Monday, July 18, 2016

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Volume I, Number 4


• Summer Heat Turns Some Prisons Into Ovens
• FY2015 DOC Educational Services
• May 2016 Parole Grant Rate at Less Than Three Percent
• After Years Behind Bars, Released Parolees Face an Uncertain Future
• Blind Poet at BKCC Stressed By Move To Another Prison 
• Poem: "A Sadder Day" 

Summer Heat Turns Some Prisons Into Ovens

Among the oppressive conditions in many of Virginia’s large concrete prisons is the excessive buildup of heat in older facilities without cooling systems. The sun heats up the concrete, which holds the heat for days and nights on end. Under certain conditions the use of showers turns a unit into what feels like a sauna. 

In the meantime, a kitchen supervisor recently had to be wheel chaired to medical for heat exhaustion while working on the serving line in one of the prison’s kitchens, and inmates pray for rain to bring them some relief.

Each detainee is allowed to purchase one eight-inch electric fan at a cost of $29.09, and is allowed to purchase two pairs of gym shorts with prices that range from $10.69 to $17.28 depending on their size. But many do not have money to purchase either the fan or the gym shorts.

FY2015 DOC Educational Services

A 2007 study by Virginia Tech indicated that the recidivism rate for inmates who complete a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program is 20.6 percent less than for those who do not do so. This translates into $7.63 saved for every dollar spent on educational services.

According to VADOC Director Harold Clarke, "The first priority of the Department of Corrections is public safety. We don't want to see offenders return to prison. Education plays a crucial role in helping men and women return successfully to their communities as law-abiding citizens,”

Virginia's Education Services provides the following:

Adult Basic Education: A literacy program which advances students' academic skills for those not having a verified GED or high school diploma.
During FY 2014-15, 1,083 students tested for a GED, 800 passed resulting in a 74% pass rate as compared to 71% for the state.
Apprenticeship: Programs where a work assignment is combined with classroom or related instruction. Apprenticeship programs are registered with the Department of Labor and Industry. In FY 2014-15, 756 Apprenticeship students (104 Apprenticeship Completions).
Career and Technical Education (CTE): Technical programs prepare students for entry level employment in a variety of jobs. This also includes employability skills, safety and applied math. Many programs provide an opportunity for students to obtain industry based certifications as an additional credential for future employment. The 37 classes range from Auto Body Repair to Computer Systems Technology to Welding.

May 2016 Parole Grant Rate at Less Than Three Percent

Virginia's Parole Board released only six of over 200 inmates up for parole review in May, according to their website. In light of such a low inmate “graduation” rate, one wonders about the effectiveness of the DOC’s efforts at “correcting” offenders. 

Also, one should ask what purpose the DOC’s educational programs serve if deserving inmates can’t be released back into their communities to actually use the skills and training they have acquired?

Among those turned down for release recently was a model inmate at Augusta Correctional Center who has been incarcerated for 26 years for the murder of his wife and her lover in 1990, clearly an impulsive crime of passion. He had been drinking and was beside himself over her betrayal. 

Studies show that offenders like him, in spite of their abhorrent and inexcusable crimes, are among the least likely to be a danger to their communities when they return. Yet, having been sentenced to 87 years, he may well die in prison if he is not granted release for exemplary behavior.

After Years Behind Bars, Released Parolees Face an Uncertain Future

After serving over forty years inside Virginia's prison system, Claude Lamb was finally granted discretionary parole release earlier this year. Currently on disability, he receives $730 per month and is living in an apartment he rents in Portsmouth for $500 a month. He no longer has friends or family in the area to turn to for help to pay for his utilities and groceries.

If we taxpayers can afford to keep people behind bars at a cost of some $26,000 or more a year, we should be able to help them with basic necessities when they return to their communities.

Blind Poet at BKCC Stressed By Move To Another Prison 

Minor Junior Smith, legally blind, is being moved to another facility along with three other blind inmates. The thought of having to become oriented to another completely strange environment is highly stressful for him.

Mr. Smith’s poetry recalls experiences from his troubled past, an example of which follows:

"A Sadder Day"(Saturday)

Uncle Oliver would tell me years later that fluid had been drawn from his spine. 
During that Saturday court session, I would be scheduled for treatment of mine.

Deprived Uncle Oliver had been serving in the military when he had lost his mind. 
Related by blood, his daddy and I were the ones who were indeed partially blind.

He claimed that a spell from Lucille had caused him to see snakes out of one eye. 
Included in jokes, one found it difficult to separate a fact about him from a lie.

However, wearing a glass eye, he provided Aunt Agnes with transportation in a car. 
Recently, daddy had bailed him out of jail for creating a disturbance in a bar.

Harry Hart's youngest uncle had also become mentally ill in the armed forces. 
Even so, a check from The Veteran's Administration was one of his financial sources.

Uncle Oliver might have been unaware that he was qualified for the same benefit. 
They lived on Dark Run's separate roads, and each man would be known to have a fit.

I had no idea what was being said about me in the Salem Courtroom that morning. 
My parents had left me in the lobby with a policeman not having given me a warning.

The officer treated me to a Baby Ruth candy bar, which reminded me of Aunt Beth. 
Imaginations of harsh treatment in a "bad welfare home" had me scared half to death.

Evidently, convincing statements were expressed as I experienced a sadder day. 
Upon seeing mama's decayed-teeth smile, I knew that she must have had her way.

In the truck, mama assured me that I could play with Melonie all day on Sunday. 
She added that I would be admitted to Jefferson Hospital for a spinal tap on Monday.

We passed Riverside to shop for groceries at Hall's store beyond the county line. 
Mr. Hall's three sons waited on us, and he was flashing smiles like a neon sign.

To help daddy select foods, mama left me beside a cooler drinking a bottle of pop. 
I watched one of the young Hall men loading our truck with sacks of Red Dog chop.

I couldn't imagine why that young man didn't have any hair on top of his head. 
His partial baldness reminded me of one thing badgering mama had previously said.

Under pressure, she had told Sally that there was something wrong with my mind. 
Was a fragment of glass from the lens causing my left eye to go completely blind?

In the store mirror, I could see that the lid was almost closed over my left eye. 
Mama handed me a bag containing ice cream, the last item daddy had chosen to buy.

Situated amid the truck seat, I held the half gallon of ice cream on my lap. 
Nothing else was said to me that day in regards to hospitalization or a spinal tap.

A trip to town and another one to the store probably left mama feeling revived. 
Depressing ideas of what lay ahead for me made me feel more fearful and deprived.

Below Riverside, we turned left and rode to the gate by the weeping willow tree. 
Would someone think that the tree was weeping for Danny Clift, Uncle Oliver and me?


Sources for this newsletter include inmates who prefer to remain anonymous.
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