Imagine how bummed you’d be if you were a normal dude who couldn’t get a girlfriend and then you saw this picture of 79-year-old Charles Manson and his 25-year-old fiancée.
Barrett Brown Is Bored Out of His Mind in Jail
Earlier today, Barrett Brown’s legal counsel sent us this letter on behalf of their imprisoned client. They’ve told us to expect more writing from Barrett Brown in the near future.
Like a lot of pompous, insufferable people, I didn’t watch television when I was previously “out in the world,” as my fellow inmates say. And if I were being held in a regular federal facility like a normal detainee, I wouldn’t be exposed to it while incarcerated if I preferred to avoid it. This is because federal prisons (along with holding facilities where inmates await trial) are relatively humane affairs equipped with separate areas for various activities—for instance, sleeping and watching television are done in distinctly different rooms. The problem is that all the federal facilities here in the Northern District of Texas were filled up with inmates awaiting trial or sentencing when I became incarcerated. This isn’t simply because Texans are an inherently criminal bunch—although of course they are—but rather because, in addition to prosecuting actual crimes against property and persons, the federal government is also in a great big contest with the Chinese to see who can imprison the most people for bullshit non-crimes like selling drugs.
At the same time, Congress has decided that the best way of dealing with illegal immigrants from Mexico who threaten to increase our GDP is to imprison them at great expense to the public. There are other factors at play here, all of which point to the ongoing degeneracy of the American people. Suffice to say, because of Texas’ booming incarceration industry, I was not one of those lucky-ducky federal inmates who got to kick back in a real live federal facility—because these babies are filled to the brim. Rather, I’m “housed,” as they call it, in a privately-run city facility used for government overflow. And this place is filled up, too. Nor was it built to house people for more than a few days or perhaps weeks; until a couple of years ago, it functioned as a lock-up for area arrestees while they awaited transit elsewhere. As such, my fellow inmates and I spend our time in cramped eight-man cells opening on to a day room the size of the cheapest Manhattan apartment that’s shared by 24 men. A few times a week we get to go outside onto a caged concrete strip and walk back and forth for an hour. This comprises our world, and is where I’ve spent most of the past year.
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.
How to Be Vegan in Prison
I am a vegan. Nineteen years deep into a lifelong commitment to avoid eating anything from an animal. In following this moral code I have found myself at protests turned riots, donning cow costumes at meat processing conventions, and creeping into slaughterhouses in complete darkness to film the inhumane treatment of animals. When I was arrested in 1998 and faced “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act” (AETA) charges that could have put me in prison for 82 years, I chose an underground life over a potential life sentence. I became a fugitive on the run from the FBI until 2005, when I was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for releasing thousands of minks from fur farms.
While living on the lam I put as much effort into vegan dining as the FBI did into catching me. I ate seitan marinated in sesame ginger sauce and roasted red pepper hummus on sprouted grain pizza crust. I double-fisted dried strawberries and malted carob balls, drank rice shakes every morning and sipped kombucha every night. Agave nectar was my table sugar, and organic carrot-juice my wine.
Once I was thrown into a prison cell, this comfortable reality instantly evaporated. Three times a day, the slot on my cell door opened, delivering trays piled with every variety of animal flesh and byproduct. The trace amounts of iceberg lettuce barely pushed my caloric intake into the double digits. I launched a nightly letter-writing campaign, targeting anyone with influence. Everyone from the prison captain, to the kitchen manager, to Congressperson Barbara Boxer received my letters. My demands were simple: No meat, dairy, or eggs. In this one-sided negotiation process, leverage was in short supply.
After two years and seven prisons, I learned a thing or three about how to get meat-free food in prison.
The Canadian Prison System Is Keeping People Doped Up on Methadone
“Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness. Science fiction is already happening to some extent in our own society.”
Orange Is the New Black is providing lazy Netflix watchers all over the place with an opportunity to escape into the lives of prisoners, but however fashionable prison entertainment may be, the truth is that Canada’s prison system, on all levels, is pretty fucked up right now. When you look at stories of cost cutting, population growth, and the rise of inmates suffering from mental health issues, it’s hard not to shudder at what else might be going on behind bars.
Drugs, in one form or another, have always been present within the prison system, and the failed war on drugs has only made the problem worse. In the last few years, however, one drug in particular has been sounding alarm bells for prison staff: methadone.
Methadone is a synthetic-opioid similar to heroin, and is often referred to as ‘liquid-cuffs’ because the habit is so hard to kick. It comes in a liquid form, and is often mixed with Tang of all things. The drug is used to treat opioid addiction, but many users will end up being hooked on methadone itself for the rest of their lives.
Inside the Hot Box: Photographer Giles Clarke on August’s Cover Story
If you were as gobsmacked as we were the first time you saw British photojournalist Giles Clarke’s images of El Salvadorian gang prisons, you’d understand why we put one on the cover of the Hot Box Issue. The conditions are inhumane: 30 men shoved into a cage about the size of a freshman dorm room to await trial often for months at a time.
What might not jump out at you is the grinding journalistic work it takes to get access to this sort of thing. So we had VICE UK managing editor Bruno Bayley talk shop with Giles over a beer in London. They had such a good time, however, that neither of them particularly remembered their conversation, so Bruno and Giles corresponded over email this week to review. You can find Giles’s story and the rest of August’s issue of VICE online here.
VICE: Describe the days leading up to finding the cages: What did you see and shoot? Who did you meet?
Giles Clarke: I was in El Salvador with Nina Lakhani, a freelance journalist from the UK who was covering the 15-month-old “gang truce,” which was a brittle agreement between Barrio 18 and MS-13 to say the least. We began by meeting politicians, human rights groups, and “reformed” gang members who were all working to promote the truce by providing alternatives ways of life for young people.
After a few days in San Salvador itself, I went out to a gang “hotspot,” a suburb where the gangs live side-by-side and are separated by the town square. I spent an afternoon in the square taking pictures with a couple of local contacts and decided to visit the local police station to see how the truce had affected them. I asked if I could speak to someone of authority about the situation in the town.
I went on a ride-along with the police on patrols. Over the next couple of days, I went back to the town for a few more patrols and got closer to the captain, who eventually showed me the cages. While at the police station, I noticed that plates of food were being carried through the front lobby to a corridor in the back. I assumed it was for the guards.
So how did you go from interviewing media-ready politicians and NGOs to getting to see something that clearly authorities would want to hide?
In this case, it was a combination work, patience, luck, and connections in terms of getting access. I was fortunate to have met a sympathetic police captain who gave me access. I had tried official channels and was not given permission to shoot inside prisons. The authorities obviously prefer no pictures-given the conditions the prisoners are kept in. Also these cages were at the back of a provincial police station 20 miles from San Salvador. There is gang violence all over Latin America, so I assume there are “pits” like this everywhere.
The Godfather of Mexican Drug Trafficking Has Disappeared
On Friday, August 9, at the unseemly hour of two o’clock in the morning, the main gate of Puente Grande prison opened, and a godfather in the Mexican narcotics trade walked out into the darkness a free man. By then, Rafael Caro Quintero, former founder and leader of the Guadalajara Cartel, had served 28 years of a 40-year prison sentence for drug trafficking and the audacious 1985 murder of a DEA agent named Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena.
The order for Caro’s release was given by a three-judge appeals panel in his home state of Jalisco,overturning the murder conviction on a technicality. The court decided that Caro should have been tried in a state and not federal court at the time because Kiki Camarena—who worked undercover—was not officially in the US’s diplomatic corps in Mexico. With that, judges reduced his prison sentence to 15 years. Having already served 28, he was free to go.
The release of the most historically powerful and connected drug lord in modern Mexican history—a still potent symbol for US antidrug agencies—immediately aroused suspicions, and led to the Mexican attorney general to issue a warrant for a “provisional detention” after receiving a request from the United States on Wednesday of last week.
Phone Calls from Jail Are Criminally Expensive
Sometimes phones are a pain in the dick even in the real world. I remember when cell phones turned into a necessity and you could no longer fall off the grid every day just by leaving the house—I miss being able to have that freedom. People wanted to be able to connect with each other whenever they desire, and that turned into everyone being forced to be available to everyone 24/7. Walk down the street sometime and count how many people are staring at their little screens.
Not having your cell phone is such a vicious bitch when you’re locked up. Maybe it wouldn’t have been as bad 15 years ago, but now we’re so used to interacting all the time that inmates go crazy when they can’t even text their people. Dummies in the last county jail I was at did something they called “texting”—they would call someone collect then say something megaquick when the operator asked for their name, and the person on the other end would do the same thing. They’d go back and forth like this for an hour without being charged a penny, but they’d waste 50 minutes of that hour listening to recordings and pressing buttons. Meanwhile we had people who really wanted to use the pay phone waiting while these jerk-offs “texted.”
The reason the texters did that was phone calls from jails and prisons are so insanely expensive, it’s practically criminal—some folks have paid $17 for a measly 15-minute call. A couple weeks ago the FCC finally did the right thing and put a cap on how much inmates can be charged for out-of-state calls by the private carriers who rob ‘em blind. That’s important, ‘cause people in prison really have no choice but to pay whatever those predators charge, unless they want to wither away in the clink-clink without talking to anyone they know.