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Monday, November 30, 2015

Inmates Keep Up Their Struggle For Justice

Mr. Charles Zellers, Sr. (front left), with some friends
In light of worsening and ever more crowded conditions within Virginia's Department of Corrections I continue to be impressed by the resilience of so many of the inmates I hear from. Instead of succumbing to hopelessness they continue to do whatever they can to improve their own lives and to advocate for justice and a second chance for themselves and others. One such person is Charles Zellers, Sr., whose concerns appear below:

In light of recent news that some kinds of meat cause stomach and colon cancer, I would like to know how bad the grade D processed meats are that they serve us here. There are a lot of inmates I know who have diabetes and/or high blood pressure, including myself. DOC just came out with a new meal menu, and it looks like they have cut foods to save money and here the portion size are less then the menu calls for. DOC "sausages" are awful. We are served "Salisbury steak" that we call Meat Rot. Most times food service does not feed what is on the Standardized Menu. Just today I was told by an inmate kitchen worker that they save meats and beans that are left over from other meals and keep them in the freezer. I do not think we are being given a healthy balanced diet daily nor are we getting proper vitamins.

They've also changed from exchanging our worn out laundry every three months, to every six months. And Keefe commissary prices continue to increase several times a year but they never increase our pay. Keefe charges outrageous prices and gives the DOC a kickback, just like GTL and JPAY (phone and email services). Why are taxpayers paying to incarcerate inmates when the DOC is profiting from inmates and their families?

Prison jobs and pay have been cut to save money. By not having enough jobs for inmates to work to buy their wants and needs is going to cause more inmate on inmate robberies and stealing. It has not been bad here but I am afraid all of this will change.

The General Assembly passed a bill a few years back that Delegate Thomas C. Wright, Jr. sponsored which allows DOC to take ten percent of any money a prison inmate receives and hold it in an account until the inmate is released from prison. If they was really trying to help the inmate, why wouldn't they allow the inmate to draw interest on the money they are holding? Is the DOC profiting from keeping all of that money in their bank account? One thousand dollars held in an account for every state inmate is a lot of money. There are over thirty thousand inmates in prison. 

Inmates used to receive money from people at their prison, now they have to send the money to the JPay company and they charge a fee to wire transfer to the inmate or for free they will send it snail mail, where it takes several weeks to receive it.

And why should we have to pay $5.00 for a medical visit and $2.00 for each prescription and $2.00 for each tooth worked on? Are we not still wards of the state?

If the Governor, Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security and Parole Commission truly wants to reform the uncultured and uncivilized Virginia criminal justice system, they should do the following:

Step 1. Mandate that all interrogations with a suspect or convicted felon are video recorded by a private company and treated as confidential legal documentation. This would protect everyones' rights.

Step 2. Mandate that every convict felon has a high school diploma, GED certificate or have been exempted per DOC policy prior to release from prison.

Step 3. Mandate that every convict receives treatment for alcohol, anger, drug, mental health, sexual or whatever issues related to the offender's crime requires.

Step 4. Mandate that every convict receives training in at least one Vocational trade prior to reentering society.

Step 5. Mandate that the main goal of Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) is to keep inmates and staff safe from sexual or violent assaults.

Step 6. Mandate that every inmate in prison has a job if they want one. This is key to the safety and well being of all.

Step 7. Stop outside companies from profiting from inmates and their families. Most are poverty stricken already.

Step 8. Mandate that all state funded agencies are required to offer assistance to ex-offenders upon their release. This includes but is not limited to: food, clothing, shelter and job opportunities.

Step 9. Publicize on Virginia television that inmates who have been in prison long enough to pay for their crimes will start being freed when they have done all they could to change while in prison and are ready to reenter society. We can no longer keep these individuals locked away. Their treatment has been barbaric for far too many years. We must treat each other civilly and with respect.

Here's a link to contact the Governor and the Department of Public Safety. Ask for a reply: 
https://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office
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