A new principal will be taking over the helm of The Robert E. Burton Adult School at San Quentin. Dr. Sheik Yusef Mohammad, who formerly headed the Education Department at Mule Creek State Prison, will start as San Quentin’s education chief on July 1.
Archives for May 2011
California officials are gearing up to reduce the prison population by tens of thousands in the wake of an order by the United States Supreme Court.
In a controversial and highly anticipated ruling on May 23, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a federal three-judge panel’s prior ruling that: overcrowding in California’s 33 prisons violates the U.S. Constitution’s 8th Amendment, prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The Supreme Court’s contentious 5 to 4 ruling orders California to remedy overcrowding within two years, which may require the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners. Though the federal ruling affirms that the overcrowding is unconstitutional, it leaves fixing the problem entirely to the state, which was also the position of the three-judge panel.
California prisons chief Matthew Cate commented the same day, “Ninety-five percent of California inmates will eventually be released and become our neighbors. More than 10,000 offenders a month are released from overcrowded state prisons and return back to our local communities.
“Our goal is to form local coalitions to help returning offenders make a successful transition back to the community by providing training, mentoring and other services.”
Today the court affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history: an order requiring California to release the staggering number of 46,000 convicted criminals. -Justice Scalia
The federal District Court’s three-judge panel is a result of the Prison Litigation Act of 1996. It consolidates two federal lawsuits, Coleman v. Brown 1990 and Plata v. Brown 2001, in which the state conceded that inadequate medical care violated prisoners’ 8th Amendment rights.
The District Court put the California prison health care system under a federal receivership in 2005. The receiver agreed that the system-wide problems in delivering constitutional levels of health care could not be remedied due to severe overcrowding.
In a 2010 ruling—more than 12 years since the original civil rights cases were filed by prisoners—a frustrated court ordered the release of prisoners to remedy the constitutional infringements. The order came after the state failed to heed numerous recommendations to mend the ongoing problems.
The state appealed to the Supreme Court, challenging the authority of the District Court and the weight of its prisoner release order, noting the impact on public safety. However, the state lost its petition on every level.
Justice Kennedy in the majority decision wrote, “The overcrowding is the primary cause…specifically the severe and unlawful mistreatment of prisoners through grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care.”
In essence, the ruling gives the three Judges: Senior Judge Thelton Henderson, of San Francisco, Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt of Los Angeles and Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento, who are broadly seen as the liberal end of the U.S. District Court, supreme authority requiring the states to provide constitutionally mandated levels of health care to prisoners.
The ruling affirms the District court’s order that the only sufficient cure is to cap the prison population at 137.5 percent of facility design capacities.
The order gives the state latitude on how to lower the prison population to comply with the order. However, the Court “found that no realistic possibility that California could build itself out of this crisis, particularly given the State’s ongoing fiscal problems.” The court also rejected the state’s assertion that they could reduce the population by sending prisoners to out-of-state facilities.
The U.S. District Court recommends that: “The State may employ measures, including good-time credits and diversion of low-risk offenders and technical parole violators to community-based programs…”
In anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill 109 into law, which will shift thousands of inmates from state prisons to county jails. Brown said the state will pay for the costs.
“The prison system has been a failure. Cycling (lower-level) offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation and impedes local law enforcement supervision,” said Brown.
The Supreme Court’s ruling does not necessarily mean that prisoners will be set free. The state can take many avenues to meet the population cap without releasing tens of thousands of inmates over the next two years.
How the state remedies the overcrowding problem will be closely watched by other states such as Texas and Alaska, who supported California in lowering their prison population without court intervention, and have prison-overcrowding problems themselves.
The Supreme Court ruling, in which Justice Kennedy wrote the decision and Justices Ginsberg, Bryer, Sotomayor, and Kagan voted for, came from a new and liberal leaning court. Two of the five Justices, Sotomayor and Kagan are newly appointed by Democratic President Obama.
Members of Modern American Society: Preparing For Life and Financial Success on The Outside
Are you worried about finding a job after you leave prison? Do you want to learn more about financial planning and investing in your future? Would you like to find out if you have what it takes to start your own business? If so, consider enrolling in San Quentin’s financial literacy and job skills program, Members Of Modern American Society (MOMAS). Making it on the outside can be challenging. It is important to develop a strategic economic plan now, before being released. Statistics clearly show that ex-offenders who are able to earn a sufficient income after their release are far less likely to return to prison than those who cannot find meaningful employment.
Developed by inmates for inmates, MOMAS is taught by outside volunteers with expertise in the fields of finance and job placement.
The MOMAS course consists of three modules. The first focuses on the steps necessary to find and maintain employment. Skills covered include résumé writing, interviewing strategies performance reviews and personal goal setting. The second teaches inmates about personal finance and achieving financial security. Topics covered include personal banking, obtaining and using credit wisely, developing a budget, and filing taxes. The last module expands the breadth of the class into the world of finance. This module teaches inmates about investments, stocks and bonds, and business planning and ends by giving students practical steps for starting their own business.
The start of the next module will be June 23, 2011. Interested individuals can sign-up on the sign-up sheet next to the posters that will be available in North Block and H-Unit. The applications are due the week of June 13, 2011. Contact information will be available on the posters.
Editor’s Note: Two days before his release from San Quentin, where he was a leader in the formation and operation of many self-help groups, Ernest Morgan discussed how 24 years in prison changed him. This is the first of a two-part story.
Looking forward to your release on the day before your birthday, what is that like for you?
The word that continues to come to mind is “incredible.” For 24 years I have waited for this day to come. I was waiting for the wrong reasons: greed and selfishness. It’s funny somewhere in the 24 years, a change occurred, a lot of pain, a lot of unhappy times. I was trying to find myself somewhere in the middle of all that. Going home wasn’t important to me. My parents told me that I couldn’t be the same person I was when I came in. I wanted to know who I was.
When did you go through your transition to the person that you’ve become today?
It was a long process. Did you see the movie “Ghost Busters II?” It showed all of the anger that was lying beneath the surface in the city. It’s like blood flowing beneath the body. On the outside I was showing I was making the change to move from the old Ernest. I was moving away. And on the inside I knew where the anger was. A lot of my anger was toward my mother. That came to a head when my mother decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with me. She said, “I have to treat you like a hand in poker and fold because you’re not doing me any good right now. Maybe I’ll pick up this hand again.” That hurt hearing my mother say this, after decades of her calling me her baby, but afterward that helped me. It gave me the opportunity to focus on myself.
During this process I was listening to people talking in other self-help groups. I was listening to my own words as I facilitated these types of groups. What is triggering my anger toward my mother? Everybody has a story. I started to tell myself that my father and mother didn’t love me. I think the most important thing to me at that time was to be free–not to be in prison, not looking at the enormous impact my crime had on my family and society. When dealing with the Board of Parole Hearings, I was a machine. But when mom stepped away, I had to cry and accept my feelings. Now it’s like a badge of honor–the anger that I had–because I can transition from the angry little man to who I am today. Hopefully, in 24 hours I will be a free man, and I am happy it’s here, but the biggest thing about that is–now the work begins.
Part 2 of this story will be published in the next edition of the San Quentin News.
State Senator Alex Padilla is hoping the third time is the charm in his effort to criminalize contraband cell phones in California prisons.
“Clearly the problem is growing,” he says. “It’s growing exponentially and [the] bottom line is every cell phone at the hands of a dangerous inmate is a crime waiting to happen.”
Padilla’s proposed legislation, Senate Bill 26, was amended in the Senate Public Safety Committee to make cell phone smuggling and use a misdemeanor, not a felony.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported it confiscated close to 11,000 smuggled cell phones last year. State analysts say the primary source of unauthorized cell phones is the prison employees.
Correctional officers are the only people allowed to enter the prison without being searched.
Padilla proposed prison guards and staff go through metal detectors, but that provision was rejected because of the cost.
Carrie Kahn of National Public Radio quoted prison spokesman Richard Subia as saying, “It’s very frustrating to me that we have people who work for our organization that are willing to risk the lives of their fellow employees.”
One visitor to San Quentin said, “We go through two metal detectors and have everything including our shoes thoroughly searched. So how is it possible for any of us to bring in a cell phone?”
—Aly Tamboura contributed to this story.
San Quentin’s Opening Day for baseball featured top administrators, Catholic Chaplain George Williams, a color guard and photographers — just about everything except a fly over by the Thunderbirds.
The capacity crowd was treated to the spectacle of the San Quentin A’s and San Quentin Giants lining the first and third base foul lines, caps over their hearts as trumpeter Larry “Popeye” Faison played the Star Spangled Banner.
Chief Deputy Warden W.A. Rodriguez threw out the opening balls (one for each team), in what appeared to be sliders across the plate for a strike.
“Play ball!” the umpire shouted!
Moments later the Giants took the field with ace pitcher Kevin Driscoll on the mound and A’s ace Marvin Andrews warmed up in the bull pen — the prelude to a 9-5 Giants victory.
Both teams sat down in order in the first inning. It would not take long for Andrews to find out he would not have his best stuff on this day. After he walked two batters, Giants catcher Johnny Taylor smoke a double to right center, scoring two runs, and more importantly breaking the competitive tension.
The A’s did most of their damage in the fourth inning, with left-fielder Chris Deragon kissing the fence for a double. First baseman Dalton “Big Cat” Martin hit safely and moved the runner over, and Dalton took second on a wild pitch.
With two outs, third-baseman Paul Jordan crushed one off the fence for a long single, scoring two runs. Jordan moved unwisely to steal second base and was thrown out by plenty.
A’s Pitcher Andrews had a short days work, allowing six runs on three hits with six walks. Teammate shortstop/pitcher Nghiep “Ke” Lam finished the game with six hits, three runs and four strikeouts.
The A’s would out-hit the Giants 11-8, but the Giants took advantage of their hits, with better execution. Pitcher Kevin Driscoll kept the A’s off balance, and when a threat arose, he minimized the damage.
Giants hurler Pete Steele pitched the last two innings. The Giants recorded 13 strikeouts, while their offense out-scored the A’s by four runs.
To the cheers of prison staff and prisoners, the San Quentin Prison health care administrator lifted a six-week-long quarantine of the North-Block housing unit.
Four prisoners fell ill March 6 with chicken pox, which prompted administrators to implement a building-wide quarantine, North Block inmates were locked in their cells for 24 hours a day for three days. After the initial 72 hours, inmates were released for a five-minute shower and permitted to receive their evening meals in the North-dining hall.
Initially the quarantine was scheduled to last 21 days. However, two new cases were discovered in North Block and with the possibility of the virus spreading to other areas of the prison, the quarantine was extended an additional three weeks.
After a number of prisoners complained that they had contracted the disease previously and had at least limited immunity, the medical administrator ordered the testing of prisoner’s blood for the chicken pox antibody. The antibodies are created when a person has had a prior case of the chicken pox or has had a vaccination.
Inmates with positive antibodies were allowed to return to their work assignments and school classes. Prisoners who were not immune or not tested remained on quarantine for another week.
Chicken pox is an acute, contagious viral disease, usually contracted by young children, and characterized by fever and small eruptions on the skin. In adults, the disease can be fatal.
In an extraordinary case, Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered the immediate release of an inmate who had been granted a parole date for August 12, 2023.
Brown found, “Mr. Nguyen’s conduct and rehabilitation [had] been exceptional.” He cited Mr. Nguyen’s role in assisting civilians to safety during a riot on the prison yard in 2006.
“While I do not downplay the seriousness of Mr. Nguyen’s crime, I note that it was Mr. Nguyen’s crime partners who initiated the confrontation that resulted in the murder. Mr. Nguyen did not participate in the assault and was not aware that it would take place. At the time, Mr. Nguyen was just 16 years old and was influenced to participate in the crime by his adult crime partners,” Brown wrote.
The Governor concluded, “In this unique case, I believe Mr. Nguyen’s exceptional rehabilitation dictates that he should receive an immediate release on parole.”
On April 1, 2011, Brown approved the Parole Board decision granting parole to Tung Nguyen, convicted as an aider and abettor in a first-degree murder when he was 16 years old.
The governor upheld the Nov. 3, 2010 decision of the Board of Parole Hearings, which “found Mr. Nguyen suitable for parole based on his remorse, insight, educational advancement, vocational training, lack of disciplinary infractions, participation in self-help programming, adequate parole plans, and stable social history.”.
Discussing what it means to be going home after 20 years, Nguyen said, “It means finally getting the chance to fulfill my obligation as a son, a brother, and an uncle. It means that I will be able to begin to create a future. It means that every good thing I have learned in prison from education, self-help programs, and spiritual programs, will finally be put to use to benefit me, my family, and others.”
Editor’s Note: This story was published in The Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. It is being reprinted with the permission of Juan Haines.
The axiom “one man, one vote” is a fundamental concept reinforced through the edicts alluded to in the American style of democracy. However, voter disenfranchisement has been tolerated since the birth of our nation. The U.S. judiciary and its legislators have continually tried to reconcile this inconsistent impediment by constantly changing laws and/or passing bills – each impotent.
“Without a vote, a voice, I am a ghost inhabiting a citizen’s space . . . I want to walk calmly into a polling place with other citizens, to carry my placid ballot into the booth, check off my choices, then drop my conscience in the common box.” -Joe Loya, disenfranchised ex-felon
The explication for voter disenfranchisement asserts: If one “duly convicted” of a crime is subject to enslavement, it is reasonable to believe that denying slaves the right to vote is legitimate, considering that the Thirteenth Amendment reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The correlation between voter disenfranchisement and persons subjugated to the deprivation associated with enslavement occurs through the act of punishing criminals. And, since enslavement due to a felony conviction is constitutionally permissible, the slippery slope effortlessly slides into a red herring conclusion that, “Incarcerated felons cannot vote because they are being punished as slaves!” This paradigm is intelligently perpetuated with the intent of restricting the political rights of malcontents. However, reality dictates that any form of voter disenfranchisement literally obstructs the perpetual inclusiveness of democratic principles espoused by the founding fathers of the United States of America.
In the United States, more than 7.3 million people are under correctional control, meaning one in thirty-one American adults are in jail, prison, or on probation or parole.1 [1. The Pew Center On The States, One In 31: The Long Reach Of American Corrections 5 (March 2009).]
Michelle Alexander’s Twenty-First Century account of voter disenfranchisement is salient: “Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy. Cotton’s family tree tells the story of several generations of black men who were born in the United States but who were denied the most basic freedom that democracy promises – the freedom to vote for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life.”2 [2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness 1 (2010).]
Voter disenfranchisement’s dictum was hermetically sealed into local, state and federal election law with an obvious consequence: The voting irregularities of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections drew enormous public attention to the plight of the estimated five million Americans who are barred from voting by a maze of state laws that deny former felons the right to vote, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. Florida’s felon disenfranchisement law bans an estimated 600,000 former prisoners from voting for life. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit people incarcerated for a felony offense from voting – only two states, Maine and Vermont, permit incarcerated Americans the right to vote.
“Our democracy is weakened when one sector of the population is blocked out of the voting process.” Rep. John Conyers Jr., U.S. Congress
Remember the year 1920? Susan B. Anthony refused to be marginalized, and along came the Nineteenth Amendment. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 ushered in electoral democratic principles for a great many poor southern folk as poll taxes and literacy tests were abolished. After nearly a decade of litigation, Washington state prisoners made the causal connection between felony disenfranchisement and racial bias, a necessity in order to prevail under the Voting Rights Act, but their victory was short lived when the decision was overturned by a federal appellate court. The bane of disenfranchisement will likely see its last days as Americans become enlightened to the fact that the most constructive aspect of the American experiment in democracy is that democratic fundamentalism must be available to all citizens, regardless of social status.
I remember the empty feeling I had while working on a presidential election campaign, because being a parolee subjected me to felon disenfranchisement laws. I was a taxpaying American, contributing to a political party that represented ideas I believed in, but I was denied the right to have my expectations registered publicly through the vote. Now, I am further pushed away from society by being locked in a cage called my home by prison guards who address me as inmate, as I scrutinize how today’s politicians decide critically important social policy by marginalizing the poorest amongst us. It has turned into a Darwinian spectacle.
After reading these last two passages to several prisoners, most who attend the Prison University Project, a privately funded college program unique to San Quentin State Prison, I asked their opinion about voter disenfranchisement. The consensus was awareness that this phenomenon creates a peculiar blight for “certain” American citizens. One man told me, “It’s strange to feel like a foreigner in your own country. Even as convicted criminals, we long to be participants in a democracy that affects us so much.” Another said, “America will eventually get it right, because there’s a lot of patriotic folk in here who just made some wrong choices.” JulianGlenn Padgett, Managing Editor of the San Quentin News, said, “Voter disenfranchisement is the child of hyper-incarceration, and it is an outbreak of thinking that laughs at rehabilitation. As an American citizen, the right to vote is as inseparable as petitioning for habeas corpus. The ability to vote is the basis of rehabilitation for all incarcerated people.” San Quentin State Prison held a mock election in 2008. The idea was assisted through the egging on of Amy E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D., and an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University who specializes in legal psychology. Prisoners were excited to express their choice for president of the United States and several California ballot initiatives, including same-sex marriage. The San Quentin Media Center chronicled the election. The project’s success is greatly attributed to San Quentin Public Information Officer Samuel Robinson, who facilitated the time for prisoners and documentarians Troy Williams and Marvin Andrews, along with writer R. Malik Harris, to record this historic event in American penology. This experiment was intended to show that even though convicted criminals may hold a parody of an election regarding issues relevant to the future of America, their scrutiny should not be mocked; it is real.
The American experiment in democracy idealizes that every citizen has a seat at the table of public policy. To tolerate marginalization in our society will create stratification that in turn diminishes the evolution of this principle.
It was a great reason to celebrate – the French defeat in Mexico.
Being raised in California’s Central Valley in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood,. Cinco de Mayo was celebrated every year.
It was basically a time to enjoy Mexican food cooked at a street fair booth, while watching Mariachis ply their trade. I doubt if many of the people present were aware of the reason for the celebration, other than it was a day to party.
Most California schools gave students an excused absence if they didn’t show up, so you can imagine how empty the schools were on that day. Everyone joined in the celebration — African Americans, Anglo American’s as well as Hispanics and Natives took the day off to take part by attending a parade, watching a low rider show or just enjoying a delicious meal of crispy tacos along with rice and beans.
One of the most memorable parts of the celebration was the lack of violence.
As for food, about the best prison residents can hope for is a mess hall tamale pie.