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Pot for Life

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

The title does not mean what you probably think it does.  Instead, it is referring to the life sentence given to Cornell Hood II here in Louisiana for getting busted a fourth time with marijuana.  Remember that, in this state, life means life.  There is no parole for lifers here; the only state in the Union where that holds true.

This boils my blood, as did the recent AlterNet article, The 5 Worst States to Get Busted With Pot by Paul Armentano.  I knew, before even clicking through to it, that Louisiana would be on there.  We have some of the harshest laws and toughest punishments in the nation.  Sure, enough, we made #4; which reads, in part:

Each year, cops make nearly 19,000 pot busts in the Bayou State – some 91 percent for simple possession – and according to Gettman, only three other states routinely punish minor offenders so severely.

It also brings up Cornell Hood, who was convicted on February 15 in Covington, Louisiana under the "repeat-offender" law.  Up to 2 lbs. of pot were found at his home near Slidell during a routine visit by his probation officer.  It was Hood's fourth conviction for possession and/or distribution and the State chose to "send him up the river", as they say.  Yes, for a victimless crime, this man will die in prison.

One of three for a long time, Louisiana is now the only state that still has "real life"; which means that, 90% of the time, you will die in prison.

"No possibility of parole" means exactly that in Louisiana.  Indeed, a second-degree murder charge in Louisiana is known as a "second death penalty".  Due to such harsh sentencing, 97% of the 5,000+ inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola will die there; that is a statistical fact.

Now add to that list Cornell Hood.

He will be sent off - most likely to Angola - and serve the rest of his natural life behind bars.  Are the streets of Louisiana any safer because Mr. Hood, known only to be a pot smoker (and possibly dealer) as far as breaking the law is concerned, is off of them?

Truly, has justice been served?  Or will the cost of keeping a man convicted of a victimless crime behind bars for the rest of his life be worth it for Louisiana and it's flailing economy?

The United States, as a whole, is insanely backwards and backwoods-ignorant when it comes to drugs and its fruitless yet costly "war on drugs".

Justice is rarely served, though so-cheap-it's-nearly-free slave labor of inmates contracted out through Prison Enterprises certainly serves the free market, capitalist society we have become.  And the majority of Republicans, Libertarians, evangelical Christians, and most social conservatives want us to be even more like that, if possible.

Do not for a moment think that locking up gaggles of people for ridiculous reasons is to cleanup our streets and/or eliminate crime in our towns and cities.  It's all to turn a profit, these days.  Some prisons - those bought out by private industries, as Jindal is trying to do here - will not even take "problem" inmates; they do not good workers make, you see.

It looks and sounds good for these politicians to be "hard on crime" and lock up everyone and throw away the key - the public eats that shit right up.

But it's all a ruse, my friends.  The wool is over your eyes and where you see justice being done those politicians see dollar signs in the pockets of the big industries and companies that are going to donate to their next campaign fund.

Wake up, America.  You're being sold out and you do not even see it.


Abuse of Power

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I have a dear friend that lives his life inside the walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.  He is serving a life sentence for past transgressions, and I have been witness to his growth in the past 10+ years spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.  He is not the hot-headed, rash, and foolish young man that walked through those gates so long ago.  Today, he is a refined, retrospective, and calm man who centers his life around his spiritual devotions and in helping others.

His job at the prison is that of head baker; a position he loves and has worked hard to not only maintain but to excel in.  He is a model inmate, causing no problems, and who does his work from 1am until, often, 4 or 5pm the following evening without complaint.  He takes great pride in making the best baked goods ever tasted inside prison walls, and - from the compliments he receives - he just may be accomplishing this.

In the many years that I have been his friend and outside-voice, I have seen numerous abuses of power.  It is simply the way of prison life.  Saying it is a different world when you walk into those gates is a bit of an understatement.  It is not anything like the world we exist in out here.  There have been many times I have had to go to bat for him, to stand up for him and decry the unwarranted reproofs he was being subjected to.

Don't get me wrong.  It is impossible to be an angel and survive in such an environment.  Sometimes punishments were warranted, and he "took his licks", as he says, with nary a reproach.  It was the times that they were not that I am writing about.

Burl Cain runs a tight ship and, as far as prisons goes, Angola is a model that others often attempt to emulate.  Yet even with the most stringent of rules and policies, bad apples fall from the woodwork, worming their way through infrastructure and causing discord wherever they go.  To be a prison guard is a unqiue choice for occupation, let's be honest.  One could never call it "easy", and I can't imagine how difficult it must be to walk that fine line between being fair and tough; between doing your job and not losing your soul.  Inmates are not angelic creatures, and a great many of them are born con-artists.  How friendly and fair can you be without getting walked all over?  I would imagine it's a constant mental struggle.

That said, there are individuals that - I believe - go into the field of warders with less conscientious sets of mind.  Some enjoy the power; the authority over "lesser" persons that they can wield how they see fit while affecting actual lives with the bark of every order .  Others, natural bullies, relish the ability to constantly taunt people who cannot fight back.  There are more, but you get the point.

These types of people sicken me.  It takes a very lowly-type of person to kick others when they are down  and to hurt other human beings simply because you know they are powerless to defend themselves.  Can there be any good in such blackened hearts?

Do not forget; inmates are in prison as punishment.  In fact, that is their punishment.  It is not the guards' job to punish them further.  They are there to maintain order and peace; no more.  Regardless, there are those who set themselves into that very different world with its very savage rules and set about playing games as if it were all a giant chess board, and with the inmates as no more than pawns rather than the thinking, feeling human beings that they are.

It is because of one such individual - not the first I have encountered, by any means, but the latest - that I sit down to write this.  He is known as Major Groom and is a major over Camp C at Angola.  He has, for weeks now, tormented my friend and others.  For reasons known only to him, he feels it his duty - or perhaps it is simply his pleasure - to play dangerous games with the lives of his charges.  As my friend goes about his work, concentrating only on the job at hand, Major Groom is there with is sly comments and veiled threats.

It's nothing new nor is his type and so we chose to ignore it.  That is until yesterday when Major Groom preceded to leak a bold-faced lie to another inmate and label my friend a "rat".  I need not explain to you the implications of such a label in a prison environment.  Major Groom informed this other inmate that my friend - known inside as Pencil - had told him that a rack of eggs left on a counter were his.  This is a problem, as an entire rack of eggs left out for an inmate to use as his personal issue is forbidden and if an inmate where to do such a thing he would be written up for stealing.  This other inmate knew the eggs were not his and that he had not put them there, and - most importantly - that my friend would never, not even under the threat of torture, rat on anyone for anything.

This could have been serious.  Had this other inmate not personally known Pencil, had he not known Pencil is no rat and would never have done such a thing, that inmate could have taken umbrage with being called out like this (and possibly written-up over it).  As it stands, Major Groom called another kitchen staff member who informed him that she had put the eggs there; it was not the conspiracy he was trying to make it out to be.  What if this other inmate had attacked Pencil for ratting on him?  It is not out of the realm of possibility; in fact, in that world, it is the norm.

What could Major Groom gain by concocting such a lie?  To turn the inmates against one another?  Does he not realize the danger he possibly puts his other co-workers in by such irresponsible actions?  What if a fight had broken out over this?  In his attempt to ruin Pencil's reputation - or whatever else he was attempting to do - he could have cause a great deal of trouble.  And this isn't his first rodeo.

Other inmates have similar complaints against Major Groom; and apparently - though I cannot prove it - at least one of them has already written an ARP complaint on him for the same thing.  What does it mean when such rogues are allowed to continue such reckless games, and are accorded such a high rank to do so in?  If wardens are aware of his behavior, why has something not been done?

These are the questions I am posing to Angola tomorrow morning as I call and wait for answers.  I will put in a call to the warden of Camp C, and I am ready to take this to Burl Cain himself if need be.  There is little that riles me quite as much as abuse of power, and playing games with innocent peoples' lives.  These men are simply trying to do their time and make the best of it.  It would be more than unfair - and even unjust - to see them brought down - moved to a cellblock or lose their jobs - over lies and trouble stirred up by someone such as Major Groom.  I, for one, will not sit idly by and watch it happen yet again.

Please check back.  I will update this entry with the response I get from the warden.