Lifer Family Workshop

Seminar Mar 2016 Sacramento.ver 2Seminar Mar 2016 Sacramento.ver 2

Sacramento Workshop


March 19th, Sacarmento, 7:30am -4;00 pm

Capital Christian Center


Please see attached FLYER or contact Gail Brown, LIFE SUPPORT ALLIANCE

What The Outside Can Do for The Inside

What the Outside Can Do for the Inside

Family, community, and the world of ideas help prisoners cope and prepare for life after incarceration. Eight outreach programs that make a difference.
by Stuart Glascock, Paige Grant, Chris Hann
posted Jul 29, 2011


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PEEK INSIDE (http://www NULL.yesmagazine NULL.html?ica=Peek_txt_PeekInside&icl=Issues_spreadcaption) THE SUMMER 2011 ISSUE OF YES! MAGAZINE

1. Barrios Unidos Working  for Unity

Nane Alejandress photo courtesy of Superconsciousness Magazine

Nane Alejandrez of Barrios Unidos.

Photo courtesy of Superconsciousness Magazine.

Barrios Unidos works to curtail gang violence on the city streets of California by sponsoring cultural and spiritual programs in the state’s prisons. “A lot of these folks are our relatives,” says founder Daniel “Nane” Alejándrez, a veteran activist who has worked to forge truces among youth and prison gangs. “We are not the enemy against each other. We need to get these guys to think in a different way.”

The organization is based in Santa Cruz County but runs economic development programs in several other areas. At a time when many prison programs have been cut, Barrios Unidos offers classes and helps organize cultural celebrations in prisons every year—Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo, and St. Patrick’s Day—that support social cohesion, trust, and respect. “We are inside,” Alejándrez says. “We are talking directly to the guys face to face.”—Stuart Glascock

2. Justice Now Empowering Prisoners

The Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla is the largest women’s prison in the world, with 3,795 inmates. The world’s second largest, holding another 3,306, is the Valley State Prison across the street. Both hold about twice as many inmates as they were designed to handle. Justice Now works inside this grim system to promote health and justice through legal services and prisoner organizing.

Prisoners document human rights abuses in prison, circulate petitions, and write opinion pieces. Currently, five inmates serve on Justice Now’s board of directors. Three other directors were released in the last 18 months. “All of our programs are designed to build leadership among people in prison,” says executive director Cynthia Chandler. Justice Now recently helped defeat proposed prison expansion legislation in California that would have added capacity for 4,500 additional women prisoners. Inmates worked on the communications strategy and were spokespeople for the 2-year campaign.—S.G.

3. Yoga Helps Prisoners Cope With Stress

Yoga photo by Rick Fahnestock

Photo by Rick Fahnestock.

Yoga at the Illinois State Prison near Canton.

The balancing, breathing, and centering of yoga bring immediate results to prisoners, according to Natalie Smith, executive director of Yoga Behind Bars, a nonprofit that promotes yoga to help soothe the rage, anxiety, and hopelessness of life in prison. “Incarceration is an ineffective band-aid for many other problems­—homelessness, mental health issues, drug addictions,” Smith says. “Antisocial behaviors are the tip of the iceberg. Yoga has the potential to go down below the surface and teach skills like coping with stress.”

In 2010, Yoga Behind Bars dispatched 35 trained volunteers to give classes to 1,400 students in jails, prisons, and treatment centers in Washington state, but demand still exceeded supply. “It’s so rare that we have the opportunity to be calm behind bars,” wrote one participant. “I am so thankful to be able to stretch and meditate while in this stressful place.”—S.G.

4. Books to Prisoners: The Reading Connection

Volunteers at Books to Prisoners (BTP) read a thousand handwritten letters each month. Word has gotten around prisons that you can request books from BTP and eventually—it may take six months—a parcel will arrive for you with the books you asked for. There may be a personal note explaining the addition of an extra book you might enjoy. Somebody thought of you as a person with a mind. A window opens a crack.

Seattle-based BTP was started in the early 1970s by people who ran an independent bookstore. It has affiliates in Bellingham and Olympia, Wash., and Portland, Ore. As prison libraries are starved of acquisitions, the most common requests to BTP are for English and Spanish-English dictionaries, African American history and fiction, Native American studies, and GED materials. Beyond these high-demand categories, people behind bars like to read as broadly as the rest of us.

BTP is an all-volunteer effort. Most donations of books and money come from individuals, including the occasional check that arrives with a thank-you note from a former inmate. More information at ­ (http://bookstoprisoners —Paige Grant

5. Puppies Hard at Work Behind Bars

Prison puppies photo by Ian Wingfield

Puppy training at Fishkill Correctional Facility, N.Y.

Photo by Ian Wingfield.

Labrador and golden retriever puppies live with inmates through Prison PUP Partnership, one of several training programs across the country that provide meaningful work for inmates and a benefit to people on the outside who need service animals. Puppies Behind Bars is another program based in New York.

Puppies tag along to classes, recreation time, and meals, as prisoners train the animals to open doors, turn on light switches, and pick up objects. The puppies learn about life outside too—cars, traffic, public transportation—on weekend visits to volunteers outside the prison.

The full-time training in prison means dogs in the program are ready to be in service sooner­—in about a year­­—than puppies trained outside. —S.G.

6. Girl Scouts Beyond Bars: Breaking the Cycle

Girl Scout photo by Ellen Spiro

Girl Scout Jessica visits her mom at the Hilltop Prison in Texas.

Photo by Ellen Spiro.

Like Girl Scouts all over the country, the 45 members of Troop 1500 in Austin, Texas, wear the familiar green uniforms, work for merit badges, and sell cookies in February. But their big event is a monthly excursion to Gatesville, Texas, to visit their mothers in prison. They talk, catch up, and hug on those days, but this group of 6 to 17-year-olds also studies life skills, interpersonal communication, and decision-making strategies.

Troop 1500 is one of 30 Girl Scout programs across the United States that support daughters visiting their mothers in prison. The girls also get backup from the social work school at the University of Texas, which works to ease the trauma of separation and stop the family pattern of offending that affects children whose parents were in prison.—S.G.

7. Communication Over Conflict

Inmates are greeted with a handshake when they arrive for Ilene Stark’s class in mediation skills at the prison in Monroe, Washington. “Prisoners live in an incredibly intense environment,” Stark says. “We try to offer a respite in class.”

Almost every week for the past 10 years, professional mediators from the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish and Island Counties have volunteered to teach basic mediation classes to inmates at Monroe. The focus is on communication, thinking clearly instead of impulsively, perspective, and compassionate listening. “These are skills we use in mediation, and the men can use them in their everyday lives,” said Stark. “Several have told us stories about finding themselves in tense situations, and instead of fighting, they make better choices in the heat of conflict.” —S.G.

8. Learning Together and Rethinking the System

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School of Second Chances (http://www NULL.yesmagazine

Inmates who get an education are less likely to reoffend when they’re released. So why are prison education programs getting cut?

A college professor schooling the incarcerated was hardly a new idea when Lori Pompa taught her first class inside a Philadelphia city jail 14 years ago. But Pompa brought along her Temple University undergrads. That novel academic exercise, in which “outside” and “inside” students met together once a week for a semester, laid the foundation for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. The program has since spread to more than 120 colleges in 35 states and will soon be replicated in Canada and Australia.

The experience can be transformative. At a time when the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, Inside-Out has moved thousands of people to rethink the nation’s approach to criminal justice. “It makes the prison system so much more real to you,” says Christa Henderson, who took an Inside-Out course at Drew University in New Jersey. “They’re actual people. They’re not theoretical masses that you read about in books.”
“The hope is that the students go forward and make change,” says Pompa. “What could be more profound than two groups of people on either side of these walls coming together to examine serious issues and equally serious solutions?”  —Chris Hann

Stuart Glascock, Paige Grant, and Chris Hann wrote this article for Beyond Prisons (http://www NULL.yesmagazine, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine.


Can Prison Be a Healing Place?

Why the warden of Hawaii’s only women’s prison creates a sanctuary for its residents.
by Sarah van Gelder
posted Jun 14, 2011


58 spread van gelder (http://www NULL.yesmagazine NULL.html?ica=Peek_pic_PeekInside&icl=Issues_spreadpic)

PEEK INSIDE (http://www NULL.yesmagazine NULL.html?ica=Peek_txt_PeekInside&icl=Issues_spreadcaption) THE SUMMER 2011 ISSUE OF YES! MAGAZINE

When Warden Mark Kawika Patterson started work at the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC) outside Honolulu, he made a discovery that upended his ideas about prisons. Fully a third of the inmates at Hawaii’s only women’s prison were on medication for psychiatric disorders, 90 percent of their crimes were drug related, and, of those who were addicts, 75 percent had a history of emotional, physical, or sexual trauma.

These women don’t need punishment, Patterson realized. They need a place to heal. He set out to reinvent the WCCC as a pu‘uhonua. In traditional Hawaiian culture, a pu‘uhonua is a sanctuary where those who break a taboo or rule, or are fleeing violent conflict, can go for forgiveness and transformation.

Daphne Ho'okano

“We go through stages in prison: denial, grief, anger, and then freedom … I got free in prison.” —former inmate and current mentor, Daphne Ho’okano.

Like many prisons, the WCCC had few programs for the inmates when Patterson arrived. Although most of the inmates were incarcerated for minor infractions and classified as minimum security, the entire inmate population of 270 was treated like the 80 prisoners requiring higher security measures. In spite of the large number of women with psychiatric ailments, there were no full-time mental-health professionals, just a part-time psychiatrist. The correctional officers were helping as they could, says Warden Patterson. Some bought crayons and coloring books with their own money so the women with mental illness would come out of their cells and join other women at tables in the courtyards.

But apart from funding for a substance abuse program, there was no money for programs to help the women rebuild their spirits and learn the job and life skills they would need to succeed on the outside. In fact, the prison budget was being cut.

So the warden turned to the larger community for help and found people in all walks of life prepared to step in.

One of the groups that responded was the Lanikai-Kailua Outdoor Circle, a local conservation group that helps inmates grow vegetables in hydroponic gardens. The greens they raise go to the prison kitchen. And together they build small, portable hydroponic gardens that inmates can take with them when they are released.

A culinary arts instructor from the Kapiolani Community College teaches cooking, and inmates who earn certificates are getting good job offers when they’re released. A welding instructor has also been teaching a class.

Although they represent only 20 percent of the state’s population, Native Hawaiians comprise 43 percent of the prison population, so Patterson, who is himself Native Hawaiian, looks for ways to help the women learn their traditions. With the help of the Honolulu Garden Club, the inmates raise taro, bananas, and sugar cane, incorporating traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices.

“We’ve forgotten how to be a village—how to depend on each other,” Patterson says. “We used to take care of the kolohe, the people who are hardheaded,” he says. “But now we don’t rely on our neighbors anymore. It’s easy to take the kolohe person and just throw them away.

“My idea is to get the community involved in bringing [the women] back into the community.”

Warden Mark Kawika photo by Sarah van Gelder

Warden Mark Kawika Patterson shows off the banana plants, taro patch, and vegetable gardens grown on prison grounds by inmates and community partners.

Photo by Sarah van Gelder for YES! Magazine.

For the Children

More than half of the women at WCCC are mothers. Children can visit the prison on weekends, if their caregivers bring them. Counselors from a local nonprofit, Keiki o ka ‘Aina —Children of the Land—observe the interactions and coach the mothers in effective parenting. The same group co-hosts picnics for the inmates and their children several times a year, featuring barbecues prepared by the inmates, games, and time for quiet conversations and hugs.

Sometimes the children’s caregivers ask the warden why the women are getting such good treatment. Many of these are relatives angry about the burden of raising children while their mothers serve time behind bars.

“I tell them it’s for the children,” the warden says. “So the children won’t wind up in prison, too.”

But the women must be making progress with the issues that got them locked up if they want to participate. “Because I’ve sent these women out, sad-faced, with seven or eight kids,” Patterson says, “and then they’re back in a week or two.”

Getting Free

One of those recently released from the WCCC is Daphne Ho‘okano, who served four years for trafficking in methamphetamines. Ho‘okano started selling drugs at age 12 and began drinking with other members of her close-knit extended family when she was 13.

“When I first came in, I pictured myself behind bars, in lockdown,” says Ho‘okano, as she recalls a map of her life she drew when she first came to prison. “There was just me all by myself, and there was no sunshine.”

Gaines booking photo
Restoring Lives? Now That’s Justice (http://www NULL.yesmagazine

40 years since prison, Patrice Gaines still fights to get free.

At first she resisted the treatment programs. “We go through stages in prison,” she says. “Denial, grief, anger, … and then freedom.”

Today, she’s setting up a mentoring program to help others getting out of WCCC. “Life doesn’t get easier just because you’re out of prison,” she says. “You need help out there, someone who walked the same walk as you, to hold your hand and guide you. That’s what drives me—to be part of the solution.”

Ho‘okano points to her new map showing her life beyond addiction and criminality. “This is me, soaring in the light,” she says. “I got free in prison.”

With teachers and mentors from the community pitching in, Patterson believes other inmates can likewise find their way to freedom.

“I like to take first steps that have never been done before,” Patterson says. “Then, if no one slaps my hand, I just keep on going.” The warden’s next project? Tear up the pavement in the prison courtyards and transform these outdoor areas into lush, green gardens.

Sarah van Gelder newSarah van Gelder wrote this article for Beyond Prisons (http://www NULL.yesmagazine, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine. She visited the Women’s Community Correctional Center in February along with YES! board member Puanani Burgess.


Restoring Lives: Now That’s Justice

Forty years since prison, Patrice Gaines still fights to get free.
by Patrice Gaines
posted Jun 08, 2011


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PEEK INSIDE (http://www NULL.yesmagazine NULL.html?ica=Peek_txt_PeekInside&icl=Issues_spreadcaption) THE SUMMER 2011 ISSUE OF YES! MAGAZINE

It was the summer of 2009. I was on my second day of work for the U.S. Census Bureau, knocking on doors in rural South Carolina.

My cell phone rang. It was my supervisor.

“Patrice, headquarters called me and told me to send you home immediately and to take back all government property,” she said. “I don’t know why.”

The more time I spent in prisons, the more I came to believe that there had to be a way to keep our streets safe without throwing people away.

She knew me as a 61-year-old gray-haired mother, a former Washington Post reporter, an author and motivational speaker. She knew nothing about me 40 years ago, when I was a 21-year-old heroin user. I knew exactly why they were sending me home: I am a convicted felon.

In 1970, I spent part of a summer in jail for a drug charge and received five years probation. But that was just the beginning. In the decades since, I have learned what it’s like to try to change your life in a fearful society that believes it’s safest to lock up or discard anyone who has ever made a criminal mistake or had a problem with addiction. And I have learned that there’s another way—a way that offers the possibility of restoring dignity and hope both to the people who make mistakes and those victimized by crime.

Gaines booking photo

Patrice Gaines shows her booking photo from Mecklenburg County Jail. Now, decades later, she teaches there.

Photo by Diedra Laird for YES! Magazine.

Throwaway People

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that one in 32 adults in the United States is behind bars or on probation or parole. One quarter of the prison population is locked up for nonviolent drug offenses (http://www NULL.yesmagazine, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Each time a person is locked away behind bars, it leaves a void in a family, neighborhood, or community (http://www NULL.yesmagazine Most often, the burden of incarceration falls on communities of color. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a leading organization promoting alternatives to incarceration, writes, “The war on drugs has become a war on families, a war on public health, and a war on our constitutional rights.”

“We are exiling millions of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters—making them missing persons,” says Carol Fennelly, director of Hope House, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that helps children stay connected with incarcerated parents.

I was lucky. I was becoming an addict when I was convicted. The system that sent me to jail did nothing to address my drug problem (http://www NULL.yesmagazine It put me on probation and ordered me to pay more than $2,000 in fines, which only made me more bitter. I was a single mother who could not find a job because of my criminal record. I did not see any connection between the high fines and my behavior. I did not see how I was expected to dig myself out of the hole I was in.

Anyone labeled an “offender” or “ex-con” has a difficult time finding employment. Even though I served a short sentence, once I got out of jail, I could not find a job. I didn’t know how to answer the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Some days I lied; some days I told the truth.

Ban the Box (http://www NULL.yesmagazine
Ban the Box for a Fair Chance (http://www NULL.yesmagazine

Breaking through “tough on crime” policies to give all Americans a chance at employment.

If I lied, I usually got fired within two weeks when the results of the background check came in. If I told the truth, I didn’t get past the interview.

I searched for a job for at least three months before I finally received a break: A woman at a mental health center took a chance and hired me to work as a clerk in the business office in spite of my criminal record. Over the next several years, I took creative writing courses at night, got accepted into a journalism training program, and eventually became a newspaper reporter.

But I have never forgotten that those doors probably would never have opened without the woman who was brave enough to give me a chance.

Restoring Lives: Now That’s Justice

Forty years since prison, Patrice Gaines still fights to get free.


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Patrice Gaines photo by Diedra Laird

Author Patrice Gaines at her home in North Carolina. Once a heroin addict, Gaines is now a successful journalist and motivational speaker.

Photo by Diedra Laird for YES! Magazine.

Finding Real Justice

Years later, as a reporter at the Washington Post, I wrote my autobiography, Laughing in the Dark, and started giving motivational speeches and running workshops for women in prisons around the country.

The more time I spent in prisons, the more I came to believe that there had to be a way to keep our streets safe without throwing people away. Everywhere I turned, I saw myself. I met women, most of them mothers, serving too much time for crimes (embezzlement, check fraud, prostitution, burglary) committed because, like me, they had a drug problem.

Then I discovered what I had been looking for—an alternative to incarceration called restorative justice.

In restorative justice, all of the parties impacted by an offense—offender, victim, and community—are involved in determining a resolution that addresses the harm caused by the crime. Restorative justice acknowledges that crime is about more than breaking the law: Therefore, the resolution is about more than simple punishment.

In North America, restorative justice has roots in the very communities that have been hurt most by the prison system. There is evidence that similar approaches were used by West African slaves brought to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia and by Native Americans.

While researching restorative justice, I found cases such as one in Norfolk, Va., where a youth stole his parents’ car, crashed it into another woman’s car, and ran. Instead of serving time in juvenile detention, a restorative justice program allowed him to work and pay the woman back for damage to her car and income she lost while her injuries prevented her from working. The youth and the victim met, and he was able to see the connection between his bad decisions and the harm he had caused. It struck me that he received what I missed. He was given work to help him pay his restitution. The process was respectful to everyone: The young man left changed but not labeled a criminal.

I had to put all of the pieces together myself: find a way to repair the harm I caused, forgive myself, and be a part of the community again—a process that took years.

I met Morris Jenkins, a criminal justice scholar at the University of Toledo. Jenkins’ work demonstrates how communities have historically resolved crime. The Sea Islands have preserved much of the unique Gullah culture of the West Africans who were brought there as slaves generations ago. Jenkins found that before there was a bridge from the islands to the mainland, the island people used restorative justice to settle civil disputes and some criminal complaints. “They called it the Just Law,” Jenkins told me recently. “One of the ladies in her 90s told me a story about how they used to have these community meetings at faith houses—little shacks, not churches. They would bring together the offender and his folks, and victims and their folks, and the elders—and they would come up with a resolution.”

As I investigated these stories, I realized restorative justice offered everything my experience with the corrections system did not. I had wanted to change my life, so I could be a good daughter, sister, and mother. But I didn’t know how to change. Being on probation, paying restitution, and being disregarded when I applied for a job did not address my desire to be a good person or help boost my self-esteem. The punishment and judgment against me crippled me even more.

Once I committed my crime, I never felt as if I was part of a community. No one saw the power in getting me to realize the harm I had caused to my family. My parents were ashamed. I disappointed friends and neighbors who had helped me over the years. I knew that some of them probably even felt I had brought shame to our close-knit neighborhood. No one ever considered finding a way for me to give back, to feel forgiven and accepted again. I had to put all of the pieces together myself—find a way to repair the harm I caused, forgive myself, and be a part of the community again—a process that took years.

Gaines teaching photo by Diedra Laird

Gaines teaching women at Mecklenburg County Jail.

Photo by Diedra Laird for YES! Magazine.

Transforming the System

Over the years since I discovered restorative justice, the number of programs has grown slowly. Today, as federal and local governments search for ways to save money, more attention is being paid to alternatives to incarceration. Many restorative justice programs are now operating in partnership with the court system.

My friends, Ivy and Saleem Hylton, receive clients referred by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency in Washington, D.C. The couple co-founded Youth and Families in Crisis, which runs innovative restorative justice sessions in Prince George’s County, Md.

The Hyltons have seen incredible changes in former perpetrators of violent crimes who have attended their restorative justice sessions. They teach relaxation and meditation to clients to give them tools for controlling their emotions and refocusing their attention. Using a restorative justice practice from Native American traditions, they hold discussion circles in which each person has an opportunity to speak without interruption and learns to truly hear and respect others, often for the first time.

I stand before these students and the women who are locked up as an example of the distance one person can travel in a lifetime.

I spoke with Antonio Addison, who spent 15 years in prison for a murder conviction: He believes participating in the circles and learning to meditate has saved his life.

“We started with prayer and then the circle,” said Addison. “Some spoke up; some were not open. I would share my deepest emotions. The only peace I had felt in my life was when I was in the hole in prison, in solitary.”

Addison found he could create a feeling of peace by using sounds introduced to him at the sessions, such as the sound of the ocean or soft bells. “I would play the CDs to relieve stress before I went to sleep. Then I started using them when I got upset or angry, and I found they relieved me of those things so [my emotions] didn’t build up and explode.”

In one year, with the Hyltons’ help, Addison accomplished something he could not do in 15 years of incarceration: He is able to control his anger before it explodes into rage. Now, at 41, Addison is married, has two-year-old twins, is a supervisor for a major utility company, and gives back by volunteering with the Hyltons, encouraging new participants by sharing his story and answering their questions.

Restoring Hope and Imagination

Five years ago I co-founded a nonprofit organization, The Brown Angel Center, which helps women transition from prison to the community. We run workshops for the women in the Mecklenburg County Jail in Charlotte, N.C. A couple of months ago, I was teaching the women about restorative justice. They sat silent, intrigued.

“We need that here,” one said.

“It makes so much sense,” said another.

At the jail, the women are waiting to be sentenced or to begin long prison terms. They are separated from their children, and some have already lost custody because their sentences are too long to allow them to continue parenting. One thing hasn’t changed since I started speaking in prisons 16 years ago: Most women I meet are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. Restorative justice would help them; prison time does not.

Spoon Jackson
Voices of Compassion (http://www NULL.yesmagazine

Personal stories of life beyond bars.

Meanwhile, restorative justice practitioners say we have just begun to use our creativity to develop inventive programs to address crime. I speak at colleges around the country, encouraging a new generation of leaders to consider applying their talents to create a new model of justice. I stand before these students and the women who are locked up as an example of the distance one person can travel in a lifetime.

Dressed in my best business suit, I hold up my mug shot to illustrate to them that you can never know what a person might become, what potential they have within. My photo shows me at 21, a baby-faced girl with a large afro and a sign hanging around her neck that says, “Charlotte Mecklenburg NC, 19 Jun 70, 70 – 90.”

“This is what a drug addict looks like,” I say. “This is what a teacher looks like. This is what an author looks like. This is what a mother looks like.”

Patrice Gaines wrote this article for Beyond Prisons (http://www NULL.yesmagazine, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Patrice is the author of Moments of Grace: Meeting the Challenge to Change (http://www NULL.powells and Laughing in the Dark : From Colored Girl to Woman of Color—A Journey from Prison to Power (http://www NULL.powells She is based in South Carolina.


PEEK INSIDE (http://www NULL.yesmagazine NULL.html?ica=Peek_txt_PeekInside&icl=Issues_spreadcaption) THE SUMMER 2011 ISSUE OF YES! MAGAZINE

The early 19th-century literary figure Thomas de Quincey was an opium user. “The subtle powers lodged in this mighty drug,” he enthused, “tranquilize all irritations of the nervous system … stimulate the capacities of enjoyment … sustain through twenty-four hours the else drooping animal energies … O just, subtle and all-conquering opium … Thou only givest these gifts to man; and thou hast the keys of Paradise.” A patient of mine in Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside said it more plainly: “The reason I do drugs is so that I don’t feel the f***ing feelings I feel when I don’t do drugs.”

All drug addicts, even (or perhaps especially) the abject and marginalized street user, seek in their habit the same paradise de Quincey rhapsodized: a sense of comfort, vitality, and freedom from pain. It’s a doomed search that puts in peril their health, societal position, dignity, and freedom. “I’m not afraid of death,” another patient told me. “I’m more afraid of life.” What kind of despair could lead someone to value short-term pain relief over life itself? And what might be the source of such despair?

Not Choice or Genes

In North America, two assumptions inform social attitudes toward addiction. First is the notion that addiction is a result of individual choice, of personal failure, a view that underlies the legal approach toward substance dependence (http://www NULL.yesmagazine If the behavior is a matter of choice, then it makes sense to punish or deter it by means of legal sanctions, including incarceration for mere possession. The second perspective is the medical model that sees addiction as an inherited disease of the brain. This view at least has the virtue of not blaming the afflicted person—after all, people cannot help what genes they inherit—and it also offers the possibility of compassionate treatment.

What kind of despair could lead someone to value short-term pain relief over life itself? And what might be the source of such despair?

What the choice and heredity hypo­theses share in common is that they take society off the hook. Neither compels us to consider how a person’s experience and social position contribute to a predisposition for addiction. If oppressed or marginalized populations suffer a disproportionate share of addiction’s burden—as they do, here and elsewhere—it must be due to their faulty decision-making or to their flawed genes. The heredity and choice-based models also spare us, conveniently, from looking at how our social environment supports, or does not support, the parents of young children, and at how social attitudes and policies burden, stress, and exclude certain segments of the population and thereby increase their propensity for addiction.

Another, starker view emerges when we listen to the life histories of substance abusers and look at the ample research data.

Addictions always originate in unhappiness, even if hidden. They are emotional anesthetics; they numb pain. The first question—always—is not “Why the addiction?” but “Why the pain?” The answer was summed up with crude eloquence, scrawled on the wall of my patient Anna’s room: “Any place I went to, I wasn’t wanted. And that bites large.”

“A Warm, Soft Hug”

For 12 years I was staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a nonprofit, harm-reduction facility in the Downtown Eastside, an area with an addict population of 3,000 to 5,000. Most of the Portland’s clients are addicted to cocaine, crystal meth, alcohol, opiates like heroin, or tranquilizers—or to any combination of these things.

“The first time I did heroin,” one of my patients, a 27-year-old sex-trade worker, once told me, “it felt like a warm, soft hug.” In a phrase, she summed up the deep psychological and chemical cravings that make some people vulnerable to substance dependence.

Contrary to popular myth, no drug is inherently addictive. Only a small percentage of people who try alcohol or cocaine or even crystal meth go on to addictive use. What makes those people vulnerable? According to current brain research and developmental psychology, chemical and emotional vulnerability are the products not of genetic programming but of life experience. Most of the human brain’s growth occurs after birth, and so physical and emotional interactions determine much of our neurological development—which brain areas will develop and how well, which patterns will be encoded, and so on. As such, each brain’s circuitry and chemistry reflect individual life experiences as much as inherited tendencies.

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Needle exchange photo by D.M. Gillis

Makeshift needle exchange in Vancouver, B.C., which has the highest heroin death rate in North America.

Photo by D.M. Gillis.

Drugs affect the brain by binding to receptors on nerve cells. Opiates work on our built-in receptors for endorphins—the body’s own, natural opiate-like substances that participate in many functions, including regulation of pain and mood. Similarly, tranquilizers of the benzodiazepine class, such as Valium, exert their effect at the brain’s natural benzodiazepine receptors. Other brain chemicals, including dopamine and serotonin, affect such diverse functions as mood, incentive- and reward-seeking behavior, and self-regulation. These, too, bind to specific, specialized receptors on neurons.

But the number of receptors and level of brain chemicals are not set at birth. Infant rats who get less grooming from their mothers end up with fewer natural “benzo” receptors in the part of the brain that controls anxiety. Brains of infant monkeys separated from their mothers for only a few days are measurably deficient in dopamine.

It is the same with human beings. Endorphins are released in the infant’s brain when there are warm, non-stressed, calm interactions with the parenting figures. Endorphins, in turn, promote the growth of receptors and nerve cells, and the discharge of other important brain chemicals. The fewer endorphin-enhancing experiences in infancy and early childhood, the greater the need for external sources. Hence, a greater vulnerability to addictions.

Chronicles of Pain

What sets skid row addicts apart is the extreme degree of stress they had to endure early in life. Almost all women now inhabiting “Canada’s addiction capital”—as the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has been called—suffered sexual assaults in childhood, as did many of the males. Childhood memories of serial abandonment or severe physical and psychological abuse are common. My patients’ histories are chronicles of pain upon pain.

Feeling alone, the sense that there has never been anyone with whom to share their deepest emotions, is universal among drug addicts.

Carl, a 36-year-old Native man, was banished from one foster home after another, had dishwashing liquid poured down his throat for using foul language at age 5, and was tied to a chair in a dark room to control his hyperactivity. When angry at himself he gouges his foot with a knife as punishment.

But what of families where there was not abuse, but love; where parents did their best to provide their children with a secure, nurturing home? After all, addictions also arise in such families. The unseen factor here is the stress the parents themselves lived under, even if they did not recognize it. That stress could come from relationship problems or from outside circumstances such as economic pressure or political disruption.

The most frequent source of hidden stress is the parents’ own childhood histories that saddle them with emotional baggage they are not conscious of. What we are not aware of in ourselves, we pass on to our children. Stressed, anxious, or depressed parents have great difficulty initiating enough of those emotionally rewarding, endorphin-liberating interactions with their children. Later in life such children may experience a hit of heroin as the “warm, soft hug” my patient described: What they didn’t get enough of before, they can now give themselves through a needle.

Unconditional Love

The U.S.-based Adverse Childhood Experiences studies have demonstrated beyond doubt that childhood stresses, including factors such as abuse, addiction in the family, a rancorous divorce, and so on, provide the template for addictions later in life. It doesn’t follow, of course, that all addicts were abused or that all abused children become addicts, but the correlations are inescapable.

If we look closely, we’ll see that addictive patterns characterize the behaviors of many members of society, including high-functioning and respectable citizens. As a workaholic doctor, I’ve had my own non-substance addictions to feverish professional activity and also to shopping. In my case, I can trace that back to emotional losses I suffered as a ­Jewish infant in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the last years of World War II. My children, in turn, were subjected to the stresses of a family headed by a workaholic father who was physically present but emotionally absent.

Norm Stamper
Drug Warrior No More (http://www NULL.yesmagazine

Seattle’s ex-police chief now fights to end the war on drugs.

Feeling alone, the sense that there has never been anyone with whom to share their deepest emotions, is universal among drug addicts. That is what Anna had lamented on her wall. No matter how much love a parent has, the child does not experience being wanted unless he or she is made absolutely safe to express exactly how unhappy, or angry, or hate-filled he or she may at times feel. The sense of unconditional love, of being fully accepted even when most ornery, is what no addict ever experienced in childhood­—not because the parents did not have it to give, but simply because they were too stressed, or overworked, or beset by their own demons, or simply did not know how to transmit it to the child.

Addicts rarely make the connection between troubled childhood experiences and self-harming habits. They blame themselves—and that is the greatest wound of all, being cut off from their natural self-compassion. “I was hit a lot,” 40-year-old Wayne told me, “but I asked for it. Then I made some stupid decisions.” And would he hit a child, no matter how much that child “asked for it,” or blame that child for “stupid decisions”? “I don’t want to talk about that crap,” said this tough man, who has worked on oil rigs and construction sites and served 15 years in jail for robbery. He looked away and wiped a tear from his eyes.

Gabor MateGabor Maté adapted this article for Beyond Prisons (http://www NULL.yesmagazine, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine, from his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. (http://www NULL.powells Gabor is a Vancouver physician.

Political Paralysis in CA Regarding Prison Reform

‘Political paralysis’ in Calif. over prison reform

Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Staff Writer (mlagos null@null sfchronicle Monday, June 13, 2011

As California deeply cut spending for public schools, social services and health programs in recent years, state leaders also found themselves grappling with a court order to reduce the prison population by tens of thousands of inmates.

Some civil rights groups and criminal justice experts are now seizing on this perfect storm of chronic deficits and crowded prisons to push for wide-ranging changes to the state’s sentencing laws that would transform California’s handling of crime and punishment. The California chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups want the state to reduce drug possession and low-level, nonviolent property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and they want more community-based alternatives to incarceration.

Yet even modest changes have trouble getting legislative support from Republicans and Democrats alike in California – even as bipartisan groups of policymakers in conservative states such as Texas, Mississippi and Kentucky embrace sentencing reform and alternatives to incarceration.

“There’s a political paralysis here – people are afraid,” said former state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, whose 2007 bill to create an independent sentencing commission passed the Senate but failed in the Democratic-dominated Assembly. “I think it’s a false fear, but they are afraid of being labeled soft on crime, so they legislate by sound bite. They don’t take up the big issues, so years pass and we are in the same predicament.”

‘Massive’ increase

California’s prison population has grown 750 percent since the Legislature passed a determinate sentencing law in the 1970s that set strict requirements. Under the law, all felonies except murder and a few others punishable by up to life in prison are subject to three possible sentences – a system that critics say politicized the sentencing process.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates over the next two years, the majority castigated California’s decision makers, saying that the “massive” increase in the prison population “is the result of political decisions made over three decades, including the shift to inflexible determinate sentencing and the passage of harsh mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws, as well as the state’s counterproductive parole system.”

The court went on to note that while “state-appointed experts have repeatedly provided numerous methods by which the state could safely reduce its prison population, their recommendations have been ignored.” The court blamed a “convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth.”

‘Get a gun, buy a dog’

Recent legislative fights bear out the courts’ contentions. Last month, a bill that would have given district attorneys the power to decide whether to charge marijuana cultivation as either a misdemeanor or felony – and save taxpayers an estimated $3.5 million a year – mustered only 24 votes in the Assembly, with much of the opposition coming from Democrats. And Gov. Jerry Brown’s (http://www NULL.sfgate proposal to send low-level, nonviolent offenders to local jails instead of state prisons has prompted howls from the right. Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Gerber (Tehama County) warned of “blood on the streets,” and Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster (Los Angeles County), said Californians need to “get a gun, buy a dog, and put an alarm system in.”

“It’s the politics of fear,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who has had mixed results in pushing prison reforms through the Legislature. “In times of fiscal crisis, when we are limited to a few choices, the question is how long can we afford to lock up ever more people for longer periods of time and still have funds for public education and higher education?”

Leno said California’s corrections budget has more than doubled as a percentage of the state’s general fund spending since he entered the Legislature in 2003.

Change opposed

Barry Krisberg, a criminal justice expert at UC Berkeley, said the California District Attorneys Association has enormous sway over lawmakers and opposes most sentencing changes. He noted that the federal government and 23 states have sentencing commissions, which tend to increase penalties for violent crimes and decrease penalties for nonviolent offenses.

“The question is, what’s wrong with us? Are we more conservative than Virginia? Are we more irrational than North Carolina?” he said. “It’s the politics, and it’s the dilemma of this state. … Unlike almost all the other states, we have been unable to get the two parties to sit down and cut a deal. It’s not the prison guards – they are not standing in the way. It’s not victims’ rights groups. It’s really the District Attorneys Association.”

An official at the District Attorneys Association did not return a call seeking comment, but association officials have in the past said they would support a sentencing commission so long as it is a purely advisory body.

‘Willie Horton’ syndrome

Politicians also fear the “Willie Horton” syndrome, Krisberg said – a reference to the Massachusetts felon who did not return from a weekend prison furlough program and brutally raped a woman. Then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis’ support for the program and response to the incident helped doom his White House bid.

“Democrats are scared of being used in the next campaign,” Krisberg said. “The minute we made determinate sentencing (the law) through the Legislature, we made sentencing a political issue. That’s been going on for 30 years, and it’s hard to turn around after 30 years.”

That’s not the case everywhere, said Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States. He said states such as Texas, Mississippi and Kentucky have taken notice of the fact “that states can reduce their incarceration rate and also have less crime.”

Texas, for example, rejected a proposal in 2007 to spend billions of dollars to add 17,000 more prison beds, and instead increased grants to local probation officials to help keep offenders out of prison, he said. The result? An estimated $2 billion in savings, a 25 percent drop in recidivism and a crime rate that has dropped to 1970s levels, Gelb said.

It’s a political winner, he said, because numerous polls show support, across party lines, for lower punishments for nonviolent offenders and for spending money on re-entry and rehabilitation programs in local communities. He and others pointed to the “Right on Crime” initiative, headed by conservative luminaries including Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, which argues for “more cost-effective approaches that enhance public safety.”

Polls indicate support

It’s not just national polls that illustrate public support for change, said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. A poll his group commissioned in April showed solid support for drug penalty change in the Golden State – 66 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats in California said possession of a small amount of any type of illegal drug should be a misdemeanor, not a felony. The poll, which surveyed 800 likely voters, had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Hopper and others point to what they say are small victories in recent years, including the passage of a bill that would let offenders who are completely incapacitated be released on medical parole and a measure that funded local parole departments so they could institute programs proven to reduce recidivism.

While the first inmate up for medical parole was rejected for release, the probation measure kept thousands of people from returning to prison in its first year, according to state officials. Both laws were authored by Leno.

“People are ready to support reforms,” Hopper said.

E-mail Marisa Lagos at (mlagos null@null sfchronicle (http://sfgate NULL.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/06/13/MN1P1JSCBV NULL.DTL)

This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Solitary Confinement for 40 Years

LONDON — Two US prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement for nearly 40 years should have their isolation ended immediately, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, have been held in solitary at Louisiana State Penitentiary ever since they were convicted of murdering a prison guard in 1972, the London-based human rights group said.

Their four-decade ordeal “is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty’s Americas deputy director.

“We are not aware of any other case in the United States where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time.”

The pair are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is “cruel and unusual punishment” and so violates the US constitution.

“The treatment of these men by the state of Louisiana is a clear breach of US commitment to human rights,” said Marengo.

“Their cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and while that takes place authorities must ensure that their treatment complies with international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners.”

Amnesty said the men were confined to their cells, measuring two metres (6.5 feet) by three metres, for 23 hours a day, and have never been allowed to work or have access to education.

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