceration during which I have suffered through thousands of these searches, I have never observed “contraband” found in this manner. Only when the process ends with the metal detector are our keepers occasionally successful. The “strip search” serves no other purpose than to embarrass, humiliate, and begin the process of twisting a prisoner to obey the will of his keeper.

I, as have thousands of other men, once experienced another form of rape when I was suspected of secreting drugs in my anal cavity. My wrists and ankles were bound by chains. I was taken to the prison infirmary where my pants were pulled down. I was forcefully bent over, and held in that position by several prison guards while a male nurse inserted his finger into my rectum in search of drugs. No drugs were found, yet I was forced into a cell, strapped naked onto the bed, and was allowed up only to poop onto a plastic bag placed upon the cell floor as my guards watched. I had to do this three times over three days before they were satisfied I had no drugs. Rather than the finger driven into my anal cavity by someone who was not a doctor, and lying naked strapped to a bed for three days, a simple X-ray would have sufficed. But an X-ray would have been to treat me as a human being, and would have allowed me to retain my self-respect.

Surely there are many who would say, “They are criminals and deserve whatever they get.” Fact is, a large number of men in prison entered redeemable. But they leave shamed, angry, emotionally unstable, psychologically damaged — and determined they “will get back” for what has been done to them. Anyone who believes such treatment is but a consequence of one’s actions would do better to understand that when prisoners are released after suffering such “consequences,” those who are then victimized by these broken men will surly, then, understand there is more than one consequence.

The strip search is known to produce only the breaking of will and destruction of souls. Once “broken,” a man will never again be normal. There will always be that memory of a society which did not care — of a system that raped him.

 

Decision Making Time

One must only question the content of a prisoner’s character to keep a society from caring.

 

I think with each pasing day, week, month, that I edge closer to the reality I fight a battle nearly impossible to win,

First I learned of GB, an American military prison inside Cuba where even the most basic human and legal rights are denied those incarcerated as “enemy combatants” by our American government.

Later, I heard of the torture and abuse of those prisoners which was somehow justified when it could be, excused when it could not be, denied when at all possible, and human sacrificial offerings made when all else failed. “Business as usual,” we refer to it.

(What is it about prisons that have always drawn those to work inside of them who enjoy abusing the incarcerated? Melvin Belli, a famous defense attorney, once said, “If you want to see the scum of the earth, watch the changing of the prison guards.”)

 Yesterday, I listened to a television news program. I heard about the systematic sadistic abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside prisons there by “Iraqi’s liberators:” –– American soldiers who sodomize, torture, and then explain, “It’s not our fault. We were just following orders.” (So said Nazi war criminals.)

 Following, in the very same news program, was a media outcry, “Prisoners are being coddled. Oregon inmates get to watch flat screen television panel as incentive for good behavior.” Shame on treating inmates like human beings.)

 In response to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners are familiar denials, and excuses resounding by government and military officials in Washington. Brig. General Janice Karpinski tells the world, “I had no idea this was going on. I was not on site. I was in charge of seven prisons and I delegated responsibility for the care of these prisoners to my staff.”

 Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of Coalition Operations, speaking for the military, shares with us that, “… procedures and practices are being implemented that will assure the abuse of these prisoners will end. We will open every door, turn over every rock during this ongoing investigation… We are certain these incidents are isolated.”

 Sound familiar? I seem to recall these very same statements in response to reported abuse inside the California Youth Authority and Adult Corrections system.

In my mind, even more damning and telling for the incarcerated was the statement by a woman to a television news reporter: “They deserve everything they get. Look what they did with the bodies of Americans they killed over there.” That statement voiced the thought and feeling of many like her who believe wrong makes right.

 Could this be why the California Department of Corrections has been able to survive though it has been proven to abuse, murder and torture those placed into its care?

 Recently a district attorney and the California Attorney General confirmed what I, and many like me, have constantly accused our justice system of, and that is it protects its own. The beatings of two young men inside the California Youth Authority caught on tape, “… is not enough evidence to obtain a conviction,” so said they.

 Instead of presenting it to a jury, and letting its members decide the evidence, the district attorney and attorney general chose not to. Why? Did they fear others would see it differently, and hold the state accountable fore this abuse?:

 After giving it considerable thought, I can figure no other reason they would not, at the very least, submit it to a Grand Jury, just as they did recently in the Michael Jackson abuse case without a video tape.

 I am left asking: If this, and the many other events caught on tape in recent years, does not sway and reform, how can words written upon paper do so? If all that has come to light proving widespread systematic abuse inside our penal institutions will not bring about the end of it, then what will?

 The answer to that question comes too late for me and many others. Whatever our choices from here on, we shall live our lives out inside this abusive system.

 But they will work for most who read this.

 Each of you has the choice in your behavior. Each has the choice to follow society’s rules which will ultimately determine if you give over the power to someone else to do with you as they will. You can, with all you have experienced to this point in your life –– the negative and the positive –– take back the power and never again make a decision that will return it to the “the system.”

Satire

It is very rare when we receive a letter from any of our friends who reside in prison that makes us laugh. But we laughed so hard when we read this letter, that we’ve been passing it around to anyone we thought needed a good laugh. And since everybody needs a good laugh sometimes, we hope that you read this in the hilarious spirit that SunMan’sLight intended it — as relief from the prison’s daily grinding down of the human spirit. We have often wondered how people keep their sanity in these cages designed to drive one crazy. (And the cages at Salinas Valley Prison where SunMan’sLight dwells are among the worst.) Only the first paragraph of this piece is deadly serious. But in the rest of this very funny satire, we see how some manage to cope with the insanity.

 

My Dear Friend,

Yesterday, nearly immediately after our guards completed passing out long overdue quarterly packages, there was a riot on the prison yard. My cell partner, along with myself managed to get back into the cellblock with our booty intact.

Unfortunately, it appears we will not be trick-or-treating tonight. I am sure many, as I was, were looking forward to being released from our cells tonight so that we could go into town. I had already chosen an outfit that would humorously depict me as an escaped convict.

I did speak with the Warden regarding this matter, and frankly I do not understand what her problem is: Though I assured her we would all return with our bags of candy – just as soon as the police captured us – she adamantly refused to consider it.

            It is this unbending bad attitude that hurts our feelings, and our sense of decency, honesty and fair play.

            We are constantly told that should we “behave” ourselves, we will be given “privileges.” We did really good all this past year; we restrained and limited ourselves to only four murders, 119 assaults, three riots, and six escape attempts. What more could our keepers expect – considering they are dealing with homicidal maniacs and psychopaths whose sensitive feelings the prison guards insist upon bruising?

My point is: We inmates here at Scandalous Valley State Prison are misunderstood, and we are treated in a manner that is cruel and unusual – in direct violation of our Constitutional right to be treated as human beings. You in the free-world are often misinformed, and are led to believe the worst, and that the “worst” is we “bring it upon ourselves.”

            What you do not hear is, for no apparent reason, the administration cancelled our knitting classes. Obviously, of course we are going to be upset we were not allowed to complete our projects with which we intended to warm ourselves this winter.

            Then there is the ongoing clash of wills between prison staff and us over the fact they refuse to give us new tennis balls. The ones we have are old, gray in color, and are worn smooth. Staff refuses to understand that we like the pretty yellow ones that are all furry.

Our request that the administration allow our families to buy for us the little, tight, purple Speedos we prefer to wear around the swimming pool is consistently denied without explanation. They force us to wear the black and white striped shorts that remind us we are in prison every time we enter the pool area. How cruel is that?

            I mean what do they expect us to feel? For their own amusement, the other day they posted a memo informing us that as of December 01, 2005, we would no longer be allowed more than one stuffed teddy bear. That’s wrong! Most of us have had several teddy bears for many years and we have become very attached to them. Their excuse? “It has been discovered by the prison psychologist that some inmates are ‘intimately’ involved with their bears, which could lead to serious problems in later years.” As if we did not already have problems. Jeeeez, not everybody here is stupid; we are well aware that extreme violence could result if we are unfaithful, or attempt to woo and covet our neighbor’s Teddy.

Then, the other day the prison administrators really pissed us off when they discontinued allowing us to buy marijuana and related paraphernalia from the free-staff, reformed drug dealer, turned robber as the prison canteen manager, when it becomes our individual turn to buy our zoo-zoos and wham-whams. Instead, we are now forced to walk all the way to the other side of the prison yard where a state-owned “Pot-Shop” is now located, and forced to pay exorbitant prices.

            To add to our woes regarding our recreational drug use, the Pot-Shop stopped selling glass crack-smoking pipes, and instead sells to us rolls of tinfoil at the same high price we were paying for the pipes. Is that wrong, or what?

            Personally, I am convinced that the Administration realized it could treat us any old way it felt like doing, so several months ago it cancelled its practice of taking us on weekend camping and fishing trips. This was a long-standing tradition dependent upon an agreement we made that there would be no more than one riot, a maximum of four rapes, and three deaths that particular week. We made sure we did not go over that mutually agreed upon quota, at least made sure no more than that number was reported, because we really enjoyed those alone times we spent with our keepers getting to know them as the wonderful, kind human beings they are hidden under those green uniforms they wear. Now they figure we will accept any old thing they do to us.

            We, the inmates, have discussed all these issues between us and have decided, no matter that it hurts us deeply to do so, to demand they understand and respect the fact we are sensitive souls, and our feelings must be considered – just as we understand they are decent and sensitive human beings and want only the best for us who are troubled and have lost our way. Should they continue to be so inconsiderate we have decided, however reluctantly, to KILL ‘EM ALL, TAKE OVER THE PRISON, RAPE AND PILLAGE ALL THEIR OFFICES, and hope they understand and forgive us because they gave us no other choice, especially once they limited our Teddy’s.

Thank you for being in my life so that I can share this – get it off my chest. I know you understand. Just because I have robbed, raped and murdered does not mean that I am not a genuine, sensitive human being.

Love…

 

 

The Right Choice

 

We doubt that any Beat writer ever has written more passionately than Dwight Abbott, Sunman’sLight, about trying to keep the young generation that fills these pages week after week from following in his footsteps from juvenile hall to the CYA and finally to a life in state prison. Not only has he penned the remarkable CYA exposé called I Cried, You  Didn’t Listen, but as he approaches the end of his life behind bars, he is desperate that his message can be heard that you don’t have to continue the life that keeps you imprisoned (both in your minds and in your bodies). One of the biggest pains of living inside a cell is not knowing who has heard your words or whether they have changed a single individual. Yet, as you will see from the very brief letter he received last week from a young man in Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles (where Mr. Abbott began his long and torturous journey through the system more than 50 years ago), he has been rewarded with the knowledge that he has had a positive impact on the life of at least one human being. The much longer piece, “How Wrong!,” recalls how hard-headed he was as a youngster, and how everything might have been different if he only had listened to the voices of experience. Mr. Abbott shares his light with our readers from his final home at Salinas Valley  State Prison.

 

How Wrong!

 

I am irritated by ignorance but I understand, knowing it intimately as it once dictated my every action… and eventually that I exist the rest of my “natural life” in prison.

 

   Once I successfully waded through the gambit of games and settled in here, my home, I found it much easier to be honest in place of fooling myself, as we all so often do to ourselves. If I were asked, I would be the first to agree with my keepers that I should never be allowed back into society, that I have been far too long broke, cannot be repaired. Fact is, I doubt I ever had a chance after what I experienced inside the youth penal system, until recently known as the California Youth Authority.

   So, what do I do? Spend what’s left of my life placing the blame where it should go, much of it on myself, feeling sorry for my dumb ass? Maybe join ‘em? Not in this life! I have nothing for them. Instead I will do my very best to write something here that, if you pay attention, will keep you from experiencing this fate of mine. As I make this attempt, please, everything else in your mind set aside for these few moments. Now, as you begin to read this, I ask you put as your only thought: I am the consequence, you will become me, if you fail to heed what I am writing here. Will you give an OG a little respect and do this? I promise I will do my best to earn it here.

 

   I’ll also do my best not to seem or sound “lame” here. I know if I am thought of as “not cool,” as “an old man who doesn’t know anything,” no one’s going to listen. You young men and women know what I’m talking about. The way I saw it at your age was, “Ain’t no old man can tell me how it is.”

 

   From Whittier, Nellis, to Paso Robles, to Preston, “PSI,” from where I went on to Deuels at Tracy, “DVI,” a cocky SOB because I was so scared. Before I was eighteen I’d been stabbed, shot, and beat down. Instead of putting two and two together and coming up with four, I became obnoxiously stubborn, made more bad choices, and knew I was doing it! I was stuck on stupid.

   Angry and confused, I made every fool mistake known to mankind, and thought I was one cool white boy doing it. I was so cool the other idiots were telling everyone I’m an idiot. I was strutting around like a male peacock in mating season. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, I knew more than God. Anyone relate to that?

 

   Here I am fifty years in this cell, or another, stunned! I always feel a shock run through me whenever I think about what I have done to myself, all to be “accepted” by my peers and thought of as “cool.” Had I stopped trying to impress everyone, myself included, and stopped reacting to all I felt was being done wrong to me by cutting my nose off to spite my face, I could have brought to an end my then months of incarceration, and gone on to live my life in the free world, instead of existing for these years inside the toughest prisons California has to offer.

   One, two different choices, choices I knew all along were available to me, and I would not have experienced any of this: daily, standing around, set on the balls of my feet in the event something kicks off, waiting for my cell door to be unlocked so I can escape all the madness. Being told what I can do, how to do it, and when, by guards often themselves angry men and women young enough to be my grandchildren.

   Except for the “grandchildren,” sound familiar? Can you relate to this? Of course you do. All of that does not change just because you get older and come here. In fact it intensifies many, many, times. Exactly what I could have done when a young boy in crisis to forever remove the shackles from my wrists and ankles? To not have reached a time, as all here eventually will, when I became the only one of my family and loved ones who remembers I am in prison? Could I have done anything differently?

   If I had it all to do over again, knowing what I know today (how many times you heard that one?), you can bet your,whatever, the first thing I would do is recognize a boy with a “homie”  is a boy with the gallows rope around his neck, grasped by homie’s hands who has been given the choice to spring your trap, or to take your place. There is no way I would have trusted homie had my back, my best interest in his heart. If I did, I certainly would not allow that trust to make me incapable of recognizing my enemies and the depth of their treachery.

   Second, I would have said “no thank you” once I began to suspect the homies were having no problem with their conscience drawing me deeper into the homie/gang mentality, violence, and drugs. I would have refused to be herded along, a lamb being led to the slaughter, by another punk-kid I allowed to make my choices and decisions for me. No matter as young as I was, I knew damn well there does not exist a friend who would deliberately lead me to a bad place, and I still went for it! I had to be retarded!

   It’s the oddest damn thing I did: I would not listen to Mom, I would not take orders from Dad, but I would walk down the street, or when I was in Juvenile hall/CYA, and follow the orders of some other kid who often did not know half of what I did. He would tell me how it was going to be, and how I was going to carry myself, and I’d do it. How does that work? How much sense does that make? Then I came to prison and there was the shot caller waiting for me… Am I missing something?

“Has this lame laid down, lost his heart?” That’s where you would make your 607th mistake. Though old and tired, if to survive another day means I have to put you into a cardboard box, I will not hesitate. There is no sugar in these pants I am wearing. In my heart there is hope you will not continue doing what you do, being a number. There is my hope you will not come here where the rules for you to this point are going to change, “rules” you could never imagine in your wildest of thoughts. You come here to my house you will abide by the rules, and do exactly as you’re told. In fact you will be much more obedient here than you are to your shot callers there.

   One of those rules dictates, even if you arrive here with but a few years to serve, a knife be placed into your hand and that you make a hit, kill the man you are ordered to. “Bones in, bones out.” Because of our strict, no-give rules, it has become a statistical fact, no matter you may originally come here with only a few years to serve, the the odds are against you ever leaving prison, except in a box. But so what, that’s “cool.” Right? It’s for “the ‘cause,” the homies, right? “They got my back, don’t they? “wrong!

   Nobody can tell you the right choices are the easiest to make. I won’t. Fact is you will be forced to go through some difficult times and changes among your peers as a man who “refuses to go along with the program.” But it will be for only a matter of weeks, months. Considering the alternative is the rest of your life, “weeks and months” are nothing. Take your licks and get on.

 

   With all the above said and done, I assure you it’s from my heart; I’m not seeking brownie points. These folks can kiss my white butt. I just don’t’ want them on yours, no matter it’s color. 

   As I have stated there is only one way out of here for me, and now I’ll share I am close to that time. If I am here this time next year, that will prove how terribly bad my luck is.

   I am no different from the other thousands passing before me. A dying man always wants to make things right. His conscience is working him over and he would like to make peace with it.

   I believe sometime before I have shared that as I edge close to the inevitable, I am forced to consider the possibility there is a hereafter; my imagination summons up this ghoulish spectacle of being greeted below by my victims, nightmare figures in various stages of decomposition, reaching out toward me as I approach, animated by the thought they shall at least inflict their vengeance.

 

   Should anyone, even if only one, write The Beat and share that what I have written here, or in other works,  has moved them to conclude turning their lives over to others is not the way they want to go, and they intend to change that, I be eternally grateful as you will make this life I have lived and my death to have been not for nothing.

   Closing, I wish for each of you to experience that which is a true measure of your life: May you step into a room filled with people, from all walks of life, who stand respectfully in greeting knowing you to be honorable and worthy of their respect and trust. Much, love, much respects. Good luck to you all.

Wake Up America

     Yes, the beheading of Nick Berg was atrocious. Another senseless death in a war that should have never been.

        Horrible though it was, in part it accomplished what the American government was having serious difficulty achieving: it shifted our intense focus from the abuse of prisoners inside Iraqi prisons onto another story we find even more disturbing, for the moment.

        The thoughts and personal beliefs of many Americans have shifted from shock and disgust over what Americans soldiers are doing to Iraqi prisoners, and questioning the war as the result, the “barbarous acts committed upon Nick Berg.”

         “Kill them all and start over: a woman exclaims to a newspaper reporter in San Francisco. A radio talk show host was talking with a man over the telephone who insisted we bomb the bastards, level the entire country.

What a godsend this event for our government and military officials who were finding it more and more difficult to explain away pyramids built with nude Iraqi prisoners, tethered electrodes attached to genitalia, attacked by dogs, defenseless men and women sexually molested.

          ‘Thank God for Nick Berg, must be the thought of more than a few in Washington.

            As this chess game continues, in which we think we are spectators, but are unknowing Pawns, listen carefully and you will hear a huge sigh of relief throughout the hallways in Washington, DC.

           Senator McCain quickly proclaimed, “Now the American people can understand why we are in Iraq. The people who committed this barbaric act will be found and brought to Justice.”

           When we are not otherwise distracted, will we take the time to consider what we would do as nation, and individually, if our country were invaded by a foreign nation? A nation which has decided it wants to force its ideals and philosophy upon us that in no way resemble anything we have known from birth?

           Would we hope it knows what is best for us, lay down our arms and accept it?

             If its invading military imprisoned our men, women, and children who were then tortured and abused in every imaginable way, would we lay down our arms and accept it?

             If during this invasion upon our sovereign soil, foreign nationals entered and traveled across our land at will “looking for work because the money is great,” while their military machine continues to kill our citizens, would we lay down our arms and accept it?

             Our nearly four hundred, year history clearly indicates we would not.

             Whatever it took, guns, bombs, swords, “terrorist acts”, rocks, any means available to us, we would fight until our would-be oppressors left our land.

             Personally, I am not aware of a nation that has the right to enter our Country, morally or legally, inform us they have done so because they do not agree with our government, our way of doing things, and begin to systematically force upon us with violence, death and destruction a life it has decided we should live.

              We are one of a few nations who put to death many who commit crimes against us.

              As many Americans do, most other countries consider this an atrocious and barbaric act by which we have killed thousands.

              Should those not agreeing with this method of “Justice” decide to invade us, commit mass murder and destruction in an attempt to force their own ways upon us?

              We may not agree with how life is lived in Iraq nor its form of “Justice” but, what business has that ever been of ours?

              “What about the weapons of mass destruction?”

               We all now know the answer to that, and we know many of our government and military officials had reasons to suspicion those weapons did not exist before they sent troops into Iraq and began killing. It is of their loved ones for the sake of their own souls.

               Nick Berg, may his soul be at peace, is dead because President Bush decided to invade Iraq under the pretense there existed inside that country “weapons of mass destruction.”

               When it was later ‘discovered’ that those weapons did not in Iraq, and when there were amazingly few Americans casualties to that point, Bush could have admitted his ‘mistake,’ backed out, and took his lumps. Instead he chose to remain, and force upon the Iraqi people against his will.

                 ‘That’ is the reason Nick Berg is dead along with nearly a thousand other Americans.

                  For me, it is obvious we have yet to learn from our history.

                  In Vietnam, had our government overcame its stubborn childish pride, and backed out once it realized it is no business there, tons of thousands of American lives would not have been senselessly forfeited.

                  Now in Iraq the same stubborn decisions are being made again.

                  If our troops remain there, thousands of additional lives will be lost, and when the military leaves it will leave as it left Vietnam- its tail tucked.

                  WAKE UP AMERICA!

My Turn To Die

Are The Homies Taking Care Of You?

Before I get busy here on another subject, a few o the OGs, of which I am one, would like to know if you guys and ladies are experiencing similar problems as we with the home boys in the free world? A whole lot of people around here are pissed because the “homies ain’t taking care of us,” and we’d like to know how many of you younstas are, or are not, receiving letters from home boys? Are they looking after you like they said with Zoo Zoos and Wham Whams?

They told a bunch of 18-year-olds here on the yard, who just arrived here out of CVYA, that “if you ever get busted we’ll be taking care of you.” It’s not happening, and OGs are trying to tell the younstas what’s up with that. Any advice you can give us? You think it’s going to happen for them, for you, like it was all promised? Sure would appreciate you letting us know. Our thanks and respects.

 

My Turn To Die

I remember, twelve years old, sitting in a chair that was too small for me at the “Central Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall.” I had been there over a dozen times before this, and nothing had changed. In the “dorm” I was always taken to, there as thirty-one other children, ages nine through fifteen, and it was a frikking zoo. I was scared, but I was getting increasingly “toughened up.” One particular “counselor/guard” was there every time I was arrested, and he’d tell me after I would take my “new arrival” beating by one of the older, much bigger, kids, “Stop sniveling! Toughen up! Don’t start crying!” I don’t remember exactly when, but I guess what he told me worked because I did stop everything he told me I “had to stop.”

The insistent arguing, fighting, from morning to night, I remember well. It was like a smothered roaring throughout the unit, and my brain, exactly as it is here in the cell blocks. I have tried, but cannot, to forget how one of the guards would occasionally take a boy to “counsel” him, never in the office, always, “Let’s talk in the back, kid.” It took me a while before I figure out I was not the only one he had promised he would let “go home if you’re nice to me.” They were always the petite, cute kids, not the bigger, tougher ones. When it would come my turn, again, I was still “toughening up,” just like they told me I had to do. “Some day, I’m going to be big and tough so he won’t do that to me any more.” There was no doubt in my mind of that.

“Some day I’ll get out of here, and I ain’t never coming back,” I promised myself, and anyone else who would listen, every time I got into trouble. Mom and Dad would come to visit and sit patiently, quietly, as I pleaded and made the same promises I had all the times before.

“I’ll do better. Won’t do it ever again. I won’t cause any more problems, just make them let me go home. Dad, mom, please, please? I promise!” It was always the truth, never a lie. I meant every word, every promise. It’s just that when I did get back home, I forgot I had made them. Even more serious was I forgot the consequences I had experienced.

 

Mom and Dad were always in the courtroom, Mom crying, Dad hurting so much he could not look at me more than a second or two; he didn’t want to cry right there, especially not in front of his son. What is this “macho” thing that insists we be so, even with our own children? No matter they were “always there,” the longer the days/weeks became that I was locked up, the more convinced I became “mom and Ad just don’t care.” I would become oblivious that all the while they were desperately battling for me. Most I had no knowledge of.

“It will be better, judge, just let us have him back,” they would please as I sat outside the judge’s chamber with a big goon standing over me. It’ll be different this time, we promise you, your Honor. He’s really a good kid. Please, sir, this one more time?” these were all the things I did not hear, nor did I see their tears shed together at home, missing me as no other two people could, or ever would again.

“This time,” the judge let them place me in the “Optimist Home for Boys,” in Highland Park, California. I did not know they had agreed to pay $90.00 each month of my stay there, a hefty sum of money in those days of $1.00 an hour wages.

“I cannot continue doing this if he keeps getting into trouble. I won’t! I see Dwight before me one more time, I’m not going to have any choice but to send him to Youth Authority.”

            `

After more “toughening up” at “the Home,” which was nicer than a lot of the places I had been, I went directly to “Harding military Academy,” in Glendora, CA. I lasted only a short time, but I toughed up quite a bit, learning “The Art of War” and how a good Marine protects his country.” The girls in the neighborhood were lusting after the “dress uniform” I wore home on the weekends to attract them, and eventually I ran away with one of them in a car I stole.

We went to Arizona where we gave one another our virginity, and played house at “Willow Beach” on the Colorado River until I was arrested for “transporting a stolen car across state lines (Dire Act, Federal Penal Code). Eventually back to “Central” and CYA, for more hardening up. It would be many years later before I learned a son had been born from that whirlwind relationship.

Four years of California Youth Authority, four years of extremely intense toughening up. As it turns out for most of the kids there, even today, I was being prepared for state prison; intentionally or not, it is what the juvenile penal system does best. Though I’d experienced a little of what it would be like when I was in Deuel (DVI) at Tracy, little did I know that no matter the skirmishes I battled at CYA, none would match those I would face in San Quentin. There, at eighteen years old, I would begin my lifelong fight to keep breathing by taking up a roofing hatchet, forced to kill two brothers who wanted from me something I was unwilling to give them

           

Here it is now 46 years later. I am at Salinas Valley State Prison where the administrators obviously cannot administer, taking care of some personal business we all must attend to sooner or later — dying. My emotions are mixed as my journey nears its end, but I am tired and need to rest. It has been a while since it could have ended any other way. I’ve known I had worked myself into a corner and the only way out is inside one of those cardboard boxes “The State” splurges for each time a convict passes.

           

Before I do go I needed to write once again, contrary to what you may have heard or thought, there is no glory to be found here. “Honor” among the “new breed” of inmates is spelled s-c-r-e-w-y-o-u. “Old School” is no longer here. It’s ton the Antique Road Show. Homie lies; time in prison is not “cool,” and there is no doubt you will most certainly regret coming here.

I got to tell you, though, the homie gangsters here are real tough. Why, a short time back, I watched one of their shot callers hit and knock a seventy-one-year-old man out of his wheelchair because he would not give up his pain medication!

I must admit I regret not having been smarter than I am. I know “smart” people don’t go to a juvenile hall, a county mail, a state prison, more than once. They do that one mistake, learn from it, and get busy maki8ng it right with family, working an hon4est job, finding that special person, struggle on together, help one another suffer through the hardships, get their own place, work harder, make family prouder, struggle more, suffer hardships, get a promotion, move to a larger, comfortable residence, buy a nicer car, work struggle, suffer, reach behind, grab hold of a hand, pull, work…

Those steps are “badges of honor” that one can wear with a great deal of pride, not the tattoos all up on our necks, chests and arms, put there so that when we post wearing a tank-top, showing off, our appearance might be intimidating enough to convince those walking by checking us out we are “one bad motha.”

           

Oh, I hope you will understand one other fact I have to share with you: that “five years ain’t nothing” the judge gave you? You’re right, “it ain’t nothing” compared to the life sentence that you have a one-out-of-three chance of piling up here along the way putting in work, and “proving” yourself to the fellas. I strongly, respectfully, suggest if you feel lucky enough to beat those odds, go to Las Vegas.

What Would I Tell You and Why Write?

         Sometimes, deep things can be said in simple ways. SunMan'sLight, who's been around the track a few times and currently resides at Salinas Valley State Prison, provides two fine examples. The first, dedicated to two young friends just starting out in life, is the wisdom of an OG sharing what he has learned in a lifetime of strife, pain, imprisonment, freedom and achievement. The second, "Why Write?"  addresses the sensitive subject of fear, and emotion all of us experience, and lays out a challenge to us all: Confront your fear through writing.

What I Would Tell You

If I had just a moment to tell you all I know, or want to know, and then to wish you well, I would tell you......

Don't miss a day of your life. Find ways to make each day matter. To you, to another, to the world.

Develop, listen to, nurture, and trust your instincts.

You will compete in life, but life is not a competition. It is a gift to be shared.

You are enough as an individual person.

You'll meet many special people in your life. There may be one special person. There may not be for you.

There are happy endings in life, but not always. And some are easier to understand than others.

We are all part of something bigger than life. And although I don't know for sure what it is, I'm grateful to have shared so much of life with you, and I want you to know I'll always be pulling for you.

Why Write?

So often w feel as if what  we want to say, others would criticize. We are not aware our thoughts are most often those of our peers. We, unfortunately, remain silent because of our fears.

What do we do when we are afraid of the dark? We turn the light on. It does make the dark go away, but does nothing to confront that which we actually fear. The fear does not stand before you. The light does not reveal it. It remains where it has always been, within you. It is there you must begin.

Write one thought upon paper, a feeling, a concern, a question that you have never before shared with another person, and you have begun the journey that will take you to a place where you will confront and defeat your fears.

Do this with the understanding that fear is not a weakness. Once controlled, it is not your enemy. It becomes your friend and will always make you aware not only of others intentions, but also your own.

A convict once told me he feared nothing. As I listened, I knew I was looking at a liar or a fool.

Fear is our most useful survival tool yet, for many, the most difficult to confront.

I - with much respect sent to you yong people - challenge you to write and share with me, through The Beat, your fears: are you afraid of the bully in your cell block? Are you afraid of the guards, the cops, your mom, dad? How about big dogs? Do you feel one way, but tell your peers something else because you are afraid of what they might think about you? Share it all with us readers. If you feel it is too personal, this one time use and AKA. No one will know it;s you.

Write! Confront! There is nothing in the darnkness you cannot defeat.

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