Pipelines and Prisoners, A Real Connection

At the heart of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is capitalism and those who are willing to do anything to make a dollar. The two multi billion dollar pipelines are being pursued by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for obvious financial benefits at the expense of Virginia waters among many other things. Their thirst for profit comes at a total disregard for how future generations will be affected by their treatment of the environment. This is a 600 mile project crossing rivers, streams, and forests and is an extreme threat to Virginia’s water supply. What has not been talked about is how prisons will be affected by this.

Some prisons are already dealing with both toxic water and water shortage problems. Many towns where prisons are located already suffer from water problems due to the enormous amounts of water used by overcrowded prisons, and prisons are frequently placed on water restrictions. What’s going to happen when the MVP is added to the equation? This is known by those who have the power to remedy the problem but the solution will affect their bottom line so they turn a blind eye to it all.

The type of mentality exemplified by Atlantic Coast Pipeline towards the environment is the same as that adopted by those who advocate Truth-In-Sentencing (TIS) which has resulted in mass incarceration. These individuals have not thought of the damage to future generations that has been caused by mass incarceration. From 1995 to present TIS is the pipeline that has desecrated our communities and proceeds to do so and I have no doubt that if the MVP is allowed, 20 years from now we will face an environmental crisis just like the one we face with mass incarceration. In the same way that the MVP will damage the natural resources, TIS has already damaged the human resources. We must recognize the connection and then work together to solve these and other problems holistically. – Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC

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What it Means to be a Prisoner of Conscience (and the struggles of being a prisoner-organizer)

On June 1, 2018 I was fired from my position as a law clerk which I’ve held for over 3 years now here at Augusta. I was told that it was because I was too much of an activist, and that I was using my job as a means to promote activism.

It all seemingly stems from 2 letters that I wrote during free time at work. The first letter was to the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) where I was requesting membership as they now accept jailhouse lawyers into the Guild. In the letter I gave them a summary of all the great work that we have been doing here in Virginia towards ending mass incarceration through prison and criminal justice reform.

I informed the Guild of the successful conference calls, rallies, Speak Outs, and mobilization for the 2019 General Assembly. I wrote about mass incarceration and the domino effect of cruel and unusual prison conditions that have resulted from Truth-In-Sentencing and prison overcrowding. I also mentioned the struggles of VAPOC and our comrade Askari Donso. The second letter was to the American Bar Association (ABA) where I was requesting information about the 47,000 barrier laws that exist across the United States so that I could share that information with the patrons of the law library.

After writing the letters I approached my supervisor, Clay Atkins, about printing the letter for me. He read the letter and then told me “no” because it was too much like activism. I told him fine, and that I would handwrite it. After talking to me he still made a copy of the document and sent it up the chain of command. About a week later I was called into his office and told that I was being fired via the instruction of the Chief of Housing and Programs and the Warden. Nothing in my letters was inflammatory nor was it in any way a breach of the security of the institution. I was simply striving to bring attention to our struggle for justice here in Virginia and I have a right, in fact, a duty to do so.

The Virginia Department of Corrections’ Director, Harold W. Clarke stated “We are in the business of helping people to be better.”

When you look at the VADOC’s “Mission” it is stated:

“We enhance the quality of life in the Commonwealth by improving public safety. We accomplish this through reintegration of sentenced men and women in our custody and care by providing supervision and control, effective programs, and reentry services in safe environments which foster positive change and growth consistent with research-based evidence, fiscal resposibility, and constitutional standards.”

As for the VADOC “Values” they state:

“We have identified our core values which we nurture and embody in our daily work to fulfill our Mission: Safety, Ethics, Learning, Commitment, Support, Respect, and Honesty.

Finally, when we look at the VADOC’s “Vision” the following is said:

“Our long term vision is for the VADOC to be a progressive and proven innovative leader in the profession. Research, data analysis, and reporting of outcomes will be used in strategic planning, policy guidance, program assessment, and administrative decision-making. Virginia is a better place to live and work because we improve long term safety and foster societal progress through the successful transformation and reintegration of men and women entrusted to our care.”

Now, all of this sounds wonderful, but practicing what you preach is a totally different story. They say that they want to foster societal progress by transforming men and women entrusted to their care, but once you do transform yourself into one who will be a productive citizen, and you move with a conscientious mind to address your grievances against flaws in their system in the proper manner, you are demonized and treated contrary to what the VADOC’s alleged mission is.

If I was to react to the conditions of my confinement in an uncivilized manner, that would be easier for the Administration to handle. They have security for that, but when you strive to assert your constitutional right to challenge your conditions and seek assistance in doing so in an intelligent manner, you are public enemy number one.

I’ve done nothing but be productive in my position as a law clerk, and I love to help the prison population. I have went beyond my job description when asked by supervisors to assist with different things that have been needed. Recently about three weeks ago, I attended a Volunteer Banquet where I greeted over 60 volunteers, organized a door prize raffle, and issued name tags to every guest. I was a great asset for affairs like this, but when I start to speak the truth about this broken system, I am persecuted for it. It is like Nicole Pughsley the wife of my brother and friend Askari Danso said in a Richmond Times Dispatch interview, “They just want them to be quiet and do their time.”

My present situation is just another example of what I means to be a Prisoner of Conscience. We strive to awaken the people, and fight for what’s right in the right manner, and we are persecuted for it. A productive citizen is one who is active in the process of improving the system in which he/she lives. If prisoners cannot raise awareness about the flawed system of corrections in a civilized manner, how can society expect them to even desire to become productive upon release.

Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC) is our attempt to bring about a much needed balance within a system that is built off of instability. The hypocrisy here is clear. The VADOC says that they are in the business of making people better, but if that “better” means that I will be a better slave, I think I’ll pass. – Hassan Shabazz, VAPOC

Wardens at Sussex I & II are out – what does it mean?

Staff report from The Virginia Defender – May 30, 2018

In the midst of a prisoner-led campaign to win better conditions at the Sussex II state prison in Waverly, Va., the wardens at both that prison and its sister facility, Sussex I, have been replaced.

Tracy Ray, the warden at Sussex II, has been removed from his position and replaced by Beth Cabell, previously the warden at St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake.

The new warden at Sussex I is Israel Hamilton, previously the warden at Haynesville Correctional Center in Richmond County. Both changes seem to have occurred within the last week.

What does this mean? Was it a decision by the Department of Corrections to address the long-term problems at the prisons? Cosmetic changes? Even previously scheduled shufflings? Was it because the Department of Corrections has concluded that both wardens recently have violated the rights of prisoner activists? At this point we can’t be sure, but in the context of the ongoing struggle there, it’s at least a very hopeful sign.

Prisoners at Sussex II, organized as the Sussex II Human Rights Committee, had drawn up a petition requesting remedies for eight very basic issues, such as access to clean drinking water, immediate health care for prisoners experiencing serious health crises and an effective grievance system. (The petition is posted HEREhttps://vapjn.wordpress.com/) While removing the warden was not one of the requests, his name appears several times in the petition.

Between 50 and 100 men signed the petition, which was addressed to the general public. The organizers then asked representatives of the Virginia Prison Justice Network (VAPJN) to deliver the petition to top officials at the Department of Corrections.

But before that could happen, three prisoners who the Sussex II authorities evidently believed were connected with this perfectly legal petition, were put into solitary confinement: Askari Danso, co-founder of the VAPJN and the Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VPOC); Askari’s cellmate, D. Braxton; and longtime Sussex II prisoner-rights activist Uhuru Rowe. Askari and D. Braxton were transferred to nearby Sussex I, a more restrictive facility. Uhuru evidently was kept at Sussex II.

VAPJN’s outside supporters alerted the media and, within days, a front-page story appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch covering the petition and the transfer of Askari. A previously planned Richmond Speak-Out for Prison Justice, held May 19 and attended by more than 100 people, was dedicated to Askari and the prison struggle at Sussex II. A Times-Dispatch a story on the speak-out also mentioned Askari. Supporters of the three men deluged the DOC with calls demanding their release, and the prisoners’ petition with a report on the case was posted on the VAPJN website.

Meanwhile, the VAPJN requested a meeting with A. David Robinson, Chief of Corrections Operations who is the second highest official in the DOC, to discuss the petition, the ongoing conditions at Sussex II and the situations of Askari, Uhuru and D. Braxton.

On May 22, VAPJN members Lynetta Thompson and Phil Wilayto met at DOC headquarters with Robinson; Eastern Regional Office Operations Chief Jamilla Burney-Divens; the sub-director of that office who oversees Sussex II; and the heads of the DOC legal services and communications departments. Thompson is the State Advisor for Youth and College Division of the Virginia State Conference NAACP. Phil Wilayto is editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper. Both are cleared to speak at Virginia prisons and together have spoken a half-dozen times at prisoner-organized events at Augusta and Buckingham correctional centers.

During the 45-minute meeting, Thompson and Wilayto presented the officials with the petition, went over the cases of the three prisoners and gave the officials copies of the two Times-Dispatch newspaper articles.

Robinson and Burney-Divens pledged to look into the issues raised by the Sussex II prisoners and to be in touch with the two VAPJN representatives about their investigation. They also said they would look into Askari’s case, but that information on his status would have to come from Askari himself. (At the time of the meeting, the VAPJN had only sketchy knowledge about Uhuru’s and Braxton’s situations.) The two VAPJN representatives left the meeting feeling cautiously optimistic that the officials had seriously listened to the prisoners’ grievances.

Uhuru and D. Braxton now have been released from solitary, as a result of having completed sentences given them for charges arising from the petition.  Askari is still in solitary awaiting a transfer decision.  According to the DOC’s website Offender Locator page, Uhuru is at Sussex II, Askari is at Sussex I and D. Braxton could be at either I or II; there’s a D. Braxton at both prisons.

This preliminary report will be updated as soon as new information becomes available.

 

May 19: ‘Richmond Speak Out for Prison Justice’ to expose issues in Virginia’s prison system

On Saturday, May 19, the Richmond Committee of the Virginia Prison Justice Network (VAPJN) will host a Richmond Speak-Out for Prison Justice from 1 to 3:30 pm at Second Baptist Church, 1400 Idlewood Ave. in the Randolph neighborhood.

Titled “Confronting Justice: One Story at a Time,” the Speak-Out will be an opportunity for prisoners, former prisoners, family members, supporters and advocates to tell their stories and inform the public about the realities of life in Virginia prisons. The event will be livestreamed on Facebook and then posted on the VAPJN website.

One of the key issues to be discussed will be Virginia’s use of solitary confinement. Among those addressing this issue will be David Smith, who spent more than 16 months in solitary confinement in the Norfolk City Jail. Mr. Smith spoke about his experience at a recent press conference hosted by the ACLU of Virginia and other advocacy organizations.

The May 19 Speak-Out will be dedicated to Askari Danso, currently held in solitary confinement at the Sussex I maximum security prison after leading several prisoner efforts to expose injustices in the system. Mr. Danso was the subject of a front-page story in the May 6 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His case will be spotlighted at the Speak-Out.

As of May 12, the Speak-Out has been endorsed by the ACLU of Virginia, Community Unity in Action, House of Dreams Outreach & ReEntry (Hampton), Interfaith Action for Human Rights, Mary G. Brown Transitional Center, RIHD Inc., RISE, SONG and the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.

For more information, see: https://www.facebook.com/events/630839550585150/ or email: richmondprisonjusticenetwork@gmail.com

Support the Sussex II Human Rights Committee #FreeAskari

Sussex II Petition – Page 1

Sussex II Petition – Page 2

Sussex II petition – Page 3

These are copies of the 3-page petition from the Sussex II Human Rights Committee. A copy of the petition was found in Askari Danso’s cell after he and his cellmate were transferred to Sussex I from Sussex 2.  Askari says that this petition was the basis for his being convicted of planning some kind of group demonstration, which it absolutely does not.  Askari is a founding member of VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience), a member of the Coalition for Justice steering committee, as well as a member of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice, & Equality.  Askari and his cellmate D. Braxton should not be in solitary and should be removed from Sussex II.

About the Sussex II Human Rights Committee:

The committee’s petition outlines “grievances” the committee members say are particular to Sussex II. It states that when prisoners have attempted to use the facility’s grievance procedure, staff members have “circumvented” those efforts or “many times outright refused to respond.”

So the committee is asking the public to raise their grievances for them to the director of VADOC, Board of Corrections, Director of Public Safety and governor’s office.  The committee’s petition is addressed to “individuals, citizens and organizations” and asks them “to take our issues to VA DOC Headquarters and request that they remedy the following grievances by implementing our requests outlined herein:”

Note: The proposed solutions are framed as “requests,” not “demands.”


The requests are for:

1 – “Better quality medical care”  Petition claims prisoners have died because of “slow response times” to medical emergencies.

2 – “A clean source of drinking water”  Claims the Town of Waverly (where both Sussex I and II are located) receives “boil water advisories” and staff is told not to drink the water at SUssex II, but prisoners have no alternative to water that “is oftentimes ‘mud puddle’ brown while carrying a strange, indescribable odor.” Claims that, as a result, prisoners suffer from diarrhea, headaches, nausea, skin irritations and rashes.

3 – “Adequate law library”  Claims that, unlike at other Level Four VADOC prisons, prisoners at Sussex II are not allowed the use of computers or typewriters to type legal documents and so must write them out by hand.

4 – “An end to “arbitrary group punishment”  Claims prisoners are often locked down “for many hours” when a single individual commits a minor infraction, such as not standing for count or cursing at a guard.

5 – “A clean and healthy environment”  Issues listed include moldy showers, vents that go years without being cleaned, holes in windows that allow insects to enter cells, and indoor temperatures between Oct. 1 and May 1 that are below 65 degrees.

6 – “More programming to help us to become more productive and healthy”  Claims that despite many drug overdoses there is no drug program; despite many “violent assaults and fights,” there are no appropriate programs. Request is for “more work, religious and educational programs.”

7 – “More time with our loved ones during visitation”  Claims that the combination of a small visiting room, overly lengthly visitor screenings and “where the prison is located” (near cities with large low-income and Black populations) all contribute to shorter visitations. Requests a more efficient screening process.

8 – “A fair and just implementation of the grievance procedure”  Claims officials arbitrarily refuse to process or give receipts for written grievances.

Politically active Va. inmate, now in solitary, transferred three times after complaints about prisons

Published in the Richmond Times Dispatch, May 6, 2018, by Patrick Wilson

A politically active Virginia prisoner who organized inmates to file grievances about medical care, staffing and water quality was recently transferred to a high-security prison and placed in solitary confinement. Supporters and his wife fear he is being unjustly punished for activism.

Askari Danso, whose legal name is Dale Lee Pughsley, promotes black history and Rastafarian groups in prisons and recently organized a petition asking for better medical care and staffing at Sussex II State Prison, where he formed a human rights committee for prisoners.

After he left the Sussex II law library on April 24, he said he and his cellmate were handcuffed and moved to Sussex I, where they were each put in solitary confinement.

 

His cell has a stool, toilet and mattress, no pillow or hygiene products, and no TV or reading material. He can see trees out the window. Danso said he’s being punished for political speech he says could save prisoners’ lives in understaffed prisons.

“You’ve got these prisons that are bursting at the seams,” he said in a phone interview Thursday after spending 10 days in solitary confinement at higher-security Sussex I. “They’re not open to the idea of prisoners being political, even if it’s democratic.”

Danso, 38, has served 20 years in prison stemming from a 1999 conviction for second-degree murder and firearms charges in Lynchburg when he was 18. He fatally shot a man in the neck during an argument over drugs. His projected release is 2046.

Danso said he’s been transferred three times since 2016 for reasons he believes are political.

“He’s raising these issues about the problems of the system as a whole,” said Phil Wilayto with activist group Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality. “He hasn’t disrupted anything.”

A Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman declined to comment.

***

Here is the story of Danso’s transfers, as he describes it:

He spent four years at Buckingham Correctional Center, where he was a facilitator for black history and Rastafarian programs and worked as a treatment aide helping lead groups on anger management and substance abuse. He educated prisoners that they are legally entitled to be treated with dignity.

After a warden reduced the annual Black History Month celebration from three days to one and reduced inmate involvement in organizing activities, inmates wrote complaints.

The warden had Danso brought to his office, where he told him he’d transfer him if he found inmates were writing complaints because of him.

In September 2016, Danso was told he was being transferred. He was moved to Augusta Correctional Center and was accused of trying to organize prisoners to stop working, which Danso said is untrue.

At the new prison, he found no black history program, no Kwanzaa celebration and no Rastafarian class, and wrote complaints. The warden allowed a black history program with outside guests.

Danso helped organize a rap talent show in the prison yard with lyrics to be focused on political conscience, love and family.

A counselor at the prison liked the idea, but a higher-level official stopped it and organizers were punished. A Department of Corrections investigator referred to the plans as “an illegal black supremacy meeting.”

Danso has recorded podcasts about prison justice that were posted to a blog.

“We need to let the citizens out there know what they’re paying for,” he said.

He got a Rastafarian program started at Augusta, arguing it was a religious freedom issue. But days before it started, in March of this year, he was told he was being transferred again.

Back in December, he had been given two charges, which he said were his first in nearly nine years. One was a violation of postage rules. He said DOC officials also alleged that a phone conversation he had with his wife 13 months earlier used coded language — that when they discussed DVDs they were actually talking about Suboxone, a drug used to treat people addicted to opioids.

His transfer in March was to Sussex II, which has higher security than Buckingham and Augusta.

“It is the worst prison in Virginia,” Danso said. “They call it understaffed. Conscious prisoners call it overcrowded.”

He and other inmates at Sussex II organized a human rights committee with a goal of getting citizens involved in lobbying for better inmate conditions.

***

As Danso was escorted in handcuffs to a watch commander’s office on April 24, supervisors and a prison dog followed. A lieutenant told him they’d been given strict orders to get him out of Sussex II. DOC staff drove him in a van that evening to Sussex I, an even higher-security prison.

After a few days in solitary confinement, an investigator told him the DOC was investigating “a Blood-Crip petition and potential riot.”

After searching his old cell at Sussex II, DOC staff found a petition that had been circulated to inmates related to prison grievances, Danso said. He was charged with encouraging others to participate in a group demonstration, a serious charge given to inmates who try to start a riot, he said.

Danso said the petition is an excuse by the DOC to justify moving him from Sussex II to Sussex I. The petition was a collective idea from the inmate human rights committee, he said.

Gregory Carter, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said the department does not discuss inmate transfers, security-level changes or assignments to restricted housing because records on them are exempt from mandatory disclosure under Virginia law. The department declined an interview request with Tracy Ray, the warden at Sussex II, about why Danso was transferred.

“The DOC wardens do not share the offenders’ personal information with the public,” Carter wrote by email.

The department does not release information on staff vacancies at its prisons. But in response to a recent request, the DOC released data showing that the region of 12 facilities that includes Sussex I and Sussex II had a 15 percent vacancy rate as of Jan. 31.

The Richmond-based Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and the Blacksburg nonprofit Coalition for Justice, of which Danso is on the steering committee, are among prisoners’ rights groups alarmed about Danso’s transfer to solitary confinement at Sussex I. They alerted their members to call Sussex I to ask why Danso was transferred, ask for him to be removed from solitary confinement, and ask that he be given access to his personal property.

Margaret Breslau of the Coalition for Justice said Danso has never been interested in gangs and she doubted the validity of the charge against him.

His wife, Nicole Pughsley of Lynchburg, said she’s worried about what will happen to her husband.

“He’s just trying to wake a lot of the young black men. He’s just trying to wake everybody up, and they don’t like that,” she said. “They just want them to be quiet and do their time.”

pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

 

VIRGINIA PRISON JUSTICE NETWORK ACTION ALERT

On Tuesday, April 24, around 5:30 pm, Virginia prisoner advocate Dale Pughsley, aka Askari Danso, was handcuffed by guards and removed from his cell at Sussex II Virginia State Prison, along with his cellmate, Mr. D. Braxton.  Mr. Danso assumed he was being taken to the watch commander, but instead was taken to Sussex I, a higher-level security prison, and put into solitary confinement, without any explanation.

Mr. Pughsley is now being held at Sussex I in 3D 15. His supporters are asking that people call the Unit Manager there and ask why he has been transferred and why he is in being held in solitary. The prison’s phone number is 804-834-9967.

Mr. Pughsley is a well-known, highly respected prisoner-organizer and the founder of VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience), a prisoner-led group that works to educate prisoners on their rights and also works from the inside out for prison reform.  VAPOC is sponsored by the Coalition for Justice, a 501c3 in Blacksburg. Mr. Pughsley is on the CFJ steering committee and also is a member of the Richmond-based organization, Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.

Mr. Pughsley had been at Augusta Correctional Center, a Level 3 security facility, but was transferred to Sussex II, a level 4 facility, on March 2, 2018. Sussex I is a Level 4-5.  He had filed an appeal against his transfer from Augusta to Sussex II, because the reason given for the transfer was without substance. Mr. Pughsley is still waiting for that appeal to be heard.  He believes that his role as an organizer and the fact that he has filed multiple grievances both at Augusta and at Sussex II is the real reason for transfers to successively higher-level security facilities, which has now landed him in solitary at Sussex I.

Mr. Pughsley has launched over 30 grievances to the Virginia Department of Corrections. The most recent challenges, while at Sussex II, were over mental health for long-term offenders, water quality, grievance procedures, access and upkeep of the law library, prisoner rights to access the court, and property transfer issues. He also created a Sussex II Human Rights Committee in order, not just to educate prisoners on their rights, but to work in a coordinated way to make sure their rights are observed. At Augusta Correctional, he launched grievances regarding religious freedom, racial justice issues, free speech issues, and the grievance procedures for prisoners.

Mr. Pughsley has not been accused of any prison violations since 2009, which involved a cell phone case.  His repeated transfer to higher-security facilities is extremely troubling.  No explanation has been given for his transfer and, as he has not violated prison rules, the transfer to Sussex I is illegal.  In what appears to be an emergency transfer, the Regional Administrator may authorize a temporary transfer to any equal or higher security level institutional bed. Such decisions may be made for security and health reasons only, and must conform to the definition of Emergency Transfer in Operating Procedure 830.5 (11/1/14).  Mr. Pughsley is not a security risk, as he has no infractions against him. Emergency transfers can only be done when it has been found necessary to protect offenders and staff from imminent danger of physical harm, or to prohibit offenders from destruction of State property, and/or escape. This does not apply to Mr. Pughsley.   

All temporary, emergency transfer decisions are subject to review and approval by CCS (Central Classification Services), and the institutional administrator must provide a detailed written explanation of the rationale for the offender’s assignment to segregation/ restrictive housing, and the need for their immediate transfer from the current housing institution,  Mr. Danso was given no such explanation. He was also not given his personal property.We call on the CSS to provide an explanation for the transfer of Mr. Pughsley and Mr.Braxton and for Mr. Pughsley to be removed from solitary confinement and have access to his personal property.

For more information, contact VAPJN members Margaret Breslau at justicebburg@gmail.com or Phil Wilayto at: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

An Example Of Mass Incarceration’s Daily Tragedies — By Askari Danso, Sussex II

Today I walked in the dining hall fully expecting to meet my man Kinetic to discuss the status of the newly formed Sussex 2 Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) “Petition to Citizens.” When I walked in I sat at a table alone to wait for bruh. Almost immediately this younger brother looking like he could be 19 or 20 years old walked to the table and asked, ” Is anyone sitting here?” With so many tables available, and my focus on conversing with Kinetic about sensitive information, I normally would almost automatically say, “yeah bruh.” Yet when I looked at him I paused for a second. What struck me is that the young brother “looked” so young. I then got that feeling you get when you see innocence. You know that instant feeling of protectiveness? So I said, “Nah man you good.” When he sat down he was immediately sociable and polite, “How you doing man.” Pleasantly surprised and quite honestly almost proud I said, “I’m good man. How about you?” In an assuring way he nodded while replying, “I’m alright.” Staring at him curiously wondering what the hell this youngin’ did to be sitting across from me at a Supermaximum Security Prison I said, “that’s what’s up.” Unaware my man Kinetic had entered the mess hall, It surprised me when he said, “what up bruh” as he began sitting. We jumped right into HRC business. After about 15 minutes when it was understood that we had exhausted the matter the young brother said, “yeah man it’s crazy y’all over here talking about these issues because I just wrote a letter to everyone in the administration explaining that I wanted to start a program to help the Juveniles here.” He continued, “I even volunteered to mentor in the Re- entry pod. I just want to be productive you know.” Noticing that he had a red folder with him I asked, “Do you have that letter with you right now?” “Yeah” he responded enthusiastically. So I sat there and read the letter and needless to say, I was blown away. What amazed me was how quickly I felt both the sincerity and desperation in the letter. I knew as soon as I finished that it had to be shared with the public. There are so many portions of the letter that reveal who we are as a society. Why is it that we continue to produced these inhumane social phenomenons? Even worse, How is it that many of us can be complicit through our silence and inaction? What are we for real? Nevertheless, here’s the young brothers plea for help in a letter:
****************************************
March 28, 2018
Randell Hakeem Love Barkley Jr
#1202394
H/U 4A-33 (T)

Re: Juvenile Mentoring

Dear D.O.C. Admin.,

First, I hope this letter finds you in the best of spirits, and upon it’s arrival you are at peace. Second as you already know my name is Randell Barkley Jr. I’m writing this letter because it’s been weighing on my heart to present to you what I’ve been thinking; to help solve, not just a DOC problem but a society problem. So for starters I want to briefly introduce myself in more detail.

I’m 26 years old (will be 27 in April). I have been in the Penitentiary since I was 16 years old. I was sent to Powhatan Correctional Center first. When I was 17 they sent me to Sussex 1. It wasn’t until a few years later that the LW changed prohibiting juveniles from being housed with the adults. So, yes, it was a hellish experience walking the yard and living in cells with people my parents age. I wasn’t prepared for it, and it took a lot of getting used to.

I was sentenced to Three (3) Life Sentences plus 10 years without the possibility of parole because there’s no parole in Virginia (God willing I will not have to do it), but for the time being I will be here. While here I don’t want to be classified as a Misfit. Nor do I want to do Dead time. I’m pending a job in the Kitchen, I’m pending vocational classes, and I’m awaiting response from two Universities. I really want to be a mentor, and Orator which is why I’m hoping to get my degree in “Communications” as well as “Sociology.”

Now the purpose for this letter is I’m aware of the juvenile block up here, and I want to Volunteer my time- FREE OF CHARGE & I SEEK NO SPECIAL TREATMENT- to be a mentor to the youthful inmates, help them prepare for what it will be like, help them mentally & spiritually. I ask that you consider that their advice & support I will provide is coming from a Juvenile Lifer who wasn’t prepared to be an adult inmate, but adapted, adjusted, and thankfully (to God) was able to learn how to do time. I, do submit myself to be interviewed. My institutional records/charges checked, criminal charges checked, I’m no longer in a G*ng, I’ve been charge free for almost 3 years. All I hope to accomplish is to help those kids over there with all the knowledge I have. Dedicate my time to prevent them from coming back to prison upon upon release, and how not to get sent to Red Onion & what to expect while they are locked up.

I end this letter with the hope to be blessed with this opportunity to keep bring excellence to Sussex 2.

Thank you for reading & hopefully considering the letter.

With Kind Regards
Randell H.L. Barkley Jr
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There are so many layers to this letter. What immediately stood out to me was the tone of the letter. The cry for meaning. Could you imagine how hard it is to find purpose in life when you were imprisoned at 16 and told you’ll be there for the rest of your life? So what we’re talking about is psychological. How does the adolescent mind develop in a place like this. He may never have a child, live with a woman, pay rent, a car payment, taxes, and a gazillion other things that are essential for human development. There’s a part in the letter where the young King speaks of “hoping” he doesn’t have to serve his sentence, which is in itself an example of a lack of awareness of the consequences of that sentence. Like no one can serve that sentence. That sentence is a Death Sentence!

The absolutely amazing thing to me is that this young brother still has Hope. Along with the desire to become a better human begin by helping other human beings shows a diving spirit within his vessel. I mean, Could you imagine if your child was given 3 Life Sentences? And in many ways he’s much more wiser than many people out there who’ve experienced all of the things I mentioned earlier. Many people lose all hope and love with much less adversity. It’s like some of us are looking for any reason to either become Nihilistic or Depressed. Yet this Young God is begging to have an opportunity to give love to others. The Lesson spiritually in this is our “attitude,” “mood,” “demeanor,” etc is a choice. You don’t have to be miserable or callous, you’re choosing too be! From a social perspective, there’s a lot for us to learn from this tragedy, but most importantly for me is Mass Incarceration in Virginia is a human rights catastrophe! Truth in Sentencing must go! Bring Parole Back in Virginia!!! Randell is one of Thousands of stories where men and women are thrown away like trash. Remember if your government is doing this it’s because you allow them! SILENCE IS CONSENT!!!!!!!!!!! 

A Prisoner Response to the VAPJN Conference Call

Dear reader,
I am a Virginia incarcerated member who has been housed within the VDOC for 17 years. I have read your newsletter concerning the mass incarceration in Virginia conference call. There were numerous concerns discussed, and one in particular was Lillie “Ms. K” Branch concern with the lack of support from family members that have incarcerated loved ones. In, or between the years 2008 and 2009, in support of Ms. K’s rally for signatures to have certain bills passed in the Virginia General Assembly. Two brothers, as well as myself, campaigned individuals at Keen Mountain Correctional Center to send a letter that was drafted by the three of us addressing the importance of our family members helping Ms. K address the Virginia General Assembly concerning prison reform. We even went as far as purchasing stamps to send these letters out to their loved ones. Needless to say, the lack of family support in regard to this issue is still ongoing. The reasons can be numerous to account for in one letter. The question is, “Is injustice being seen and heard everywhere?” And if it is, which I do think it is, then why is it that the politicians are still turning a blind eye to what the people want as far as prison reform? Its been my experience while in the VDOC that people on the inside, and out has developed an anti-prisoner mentality, given the elements that comprise a prison setting ( i.e. murderers, rapist,robbers, and drug dealers). And there has been a large focus on recidivism and very little is reported on those whom have reformed themselves and become valuable assets to their communities upon being released. And this is not just accounting for Virginia Prison System, it is nationwide. There needs to be some type of balance where the negative stigma of prisoners does not overshadow positive demonstrations by those whom have actually changed their lives for the better. As far the saying goes, “Just because one is convicted of a crime does not make him a criminal.” These people are the best example to put forth to our loved ones to educate them about those needing a chance at society once again. Those who are actually showing and proving through their actions and deeds in their communities. The mind set has been, “lock them up and throw away the key.” But what about lock them up, but give them a chance if they are willing to show that they deserve a chance. I think (I know) that what this and other organizations on prison reform is striving to accomplish is great and I want to assist in that process as much as I am able.
Sincerely,
Prince Just Foundation Allah

Making Money off of Prisoners

Before the overcrowding of the facility the food was much better, but now over 1300 prisoners have to be fed, so corners are being cut, and the worst/cheapest food is being served. Also, it does not help that the Food Service Manager, Ms. Puckett, is always striving to stay under budget of what is allocated for food so that she can obtain a bonus at the end of the year. Over years and years of consuming the worst quality food it often leads to health complications. This in turn puts us at the mercy of a medical department that is usually ran by private healthcare providers such as Corizon, Amor, and Mediko, that are profit orientated and have been sued repeatedly for medical malpractice and negligence.

The medical treatment that we receive is far below the standard of that which is accepted in free society. Prisoners are often placed on extremely long waiting lists for dental treatment (sometimes years) where they end up losing their teeth. As for medical it sometimes takes weeks to see the doctor after you’ve paid for sick call. This is largely due to the magnitude of the prison population, but there is also an orchestrated effort to make money at the prisoners expense which causes health risks as well.

Outsourcing healthcare to private companies has benefitted the VDOC, but has been the worst nightmare of the prison population. These healthcare providers routinely underbid all other contracters, knowing full well that they won’t have the necessary funding nor insurance to provide proper services. The federal courts have repeatedly held that the entire process is a sham in which both the providers and the VDOC are liable. (See the cases of Scott v. Clarke, and Riggleman v. Clarke)

Prisoners are frequently charged a $5.00 sick call over and over for issues that should be labelled follow-ups. This is done so much, that prisoners often don’t sign up for medical even when they are sick because they don’t have the money to pay. Many prisoners that have limited funds rather go to commissary to buy food than go to medical because the food in the dining hall is just that bad. Of course people in society may ask, why would you forgo medical treatment for commissary?, but when you have no faith in the healthcare provider, and you suffer from depression where food is used to self medicate, the decision is easy. Most prisoners endure their conditions until they can bear it no longer and sometimes until its too late. This comes from a lack of love for self and also mental health issues, many of which the prisoners have not been diagnosed.

When we look at mental health the truth is horrifying. I can personally testify to the fact that prisons are being substituted for mental health facilities. There are numerous prisoners that suffer from mental health issues that have never been diagnosed and regrettably these things were never considered by the courts upon their conviction. Others have developed mental diseases in prison. This has caused the prison to be plagued with individuals that need help and aren’t receiving it.

I literally watched an individual try to hang himself off of the top tier within the reentry community here, but the community came to his rescue. Afterwards no one from Mental Health even questioned the residents about how they were affected by the suicide attempt. Mental health treatment within the VDOC is a farce and completely insufficient. Here at Augusta there is only one psychologist, and one psychiatrist for over 1300 people. The sad reality is that if one doesn’t have a history of mental health issues, you are not a priority nor are you taken seriously when you seek help. We must address mental health as a significant issue of importance in prison reform because many of the prisoners will be members of free society again one day.

Lastly, we cannot take an in depth look at mass incarceration without speaking upon the role of the multimillion dollar corporations that benefit from it. These companies such as Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE), Global Tel-Link, Keefe, and JPay, all benefit exponentially from mass incarceration. Prisoners are exploited at every turn, and so are their families. These companies even lobby for harsher laws to ensure that the prisons stay full so that they can profit. Corporations like JPay charge family members outrageous service fees just to send their loved ones money, and VCE makes millions while only paying prisoners peanuts on the dollar. in the meantime while these companies bloodsuck the victims of mass incarceration, they give absolutely nothing back to the families and communities they have destroyed.

It is time that we take a complete stand against mass incarceration and those that benefit from it. The “Virginia Prison Justice Network” has been formed to take down Truth-In-Sentencing, and bring about meaningful criminal justice and prison reform. As a member of Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC) I can honestly say that the times of prisoners sitting idly by in the face of oppression are over. The prisoners are getting tired of being mistreated and 100% dissatisfaction brings about a complete change. Please join us in putting a halt to this domino effect that mass incarceration has caused and we shall bring about freedom, justice, and equality where the once was none. In truth and justice. – Hassan Shabazz