Hi Everyone. Yeah, so We would like to acknowledge that today’s presenters are situated on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen and Kwantlen First Nations. We would also like to acknowledge that we are joining this session today from many places, and give thanks to the Indigenous peoples of those lands. Considering the deep connections between Black and Indigenous communities in the struggle against colonialism, oppression and white supremacy, we would also like to acknowledge the realities and resistance of the displaced Indigenous peoples of Africa.
As we’ll be touching on today, the prison abolition movement is intrinsically tied to decolonization and anti-racism given the very fact that our prison system disproportionately affects marginalized bodies, particularly those that are Black, Indigenous and/or LGBTQ+ in violently oppressive and deadly ways. We want to remind everyone, alongside our land acknowledgement, that in all of our abolitionist journeys, we must center Black, Indigenous and queer perspectives in order to move forward in this movement in transformative and meaningful ways.
With that, we’d like to welcome you to our workshop and discussion today: Prison Abolition 101 with Humanize Consulting
And just a quick note. We also wanted to let you know that we will be describing any images in the presentation. And if we don’t describe the slide, it just doesn’t have any images on it, or color scheme is generally a bright sunny yellow with great lettering, or a white screen with great lettering.
Alright so on this slide.
It says who we are and then underneath the heading is colored group photo of me, Soundous and Kale and then the photo credits goes to Adam Koebel of adam-koebel.com.
Alright, so just to introduce myself my name is Karen. I’m a second-generation immigrant settler from China and I’m currently situated on the land of the Musqueam, Kwantlen and Tsawwassen Indigenous peoples are what is colonially known as Richmond, BC. I also identify as non-disabled neurotypical working class, cis gender racialized person of colour and fine with any pronouns. Currently, I am in my bedroom, I have short hair and glasses and wearing my grandpa’s sweater this.
I’ll pass it off to Soundous.
Hi everyone my name is Soundous I use she / her pronouns, I’m an immigrant and settler on the Musqueam territory. A lot of my work involves Indigenous relations and Indigenous outreach, as well as working, or marginalized populations.
And as a woman of colour I experienced forms of micro aggressions and discrimination so I’m glad that we’re here having these conversations and trying to dismantle the systems.
And I have a virtual background of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco I have long black curly hair and kind of a striped shirt that you can see on you know I’m gonna pass it to Kale.
Hello, I’m Kale, I’m a white woman with long red hair and cut short on one side, I’m wearing glasses and I’m currently in my living room with my bookshelf behind me.
I’m a settler on the stolen Land of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh peoples. I identify as queer disabled woman, and I use she / her pronouns, and also an abolitionist, and so this work
and this presentation, feel deeply personal for me, especially since meeting Jamie.
That’s who this presentation is a fundraiser for, we created this web webinar last year, and ran it, but we are running it again as a fundraiser this year.
We’re going to do the webinar and then at the end of the webinar, I’m going to introduce Jamie, and then he’s going to speak so I’m really excited about that.
But first we’re going to dive right into the webinar.
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Heavy topics can be exhausting for those of us who are racialized or experience other forms of marginality.
This is going to be some heavy stuff we’re talking about abolition. So, we’re going to touch on topics like police brutality, violence, death, racism. Ask for support if you need to via private chat or you can email us after if you need to, our email address is email@example.com.
Let’s get right into it.
In Canada, many people believe that the death penalty is barbaric and outdated.
But the thought that prisons are equally barbaric and outdated is hard to wrap our brain around. For so long, incarceration has been the only option available to us for dealing with so many societal problems, we can’t begin to imagine an alternative.
So that’s kind of what this webinar is about is sort of an intro to why we need abolition, and we’re going to ask you to, you know, stretch beyond what might be your current ideas of how Crime and Punishment work.
First, we’re going to dive into the foundation of how the prison system is inherently flawed, which is why reform doesn’t work, a lot of people want to reform the system, but it’s just built on an inherently flawed system from the beginning.
So, then we’re going to look at how much the prison system costs, we’re going to discuss the cost of running the prison industrial complex and how that’s way beyond what the cost would be to treat the systemic issues themselves that are causing these problems.
Poverty, lack of access to services, etc. Then we’re going to talk about how the current system doesn’t serve victims are survivors.
After that we’re going to look at does it actually make community safer. The question is actually usually no, it rarely makes our community safer, and it locks the most marginalized groups of people into lifelong cycles of trauma and violence.
Finally, we’re going to look at what can be done. Abolition has happened many times in our past. You know when we think about abolition, we might think of abolishing slavery, but we abolished lynching and legal segregation and in Canada we’ve abolish the death penalty. So, you know, Angela Davis said at one time these things were considered “as everlasting as the sun”. But now it makes total sense to us and of course we abolish these. While it might seem inconceivable that prison be abolished, we want to structure it a little bit in this presentation, so we’re going to explore that idea. And I’m going to hand it off to Karen to go through the history of our prison system.
Hey, thanks Kale. Alright so I’m going to start off with just a bit about the first prisons.
Prior to 1790 in Canada, all crimes were punished, usually in public and could involve humiliation, whipping, branding, being left in stockades for hours or days at a time, and of course capital punishment.
The first modern prison in North America, the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, was built by Quakers in 1790, and surprisingly grew out of benevolent intentions.
The Quakers came up with the idea for the first prison as a humane alternative to these brutal punishments, and ending the death penalty.
The new enlightened idea was to create what they called penitentiaries that were meant to be solitary spaces for thought and repentance – and for the first time combine punishment and rehabilitation.
Where this great idea falls apart is how they thought people could be rehabilitated. It was a place meant of penance (hence a penitentiary), a place where someone could reflect and reform, then re-enter society.
On this slide there three images. Two on the left are of a water torture device where person sits in a wooden bench with their hands locked in wooden stocks and their head encased in a wooden bucket into which cold water is dripped or poured, one image on the very right of a standing wooden casket with locks on it.
In Canada, the first penitentiary was built in Kingston, Ontario in 1835. Many more were built through the 1800s across the country, they were all maximum-security penitentiaries and men, women and even children as young as 8 were sent to them. The first warden at Kingston would whip everyone, even the children, chain them in their cells with no light, use a water torture device or leave them in a casket like box.
There was a strict routine of forced labour during the day, confinement at night, and just as the Quakers had designed, complete silence at all times.
People came from Europe to see these ‘modern’ and ‘enlightened’ prisons, however by the late 1800s both European countries that had copied the models and the US Supreme Court started acknowledging that due to extreme isolation, the incarcerated were experiencing psychosis and becoming “violently insane.”
This next slide.
There are three pictures so, so on the left is the Eastern State Penitentiary, it almost looks like a castle made out of dark grey stone, with towers and battlements. On the right is inside the penitentiary, it’s very dilapidated and crumbling bricks. There is a photo of a stairwell and a hallway, as well as a cell that is just wide enough to fit a single bed widthwise.
The English author Charles Dickens toured the US in 1842, and toured the Eastern State Penitentiary outside Philadelphia and witnessed inmates in solitary confinement.
At the time, inmates spent 24 hours a day in 12 feet long by seven feet wide cells. When they arrived at the prison, they were stripped, hooded and led to their cell, then left there until their sentence was over.
The idea was to sit in isolation and silence for years, so they could think about their actions and seek forgiveness from God.
About his visit to America, Charles Dickens wrote a travelogue called American Notes. In it he includes what he witnessed at the penitentiary:
“A helpless, crushed and broken man. … Better to have hanged him in the beginning than bring him to this pass, and send him forth to mingle with his kind, who are his kind no more.”
“The system here,” he wrote, “is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement.” The prisoner “sees the prison officers, but with that exception he never looks upon a human countenance, or hears a human voice. He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in the slow round of years.”
“I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.”
And I just wanted to before I pass off to this just say that today everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the United Nations recognizes solitary confinement as torture. But a report in February of this year, so 2021 showed that federal prisons in Canada are still using it, nearly two years after the government promised to end the practice.
And so, I’m going to pass it off to Soundous now.
Thanks, Karen, and just to note these next slides will just be a white background with grey writing.
So, I’m going to talk a little bit more about the history of prisons in Canada starting, starting in the 1900s.
1911: Black people were incarcerated in Canada at 18x the rate of white people (and we cover a lot more about this, specifically in our Anti-Black racism training). But of course, from the time of slavery in Canada, Black and Indigenous bodies were under state control and disproportionately criminalized.
By the 1920s incarcerated people are less confined to their cells, and I were paid meager wages for hard labour.
By 1929 when the Great Depression was going on, a quarter of Canadians were out of work, and generally more poverty meant more crime and higher incarceration rates.
By 1934 Canada opened its first women’s prison to finally separate men and women in prisons
Throughout the 1930s, so 1932-1939, there were a lot of prison riots to draw attention to the poor conditions that incarcerated folks experienced within the prison system.
In the 1960 and 1970s, Black activism was on the rise. With that there was also a lot more surveillance of marginalized communities by the RCMP. The government also used threats of crime in an exaggerated way as a way to control these communities.
By the 1970s, rising youth crime rates, youths who broke the law were treated as “little adults” and received the same sentences as adults-including harsh sentences for relatively minor crimes.
In 1971, there was a 500-person riot at Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario to draw attention to their conditions (for example, flogging was still practiced)
In 1976 Canada finally abolished the death penalty.
Continuing on with the 1900s between 1980 and 1990s.
1980-1990s: Health crisis – HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis-C virus (HCV) in federal and provincial prisons continued to increase. Studies found between one in every 100 incarcerated people was infected; others set the figure as high as one in nine. So very high infection rates within the prison system.
In 1986, two days after President Ronald Reagan announced the War on Drugs, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did the same in Canada. Although he came it was just a coincidence that it was all happening at the same time. And it all started around the same time here that it was happening in the States.
So just like in the States. This ended in a massive jump in incarceration rates. And even though a lot of scholars show that the crime rates during these times were actually decreasing.
There’s also a 200% increase of Black men being incarcerated. That’s five times that of white men, and 630% increase in Black women incarcerated that’s seven times that of white women.
And 1992, despite it being a War on Drugs, it was really a war on the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities.
And although there’s a lot of different funding that was happening, law enforcement got $400 million to be fighting the War on Drugs, where drug treatment only got $8 million. So you can see how money was being used a different ways and focus in different areas, instead of treating the problem is more about dealing with people.
In 1997 the Controlled Drug & Substances Act gave police more power in arrests, searches and seizures for minor drug cases than rape, arson or murder. So, people can be incarcerated for very small crimes, especially targeted towards the BIPOC communities
Into the 2000s between 2006 and 2014 Stephen Harper is Prime Minister.
During this time the Black prison population increases by 70% and Harper government starts slashing spending on, on different social safety nets social programs and health care.
They cut a lot of educational programs, child care welfare, pension, union wages, homelessness prevention programs, and HIV and Hep C prevention and treatment programs, and a lot of community support for immigrants, and the list goes on and on of all the different slashes that were happening. So like I mentioned before, it is a lot of money going to specific areas and being taken away from, from other areas that are meant to really be supporting people.
However, he vastly increases spending on the prison industrial complex
Spending on federal corrections up 70% (peaks in 2013-2014 at $2.75B).
In that time, the prison population also drastically changes demographically, and the white population goes down 24% while the Indigenous population goes up 52%
And during this time although there are all these other budget cuts happening in the Harper government, increase the spending on the prison industrial complex, and the spending on federal correction was up by 70%. And it was around $2.75 billion dollars between 2013 and 2014. So that’s a lot of money that’s going into this whole system.
And in that time, the prison population also drastically changed demographically, and the white population at this time went down by around 24%, while the Indigenous population went up to 52%.
So, we can see that and definitely targeted populations are experienced higher rates of incarceration.
On this slide we have color line chart and its titled Chart 1: Police reported crime rate and Crime Severity Index, Canada 2007 to 2017. It shows that both the crime rates reported and the severity of the crimes dropping since 2007, with a small bump and leveling off around 2015. The crime rate is based on Criminal Code incidents, excluding traffic offences.
So, during that time that the Harper government was increasing spending on federal corrections by 70%, Stats Canada had been reporting dropping crime rates for years.
By the time they were pumping the most money in, the crime rate was leveling off.
And then in this slide we have a blue and green line graph titled Federally Incarcerated Indigenous Populations since 2001 that shows how the rate has steadily increased from 17% in 2001
Indigenous population in prisons is 30% today (even though they are 4.9% of total population), yet they account for 52% of all incidents of self-injury in prisons and 39% of incidents of attempted suicide.
To reiterate the reason why we’re talking about history in this way, you can see the system has been flawed from its inception and definitely target specific groups over others.
It may or may not be surprising, but there haven’t been any significant changes in how the system is run. And as a society we never really stopped to think, or we conceptualize why we run prisons the way that we do, or what the purpose of it is. But before we get into how the system is failing us, we’re going to talk a little bit more about how much it’s costing us. So, I’m going to toss it to Karen to give us more information.
Yeah, as Soundous mentioned, spending one the carceral system shot up during the Harper government. So, we’re going to take a quick look at how much it costs Canadians today.
So, on this slide is a circle graph of the 2020 Operating Budget in Vancouver by Category. The breakdown is: Engineering & Utilities including public works, 29%, Corporate Support including debt and capital as well as contingencies and transfers, 19%, Community Related Services including Parks and recreation, Art, culture and community services, library, development, buildings and licenses, planning urban development and sustainability, 22% and the Public Safety 30%. Fire is 9% and Police is 21%.
In 2010, the VPD budget was $200 million per year
Today, it is $340 million, which is a 70% increase in ten years.
It is 21% of the entire budget for the city of Vancouver.
In 2018 the RCMP costs for British Columbia were $1,959,569,847, split between municipal, provincial and federal governments.
This is a bar graph of the taxpayer’s money in Toronto, starting at the bottom with the least spent on Economic development and culture, getting slightly higher as it goes up with paramedical, children’s employment and social services, then the library, shelter and housing, transportation, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, Parks, Forest and Recreation, Fire Services, Debt Charges starting to jump up, the TTC and then a big jump with Police services.
So, the Toronto Police had an operating budget of 1.0 to 6 billion in 2019 and 2020 budget is 1.2 billion so that’s grown about 888 million since, 2010, in which it was $312. Oh, grown from 888 million in 2010. So that’s the $312 million increase.
Alright so, as if we’re going to talk about the adult correctional system this is the breakdown of the operating expenditures for 2017 to 2018, which is the most recent data that we could find so the top three provinces are Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia,
Ontario is at $890,612,000, Quebec is at $541,096,000 and BC is at $315,800,000. The total Federal is almost $2.5 billion.
And then the total for all jurisdictions and all provinces and territories is over 5 billion.
And this is just looking at the cost of Correctional Services so this is an include the police for the RCMP, which we talked about in our defend the police workshop, but we won’t touch on that right now.
On this slide, we have seven. We have seven purple tone in the graphic images, touching on prisons and homelessness, which I will read out and also elaborate on so the cost of prisons runs much deeper than the dollars being spent directly on the carceral system.
One thing that people in favour of prison reform, defunding the police and abolition have in common is they believe that money being spent on prisons and police could be far better spent in community, rather than an obviously ineffective, failed and harmful system.
So, we can’t really, we don’t really have the time today to get into all the collateral damage caused by pouring money into prisons and police while ignoring social services. So, we are going discuss the link between one such area – unhoused people and incarceration.
There are two points of intersection.
The first one is that most people are far more likely to be arrested. So many people in prison are there for, what are basically crimes of poverty, and this is one of them.
And two, incarcerated people are far more likely to become homeless once they are released.
To break down the infographic:
35,000 Canadians are homeless on a given night
At least 253,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a year
1 in 4 (27.3%) homeless are women,
1 in 5 (18.7%) are youth
The number of Older Adults (50-64) and seniors (65+) experiencing homelessness is growing, making up a combined 24.4% of shelter users
28-34% of the shelter population is indigenous, while only 4.9% of Canadians are Indigenous
Families stay in shelters 2X as long as individuals
A recent report suggests that a conservative estimate of the annual cost of homelessness in Canada is $7 billion.
There are dozens of reasons why it costs more for a homeless person to live on the street, rather than for us to house them.
That is not the scope of this talk, but we are happy to provide research materials if you’re interested.
Researchers agree there is a cheaper way to deal with this issue – providing housing. And there are a dozen reasons why it costs more for a homeless person to live on the street, rather than for us to house them, but again that’s not really within the scope of this talk, but we can provide any materials and resources.
And if you’re interested in learning more, researchers agree that there’s a cheaper way to deal with this issue, and that is providing housing. And while there is the moral argument that it is unacceptable for a country as wealthy as Canada to have people living in extreme poverty. In this case both the moral and cost benefit issue both a lot.
What does this have to do with prisons? Quite a lot.
The cost of homelessness includes direct costs like shelters and services.
But one of the bigger, unseen costs are the indirect costs, and these include things like health care, policing and the entire criminal justice system.
There was a, an unhoused man in Ontario who amassed 430 tickets over the years, issued by cops and transit officers for a litany of non-criminal offences, like getting drunk in a subway station, jaywalking, carrying open booze on the street, loitering, littering, trespassing and more. The total came to more than $65,000 in fines, which thankfully a judge waived. But it this just kind of gives us an idea of how much money spent over the years by the police to harass this man for the crime of just being poor.
Also, homeless people become incarcerated at much higher rates, and incarcerated become homeless at higher rates
1 in 5 people in prison was homeless when incarcerated
32% of incarcerated become homeless when released
So, just from that quick overview, we can see that homelessness is expensive. It impacts a large number of Canadians and has a strong link to incarceration.
A report by Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and York University’s Canadian Observatory on Homelessness outlined steps the government can take to end homelessness.
It gave recommendations the are tangible, concrete, affordable and proven to be effective wherever they have been tried including in Canada.
It calls for a focus on community capacity, prevention, and “Housing First” for those now on the streets, jointly run by all levels of government.
The Gov of Canada currently invests only $119 million annually
The cost would be $4.4-billion a year, but only for a decade
And while that might seem like a lot of money.
We want to consider that 4.4 billion shared by all levels of governments for 10 years can end homelessness as it exists today.
And every single year the combined levels of government spend over 5 billion on the adult correctional system and increases every year, with no end in sight.
So, and then on top of that homelessness costs us, $7 billion a year. So, housing people and they can keep them out of jail, and it will result in less people to house. So, it’s a pretty positive cycle.
And now we’re going to go to Kale.
Thanks, Karen. Okay, so in abolition, we always want to go back to one central question, which is What is the current system doing right? Movies and TV shows show us that when a crime is committed, the perpetrators caught, then convicted, and justice is served right that’s the common narrative that we see when we watch you watch anything. So, if this is getting it right. That’s our societal version of what getting it right is.
11:36:07 So we want to ask is it doing that is that what the system is actually doing. And if justice has been served. For whom is it being served. So, we’re going to dig into that in the next few.
In abolition, we want to always ask this question – What is the current system getting right?
Movies and tv shows us when a crime is committed, the perpetrator is caught and convicted, justice is served. If this is ‘getting it right’, is that happening? And if justice is being served, for whom is it being served?
In the next section here. So first we’re going to look at what we’re calling the Victims and Survivors – The Messy Middle.
That’s what the header reads, The Messy Middle, and on the right, there’s a coloured headshot of Danielle Sered, who wrote the brilliant book Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair, which we are going to reference in this section.
Seeing the person who was harmed them locked up. So, let’s look at the reality of what actually happens.
There are two sorts of tropes, right? There’s the victim who wants the worst punishment possible right, lock them up, throw away the key.
That’s a thing we see a lot, maybe a media or something. Then on the flip side, we sometimes see or hear about the victim or survivor where a really horrific crime has happened, such as a murder of a child or something you know they’re really dramatizing this, and then they offer forgiveness to the perpetrator of the crime.
In truth, we’re usually in the messy middle somewhere between these two extremes. You know, somewhere on the spectrum.
So, according to Daniel Street and her research, victims usually want different things, then these two extreme polar opposites.
They want things like, they want the person who committed the crime to move to another neighborhood, because often that person lives in their own neighborhood.
They want economic mobility for themselves, they want to be in a different situation in life. Maybe they don’t want to live in the neighborhood that they live in now.
They want self-defense classes, they want new locks on the doors. They want something that will prepare themselves if they find themselves in a situation like that again.
They want support addressing their own trauma symptoms that were caused by the crime. They don’t want to be left on their own.
Usually if we picture what happens, the victim’s kind of taken out of the process. You know, once the crime is committed the victim is removed, and now it’s in the court’s hands. Things are happening and they don’t really get any support from the system.
For what happened to them, they want help for the children and family who might also be traumatized by what happened. They want different, different conditions for their neighborhood, they see why crimes are happening in the first place.
It’s usually linked back to poverty, they see the systemic reasons that crime harms everyone. Like they’re living in the conditions, and they understand what’s going on, and they want that to change, so they get that. Right?
Sered once said, One thing every victim asked, is that they want the person who hurt them, not to hurt anyone else. That’s what everyone says, right, we don’t want this to happen again.
So, while they know what happened to them can’t be fully repaired. The research shows that that what can bring up a victim or survivor peace is to know that it’s not going to happen again.
If you look at all those things I just mentioned, not one of them is being addressed by our current system, which we’ll dig into more about why it’s not being addressed by our current system.
There is one thing that the current system does, do sort of. For victims, or survivors that want punishment or revenge for crimes are committed, prison can do this.
That’s a very fair reaction to have, it’s totally understandable that that is something a person would want, when a when a crime was committed.
And because in the current system, the only option available is to put someone in prison. That’s entrenched in our collective minds as the ‘right’ thing to do. Right? And besides the fact that nothing else is offered. That’s just what we understand. We want them punished. Ergo, they have to go to prison, right?
You know it makes sense that the survivors and the families of the survivors, again who are also traumatized by crime, they want the offenders locked up and the key to get thrown away. However, as we move through this presentation, we will see that that still doesn’t really solve the problem for a myriad of reasons because our society doesn’t lock up people and throw away the key forever. Right? Things happen after they go to prison.
So, to continue in 2016, the Alliance for Safety and Justice conducted the first national poll of crime survivors that explores their preferences regarding criminal justice policy.
So wow you know it took until 2016 for someone to actually pole survivors and ask them about what happens after a crime is committed. The poll found overwhelming support, even higher than among the general public, so that that’s really key. I think this, you know people who have had had a crime happen to them, then the victim or survivor of a crime, even higher than the general public. They support rehabilitative programs alternatives to incarceration, shorter sentences and greater investments and education, mental health treatment job programs and drug treatment because they understand inherently why these things are happening.
So, 52% of crime victims answered that they quote believe that time and present make people more likely to commit another crime, rather than less likely.
The poll found overwhelming support — even higher than among the general public — for rehabilitative programming, alternatives to incarceration, and shorter sentences, as well as greater investments in education, mental health treatment, jobs programs, and drug treatment.
You can see that that disrupts the narrative of, we just throw them in prison, and that will solve the problem. 69% of victims preferred holding people accountable through options beyond prison, such as rehabilitation mental health treatment drug treatment community supervision and community service it’s almost 70% of victims.
It’s crucial though – one thing that’s really important to note in this, is that the survivors opposition to incarceration is strongest when other options are present.
In the system we have today because nothing else is available, of course they’re going say their number one option is prison. But when they are presented with all these other options, like rehabilitation, treat drug treatment, community service. The, the, you know, high, high majority of the time, that’s what they will choose as their preferred option.
Not that anyone is generally asking them that, what they’re what they want.
It’s important to understand another really key point to this is most victims do not report crime. Okay. In Canada, Canadians reported only 31% of crimes they experienced.
So, imagine this is. Even in the case of serious violence, people who are victims of crimes would rather do nothing than report to the police.
Okay. Survivors say they don’t think the police can or will help.
And it’s worth noting that a person rarely commit crime in isolation, right, so this is part of it. If the victim reports a crime and send someone to prison. So even if they do decide to, that person who went to prison might be leaving behind family and friends who are now unhappy that their loved ones in jail.
And all these people live in the same community. As the victim, you know that’s not a good situation for the victim, so this again brings back to the idea that this is a community issue.
You know it’s not out there. It’s a community thing, which is why people want this to be solved by the community.
This is a key flaw in our system. Even if crimes are reported.
Most which, right only 31% of crimes are, most reports don’t result in arrests, you know, and then most result arrest do not result in convictions. And even if a conviction ends and incarceration, it still doesn’t meet the victim’s needs, So, you can see at every single point along this process, the system is failing victims. Okay, So, let’s say, you know, by some miracle it makes it to the trial process, which we’ve just shown is extremely unlikely.
If a trial, if a crime does result in a trial. Now in the US only 3% of cases do, I can tell you I could not find stats for Canada and almost like all the data we have in this presentation is Canadian data because I spent dozens of hours digging in and it is much, much harder to find data and stats in Canada than it is in the US, and in this case I just absolutely cannot find this stat, but in the US only 3% of cases, go to trial.
Once it goes to trial, studies on the negative impact of trials on crimes, show the process is re-traumatizing and harmful to victims.
This is because there’s no clear timelines of what’s happening.
Victims don’t necessarily know what’s going on, you know, it’s a long and lengthy process, they have to face the person who harmed them or and or the loved ones of that person, um, you know, there’s pressure to testify, whether they want to or not and then there’s the experience of being doubted and invalidated by the defense. Which that’s their job, right, that’s the job of the defense is to don’t them and protect the person they’re working for but that’s, you know, the victim is going to experience that once they’re in court.
Trauma leaves memory gaps with people, right. So, then they’re going to have to deal with that in court.
They have to relive the crime, through testimony.
There might be an autopsy of medical records about one’s own body, that they have to talk about.
They’re going to realize that their voices are not nearly as important as they were led to believe because when you go into report of crime, they might, that’s the whole focus, is your report. But then once it gets to this process in the trial, that’s just a very small piece of the entire trial process.
And they’re going to realize they’re not actually that important, even though they’re the person wh this, this is all about right.
So, after all of this, victims rarely report feeling satisfied when the person who is harmed in this sentenced.
So, the picture that we had of this ‘Getting It Right.’
The crime has been committed, they report it. They send that person to jail.
Even when that happens, very little in this entire process serves the victim.
So, I’m going to pass it to Soundous to now flip to the other side and look at offenders.
And are we ‘Getting It Right’ on the other side.
Thanks Kale. Yeah, so we’re just going to be talking about what would ‘Getting It Right’ look like for perpetrators of crime. Presumably, it would involve our collective idea of justice being served.
And we’re going to break that down in the next couple of slides.
So, our society is set up as such that we use prison, as a deterrent to crime, and an offender is punished they serve their sentence, they learn their lesson as we say, somehow come out the other side, less likely to commit similar offence.
An offender is punished – they serve their sentence, ‘learn their lesson’, somehow come out the other side less likely to commit a similar offence. This is the key. But we ask – Are people who commit crimes less likely to reoffend once they get out?
What is prison doing, exactly? We learned in earlier slides that putting people in solitary confinement to think about their actions was torture. Then there was actual torture. We abolished that, supposedly. But how has prison evolved to ensure that the people who are entering prison don’t get out and reoffend?
Because almost everyone who goes into prison is getting out.
Let’s look at some figures.
In Canada, 37% of time a judge orders a custodial sentence – that the offender to serve a period of time in jail – in a provincial correctional centre if the sentence is shorter than two years and in a federal penitentiary if it is two years or longer.
The median length of custody for all offences in Canada was 30 days and 81% of the custodial sentences were six months or less.
Approximately 3% of the custodial sentences were for two years or more.
Attempted murder is around 7 years and homicide around 5 years.
We recognize that people are indeed getting out of prison. So, what happens to them while they are inside prison? If the goal is to reduce crime and the likelihood that people coming out will reoffend, we are not getting it right.
It is well documented how brutal prisons are and a lot of incarcerated folks have to deal with a whole lot of things like physical, sexual psychological abuse and loss and social media, it really does happen in life, lack of care for mental illness, substance issues and trauma, insufficient programming, skills training and education, being cut off from support their families and loved ones, not even just physically being locked up in a prison far from their home, but not being able to contact people.
So in Canada, and phone calls from prison which are capped about 20 minutes can cost families over $30 per call. One senior citizen Montreal is charged $6,072 in just three months, talking to her son who was being held on charges,
which were eventually dropped. And I think we’re going to speak a little bit more about these issues later in our conversation.
With all this going on, it’s not hard to understand that people are likely to come out more traumatized and angry than when they went in.
And we have three images here on the top image is a weapon called a high intensity canister. And it’s one that’s using some use of force incidents, although not in this incident particular. The second image is a “Inmate lying prone on floor with four officers on top of him – RTC Millhaven. And the third one is “Inmate pressed against steel door while being handcuffed at RTC Millhaven.”
So, these photos and info in the next few slides all come from the Howard Sapers Office of the Correctional Investigator’s 2018-2019 Annual Report.
And on this slide, we have a colourful bar graph titled Rate of Use of Force per 1,000 Offenders, it’s by regional treatment center. It shows Millhaven has a much higher proportion of use of force incidents at (28%), compared to the proportion for all institutions (13%). These were deemed unnecessary.
So, you can just take a second here to look at the graph and see that this up.
Center in particular has very high rates of unnecessary violence.
Then this chart here. Also, from the report, a white slide with a graph from the Annual Report, a colourful circle graph showing the deaths in custody 2018-2019.
62% natural, 10% overdose, 12% suicide, 6% undetermined, 10% homicide – this is the highest record of homicides since 2010-2011]
Other things we found in the report include incident reports on an officer verbally and physically assaulting me with serious mental disorder. At this institute.
Despite the investigators recommendation to grant compassionately compassionate released terminally ill and elderly inmates. They’re extremely restrictive and terminally ill individuals and elderly folks are often dying behind bars, as a case study that
said, ‘It is no secret that Edmonton Institution, a maximum-security facility, has been plagued by a toxic and troubled workplace culture where dysfunction, abuse of power, and harassment have festered for years.’ 96% of employees reported they had experienced conflict in the workplace, and over 60% of employees had experienced violence in the workplace.
And what’s life post-incarceration like? Even once people pay their debt to society and the release from prison, and complete for all often they’re there permanently disenfranchised.
So, a case study of ex-incarcerated folks may have a history of social isolation and marginalization, they might have experienced or continue to experience physical or emotional abuse, physical, mental disabilities or have health issues that might be related to substance use for which they aren’t getting any treatment or support now or while they were incarcerated.
Some folks might struggle to find housing with little or no money we talked a little bit about this before.
There’s a direct connection between being housed and incarcerated.
They might have to manage with little or no savings until they find work also might struggle to find jobs, possibly with no experience or lower levels of formal education or past work experience.
And about only around 10% of employers say they’ll even consider hiring an ex-incarcerated person.
Sometimes people don’t get the support for the mental health issues. And so once back in society these issues continue and there’s no support, and to get them through that.
The criminal justice system often imposes financial consequences upon offenders that follow them when they’re released.
So, we kind of talked about this a little bit before, and that there’s different types of debt that ex-incarcerated folks might have.
If they have non-payment of regulatory offence penalties, criminal offence fines, court fees, restitution, and victim surcharges, things like that there’s a whole a whole lot of different ways to accrue debt, and the resulting debt is also not released after bankruptcy and this can further the cycle of financial hardship and poverty.
In 2012 there was a case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada, R v Boudreault. They found that mandatory victim surcharge regime to be invalid. And part of this statement read:
“The inability of offenders to repay their full debt to society and to apply for reintegration and forgiveness strikes at the very foundations of our criminal justice system. Sentencing in a free and democratic society is based on the idea that offenders will face a proportionate sentence given their personal circumstances and the severity of the crime. Criminal sanctions are meant to end.” Yet we still end up with prisoners locked in cycles of debt when they are released from prison.
And there are also some lifelong consequences of a conviction and this can include being terminated from a job without cause, lack of resources upon release, like we talked about being unable to travel, and losing parental benefits, being permanently estranged from your family, friends, higher suicide rates and high rates of homelessness
And like Kale mentioned, we’ve tried to avoid comparing our situation to the States and trying to use just Canadian data.
But in this case, we want to point out that the incarcerated do have the right to vote in Canada.
So, our Supreme Court decided in 2001 that any ban on prisoner voting violates our Constitution. In the US there are thousands of legal restrictions imposed on ex-incarcerated, including many voting restrictions, but also things like the inability to apply for federal grants or loans for school, or even get a driver’s license.
So, going back to the initial question – “Are we getting right?”. I think in this case to we would have to answer Not really.
Except possibly temporarily physically removing a person from the community in which they committed the crime and potentially satisfying a victim or survivors, and desire for revenge or for that person to be punished. But ultimately, it’s usually a relatively short amount of time the person who commits a crime is out of prison and dealing with a lot of these other issues, and often they’re returning in a worse situation than they were before.
So, moving on, we’re going to talk a little bit about marginalization and incarceration and what this ends up looking like.
Alright, thanks Soundous.
Okay, so in this next slide we have a colourful graph titled Systemic Discrimination against racialized communities is reflected in overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in the Canadian prison system]
So that’s what we’re going to talk about.
We can’t talk about incarceration without acknowledging how vastly it skews toward marginalized groups. We have already mentioned how Black and Indigenous folks are not only incarcerated at higher rates, but that those rates are going up, and the rates for white folks who are incarcerated are going down. We also wanted to mention two other groups that are on the rise.
The first BIPOC Women. BIPOC is Black, Indigenous, People of Colour.
So, the fastest-growing prison population in Canada is racialized women, particularly Indigenous women. More than one in three women in federal custody is Indigenous. The number of South Asian women and African Canadian women in custody is also increasing.
This and the number of South Asian women and African Canadian women in custody is also increasing 82% of women are prison or jail, as a result of behavior related to their attempts to cope with poverty histories of abuse and addiction and mental health issues that arise from these experiences.
91% of Indigenous women and 87% of all women in federal prisons in Canada have experienced physical and or sexual abuse.
Another group that is on the rise, is to us LGBTQ+ folks so that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, plus, including to spirit.
So, in the US LGBT and non-gender, non-conforming or GNC youth are represented in the incarcerated population at a rate of three times the general population and adult lesbian, or bisexual women are represented in the incarcerated population at a rate of about eight to 10 times the general population.
But similar demographic data has not been collected in Canada.
A survey in 2015 found that 2% of LGBTQ people had been incarcerated in the past year, which is twice as likely as the general population and this actually goes up to 9% for Black transgender women.
As we can imagine, incarceration has a strong effect on mental health. In BC prisons, in one in a seven-year study over 30% of the prison population had been medically diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, and then an additional 26% were diagnosed with a mental health disorder un-related to substance use. Among those people diagnosed with a substance use disorder more than three quarters were also diagnosed with a non-drug related mental disorder or concurrent disorders.
Importantly this does not necessarily include alcohol abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome or developmental disabilities, which are often not diagnosed, and in BC and estimated 80% of female prisoners have received a psychiatric diagnosis.
Oh, takeaways. I will pass this off to Kale.
Alright, we are nearing the end of the presentation, and then I’m going to introduce Jamie soon.
So, this presentation was really an overview of why abolition is needed. I wish I could dig into just this slide for another full hour, but I’m going to kind of try to blaze through it and hopefully leave you with some ideas to dig into on your own.
We also have some discussion questions that up for after Jamie is done talking so if you have some time we can dig into this a little bit more.
So, here is a quick look at what abolitionists are calling for. For immediate steps towards the goal of abolition. Again, this is not about like flinging the doors of prisons open, is about taking tangible, actionable steps, to start reducing harm immediately.
So, the first one is abolishing bail.
It should be determined if a person is a flight risk or they’re not. But right now, bail just punishes poor people were people shouldn’t have to enter that cycle debt to wait trial.
This is one of the ways that that happens. So, as was mentioned, there are 15,000 people in Canada on remand. So that means 60% of all people in Canada are legally innocent, they haven’t been convicted of anything.
So, one thing we could do, right away, if we abolish bail, is 60% of people, who are deemed, you know, not a flight risk could just be released from jail. No one who is awaiting trial should have to do so in prison, unless they’re deemed a flight risk. And most people aren’t. They’re poor and they have connections to the community.
Abolishing prison parole board. So, I think this is something people don’t often think about, but a parole board looks at determining if an incarcerated person is ‘better’.
I put this in air quotes. But people on the board have no real ability to do this, there’s nothing that gives them a superpower to do this. They generally don’t know much about the incarcerated person.
It gives way too much power to the small group of people who are unqualified, and they view the incarcerated in the way that the prison, the parole board system is set up to view the incarcerated person, and sort of a medical view.
It views them as being like sick versus getting better, and the prison system meanwhile isn’t doing anything to help them ‘get better’.
Prison isn’t making anyone better, so that just makes parole board arbitrary and unjust. We should be abolishing parole boards immediately.
Fighting the prison expansion, or any new buildings, especially, I’d say ones disguised as improvements. Even or even those, you know, anything that is giving the prison industrial complex, or police budgets more money, say no to that. The system is a failure, caging people cannot be improved. Divert money, time, energy into researching and creating support systems for people, that once they’re out of prison can help them, or can help them or prevent them from going into prison in the first place.
So anytime, they’re like, want to build a better prison or put money into existing prison, no, take that money and diverted it.
Since most crimes are kinds of poverty, fighting poverty is where money should be spent.
So those are there’s like a huge list of things that we should be doing, but these are the ones that I chose to highlight here.
Okay, so now I’m going to introduce Jamie.
So, um, this slide says Jamie Arthur and on the right side is a photo of Jamie. He’s a tall white man standing in a kitchen, wearing a black Pink Floyd sweatshirt, jeans, white sneakers. His got his hands in his pockets. He’s got tattoos on his arms and the back of his hand, with his hair slicked back.
So, um, I met Jamie through the Prisoner Correspondence Project, um, you can Google that if you’re interested, in is PrisonerCorrespondenceProject.com. It’s a pen pal program run out of Montreal, and I’ll just read what is on the front page of their website. Prisoner Correspondence Project, Yeah, maybe we can put that in the chat, too: “is a solidarity project for gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgender, gendervariant, two-spirit, intersex, bisexual and queer prisoners in Canada and the United States, linking them with people a part of these same communities outside of prison.”
But anyone can write with a pen pal, highly encourage it to their thousands of people waiting for pencils and waiting for years.
So, as someone has been an abolitionist for a long time, I had wanted to, I wanted to find a pen pal. And then I found this program and I decided to do it. And so, when you, you write them and say that you want a pen pal and then they give you this list of all these people with just like a little bio, and you find someone you want to write to. And so, I found Jamie, and that was the first time I’d ever written to someone in prison. And to be honest, I was kind of nervous because like, what do you say, right, to someone?
But I remember Jamie’s, little like write up said he was interested in psychology and he was a prison reform activist so obviously that caught my attention.
Um, yeah, I didn’t have really any idea what I was going to write my first time I tried to just like, keep it short and friendly but also, I wanted to talk about abolition because I was super interested in talking to someone inside the system, about that.
I remember its kind was of strange because I wrote and then I got like a second letter first, and then but then first letter like this, it kind of takes a while to get mail. And also, during Covid, yeah, was extra slow, but then we then we started writing back and forth, more regularly.
And right away started having like really in-depth conversations. I remember he sent a list of like, a ton of books on abolition to rea, and I was like “Oh I read a whole bunch of those!” But I went and got more from the library.
And we started talking about things right away, and he wrote a lot about activism and things that he done inside of prison and his lived experience. And, I mean, for me when I want to learn about something and go to the library. and I thought like, you know, I’d read dozens of books on this.
But it’s a completely different, you know, when you get a handwritten letter from someone inside of prison, and see people..see a person, you know..on the other side of that. So, um yeah and I could tell that we would be friends, honestly.
So, Jamie actually got released, not that long after we started writing back and forth. Only four months, I think, after we started writing. He was released on April, 22 so I guess it’s almost his one month out of..out.
And we I think we’ve talked every day since he got out. Messenger and stuff every day, and now he video chat all the time, and I learned so much, just about him, and because we get along with our friends but also just about prison and how horrible it is.
And, oh my gosh, and I’ve said like so many times, that if I wasn’t an abolitionist before I met him, I certainly wouldn’t be now because I just am appalled and flabbergasted, like almost daily with what he has to deal with.
You know, he was released with like $75 but then I feel like every few days, there’s like something coming up that he has to pay for as a result of his incarceration.
You know from the government or whatever.
And he’s not even not getting any help with re-integration, you know, even though he’s been out of the workforce for, you know, almost a decade and no one’s helping him get set up with social services or anything. So, um, yeah and he’s just really smart and has much knowledge to share. So I’m going to stop talking, so that Jamie can start talking. Thank you. And I will pass it to Jamie.
Hi everyone, I’m Jamie.
I’m sitting out on my mother’s porch right now where the internet connection is good, I do have a cell phone that gets good service, but I wanted to make sure everyone can hear me today and, and see me well, so I appreciate everyone for having me.
First and foremost, I do want to take an opportunity to thank an incredible human that’s Kale Gosen.
And I want to thank you so much for your friendship and your energy that you shared with me and supporting me through this transition.
I’d also like the opportunity to thank those of you who have donated to my GoFundMe, and who have supported this event.
And I’d like to give a big shout out and thanks to the members of Humanize Consulting for advocating, promoting and supporting me in such a powerful and meaningful way. So thank you Soundous.. Soundous and thank you Karen. See I messed up that time.
Finally, I want to say thank you to those who are here at the webinar today and those of you who have advocated supported this event and shared it with your friends and family. I really appreciate that.
So, I’ll jump right in.
I was released like Kale said on April 22.
After serving an eight-year sentence, the last three years of that sentence had been in solitary confinement isolation.
I spent most of the time in isolation or in segregation. A total of about four and a half of those eight years for fighting against the system or advocating for another through grievance processes or letters to officials, or just, just teaching them how to fight against the system.
At the end of the incarceration, I noticed, well about midway through my incarceration, I noticed that the system was trying to sever the bond between my friends and family.
And so today I’m going to talk about why it’s important to maintain those family bonds and what the system does in order to erode it.
So, maintaining the bonds between family and social networks appears to be one of the fundamental areas that incarceration and rehabilitation efforts need you need to focus on.
However, incarceration almost always proves to be detrimental and breaking those bonds. In terms of physical closeness and financial contributions, ultimately eroding the relationships that are already fragile.
Incarceration diminishes trust and instills the perception in the offender that they must look out for themselves right off the bat when you’re incarcerated. You realized really quickly that you can’t trust anyone.
You need to look out for yourself before you look out for others.
Incarceration typically leads the offender to believe that others are selfish, you find that out really quickly too, probably day one or day two.
You notice that everyone’s clicked up and if you ask for help, not only does it make you look weak, but it makes you a target that someone can exploit.
And I wrote a poem one time, but one of the sentences in it is ‘Can you imagine a world where kindness is perceived as a weakness and exploited for another’s gain.’ And to find a way into it.
Incarceration is likely to expose offenders to violence, and thus undermines their relationship skills and pro social life skills. Incarceration often leads offenders to believe that having close relationships is a weakness and it’s exploited.
So, incarceration makes maintaining these bonds with family and social, social support networks, difficult and costly. Oftentimes the offenders are housed in institutions far from home, which asked exacerbates the costs associated with maintaining the bond.
During my incarceration I was housed at nine of the 11 prisons in my state. That’s because each time there’s an incident where I stand up to the officials for something I’m immediately moved to another facility where I have to reintegrate myself back in the social fabric of the institution and try to figure out a way to unify prisoners again.
At one point I was house really close to home, where I was getting visits from my family and visits from my son regularly. I was removed from that facility because I knew one of the officers I went to school with them. We didn’t have any direct connection, but I knew who they were and I went to school with them so they moved me as a caution. That’s what they said anyway.
I found that a financial hardship is the most likely cause of stress between families and the incarcerated. And here’s why. Once you move an offender all the way away from home. That right there is the number one thing that they do that to erode the bond between family and offender.
They keep them far from home, they say as a way to stop narcotics from flowing into the institution through visitations. That’s the excuse that they use. However, I think it has more to do with other reasons like how many people show up to visit.
And I just firmly believe that they want the recidivism rate to be high, as a caution as a, as a job security is the best word for it, so it takes a lot of energy for someone to come visit.
Which is much more difficult for the elderly. Typically, offenders are supported by the elderly, which are their grandparents or, you know, most of prisoner support system come from elderly people.
Phone calls are extremely expensive, the further you move away from the facility, the more it costs. So, it’s seven cents a minute, if you’re near, near the facility, 11 cents a minute once you reach past 100 miles and 21 cents a minute after you go past 150 miles from the facility. That’s in my state.
I don’t know how it is in Canada, and other country. You know other states do it differently but the further you are from a facility, the more it costs.
Fuel costs are expensive to get there. Getting directions to these rural areas where these prisons are located are difficult to track down and locate. Once you get there, hotel rates are typically near the facility. So, then the family has to drive 30 – 45 minutes away from the facility find a hotel, which those costs a lot of money.
To stay there, get up extremely early and then show up the next morning to visit, because they have strict rules on visitation hours. Once the family gets there, the searches are really intrusive. At some facilities they have body scanners, but they still pat you down. They still grope you. Their hands still slides up into your crotch, and that can be really uncomfortable for someone that’s never experienced that, especially elderly people.
And the last one. The removal of personal belongings that aren’t allowed in the facility. Women typically were bra with wire supporting wires underneath them a lot of facilities will not allow that because they’re metal.
One time, the mother of my child showed up to visit unannounced, and she had on a wire bra and she was wearing a tie dye long dress. It was a long dress. They turned her away for the bra. She went and got the bra got a new one, which took about 40 minutes.
She came back and they turned her away a second time because of how long her dress was. So they made her go get pants also. Which completely eliminated. you know just exhausted half of our day, our visiting time, by placing these constraints and changes on the offender.
In the family support system to support network is likely to keep the family at arm’s distance once they released. Because after time, they don’t know who they are, they can’t come to visit, they can’t really, you know, make these phone calls all the time.
You know, it becomes difficult. So, the system has begun to erode the social fabric that the offender must rely on post release. And after years of years of incarceration with little to no contact.
You know, they’ve grown weary. The offender’s appearance has changed, the offender’s mannerisms is changed and the offender’s attitude has more than likely changed. Because they’re cautious of their intentions, and unsure of who they become. This causes even more stress and distance.
And over time, offenders with. I’m sorry, oftentimes offenders with societal or property crimes have victims which are friends or family, a lot of times they’ve stole from them, or just you know forge some of their checks or, or use their car, you know they’ve societal or property crimes, it’s often that the offender, the victims or friends or family, and oftentimes the fingers must return home to these friends or family, once they released.
Eventually once they get home and they don’t know who they are and they keep them at arm’s distance, the offender will eventually feel as if they’re not accepted in their own wanted there.
So, the offender will then begin contemplating committing a crime or result, are resorting to old behaviors in order to gain financial independence quickly. And they’ll look for social acceptance and other places, which increases the chances for gang affiliation or gang activity in order to feel that kinship and that acceptance, thus reducing community safety and directly increasing crime rates, which ultimately leads to our high recidivism rates.
I think the immediate action needs to be taken on several things first, they need to eliminate restrictive visitation hours. They don’t do that in some states. I don’t think they do it in a federal system in the United States, I think it’s Monday through Friday between like 9am and 2pm. And it’s, it flows much better it’s much more immersive for the family it’s much more supporting and, and ultimately helps the offender reintegrate into society at a later date.
Eliminate expensive phone calls. House offenders as close to home as possible. Offer counseling to the offender and the family focusing on connection, belonging and purpose. And furthermore, add to that, I think it’s really important for the victims, if they’re willing to meet with the offenders then I think that the system should supervise that should coach that.
And the offender and the victim should be able to meet, amends should be made, you know. In order for someone to change, and I’m not going to go into this, but in order for someone to change, the offender needs to feel guilt and shame and remorse for what they’ve done.
You house offenders far away from home as possible, and they get contact with their family, they can’t see what they’ve done, how it’s harming, of how it’s harmed others. How it’s changed their family’s lives, you know, and what stresses and been made so it’s not real to them. So it’s not real to them. And so, you know, that’s my speech.
I really appreciate everyone, giving me the opportunity to speak my first time publicly. Thank you. Kale.
Thank you, Jamie.
Oh, I got all emotional listening to you to talk.
Thank you, so much. I just learn so much from you. And seriously, like yeah, I just value, everything you have to say, so much.
Q: What does the cell look like, do you share it with others and what are you able to do daily?
The cell that I’m in is a 12 by eight and a half cell. So, there’s a total it inside was think it’s stainless steel it is touch buttons on timers. If I have to use the bathroom and I flush the toilet and I have to use the bathroom again, I cannot flush it for an hour. It’s, there, they’re on a timer. My shower is on a timer, so I can only be in the shower for so many minutes, and then it shuts off for so long.
And there’s a bed. I actually have a photo of it but I don’t know how to share it on Zoom. But it’s, there, they’re very small. They feed you through secure pi ports, so they’re able to open a flap, they lay your tray down in there, they close the flap. Once they’re into secure, they will slide it open and then you can grab your tray out. So you’re not able to interact with them at all.
Comment from an audience member.
Hi. I just want to say you did a really good job Jamie. I’ve been teaching professionally for 25 years and that was an excellent talk.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I’m really used to organizing in prison and gaining unity. And a lot of times, offenders on the inside aren’t worried about the details of what’s going on. They just want to collaborate and unify and the education part of it, they’re not really interested in as long as we’re standing up for something that’s of a just cause.
Well yeah, you did a very thorough job. Good job.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Q: Thank you so much, Jamie for your courage resilience and activism, your commitment to growth healing and transformation, are an inspiration. Are you still in touch with people inside the prison?
Yes, absolutely. I talk with people, every weekend. I’m on video chat with people on the weekend. Yes, yes, I am.
I’m currently in touch with a family in Kentucky, who’s had a medical negligence wrongful death, and I’m trying to develop a plan of action with them and get in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union and, you know, teach them how to record everything that they know and write it down. You know, in chronological order so I am working with people in prisons. Outside of prisons. I’m just trying to figure out, I think I’m on like day 26 right now, so I’m just trying to figure out how to reintegrate with society, but not let go of my ties to the prison reform movement.
Yeah, you have so much on your plate every day, I was just saying to Jamie, like I don’t know how you are so okay and functioning so well.
Freedom time goes much faster than then prison time does. It’s like six hours out here and in there, it seems like it takes 30.
Q: What kind of support help resources do you need most at this time?
You know, with the fundraiser that’s been done and all that you’ve done for me. I feel like that’s a whole lot of support. I’m getting my boots. My aunt and uncle are on board with trying to help me get employment. As far as support resources, I need to figure out a way to get a laptop, which Little Woo has set me up with an organization that I’m going to sign up for tonight and see if they can help me do that.
And so are right now with, with the fundraising that just went on and, and everything. I feel really secure right now. I don’t feel like I need much right now. I have good friends that are supporting me a Little Woo, we’re doing counseling and the therapy is just spot on. You know I’ve not had an experience like that before. I’ve never had mental health services that I’ve one, either participated in correctly or two, that were administered correctly. And so, or combination of both. And so, Yeah, I really feel secure right now.
Yes, Little Woo is a wonderful, magical human.
QIs there anything in particular about the prison system that you want the general public to know of that they may not be aware of?
Do you have all day? Laughs
This is an excellent question.
Um, I want the general public to know that what you see on TV, as far as movies and TV shows, is not how it operates.
Typically, the guards have zero interaction with what goes on day to day, they do not really protect anyone. Like you can’t go to them with issues, a lot of times their gang members, especially if you’re near large metropolitan areas where the prisons are located near big cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where I was just housed. I would say roughly 40% of the officers are affiliated with gangs.
The contraband that comes in, there’s not been visits for a year now. The contraband flow is probably better now than it was before Covid because they’re not being touched when they come in to be patted down, and they’ll run a handgun in there for the right price.
There is no mental health services like people think there is. I recently just watched a man, his name. Will we won’t mention his name, but he was very sick and he thought that there was some sort of bug planted in his head or in his TV that allowed them to listen to his thoughts, and he would break his TV every time his family bought him a new one. And he would just stay in there and scream. And when I say scream, I’m not talking about an hour of this, I’m talking about six, eight hours of it until he’s tired and he can fall asleep. Mental health services go by there they don’t they don’t help. They just talked to him briefly, they kind of talk down to them, but they lie a lot.
They forge, they forge documents in a way that is so systematic and the warden knows about it, the commissioners know about it. That’s how it operates. So, if you were on mental health, or if you were on mental health medication, you would automatically be on a list to receive mental health counseling services. However, what happens is they come by your door, and they’ll say, Are you okay Do you need anything? Typically, the offender isn’t going to engage with that and build a rapport. And so, they’ll go back to their computer and they’ll notate in the computer that they met with the offender that they talked about this, this and this and progress is being made.
That also happens with the corrections counselors. Once you’re at a certain point in your sentence, you’re in what’s called a transition phase, and they’re supposed to come meet with you every so often to discuss family bonds, employment post release, social resources post release, mental health services post release.
If you don’t know how to write a check, budget a bank account. If your social skills aren’t good you, don’t know how to do a resume or anything like, that they’re supposed to help you with that. They don’t do they don’t that. They don’t even come check on you. They just notate in the computer. They keep a spreadsheet, and they notate the computer every so often, like they’re supposed to do, that they met with the offender, This was done this was done, and this progress was made, but they never come and do it.
Q: Can the system be changed:
It can be changed. But you would have to shake the tree so hard that it couldn’t be put back together the way it fell apart. It can’t be changed, and see this is what happens, I’ll just say this briefly. Suicides are happening often.
Some good friends of mine that I never thought would take their life took their lives. And they were completely mentally sound just a week or two weeks beforehand, and they took their life. Well, they’ll cover that up, they’ll cover those, those suicides up. But what they’ll do is they’ll change up the way things are run just for a little while, and then it slowly gains traction back into the way it was.
You would have to shake it so hard, you would have to go into a state, and you would have lockdown every facility of the state. And you would have to make a task force to go to each of those institutions, speak with the command chain. Talk to the employees in private or open up some sort of survey system on the web that they can make comments or suggestions anonymously, about the way the command system is run, and then you would have to shake that command system up, completely change, change it, and then put it back together. And make people accountable for their actions. I think that the way people die, where my friend died because he took some fentanyl and no one found him for six hours,
I think that when you don’t do your job that you’ve held your hand up and you took an oath and you swore to do that. I think that that is criminally medically, you know that’s, that’s, you’re legally liable for that. I believe if you don’t, if you don’t do your job, and you wrote down in the book that you’ve done your job, and that you came through and you did your security check, but you really didn’t do it. And then someone dies and they find out that you did all that. Then I think you should be criminally liable for it.
Q: Are there education chances for inmates in the system you were in?
Absolutely there are. The United States just brought back Pell grants for prisoners this year. It’s been out since 1994, since the crime bill overtook it.
There are very good education chances in my state. However, some of these vocational training classes, are catered to facilities that are on one side of the state versus other side of the state. And when I say that I mean that my prison system is divided between, they put people that are either hard to manage or heavily affiliated in gangs on one side of the state in all those prisons, and they put the sex offenders and societal property crime offenders that are less profile and less hard to manage on the other side of the state.
I will say it is a racial thing too. They typically house Black offenders on one side of the state and they put white offenders on the other side of the state.
But there is landscaping courses, I forget the real name of, horticulture, masonry, small engine repair, carpentry one two and three. There’s airbrushing, there’s, um, there’s GED, and there’s college courses, however they’re only for the women right now on. Someone from the institution will come and to the prison, so many days a week, and do classes and issue homework and stuff like that and you can earn a college degree from a real college over time.
But it’s only available to the women. The women are catered to much, much differently in my state than the men are. You can’t even call them prisoners, you can’t call them inmates.
They have to be called residents. They get tablets, they don’t have doors on their cells. It’s completely open movement, they get treated a lot differently than the men do. Their kids can come in and visit with them, they can stay the weekend. There’s family therapy rooms. There’s play therapy that they help them with there’s, um, it’s, it’s catered to differently for women than it is man.
I remember hearing on Ear Hustle, which is a really good podcast in the States, recorded inside a prison, about people taking education courses, and college courses specifically, but then having trouble if they suddenly get transferred in the middle, middle of a college course, and then like not being able to transfer the work that they’ve done and stuff.
So, some, you know, people talking about like, Oh I was almost finished this course or this you know degree or something, and they moved them and them, and then they don’t move like the credits that they’ve got. So, people struggling, you know, they’re trying, and the middle that. So I mean like, yeah they were able to access education, but then they were also struggling with it. Because as you said, I mean getting housing in what, nine different places in eight years will interrupt your education obviously, right? Yeah.
But yes, my state, I’m almost all the prisons, my experience with it is if you’re in an educational program, or some sort of therapeutic program, they will put a hold on your name.
You won’t be transferred during that. However, if you get into a situation to where gang extorts you or you need protection of some sort, then they immediately move you. Typically, when a transfer happens and you’re doing a job, you’re employed at a good job or you’re in a good program or you’re in a good education program, they won’t move you. There has to be a security reason for that move.
Do you think that those programs help people get jobs when they’re out?
I think it helps them with their skills. I don’t think that places outside acknowledge those sorts of credentials. When it says that it comes from a prison, not yet anyway. Maybe some do, maybe the climate starting to change. Because I really feel like the, the prison reform movement and criminal justice movement of reform is, is really starting to, you know, great, gain traction.
Um, But I don’t know that employers, recognize those certificates.
Q: What differences did you experience between government run versus private run prisons?
Thank you for asking that question. Private run prisons, operations, are third world, it seems like. They are heads in beds, they are paid as a contractor to house you in a bed. So, in the state facilities when it comes time to renew your clothing and get new clothing replacements, in a private prison they don’t do that. They’ll pass out used and torn clothing. It doesn’t fit really well.
The, the equipment is, is just completely overrun. The mattresses, the pillows, the, the facilities itself, is just very low quality. They’re all about profit, they make a lot of money. If I’m not mistaken, the CEO of the private prison in my state got like $11 million or something just as a bonus or maybe that was his.. It’s in the millions that they get, for CoreCivic for their bonus. But the gangs, as far as being, as far as the officers being affiliated, is more dominant is, is, is more prevalent in private prisons.
Women tend to work in those facilities more. There’s a lot of inmate employee relationships, there’s much more contraband. There’s much more, much more violence, and it goes unreported. They want to keep these facilities looking clean and good on the books. So if there’s an assault or something like that, they’ll cover it up, and they won’t report what happened. That way The Justice Department or no one’s investigating why there’s so much violence going on in these facilities.
Thanks Jamie. I’ll just mention that in Canada we don’t we don’t have private prisons. For those listening. I think there was one in Ontario. In the early 2000s, but it was only open for a short time, maybe five years.
There’s another question. I was wondering if you could comment a bit more on how the pandemic affected the prison population.
Um, when the pandemic started, I was in isolation. When I got out I was in isolation. However, I do have a lot of direct knowledge as to what took place outside in general population. When the pandemic originally started, there wasn’t much hype about it until the infection started going up and offenders, prisoners, inmates housed close together like that, it became a problem.
Very quickly, the virus did come into my facility several times and it spread very quickly. And in that event, they, they locked down the facility, they eliminated visit, they locked down the whole state, probably for six months, eight months, the whole prison state was locked down. Everyone in the state was on isolation unless you had what’s called an institutional need job. Unless you’re a kitchen worker or maintenance work or someone that just has to have their job in order for the daily operations for the prison the function, you don’t come out of your cell. You’re sitting in your cell and you’re isolated.
So, visitations were eliminated, so that really severed the contact, the connection between family, and offender. However, they did give you one five-minute free phone call every week, which was a, which was a real blessing to offenders that didn’t get phone calls and didn’t get visits even before the pandemic. So, five minutes was a lot to them in a week’s time.
Um, second. Once they reopened everything, they put 14 day holds on people who were getting released. So, if you were getting released for parole, or you were getting released to expire your sentence, 14 days before you leave, they isolate you. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, they just put you in a cell by yourself and they isolate you for 14 days.
The officers don’t wear masks like they’re supposed to, even though that they’re, they’re mandated to. They’re, they’re threatened with disciplinary action if they don’t do it, they do what they want to do.
And when they come around to ask for the vaccine. If you said yes, that officer would either make a comment to you about, like for instance, he asked me, he said, you get the vaccine, I said yeah. I tried really hard to get the vaccine before I left. I was really interested in taking it prior to leaving prison. And he would be like, he just looked at me raises eyebrow. And me and this officer were kind of close, he was like, I was like What? He was like, It’s your life man. He’s like, You want to die from this vaccine? And I was like, The vaccine isn’t gonna kill you. And he was like, Alright man go ahead and get it.
The nurses come around and I would ask when we’re going to get the vaccines. They are like, Are you really going to get that vaccine? Like in, you know, doctors, the medical doctor that I talked to I was like, Have you got the vaccine yet? When is it going to come out? And he’s like, I’m not getting it, but I don’t know when it’ll be here in the facility.
It just in America, especially in my area in rural Tennessee, vaccine hesitancy as high. Kale is trying to coach me to go get the vaccine today. And her and I are going to talk about that later on after the meeting and I may go do that.
Yes. I looked at the stats and Jamie’s area and they made me very worried. Good. Um, yeah. Wow, that’s shocking that even the, the doctors and nurses in the prison..I guess it’s just like extra work for them or something they don’t really feel like doing it. Everyone’s doing the absolute bare minimum.
Comment: I hope you were able to get vaccinated.
Thank you, Jamie so much for doing this. You did so good! I knew you would. All week, and for the last two weeks, I’ve been trying to get him to prep, and he kept telling me, he’s like, I am gonna cram! And I’m a prepper and he’s a crammer. And Karen was like, I’m also a crammer, he’s gonna be fine! So yes, of course you were great. Yeah.
I did it all this morning.