Posts Tagged ‘college’

This is a paper I wrote for ENGL 1302; the third & final paper of the semester, written in MLA format.

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Justice, the American Way.

Mass incarceration is the name given to the practice of locking up a notably large number of people. The United States is home to only five percent of the world’s population, and yet it is home to twenty-five percent of the world’s inmates. The US housed an estimated 1,561,500 inmates at the end of 2014 (“Prisoners”), spread across the country between both state and federal custodies. In recent years, a combination of the war on drugs, tough on crime political campaigns and emphasis on illegal immigration have assured a near endless stream of bodies, and as that number grows, so, too, do the demand for beds in which to house those bodies. Naturally, in the last two decades, corporate America has recognized this need, and has risen to the occasion, birthing the true face of corporate greed: the private prison industry. This industry represents all that is wrong with capitalism, with its unethical, borderline unlawful practices, which negatively affect the American people, should be banned.

While the industry in corporate form is relatively new, the principle behind the practices are as old as the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, when slavery was abolished, except in context of “a sentence of ‘confinement at hard labor’ comprised the core of the penal system” (Fraser). In layman’s terms, slavery is illegal and unconstitutional unless you are sentenced to perform labor as a punishment for committing a crime. This is the origins of chain gangs, which are very much still utilized throughout many states. Now that CCA and Geo are at the table, however, slavery has evolved with the times. Companies such as Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T and IBM all utilize the inmate for labor services provided by the corporate giants. They lease inmate labor for manufacturing jobs, call centers, agricultural work and slaughter houses, and are compensated little to nothing: $0.93-$4.73/day (Fraser). In addition to these uncivilized (and, one might think, un-American) working conditions, CCA ran facilities are consistently failing to meet regulations in terms of occupancy, medical care and basic human rights (Wessler). The deeper one digs into the CCA’s closet, the more acutely aware one becomes of just how political the for-profit industry is. There are several crossover employment strings one can observe, between the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and CCA. “In 2011, for example, just a year before the riot, Harley Lappin, who had served as the bureau’s director for eight years, left to join CCA as executive vice president. Last year, he earned more than $1.6 million” (Wessler). There is much evidence of the BOP being complicit in sweeping cost cutting measures taken by CCA under the rug, instances where BOP failed to enforce the breach of contract penalties included in their contracts with the corporation.

But what, some might say, does this have to do with me? I’m not a criminal, I am not in prison and I don’t work for any of these companies or agencies. There are a few that might not be impacted as heavily by the system as it is: approximately 1% of the population. The other 99%, however, who pay taxes, who go to work every day in an effort to make it, to support their families, they are affected by it directly. CCA and companies like it initially offer overflow services to overcrowded state and federal run facilities. They offer to buy prisons outright and run them contractually for a 20-year period, all for the measly sum of $250M. “The $250 million proposal, circulated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to prison officials in 48 states, has been blasted by some state officials who suggest such a program could pressure criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the contractually required occupancy rates” (Johnson). Different states have different contracted capacities, [which] “range between 70 percent in a California facility to 100 percent in an Arizona facility, with most contracts requiring a 90 percent occupancy. In Ohio, a 20-year deal with CCA to privately operate the Lake Erie Correctional Institution includes a 90 percent quota; cost-cutting measures in the facility have also led to significant growth in violence, gang activity, and drug use” (Fischer). Just to be clear, this means that the state incurs harsh penalties if any of these facilities fall short of 70, 80, 90 percent occupancy. We have to keep those beds full, regardless of whether there are enough legitimate criminals convicted to fill them. Does that sound like justice and lawful policy to you? These companies cut serious corners in order to convey the illusion of savings to the governments they offer to do dealings with. “Typically, [private prison companies] can site and build a facility within two years compared with between three and seven years for a publicly controlled one, according to Manav Patnaik, an analyst at Barclays Capital. The private sector’s construction cost per “bed” is as much as 50% cheaper, too. Running costs per inmate are also lower” (Denning). As crime rates fall in different areas around the country, the challenge to maintain these quotas grows. The only way to avoid paying penalties for failing to keep the beds full (which, mind you, are paid by tax dollars) is to keep those beds full, which means harsher sentencing for low level, non-violent offenders. A report from In The Public Interest (ITPI) notes, “When entering a contract to operate a prison, a private company should be required to take on some risk. Private prison beds were intended to be a safety valve to address demand that exceeded public capacity. It was never intended that taxpayers would be the safety valve to ensure private prison companies’ profits.” Yet this is the reality we face. Either thousands of our citizens are consistently occupying the space in these facilities, or the government is paying large sums of money to make up for the lack of volume.

The quotas aren’t the only conniving means by which companies like CCA profit from American citizens via the states in which they reside. I believe as well that this is the foremost misunderstood element of incarceration in this country. These people may have committed crimes, and they are paying for their crimes, however incarceration doesn’t somehow reduce the humanity of these people. They are still human beings and, at least for many of them, they are still American citizens, which whether we like it or not, entitles them to humane living conditions, and medical attention. “Under Supreme Court rulings citing the Eighth Amendment, prisons are required to provide inmates with adequate health care. Yet CCA has found ways to minimize its obligations. At the out-of-state prisons where California ships some of its inmates, CCA will not accept prisoners who are over 65 years old, have mental health issues, or have serious conditions like HIV. The company’s Idaho prison contract specified that the “primary criteria” for screening incoming offenders was “no chronic mental health or health care issues.” The contracts of some CCA prisons in Tennessee and Hawaii stipulate that the states will bear the cost of HIV treatment. Such exemptions allow CCA to tout its cost-efficiency while taxpayers assume the medical expenses for the inmates the company won’t take or treat” (Bauer). There is the other foot. Not only can CCA force local law enforcement agencies to keep their facilities full, they can also be selective about which inmates they accept, or barring that, they can force the taxpayers to foot the bill again. Where is the justice in this? How does this curb costs for the state? For the people? It doesn’t. These unethical practices are purely for the benefit of CCA and no one else.

No one is forcing the government to enter into these contracts with CCA and other such companies, some might say. It’s just an option that they can consider when evaluating budgetary allocation. This is certainly true, at the surface. However, “it took seven years for the bureau to release its studies on the BOP’s first privatized facility, in central California. One study found that any cost savings were eclipsed by the financial burdens of oversight; another took up the question of quality and found a litany of deficiencies, including health services that had barely met standards for nearly two years” (Wessler). As the bottom line is the priority for these companies, the net effect is it is the inmates and their families who suffer. ‘”Profit is still a motive and it’s structured into the way these prisons are operated,” says Judy Greene, a justice-policy analyst for Justice Strategies, a nonprofit studying prison-sentencing issues and problems. “Just because the system has expanded doesn’t mean there is evidence that conditions have improved”’ (Chen). Conditions improve only as much as they have to in order to appease the scrutiny of external groups and agencies. “The [Louisiana Department of Corrections,] which has ultimate authority over all prisons in the state, has been taking a closer look at Winn’s day-to-day operations. (According to DOC documents […] later obtained, the department had just written to CCA about “contract compliance” and areas where Winn’s “basic correctional practices” needed improvement.) Wardens from publicly run state prisons have appeared out of nowhere, watching over COs as they work, asking them questions. The newer guards fret about losing their jobs. Old-timers shrug it off—they say they’ve seen Winn weather tough times before” (Bauer). Corners are cut constantly in the name of upping that bottom line. Private prisons house 7% of state inmates, 19% of federal inmates, 62% of immigration detainees and 31% of juvenile detainees. Combined, these numbers make for a lot of human beings that are no different than chattel in the eyes of CCA.

Rehabilitation is a misnomer in this day and age. Low crime rates and low recidivism are not priorities for politically driven entities amongst the 1%. Incarceration is no longer a punishment but a commodity, packaged and sold to the highest bidder. It represents everything that is wrong with this great nation. We have a responsibility to treat people like people, to punish the crime with a sentence that is fitting of the crime. We deserve to live in a world where Justice isn’t just a fancy ideal, and where unethical practices aren’t allowable when the price is right. For-profit prison industry is a mar upon the face of America, and it should be altogether banned.

A finely tuned, carefully honed plan is one of my strongest addictions. I feel damn near omnipotent when I marvel at the finely crafted fruit of my labors. Whether it be time management, budgeting or work flow, I like to have an order of operations for everything. I feel like I am in control and sitting in the driver’s seat with a plan, and I also feel better equipped to handle curve balls and unforeseen variables that inevitably arise in every facet of life, whether it be an urgent matter at the office that needs attending, or a slow leak in a tire that needs patching before it grows into a bigger problem. When I have a plan in place, these things are almost anticipated, though the form they will take is not usually known to me before it happens.

One such plan was my living arrangements. In May 2014, I was approved for my first lease since moving state side. I signed on the dotted line and initialed at least two dozen pages and moved into what I call home that weekend. I was new to Dallas, and my new home was just a short commute to my place of employment. It isn’t the best neighborhood, but it definitely isn’t the worst either. It would definitely suit my needs, at the very least for the 9 month term of my lease.

We are now in December of 2014, and I have received multiple notices regarding the quick approach of renewal time. The first had increased rates that steadily decreased as the length of the terms increased. Last week, I received a “holiday special” notice suggesting that if I renewed my lease for any term by 12/15, my rate would remain the same. I was planning on renewing, but I wanted to find out about the policy on upgrading to the next size up whenever one became available either on my floor or above me, and whether that would be a breech of contract or whether they would work with me etc. My husband had also suggested that I offer to sign the longest lease they have if they give me the bigger unit at my current rate. I was going to discuss all of this with them this coming Monday or Tuesday, as I have those days booked off from work for my finals anyway, and would be around during their business hours. In fact, I was in the leasing office on Monday this week to pick up a package that had been too big for the mail man to put in my mail slot, and while there, I advised the manager that I wasn’t ignoring them, and that I would be in to speak with them next week regarding my renewal. (Unbeknownst to them, I had also planned to discuss the possibility of my husband paroling to this address in the future. If that were to happen, they’d be getting $600+/month from us for the foreseeable future. Steady income is steady income, amirite?)

We are now Wednesday, and I have been to my weekly counseling appointment, and would ordinarily be in class now, however I finished all my course work for my first class this evening, and am not due in my second class until 7. I opted to come home, relax, shower, etc. Well, much to my annoyance I arrived home to find a piece of paper stuck in my door. This piece of paper says there will be mandatory inspections of the units randomly selected by the inspectors tomorrow, and to please have my unit available. Of the 4 doors on my floor, mine was the only one with this paper stuck in it.

Let me step back for a moment and explain why this is an issue for me:

Approximately six weeks ago, we all received a similar notice, citing some bullshit about the city requiring annual inspections. This one, however, said all units would be inspected over the next 72 hours. Now, I have two small dogs, and I live 60 miles away from all my family in the area. Making arrangements for my dogs is easier said than done, especially during the week as I work full time and attend class almost full time as well. I called the rental office first thing the next morning and advised them of my situation and said that I would be more than happy to come home and handle my animals if they would just give me an hour or so notice. The reply to this was “we are not able to schedule time, and the inspectors are out already and may have already hit your unit.” …. Hit my unit? Did I miss a memo where I was mixed up in a fucking heist movie? Furthermore, I am a trauma survivor. I suffer from PTSD and acute anxiety. The prospect of anyone entering my sanctuary, with all my things and my dogs, unescorted, sent me into full blown panic mode. So much so that the following day I was home with a migraine. I called the office first thing in the morning and told them I was there and asked if they would please come do the inspection, since I was here and could take care of the dogs. I told them I would be home until 2pm, before I had to go to my appointment. I spoke with them repeatedly throughout the day, and each time she told me they’d be along, and then when I called (at her request) before I left for my appointment, I was placed on hold for several moments before she came back on the line, advised me that they were finished with the inspections and had everything they needed, as well as thanked me for my cooperation. …. Mandatory inspection, by the city, of all units eh? Well, I guess I’m special. Or they were just trying to get into specific units. Whatever.

So now, back to the topic at hand. I feel like I have been singled out for this inspection and after the fiasco before, I’m not inclined to bend over backwards for these people. My dogs will remain loose and I will leave a note with my number. They can call me if they want in here. Otherwise, I cordially invite them to piss off.

Furthermore, as a result of this one piece of paper stuck in my door, the absolute best they can hope for is a six month renewal. If the stars align and allow, I will give my 30 days notice at the end of this month and be gone before February. If the stars don’t align, I will sign a 6 month lease renewal, and then be gone at income tax return time next year. They can shove the larger unit up their asses and they can have this little one back in relatively short order.

Aside from all of this shit and the personal elements, let me tell you why else this pisses me off. I mentioned this was not the nicest part of town. It’s cleaned up a lot in recent years, I’m told, but it still has a long way to go. In this complex specifically, I guestimate that roughly one third to one half of the residents get up and take our asses to work every day. The rest are here all day long and basically leech off the system. That being said… why in the FUCK are you going to harass and alienate one of your tenants that doesn’t party, that doesn’t have people over, that pays rent on time every time, and that doesn’t cause problems?? And for what? Probably nothing. I will never understand the logic (or lack there of) of some people.

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Whatever, it’s their loss. No skin off my back. I’ll be taking my little caravan shit show someplace else. Thank you and have a nice day.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Fair warning… this post was written to kill time before counseling and I am exhausted. Three cheers for insomnia!!

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I think it’s kind of funny how the older we get and the more we experience, the more our priorities and elements of stress change. There was a time really not that long ago when the biggest worry I had was whether I was going to be able to make an appearance at more than one social event, or what to wear or even whether our guild raid was going to be successful in new content or not. I didn’t really care about bills and if I didn’t make good grades it wasn’t the end of the world. There was always next semester. Nothing really was that urgent. On the flip side of this concept, our motivation changes so drastically too.

As an adult, I’ve always been a little anxious. My performance and punctuality at work have been a high priority for me. I’ve also been very neurotic about paying bills on time every time and just generally making sure all the little moving parts of my calendar day, month or year were attended to at any given time. I would get a little too worked up if I missed something.

Now, since I’ve been through trauma which, as a domino effect, destroyed my credit, my values and outlook are similar in some ways but drastically different in others. I still need to keep my schedule and I still need to get my bills paid, but I’m not motivated by a clean credit score so much as by the simple success of remembering everything. Having sustained a head injury, to say that I am forgetful is the understatement of the century. Any month where I don’t receive a past due notification is cause for relatively tame celebration. I don’t party at all anymore. I’d already grown out of it for the most part but after the events of last year, the only substances I partake in are nicotine and caffeine. I suppose I’ve evolved into an all or nothing kind of girl, in the grand scheme of things.

I still care about keeping my performance and punctuality up between both work and school but I think I’ve passed the point of relating to high school kids or true college freshmen in that I have no “there’s always next semester” mentality. I don’t like kill myself over deadlines but they matter to me. I keep a detailed electronic calendar to ensure I am apprised of all of my obligations and due dates. I really don’t remember a time where I didn’t care if I passed or failed, and my professors have commented that their evening classes and day time classes are as different as they can be. The noon time students cut class and miss deadlines with much more frequency than the evening students. It blows my mind to think about, considering college isn’t free in this country. Somebody is paying for them to be there. Why bother if it doesn’t matter to them?

I’m motivated to do the best I can in all of my classes because it tells me I am not permanently damaged. It tells me I am capable of not only performing, but performing well. I don’t think I would like it if I had to repeat a class.

I’m also motivated by the thought of life after prison. I’m not so naive that I think it is going to be easy, but I do see the potential for it to be good and worth the wait. I take pride in the lifestyle I have worked so hard for that is blessedly drug free and having accomplished this much on my own, I have faith that my man will be able to follow suit. I know he is proud of me for how far I have come in this last 18 months. I really can’t wait for him to become an active factor in this new, positive life.

Having gone without, in part due to my own choices but also due to lack of choice on my part, I find that there is so much in life that I am thankful for. Every ugly thing that has happened in my life has taught me over and over to varying degrees to not take anything for granted, especially the little things. This last is a topic for another post once I am more rested and possessing more coherent thoughts.

All in all, I’m in a pretty good place and while I worry somewhat about exams next week, I feel positive that I’ll make the grades I want. That’ll be another notch or two on the ‘I did that’ list. I’ll take it!!

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