Beginning early in 2008 I started collecting news articles and statistics (from both paper and online sources) to establishing some facts, perspective, and context for the crisis of the US criminal justice system, the prison industrial complex, and juvenile justice in particular. I also collected stuff that linked performance to prison or crime, including films (Lilies, Marat/Sade, West Side Story). We invited Omar Khalif, ombudsman at SF’s Youth Guidance Center aka Juvenile Hall. I attended lectures (from Zizek to Robert King, a recently released political prisoner, 1 of the Angola 3) and some of the cast went to CR10, a national gathering of prison abolition activists. My notes from Omar Khalif and Robert King follow immediately and then excerpts and examples from several articles, essays, and other sources.
OMAR KHALIF, NOTES FROM INTERVIEW
Intergenerational. Cousins kill cousins but don’t even know they’re related.
Church, school, liquor store.
Q: How many whites in Juvie?
Kumbaya – the sign of fake unity.
Intentional arrest for health care, a bed in winter, hide from conflicts in the street.
Then the parents, I mean mother (there are no fathers)… He talks about the issue of being influenced only y women. Boys can’t fight, aren’t physically strong, and can only shoot guns.
Moment of the gun – a first moment of power.
Q: SF has more do-gooders (white liberal activists, social service non-profits) than anywhere. Why can’t we do good?
Q: Any successes in the system?
Count the heads in 2nd grade special ed classes to make 20 year projections in prison population.
Parents: You ain’t gonna grow up to be shit!
Q: What can we do?
ROBERT KING, ANGOLA 3
I got a thing about other people telling my story.
I was in prison but prison was never in me. I knew that I could live. I learned the language. I couldn’t escape so I had to find other ways to escape.
I learned the law by accident.
I am free of Angola but they are not free of me. They will never be free as long as I live.
Going to this event was not only deeply moving but also fortuitous in connecting with other prison activists. I connected with Rigo, a political and conceptual artist with longstanding solidarity with Black Panthers and political prisoners. I told him that I’d been imagining big mural/banners based on his work, Inmate & Classmate in his now classic/iconic One Way signs. He immediately said he’d be glad to get involved. Also, I met a guy who works for Critical Resistance who offered to help the project. He was responsible for referring Kate Berrigan, who gave valuable research support on the Ugly Facts.
MORE RESEARCH SOURCES, EXAMPLES, EXCERPTS:
LACK OF EDUCATION SERVICES TO JUVENILES
The state's largest juvenile prison provides virtually no education services to its wards, allows them to keep makeshift ropes in their cells and keeps most of them locked up 22 hours a day, according to a report Tuesday by the state inspector general.
MILITARY RECRUITMENT & CRIMINAL HISTORY
In 2004, the Pentagon published a "Moral Waiver Study," whose seemingly benign goal was "to better define relationships between pre-Service behaviors and subsequent Service success." That turned out to mean opening more recruitment doors to potential enlistees with criminal records.
ABUSE & OVERCROWDING
Books Not Bars had several resources, articles and videos that we used as part of our research. In rehearsal we watched a video called System Failure (13min version). The following article is one example of Books Not Bars’ thorough and effective activism:
California’s notorious Department of Juvenile Justice (more commonly known by its original name, CYA or California Youth Authority) is a hotbed of abuse. Young people are locked in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement for months at a time. They are confined to four-by-four cages during class time. Five young people have died in less than three years. With a 91 percent recidivism rate and a cost of $160,000 per ward, per year, CYA is the nation's most expensive, least effective juvenile justice system.
75% are rearrested within three years after leaving CYA.
ABUSE OF JUVENILE INMATES UNDER-REPORTED
In states across the country, child advocates have harshly condemned the conditions under which young offenders are housed—conditions that involve sexual abuse, physical abuse, and even death. The US Justice Department (DOJ) has filed lawsuits against facilities in eleven states for supervision that is either abusive or harmfully negligent. While the DOJ lacks the power to shut down juvenile correction facilities, through litigation it can force a state to improve its detention centers and protect the civil rights of jailed youth.
Lack of oversight and nationally accepted standards of tracking abuse make it difficult to know exactly how many youngsters have been assaulted or neglected.
In a nationally conducted survey, the Associated Press contacted each state agency that oversees juvenile correction centers and asked for information on the numbers of deaths as well as the numbers of allegations and confirmed cases of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by staff members since January 1, 2004. According to the survey, more than 13,000 claims of abuse were identified in juvenile correction centers around the country from 2004 through 2007—a remarkable total given that the total population of detainees was about 46,000 at the time the states were surveyed in 2007.
The worst physical confrontations have ended in death. At least five juveniles died after being forcibly placed in restraints in facilities run by state agencies or private facilities with government contracts since January 1, 2004.
… The article continues with details of the beatings and restraint techniques that resulted in the deaths of males aged 13-17.
… A follow up article includes the following:
Among conditions currently found in California county juvenile halls are the following:
BROTHER TO BROTHER: WORDS FROM THE HEART
I shared an excerpt by black gay writer Joseph Beam about his experience writing to a prisoner he didn’t previously know. We read it together. Here’s a taste:
In the fall of 1980, I did not know that one of every four Black men would experience prison in his lifetime. Nor did I know that my motivation for writing to prisoners arose from a deep sense of my captivity as a closeted gay man and an oppressed Black Man, rather than as an act of righteousness. Finally, I had no idea that such correspondence would become an integral part of my life and a place for dreaming.
He apologized profusely in that first letter about how contrary it was to prison etiquette to read someone else’s mail and even ruder to respond to it. Almost four years, and forty letters later, it seems ironic that this friendship, one of the most important in my life, is the result of a such a chance occurrence. More ironic and sadder is that we probably would not have met any other way; we are that different.
THE ACTORS ARE EX-CONS – THEIR MESSAGE IS BLUNT
Want to scare kids away from knives? Call in the ‘big, ugly guys’
IT TAKES A THUG TO SAVE A THUG
An article about ex-gang member Rudy Corpuz Jr., founder and director of United Playaz, a violence prevention and leadership development program for SF youth.
Excerpts from the CR10 materials:
CR 10 is a national organizing project in celebration of Critical Resistance’s 10th anniversary. CR10 provides an opportunity to assess the successes and challenges of the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC) during the past ten years; to examine how the PIC has adjusted to meet the challenges our work has posed to it, and what we must do to gain ground over the next 10 years. The project includes lead up events in cities around the country, dialogue and education, strategy and activation.
CR works to support genuinely sustainable, healthy communities that do not rely on imprisonment and policing to respond to harm. We call this vision “abolition.” We take the name abolition purposefully from those who called for the abolition of slavery in the 1800’s. Abolitionists believed that slavery could not be fixed or reformed – it needed to be abolished.
GRIM CONDITIONS AT YOUT PRISON
Report calls Chino facility lax, dangerous, 2 years after governor vowed to fix system
The state’s largest juvenile prison provides virtually no education services to its wards, allows them to keep makeshift ropes in their cells and keeps most of them locked up 22 hours a day, according to a report Tuesday by the state inspector general.
The review brought on harsh criticism from advocates for juvenile offenders who noted that the state has missed court-ordered deadlines to implement reform plans it agreed to when Schwarzenegger settled a lawsuit in 2004 over unconstitutionally conditions inside youth lockups.
“Nothing has change,” State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said. “We’re dealing with an organization that is impervious to change.”
The report reiterates many of the problems cited in 2004 throughout the youth prison system, when Schwarzenegger held a news conference at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton to announce the settlement of a class-action lawsuit. The suit had accused the system of warehousing juveniles in prison-like facilities instead of providing education, counseling and mental health care.
STOP THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE CAMPAIGN
This was one of the workshops at CR10 attended by some of the Delinquent cast. A project of FFLIC, Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, the goal is to expose how school suspensions and expulsions and eventual incarceration disproportionately affect poor youth of color, mostly African American. Their goal is to educate parents and youth, advocate with school boards and government agencies, and improve services both after school, and after incarceration. Materials from the session were shared with the cast. Much of what we read reiterated what we had been learning from other sources, and that mirrored personal experiences, that prison populations were not made up of individuals as much as systematically chosen groups of people, with high school dropouts as the biggest common trait and disproportionately racist statistics at every level of the criminal justice system. We were reminded of what we learned from our visit with Omar Khalif, ombudsman at San Francisco’s Youth Guidance Center (aka Juvenile Hall): that prison populations 20 years from now can be estimated based on the population in 2nd grade special education classes!
THE GANG INJUNCTION
During the summer of 2007, notices of the gang injunction were posted throughout the Mission neighborhood. The injunction informed “The NorteÒo Criminal Street Gang (and all of its members, affiliates, associates, and recruits)” that they were banned from a designated “Safety Zone,” made up of specific streets where they often gathered. The result was that any of the identified NorteÒo’s (or anyone that might seem, to the police, connected to them) could be arrested simply for being in public space. I tore down a few of the notices and saved them, knowing that sooner or later I would find a use for them. I was pretty disturbed and my ideas for Delinquent started to crystallize in response. In my research files I found not only the notices but also an article in a neighborhood paper debating the injunctions, both of which I shared with the cast.
US PRISON STATS RECORDED BY BBC
US jail numbers at all-time high
Soaring costsIt claims that the growing prison population "is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford, and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime". With 750 inmates per 100,000 people, imprisonment cost the 50 states more than $49bn last year, up from less than $11bn 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was found to be six times greater than for higher education spending.
MICHAEL MEADE – THE KOURES SYMPOSIUM