Feature Prisoner Writings
Cages of Steel
In cages of steel we rust like the chains that
In cages of steel we deal with mindless
Nazis and pigs and another day in these cages of steel.
The Roving Skulker
Did he (the U.S. capitalist) not feast us with our own cattle, on our own land, yes on our plain by the spring? Did he not invite our hands to his papers (treaties); did he not promise before the sun, and before the eye that put fire in it, and to the name of both, and in the name of his own Chief, promise what he promised ... Now, because he has lied and because he yet lies, without friendship, manhood, justice, or charity, he wants us to give him money -- pay him more. When shall he be satisfied? A roving skulker, first; a natural liar, next; and withal, a murderer, a tyrant. To confirm his purpose ... he whispers soldiers, lock houses and chains. (They threaten by hinting of police power and imprisonment.). Excerpted from the prisoner zine Chain Reaction. Vol. 1, No. 1.
Bear Claw, 1876
Don't Give Me Life
Since I am a death row prisoner, it may seem odd to hear me say 'Don't Give Me Life'. That is, life without the possibility of parole (L.W.O.P.). I know there may be some on the row who would disagree with me, as well as some in the abolitionist movement. However, please hear me out.
There are few amongst us who would disagree with the premise that the death penalty is wrong. The death penalty does not make allowances for changed behavior or rehabilitation. It goes without saying that in society's viewpoint, the purpose of incarceration has shifted from rehabilitation to pure punishment and revenge, regardless of the actual sentence. Control units are quickly replacing conventional prison construction and creating lockdown environments that simulate hellish conditions and remove all privileges. Incapacitation has become the strategy of modern penology. This policy simply states that there is nothing to be salvaged in the individual, and therefore prisoners are just locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, denied almost every form of humanity.
Previously, the alternative to the death penalty had been life in prison without parole for 25 years. Although a quarter of a century in prison is a long time, it still allows for hope. Hope allows for change and reduces the idleness, abuse, neglect and attitudes of revenge. Where there is hope, there is life.
Those who have not been in prison do not often think of growing old behind bars. However, the fastest growing segment of the prison population is the elderly. This has come about by reason of sentencing strategies such as Truth In Sentencing laws that eliminate parole and require that 85% of a sentence has to be served. In exchange for states following such policies, the government gives millions of dollars to these states to facilitate the building of new prisons - - including control units. Also mandatory sentencing for numerous crimes does not allow judges discretion insofar as sentencing is concerned. This has created an increasingly large pool of elderly prisoners, and with medical treatment within prisons being minimal at best, the prospect of detecting serious problems before they become malignant or terminal is very poor. I have personally witnessed six men die slow and painful deaths in prison due mainly to late diagnosis or non-diagnosis by unskilled staff. Very few, if any painkillers are given in prison for fear of abuse. Health care providers, usually adult nurse practitioners, fall well short of the standard of ability and skill found in a regular doctor. Couple this with the severe shortage of funds resulting from stretching the budget to cover the requirements of a growing population of older prisoners, and inevitably the rate of detection and treatment of diseases has suffered. Growing old in prison, and especially dying in pain, is a more cruel fate than a quick execution. It is the alternative death penalty.
I hope that my words are shedding some light on the current situation. A combination of longer sentences, prison policies of incapacitation, punishment and revenge and lack of adequate medical services all add up to a life of misery. Add to that the total loss of hope that accompanies a sentence of Life Without Parole and you have a person who has nothing to look forward to or live for. I know of no one who desires to die old, lonely and sickly in prison. However, this is an alarming new trend. There are more than 3,500 people on death row, but there are more than 20,000 people who are serving L.W.O.P. - a death sentence harder and more cruel than the finality of an execution in my opinion. When society locks the door and throws away the key it signifies a belief that there is little or no value in a human life. If we are a Christian society as we like to think we are, what has happened to the belief that there is God in every person, that good can be found in everyone, that each individual is a person of worth and value deserving of being treated with respect and humanity regardless of the severity of crimes committed, or behavior towards others? The true mark of a society is how it treats the incarcerated and the less fortunate. Is it not a bigger crime to give up on humanity and just write us prisoners off?
Those abolitionists who see L.W.O.P. as an acceptable alternative to execution do not realize that in essence they are supporting a penalty that is more cruel and harder on the individual than is outright execution. Don't be deceived into wasting your valuable time, efforts and resources by validating a punishment that is worse than death, that prolongs the suffering for the rest of a prisoner's existence. A world in which there is no hope. Keep focused on the eradication of capital punishment, but don't allow society to "clean it up" by giving more L.W.O.P. sentences as an alternative.
So, I repeat, "Don't Give Me Life" without hope, for we all have humanity and dignity and should not be discarded as if we were human waste.
Richard Rossi, 50337
The mind is a terrible thing to colonize.
Jahaun O. McKinley
PO Box 5000
Carson City Correctional Facility
Carson City MI 48811-5000
Jahaun O. McKinley
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