Manson family member Leslie Van Houten denied parole

Yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom denied Manson family member Leslie Van Houten's request for parole. This is the third time in three years that the California parole board has recommended Van Houten for parole. Former Governor Jerry Brown said no to the previous requests in 2016 and 2018. Van Houten is serving a sentence of life in prison for participating in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in 1969 at Manson's direction. From CNN:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a parole release review that despite Van Houten's productive time in prison -- she earned a bachelor's and master's degrees and completed "extensive" self-help programming -- the negative factors of her involvement in the murders outweighed the positive factors.

"Ms. Van Houten and the Manson family committed some of the most notorious and brutal killings in California history," Newsom said. "When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time."

Newson said he understood Van Houten was 19 at the time of the crime and that a psychologist who evaluated her said it was likely "her involvement in the life offense was significantly impacted by characteristics of youth, including impulsivity, the inability to adequately foresee the long-term consequences of her behavior and the inability to manage her emotions that resulted from trauma."

Newson said that "without a deeper understanding of what led her to submit to Mr. Manson and participate in these horrific murders, I cannot be sure that Ms.

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San Francisco marijuana crimes to be expunged by the thousands, with Code For America's help

A project to expunge marijuana-related convictions in San Francisco that took an entire year to pull together is nearly complete, San Francisco prosecutors said today, as they announced that 9,300 pot crimes will soon be removed from people’s criminal records.

That's a big deal. As the SF DA said at today's press conference, a felony conviction for cannabis could mean “barriers to education, housing, employment and even being barred from a child’s school field trip because of a conviction.”

San Francisco is able to do this in part because of the efforts of people at Code For America. Read the rest

Which prison will house 'El Chapo'? Probably this Colorado 'supermax'

Good luck escaping from this one.

Whitey Bulger's family, lacking a sense of irony, file lawsuit over his 2018 murder

Trafficking guns and explosives to the Irish Republican Army, running a massive criminal enterprise for years in Boston, extorting drug dealers so that they could do business on his turf, acting as an FBI informant and oh, so many murders: James “Whitey” Bulger's life was both colorful and poisonous, to say the least.

His long career as a professional criminal came to an end in 2011. After over a decade on the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives list, Bulger was located and charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, narcotics distribution and money-laundering. He was convicted and thrown in the clink in 2012. This past October, Bugler, 89 years old and confined to a wheelchair, was stabbed and beaten to death by his fellow inmates at the United States Penitentiary, Hazelton, in West Virginia.

While it might be difficult for a lot of folks to have sympathy for a man responsible for so much pain, Bulger's family wants to know what happened inside of the penitentiary: why was Bulger sent to the cell block he was killed in? Why wasn't the murder, involving multiple inmates, stopped? They've filed a lawsuit to find out.

From The Boston Globe:

“It’s important for the family and the public to know why the prisons decided to wheel an 89-year-old man with a history of heart attacks into one of the most dangerous prisons in the country,” Hank Brennan, Bulger’s attorney of seven years, told the Journal.

The Globe reported in late November that Bulger had wished for a “peaceful death” in a series of letters written over the past several years to a former convict.

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You can buy death row inmate's art at the San Quentin gift shop

Never know what to get the person who has "everything"? It's pretty unlikely they'll have anything crafted by death row inmates, and that's where San Quentin State Prison's Handicraft Shop (aka the Hobby Shop) comes in.

This unusual Marin County, California store is located right outside the penitentiary's gate and offers a wide assortment of prisoner-made artwork and crafts. That is, if you can get in.

No, you don't have to go through security or be related to an inmate or anything like that to shop there. It just always seems to be closed, despite the posted hours.

I first heard about the shop in the late 1990s and tried several times, unsuccessfully, to get in.

Then, on one late December day some 11 years ago, I caught the attention of the then-new director of the prison's art program as he was closing up shop. He said couldn't let me in that day but promised if I emailed him, he'd get me in soon. Game on.

On Christmas Eve day in 2007, myself and two friends got access.

At the time, I didn't have the money to buy the bigger art (some of which was painted on the back of blue-and-white-striped mattress ticking). Instead, I bought a couple of inexpensive "Jailhouse Rocks," one for myself and one to use as a Yankee Swap gift I was attending that night. From what I gather, inmates can buy kits inexpensively that they can assemble and then sell for a small profit. The kits for the "Jailhouse Rocks" need actual stones from the prison's yard to complete which I found oddly charming. Read the rest

Pop-up restaurant serves last meals of death row inmates

Tokyo-based art collective Chim↑Pom has opened a two-week pop-up restaurant that serves up the last meals once requested by real death row inmates.

For example, before being executed by firing squad in 1977, Utah double murderer Gary Mark Gilmore ate a burger, a hard-boiled egg, and mashed potatoes, and drank three shots of whiskey. Here is Chim↑Pom's version of Gilmore's pre-execution eats:

The Ningen ("Human") Restaurant is located in Kabukicho, Tokyo's red-light district, and is open until October 28 (2 PM to 9 PM).

(Spoon & Tamago) 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

Criminal mastermind arrested for robbing same bank, twice

Armed with the knowledge that comes from damned dear experience, you go back in time and correct the terrible wrongs of your life. Old loves could be mended. Lost chances would be taken. It's something that most of us have dreamed of at one point in our lives or another.

While dwelling on such things might be a balm against the pain of wistful regrets, it is, as 50-year-old Brent Allen Drees of Wichita, Kansas discovered, an absolutely terrible idea when applied to bank robbery.

After spending 46 months in prison for bank robbery, Drees, having repaid his debt to society, was ready to leave the clink behind and start a new life. His time behind bars at an end, he celebrated his new-found freedom... by robbing a bank he'd already robbed back in 2011.

From the Wichita Eagle:

Drees allegedly robbed the Conway Bank at 121 E. Kellogg on Tuesday, giving the teller a note saying, “Give me $3,000 and you won’t get hurt,” a criminal affidavit states.

He was arrested Thursday afternoon in connection to the robbery after a Crime Stoppers tip led investigators to an area on the south side of Wichita, police Officer Paul Cruz said in a release.

Drees was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody in July 2017, prison records show. He had served a 46-month sentence for bank robbery, McAllister’s release said.

Drees was dinged for robbing the E. Kellogg branch of Conway Bank back in 2011. It was his first conviction for bank robbery. Read the rest

Bill Cosby's new prison digs are known for racism, violence and systematic abuse

Bill Cosby has justly been whisked away to prison for the next three to ten years. Cosby--let's just go ahead and assume his prison name will be Puddin'--is being shipped off to the Phoenix State Correctional Institution (SCI Phoenix) to serve his time. It's not a nice place: according to The Root, the clink where Puddin' will be spending his twilight years is rife with racism. Racial slurs, religious discrimination and other demeaning personal attacks are purportedly inflicted upon the prison's population by the facility's staff on a routine basis. Mind you, the staff aren't one hell of a lot safer. It's a high caliber shitshow.

From The Inquirer:

In letters and phone calls to family and reporters, and in official grievances, they've reported a raft of complaints about the conditions in the new prison and, especially, about loss, vandalism, or destruction of their personal property during the move. Several described racial slurs and graphic imagery drawn on photographs of their loved ones — acts the inmates describe as "hate crimes."

One man, Malik Gilmore, provided copies of photographs he said were defaced by the DOC's specially trained Corrections Emergency Response Team, which managed the move: one with a swastika inked on his brother's forehead, another with a penis drawn over his son's mouth. Another, Eugene Myrick, found "squeeze cheese" poured into a box containing the legal documents for his case, which is active in Philadelphia courts. And Carmen Calvanese said that during the move, he had inconsistent access to the insulin needed to regulate his Type 1 diabetes, and that he ended up in a hospital intensive-care unit as a result.

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How a prisoner's amazing drawings of golf courses set him free

“Creating golf holes with pencils is how I pass the time. Maybe one day I'll get to play the game I've only imagined.”

A man who was serving 39 years to life in prison decided to started drawing golf courses. His art was really cool. One thing led to another, and his drawings made their way to Golf Digest, which then wrote about him, realized his conviction sounded dubious, investigated, and guess what.

Valentino Dixon is now free. Read the rest

Japan is turning this 1908 prison into three hotels

Yosuke Kurosawa takes a tour of Nara Juvenile Prison, which was in use until 2017 and will soon be turned into hotels for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It's like a really clean Shawshank Prison. Read the rest

Laramie County, Wyoming Sheriffs' department blocks public records requests for their prison phone monopoly deal

Every crappy thing in the world is beta-tested on people who have little or no power, perfected, and brought to the rest of us -- CCTV starts with prisoners, moves to mental institutions, then to schools, then to blue-collar workplaces, then airports, then white-collar workplaces, then everywhere. Read the rest

Illinois votes to eliminate inmates' doctor visit co-pays, equivalent to one month's wages

Illinois lawmakers have want to end inmates' co-payments of $5 for each prison doctor visit -- the equivalent of a month's wages in the prison's $0.05/hour and under workshops; in Oregon, they're contemplating creating a $3-5/visit co-pay. Read the rest

Moving documentary on prisoners who break wild horses

The Wild Inside follows Arizona prisoners in a program where they work to break wild horses rounded up from the desert. Read the rest

Bill Cosby explains why people go to prison

"Somewhere along the way, they did something wrong, something dumb... Maybe they even got away with it first and thought they'd never get caught."

Hey, hey, hey? Read the rest

Forced prison labor put downward pressure on wages at American companies, worsening inequality

In Economic Consequences of the U.S. Convict Labor System, UCLA economist Michael Poyker uses data on prisons and their surrounding areas from 1850 to 1950 to examine the role that free/extremely low-waged forced convict labor had on wages. Read the rest

Let me tell you a story about Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit

I read a lot. It's part of my job as a writer. Sadly, most of what I read these days is kind of terrible. We do awful things to one another. We've been doing it for a long time. Here's something terrible that I learned today.

In 1972, Herman Wallace was in the Louisiana State Penitentiary doing a stretch for armed robbery. While he was inside, one of the prison's guards was murdered. Wallace and two other black men--Robert King and Albert Woodfox--were convicted for the murder.

There was just one problem: they weren't guilty.

To say that Wallace, King and Woodfox, known members of the militant Black Panther Party, were unpopular with the penitentiary's staff was an understatement. Back then the trio insisted that the crime was being hung on them because of the color of their skin and their political beliefs. Their declaration of innocence wasn't enough to save them from being punished for the guard's murder. The trio was declared guilty. Wallace spent the next 41 years of his life in solitary confinement.

In 2013, a United States Federal Court Judge overturned Wallace's sentence, stating in no uncertain terms that Wallace's trial had been "unconstitutional" and ordered his immediate release. The Department of Corrections complied with the order.

A few days later, Wallace died of liver cancer. The only moments of freedom he had known in over four decades were also his last. King and Woodfox were a little more lucky--both managed to stay alive for more than a few days after leaving prison. Read the rest

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