by Dwight Abbott
(PNS) -- As an inmate in the Salinas Valley State Prison, I am one of thousands who, if everything goes well in a rare "incident free" week, is allowed out of his cell for "exercise" a total of 10 hours. Until two months ago, I was given four hours each day.
What were, at best, sparse vocational training programs no longer exist. Once semi-tolerable medical care is now poor, even by prison standards. Always minimal portions of food are even smaller.
Every couple of days we might get a shower.
"Why is this?" I asked.
"Recent budget cuts," I was told.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his first budget, has proposed about $400 million in unspecified cuts for the state corrections department. That budget, of course, has not yet been passed. But within these walls, the prison administration is already preparing for expected cuts.
They tell us "there are no longer enough guards on duty to supervise inmate movement and activities." But sitting in my cell, I often see half a dozen guards walking around or sitting at concrete prison tables in the empty prison yard.
I first entered the California State Prison system at age 18. I have no hope of being released. I am a 62-year-old inmate who is physically disabled as the result of suffering a stroke and two heart attacks. I have high blood pressure, and I am in the early stages of emphysema.
I am one of nearly 100 men in my facility who was placed into a "chronic care program," ordered and established as a result of a successful class action suit (Plata et al. v. Davis et al., No. C-01-1351). Through this program, we are to be constantly monitored by medical staff and examined by a prison physician once or more each week.
Three months ago I saw a doctor, and have not seen one since, though at least a dozen times over the last seven weeks I've requested medical attention. In response, medical personnel have consistently told me, "The doctor has to leave early, and does not have time to see you."
Vocational training programs, which include masonry and landscaping, help inmates learn a trade so that upon their release they can seek gainful employment instead of preying upon others. They've been cancelled, as has much of the school educational program that taught inmates to read and write.
"I do not know what I am going to do now," one inmate recently shared with me. "I have been locked up nine years. I don't have much education. I was actually learning something for the first time in my life. All I had to do was get my certificate, and I could get a good job when I am paroled in two months.
"To hell with it all," he went on. "I tried! I'm just going to get a gun. I am not going to live on the street."
Strangely or not, the supposed "budget cuts" do not appear to have affected the guard's paychecks. As I type this, in fact, there comes an announcement over the intercom to prison staff: "Anyone wishing to work overtime should call..." A person could become financially comfortable on a guard's "overtime" pay.
I have little doubt the reader is asking, "Why should anyone care that prisoners are suffering in this manner, the result, so it is said, of budget cuts?"
First, because you are being deceived.
California state prisoners do not, contrary to popular belief, enjoy tennis courts, swimming pools or other activities the media proclaims we do. The little we are allowed is now being taken away, while the public is told it is the guards and their families who will suffer from the cuts.
Second, you should care because 86 percent of all convicted felons will be released from prison at some point. It should be a well thought out concern, at least for the neighbors of ex-convicts, what their attitudes are, their dreams, their hopes, and what their goals are when they come out of prison.
Cruel, uncaring treatment breeds disillusioned, angry men and women. Fair, not "coddled," treatment, coupled with an environment conducive to rehabilitation will, in a large number of inmates, instill a determination to be productive, one that may not have existed in the individual prior to his or her incarceration.
But if you, as taxpayers, are unable to find any other reason, care because you are being deceived, lied to, and played like a cheap fiddle by an agency you think you can trust.
February 12, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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