Friday, August 20, 2010

Aug 15, 2010

Dear Sis~

I read that Kenya's highest court of appeals unanimously held that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional, meaning hundreds of prisoners must now receive a new sentencing hearing, this time where they can present mitigating evidence.  The old law required a mandatory death sentence as the only punishment for a person convicted of murder.  (Our US Supreme Court outlawed mandatory death sentences 34 years ago).  Kenya has not executed anyone in 23 years, by the way.  The same court of appeals spoke strongly about extended incarceration on death row, stating that holding a person on death row for more than 3 years would be unconstitutional...
Closer to home, The Economist, a really interesting magazine, reported that mass incarceration in America continues at record high levels despite the incredibly high costs (financial and other).  At 748 persons per 100,000 citizens America, by far, has the highest oncarceration rate in the world, locking up five times more people per capita than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan.  We have almost 2.5 million prisoners here, and many, many more on parole or probation.  The trend isa ever upwards.  In 1970, one in 400 Americans were incarcerated, compared with today's rate of one in 100.  Including those on parole or probation, one adult American in 31 is under correctional supervision.  The far majority of these are in for noviolent crimes.  The number of drug offenders in federal and state prisons has oncreased 13-fold since 1980.  This is a direct result of concrete policies to incarcerate as many Americans as possible (i.e., a deliberate choice to use incarceration as the primary tool, as poopsed to other solutions).  In America, we are all about locking folks up and throwing away the key.  It is completely accurate to describe America as a prison nation.  The annual costs of incarceration continue to skyrocket (but prisons provide jobs!); in California, the cost is around $50,000 per prisoner per year, which is seven times what California spends per student on education.  That speaks volumes about our priorities, and that statistic demonstrates our problems in a nutshell.  I see a direct correlation between our penchant for spending scarce public resources on increasing rates of incarceration and our school kids' ever-increasing decline in academic achievement.  America now ranks far below even some third-world nations when it comes to our childrens' scholastic knowledge and abikities.  We'd rather spend our money on prisons and teachers...
All other civilized nations, from the Netherlands to Sweden to Japan to Denmark, have long ago turned away from mass incarceration and now use innovative solutions which have markedly reduced crime rates.  Even New York has demonstrated this approach can work in the US; it reduced the violent crime rate by 40% between 1997 and 2007 while cutting its incarceration rate by 15%.  But the vast majority of politicians believe in one thing: building more prisons and filling them up as fast as possible.  It's all part of our oddly persistent puritanical heritage which is obsessed with guilt and punishment.  Nations, like people, reap what they sow, and in that sense, we deserve what we've got...
Give the doggies a tummy rub for me, Sis, and give yourself a big hug.
Love, Bill

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Aug 3, 2010

Dear Sis~

The dog days of summer are upon us here in this sweltering, stifling cellblock.  Last night, like many nights before, I awoke around 3:00 am, drenched in sweat and feeling on fire.  The lack of any meaningful ventilation renders the tiny fans sold in the canteen ineffectual; all they do is push the hot, humid air around. 

Last week, out on the rec yard, I watched a crew of prisoners enter and scrub down the execution chamber and witness room on the bottom floor of Q-Wing.  Later that day our wing sargeant told us that they had conducted a "mock execution" drill.  I'm guessing that Governor Crist is on the verge of signing one or more death warrants.  With an election around the corner, an execution is a time-tested method of gaining favorable publicity, shoring up the "tough on crime" cred of any southern politician.  It's a cheap. feel-good solution for whatever ails a politician's shaky poll numbers, as exemplified by President Clinton's infamous 1992 pre-election move when he flew back to Arkansas from the campaign trail to execute a profoundly retarded and brain-damaged convict, despite the personal pleas from the Pope (and many other world leaders) to spare his life.  Clinton, who was being labeled by Republicans as "soft on crime" knew it was good politics to kill that guy.  Arguably, that move helped propel Clinton into the White House (and it was a tip off, to those paying attention, to slick Willie's true character and moral ambiguities)...

Just read a very insightful and informative aritcle in the Aug 2nd New Yorker magazine titled Letting Go by  Atul Gawande, a physician.  The article deals with that very sensitive subject - death - and, in particular, when and under what circumstances does a terminally ill person (or his loved ones) decide to forgo furher, futile medical procedures and allow events to take their natural course.  There have been many articles and studies on the subject and I won't attempt to describe this particular one, other than to say it's well worth reading by anyone and everyone, even if they don't currently know anyone who is terminally ill.  The time to begin weighing these issues is before you have to... The article can be found on

It's increasingly depressing and disappointing to read about the epidemic of obesity in this country (and which is inexorably spreading around the rest of the world).  I didn't pay much attention to it for years, thinking it was mostly hyperbole, but the statistics are now overwhelming and alarming.  The health of our kids and  future generations is absolutely at risk; we're becoming a nation of diabetics, right before our eyes.  Mostly, this has to do with our processed foods, much of which isn't even true food, just artificial vehicles for delivering fat and calories.  Because I'm blessed with an excellent metabolism and am, more or less, naturally trim, I failed to appreciate the scope of this problem, but it cannopt be ignored any longer.  I'll offer up my own humble solution: besides eating right, avoiding most processed junk foods, as you know, 10 years ago I began fasting every other day.  Initially, it was just to quickly lose 6 or 7 pounds, but after 2 weeks, I felt so good I never stopped.  I intuitively felt it was good for me and the last decade has proven me correct.  I still work out as hard as ever (on my eating days) and my weight has been constant the entire time.  I figure this must be my "natural weight", the point where I neither gain or lose weight.  The fasting is not hard; you quickly acclimate and it becomes normal to you (and you really appreciate those meals on your eating days!) Anyone can do this and they'll feel great and healthy, too.  (My blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc, is excellent).  Anyway, it works for me...

That's it from the state pen, Sis.  Keep your chin up and a smile on your face!
Love, Bill