Thursday, December 27, 2018

Writing To a Prisoner

A Guide by Chris Dankovich

So maybe you've known someone who got themselves locked up... a friend, a family member, or perhaps that person on the outskirts of your social circle whom you think about now that they've gone away to a very difficult place but you're not sure how to go about writing them or what you should say if you were to. Maybe you remember that kid from school you shared a class with and found out later on that they robbed a bank or shot someone or something else surprising and you feel for him. Maybe you've seen a case on the news or in the paper and the situation causes you to feel a twinge in your heart for them and you want to reach out. Maybe you don't know the person and don't know what they're in prison for, but you've heard about them through a friend or read something that person wrote online or saw a profile of them and think that you'd like a pen pal and that they might too. Maybe you're not like any of those people, but something makes you want to write to someone in prison.

How do I go about it you may ask? What do I say? What should I not say? What to talk about? Will they try to take advantage of me or will I be in danger? Will the person enjoy hearing from me? Will I enjoy writing to them?

I have been in prison for half of my life. When I first came to prison, I was lucky enough to have a few people from my past write me, keeping me afloat while I transitioned to a new way of living. Fourteen years later, I am not in contact with all of them anymore, but in the time since I have been lucky to develop new friendships, new relationships, to have new members of a family I feel a part of. Some of them knew me, or at least knew my family or friends, before I came to prison. Some wrote me out of the blue, one saving my life in the process. Some had one form of relationship or another with someone else in my life and came to reach out to me. And I've been extremely lucky to have had my writing make enough of an impact on people to inspire some to take time out of their lives to write to me because of it.

One of the first things you should do is to decide why you want to write someone in prison. Know yourself. There are a lot of reasons people write to us. Is this someone you knew before they went in, or someone you at least have some kind of previous connection to? If not, are you interested in getting to know someone who piqued your curiosity in some way? Do you want to get to know them as a person, or are you looking for information about their crime? Are you offering or trying to be their friend or confidant? More? Are you thinking about trying to guide them down a different path? Are you seeking to give them advice, or change their religion?

At one time or another, I've had people write me for all of these reasons. I even once had a daughter of a friend of my father's write me to list ways that she was better than me. Asking me what my interests were in order to respond how they were stupid and we were not alike at all (later writing me, after I had stopped responding, saying she felt stupid checking her mailbox waiting for a letter from me back).

Prisoners may seem different from other people. Sometimes they might seem scary. Sometimes they don't seem, well, fully like others. But when writing to someone inside, remember that they're a person just like anyone else. If you're writing to offer friendship, let them know. If you're writing for another reason, let them know that too. Prisoners respect straightforwardness.

You've now decided to write to someone in prison, and you've decided for yourself why it is you are... now write to them!

Different states have different ways and restrictions for doing so. Many states now offer an email-like service called JPay ( that allows you to communicate pretty quickly and easily with someone on the inside. All still allow you to write via US Postal Service mail, though different states have different restrictions. In Michigan, for instance, we do not get to keep or even see the envelope a letter arrives in (due to a drug called Sub Oxone which is distributed in "Listerine Mouth Wash"-style gel strips that are easily concealable). We also cannot receive mail on paper that isn't white and can't receive pictures except printed on regular copy paper. Some states only allow you to send blank-white postcards, though many states have almost no restrictions at all. Regardless of any of these, make sure you give the recipient the ABILITY to write back by including a return address inside the letter and not just on the envelope.

To write to someone in prison, you'll need their prison number and address. Most states maintain on their state government website, or the state's department of correction's website, a listing of inmates under their jurisdiction, often with their inmate photograph and the name and address of the prison they're housed in. You may also just be able to Google them to find it. In many places, a letter will not be delivered to the inmate without his/her prison number being on it, so make sure that you include it.


There's uncertainty when reaching out or opening up to someone new... ANYONE new, but probably especially so when that someone is incarcerated. Will they write back? Do they even want to hear from me? What will they be like?

The friendships and relationships I've been lucky enough to begin and continue since I've been incarcerated are in many ways the most important, fulfilling, and honest ones I have ever had in my life. I chose to write this handbook in honor of those who have changed my life by reaching out to me, but also to help like-minded and good-hearted people know what to do and expect, along with how to protect themselves from any possible negative experiences. Negativity from a few essentially punishes people from taking a chance on someone to bring them positivity...

And I'm lucky if I can help prevent even just a single instance of that from happening.

If you already knew the person you're interested in writing to, any advice and help I can offer you probably ends in this paragraph. Barring whatever brought them to prison revealing something you didn't already know about them, chances are they're pretty much the same person you knew before... except in a fight for their life in a frightening and difficult new environment. Having friends of mine from my past life choose to write to me when I first came to prison helped me get through my first couple years with a better mindset. Having a few friends of mine decide to write to me years and years later out of the blue meant a lot to me... I was honored that they thought about me even so much later. If you were their friend before, and you want to be their friend still, they could probably never use that more than right now. 

(I will include a very rare exception but one I've seen before: I had a friend and cellmate, who, at 16, shot the man his sister told him molested her. He was an overall caring and happy individual despite his circumstances, but told me the only way he could deal with his time was to completely cut himself off from his life out there. He refused to visit or call anyone on the outside. He would occasionally write back friends and family who wrote him, but not that often.) 

The remainder of this is for those who are thinking about reaching out to someone they didn't know before that person's incarceration.

Something struck you about this person. Whether you read something they've written, seen a profile of them on a website like, saw their name on some organization's outreach program, or you remember something about them from when they were going through court (or some other way or reason), you are considering writing them. Let's say you decide to write and send a letter or a card, after obtaining their prison number and address, and mail it off. What can you expect?

Chances are they'll be happy to hear from you, especially if they intentionally put themselves out there (pen pal website, getting published). Because mail may take a while to get to them, both because of distance and because of the inspection-process at the prison (and vice-versa in responding back) understand it may take a few weeks or even a month to receive a response depending on how far away the prison is. When I've received letters from people in Michigan who've written me on a Monday, many times my response will get to them by Friday. But correspondence with the wonderful Executive Director of Minutes Before Six in California can take two to three weeks. If you are writing from outside of the country, I highly suggest using JPay if available in the state that the inmate is incarcerated in. Otherwise, I've found that letters don't always get to their intended recipient and if they do I've had it take upwards of a month and a half to get there.

There is a chance that the inmate doesn't want to write. I've found that most really appreciate it, but if you've never corresponded with the person before, please be prepared and understand and accept if it is the case. Some people cannot handle having their mindset taken outside of prison, some may be sick and not have the time or energy, and some (at a much higher rate than on the outside) are illiterate. And occasionally, the person may be in "The Hole" and completely unable to respond.

If they respond, you'll likely learn a lot about them from the way they do so. Introductions can be difficult in any situation, and they (or you) might not know exactly what to say, or they might go into telling you all about themselves. If you have an interest in it, asking questions about their life in general or what their interests are can help break the ice. If you have another reason for writing to them, they'll probably appreciate you being upfront about it. Most likely they'll ask about you some general questions back. Answer to the degree you feel comfortable. Know that they're probably just curious about whom you are and trying to start a conversation since you decided to write to them.

They may ask you for a picture. Some people are hesitant or uncomfortable sending one. Some people send one right away. I never ask for one if the person writing me doesn't offer because I know that some people are cautious about it while others are not. I've also had situations where I haven't asked for one, and the person writing me ends up asking "Why haven't you asked me for a picture of myself?" If I haven't received one but we've developed a pretty solid friendship, then I may ask for one just because I'm curious what the person I've been corresponding with looks like. Not every prisoner is patient and waits, however. Generally speaking, most of the time they are asking innocently, just out of curiosity about whom they are talking to. If they do ask and you feel comfortable, send a non-suggestive photo.

Most inmates I've talked to really appreciate pictures of any kind. One of my close friends used to send me pictures of things she would see that were interesting... even if they were just a part of her every day life (an oversized Plexiglas chicken... a mountain... a beautiful pond called "The Eye of Heaven"). Being in here, my world can often feel gray, and boring at best. Pictures of any kind, even if the person isn't in them, bring a little color and a feeling of being included. Though I must say that if someone sent me pictures all the time and never once were they in them, it would make me curious as to why. I just want you, reader, to understand the feelings of the person you're writing to.


Should you decide to write someone in prison, my goal is to help both parties get the most from the interaction as possible. My life has changed drastically for the better because of those who've become part of it SINCE my incarceration, and I hope that in some way I've been able to give back to them too. Those are the kinds of interactions I want to help promote. In this section, I want to share some things I'd like you to consider, and in the next section, I'll outline some potential things to watch out for coming from the person on the other end.

The word you hear thrown around in prison more than any other is "respect". Prisoners live in a world where respect --being a person of your word, dealing with others in a straightforward way-- can make the difference between surviving this harsh environment or not. Even among people who didn't have this attitude before coming to prison; it becomes part of their lifestyle, culture, and viewpoint on the world. An inmate is likely to get cautious or even suspicious if you begin immediately giving advice, asking about the crime they were charged with, get TOO personal, or lay out all of your life's problems. If, however, these interests are your sole intention, let him/her know right away, and they can choose to respond accordingly.

I have been offered money on occasion to help pay for stamps (and, as friendships have developed, for phone calls). At times I have accepted a little help (I only earn the equivalent of $0.20 an hour), but usually I don't. If you feel an urge to offer, then do. If you don't, then don't. I never ask for anything other than friendship when I'm lucky enough to have someone write to me, though if something is offered I may not decline assistance where I really could use it. Again, please don't offer anything if you're not actually willing to give it. In prison, we have little, and when someone tells us they're going to do something for us we often plan accordingly. Another former cellmate had a friend tell him that $50 was on its way as a birthday gift which was more than my bunkie made in an entire month. So my roommate spent every dollar he had (which was about $25) on commissary... and didn't hear from his friend for about three months. In the meantime he got a black eye in a fight because he owed a few dollars he couldn't pay since he had spent all of his own -- a fight that happened on his actual birthday. So please, if you're not sure about offering something, please don't. A good friend will understand and not expect anything unless you offer it in the first place.

In prison most men are lonely, and the biggest deprivation we face is the mere opportunity for companionship from the opposite sex. If you are a woman writing to a man, I'm going to be honest with you: he is probably going to take anything mildly suggestive as a potential opening. When we completely lack something we can become hyper-attuned to anything that even seems like a glimmer of what we miss. If you are flat-out opposed to the thought of this, please think twice about sending pictures of yourself in a bathing suit, or talking about sex, complaining about your own lover(s), or anything else which could legitimately lead his mind to wander in that direction. Regardless, if you are a woman writing a man in prison, he's likely at some point to try flirting with you. Either ignore it, or let him know that you're not looking for that-- whatever makes you feel comfortable. Just be aware that many guys miss that type of interaction more than anything else in the world, and so they're likely to at least try test the waters if it's possible. And it does happen: relationships can bloom from the cracks in pavement. Men in here often learn how to listen better than they ever would have out there. I've been the best-man at two weddings in here, and the chaplain reviews marriage applications every month. I've fallen in love in here before, and have held hands with a woman nearly every week for 6-12 hours each visit without letting go (except for bathroom breaks). I've had friendships with women that weren't like that at all. My goal is to merely prepare you for things to consider.

There may or may not be a time, should you become friends, when you want to visit. If you decide to visit, let them know ahead of time--do not try to surprise them. In most states you won't even be able to: unless you have been previously approved as a visitor. A friend once wanted to "pop in" on me, and drove an hour and a half out of the way merely to be sent away for not being on my approved visitor's list. I felt bad. Check to make sure what the visiting rules and policies are should you want to do so. On a side note, if you do have a good friendship with someone on the inside, they'd probably be really happy to meet you in person, and prison visiting rooms are probably one of the safest places on Earth.

Lastly, if for whatever reason a time comes when you can't maintain your friendship, let them know. Unless they do something out-of-line or disrespectful to you, don't just disappear. Inmates have no access to information and rarely experience kindness being shown to them. That, coupled with the sameness of their days makes it especially confusing when a friendship or relationship of any kind just completely ghosts on them. And things don't change, so the confusion and feelings of loss last much, much longer than they would to someone on the outside. Additional confusion (especially of the emotional kind), in an already dangerous setting can lead to further danger. Even just saying "Hey, I have a lot going on in my life and can't focus on being a friend right now. Sorry. Bye," can prevent any hard feelings and can save stupid-decision-inducing stress. Otherwise, they may spend the rest of their sentence wondering what happened to you...


Part of my goal is to help prevent a kind and caring person who has the desire to write a prisoner from coming to regret doing so. I am full of gratitude for those that have made my life better, but not everyone is. I've grown up around wolves and I've learned their tricks. I want you to be able to protect yourself from them if you need to. Most prisoners are completely appreciative of someone offering friendship (as they know it's something that doesn't happen often), and most likely you would never come across any wolves. But in case you do, these are some of the things to watch out for.

Anyone you write to will absolutely ask you some questions about yourself, your life in general, etc... Imagine receiving a letter from a total stranger: you'd be curious about them too. Beware of someone who starts asking questions that are TOO personal. With certain things, realize it may have just been an accident that they asked something that made you uncomfortable... but take it as a red-flag if this is repeated often.

If you've developed a correspondence with an inmate, he/she may at some point ask for a book or a magazine, especially if you've referenced it in your conversations. That's pretty normal, and do whatever you feel you should do. But unless you offer it, be wary about being asked for money, ESPECIALLY if there's an excuse for asking. Unless they've gotten themselves into a predicament already with the assumption they'll have someone to bail them out, they are not going to get stabbed or beaten or killed if you don't send money. They don't need money to file legal issues regarding their case or their innocence (while civil suits require fees to file --which can be waived for inmates--criminal cases have no fees in court proceedings). If they have other reasons, consider the request like you would that of a homeless person asking for change--if you feel so moved, ask how you can contribute directly to the cause (for a lawyer, a private investigator to prove a claim, etc.). Apart from that, most prisons have commissary, and if you want to send someone money to help them have a slightly higher quality of life, that is your decision. I consider it tactless to ask without being offered.

Also, be cautious if you are being asked for "a favor" consisting of accepting something and sending it on somewhere else. "Can my friend send you a _____ that you can send to my cousin?" "Can I send you a painting that you can mail to my brother?" I've heard of people doing this, and chances are there's something concealed in there that they want to originate from an "innocent" looking address. Ask why they don't just do it directly. Also think twice if asked to forward a letter to another inmate, at least one of the same gender. I once wrote a female friend who was in jail for awhile, and I was only able to do so by having my father and a friend forward our letters back and forth... in that case we cared about each other and just wanted to correspond and needed help doing so. But if someone (especially one who isn't gay) is trying hard to write someone else of the same gender who is incarcerated, they may be trying to pass gang-related or criminal information... and if a crime is involved, you may become an accessory for doing so. So be concerned if asked to forward letters to someone of the same gender, particularly if they are in the same prison system.

Think carefully about getting involved with anyone who says he is an active gang member. Some states have a tremendous amount of prison gangs, in others only a small percentage of inmates are in gangs. Younger inmates are likelier to be actively involved in gangs than older inmates. One thing you can do if you don't know is ASK; most active gang members who choose that life are proud of their gang and will tell you directly. Some people on the outside have something of a fascination with gang members... they seem to have an aura of power, and demand respect (at least it appears that way to some people). It's your choice to be involved in their life. However, be warned that established gangs demand loyalty to the gang over anyone else... and the more you become involved in their life, very likely the more they will try to involve you (whether knowing it or not) in that aspect of their life.

While it can happen, most likely the person you're writing to is not innocent. There's a great line in "The Shawshank Redemption" where Red (Morgan Freeman) looks at everyone else at the table and says, "Yeah, and they're all innocent too...." Some inmates have gotten particularly harsh sentences for their crimes when compared to others.  (Take for example two 16 year olds I knew who with no prior history of crime, broke into a house. One broke in while it was occupied, the other while it was empty. The one who broke into the occupied house, which is a higher and more serious offense, received six months in prison. The one who broke into the empty house and ended up taking nothing, received five years). But in 14 years in prison, I have only met one person who I actually came to believe was innocent, and I was able to help him win his appeal. So now, at least in this prison of 1,200 people, there are not any I actually believe to be completely innocent. With very few exceptions, and unless the reason you're writing them is because you heard of their situation and you have reason to believe they might be, the person you're writing is almost definitely not. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily a bad person inside, or that they are undeserving of a friend... most people who write to someone on the inside don't do so thinking that the person they are writing to was innocent of the crime they were put in prison for. While you don't have to completely rule it out, be suspicious if the person claims total innocence. Unless you're writing to them already under the assumption they might be innocent, consider letting them know that guilt or innocence has no bearing on your friendship.

Most of these situations are rare, but worth mentioning. If you are fearful of writing to someone... then don't. It would be silly and probably not very productive for either of you and not very helpful to them if you reach out to them but do so hesitantly. If you are going to write to someone in prison, I encourage you to do so with an open mind, treating them like any other person you could become pen pals with. Be aware of some of the "scams" but know they are unlikely to come up.


* If writing to someone in prison for the first time, write your letter on white paper using blue or black ink. Some states have restrictions as to this. If you want the person to write you back, make sure you put a return address in the letter itself, as some states will not let the inmates even see the envelope the letter comes in, let alone keep it.

* Make sure to include the inmate's prison number in the address on the envelope or it may not be delivered to them.

* Search for the website of the Department of Corrections (Department/Bureau of Prisons) of the state in which the inmate you're writing to is incarcerated in. There is often a link on the state government's website (for example, go to, and you can click on "Department of Corrections"). Many of these websites will provide you with a way of finding out which prison houses the inmate along with the inmate's prison number (often also listing their "rap sheet" as well). They often also provide the rules and regulations, if any, regarding mail. They will also likely inform you if there is an alternative way of writing (via an email-like service).

* To find a particular inmate, you may be able to just Google them.

Chris Dankovich 595904
Thumb Correctional Facility
3225 John Conley Drive
Lapeer MI 48446

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

By Bob Clark

My name is Bob Clark. I am currently imprisoned in the state of Kansas. I got locked up when I was  thirteen years old. The year was 1968. I was sentenced to a state training school for boys, for the charge of vandalism. My sentence was only four months. Little did I know, I’d never be free again. When I arrived at this youth prison, I had some adjustment problems. I ran away several times, which eventually led me to a Maximum Security Prison in Lincoln, Nebraska at the age of fourteen. As a scared youngster, I parlayed that four month sentence into 222 years for a series of assaults against staff and other inmates. 

When you are that young, and in an adult prison, you have to fight for your life and honor. I’ve been locked up for fifty-plus years, because of this. I am 64 years old now. I’ve never had a relationship with a female, never been to a mall, never been fishing, never had a car. I’ve never done anything in society. I hope my story will reach the young out there that think the petty crime they are committing in society does not matter.  It really does. I was locked up for non-violence, but it ended up costing me my whole life of freedom. After years of violence and solitary confined in Nebraska, I was transferred to the state prison in Kansas. I hope no one makes the mistakes I did. Even after all the years of hostility, I am still trying to better myself, educating myself, working and caring about youth enough to want to reach them with my message. 

Bob Clark 44032
Oswego Correctional Facility
2501 West 7th Street
Oswego, KS 67356
Bob's book, "Imprisoned at Thirteen:Memories of Life in a Maximum Security Prison," is available on

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Subject: Mass Incarceration

By Edwin "Tariq" Turner

My incarceration is directly connected to the social ailments within my community. Scarce economic and educational resources, immature role models and household inadequacies contributed to my developing a criminal mind state. Eventually my criminal behavior led me into the shackles of the so called “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” The name of this government institution is misleading as its practices are not only inhumane but, a tool to perpetrate genocide. I find it imperative that the citizens of the United States realize that rehabilitation cannot become a reality until it is prioritized over economic production and political superiority. In discussing these topics, my perspective is one of personal observation in conjunction with my education on the subject matter.

Analyzing my past in the hope of uncovering the causes of my criminal mind state, I realize that my development was affected by four components. In our relatively poor household --a single parent, three brothers and one sister-- finances were strained. With my mother earning a little more than minimum wage and being the only breadwinner, we children were forced to be content with little and ration over time the bare necessities.

With no job experience and a criminal record, finding legitimate work was not only improbable but also undesirable. I was unable to obtain money in a legitimate manner but the necessity of acquiring capital still existed. Seeing individuals in my community acquire incalculable amounts of wealth in relatively short periods of time became extremely attractive. Thus, the first component to the creation of my criminal mind state was “Economic Deprivation.”

Looking back, I realize my mother was never taught how to adequately raise a child, nor do I believe she was interested in learning. As a child you are inquisitive because you desire to know the unknown. During this time parents are able to shape the child’s perspective as it relates to circumstances and practices prevalent within society. On many occasions my brothers and I would ask questions regarding things we saw or heard and my mother would respond, “Stop asking so many damn questions.” As a result, I was taught at an early age that if I wanted to know something I had to experience it for myself. Curiosity led me to participate in activities that were not conducive to my being a productive element in society.

These activities eventually led to me being incarcerated. To a child experiencing incarceration for the first time, it creates a mental extraction from the family social structure and an attachment to the social environment of prison. If the family is not invested in sustaining within the child the family social structure, the child is more susceptible to being entrenched in the prison social environment. If there is already a mental separation between the child and family social structure the child will likely entrench himself in the prison social environment (which is what happened to me).

This is detrimental to the healthiness of society. Where there is a disconnect between the child and the family social structure, the child becomes connected to the prison social environment. Upon release that child will take those harmful constructs into society. We will explore how this perpetuates a disenfranchised social structure that is intentionally sustained by the government as a means for capital production and political superiority. The second component to the creation of my criminal mind state is “Household Inadequacies.”

Most of the males in my family were gang members. I remember growing up watching documentaries on groups like MS-13 and being extremely attracted to the power and organization that they displayed. Most everyone in my community and those whom I went to school with were gang members. Since I was so disconnected from my family, an alternate social structure society played the primary role in determining who I was to become. Male gang members became role models, thus I started to emulate their behavior. The third component to the creation of my criminal mind state was “Immature Role Models.”

The education system in my community was and still is inadequate on many levels, mainly in the method by which children are being educated. When you sit a child in the classroom for seven to eight hours, feeding him information that he will never use in his daily life, education becomes a burden and the child becomes disinterested. Further, everyone attending my school suffered from similar problems as those I had. Where a school system uses a method of teaching that causes the students to become disinterested you end up with a microcosm of disengaged students creating an environment of play and amusement via criminal activity and education becomes ineffective. It could be argued that the education system within lower class communities is specifically designed to keep the members of that community stagnated. “Educational Deprivation” is the fourth component to the creation of my criminal mind state.

These four components are universal as they relate to lower-class communities. You could look at any lower-class community within the United States of America and you would find the same or similar deprivations. It is no coincidence that 90% of these lower-class communities are comprised of Mexican and African ethnic groups as is 90% of the prison population.

There is an obvious connection between the deprivations within lower class communities and the mass incarceration of the members of these lower-class communities. Since economic inequality, educational inadequacies, and so forth are the causes of mass incarceration, then why are federal funds diverted from social reform projects and directed towards the expansion and militarization of police departments and so-called criminal justice projects? 

The “CDCR” stands for “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” In theory this government institution’s objective is to warehouse and correct the criminal behavior of United States citizens who were found guilty of breaking the law. It wasn’t until after 2005 that this state institution considered rehabilitating inmates as being part of its objectives. 

The name of this institution is misleading. One might assume that this institution would create an atmosphere conducive to reformation and moral development. Instead, the practices of the CDCR have been inhumane and oppressive. One example is the CDCR’s policy that visitation and phone calls to family members are not rights, but privileges. Most prisoners in the United States are male, and it is obvious that taking away the male presence from the family (let alone designing his social environment to contribute to his destruction) is an action toxic to the family unit in society. 

For a nation claiming to be the leader of “civilization” to allow its government institutions to corrode the family unit, is contrary to standards of civilized humanity. By allowing the CDCR to make physical and verbal communication with family members a privilege instead of a right, the state enables the CDCR to take away these necessary forms of rehabilitation for any absurd reason that they can rationalize (which they frequently do). As discussed above, when the prisoner is disconnected from the family, he becomes immersed in the prison social environment. 

Staff members of the CDCR (NOT ALL) have implicitly defined the relationship between “inmate” and “correctional officer” in a manner contrary to the stated objectives of the institution and the description of the C/O position. They have developed underground practices to exacerbate conflict amongst inmates, and provoke emotionally unstable inmates into committing violence against correctional officers. The state turns a blind eye to these atrocities disregarding inmate grievances and prosecuting frivolous rule violations. The medical department of the CDCR is committed to the doctrine of “capital preservation” (especially in Pelican Bay State Prison). By this doctrine, along with the evil motivation to inflict pain and suffering upon the inmate population, the medical department of the CDCR continues to deny inmates with serious medical conditions necessary medical treatment. This not only violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but is also a human rights violation. 

For the sake of brevity, I will leave out examples and intricate details of the topic. If this is the social environment that the CDCR has created and that the state and federal government has sanctioned, then one must ask what the true function of the CDCR is as it relates to the incarceration of Mexicans and Africans? Why is rehabilitation not a right in the state of California (or the U.S. as a whole)? Why is it that Mexicans and Africans are the majority in U.S. prisons? The answers to these questions are located in the reason why the Thirteenth Amendment has yet to be abolished. 

In order to effectively reform the United States government’s outlook on prison, the United States government itself must be reformed. I am of the opinion that we as U.S. citizens do not understand the true nature of the U.S. government’s outlook on prison nor do we understand the reality of its objectives in relation to incarceration.

As most know, U.S. slavery was a system with the purpose of capital production by subjugating and forcing Africans (and to a lesser extent, natives and lower-class whites) into forced labor. This system was validated by the doctrine of the racial superiority of Europeans (The White Man), and the racial inferiority of Africans (The Black Man). So, the term slavery (as used in the United States Constitution) must be defined by the system of slavery perpetuated by the United States government upon Africans and native people. 

I frequently hear that slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln. I find this statement not only absurd, but also contrary to reality. The system of slavery and the social relationships developed out of it was never abolished; they simply took on a different form. Soon after chattel slavery, the United States government was faced with a dilemma. Forced labor in the south was the main resource for capital production that plantation owners relied on. Now that slavery in its existing form had been ruled illegal, the plantation owners considered how they might legally use Africans for capital production.

The north, though first to abolish slavery, was also faced with a dilemma. They did not seek to abolish slavery because they were morally committed to the liberation of Africans, but because slave labor in the south caused economic hardships for the technological dependence of the north. Thus, by getting rid of slavery by illuminating its immorality, the north effectively eliminated the south as being an economic competitor. While gaining economic superiority over the south, the north was faced with the question of, “what to do with the African slaves that were set to be free?” The north never wanted Africans to assimilate in the U.S. Capitalist system, so they had to find a way to keep Africans subjugated and prevented from becoming a threat to the white race and its superiority.

The federal government provided a solution. It decided to legalize slavery (as defined by the historical practice of the United States) in the form of incarceration within a penal institution for those who were found guilty of breaking the law. Slavery was never abolished, it was redefined. “Slavery” became known as “Incarceration”, and a “slave” was now known as a “criminal.”

It is important that we state the facts and avoid the injustice of political correctness. “Slavery” and its legalized form “incarceration” was specifically created to economically, politically, and socially dominate Africans in order to prevent them from becoming a threat to white dominance and U.S. capitalism. Laws were created to specifically target Africans. Violation of these laws required them to make a choice where there was only one possible outcome in most cases. They were either required to pay a lump sum of money or pay off a debt that they owed through physical labor on a plantation. Because the African (who was forced in to labor on the plantation without a salary) lacked an adequate amount of wealth when leaving the slave plantation, most Africans were found guilty and assimilated back on the slave plantation.

We must conclude that slavery (both legalized and chattel) in the United States was and is an institution of dominance initiated by the U.S. government upon ethnic Africans (and to a lesser extent natives and lower class whites). The goal was and is to continue and extend that dominance across generational lines by confining these ethnic groups to ghettos, imposing upon them a social structure that would ensure the eventual destruction of these ethnic groups (genocide).

A perfect example of this came by way of the CIA (a United States military institution) in its use of drug cartels to smuggle “coke” into the lower-class neighborhoods of Los Angeles via Freeway Rick. Soon after the “War on Drugs” was initiated which targeted poor communities, imposing inhumane sentences upon members of the poorest class, effectively assimilating them back into the slave plantation. 

Why is federal funding diverted from educational programs in lower-class communities and directed towards the militarization of local police departments? In order to effectively maintain the destructive social structure and its results. Deprivation of education reduces positive choices. Why does the government not initiate enhanced “Gang Prevention” programs instead of imposing outrageous sentences on gang members (which is disproportionately biased to lower class individuals)? Because gangs sustain disunity and chaos among oppressed ethnic minorities, which also justifies local military expansion and so called “tough on crime slogans.”

If we wish to stop mass incarceration, we must admit that the U.S. government has always desired to subjugate and oppress its lower class communities (specifically Africans) all in the name of economic and political superiority. It is only then that a new America is born, TRUE DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE AND EQUALITY FOR ALL!!! 

Peace upon the CITIZENS OF AMERICA!!!!
Edwin Turner

Edwin Turner AI4237-A2/211
Pelican Bay State Prison
P.O. Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532
My name is Edwin Turner. As I became conscious of my political and spiritual surroundings, I took on the name Tāriq Zaynu-l-Ábidiyn. My birthday is August 21, 1991. I am 26 years old.

I was born in Lynwood, California, and raised throughout the inner-city ghettos of Los Angeles County. I was born to a single parent – my mother. Growing up in the inner-city with a relatively poor parent who had five kids, struggling to acquire the necessities of life became a normal experience.

Gang activity was prevalent within the local schools and surrounding neighborhoods. Association with members of gangs was normal and aspiring to inculcate gang behavior was seen as producing an opportunity for economic progress and power. I joined a gang when I was 15 years old.

In 2011, I was found guilty of attempting to murder two unknown individuals – John Doe’s 1 and 2 – even though no witnesses ever accused me of doing so. Experiencing this clear injustice inspired me to fight my own case through the appellate courts.

As I arrived to the slave plantation (prison), I began to observe the tyranny of the CDCR – aka the Californian Department of Corruption and Repression. At the same time, I was denied my appeal on my criminal case, which was clearly an insult to justice, I started to study politics, unbiased US history, African culture, etc.… Slowly, I became politically aware of the extent to which those who claim to represent us American citizens have conspired to deprive us of our human rights.

I have developed a spiritual ideology rooted in the reality that humanity is one brotherhood/sisterhood and was produced by one Essence. I am anti-oppression, anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism. I believe that all human beings have the right to live in peace and strive to reach spiritual, economic and political stability. I believe that all human beings have a moral obligation to assist all sectors of the human family in areas that they lack in. I firmly believe that women and children are the pillars of society and, therefore, they should be given the means to acquire spiritual, intellectual and moral elevation.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Life Story

By Leon Carpenter

When I was a small child my mom was my hero. I can remember the feeling of love as she would spin fantastic stories to my brother and me about the great feats and accomplishments of our distant relatives. As she would tell us these stories the passion in her eyes left no room for doubt. She would become animated. The characters in her stories would play out right in front of our dirt-stained faces. Whatever story she was telling was as real as the hunger pains that washed over our malnourished bodies. 

My mom was one amazingly strong and proud woman. Of course, as an adult, I realize that my long-lost-second-cousin-once-removed really wasn’t a famous bear fighter in the cold Russian tundra. Or that our family really isn’t related to the English crown. However, as a small child, I would fist fight, bite, or yell at anyone who dared to tell me she was lying.

In retrospect things are usually much clearer. As an adult I’m able to put our situation into proper context. If I were to see the three of us walking down some dusty Bakersfield street from an adult’s vantage, what I would see is an extremely different picture: I’d be able to see my dear mom for what she really was. A child. A sad, lost teenager with two children in tow. I would see a small teenage girl in dirty, patched fixed jeans. Ones that were products of her tortured little fingers, which washed and repaired the rags we called clothes at night after tucking my brother and me away on some random floor she’d found for us to call home for the night.

I can now easily see what my mom was doing for Dan – my brother – and me with her stories. Mom was creating new realities for us. She used these stories to protect us. She was hiding us inside these dreamscapes. Shielding us from our actuality; from the fact that we were without. Without a home. Without a car. Without a next meal. We were destitute. 

When I was a small boy my mom was my hero. As I sit here writing this I realize that she remains my hero.

My biological father was not around most of my life. He was lost to drug addiction and the monster called the California Department of Corrections. Until a few years ago I would have been telling you here how much I hated the guy. I would go over all the ways he was this really bad person. I would be retelling all the nasty stories that were forced on me as a child. As I write this it makes me mad. How and why adults think shit like that is okay is beyond me. Telling babies that their dad is awful (regardless of whether it’s true or not) is wrong. I was brainwashed into believing the man who helped bring me into the world was the worst kind of human. The man whose name I carry as my own was the worst person ever to be born. Well, that’s what people would have had me believe. However, I’m not going to be doing any of that. I’m going to keep it real. What I know about Geoff – my biological dad – is that he had his own issues that kept him removed from my life. He has a story that I hope to one day know in full. There are a few things I can say about Geoff, though. I know he grew up in the ‘hood. He came from a background of hating cops, drug use and extreme poverty. He took a long time to get out of the trap most of us poor people fall into: drugs and prison. He’s out now! And I’m proud of him for that. Sadly, he is an old man now, slowly dying from too many years of I.V. drug use and smoking.

Fast forward some to when Mom met a really great man named Larry. From what I was told, Mom, Dan and I were walking on the side of Highway 99 in Vancouver, Washington. How the hell we made it there is still slightly confusing. I’m pretty sure some boyfriend of Mom’s dumped us there. As the story goes, Larry was driving up the highway when he saw a cute chick with a couple of rug rats struggling to carry the bags we’d just picked up from the food bank, so he pulled over and picked us up. For better or worse they remained together until Larry – who I called my dad – died an awful death while under hospice care at the house I grew up in.

Between this first encounter and his death there were many crazy adventures. If I even wrote half of them you would dismiss me as a liar – like so many have dismissed my mom when she would tell her stories. The man I called my dad suffered from schizophrenia. If you don’t know about that mental health issue let’s just accept that shit was wild. Dad… Well, Dad was genuinely crazy at times. There are parts that I can laugh about now but that’s only because I am still alive!

Dad and Mom had two children. The oldest of the two is my beautiful sister, Donna. The youngest is my other beautiful sister, Tracy. I love them both deeply. However, for Dan and me growing up with them was not so good. Before the girls were born life was wild because of Dad’s mental health issues, but he treated Dan and me as well as he could. The addition of Dad’s (biological) kids made life harder for us boys. Dad began treating us bad and at times things could get violent and dangerous. Dan and I found safety in one another, and in the streets.

My first exposure to juvenile is something to write about. It was Christmas ’91 or ’92 (the year really isn’t important). Dan had done something to work our mom into a fit. He got his ass beat pretty bad for whatever it was (more than likely something small). By this time in our lives Dad was no longer physical with us. I think having two babies of his own helped shape his actions when it came to that stuff. To be clear, that did not mean our mom didn’t beat us, though. For some reason she picked up where Dad had left off. I could pose all sorts of possibilities as to why but who really cares. It sucked regardless of why. With her it was worse at times because, as we got bigger, she started using shit to beat us with. But I’m getting off point… Dan got his ass beat pretty bad. So, we decided that our best course of action would be to escape into the freezing winter night while the rest of the family slept quietly in that one room shack we called home.

Without disturbing anyone, we silently crept out the front door carrying all the belongings we could into the ice-covered night streets. Dan and I had planned this final get away; this escape from our endless worry about the next mindless punishment or mental health breakdown. The burning sensation in my lungs from that night’s cold air is seared into my memory as if it were last night. 

The feeling was one of the most powerful my young body had ever felt. I was free! No more bullshit. No more fear. From now on it would just be my brother and me. The world was at our finger tips. Sadly, this feeling of reaching out to this brave new world disappeared quickly. The reality of our decision set in fast. We knew we had to find some place to hide from the cruelty of our new-found freedom.

Dan and I eventually ended up taking refuge in an unlocked truck we’d found. As our small, cold bodies unthawed we were able to move our limbs some. I’m not sure which one of us started digging around the cab of the truck first, as both of us were looking for spare change or any other jewels we might find. What I am sure of is that it was me who found that shiny keyring with a single key attached. Just like I can recall the feeling of my lungs burning, I can also recall the excitement I felt when I realized that this key meant warmth. It meant I would not have to feel like a traitor anymore for my secret desire for the warmth of our shack where the rest of our family were sleeping.

We stole the truck! The roads were thickly covered with ice and the truck was a stick shift. Of course, as two kids who had never driven before this night, we were quickly spotted by police. A pursuit happened and, as quickly as we were spotted, it ended with a damaged fence and a wrecked truck. Our great escape didn’t last long. Our adventure into this brave, new, ice-covered world was over. 

We were escorted to juvenile hall where I was stripped of my clothes by some sicko who stared entirely too long at my nude body. I was given a set of orange boxers, pants and top. Once I was fully dressed I was directed to the first place I had ever slept alone. The bunk was soooo much more comfortable than the hard spot on the front room floor where I slept two nights before. And I was warm! Under TWO blankets, and I even had sheets! Wow!! What a trip. To that point in my life I had only seen sheets being used to cover the windows in our house. That night I slept like a baby. I felt safe. I was warm. I had clean clothes, and the topper: my very own bed. Talk about wonderful.  

It probably isn’t hard to ascertain from this initial exposure to juvenile hall that I would see those same orange boxers and that nice, comfortable bed many, many times in my short, damaged youth.

Once in a while, instead of letting me go “home”, the State would place me in some random foster home. Oh my God! These were much worse than having my ass kicked at home. At least at home the person beating me up loved me in a strange sort of way. In most of these foster homes I would be beaten up by the older kids or worse, by some hillbilly foster parent who’d drank too much. I should say that it was not always like this. I didn’t always get my ass kicked. Sometimes I would be starved or verbally abused. You get the idea, right? These places were fucked! And as a kid I’d think: “better beat at home.” At least there I’d find comfort in a sibling or, if I was lucky, my mom.

I ran away from every single foster home, without question. I could not stay at these places. Whether it was at night while everyone was sleeping or while in town with the “family,” I was running as fast as I could to rid myself of these people. What’s crazy to me is all the freaking journeys I went on trying to get home. I have stories Mark Twain would be proud to spin into a book. Some of the things I got myself into while making my way home are worthy of their own story. 

The worst place I ever found myself at is a boy’s home called KVH (or Kiwanis Vocational  Home). I was such a management issue at school that the school board decided to banish me! They literally voted me off their island. After some sort of hearing it was decided that I would need to attend alternative schooling at some other campus. Well, about that... There was no such other campus. What Centralia School District (shame on them!) decided to do with me was hire a taxi to transport me over to K.V.H where I would be taught with the other inmates there. My life has not been the same since. #metoo

Not long after the events at K.V.H. my life took an even more dangerous turn. I was so mentally and emotionally ruined by the things I went through that I set out on a path of self-destruction. Drugs, sex, crime and more drugs were how I coped. But, of course, the only place that lifestyle ever leads to is prison. Here’s the kicker… My first trip to prison was before I was 18. In fact, at the time, my family thought that I had runaway. They thought the only reason I had not been home was due to me “running” the streets. They had no clue. When I called my mom for the first time from prison she went nuts! It’s funny too. She told me that “I was really going to have my ass beat for this one.” As if I had not already been given a real ass kicking before.

When I made it to receiving at Shelton [Washington Corrections Center] they placed me in the hole – aka isolation – due to my age (I was only 16). I guess they have rules for kids being there too. Go figure. Isolation is the worst. So calling my mom and not hearing what I needed, which was “baby, it’s going to be alright,” sucked. I was lonely, scared and looking to be reassured all would be well, but that never happened.

Now I’m lucky to have turned 17 relatively soon into this journey. Isolation is NO place for a fragile mind like the one I had. I guess 17 was old enough for me to be released into regular population (i.e. mainline). Finally out of the hole, I was able to experience prison for the first time in its full glory.

Gang violence, racial segregation, and true old school convicts. Oh yeah! Roll-your-own cigarettes. Wow, those blew my mind... 

I was sentenced (above standard range) to 27 months for standing next to a childhood buddy when he assaulted someone. It was a time I will certainly never forget! In that short period of my life I was “put on to the game”. Drug dealing and prison politics consumed my every move. The prison I was at during this time was called “Gladiator School”, or Clallam Bay Corrections Center. The 90s were nuts in DOC; a truly wonderful place for an underdeveloped, undereducated and under-appreciated young boy like myself (where were our progressive politicians then?!).

I was released from prison on February 12, 1998. By January 28 2000 – my 19th birthday – I had committed two (non-violent) robberies and a first-degree burglary. I’d gone to trial and lost, and was sentenced to seven hundred and seventy-seven years in prison! Yep. That’s right. 

I always thought that was an odd number to use... I mean, really, what the fuck? As if I would live past the first hundred years, right? So, just to be safe, let’s add six hundred and seventy-seven more. Personally, I think if they want to dish out prison terms like that, they should keep it real and use the number: 666! Clearly they have devil in them to do this shit, right? However, if you’re unfamiliar with Washington’s “three strike laws”, this is the outcome. Seven hundred and seventy-seven years for teenagers already lost in the system. (An interesting note: I was the youngest person in the nation to ever be sentenced to this.)

There I was, a teenager who would NEVER be getting out of prison. What a trip. I cannot express how heavy that was on my heart. Inside I knew just how much of a hurt little kid I was. None of this made sense, but so far that was just how life was for me.

Obviously, I did not know what to do. So, I went with the flow of things for a few months – all the time contemplating ending it all early. I thought: Fuck it! I surely don’t want to be here FOREVER. 

I can pinpoint the moment when I decided not to kill myself. It was my first visit with my daughter, Sophie – who, by luck or chance, had an amazing mother who refused to let prison be the reason she didn’t know her dad.

Sadly, for Sophie and her mom, Denise, I made all the wrong choices. Once I came to terms with the fact that I was going to spend the rest of my life in prison, I decided the best way to do it was at the top of the food chain, not the bottom…

I spent the next eight years lost in prison gang life. Drugs. Money. Position. Power. You get the idea, right? I’m guessing that if you’re reading this you’ve at least seen National Geographic programs dealing with all of that. Well, imagine it, and then place me somewhere in the middle. I fit the stereotype: shaved head, gang tattoos, and a “fuck the world” attitude. In an odd, twisted fairytale sort of way, I was blessed – just like Cinderella with my foot fitting a glass boot. (In prison, “boot” is the slang for skinhead.)

My cousin, Leon Troy, was the “shot caller” for Washington’s most violent prison gang, and this gave me cause to be ‘the man’ in far more situations than I should have been. I was lost! But prison had fully consumed me and my world. I was no longer Leon Troy’s younger cousin, but now “Leon: the big homie with life!”

One day, while wasting away in segregation for a gang hit I was accused of, I received a letter telling me I had been remanded for sentencing. Not really knowing what this meant, I sent it over to my buddy who was in the next cell. He told me, and I broke down. I remember crying for hours.

At court the judge gave me an approximate 20-year sentence, which left me very little time remaining. I will never be able to express how I felt; “overwhelmed” is probably the only way to describe it.

Following sentencing, my return to prison was a trip! I was fast-tracked to a prison camp (and that, in its own right, was a trip). In a matter of months, I had gone from doing a 24 month prison program in segregation to being transferred to a work camp. I was excited! The whole ‘camp life’ was nuts. There weren’t even fences holding me in! I spent about 20 months at one camp until my bullshit gang activity and non-stop rule violations led me to being shipped off to another more restrictive camp (which is where I met Tom, who became a mentor to me) and I finished the remaining 20 months or so.

And there I was, back on the streets of my city. The only difference was my age and a new social position within the neighborhood. Just like prison, this new-found freedom consumed me. At NO point before my release did I prepare for real life. Hell, I thought I was the man. And other people thought so too.

Spending the previous 15 years of my life behind bars doing drugs, getting tattoos – and everything in between – was not something I was able to get out of my system. Believe me, I tried to fight off the urges to get high and hang out with the homies. However, I did not have the resilience to resist the challenges life was putting in my way.

Maybe you’ve heard this before: history repeats itself. 

I left prison the second time August 8, 2011. By August 12, 2012 I was back in jail facing my “third strike” again. After months of fighting, I finally caved to the State and pled guilty; accepting another 20 years behind bars.

But this is where my story gets really interesting. While I was in jail, I convinced Emily (the lady I had dated the entire time I was free) to marry me. I thought this would make life better. The three of us (yep, she too was pregnant. Just like Denise was when I went to prison the last time) would do this time together. As a team. As a family.

Another really huge decision of mine was to completely turn away from my past, or as some call it here “drop out” of the gang. This decision was helped by the fact that my cousin, the shot caller, was nearly killed by our own gang. Needless to say, deciding to leave those guys wasn’t too hard. I surely was not looking to be stabbed to death given something my cousin had done. I wanted to have a life. To be free. To love. To be loved. 

Emily and our son don’t visit much. Of course this hurts but Emily has her own story, I guess. They are gone but my desire to overcome the issues in my life that have held me hostage for way too long is alive. My hunger for a real life is a non-stop motivating force that pushes me to challenge myself. I have been dead inside for too many years of my life. I refuse to accept this fate. I refuse to cower to my demons any longer. No longer will I allow the damaged boy to steer this ship. With my head held high I confront the facts as they are. I can either own them or they can own me. Reflecting on my past, I decided to be in control of my future. 

Some really wonderful things have happened for me in the past six years. Tom – my mentor – has continuously held my feet to the fire, pushing me to challenge myself. To overcome. To achieve. With his help (and tons of hours in a psychologist’s chair) I’ve built something more valuable than all the gold in the world: a healthy self-image. An image I am proud to see while looking in the mirror. During this ongoing journey I have been acquiring as much education as the State will let me. I have multiple degrees in computer science, and a good handle on training service dogs. I have many Toastmaster accomplishments. Really the list of things could go on and on.

One of the most important things I have learned during this coming of age story is that I am so much more than my bad acts (as well as those done to me). I have also discovered that I’m an advocate for the disadvantaged. I use my voice wherever possible when other voices are being shutdown by the masses or lost amongst the noise. I deeply care about the next human. 

There are so many things I can say about the man I am now but that’s not my style. I will leave this by saying, “I love life.” I wake each morning with hope in my heart and the desire to be the best me that I can be. Regardless of all the horrible things life has handed me, I always try not to forget the many, many good things that were and are there too.

When I was a small child my mom was my hero. Now that I am a man, she remains that power figure. Rest in peace, mom.    

Geoffrey Leon Carpenter 752058
Washington State Reformatory Unit
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777
Hello World! Friends call me Leon but the government officials get my attention by using my government-approved name, Geoffrey Leon Carpenter.  It is up to you which works best. I’m a 39 year-old male held captive in WADOC.  My crime… well, those are many but the roots rise out of poverty, abuse and drug addiction. I’m happily committed to a special person, my future and my life. A hope of mine is that something of value can be gained from reading these words. These unadulterated truths seep from the darkest depths of my wounded soul.