[Editor’s Note: Christopher Ryan is a self proclaimed “prisoner of war”--the war on drugs. The Columbus native and long time drug reform activist was arrested in Nebraska for transporting over a 150 pounds of marijuana. The ethics of smuggling that much pot are complex, but Mr. Ryan is a complex man. He simultaneously considers himself a progressive, an anarchist, and a revolutionary. To him, the issues are clear. Marijuana is a relatively safe and arguably beneficial drug, which is outlawed by the government, out of fear and the desire to control. This irrational policy leads to irrational results. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated in 2006 that over a billion dollars are spent every year on incarcerations related to cannabis. An estimated 800,000 are arrested for all pot related offenses. This billion dollars represents a low estimate of over 40,000 cannabis inmates. Ryan is now one of these inmates, imprisoned for acting on his beliefs responding to his perception of an irrational drug policy.
If the policies which put Ryan in jail are insane, the prison system itself is more so. Ryan hand wrote the Free Press from prison about the experience. His letters read like a perverse Through the Looking Glass. The characters are arsonists, over zealous guards, members of the Aryan Brotherhood, and professional gardeners, many of whom appear no less crazy than a march hare. Their anger and irrationality makes some sense in the context of the intrusive humiliations, paternalistic preaching, and bureaucratic nightmares, which make up the American Justice system. As the Cheshire Cat says, “We're all mad here.”
Published here are Ryan's first letters from the big house. The Free Press will publish more as they arrive and are transcribed. –- Evan Moore, Assistant Editor]
May 20, 2010
June 8, 2010
June 17, 2010
June 23, 2010
June 30, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
71 Weeks Till My Jam Date
In three days I will mark the end of my 1st month of imprisonment. I've had a few adventurous moments in this time. I've (to quote Arlo Guthrie) been, “injected, inspected, detected, infected,
neglected and selected,” all to some avail. I've been put through 2 separate cell blocks, both with totally different sets of advantages and disadvantages. And lastly (and most importantly), I've been “pointed” and given a high score (32 out of 39), which means I'll be reassigned to “Community Corrections.” Going to Community Corrections means living under conditions similar to a halfway house. It remains to be seen if I'll relocate to the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln or Omaha. I'm hoping for Omaha because it's bigger and has more employment opportunities, but I'm guessing that I'll go to Lincoln, simply because the Lincoln Community Corrections has more beds.
I said earlier that I got moved from one cell block to another. This happened because after I got assigned to a cell my 1st cell-mate wanted to a start a fight. I refused to oblige him and sent a note to the guards saying that I was being threatened. Within an hour, I was relocated into a different cell block.
There are both advantages (not getting my ass kicked and being well thought of by the staff for having gone thru proper procedures) and disadvantages (losing contacts with friends I had made, having to room with a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, being put in a cell block that's notorious for housing child-molesters and sex criminals) to all this.
For me, I think that the hardest part is having the need to bite my tongue when these racist assholes pipe up with their daily diatribes against any persons of color. I get to listen to daily rants against “n-----s,” “Mexicans,” “the world-wide Jewish banking conspiracy,” “chinks,” “towel heads,” “commie bastards,” and Obama, Pelosi, and health care. In order to keep commotion to a minimum, I've had to hide my Little Red Book for fear of roommate's reactions. I find it astonishing to be told, in complete seriousness, that, A) Obama is not an American. B) Nancy Pelosi is a member of the communist party. C) The health care bill will ruin the country. D) Adolph Hitler was right, he just ought to have concentrated on the n-----s instead of the Jews. E) The white man is inherently superior to all others, and, particularly in light of statement E), F) the only “true” Americans are the Indians.
The whole thing turns my stomach.
I could ask to be moved again, and I probably could get moved, but on the other hand, I don't want to get a reputation with the guards as a whiner and a problem. Also, I'm likely to only be here for another month, or so, until being relocated, so I think I'll stick it out and try to just be quiet and ignore a lot of the crap going on around me.
After all, I was raised in a redneck, racist, steel town and grew up biting my tongue, so that is nothing new. This all reminds me of life in Middletown, Ohio back in 78-79, during my days with the Middletown Anti-Klan Network. Consequently, I can't wait to get out of here. I don't imagine that wherever I go will be as obnoxious as this, but I might be wrong. In any event, I plan on rejoining the community as soon as possible to continue my efforts as a progressive and an anarchist. My prison experience reassures me of the lame inadequacy of the so-called government, and the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complexes in particular.
Today is library day, but because the guards failed to announce the sign-up sheet for library day to the cell block earlier in the week, I failed to sign up for library. As a result, I don't get to go. Talk about a bunch of crap! Now I have to wait another whole month to replace the books I've already read. Thank goodness I pulled the collected works of Shakespeare as 2 of my books. I can read that over and over again.
And so I end with this . . .
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
(Richard III 1:1, 20-32)
This part of Richard's soliloquy somehow seems suitable for my situation, what with being in prison.
Sincerely yours in revolutionary struggle, (thank you! George Jackson,) R.I.P. Jack Herer, and FREE THE WEED!
Chris “the Anarchist” Ryan,
Prison Corespondent for “the Columbus Free Press”
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
68 Weeks Till My Jam Date
Dear Comrades and Fellow Workers,
Aloha! I am writing you today in a mode of cynical exhaustion. I have been relocated to a new storage unit, somewhere on a balmy, enchanted isle in the South Pacific tropics. Someplace so nice and easy, that all one has to do is lie under the tree with your hand in the water and wait until the fruit falls into your mouth and the fish crawl into your hand, prefried, and beg to be eaten. After that you can go paddling in a big lake of the finest bourbon ever distilled, and, if that don't suit ya, there's a mountain made of delicious, solid rock candy on the middle of the island. . . . NOT!! I did however get moved to someplace called “Community Corrections Center, Lincoln.” While it's not quite as good as Tahiti or the Big Rock Candy Mountain, it's a distinct improvement over where I was at, the “Diagnostic and Evaluation Center.”
At the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, I was living in a glorified broom closet with an overtly blatant white supremacist and Aryan Brotherhood member who wanted to beat the shit out of me. The place was very intimidating. I was lucky to leave when I did. We were in the “yard,” and my Aryan Brother cellmate was charging me with the intent to beat the snot out of me, when the yard doors opened, and a guard stepped out and called my name to transfer me here. Literally, in the nick of time. I can only call it a miracle. The whole thing reminds me of Saul on the road to Damascus (see Acts:9).
I am now staying at Community Corrections Center Lincoln, or “CCCL.” It has dormitory style housing (8 men to a room) with bunk beds equipped with wire spring frames, as opposed to solid steel shelf berths. I will (eventually) get to wear my own clothing (after I have had a chance to get into town and get some), and eventually, I will get a chance to go into town and get a regular job in the community.
Currently, I am on what is called “work detail.” This means doing some kind of work for the Nebraska Prison-Industrial Complex. My current job is as a clerk for the Central Warehouse. It's incredibly boring. Basically, I get paid $2.25 a day for sitting on my ass and writing down the numbers of some boxes. Out of an 8 hour work schedule, there's maybe 1-2 hours worth of actual work being done. It's very ridiculous and quite strange. Perhaps the wages actually represent in some way the real value of the work being done? Every day I am learning that the real lesson of the prison experience is that I, as a person, have little or no value. The way that the institution works, its persistent “Catch-22” rules, its inherent ways of putting petty slights into the path of the prisoners, all amount to little more than a series of dehumanizing Jim Crow obstacles, which offer absolutely no rehabilitative, redemptive, or educational values whatsoever. The only lesson that I am learning here is that I'm not worth a tinker's damn to Nebraska. I get the distinct impression that Nebraska isn't worth much of anything in return. Maybe the U.S. ought to give Nebraska back to the Indians. If they did, it would probably be governed in a fairer and more just manner, and probably more profitably, not to mention, more environmentally sound.
My new address is: Christopher A. Ryan, # 71442, B3
P.O. Box 2200
Lincoln, Nebraska 68542 -2200
Any and all prison letters will be mightily appreciated, and I promise a rapid response to anyone who writes to me.
I wish to urge the reading community of the Columbus Free Press to remember to contribute to my used paperback book drive to benefit the woeful, lame condition of the library system of the Nebraska prisons. One of the very few educational opportunities offered to prisoners is the freedom to read books. Unfortunately, the number, quality, and diversity of books available for prisoners here to read is poor. That is why I keep stressing the importance of books for prisoners. After all, Malcolm X, (just to cite a single, outstanding example) was able to educate himself in prison by gaining access to a good dictionary and going from there. The unrelenting need to offer prisoners a means of adequate self-education thru reading cannot be overstressed. So please contribute to my “Chris-the-Anarchist-Ryan's Book Drive for Prisons.” It gives a poor con the chance to “pull oneself up by one's bootstraps.” In an environment where the principal preoccupations tend towards weightlifting and plotting bigger and better approaches to crime, the opportunities to avail to prisoners an educational alternative to rotting their time away is quite priceless. It really does matter.
Well, that's all for this week; until next week, please, keep the faith. Remember the words of Joe Hill: “I'm in here for you, and you're out there for me.”
Sincerely yours in revolutionary struggle (Thank you! George Jackson!), R.I.P. Jack Herer! and . . . FREE THE WEED!
Chris “the Anarchist” Ryan,
Prison Correspondent for the Columbus Free Press.
P.S. Please forgive my *micrographica, but due to being delayed in the ability to obtain adequate writing supplies as a result of being transferred, I have to take pains to preserve my precious supply of writing paper. --Thanks.
* Ed. Note: Mr. Ryan wrote this letter by hand, on lined notebook paper, with two lines of text per row.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
67 Weeks Till My Jam Date
Yesterday was Bloomsday! Go Joyce!
Dear Comrades and Fellow Workers,
The iron fist, the velvet glove, and the mink lined handcuffs
I'm out here in Nebraska, far away from home. I'm locked up, a felon; my “crime”? “Transporting 154 lbs. of marijuana,”considered a “3-A” felony under the law of Nebraska, which carries a possible sentence of 0 to 5 years and a fine of up to $10,000. In my case, I was sentenced to 2 to 3 years by my judge. Under Nebraska law, as a result of a combination of overcrowding and an unprecedented budget crisis, the state legislature has passed a special law providing a “good time” provision, giving what amounts to a “half-off sale” to its prisoners. Consequently, even though I was sentenced to 2 to 3 years, I can expect to get out of prison in 18 months, or a year if I'm paroled.(providing that I get paroled at the earliest possible date, which I think is unlikely).
Due to my extensive and individualistic self-education and lifetime reading program, I got a high enough evaluation score to qualify me for incarceration at the Community Corrections Center, Lincoln. The CCCL is a work release center. This means that prisoners here are expected to go out into the community and get jobs. Basically, it's Nebraska's effort to prepare it's prisoners for release into the outside world.
It also means that this is where Nebraska employs its most sophisticated and advanced psychological and behaviorist-based techniques on its inmates. I'll use my own case as an example (merely because I'm more familiar with my own situation that any other, although I realize that this rather subjective approach may well be strewn with inherent biases, self-delusions, etc.). Currently, I'm on what is called “work detail.” A work detail assignment is all about doing slave labor for the prison-industrial complex as preparation for going out into the community and getting a “real” job. My work detail assignment is to be a receiving clerk at the central warehouse of the Lincoln Nebraska prisons complex. (Lincoln is home to four different and distinct prisons, plus the central office of the Nebraska dept. of corrections and also a to variety of prison-industrial operations, such as the furniture factory at “Corn Husker Industries” and, my own assignment, the Central Warehouse.) As a clerk, I earn all of $2.25/day. By comparison, the state of Nebraska pays $2.75/day for the food I am served daily out of the prison mess hall (data based on information posted on the Nebraska dept. of corrections website and sent to me in a letter from a friend). I get “paid” monthly. Work done in June is paid for in July. Out of my $2.25/day, I have about $0.25/daily held back in a fund for when I get released from prison. If I spend the entire remainder of my sentence working here in this warehouse, at $0.25/day in savings, I would have saved approximately $100.00. This money would be released to me upon my release from prison. Actually, counting weekends off and holidays, it's probably more like about $80-90.00. But it's unlikely that I will actually save and/or earn anything close to that amount because, in about 60-90 days, I am expecting to be reclassified to something called “work release.”
Under work release, I am expected to go out into the community and actually find a “real” job. It's supposed to be a full-time gig, and I (if I do get such a job) am expected to pay Nebraska $12.00/day rent to stay here. If I eventually manage to get permission to use a work vehicle for the purposes of going to and from, or fulfilling my duties at, work, I will be expected to pay an additional $40.00/mo for the privilege of parking that vehicle in the centers parking lot. Consequently, if I do get work release, I will probably be able to save a small amount of money, but not very much. Still, it's conceivable that I could save enough to purchase an inexpensive but reliable used car and afford to drive it back to Ohio. I'll just have to wait and see.
Earlier in my letter, I mentioned that Nebraska uses some fairly sophisticated psychological tactics here. For example, because I am a well known drug reform activists, as well as a “criminal” who had the poor taste to get picked up with a whopping 154 lbs of pot (a record in Saunders county Nebraska, by the way) I am required by Nebraska to attend two AA or NA meetings a week if I wish to remain here at the work release center. This is a clear example of Nebraska employing Skinneristic type behavior modification type tactics in a blatant attempt to alter my political, social, moral, and medical attitudes and beliefs.
Now, considering that it's well known that I do not have problems with alcohol, and that I am well known for my avoidance of highly addictive narcotics, opiates, cocaine, barbiturates, methamphetamine, tobacco, and other dangerous physically addictive compounds, sending me to AA/NA because of my open advocacy of the benefits of cannabis seems faintly ridiculous. Nonetheless, unless I attend these classes, and put on a just for show attitude of acceptance, and glowing endorsement of these “behavior modification” programs, I will get tossed out of this work release center and put back in “real” prison. It also means that I can forget going and getting parole.
The fact that cannabis is both non-addictive and a medically sound treatment for someone with depression and arthritic, inflamed joints is irrelevant here. What does matter is that Nebraska is trying to forcibly make me reject my life-long, strongly held beliefs regarding cannabis as part of my incarceration. To that end, I claim that I may as well be a rat in a Skinner-box maze here. This, in turn, leads me to the title line of this article:
The iron fist, the velvet glove, and the mink lined handcuffs
The operant philosophy here is “Give 'em enough rope.” This is a pretty nice prison. I only have to wear my prison uniform while working at the warehouse. I'm only under lock down for about a half-hour at a time and only 2-3 times a day while the staff is counting heads. The guards here wear polo shirts and jeans, not uniforms. There are no bars on the windows. I sleep in an 8-man dorm room instead of a barred cell. If I'm not at work, at an AA/NA meeting, or on lock down, I can use the day room or showers or visit the canteen to buy snacks, pens, or envelopes. If the weather is nice and it's not dark, I can go out into the yard. It's actually pretty nice here, but only on the surface.
There is no library. Inmates are obliged to pay for services on a routine basis. There are no opportunities to indulge in hobbies or crafts beyond bead work or knitting. There are no religious services offered here. The quality of food preparation here is worse than it is in a regular prison. People are prohibited from owning computers, word-processors, or typewriters. Any audio or video recording apparatus is prohibited. Random drug testing is rampant. Inmates are frequently sent back to “real” prison for having “bad attitude” issues. These attitude interpretations are entirely subjective on the part of the staff.
Although I mentioned earlier that the staff here wears polo shirts and jeans, they also carry radios, blackjacks, and handcuffs. A guard is still a guard, is still a guard . . . and if one of the guards decides that I have a bad attitude, that's all it takes to be sent to “real” prison. So it's very tightly regulated, sort of like “Hotel California” (“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”). As I was saying earlier, the iron fist, the velvet glove, and the mink lined handcuffs, Skinner-style behavior modification all the way. If you just shut up, do what you're told, and act the way they want you to act, it's so very very easy.
If, on the other hand, you're here, not because you're a threat to society, but because you have views and practices that are objectionable to the authorities, if you are here for acting on behalf of strongly held principals, it's a lot harder. I wonder if the state will succeed in cracking my will before I'm set free. I'm here because, as a career pot-activist, I was arrested for acting on my principals and beliefs, ideals I have held and supported for nearly 40 years. Under such circumstances, it's fairly easy to see myself as a political prisoner as opposed to a mere criminal. Behavior modification is actually more like psychological torture, to someone such as myself, because the goal here is not teaching me to avoid criminal behavior, but making me alter my life-long deeply held attitudes and beliefs. Ergo, the iron fist, the velvet glove, and the mink lined handcuffs.
On another note, as you know, I have been advocating for a book-drive as part of my commitment to being an activist-behind-bars. Thank you for your support, and keep those books coming. I am setting a projected target of 1000 used paperbacks. If this goal is met, it will make a substantial difference in the “quality of life” for all the inmates of the Nebraska penal system.
Finally, I can report that I have gotten a considerable amount of personal satisfaction from a book I read this week. It's title is, Lineage, by Bo Lozoff (founder of the “Prison Ashram Project” and also author of We're All Doing Time Together). It has allowed me to gain some useful meditative insights into the nature of doing time in the joint. Very usefully stuff; I recommend it highly.
Well, that's all for this week . . . more soon.
Sincerely yours in revolutionary struggle, (thank you! George Jackson,) R.I.P. Jack Herer, and FREE THE WEED!
Chris “the Anarchist” Ryan,
prison corespondent for “the Columbus Free Press”
“Our enemies are all those in league with imperialism. The warlords, the bureaucrats, the comprador class, the big landlord class, and the reactionary section of the intelligentsia attached to them. The leading force in our revolution is the industrial proletariat. Our closest friends are the entire semi-proletariat and petty bourgeoisie. As for the vacillating middle-bourgeoisie, their right wing may become our enemy and their left wing may become our friend—But we must be constantly on our guard and not let them create confusion within our ranks”.
(Mao Tse-Tung, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, [2nd vest pocket edition, Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1972], from chapter 2, “Class and Class Struggle.”)
“A Winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”
June 23, 2010
66 Weeks To Jam Date
Solstice Day This Week
Dear Comrades and Fellow Workers,
Solstice Day, How to Communicate from Prison, Banking in the Joint
The hot, dry, dusty plains of the open countryside around Lincoln, Nebraska bake tortuously in the summer. The Platte River dwindles to a mere trickle. This week is solstice day, the day that the sun hangs long in the sky, where nighttime takes a break. The temperature soars into the 90's, and occasional muggy patches of clouds coalesce into murderous tornadoes, almost without warning.
In my warehouse, where I'm the receiving clerk, it's hot, dry, dusty, and dark. The temperature induces a kind of dull listlessness, makes people want to hide a bit in shadowy corners behind piles of boxes. The sun climbs and climbs, the piles of recycling melt, and reek hideously in the baking heat. Nearly everyone either tries to take off their shirts or hide in front of the ventilator fan. Meanwhile, the boxes move in and out, the forklifts beeps, the scratchy warehouse radio wails to “Black Magic Woman”by Santana.
Because I happen to be an experienced war-game, “Flames of War” (a WWII historical miniatures game) player, I find myself reassigned to a new position with our warehouse truck driver, who is also an experience game-boy. Now I get to teach “Flames of War,” sleazy gaming tricks to a prison warehouse manager. And I get paid $2.25/day for doing so. Totally weird. I always wanted to get a job based on my gaming ability, but I wanted to make a living wage doing it as well. Who would have thought that I'd have to got to prison to get hired as a gaming coach!? I guess stranger stuff has happened, but not much.
Here at Community Corrections Center, Lincoln (the “work release center” where I'm incarcerated), communications is an acquired art. We're not allowed access to computers, word-processors, or typewriters. In order to make a phone call to the outside, you have to file a special form with a list of 20 names of friends and family members and 10 lawyers. The list of names and numbers must be approved in advance. Then you have to buy a phone card. Then it takes a day, or so, to let the prison bureaucracy document the purchase of the card. Then, after all that, you can call somebody, if they are one of the people on your calling list. When you call, you can make one call a day, of up to 15 minutes in length. However, the hoops don't stop there. Before your call gets connected, the prison authorities make whoever receives the call listen to a scary message about taking a call from prison. Then the person you are calling has a chance to refuse the call. After all that, you finally get to talk the person you're calling, for up to 15 minutes. A lot of people I try to call hear the message about the authorities taping the call and refuse to take the call. I think they think it's a collect call due to the way the message is made to sound. Even though I'm paying for the call, the prison authorities make it seem like I'm making a collect call. Consequently, a lot of people get confused and refuse my calls. Calls made to cell phones are problematic. Calls intercepted by answering machines never make it. Consequently, about 2/3rds of the people who are on my calling list become unreachable.
That might not be so bad, except for that it takes about 6 weeks for the prison bureaucrats to change the names on the list when a list is submitted for approval, and I'm only allowed to submit a changed list once every 90 days. This means that a lot of times my calls are full of requests to transmit additional calls to other people who won't take my calls. It's very slow, very complicated, and unrealistic. Fritz Lang (director of “Metropolis”) would have loved it. So, for that matter, would George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. The inherent irony built into the prison system is universally acknowledged by all of it's participants: the prisoners, the guards, the administrators, everyone. For cryin' out loud, I got a job because I'm good at a game that my new boss likes! And because I'm a prisoner, I'm not even able to play the flippin' game! I assure you that prison is the dumbest place on earth.
Which takes us to another topic, banking and finances in the Nebraska prison system. You've undoubtedly heard how slow molasses moves by January, right? Well, guess what! In the Nebraska prison system, money moves even slower than that. Take CCCL (where I'm staying) as a typical example. No wait, CCCL is not typical because it runs on a cash economy, whereas most of the prison system runs on a barter economy based on token coins used in soda machines. But in any case, here at CCCL (because it's a work release center) we have a dollar-based cash economy. This is due to the fact that at least a portion of the inmates here are allowed to go out into the community and get “real” jobs, for which they get paid real money. As a result, inmates here are allowed to have up to $100.00 on their person. Inmates at CCCL are expected to pay rent to the center as well, at a rate of $12.00/day, if they have achieved work release status. (Newly arrived inmates, such as myself, who have not yet achieved work release, but are still on work detail, don't have to pay rent.)
However . . . work release or work detail, it actually matters little to the cash economy of the center. Here's how it works, every inmate is assigned an “inmate account,” which consists of the money they bring with them into prison. Indigent prisoners are allotted $100.00 as an “entrance fund” to be used for such things as soap, paper, pens, and snack items. This money is put into an account for the inmate, and it draws about 1.5.% per year. Think of it as a savings account.
While in “normal” prison (such as the “D&E” center I was at initially), prisoners are given an order form on a weekly basis. You fill out your order form and a few days later your goods get delivered to you by the guards, along with an accounting slip, which details both how much is left in your account and what you spent money from your account on in a given week. Usually, there is a spending limit on what you can buy in a given week, as well. At “D&E,” it's $40.00, not including radios, batteries for radios, other radio accessories (such as headphones), pop machine tokens, and the notorious phone cards.
If the commissary runs out of an ordered item, they just don't charge you for it, and you can try ordering again next week if you still want it or need it. If you can't afford what you've ordered, the accounting slip comes back marked “insufficient funds,” and you just don't get anything! (The institution wants save you money . . . by overcharging you for its concession items!)
In my particular case, because I had a fairly large bond securing my release prior to sentencing, I came into the system as a relatively wealthy inmate. But there's more to this than meets the eye.
When I was sentenced, I had $170.00 and change on my person. When I got into D&E, the admissions clerk wrote down that I had $270.00. I asked about it and was told that I automatically got $100.00 free just for walking through the door. (Later, I found out that the admissions guard had lied to me.) So, with some initial money on my books, I figured I was OK because the bailiffs at Saunders county, where I was sentenced, told me that my bail money would follow me to prison. (But of course, they misinformed me.)
After 2 weeks, I asked about the bond money and was told that I had to file an affidavit requesting the release of my money from the county where I was sentenced. So I filed the affidavit. That took a week. When the money came, I had to endorse the check immediately while the guards where watching. The money was supposed to go into my inmate account.
But wait! Hoo-old on there butt-buddy! Because of the “large amount” of this check (several thousand dollars!) the institution frooze it for 21 days! until the check could clear and until Nebraska had time to check and see if anyone else had any outstanding levies against me, such as child support, bills, or garnishments (fortunately, they did not). Then, and only then, would I be able to draw off of those funds.
As it worked out, while I was in D&E, I requested to be relocated from the 1st cell I was in to another one because my cell mate wanted to start a fight with me. As a result of being moved from one cell block to another, my commissary order got canceled that week. This prompted a minor crisis because I ran out of envelopes, and had to send multiple letters in an envelope as a result. It also froze my accounts for a week.
Unfortunately, nobody at D&E told me that my bond money would be frozen for 21 days. So I waited the normal 3 days for the check to clear. Then I tried to write a couple of large checks against my inmate account, one to my mom for repayment of a loan she granted me for support while I was on bond, and the other to my personal attorney to do stuff like paying my bills while I am away at prison. (By the way, I'd like to take a moment to give a small shout out on behalf of my personal counsel attorney, Ms. Connie Gadell-Newton, for the excellent job she's done with my personal, legal, and financial stuff while I'm here in prison. She's a fine, young, feminist, and progressive, and she has been admitted to the bar for just about a year now. I would unhesitatingly recommend her for any kind of non-litigated legal stuff, such as contracts, wills, power of attorney, real-estate deals, or such like. Go Connie, Go!)
After a couple of weeks went by, and I hadn't gotten any confirmation about my checks being recieved, I sent a “kite” (an inter-office memo form used in prisons to ask questions of officials with. So called because it “flies up . . .”) to the financial office at D&E, asking about what had happened with my money. The next day, the head of accounting office came and visited with me. He brought the checks I had written and they were stamped, “insufficient funds.” He explained the 21 day rule to me and says I would have to wait for a week to get my money. He also explained that my inmate account is now down to 50 bucks. So I was obliged to send apologetic letters to Connie and mom and to a couple of creditors. I also ended up learning that the admissions guard made a mistake by crediting my account with the $100.00 extra.
On June 4th, the day before my account is unfrozen, I got transferred to CCCL from D&E.
It was the same day that my commissary package was supposed to be delivered to me at D&E. But since the transfer was done in the morning and commissary gets delivered just after lunch, I didn't get my commissary order. This prompted a second envelope and paper shortage and I was obligated to send multiple letters in one envelope and was also obliged to save paper by single spacing my letters like this,* so I wouldn't have to consume much paper with my writing–talk about writers cramp!
On Saturday, June 5th my account was to be re-unfrozen. But not so fast, I just got transferred, so again! my money is frozen for another 2 weeks! And the way money works at CCCL is different than the way money works at D&E (where funds are drawn directly against the inmate account). At CCCL, inmates are issued a debit card. The debit card is used to draw funding from an ATM. Inmates can draw up to $40.00/day from the machine. However, before the card can draw money from the machine, it has to be loaded with funding drawn from the inmate account. To do this, inmates are required to write spending checks against their inmate accounts which are used to load the debit cards. And because I was a new transfer, my account was frozen for two weeks.
So it ended up taking 10 days to issue me a debit card. Then I had to wait till the following Thursday to pull money out of my ATM (Thursday of last week). And the checks that I rewrote to mom and Connie took 10 days to be cut and mailed. (Here in the Nebraska prison, you don't actually write a check directly, you write a check request, and the state actually mails the check.) Eventually on Monday of this week, I got notified that the checks to Connie and my mom had been sent and my money is now in my account.
But even though my money can be spent, there are a few more strings. I'm only allowed to have $100.00 on my person, of which no more than $10.00 can be in coin. I can only withdraw $40.00 at a time from the ATM, and I only get 1 free withdrawal a week. Also there's a $60.00/week limit on how much money I can actually spend. The exception comes when an inmate gets a shopping pass, at which point, additional money in my account can be used to pay for items that are bought in the nearby town of Lincoln, Nebraska. But again, there are a whole list of exceptions and special rules regarding how and what you can do with your money and/or your debit card while shopping in town. Eventually, when I do manage to get a shopping pass, I'll be sure to tell you all about it.
Wow--all this stuff about the financial maze of the prison system—it's more than I thought it would be. What's more, prison is actually a big business in Amerikkka. During these last few years of economic decline, the prison industry has actually been booming. Of course, with the highest per capita percentage of prisoners of any country on earth, it's hardly surprising. By percentage of population, again, the USA has the highest [documented] percentage of it's total population in prison than any country on earth. It really and truly calls into question just how free this country really is.
Sincerely yours in revolutionary struggle (thank you! George Jackson!), R.I.P. Jack Herer, and FREE THE WEED!
Chris “the Anarchist” Ryan
Prison corespondent for the Columbus Free Press
Ed. Note: This section of Mr. Ryan's letter was written with two rows of text per line.
June 30, 2010
65 weeks till my jam date
Dear Comrades and Fellow Workers,
Incarceration, Inspection, Acceptance, Rejection, Redemption.
“They're singin, ohh, ahah, oww, aahah, All day they singin. That's the sound of the men, workin on the chain-gaaang, That's the sound of the men, workin on the chain-gang,” (Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang”). Back when I was little, I used to love hearing Sam Cooke singing about the chain-gang, but I never thought that I would end up there. But here I am-- a GEN-U-WINE CONN-VEECTED FEEL-ONN! HOO-WHEE! Out there in the heat and the dust of the Prison System Central Warehouse, clerkin inbound UPS shipments of biopsy kits, cassette players, potato chips, and tee-vees. Getting schooled in the ins and outs of how to catalog whatever comes into the system. “And welcomeee too the machine!” (Pink Floyd).
Last week, I went on at considerable length about the prison money system. Probably more than you wanted to know about it, but it's really pretty easy. Joseph Heller understood it all too well. (Author of Catch 22). Hooray for Joseph Heller. He Understood!
This week, I wanna talk about prison and the system of prison labor. About the prison-industrial system. About the massive business cost of running a state owned and operated monopoly that is based on principals that are inherently contradictory by nature.
I'm in prison. What does that mean? How is that supposed to work? What are the goals, the benefits and the values of prison? Is this supposed to be rehabilitating? If so, how? Is it supposed to be punitive? If so, how? And further, to both ideas, I ask—why? And is what is happening here accomplishing any of these goals? Or is it just a huge financial boondoggle to short some people by forcing them to work as slaves, while overpaying some others to act as slave-drivers?
Originally, the Puritan concept of Biblicaly based punishment included public ostracization, and humiliation, and even banishment. Anne Hutchinson got into so much trouble with the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Plymouth Rock that she had to move to Rhode Island and start her own colony—for the crime of teaching people how to read inside her own home, by reading from a Bible, outside of a church! Others, less controversial offenders, would be publicly humiliated by putting them into stocks (wooden restraints that immobilized a person from the neck and wrists, in a public location, such as the town market square) while the public was encouraged to pelt them with mud, rocks, rotten vegetables, and horse-shit.
There are also accounts of flogging, branding, and hanging, as well as ostracization—a whole community deciding to have nothing more to do with someone. They could not go to church. They could not run for office. They could not attend a town meeting. They could not buy goods in the market. They simply became “non-persons,” and nobody would talk to them or have anything to do with them.
Later, came the principal of punitive reform. Let's take a guy, and lock him up with nothing but bread and water and a Bible (presuming they could read . . .). Unfortunately, most of the people who were subjected to this went quite mad. It didn't produce any favorable responses in the subjects who remained sane either, for the most part.
By the end of the 19th century, the concept of reformative penal solitude was pretty well dead. Brought forth with advances in psychology, sociology, political science, and the industrial revolution, came the “reform era.” In the reform era the popular “modern” concept was “rehabilitation.” This was supposed to allow the criminal to achieve reform thru a combination of industrial job training, therapy, and labor. Unfortunately, while the ideas were, and are, sound, a conservative, vengeance-minded public wouldn't stand for it. So “modern psychology” took a hit on the nose, and the grand schemes of the reformers took a back seat to punishment. The result was places like Alcatraz, Joliet and Sing-sing. Institutions whose names still produce horror reactions when invoked.
By the end of the 20th century, new ideas in psychology, including advances in neuro-chemistry, and “behavior modification,” along with advances in educational theory (largely brought forth from the experiences of training large numbers of people to preform unfamiliar tasks during the world wars), brought forth yet another wave of psychological/penal theory.
That pretty much brings us to the current situation.
Where I am imprisoned (as I mentioned in an earlier letter) it's the iron fist, in the velvet glove, holding the mink handcuffs. There are no bars. The guards don't wear police-type uniforms. The doors are not locked. BUT the rules are very strict. There are cameras everywhere. Everyone has to be in their beds to be counted several times a day. Everyone must be employed at either a “work detail” job (i.e. you are a slave working for the prison warehouse, such as myself, or in one of many different prison jobs, kitchen, road-crew, yards and ground, maintenance, administrative aid, etc.) or you are on “work-release,” (working outside the center at a 40-hour/week job). Some fortunate few, who have the financial resources to afford it, get to go to “educational release.” This involves (mostly) going to either CDL truck driving school or going to classes to become certified to work in setting up fiber-optic cable installations. (It comes as little surprise to learn that courses in setting up fiber-optic cable networks are largely outdated. Fiber optics used to be a growth industry in the 70s and 80s. Nowadays, the big fiber optics networks are already in place. All that's really left is the occasional repair job after a flood, or a storm.)
And then there's the warehouse.
Incarceration: In order to work here, ya gotta go to prison. That's just the opening phase. Get caught, get convicted, get sent up. Welcome to the big house you have been incarcerated.
Inspection: After you've been incarcerated, you gotta get “evaluated.” To get my work-detail job, you gotta pass muster. Serial axe murderers need not apply. Everyone who goes to prison does not get to come to a work-release center. I am relatively old, (52) a first-time felon, a non violent offender, have had more than 10 years since my last criminal conviction, am not a sex offender, and am not thought to be crazy. Consequently, my evaluation sets me to be placed in the most laid back spot in the Nebraska penal system. Think of it as Nebraska's “Hotel California” (“You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave”).
Acceptance: You don't just get sent to the warehouse. There has to be an open bed available at the CCCL. You have to get a high enough point score on your evaluation. And you have to agree to go along with the program. Lastly, there has to be something that indicates that you have the needed talent for doing what needs to be done.
For example, I don't know anything about repairing cars or about wiring houses. So I would not be a good candidate for the maintenance crew. But I've worked in mail rooms before. There was an opening at the warehouse for a receiving clerk so off to the warehouse I go.
Rejection: When I get to the warehouse, the head of the warehouse says he's actually overstaffed, but that someone will be leaving soon, so I go and train to work receiving. However, the young (22) arsonist who I am assigned to work with is a virulent “Corn Husker” fan. He's not happy about Nebraska turning the Big-Ten into the Big-Twelve, and (along with Colorado) turning the Big-Twelve into the Big-Ten. So, when I make a smart ass remark about the president of OSU not being happy about letting another team into the conference with the colors red and white, he gets pissed off and offers to burn down my house in Columbus, OH. He also stops showing me how to do my job.
After a couple of weeks of blundering up the paperwork, I get left by myself to do the job. And I blow it spectacularly by misfiling all the orders in the wrong part of the files. So, following a quiet meeting between a small group of state employee's who manage the warehouse, it's decided that I am to be reassigned to being a “picker” instead of a clerk. It's a kind of demotion. I get told that they were going to “fire” me—send me back to the center with a sign on my back saying, “reject, and let me sweat it out in the kitchen for $1.25/day—but it turns out that one of the managers is a (are you ready for this weird shit?) “Flames of War” enthusiast. (Flames of War is a “Historical Miniatures War Game.” I am an experienced veteran war game-enthusiast. Back in Columbus, I actually have a good early war Italian “army.”) And I astonish him by offering to sell my early war Bersaglieri army to him. The next day he takes me with him on a delivery run. We do nothing but talk games and gaming and become friendly.
So the following Monday, Monday of last week, I get reassigned to being a “picker” in his section instead of getting fired. The job is easier, and I find time to write a letter a day when we're not busy.
Redemption: The young arsonist decided to steal a Jon Bon Jovi CD from a shipment of CD's going to one of the prison libraries served by the warehouse. The head receiving sections gets wind of the missing CD, when the library calls him and asks about it. By this time, I'm no longer working in that section. The head of receiving asks the guards to search the arsonist's room. The missing CD is found, with only the arsonists fingerprints on it. And he gets fired immediately for stealing. The CD gets impounded for evidence. The arsonist is charged and written up for stealing state property. And I'm the only guy left who has even a partial knowledge of how to do that job.
Yesterday morning, I get reassigned back to doing the receiving clerk job. I spent an hour with my section chief writing down procedures in meticulously outlined detail, then, with cheat-sheet in hand, I go on to do satisfactory work as a receiving clerk. Wahlaa!
And that's all the big news from the big house for this week . . .
Sincerely yours in revolutionary struggle, (thank you! George Jackson!) R.I.P. Jack Herer, and FREE THE WEED!
Chris “the Anarchist” Ryan
(Prison Correspondent for the Columbus Free Press)
P.S. “Power springs from the barrel of a gun.” (Mao Tse-Tung)
P.P.S. “You don't need the bullet if you've got the ballot.” (George Clinton, Parliament, “Chocolate City”)
P.P.P.S. “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” (Vince Lombardi)