“Some 70 million Americans have a criminal record – a number equal to Americans with a college degree,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. New York Times July 27, 2018 “Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance”
Most recent news stories focus on the facial recognition technology’s mistakes. For example, the ACLU conducted a test of Amazon’s new technology “Rekognition,” and the software misidentified 28 members of Congress as having a previous criminal record.
For the roughly one-in-three Americans, who have some sort of criminal record, it would be an issue. Soon law enforcement will be able to instantly identify returned citizens, and they “will inevitably be targeted, despite having served their time,” the Brookings Institute warned. “Even a perfect facial recognition tool in imperfect hands can lead to unjust outcomes.”
“Privacy is shorthand for…self-development,” writes Julie Cohen, Georgetown University law professor. Such privacy is “vital for individuals returning to society with a criminal record,” the Brookings’ blog states.
Any privacy is uniquely harmed when biometric information (like facial recognition) becomes instantly available.
Much activist attention focuses on the danger of a world where innocents are identified as guilty by a flaw in a new technology. A much bigger risk is “a world where a guilty person can never be anything but a criminal,” states Brookings.
“The few states that have enacted biometric privacy laws have made exceptions for law enforcement,” according to Brookings. Only a few cities have dealt with the law enforcement surveillance risk.
Given the growing efficiency of new biometric technologies, like facial recognition, a counter balancing legal privacy right could aid both the employment and reintegration into a community of returning citizens.
- Nov. 11th Veteran’s Day @ Lower Yard 10 a.m.
- Nov. 16th 1000 Mile Club Marathon 8 a.m.
- Nov. 16th Queens of the Stone Age @ Chapel 5 p.m.
- Nov. 27th San Francisco Opera @ Chapel
- Nov. 29th Veterans Healing Veterans
Hundreds of prisoners formed long lines on San Quentin’s Lower Yard at the prison’s 15th Annual Health Fair on Aug. 24.
Stations were set up throughout the prison where volunteers offered medical services and wellness information, ranging from blood pressure checks and chiropractic services to mental health seminars, diabetes tests and nutritional information.
In total, 156 volunteers served more than 2,000 prisoners throughout the day.
“It’s important for everyone to have the education to take care of themselves,” said Madeline Tenney, staff sponsor of a self-help organization Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training (TRUST).
“Don’t be afraid of information. Know your health status. It’s scary to go to the doctor and find out bad news, but if you don’t, it will kill you,” said Georgia Schreiber, Alameda County Public Health Department Investigator, as the volunteers went through an hour of orientation in the Protestant chapel before beginning the Health Fair at 10 a.m.
TRUST sponsored the one-day event in collaboration with various healthcare service providers in the Bay Area.
TRUST has different workshops based on how you live your life; you learn life skills, accountability, childhood trauma [effects], mindfulness as a tool to see what is going on inside and outside of self and gain emotional intelligence.
To guarantee the community explores all the Health Fair has to offer, many stations had raffle prizes, and a gift bag was offered to all men who visited at least one station in each of the four main areas of Education, Gym, Lower Yard and the ARC building.
THE PRISON GYM:
You may have seen men with tiny pink beads taped to the ear; they received acupressure ear seeds. Patients described an ailment and then a teacher or student from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine taped a bead onto a particular area of the ear.
This was just one of the services provided in the gym, which included chiropractors, acupuncture, Tai Chi and Qigong. Present also were notaries for California Advanced Health Care Directive (deathbed agent instructions and power of attorney), hand washing education and information about diabetes.
The Health Fair would not work without a multitude of incarcerated volunteers. Richard “3Dee” Benjamin, a Team Leader, is a 55-year-old lifer who is a TRUST Fellow. He has served 25 years. He volunteers to “offer the community a service—to give back.”
“I think this is a really exciting project because it’s run by inmates; we’re just invited. I’m really impressed by who they get to come,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Tootell said.
Tootell has been invited to the Health Fair each of the past eight years.
Volunteer Charlie Thao, a lifer with 12 years in, learned Tai Chi through Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS). “Tai Chi brings you health,” he said “It calms you down and releases stress. It’s like meditation.” Thao added that Tai Chi “spreads culture and brings diversity to the prison. I’m trying to make amends—give back to my community in small ways.”
Rev. Debbie has been teaching Tai Chi at the fair for five years. She’s also the Director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity at United Interfaith Church of Christ. Her church brings together people to advocate for the end of deportation and mass incarceration.
“I keep coming back because I keep thinking about the people I met last year,” Debbie said.
Arrison Seuga served 21 years in prison, 11 at Quentin. He paroled in 2010. When he worked in Receive and Release, he only met people who failed on parole and came back to prison. Now he’s a re-entry director with Asian Prison Support Community (APSC). He came back to share.
“We only heard stories from recidivists,” Seuga said. “We [people successful on parole] weren’t allowed back in. Now I wanted to be that example.” Seuga asked, “Who better to inform those who are getting out on parole than those who have navigated it successfully?”
“We have twice as many chiropractors as last year,” chiropractor John said. “Thirty-three is the most we ever had.” Chiropractor Paul grew up in Roxbury, Boston. He’s a Black man who participates as part of his commitment to social justice. This is his fourth SQ Health Fair. “I honestly feel no one should be judged,” Paul said. “People are people.”
“Each year teams are run smoother, and we manage to take care of more inmates every year,” chiropractor John said. “Our goal is to take care of everybody who needs it.”
One of the most significant stations was a table staffed by three notaries ready to execute an Advance Healthcare Directive for the men. Maria D., office manager at Alameda County Care Partners, explained the Advance Directive, “The idea is to plan ahead in the event something happens to you and you want to appoint someone to make decisions regarding your healthcare,” said Maria D. of the Alameda County Care Partners.
In the Education Building on the Lower Yard, dental hygienists gave instructions about dental care and mental health professionals offered 20-minute seminars on a variety of topics for developing inner freedom or self-expression.
There were more than 30 men who attended Ms. Strock class. Strock is an art and recreation therapist, who has worked for CDCR for more than six years. “I work at the psychiatric inpatient hospital in the main buildings helping with long term inpatient care,” Strock said, as she prepared for her first session.
Strock’s session has three areas of focus: centering mechanisms (your attention/self), body posture; and art processes.
“We’re looking for a reason to have purpose in life. Art is such a purpose,” Strock said. “Many of my clients are deeply discouraged and depressed, but a way to communicate and express.
These feelings is critical.”Dental care has always been a focus on the Health Fair, and it was again this year in education.
“I enjoy doing this,” said Shawnette, a registered dental assistant who has worked at SQ for nine years and volunteered for five years. “From the first health fair to now, a lot of patients are genuinely concerned about their oral hygiene. It’s a joy to me to pass on this information to the patients.”
At her station they offered basic oral hygiene and how to identify an emergency.
“Pain is an emergency,” Shawnette explained. “No pain isn’t.”
If you missed the Health Fair, under CDCR rules, people over 50 are entitled to a dental examination every year; for those under 50, it’s every two years.
“I’ve seen big-time improvement in the dental health of the inmates,” Shawnette said.
The ARC building was organized to provide a full range of health screenings for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol (with the results provided immediately), Body-Mass Index (BMI) and weight checks, vision and hearing. These screenings were offered by both CDCR personnel and the San Francisco State University (SFSU) School of Nursing students and newly minted registered nurses and professors.
“These basic health screens are essential to identify if you have a problem; “we’ll give detailed info for your next appointment and recommend it,” said Beth Kao, an SFSU Nursing Student.
The volunteer inmates organized the attendees in lines and prepared them to efficiently make use of the multiple health screening stations.
“I believe in giving back to my community. I’ve been in for 21 years, and this is my way of contributing,” TRUST volunteer Tim Warren said.
Warren gave credit to TRUST. “TRUST is a program where we help men turn liabilities into assets. We work to develop a full set of tools to become a better man,” .
The Lower Yard echoed with the music of participants practicing spiritual healing through drumming. All were welcome to try their hand at the shared experience sponsored by Alameda County Public Health as hundreds of men lined up at over a dozen stations set up on the Lower Yard.
A station with much attention was the CDCR’s 602 HC. the health care grievance process was explained by RN Podolsky. She detailed recent changes such as there are now only two levels and a 45-day review period. She reminded the community that this was a combined health and legal process; therefore, even though the health care matter was reviewed within a day, the legal process could take much longer. She always advised that if it is an emergency, go through the normal appointment process for quicker service.
The Bay Area service providers included the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, Alameda County Health Department, San Francisco State University Nursing School, the San Quentin State Prison Medical Department, and Centerforce.
Centerforce provides incarcerated individuals and their families a variety of services from parenthood classes and health education to connections to services upon release.
–Rahsaan Thomas, Marcus Henderson and Lloyd Payne contributed to this story
Lethal injections, legal battles and difficulty obtaining drugs have forced a number of states to find alternative ways to carry out the death penalty, reports the New York Times.
Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi have authorized the use of inhaling the inert gas nitrogen for executions.
“An oxygen-deficient atmosphere” can knock a person unconscious after just one or two breaths and “the exposed person has no warning and cannot sense that the oxygen level is too low,” according to a report from the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.
“The safest, the best and the most effective method available,” Mike Hunter, Oklahoma’s attorney general, said about using nitrogen.
The problem is that no one actually knows how safe it is. “If and when states begin carrying out executions with nitrogen, it will amount to the same type of experimentation we see in the different variations of lethal injections,” Jen Moreno of the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic told the New York Times.
Lethal injections were started some 40 years ago and were expected to be more efficient and humane than the electric chair or gas chamber but have failed to consistently deliver on this promise.
“It burns, man,” were the last words of a Georgia inmate executed in May for a 1996 shotgun slaying as he twitched briefly when the lethal injection flowed into his body reported the Associated Press in a May 5 article. He was the second Georgia inmate executed this year.
There are approximately 2,750 inmates on death row in the 31 states and in federal and military prisons according to The New York Times.
Across the nation there were 41 sentences calling for the death penalty in 2017 — 23 executions were carried out during that same period, according to Amnesty International, and 41 additional death penalties sentenced. These figures were the second lowest totals for executions and death sentences recorded in any year since 1991 and 1973, respectively.
Blocked by legal challenges, California has not executed anyone since Clarence Ray Allen in January 2006.
However, that could change in the next governor’s term, after voters approved speeding up the appeals process in 2016 by passing Proposition 66.
While one judge recently lifted an injunction blocking executions, four federal and state lawsuits are pending over the state’s protocol for execution by lethal injection.
Unlike the constitutions in most states, California’s limits a governor’s executive clemency power — governors cannot commute the sentence of an inmate who has two felony convictions unless four of the seven State Supreme Court justices concur. About half of California death row inmates have two or more felonies on their record, experts estimate.
Even if the governor cannot commute a death penalty, California has no current legal avenue to purchase the execution drugs specified in its new procedure: pentobarbital or thiopental. State officials have said they plan to use compounding pharmacies to produce the drugs, although that could invite further litigation, according to experts.
The only gubernatorial candidate who personally supports the death penalty is Assemblyman Travis Allen, an Orange County Republican who vowed in an interview to “clean out this death row in California.”
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see an execution carried out in California because there are too many legal and practical obstacles,” said Natasha Minsker, the director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy in the Mercury News.
For more information, go to the Death Penalty Information Center.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.
New technology exposes an old and persistent problem of the criminal justice system — false testimony by the police.
“Behind closed doors, we call it testilying,” a New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, told The New York Times. “You take the truth and stretch it out a bit.”
Policing experts anticipate that access to smartphones, security cameras and police body-cams would greatly reduce police lying.
“However, video seems more capable of exposing lies than vanquishing them,” The Times reports.
The Times article shows that even if exposed this risk sanction is nearly non-existent.
More than 25 times in the past three years, Times investigators found that either a prosecutor or judge determined that key testimony of a NYC police officer was probably untrue.
The range of facts testified to are numerous, with the goal of avoiding “constitutional restrictions on search and stops” or to “convicting people – who may or may not have committed a crime – with trumped-up evidence.”
The true scope of such actions is unknown. “That’s because a vast majority of cases end in plea deals before an officer is ever required to take the witness stand in open court.”
“There’s no fear of being caught. You’re not going to go to trial, and nobody is going to be cross-examined,” said one NYC police officer.
In 2016, for each case that went to trial and reached a verdict, there were slightly more than 185 guilty pleas, dismissals or other non-trial outcomes (1,460 trial verdicts in criminal cases while 270,304 non-trial outcomes).
The legality of police conduct is questioned in Manhattan courts in about 2.4 percent of felony criminal cases.
There are occasions when police “ testilying ” is exposed.
In a case detailed by The Times in which a police officer had falsely testified that the accused had a laundry bag containing a gun, prosecutors noted, “there are clear inconsistencies (between the officer’s’) recollection of events and the video.”
It took 16 court appearances, according to the defendant’s attorney Alexandra Conlon of the Bronx Defenders, before the court finally dismissed the case.
On the last appearance, the defendant, Kimberly Thomas, addressed the court. “For 396 days I have been fighting for my life, my freedom and my sanity,” she said. “This has been such a surreal journey that I don’t wish on anyone.”
There have been some consequences for police testilying.
In a police force of 36,650 officers, more than 70 officers have been “fired or forced out of the department in the last five years” for perjury or false statements, said the NYC Police Department’s top legal official, Lawrence Byrne, at a New York City Bar Association event last October.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.
It is a long road to a performance of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” held on May 18, and “Comedy of Errors” on May 25. The cast has been rehearsing since last November.
How a theater troupe creates the rollercoaster ride of emotions expected at a Shakespearean play is a mystery to most audiences. To appreciate the effort that goes into building that rollercoaster ride, you will have to go behind the actors’ curtain and see the real secrets of the theater troupe sponsored by the Marin Shakespeare Company at San Quentin.
“Tragedy and how we can be blind to the truth and trust the wrong people … and the process of developing and losing trust,” are the core themes of the play, said Lesley Currier as she started the session.
The interplay of setting, theme, mood and ACTION were all on display that winter afternoon. The performers practice on Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Arts & Crafts building.
The goals of this day were to practice both general skills of a performer and mesh these with the parts they would perform.
As she gathered the incarcerated men, “We’ll start with a circle,” said Currier as she asked the cast to immerse themselves into the emotional currents of King Lear. “What about this play resonates with you?” Currier continued to set the mood for this day’s work.
The first exercise had the cast individually identify and then act out one facet that influenced them from the play. Then all the members of the cast were to mimic that display.
The enactment demonstrated the cast had done its homework. Often they presented powerful emotions:
-Betrayal of even your brother
-Greened-eyed monster of envy
The group mirrored the raw energy of selecting, embodying and presenting a theme back to the performer. Like breathing, this inhale and exhale of themes was presented by each of the almost 20 performers.
Then one of the strangest sights (to a non-performer) happened.
The cast paired off for the 1,2,3 Exercise: each person learning to listen and speak in turn. They began with just words. While that three-step process sounds simple, it was much more difficult to execute that you might think, and the men burst into laughter at each attempt.
Next the 1,2,3 Exercise progressed to actions and then a combinations of words, emotions, and actions.
To watch these nimble minds able to adjust between concepts of words, emotions and actions was similar to watching a group of jugglers all tossing different objects into the air.
The ability to shift between word, action and order is key to acting. The big finish included having each pair PERFORM – The most rounds completed: Three!
The challenge to act before an audience and laugh at yourself on full display included Currier doing her own rendition.
The key to listen and focus takes practice.
Currier reminded the cast that to create a fully formed human character means the use of voice, body and imagination. She encouraged the cast to create a rich inner life and to “imagine your character’s life history (make them a complete person). Who was their best friend as a kid, hobby, food, family, etc.? What brought an emotional response to your character?”
“Every character has a secret that only your character has,” This is a tool, Currier added, that “embodies substance to a character and informs how to play the character.”
“People are a mass of contractions at the same time,” and the way the troop practiced presenting this was to get out of self and enter the character – with ample and boisterous stage direction from both Currier and the audience.
After dividing the cast in half, Currier pitted one side against the other as supporters and detractors of the character. The energy built with each performance thus liberating the performer to project their character… “GIVE INTO YOUR CHARACTER COMPLETELY” demanded Currier.
When interviewed the cast confirmed their commitment to a great performance.
“I spend three hours a day every day…going over my lines and each evening before I go to bed.” “I watch the yard and see if there is someone to simulate my characters.”
“I do a lot of it my head. I have a movie that goes on in my head and as I approach the show date, I have the character come into focus.”
“I don’t worry about the lines, but who that person is, it’s…always on my mind.”
“I know my lines. I have those down; I’m trying to model how my character will present itself. I want to inhabit that character, not be Nate performing,” said “Nate” Collins.
LeMar “Maverick” Harrison: “I like to listen to the character’s backstory and then make a character original and how would they be in today’s society.”
“The memorization is not that hard, but really to be the character every single day. It allows you to get to a place and everything can come naturally when the show time hits….”
“Skills learned are to listen and carry out and work with others and compromise and be a human being and be a real human being. You must sacrifice yourself when you come in here,” said Eddie DeWeaver.
Belize Villafranco shared his desire to have the “skill to have empathy and compassion to both my character…and I can be anyone. You can inhabit a role and thus learn not just who you are but who you could be.
“We are lucky to be able to play other gender roles—to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand their life experience.”
Participation in this group means an inmate can earn up to four weeks per year off their earliest possible release.
If you’d like to participate or donate to this program, contact Currier at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marin Shakespeare Company; P.O. Box 4053; San Rafael, CA 94913.
Thanks in part to the California Arts Council; individuals can see videos of past SQ performances at www.marinshakespeare.org
For more images, see below.
If other counties follow San Francisco’s lead, district attorneys’ offices across the state can erase pot convictions under California’s new legal marijuana laws.
“Our vision is to help government clear all eligible criminal records starting with convictions under Prop. 64,” said Jennifer Pahlka, executive director of Code for America, a non-profit with the goal of making government more efficient, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
The November 2016 passage of Proposition 64 prompted San Francisco’s District Attorney to announce in January that his office would dismiss and seal more than 3,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions dating back to 1975. As of May, the DA has only been able to prepare 962 motions to dismiss, with the courts granting 428 of these according to the Chronicle.
Dealing with the city’s 4,940 felony marijuana convictions, however, is more difficult. District Attorney George Gascón announced a partnership with Code for America to use a computer algorithm to identify which felonies the courts can reclassify.
“A lot of what we do is antiquated….We’re very excited to partner with Code for America,” said Gascón at the press conference. By using this new algorithm, the DA’s office will not have to use attorneys to pull the file and review each case.
In contrast, it costs Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office over $400,000 a year to clear about 1,100 convictions in 2016, according to Safe and Sound a report by Californians for Safety and Justice.
“We heard from prosecutors around the state…(they) don’t have the resources” to review, reduce or seal decades of marijuana convictions, said Gascón. With this algorithm, that argument goes away.
Gascón said he hopes their work will serve as a template that other jurisdictions can use to review past cases in states where marijuana is now legal, reports the Chronicle.
Criminal justice reform advocates have long complained that marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. In San Francisco, even with similar use patterns, Blacks were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as Whites according to as 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study.
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Linda Xiques became a San Quentin News adviser in the spring of 2013. Six years earlier, she had retired from a 30-year career in journalism thinking she had put deadlines behind her for good. But from the moment she walked into the office of San Quentin News —the computers clicking, reporters talking, joking, the vibe full of energy and movement—she was glad to be back in a busy newsroom again.
Like the men she now helps to mentor, Xiques learned her journalism skills while on-the-job. A newspaper reader since childhood, she also loved writing, was co-editor of her high school newspaper and worked on college publications. Her academic career was sporadic: Cameron College in Oklahoma, Merritt College in Oakland, College of Marin in Kentfield, with an end-goal of San Francisco State University. But life—marriage, children, the rambunctious Sixties—kept getting in the way. Feeling the years slipping by, Xiques decided to see what she could accomplish without a degree.
She began freelancing for various publications in the Bay Area, learned research techniques by volunteering, was hired as a part-time, then full-time reporter, and in 1982 was promoted to Managing Editor of the Pacific Sun, a well-respected alternative newspaper in Marin County. As a reporter, she received two San Francisco Press Club awards for her writing. A year after becoming an editor, Xiques won an award for Lifestyle Editing in the national Penney-Missouri Journalism Competition of 1983; two years later, she received a second award in the 1985 competition. In 1984, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) honored the Pacific Sun with a First Place Award for General Excellence, as well as awards for in-depth reporting and feature writing.
In Xiques’ 24-year tenure as Managing Editor and later Executive Editor of the newspaper, Pacific Sun reporters collected a total of 55 writing awards from press organizations such as the San Francisco Press Club, the CNPA, the Association of Alternative Newspapers, the Peninsula Press Club, the Lincoln Steffens Awards for Investigative Journalism, as well as others.
This recognition received by the writers Xiques worked with and mentored remains a source of great pride for her.