07 Feb 09
I am grateful to Sandy in Scottsdale for the following questions.
We all make mistakes, that is life, if you feel you need some sort of redemption fair play to you. You have done your penance as far as I am concerned! I think from the things I have read about you and seen in an interview, you realized you had done something wrong and knew you had to pay the consequences. Your crusade if you will, is more because of the conditions you experienced correct?
The blog came about because of the conditions at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Madison Street jail. Returning from a court appearance, I asked a guard how Arpaio got away with flagrantly violating federal law by maintaining such subhuman conditions. He responded, “The world has no idea what really goes on in here.” I decided that was about to change.
The blog now is more about providing a platform for our friends inside to get their voices and stories heard. I promised them I would keep it going, so they can enjoy the positive feedback like I did. It is about providing inside perspectives, so people worldwide, especially the families and friends of prisoners, can see what prison is really about. It is about continuing to expose the wrongdoings of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, so that pressure to change the illegal conditions is maintained on his regime – and they are slowly being improved. It is also about documenting my progress in society.
If I had to go do jail and was faced with a life sentenced like you were originally facing, and then even 9 years, I would been beyond suicidal, beyond being able to cope. You seemed so calm and centered. Were you in shock? Do you feel like you had a general understanding of the prison population/culture due to your dealings with drug dealers, etc?
Yes, I was in shock. The shock was plastered all over my face for months after my arrest, according to the prisoners. But the initial shock slowly faded away, and I adapted, like most people do. There were also constant ups and downs with my legal battle that manifested more shock. Like the time I learned from the New Times I was facing a life sentence. Or when the prosecutor insinuated that if I dared take my case to trial and lost, the judge would surely stack my charges and give me a 200-year sentence. Such developments do lead to suicidal thoughts, but like Nietzsche pointed out: The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night. You certainly get over these shocks, and your survival instinct sees you through.
Knowing criminals before my arrest gave me no understanding of prison. Prison culture is so far removed from the norms of society, you have to experience it for your mind to fathom it. I was unprepared for the daily mayhem orchestrated by the racist gangs and needle junkies who run Arpaio’s jails. But just like the shock wears off, you get desensitised to the constant violence. My mentor, Sally Hinchcliffe, recently read the draft of my jail chapters, and remarked what a different person I had become a year into my journey. I went from shocked and frightened for my life, to possessing a casual expectation of the gangs smashing people.
Now, I have not read all your journals, but you felt that life at Arpaio’s jails was too inhuman. Some aspire to the theory that you are not there to be pampered, you committed a crime therefore you should not be pampered. Where is the line in the sand?
My decisions to commit crimes put me in pink boxer shorts. I take full responsibility, and I deserved to be punished, definitely not pampered. But as surely as a jail should not be a holiday camp, it also should not be a torture chamber. Arpaio’s jail system is the latter. I experienced jail conditions that were far below the guidelines established in federal law governing the housing of unsentenced inmates. It’s these extremely dangerous conditions and the concomitant deaths and injuries that have led to Arpaio becoming the most sued sheriff in America. Arpaio’s policies have been a disaster for the taxpayers in two ways. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has paid out $50 million in lawsuits and there are lawsuits worth $50 million more pending. The crime rate in Phoenix is 50% higher than the national average according to FBI statistics. Arpaio treats people like animals and they return to society like animals and commit more crimes. To give you more comprehensive information on how dangerous Arpaio’s jail system is, here’s the link to some documentary footage, which includes an excellent interview with attorney Michael Manning who expresses far more eloquently than me what Arpaio is really about: publicity at the expense of safety.
One last question, how may people do you believe, if given the opportunity could be rehabilitated and want to contribute to society in a positive way and what portion are a lost cause?
There are many prisoners who could be rehabilitated, but only token resources are allocated to prisoner education. In Utah, a program was introduced offering higher degrees to prisoners, and none of the prisoners who earned higher degrees reoffended. The program was pulled due to budget cuts. The way the prison system in America is being run is an exceptional waste of human talent. America’s prisons create enemies of society, which of course keeps the prison-industrial complex in business.
Click here to read my previous Question Time.
I am moving to London on Monday, snow permitting. Whether or not I succeed in London, I shall be posting my progress to Jon's Jail Journal. Also, I have letters in from Xena and Two Tonys, which will be posted soon.
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Shaun P. Attwood