prison pressure-cookers, literally

A few days ago I heard a story on NPR about Texas inmates suing to force the Department of Criminal Justice to bring down to temperature in their prison to a balmy 88 degrees.  According to the suit, filed on behalf of four prisoners near College Station, it is often so hot that inmates have to put towels on scalding-hot tables in order to rest their arms down.  The small windows in the cells provide no air; and often it is hotter inside the cell than outside in the summer Texas sun.  This isn’t new, because in most cases, Texas prisons are not air-conditioned (only 21 of the 111).  The Houston Chronicle reported that there are more than half a dozen other hot-prison lawsuits in Texas, and inmates have died from the heat.  Whaaat? 

Here is the story if you haven’t read it.   I recommend it.

There are a few reasons that this gets my blood boiling.  And not just because I have gained a particular affinity for the US prison population after watching two seasons of Orange is the New Black, and am now on a ACLU-like crusade for justice.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the US has incarcerated 2.4 million people on any given day.  Chew on that for a second, and check out this graph.  It’s insane. IN-SANE. We lock up more people, per capita, than any other nation.  And it makes me think we lock up people for too many things, like children running away, or immigration offenses, and really technical, or other? What does that EVEN mean?

Now, I’m not a fancy lawyer.  But I know two things: that can’t be good when being a prisoner in the US is more common than being a high school teacher, and it must be really freaking expensive (upwards of $50K per year/per inmate according to the Economist).  Is that really good value for money?

And here is my real grudge.  Ready? Eventually most of these prisoners are going to be released back into society.  And hopefully they will seen the error of their ways, and lead well-meaning lives, and not reoffend.  But how likely is that if we can do no better than treat them like less-than while in prison?  Or provide inhumane conditions? Now, prison shouldn’t be summer camp.  However, shouldn’t it be a place of both retribution and rehabilitation?  Isn’t that the point for most offenders?

The problem is that we, our politicians and our prisons aren’t doing a very good job at providing a place of rehabilitation.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 68% of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and 77% were arrested within five years.   

So it particularly irks me when I see this:  State Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was concerned about the inmate deaths [in Texas] but wanted to examine the circumstances of each. “Texans are not motivated to air-condition inmates,” he said he was not sympathetic to complaints about a lack of air-conditioning, partly out of concern about the costs, but also out of principle that offenders were not a priority.


And so I end with a quote from the great Nelson Mandela: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

Amen, friend.

how to talk to a little person

A few years ago I read a book that stayed with me.  It was Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block.  If you are a parent of a young child, at some point there comes a time when you probably have wanted to shut him outside for a while, lock the door, and go about your daily business quietly and without kid screams and whines.  Perhaps even turn on some classical music and cook a nice meal while your child screams their head off outside for all your neighbors to hear.

If you are me, that desire happens at least once a day.  Luckily for my neighbors and my kids, with restraint, I don’t act on it.

Karp says that instead of trying to reason with this little person who has taken over your whole rational life, it’s better to treat them like a caveman. “Cavemen were stubborn, opinionated, and not too verbal. They bit and spat when angry, were sloppy eaters, hated to wait in line, and were negative, tenacious, distractible, and impatient…sound familiar?”  Um…yes.  Welcome to my house, every freaking day.

So J. was gone last week and both my kids were whining.  I don’t want something. I want something. I don’t want something.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  After a while it just becomes one big blur of high-pitched nothingness to me.

And then I remembered Karp.  If I was going to talk to little Cavepeople, I had to be a Cavewoman.  Children, hear mama roar.

So as my two girls sat on a bed whining about something or another for a good 10 minutes, I sang out in my highest-pitched whiney-voice and started my best 3-year old whine.  “I wanna go on vacation I want daddy to be home I want to have a spa day I wanna big ol’e glass of wine I want someone to get it for me.”

Without missing a beat, both girls looked at me with eyes wide and mouths shut.  After a minute A. whispered, “Mommy, do you feel ok? Do you need to rest?” and C. stuck her thumb in her mouth and leaned on me.

Score one for this cavewoman.

a few things about me

Well, hello. Welcome to my first post as an official blogger.  For now, I’m going to remain anonymous.  But I suppose you need to know a few things about me to spend your time here and not watching funny or die.   So – in my first post on princesses, passports and punditry, here is my Top Ten:

  1. I’m a mom of two wonderful little girls.  They would like to believe they are Disney princesses.  Probably best to not tell them otherwise.  I’ll call them A. (4 yrs) and C. (1.5 yrs)
  2. I’m the wife to a smart, and definitely more positive better-half, J. He works two jobs – one out-of-state.  Which makes me a full-time mom.  One and a half times over.
  3. J. and I have lived in three different countries, and five different houses in the last seven years thanks to the US Government. We are finally settled outside of Washington, DC.
  4. Speaking of, I have a passion for travel.  Period. I’ve seen every continent multiple times (with the exception of Antarctica) – including the USSR (yes, pre-Russia).  If you are looking for tricks for traveling with kids, I’ve got ’em.
  5. J. and I watch Morning Joe on MSNBC.  But I’m independent and J. is conservative.  He likes to think of himself as a fiscal conservative; socially more liberal.  But don’t believe him.
  6. My folks are Reaganites and I grew up outside of DC.  I turned out to be a wee bit more liberal than they probably would have liked.  It’s probably because I went to one of those liberal bastions of progressive thought for my graduate degree and was exposed to all those crazy thinkers.
  7. I’m a believer in healthy living. I’ve suffered from health issues in my life and eating well, exercise and staying positive has helped me through a lot of them.
  8. We’ve got a mini-golden doodle we love.  Sadly, I’m allergic to him. It’s very very sad for both of us.
  9. I don’t read horoscopes. I was born on the cusp of two zodiac signs, and I think that’s massively unfair, so I think it’s all a bunch of hooey.
  10. However, I have the awsomest birthday ever – 4/20.  Beat that.

Welcome to Princesses, Passports and Punditry (PPP for short).  I hope you stay.