An anarchist community bookstore had the best response to getting robbed

Firestorm Bookstore Co-op is a collectively-owned radical bookstore and community event space in Asheville, North Carolina that describes itself as an essentially anti-capitalist business, in as much as they can be.

And on May 7, someone smashed their through their window and robbed the cash register. (They also behind a live bird, although it's possible the bird also entered later.)

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Well, someone did a crime. 🤔 This morning our co-operative was robbed. Someone smashed in the front door, emptied the register, and left behind a live bird (also totally possible that the bird came in separately). Hopefully they also took a good book, because they definitely didn't leave with a lot of money. Y'all, the anarchist bookstore is not sitting on piles of cash. 🙄 Crime elsewhere! . This is not a great time to take a financial hit, but we're OK. We got a lot of text messages from folks who saw the mess and were concerned <3. If anyone wants to help us cover the losses (looks like about $150 in cash plus $450 in physical damage) now would be a cool time to buy a book or five. . Also, no, we didn't call the police. There really isn't anything that law enforcement could do for us that we can't do for ourselves and if someone is desperate enough to risk their freedom for $150, maybe we've all failed them. It's tough feeling vulnerable, and seeing our storefront broken open brought up a lot of emotions, including anger—but incarceration isn't justice and punishment can only multiply harm.

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Watch a video of my prison and opioids play "Streets Like This," performed by actors who have all dealt with incarceration

In 2018, I was commissioned by Civic Ensemble of Ithaca, New York to help devise and write a new play based on their ReEntry Theatre Program — a free arts initiative for people who've experienced incarceration and/or drug rehabilitation. The program participants developed the raw material through theatre games and writing exercises, which I then took and transformed into a full-length script.

Streets Like This originally ran for 3 sold out performances in May 2018, featuring a cast of program participants, whose personal stories of addiction and incarceration inspired the script. The people involved in this show from the start have gone on to make some tremendous policy changes for social services and criminal justice reform in Tompkins County, New York, and decided to remount the show again this spring.

Then the COVID-19 outbreak happened.

But the cast and company got together one last time and filmed their production without an audience. It's streaming now for free between April 30 and May 17, 2020; and since they can't raise any money through ticket sales, they're hoping the video will bring in some donations so they can keep this program going.

Working on this play and getting to know these actors was an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me, and I know it's had a positive impact on their lives, too. I hope you'll check it out, and if you're feeling generous, throw some money their way so they can keep doing good work in changing the ways our society deals with addiction and incarceration. Read the rest

County sheriffs claim that prisoners sleeping head-to-toe count as being "six feet apart" for coronavirus safety

Prisons in America are already overcrowded, under-supported, and maddeningly profitable for the people who made them that way. And when people die in incarceration under more normal circumstances, it still tends to get ignored or covered up. As a result, some of them have been struggling with how to deal with social distancing, quarantine, and general medical safety during this pandemic. (Case-in-point: Joe Exotic may have been exposed to coronavirus.)

Even in that context, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections offered a particularly absurd excuse for their less-than-bare-minimum effort in treating incarcerated people with basic humanity. According to CourtWatch MA, a volunteer community group that acts as a watchdog for the state prison system, the state's latest prison capacity report claims that the DOC is prepared for a capacity of 7,492 people. But there are 7,916 people currently incarcerated by the state — nearly 500 more than that design/rated capacity. (The state also claims that its operational capacity is 10,157, which is not consistent with the data available records requests.

This week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court asked the sheriffs of 14 counties to provide information about their handling of this overcrowding during the coronavirus outbreak, to ensure that they're all adhering to proper CDC guidelines. Here's the first question they asked:

Approximately what percentage of inmates or detainees sleeps within six feet of another inmate or detainee? Individuals in disciplinary isolation should be excluded from this estimate.

That seems fairly straight-forward. But the sheriff Hampden County responded that "0% sleeps within six feet of one another" at the main institution, the women's facility, the regional recovery and wellness center, and the pre-release center in that county. Read the rest

Why aren't more conservatives concerned about felon voting rights?

I've been a huge fan of Elizabeth Warren since I saw her yelling at a cop during the 2012 Boston Pride Parade. I generally think that her past history as a Republican should actually be a selling point, as it demonstrates her capacity to examine the available evidence and change her mind. But one place where Bernie still stands out in front is his willingness to extend voting rights to people who are incarcerated.

I'm not surprised that Warren is hesitant to go all the way in allowing people to vote while still incarcerated — after all, unexamined biases against incarcerated people are extremely common — but I am disappointed.

The more I thought about it, however, I began to consider how strange it is that felon voting rights (during or after incarceration) tend to be such a partisan issue. As a progressive, I've come around to understand why it matters, as all human rights matter, particularly in an unjust legal system. As much as I hate it, I can at least understand the true authoritarian racist argument in favor of retaining free labor through a loophole-by-design of the 13th Amendment.

But when I think about the conservatives I know, and the philosophies they claim to adhere to, that's where the contradictions arise. For example, let's ignore the contrived veneer respectability that shines on every deceptive video from PragerU, and take their argumentative claims at face value and in good faith. PragerU pumps out plenty of content defending the Electoral College by rationalizing it around a fear of mob rule, or the "tyranny of the majority." Read the rest

Ahead of California's criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration, prosecutors are locking in plea deals forcing defendants to give up the rights they're about to get

If you enter into a plea deal in California today, your prosecutor will likely make you promise not to use any future legal reforms to get out of jail earlier than is stipulated in your plea -- that way, you won't be able to take advantage of the slate of criminal justice and sentencing reforms passed by the California legislature and voted in by Californians through ballot initiatives. Read the rest

In U.S. prisons, women are disciplined at a higher rate than men

Even women in prison can’t escape the sexist stereotype of the “difficult woman.” Read the rest

This is your brain on drug policy - remake of classic PSA with Rachael Lee Cook

In 1998 actor Rachael Lee Cook starred in the "This is your brain on heroin" PSA, smashing up a kitchen with a frying pan: Read the rest

Sobering look at how the poor are denied American justice

American penitentiaries, in idealized Quaker imaginings, were to be a place for reflective penitence followed by forgiveness. That's not how it worked out, especially for the poor. And the problem goes far beyond prison reform: Read the rest

Give me blood, cash, or jail time, Alabama judge orders defendants

What's worse than courts demanding that poor people pay extortionate fines to the state for minor offense? Asking them to literally pay with their own blood. Read the rest