Sunday, May 12, 2019

Exposing America's Justice System (Plus a Survival Guide)

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The U.S. bar goes off the margins! 'Nuff said.  --->

PART I:  The Bare Facts

If you live in the U.S. you're probably not aware of JUST how scary our nation's prison system really is (unless you've been caught up in it yourself).  After watching A Survivor's Guide to Prison on Netflix this weekend, I was left even more disturbed than ever by just how shaky our entire justice system really is, from the police on the street all the way up to the judges & juries that determine the fates of thousands each year.

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Excellent documentary (Netflix)
This info is, of course, vital to every substance user and--as you're about to learn--law-abiding citizen as well.  According to the film, there are so many ridiculous laws on the books in this country that the average American unknowingly commits 2-3 felonies per day.  You read that right.  For instance, simply telling someone you're going to "beat their fucking ass" is considered a "terroristic threat" in many jurisdictions whether you touch them or not.  Whether you actually get arrested for saying an off-handed comment like that depends largely on who you are & who you say it to.  People of color are disproportionately targeted by police & tend to receive longer sentences for the same crimes as white & Asian people.  Class is another factor.  But we'll get to that in a minute.

The U.S. locks up more of its population than any nation on Earth.  That includes communist China, Russia, North Korea & any other place you can think of.  Our prisons outnumber our universities & colleges.  Do we REALLY have that many more dangerous criminals in the "greatest nation on Earth", or are our laws just more unfair?  To get more specific, America accounts for 1/3rd of all incarcerated women in the entire world.  Not 1 single state has use of force laws that meet even the most basic international standards.  Police aren't required to have any education beyond a high school diploma or GED.  Is this really reasonable for a position of such authority?  Worse, no independent organizations oversee police or prosecutors when issues arise--they are entirely responsible for investigating themselves.

Due to the insane backlog of cases in the courts, the vast majority of defendants are pressured to take plea bargains in which they plead guilty to a lesser charge whether they committed it or not.  Refusal to do so can result in lengthy prison stays if you can't afford bail (see: the tragic case of Kalief Browder who spent 3 years in Riker's Island awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack).  95% of all cases are "resolved" by plea bargain in this country.  If you are brave/stupid enough to demand a trial, be aware that judges & juries are subject to authority bias--a phenomenon in which a person tends to believe an authority figure such as the police, government agency or media over an individual such as a defendant in a criminal trial.  This bias is inherent in humans so you can expect to face it no matter how good your lawyer is.

And that brings up another issue:  public defenders tend to be stretched thin & not have a great track record of winning criminal cases where the cards are stacked against them.  So unless you can afford Johnny Cochran or another member of the Dream Team, taking a case to trial can be very risky and the stakes are much higher than taking the plea deal.  If you lose, you get the whole sentence...whatever that may be.

Once you're actually IN prison, you can probably expect to do some time in solitary confinement.  Iran has a 2-year maximum limit on solitary confinement; California's average length of stay is 7.5 years.  Inmates may be placed in solitary for disciplinary purposes or for their own "protection" if deemed a target by gangs or other dangerous individuals.  And inmates in general population don't fare much better.  1 in 10 prisoners is sexually assaulted, to say nothing of physical & verbal assaults or other types of abuse such as medical neglect.

If you expect your jail time to be full of reading & relaxing, don't bank on it.  Approximately 1 million U.S. prisoners work for corporations behind bars for pennies a day.  There is no minimum wage & no benefits and organizing/unionizing is not allowed.  If you refuse to work you are put in solitary.  Prison labor is a multi-billion dollar per year industry.  Private prisons are paid to house inmates on a per-bed basis & taxpayers foot the bill even for empty cells.  This incentive to incarcerate citizens leads to exactly what you'd expect:  lobbyists pushing for tough-on-crime bills in Washington to guarantee a steady pipeline of inmates into these for-profit hell holes.  Immigration laws are also greatly affected by this system.  State prisons have an 80% recidivism rate, which proves how little effort goes into rehabilitating inmates.  And why would it?  The profit comes from keeping people incarcerated.  The word 'slavery' comes to mind...

But what about violent offenders like rapists, child molesters, murderers & domestic abusers you ask?  Don't they DESERVE the treatment they get in prison?  According to the Innocence Project, between 40,000 & 100,000 innocent Americans are estimated to be sitting in prison on wrongful convictions.  A majority are people of color & poor whites.  Some of these are on death row; others languish in solitary confinement indefinitely or face other atrocious living conditions.  Over half a million Americans are locked up for non-violent drug charges at any given time.  So while we all want to see violent psychopaths separated from society & punished, the way we're currently doing it is not making that happen.  Sentences for rape & child abuse are often disgustingly short compared to non-violent drug crimes in the first place.

We need to work toward making prison a place ONLY for violent offenders who pose a real risk to law-abiding citizens; not a place to house those whose lifestyles we disagree with--the poor, sex workers, drug users & dealers, low-level thieves & the mentally ill.  These people deserve rehabilitation & counseling.  Medication in many instances.  Education.  And prisons themselves must be made more habitable even for the violent scum who stay there because the majority of inmates WILL be getting out one day.  It just makes good sense to offer rehabilitation & keep them out of solitary to prevent them from becoming more crazed while locked up.  Losing their freedom is the punishment.  Promoting rape & assault behind bars doesn't benefit anyone and makes us look as vile as the sick fucks who commit these acts to the rest of the developed world.

PART II:  Survival Tips You Can Use

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1.  Don't argue with an aggressive officer.  Calmly ask "Am I being detained?  Am I free to go?"  Pick your battles & don't do anything that could be perceived as a challenge to their authority, such as yelling, cursing or running.  If you're not being detained, leave immediately.  Say nothing else.

2.  Never answer police questions without a lawyer present.  Demand an attorney even if you're 100% innocent.  Your words can be used against you but never for you.  You have the right to remain silent for a very important reason.  Use it.  Cops will use many tactics to get you to talk--never do so without a lawyer present.

3.  If wrongfully convicted of a crime, send a preservation letter to the police department labs & courts asking them to save all the evidence in your case.  Do this as soon as possible to prevent evidence from being destroyed, which it can be within 30 days if you don't request preservation.

4.  Seek out an Innocence Project to take your case.  Unfortunately this can take years, so be prepared to wait.  Write as many well-worded letters to as many Innocence Projects as you can to increase your chances. 

5.  When entering prison, be quiet & observe the way things operate.  Find allies within your own race or from your neighborhood but keep a comfortable physical distance.  Don't accept commissary or other "gifts" from inmates or you'll be expected to pay them back later with interest.  (You can fill in the blanks as to what "interest" and "debt" are).

6.  Focus on your education & hobbies in your spare time.  Exercise, read & do other things to occupy your time & better yourself.  Don't get involved in drugs or prison drama.  Many prisoners become "professional inmates" & end up with more time tacked onto their sentence due to stupid choices made behind bars.

7.  If seriously confronted by another inmate, don't back down.  Physical violence is sometimes unavoidable in prison & the rules are different than on the outside.  Never pick fights but stand your ground & don't let anyone demean or mock you, steal your belongings or do other disrespectful things or your stay will be highly unpleasant.


Hopefully you'll never need this information, but better safe than sorry.  Nobody thinks this stuff applies to them until suddenly it does.  The horror stories are real & all too common nowadays.  Stay safe.

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