Can a Motley Crew of Felons Save California from Burning?
You always plead. Statistically speaking. There’s literally no end—today in the paper, they’ve got a quote from a guy doing life for armed robbery—to what they can do to you if you fight, and anyway most of the time they have the documents, the surveillance videos, the gun under the passenger seat, and you take what they give you. Because the number they come to you with—ten years with half, eight years at 80 percent, it’s all very baroque—is only the beginning. The higher the number, the rougher the yard, and in California, this second set of numbers—level-three yards, level-four yards—can denote their own kind of punishment.
Justin pled, and he had never heard of the Conservation Camp program when he and his wife, Kelly, were sentenced in Fresno County, California, for running a massive mortgage-fraud operation.
“They came into court wearing street clothes,” read the local ABC affiliate’s story on the hearing in which Justin was sentenced to almost ten years in prison, “but they left in handcuffs.” The article ran with a photo of the pair in court: Kelly looks straight at the judge, grim and defiant. Justin, turning abjectly toward his wife, slouching in a green polo under which protrudes a hint of potbelly, looks broken.
When I met him in August, Justin—who asked that I not use his last name—was wearing an inmate’s orange jumpsuit, though we were 20 miles from the nearest prison. He was sitting at one of the long plastic dining tables in the center of the Tuolumne City Incident Command Post, an impossibly busy firefighting base built in a park in the center of tiny Tuolumne City, on the edge of the Stanislaus National Forest in California’s Western Sierra.
Corporations Are Cashing in on California’s Prison Overcrowding Crisis
For years, California’s massive, out-of-control inmate population has been a cash cow for the prison industry. Now, with the state being forced by the courts to reduce the number of men and women it’s keeping in boxes, the prison profiteers—including both corporations and prison guard unions—are trying to squeeze every cent they can out of the government.
The number of prisoners in California peaked in 2006 at 163,000, which was far too many for the system’s 33 detention centers to handle—inmates were sleeping on bunk beds in gyms converted into improvised dorms. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that these conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment and ordered the state to reduce the prison population to 110,000.
Officials have been trying to get that number down by shipping inmates to county jails and out-of-state facilities, as well as letting a few go out on parole. But in late September, the state still had nearly 10,000 more bodies in prison than the courts want. Governor Jerry Brown has been frantically negotiating with judges to give him more time to comply with their order; simultaneously, he’s been desperately seeking a way to reduce the prison population without letting anyone go free. Most recently, he cut a deal to pay private prison contractor the GEO Group $150 million over five years to take 1,400 inmates off the state’s hands.
The white beaches, it turns out, are white because they’re made up of the pulverized bones of millions of dead fish.
I Went to California’s Post-Apocalyptic Beach Town
The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake by volume, exists entirely by accident.
It was created in the early 1900s after a heavy rain caused the Colorado River to burst through the banks of an irrigation canal, sending millions of gallons of water into a previously dried out lake bed in the California desert.
A screenshot from an early Salton Sea promotional film (via)
Initially, the new, giant, inland sea was a blessing.
In the 50s and 60s, it was a booming tourist attraction. Marketed as a “miracle in the desert,” it became Palm Springs but with beaches. It would regularly attract over half a million visitors annually.
Yacht clubs sprang up on the shores, people flocked to fish and waterski, and stars like the Beach Boys and Sonny Bono would visit to drive speedboats and swim.
Property was so in demand that real estate agents would fly people up in light aircraft and sell them property from the air without ever landing to view it.
But it wouldn’t last.
The sea quickly became something of an ecological nightmare soup. The Salton Sea is surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land, and water from this land runs off into the sea, taking with it salt and fertilizers and pesticides. By the 70s, the water was becoming too hostile to sustain much of any kind of life, and the shoreline became littered with thousands and thousands of dead fish.
The smell of these dead fish combined with rotting algal blooms, making the water smell so bad that nobody wanted to go anywhere near it.
The Beach Boys left. Sonny Bono left. Everyone else left, and the Salton Sea fell into misery.
Just Close Down California’s Prisons Already
I point out as often as possible that I think my incarcerated experience differed greatly from the average locked-up cracker. First and foremost, New York State, where I was behind bars, has one of the more efficient and regulated prison systems around—you never see its prisons on any of those trashy Shit Is So Crazy in Jail reality TV shows that are everywhere these days. And while most states are dealing with overcrowding in their prisons, New York is closing facilities, which is probably why I’ve been at a lot of sports where most of the guys were in a single bunk. I’ve seen these poor bastards on TV who are TRIPLE BUNKING about ten inches away from the next triplet of stinky anuses, and the cubicles are in a medium-sized room stuffed with 300 dudes, some of whom are bound to be real undesirables. A big dorm in New York prisons only had around 60 guys and that was like hell on earth to me, so relatively speaking I was lucky.
Meanwhile, in California they’ve been desperately trying to figure out what to do with theirfucked-up, overfull prisons—they’re even letting some old guys out early, I heard. FYI, this is what inmates fantasize about… I’ve had many dreams where I’m chillin’ with no pants on and bags of shit weaved into my hair so I don’t lose them and then the CO yells, “BURYKILL! ON THE RELEASE! YOU GOIN HOME, CRACKA!”
What happens to the men and women who get released when the system spits ‘em out? I bet the grant writers are getting fuckin’ busy trying to get the government to shell out ducats for halfway houses and rehabs, and maybe they’ll start putting some of the zanier heads in hospitals for the mentally handicapped, where they shoulda been in the first place.
Pee-Wee Herman’s Dinosaurs Are Actually a Creationist Museum
The Cabazon Dinosaurs are a couple of giant concrete dinosaurs located out in the desert near Palm Springs, California.
As always with these type of places, the “facts” are presented in dense, impenetrable blocks of text. Like the sign pictured above, which contains easy-breezy sentences like: “Evidently a tectonic event fluidized an unconsolidated sand deposit.”
Presumably they do this in the hopes that people won’t spend too long picking apart what they’re saying, and just assume that the point they’re making is true.
This museum differs from other creationist museums in one major way, though. As they believe that dinosaurs probably still exist. Here’s why:
-The Loch Ness Monster, which is actually a plesiosaur, was spotted 52 times in 1933 alone.
- In 1910, the New York Herald ran an article titled, “Is a Brontosaurus Roaming Africa’s Wilds?”
Thousands of California Prisoners Are on Hunger Strike Right Now
According to some estimates, 30,000 prisoners in California were on hunger strike as of last week, and thousands more still are. Contacted by VICE, a spokesman for the California prison system refused to confim the 30,000 number. If it’s true it would make the current strike the largest in California history. “I don’t even know where that number came from,” he said, insisting that the hunger strike could not be properly considered to have started until late Wednesday, because the state doesn’t acknolwedge that what it calls a “hunger strike disturbance” exists until inmates have refused nine consecutive meals. “Until then,’” the spokesman said, “we don’t know if it’s a disturbance or if they just don’t like tacos.”
Officially, more than twenty-five hundred prisoners were still refusing meals as of this week. The numbers dropped over the weekend—down from 30,000 a week prior and from 7,600 on Friday. But even that total was still more than the 6,000 who participated in the last, partially succesful, hunger strike to hit the state, in 2011.
Even if you’ve heard about the protests—they’ve been widely covered in California, but briefly mentioned, if at all, nationally—you might be forgiven for not quite understanding what it’s all about. Because California’s prisons have been all over the news, recently: There are the nearly ten thousand prisoners a three-judge panel has ordered to be released, to alleviate overcrowding in the system. There are the 150 female prisoners who were by some accounts coerced into accepting sterilizations, and the doctor who suggested the cost of the sterilizations would save the state future welfare payments. There are the thousands of prisoners who adifferent Federal overseer has ordered to be moved out of the Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons, where over the last several years dozens of high-risk prisoners may have been killed by Valley Fever. There is the mental health care that has been found to be illegally deficient in the CDCR system, and the overcrowding in the system that was found, separately, by the Supreme Court no less, to have created a situation in which medical care in California prisons was of such a poor quality that it fell below the 8th Amendment standard barring cruel and unusual punishment. All of this has been in the news recently, and all of it has contributed to the spread of the strike to dozens of facilities across the system.
Exploring the Interior Design of Los Angeles Weed Clinics
If you own a store that looks great and people feel comfortable shopping there, nice work. If you’re operating that store under constant threat of raids and total shutdown, years of stressy politics, in-fighting, and a host of thug-life problems associated with selling a product that was until recently only available on the black market, then by all means take my seat on the bus. It takes a specific type of courage to run a good vibes medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, and it’s time this was acknowledged.
Ever since Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago, Los Angeles City Council and the State of California have been shuffling regulation responsibilities back and forth, resulting in a constantly shifting patchwork of laws that make it pretty much impossible for marijuana dispensaries to draw up a solid business plan, much less think about feng shui. So it’s no wonder the typical LA dispensary has all the charm of a check cashing place: located in a mini-mall; sad, off-brand ATM in a linoleum corner; marker-stained dry erase board; bulletproof glass; a pleather couch, etc. Most dispensary owners just do not feel up to the task of interior design.
But luckily, there are some out there who do make the effort, and they give us a glimpse of what the future would look like if all the hasslers would just give it a rest and let dispensary culture evolve past the perpetually adolescent state of fighting for the right to exist. We took a tour of some of LAs more stylish dispensaries to see how they’re staying fabulous in the face of adversity.
“Everything you see is from Craigslist and is reupholstered with Duct tape every six months,” said Mandy atLA Confidential, a charming, nook-heavy hash bar on Melrose. They have a piano, jazz on Sundays, and a tiny stage where patients have been known to do some post-dab performing.
Dr. Sona Patel’s (aka Dr. 420) clinic in East Hollywood is the Versailles of Los Angeles marijuana clinics, complete with chandeliers and about a zillion gilded mirrors.