I kept a journal in prison. Writing made me feel safe. I captured parts of days that interested me, humored me, or frightened me. The entries about fear reflected my feeling out of control when I expected a negative event. At times I witnessed the wheels of authority edge toward a potential race riot on the yard.… Read the rest
Inmates’ voices are muted by the cloak of incarceration. The prison system has no complaint departments. When you complain about having only four minutes to eat a meal, the sickly cynical response of guards is “if you don’t like prison, don’t come here.” Play that around in your brain a few times and see what it feels like.… Read the rest
What does prison reform mean to you? What does it mean to your friends, the general public, issue-aware people, and inmates? The connotations are fluid and depend on the depth of knowledge or caring a person has about why prison reform is an imperative.
There are several categories of people who have strong, visceral feelings about what prison reform should look like.… Read the rest
Most people have no idea whether offenders (ex-cons) have the right to vote. My barber, who knows a lot of things about a lot of stuff, made the wrong assumption about me. “How can an ex-con,” she said in her caring tone, “vote? Didn’t you lose your right to vote and to run for president?” I think she’s right about the running-for-president part, but she’s wrong about California ex-cons not having renewed voting rights.… Read the rest
Tennessee Williams’ Not about Nightingales is about a prison atrocity. Written in 1938, the play was originally titled The Rest is Silence: This play is dedicated to the memory of four men who died by torture in an American prison, August 1938. The events portrayed in the play are real. Not about Nightingales was inspired by newspaper accounts of atrocities in a Pennsylvania prison and written when Williams was just twenty-seven years old.… Read the rest
Visits from family and friends impact positively on an inmate’s well-being. Detachment from friends and family—in particular one’s children—is devastating and works on the mind, invading the realm of self-esteem. “If I’m not worthy of visitation, what good am I? What kind of parent am I?” I’ve heard that sentiment from distraught men time and again.… Read the rest
Our dysfunctional justice system and greed provide a foundation for for-profit prisons. What are for-profit prisons? Also called private prisons, they are places where inmates are physically confined—incarcerated—by private companies that contract with states or the federal government to alleviate overcrowding in their respective prison systems. These private companies fill a need created by cruel conviction and sentencing practices, high rates of recidivism, illegal immigration allegations, and the continuing war on drugs.… Read the rest
Welcome to the Break Out Blog. The purpose of this blog is to start a conversation about contemporary prison-reform issues. My personal points of view are a result of my firsthand knowledge of the California penal system, gained before, during, and after my two-year prison term. My twenty-one years’ experience as a trial attorney also influenced my decision to speak out on the need for legal and humanistic prison reform in the United States.… Read the rest
Prison time is boring. It feels like what I imagine death feels like—a void. Holidays, three-day weekends, and missed family events cause an empty desire all inmates must come to terms with in their own ways.
Each day feels like the one before. The program—daily routine—doesn’t change much. The creeping passing of time insults the mind like an electric shock—eventually the passage of time numbs the mind.… Read the rest
I was self-introduced to the emperor of Norway while waiting for chow at the California Institution for Men (CIM). CIM is a state prison in Chino, California. At the time, I didn’t know Norway had an emperor. The monarch and I were sitting at a stainless steel chow table when I was so informed.… Read the rest