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Whether the timing was deliberate or accidental, I like that an interview with me about loneliness was published on Valentines Day.
The new website This On That interviews photo people about non-photo things. I was quizzed about solitude, forced isolation, the PCT and other things. Thanks to Barney and Matt for the questions. Here’s my answer to the ninth question of thirteen:
Who is/was the loneliest person you met doing your prisons project? Can anything be done to help him/her?
Not for me to say. Prisons are toxic and they degrade the spirit of any one who is inside.
That said, I’ve met some incredibly lonely people who are locked up but they know they only have themselves to rely on and in spite of the system, hold it together and do immense good. I’ve seen prisoners mentor, educate and counsel other prisoners. They do so because they feel and live the isolation. Incredibly, they can contain that struggle and frustration and turn it into something powerful and good and community-building. I’m thinking here of prisoners who teach remedial math, Spanish, life skills and coping strategies to other, usually younger, prisoners.
Screengrab from the header of the PDF of Day 3 (third installment) of the Complicity Cleanse
BETTER AT SMARTPHONE
There’s a bunch of things you can do to begin 2017 as less of a slave to your screens and phones. Lots of benefits to be had. You can ignore Tangerine-in-Chief-Twitter bile and be a better person! And I can take my own advice.
It does seem like a lot of us freaking out about our Internet diet.
“On average we spend 6 hours a day on our mobile phones. That means for everyone who only spends 2 hours a day on their phone, someone else is spending 10 hours,” writes Rik Arron. “Since the invention of email and then the rapid growth and use of mobile devices and social media – stress/anxiety/depression related work days lost has increased year upon year at an alarming rate, now costing US industry $300 billion a year.”
Marcus Gilroy-Ware says we use our smartphones for ONLY three hours day, but that doesn’t get us off the hook, because …
“From worrying reports of smartphone addiction,” writes Gilroy-Ware, “to the identification of smartphone faux-pas such as “phubbing”, [snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention] to the news that seven in 10 Americans have used a smartphone behind the wheel and one in 10 people check their phone during sex, the belief that smartphones are harmless is increasingly untenable.
During sex?! What the the is wrong with people?
Do social media messagings, in aggregate, create your worldview? Does your smartphone function as an extension of your body? What are your happiness levels?
Seems to me we’ve got some choices.
- We can all throw our devices off the roof and go farmstead. (Not going to happen).
- We can accept our cyborg selves and just try to be the best digital slaves we can. Embrace being numb. (More likely to happen for some).
- We can carefully administer our relationship to technology. (Probably the most realistic, and at least there’s an ongoing conversation).
Option 3 also provides the hope that we can leverage technology to our own advantage instead of just handing over our social graph for Silicon Valley to make money on … and the governments to snoop on … and the corporations to purchase … and the hackers to compromise.
Option 3 allows us the possibility to actively shape our diet of screen-fed-info. May I recommend therefore, at the start of 2017, The Complicity Cleanse.
Between now and the Jan 21st Women’s March on Washington, the Complicity Cleanse delivers daily bites of strategies, words, podcasts and exercises to reminder us of our own power. These are things you consider on your own in quiet, or activities you sit down for with one or five of your closest mates.
It’s a toolkit to being present with our world and it challenges. Some might scoff at the idea that we can fight police brutality and prisons by thinking and talking. But what else leads to consciousness? What else precedes the fight? What other process arrives at the best strategies?
Put together by a collective of social justice folks, The Complicity Cleanse can help you divest from the structures of oppression. High quality, recent resources in the realms of environmental protection, feminism, anti-corruption, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, community empowerment, anti-Islamophobia, the opposite to sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Sometimes it is profound information disguised as digestible affirmation. It’s a collection of 101 syllabi that posh college students pat tens of thousands for. It’s delivered right to your inbox.
One more thing, it’s for everyone! A lot of people get scared because they think lefties and radicals are militant. Some are, which is okay. Most are passionate, which is power. All are loving, which is important if social justice is to spread among peoples’ hearts. If the system is broken, show that it is broken. If we’re all worse off, then demonstrate that. If you’re argument is closer to truth then it’s merely a case of lovingly and consistently letting others in. Lots of political speak, unfortunately, gets heated and shouty. I like the humour and self-positioning of the Complicity Cleanse folks. I republish their call for involvement below.
WHO IS THE COMPLICITY CLEANSE FOR?
Anyone surprised by the election outcome. Really this was made for you. If you were surprised, or didn’t think that it was possible that a celebrity bully, openly endorsed by the KKK, with zero political experience, who grabs pussy whenever he feels entitled to it, could be elected by the people (Electoral College Scam) of the United States, forgive yourselves and in the space of forgiveness make room to learn a little more, change a little more, do a lot more.
You voted for this guy. No shame. We know you are just “fiscally conservative”. If you voted for this guy but somewhere in your heart there is a soft space for groups maligned by his campaign–this is for you… and the future of your tax returns, congrats.
People who know who this is. If you are already involved in social justice movements, but you were caught off-guard by this election victory–this cleanse is for you.
Answer: Audre Lorde, if you didn’t know that–this Cleanse is for you.
People Of Color. First thank you for everything you and your ancestors have contributed to this country in spite of every violent hurdle thrown at, against, towards, and literally through you. The Complicity Cleanse is also for you. There is so much we need to share with each other– and this cleanse was written by a diverse group of human doings who believe that to be the case- we tried to be as inclusive as possible, if we fucked up– its an oversight, let us know. We all need to do better.
Uhm, yep definitely for you.
Neoliberals/Millenials/Academics, you are in all the other boxes, but we know you like to be acknowledged individually–look if you have a lot of overly academic language around racism, and heterosexism there’s probably a little emotion that could be tapped into–and possibly a little more grasping of classism, so sign up, tweet, post, share, IG, IM, FB, IDK, LOL.
Modern Day Yogis. Yep, you. You’re doin’ good, and you look good too– now do more. The ancient Rishis didn’t risk their lives to develop this practice just so you look better with a shirt off– this practice was designed to make you feel better, so you do more. Why build such a beautiful big ship if its just gonna be docked all day in breathable pants, take that thing into the turbulent seas. You know how to be productively uncomfortable, now channel that training to the betterment of others. Namaste.
Basically we all could benefit from time spent with each other, time spent learning with and about each other–simply less time spent thinking about ourselves. This cleanse is most effective when done in groups or unexpected partnerships so we become more accountable to each other–all of us together, even the non humans. So we remember that ultimately we belong to each other, so we remember we are most effective together.
On November 11th, five imprisoned people at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) endured extreme violence at the hands of prison guards. They immediately filed grievances against the officers and called for an independent investigation, but so far none of their requests have been met. They have now developed a more comprehensive set of demands listed in the letter below.
Family members alongside California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Justice Now, Family Unity Network and TGI Justice Project have prepared a petition and are asking the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Senate Public Safety Committee for recognition of, and response to, a set of demands penned by the incarcerated women.
My letter below. You can send your own HERE.
Warden Deborah K. Johnson, Scott Kernan and Senator Loni Hancock,
I recently learned about a serious incident of physical assault and sexual harassment at CCWF.
Stacy Rojas, Sandra Rocha, Yvette Ayestas, Melissa Blanchard, Sara Lara and others were subject to degrading treatment during a November 11th incident.
I join the people in prison, their family members and advocacy groups in calling for an independent investigation into the incident and the suspension, pending investigation, of the officers specified in the administrative appeals filed.
Many women and transgender or gender non-conforming people incarcerated at your facility have long histories of sexual and domestic violence and an incident such as this can trigger trauma and PTSD. Yet the officers involved in the incident are still working in close proximity to those impacted by the assault.
I strongly support the demands of the imprisoned people:
• We demand the right to document, expose, and protect ourselves to stop abuses and violations of our human rights without retaliation or punishment.
• We demand safety from retaliation and from being coerced, threatened and blackmailed to betray our imprisoned peers.
• We demand immediate and ongoing medical attention and access to mental health support services. Additionally, we demand access to mental health support if requested, due to the extreme mental stress this assault has caused as a result of the histories of trauma that this incident triggered.
• We demand an independent investigation by the Inspector General’s office.
• We demand that any internal investigation coordinated by the CDCR and through the Investigative Services Unit (ISU) be transparent both during the process and in the sharing of results and that the investigation be conducted in collaboration with legal advocates. Additionally, when ISU is requested by people in the care and custody of CDCR, and most specifically at CCWF where staff misconduct and violence at the hands of CDCR staff was reported, those requests are immediately addressed and responsibly handled.
• We demand immediate suspension of all officers specified in the appeals filed after the incident pending independent investigation. Suspension should include those higher up the chain of command, namely the Captain and Sergeant who were involved in this incident.
• We demand an immediate end to violence and brutality at the hands of prison staff and officials. We demand an end to gender-based violence in all California prisons. We connect this violence and brutality to the state violence people experience in communities of color throughout the country and demand an end to police brutality both inside and outside of prison.
I look forward to hearing your responses.
Pete Brook, San Francisco, Calif.
Send your own letter supporting the petition HERE.
Image: Amy Elkins, from the series Black Is The Day, Black Is The Night
Before my celebration, last week, of Arthur Longworth‘s CLO Conference presentation, I had no idea his work was to be featured once more on The Marshall Project. As part of TMP’s ongoing Life Inside series, Longworth wrote about being moved between cells. This excerpt stood out:
Now I’m loading up my pictures. Here’s one of the former warden and his wife, who have visited me over the years, welcomed me into their family, and spoken out for my release.
There is so little solidity in prison, so little to depend on, that a picture like this — or a cell that’s mine, that’s home, that I can always return to — is a treasure.
Longworth’s appreciation for a former-warden’s support is thrilling, clever and effective. Longworth gently turns over our preconceived notions of friend and foe. A man of uniform has welcomed a prisoner into his family? If our stereotypes of law enforcement dissolve then what of our stereotypes of prisoners? Well, just read Arthur Longworth’s words. And those of thousands of other prison writers, for that matter.
I spent last Friday inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison watching the presentations of TEDxSan Quentin. Most talks were by prisoners and almost all were moving, reasoned, hard-hitting. It reminded me, once more, of the incredible intellect of men, women and children inside America’s prisons. It made me think again of how foolish we are as a society to waste talent, ignore positive contributions and crush lives through our addiction to incarceration.
Arthur Longworth was not at that TEDx; he is imprisoned not at San Quentin, but at Monroe Correctional Complex near Seattle. Nor did Longworth make the presentation (above) at a TED event. While Monroe has had its own TEDx event, the prisoners own Concerned Lifers Organization (CLO) has been hosting an annual conference for longer.
Longworth’s talk Mass Drownings at the 2015 CLO Conference is an eloquent, 18-minute-long metaphor of the prison industrial complex as the ocean. Longworth was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP) meaning he has for the past 30-some-years lived behind bars knowing he’d never get out from them. This is a special-type of torture reserved for he and tens of thousands of other Americans. Longworth has witnessed more and more people tossed into the ocean and describes the cruelty of hope.
“This news that people outside of the ocean are actually talking about what’s happening in it spreads across the water in the form of hope. A piece of which you reach out and grab on to. Your instinct isn’t to hold on because by this time you’ve been in the water so long and you don’t know what hope is. But when you try to let go you discover that you can’t bring yourself to do it because this thing you’ve grabbed on to is warm and buoyant. For the first time since you were put into the ocean you cease to shiver and you feel like there might be something to swim toward.”
It’s here that our relationship with those on the inside comes into sharp focus. Politicized prisoners know that there’s a major shift in public attitudes. They are working, too, to help in the balanced and restorative debate we have ackowledged we need. Recognising there’s a problem is the easy part; we need to find the solutions. We need to meet these mens’ hopes. We need to replace a bloated and cruel, cruel system with humanity.
I watched this video for the first time in the wee hours of Thursday, 14th January. I was due that afternoon to open Prison Obscura at Evergreen State College. I have presented so many times on Prison Obscura and the ideas around it that it’s hard not to feel jaded at times. Sometimes, I go into auto-pilot. But, just because I have communicated things multiple times doesn’t make the human rights abuses to which they respond any less urgent.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Longworth several times during my role as a teacher with the University Beyond Bars at Monroe (2009-2011). We never spent any time in the classroom together. He had no use for the art classes I taught and it was not feasible for me to take his Spanish lessons! Arthur Longworth is a brilliant mind and an inspired leader. From within a system that has abandoned its moral compass he has maintained his own. Somehow.
Longworth bristles with controlled fury and a nailed-on sense of injustice. He can’t fathom why a society might throw people away so readily. Then he recalls the monarchy system from which the United States emerged. Kings used to condemn men by decree without ever seeing their faces. Only high and mighty arrogance could enact such disregard.
Mass Drownings reduced me to tears. I also felt shame; shame that I’d got lazy, on occasion, with the presentation of Prison Obscura. The show remains on the walls of Evergreen State College through March 2nd, but I am inclined to tell Washingtonians to watch Arthur Longworth before they seek out any online video about Prison Obscura. Longworth’s argument, grace and dignity are why the fight against mass incarceration must continue. His words carry more meaning and weight than any I, or any other outside activist for that matter, could ever.
Of course, to people familiar with prison literature, this is no surprise. Longworth won the PEN Center ‘Best Prison Memoir’ Prize in 2010. Pulitzer-winning novelist Junot Diaz read Longworth’s Walla Walla IMU, a story about ants in solitary confinement, on stage to a New York crowd. College students nationwide are assigned his works. Last year, The Marshall Project published an essay of his. Longworth has been the feature of Seattle Times and KUOW pieces about LWOP.
Listen to Longworth. Simply put, he’s one of the few remaining persons who talks any sense about a maddening system that condemns hundreds of thousands of men, women and children without ever seeing their faces.
Even though 1,000 were printed, they’re somewhat of a rarity these days. Hundreds were given out for free during the opening exhibition at Haverford College and they’ve made their way into comrades’ hands, collections and supporters bookshelves ever since.
I have only 18 remaining in my possession.
48 pages of pretty pictures, a foreword by Kristen Lindgren and a whopping 5,000-word essay by yours truly.
I’m thrilled by the prospect of people reading on the printed page as opposed to these here screens.
© Mark Strandquist, from the series ‘Some Other Places We Have Missed’
From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.
© Josh Begely, from the series ‘Prison Map’
Photo: Made by a student of Steve Davis during a photography workshop in Washington State juvenile detention facility.
From the Brown v Plata/Coleman lawsuit.
High Desert State Prison, Susanville, Lassen County, California.
As shocking as the crimes covered in the latest investigation of conditions in California’s prisons is the fact the same abuse, racism and corruption continue.
“Guards at an isolated state prison have created a “culture of racism,” engage in alarming use of force against inmates and have a code of silence encouraged by the union that represents most corrections officers,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
The problems have been exacerbated by High Desert State Prison‘s relative isolation in the high Sierra town of Susanville which has a population of only 16,000. The prison holds more than 3,000 prisoners despite only being designed for 2,300.
The report 2015 Special Review: High Desert State Prison, Susanville, CA (PDF) by the California Inspector General details rising violence in special housing units designed to protect vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, gang dropouts and prisoners with physical disabilities.
“So-called sensitive-needs yards, which are supposed to shelter inmates likely to be attacked in the general population, instead were “just as violent” as the rest of High Desert — “with gang politics meting out abuse and punishment for drug and gambling debts and extorting vulnerable inmates for protection, all of which is exacerbated by the tacit acquiescence of custody staff”,” reports the fastidious and essential Paige St.John for the Los Angeles Times.
The report describes use of the N-word and the derogatory insult “wetback” being used routinely by guards. Prisoners report Green-Walling which is a form of unity and silence that guards adopt to hamper investigation. The California prison-guards’ uniforms is green.
More shocking, but not surprising, the guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, advised its members not to cooperate and filed a lawsuit and collective bargaining grievance in a bid to hinder the investigation, says Inspector General Robert Barton.
“The union sent a letter last month to Gov. Jerry Brown and every state lawmaker in what Barton called “the latest strong-arm tactic … to obstruct the … review and attempt to discredit the OIG in advance of the release of this report”,” reports the Sacramento Bee.
Read the full report: 2015 Special Review: High Desert State Prison, Susanville, CA (PDF)