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:
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“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.
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
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
Even women in prison can’t escape the sexist stereotype of the “difficult woman.” Read the rest
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 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:
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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.
“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
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
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.
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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.
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The Wild Inside follows Arizona prisoners in a program where they work to break wild horses rounded up from the desert. Read the rest
"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?
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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.
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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
Until recently, under Canadian law, prison administrators could confine their charges to an indefinite period in solitary confinement. Thanks to a pair of high profile court rulings, this could change in a big way, provided the Federal government can get its shit together.
Last month, the Supreme Court in the Canadian province of British Columbia struck down a law that allowed prisoners to be kept indefinitely in solitary confinement. It was a huge win for prison inmates and society: long-term solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate or condition an individual to become a more productive member of society. Worse, as humans are social animals, being locked away from our peers for long periods of time can cause psychological trauma--that's not something you want to do to someone who'll eventually be released back into society. Human rights activists in BC applauded the court's decision. Unfortunately, a similar case, heard in a different region of Canada, is keeping the verdict from changing the country's confinement laws.
This past December, a Superior Court Judge in the province of Ontario handed down a verdict that found that solitary confinement lasting any longer than five days is absolute bullshit, according to the Canadian constitution. But, as the CBC details, the practice of doing so does not violate the constitutional rights of the individual being thrown into solitary.
Both verdicts have merit, but which has more weight?
It's a question that the Canadian government has decided can only be answered by another run through the legal system. Read the rest
Right now, if prisoners use up their 12 allotted pads for the month, they have to work 27 hours to afford a $4 box of tampons. Read the rest
The recent deadly outbreak of nacho botulism reminded me of another big botulism outbreak caused by pruno, aka prison wine. Brian and Jason from Modern Rogue show how to make pruno, showing why it could easily contain botulism. Read the rest