Since Dave Maass' article, "Inside Out," [Cover story, March 19] was published last week, I have received calls asking what people can do about the incarceration pandemic in the United States. Yes, we have the highest per capita incarceration rate-in the world. TWO MILLION plus, each year. As a society, we have moved from the presumption of innocence to the assumption of guilt. I can't count the number of times I've been told that if one is arrested, one must be guilty. Habeas corpus effectively disappeared a decade ago…long before anyone realized it was happening.
The euphemistically named WAR ON DRUGS was the first never-ending, failed war. And the house of cards it was grounded on was also fear.
What can you do? Educate yourself. Don't believe the "spin" associated with prisons and prisoners. Go to your search engine and keyword "wrongful convictions" and/or "prosecutorial misconduct." You will learn that our "justice system" isn't just.
Once you know more about what is really happening-contact your elected representatives. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has only Congress as its overseer; and Congress hasn't been watching. After all, felons usually can't vote. Contact Sen. [Jeff] Bingaman and Congressman [Tom] Udall, ask them what they are doing about prison issues.
Offer your support-time and money-to organizations that are working on prisoners' issues. Locally you can contact Mara Taub, of the Coalition for Prisoners' Rights at 982-9520. Mara and her group of volunteers have been publishing a newsletter for more than 30 years on a shoestring budget. They can use your donations and your time as a volunteer.
Nationally you can join The Innocence Project at innocenceproject.org. You have probably heard some of their success stories, innocent people freed after serving decades of time.
The November Coalition at november.org, whose "members educate the public about destructive, unnecessary incarceration due to the US drug war, and advocate for drug war prisoners."
The American Friends Service Committee at afsc.org/issues/issueindex.htm#criminal has many valuable articles, including Bonnie Kearness' landmark "Torture in US Prisons," a must-read.
Thank you to Mr. Maass and the Reporter's editor and publisher for allowing this article to be done. And thank you to all who have supported us during these grueling six years.
Thank you for your cover article "Inside Out" on Peter Fernandez' imprisonment and the conditions at La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution. Prison conditions and the possibility of false imprisonment are, like torture, famine and genocide, topics from which we instinctively recoil.
However, we Americans need to start paying attention to prison issues. We've recently learned that one in 100 Americans are in prison. Also, as we are seeing in the Don Siegelman case, there are strong allegations that some criminal prosecutions are being pursued for reasons of political gain rather than from the even-handed application of law. Finally, as the prison industry becomes increasingly privatized, we need to be alert to the ways in which prisons-for-profit are motivated to increase prison populations and reduce quality of services. As well, privatization reduces the accountability of the "prison industrial complex" to "we the people."
I am a close friend of Sabin Bailey, Peter Fernandez' partner. At the beginning of their ordeal, I shared the same disbelief that most Americans would have that the justice system could have been so grossly perverted.
Five years later, I am convinced that in our concern for providing security, our systems of punishment have grown like cancer and our civil liberties are severely in danger. Let's educate ourselves about this threat to democracy and our American values.
Thanks for the excellent article on the six years of prison that Stanford graduate Peter Fernandez endured.
Last year I was arrested and spent four terrible weeks in the Santa Fe County jail. My crime was child abuse for letting my baby girl sleep in the car for six minutes while I did an errand. Previous to that, I'd never been arrested or been inside a jail.
The experience changed my view of incarceration. I used to think, "Criminals deserve what they get." Now I think we are a monstrous country because of our disproportionately harsh sentences and the prosecution-weighted procedures.
The notion that we need to incarcerate millions of our citizens is ridiculous. We need to incarcerate the politicians who created this insanity. I know of two good organizations that are fighting to reform the system: Families Against Mandatory Minimums and The Sentencing Project. Both are membership organizations. Please join one or both.
I am very sorry that Lt. Colonel Reynolds USMC(Ret) seems to have missed what I had hoped was the primary point of the article: that homeless veterans need and deserve more recognition and help from everyone in our community [Letters, March 26: "Can It Be True?"].
Instead, without any basis in fact, but pure conjecture, and without even cursory investigation, he questions my discharge status and my integrity. I was, in fact, court martialed for being UA for nine months. My court martial occurred after my advanced infantry training. I was a platoon leader and the company guide during this time. At my court martial my company commander, my platoon lieutenant and my platoon staff sergeant all testified on my behalf. They said beyond a shadow of a doubt, they would go into battle with me.
My sentence was 30 days in the Brig, suspended sentence, forfeiture of one month's pay and reduction in rank of one grade (I left Paris Island as a private first class). Within six months at my permanent duty station, I was promoted one grade and within six to 12 months I was promoted again to E-3. On Feb. 15, 1985, I received my honorable discharge at Camp Pendleton, Calif. It is a matter of record, it is on my DD214.
Regardless, the important point here is for us all to acknowledge the significant part veterans play in supporting our country and all of us living here: for very little economic reward, public recognition or gratitude, under often harsh conditions and too frequently with physical, psychological, social and emotional damage.
That is what I wish to focus on, the community helping these veterans get the help and housing they need.
It makes me so sad that people are so quick to judge. In this day and age with all the world's problems, you try to make a positive change and you get nothing. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I have been working with Ron Edwards on the Homeless Veterans Fund for two months now. He is a man who cares. He has been there. Our Web site youhaveforgottenme.com couldn't be more fitting. YOU have forgotten. I guess most people think that vets who are homeless somehow did this to themselves and don't need or deserve our help. They abuse substances. That has to be of their own choosing. But what if they can't manage to deal with society on a whole? What if they have so many demons in their head they can not bear to look at anyone else?
They come back to a world in which they no longer belong. They come back to unwelcoming arms. Our vets need us more now than ever. Suicide rates are off the charts for vets right now. Should we just sit around in our comfort zones and let these men and women kill themselves because they see no other alternative?
These men and women were given a job to do, and they did it. They do a job that most of us could not and will not do. Why doesn't anyone care? In this town of radical bumper stickers and causes, it would seem we are more aware of the world's problems. But if we can't and won't help our own citizens, citizens who have fought for our freedoms, how can we expect to change the world? This is not about politics. This is about saving and changing lives.
Lt. Col. RC Reynolds, USMC (Ret) raises a couple of interesting question about the Ron Edwards interview, but he also raises a separate one by referring to the marines "keeping the peace in Iraq."
What peace? Saddam aside, Iraq was a relatively stable place before the US invasion and occupation, billed as a six-month "cakewalk." Some people absolutely refuse to face what a disaster we have unleashed-4,000 Americans dead and perhaps 100,000 mentally or physically disabled, more than 1 million Iraqis dead and enough additional America-haters to last us for several decades.
Oh, and no better oil supply than we had before-which I'm sure was the main point, and which raised Saddam's status above the world's other leading dictators. The Iraqis feel they're worse off now and want us out-not that anyone cares about their opinion.
I deeply appreciate marines and other soldiers being willing to defend America's true interests, but I think that soldiers and their families need to start being more engaged in the political process in terms of evaluating each military adventure along with the rest of us-both before and during. And afterward-if there ever IS an afterward to this one-at which point, with any luck, Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell et al will find themselves condemned by history, if not actually in prison.
Your last week's piece on Winners and Losers light-heartedly made us aware of the Buckman Diversion of the Rio Grande, which is soon to become a major source of city water [March 26: "Buckman Direct Diversion"].
You made no mention that this new city supply will almost certainly be contaminated with radioactive run-off from the Los Alamos Weapons Lab weapons, nor that there are numerous local groups-like Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety-who are resisting the project and trying to bring its potentially huge health effects to our attention. As a local doctor of public health, and a concerned citizen, I support their work. It's time for the Reporter to cover their activities and the broader question of our water safety. Thank you.
I have a lot or respect for Zane [Fischer]. He's got the background and education to be an art critic.
But sometimes maybe that's not enough. I recently visited Salon Mar Graff's opening, "Behind that Curtain" [Visual Arts, March 26: "Curtains!"] for which Zane wrote a review.
One of the artists presenting, Michael Schippling, takes digital images of what appears to be porn stars and manipulates them into "art." Of Michael Schippling's digital images, Zane writes, they "read like a series of album cover mock-ups for some kind of horrifying 80's electro-metal band," something that's great when you're a teenager but immature as an artistic display.
My first reaction to the images was similar. Then I asked some women what they thought. I was surprised and intrigued by their responses. One woman said gratitude. When I asked her to elaborate, I was only further confused by the female perspective of something I had previously assumed women would find distasteful.
This leads me to wonder about art critique in general. Images are going to invoke different responses in individuals based on their experiences and, in this case, gender.
Want to see what I mean? Take your date or significant other on a date to Salon Mar Graff and ask their opinion of Michael's work. Guaranteed to be a good opener for discussion. And isn't that what good art is for?
By a process of elimination I have determined that Mr. Fisher [sic] finds my work to be "mostly horrifying," with which I can live. Being described as "a dubious display of mature artistic process" is rather disappointing; however, I can take heart from the notion that he has confused his reactions to my fellow artists, Ms. V-Senutovitch and Mr. Ruesch, as well.
Whereas the latter might rightly be considered to be "emotionally compelling," the work of the former is most certainly "mysteriously beyond [him]".
Thankfully, he misspelled my name all three times in his review, so no one with Google will ever know.
STILL AT LARGE