Saturday, July 28, 2007

Make an Inmate's Life take on a new trajectory, Donate a GED Prep book today!

Special Request: Our jails library service has been asked by our Wildly Successful GED Instructors to solicit GED prep books from donors. Email the address below if you are interested in directly donating these materials. Contact me at

Please use Donations in SUBJECT LINE.


Incarceration Nation: The Rise of a Prison-Industrial Complex

27, 2007 by Andrew Bosworth

Consider this disturbing fact: the United States now has the world's highest incarceration rate outside of North Korea. Out of 1,000 people, more Americans are behind bars than anywhere in the world except in Kim Jong-Il's Neo-Stalinist state. The US has a higher incarceration rate than China , Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma - countries American politicians often berate for their human rights violations.

Well over two million Americans are behind bars. Let us agree that violent criminals and sex offenders should be in jail, but most Americans are not aware that over one million people spend year after year in prison for non-violent and petty offenses: small-time drug dealing, street hustling, prostitution, bouncing checks and even writing graffiti.

....The Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves even faster than they already are if they knew that prisons are now lucrative corporations. These "McJails" receive money from government on a per-prisoner, per-day basis. No doubt, had the framers of the Constitution imagined that future Americans could descend to such depths they would have banned the commercialization of prisons outright.

Not surprisingly, the executives of these for-profit prisons sponsor "tough-on-crime" legislation and even line the pockets of politicians who back "mandatory sentencing" laws. For-profit prisons even get to write new mandatory sentencing laws to guarantee the raw material (the rabble of society) for an emerging prison-industrial complex.

In a Great Leap Backward, American politicians have also repealed two federal laws (the Hawes Cooper Act and the Ashurst-Sumner Act) that virtually outlawed prison labor, making it a felony to move prison-made goods across state boundaries. Stamping state license plates for cars was generally acceptable, but these Acts tried to end the leasing out of prisoners to private companies - they tried to eliminate prison-plantations and "factories with fences."

In the 1970s, a Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger, proselytized for more leeway as to what kinds of "projects" prisoners could work on. Before too long, Congress amended the laws, and by 1990 it was permissible for prisoners to produce products entering the stream of interstate commerce. Many of the largest corporations in America have taken advantage of prison labor in what might be called "Operation Sweatshop."

Amazingly, on there is a separate section for "investors." "Corrections Corporation of America is the nation's largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States behind only the federal government and three states" (Corrections Corporation of America).

Thus, the "tough on crime" propaganda masks a profit motive. Naturally, no politician can say that "my campaign was paid for by corporate lock-downs" or "I help run prison sweatshops." [Though Tom Delay would not be above such a boast, having applauded the practice of government-santioned sweat shops and prostitution on the Marianas Islands!] Representatives in Congress - mostly the "Big Government" Republicans but also many "Nanny-State" Democrats - are becoming the new goons in an emerging for-profit police state.

Call your broker.

Dan's 2-cents: The statistics are staggering, when one considers how far the percentage of incarcerated people vs. general population has risen since the rowdy early days of this Republic. It seems that the forces of Punishment and Greed are always beating back the forces of Equality and putting them in stocks (and bonds!)

Equality is part of the democratic bargain and it can't be traded away on Wall Street.

On a lighter note: On my salary, I think I'll refrain from investing in prison-based STOCKS! We trade in books, exclusively! I'm happy to fork over funds for the purchase of books for inmates. Feel free to join the process.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Through a Hole in the Door:

Encouraging words came our way today from a young man in the Maxest of the Maximum Security Cells. He has done time in a number of prisons and jails and told us that our library carts are...drum roll, please...the BEST! Though this compliment may have had ulterior motives (ie, procuring some more James Patterson books for his book cart,) the guy was straight with his praise for our service. He said that most facilities just didn't bother with books or only brought the oldest stuff.

We feel bad because our books aren't in mint condition, but this inmate can overlook Anne Rice books mummified in tape or Sidney Sheldon's Nothing Lasts Forever scrawled in marker on the spine. He's thankful for the real thing, and we are, too.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A very good day:

On June 28, 2007, the team had one of its best services ever. This occured in a Maximum Security house, where one deputy delayed his routine afternoon chores to stand guard over the service. He did not have to miss his lunch break, as some deputies have to do in order to accommodate the librarians. Central Operations commanders made book service possible by not scheduling too many conflicting duties for this deputy. He was free to help the team and this sense of accommodation created a cooperative mood among the inmates. On one occasion, he was forced to assert his authority and reprimand folks crowded at a doorway, but the reprimand established order and the "crowd" reformed itself into a line of individuals interested in books.

By the way, this deputy had no back-up on the floor. The library team is often denied access to inmates for this reason, alone -- especially in max houses where arguments can escalate very quickly into hostility and more coverage may be helpful. Even with this added risk, the deputy's authority was adequate to the task. The security priority was moderated by his recognition that the inmates need the mental stimulation of reading.

Many skeptics say that inmates abuse the books and game the system simply to get free stuff. First of all, who wouldn't avail themselves of the pleasure of reading--especially when bare walls are the alternative?? Yes, some books go down the toilet to cause headaches for the maintenance crew. Some books make the stiff beds more comfortable. Some magazines are stripped of their beautiful models, or even liquidated to provide ink for tatoos. But inmates primarily pour over the words these books contain. Their minds are broadened, according to their curiosity. A culture that kills curiosity is a dead culture and the life-enhancing value of lit really stands out in jail.

Any Grinches in our midst should be reminded of the fact that inmates pay for the lion's share of the book service through surcharges on commissary purchases. (This surcharge snags 50-cents per inmate per month for reading materials for a population of 4000 inmates.)

On June 28th, everyone USED us and we loved it! The entire population of the house (190 men) received access to the book cart and magazines.

What is a bad day?

The worst scenario for inmates and for the library team is 24-hour lockdown with no access to programs or benefits like reading materials. The County Library has a contractual duty to rotate materials for each house every 4 weeks, whether inmates receive them or not. Inmates have a highly-developed sense of fairness and a keen sense of justice; therefore they demand access to the materials we bring. They know carts are locked in the closet, waiting.

Many deputies allow interested individuals access to the book carts and magazines, though they refuse contact between inmates and the library team. There have been several occasions, however, when the security or lock-down model has been enforced so strictly that the materials delivered are not touched for more than one or even two months. An undisturbed book cart and neat magazine boxes are the worst case scenario.

There you have it: the good with the bad.