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Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Classrooms, Not Prison Cells
By Daniel Treglia

I’m inspired to write because of Miriam Hernandez, who wrote “Where’s the Attention to Education” in the May issue of the Community Alliance. Although it was focused on kids preoccupied with the newest trends and staff more worried about dress codes than better grades, the bigger question was still raised—where’s the attention to education—which is what I’d like to address, but on another scale.

I’m a 27-year-old man incarcerated in the Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU). The media has portrayed us as the worst of the worst. The truth is, the conditions of this prison are the worst of the worst. However, that’s not what this article will be about. It’s about why most of us are here and how much it costs to have us here, which is where your tax dollars are going; instead of going toward education, that money is being spent to keep us locked in a box.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has 33 prisons. Each prison has an administrative segregation unit (ASU). In addition, there are four prisons within each SHU. The reason inmates are placed in an ASU or an SHU is for alleged acts of misconduct, however, over the past few years these units have been used to house inmates the CDCR has labeled “prison gang affiliates.” When you hear “prison gang,” it conjures up images of what the media portrays through CDCR propaganda films, but what it takes to become validated as such, and how much it costs, will make you ask “where’s our money?”

To become validated an inmate needs three source items. The source items they use for those of us who are Mexican are usually drawings of Aztec artwork and having the addresses of people who write inmates that are validated. Once an inmate is validated, he has imposed an intermediate SHU term and will not be eligible for release for at least six years (one more year than for murdering a guard).

In 2007‒2008, 820 inmates were validated. It costs $24,000‒$27,000 to house an inmate in general population, but the moment he/she is placed in the ASU or the SHU, that cost rises to $54,000‒$57,000 a year.

What it costs to house me in an SHU could pay for Miriam Hernandez’s education. It could put new books and computers in classrooms. And that’s just for me alone. There are at least 10,000‒20,000 inmates validated, and for what? Drawings, names in their possession, books on Aztecs (or, for Black inmates, George Jackson).

Now the state has passed laws to give more credits to reduce California’s overcrowded prisons. At the same time, it passed Penal Code 2933.6(b), which allows credits to be taken away just for a prison gang label. So for every inmate released, the lost money is replaced by validating inmates.

I was targeted because I study and practice law. My mind was a threat not to their penological interest, but their private interest. It’s always those who dissent from the status quo that are locked in these places. I’ve lost touch with the outside world. I’m lucky to have only six years left on my term, but the majority here will stay until they grow old and die. And for what—addresses and drawings or talking to someone?

It is a multimillion dollar business, and we are the product. I ask where’s the attention to education? The system preaches public safety, yet forgets about public education. Without a good education the prisons will fill, unemployment rates will continue to go up and there will never be opportunities for those who want a good education—not when cells are being built for men and women rather than classrooms for boys and girls.

It makes me angry when those who proclaim to protect are the threat. The reality is they don’t care if Miriam’s or other kids get an education because the system can’t make money off kids going to school. It costs money to pay for a child’s education. However, housing inmates make money for the government. Millions are spent to get laws passed to make longer sentences. The government of this state exploits victims to pass laws that are totally irrelevant to what happened to the victim.

Take the draconian three strikes law. A sick and deranged man raped and murdered a little girl. Instead of rallying to pass a law to give the death penalty to anyone who murders a child, there was a push to strike out any felon. Steal a bike. Life. Steal a videocassette. Life. That’s a lifetime of money in the government’s pocket. Your money.

So when I see cells instead of schools, I ask, “Where’s the attention to education?” It’s up to the voters (you) to pass, change or get rid of laws. The promises of politicians are made to be broken. It is in your hands to control your tax dollars. Pass laws for education, not more cells. There will be no need to rehabilitate if you educate. Not that there is any rehabilitation, but you catch my drift.

*****

Daniel Treglia (T66950) is a prisoner at Pelican Bay State Prison, SHU-C3-102, Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532. He looks forward to your questions and dialogue.

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Shortchanging the Future Unless We Change
By Ruth Gadebusch

 

Ruth Gadebusch
Ruth Gadebusch

It is increasingly evident that this society is unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to pass a secure future to our progeny, the folk whom we profess to love dearly. Lip service is easier than actually changing.

At this writing, there is what we like to call a fringe group predicting no future beyond the next few months; however, most of us do not join that chorus. We expect the planet to survive through future generations and we want it to be better for them—that is if it requires little effort on our part. It is much easier to complain or to succumb to complacency than to act.

Political action is required. Good candidates for public office should step up or be recruited. Voting need not be choosing the lesser of two evils. We also must let certain current office holders know our displeasure.

We can make it known that we believe in responsible taxation and that wealthy individuals and corporations must pay their share. After years of expecting the recipients of tax breaks to create jobs, it is abundantly clear that they have not done so. It is equally clear that the financial corporations bailed out by taxpayers have not followed up responsibly.

Are we willing to stop the buying of candidates with campaign contributions? There is hardly any doubt that all too many of our officials cater more to the desires and greed of the donors than to the needs of the citizens. Ours is rapidly becoming a society divided along economic lines. Such a division does not portend well.

The voting pattern in Fresno’s last mayoral race graphically demonstrates the division in our community. We would do well to heed its message. The more affluent population voted for the ultimate winner of the race, and the lower economic group voted just as solidly for the other candidate. The difference was in the turnout. The two groups had comparable population sizes, but they voted in unequal numbers. Unless, and until, all citizens take advantage of the vote, we will continue on our downhill path. This observation is intended not to criticize the current mayor but to point out that we should all be concerned with such a stunning separation within our city.

It may not appear as clear-cut, but few would argue against the perception that a serious division has developed within the nation. Were that not so, we would not have one political party tilting all its proposals to enriching the already rich while cutting services to those in need, all too often by obstructionist methods. By no stretch of the imagination can this be considered fair or in the best interest of the nation.

A mark of civilization is a group’s willingness to tax itself for the good of the whole. A sizable portion of the nation is failing that test. Prevention has always proven itself more cost-effective than remediation. When we close down parks, cut education, fail to provide medical care for all, leave children homeless and hungry or ignore a host of other civic needs, we are selling the future short. A high price will be paid. We are developing a massive debt of more than money that is difficult, if not impossible, to justify.

Are we going to continue, or are we going to mend our ways for the sake of those future generations?

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.

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Will Republicans Care Again?
By Leonard Adame

 

Leonard Adame

On January 1, 1863, Republican President Lincoln, a man of modest birth and upbringing who left his log house for greater things, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the document freeing Southern slaves. In 1964, the party of Lincoln voted overwhelmingly to pass the Civil Rights Act.

So how is it that now the Republicans (of course, there are exceptions) not only want to obliterate civil rights but also Medicare and other social programs? If they have their way, this country will become a virtual mega-plantation: Most people will be forced to work for minimum wage, have no health benefits or union representation or any hope of buying homes, new cars and retirement programs. We will become a country of service laborers (virtual slaves) aspiring to buy only cheap duds, booze and fast food at Walmart.

Eternally nefarious, the Republicans say “reforms” are needed to save the country from financial collapse. So all of their PR continually hammers us with that message. Don’t be fooled. It’s a smokescreen. By scaring people with the threat of higher taxes, an impending racist “Mexican Reconquista” and by claiming that the Islamic people will destroy America, people in this nation are profoundly distracted. Most of us don’t, and in some cases won’t, no matter the evidence, see that the Republicans’ grand plan is to gut laws and regulations that currently prevent them from completely controlling this society.

The mostly wealthy Republicans, that is, corporate upper management and bosses, want no regulations keeping them from manufacturing flawed and dangerous products and foodstuffs (such as genetically modified plants and pesticides) or from creating monopolies. Historically, the Republicans have been expert at burying independent studies that say as much.

The Republicans also advance their agenda by claiming to be proud Americans who support GIs, who proclaim that American values (including democracy and equality) must be defended and who espouse that our way of life be a prime example for the rest of the world. But their hidden agenda grossly reveals they are in fact anti-American.

Republican politicians sell out to corporations in return for personal wealth (brought about by passing laws allowing outsourcing jobs, cutting benefits and retirement plans, and cutting workers and salaries). They subvert democracy by lying to voters who, unfortunately, too often don’t have the critical thinking abilities to see how Republican smokescreens function. But to those who oppose Republicans’ plans, it’s as clear as a day after a rainstorm that they are methodically transforming this country into a plantation that functions only according to their subversive personal interests.

More important, for the poor and disenfranchised, the Republican agenda means that more and more people will die from disease, from homelessness (and its inherent dangers from exposure and violence) and from lives made perennially desperate by living on the edge of poverty and ignorance (there will be less and less higher education for people because the costs will prohibit those without family fortunes from going to college). If this comes to pass, then America’s promise that people can earn decent lives and have equality will die a sordid death.

Would Lincoln have supported the current Republican agenda? Would the man who sacrificed so much to keep the union and its egalitarian principles intact have ignored what his party is now doing? And how is it that Republicans who, ironically, were primarily responsible for the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act now want to destroy that law and its philosophical tenets?

Clearly, only educated voters who still believe in the democratic principles of this country can stop the Republicans. But if the Republicans successfully ensure that our education systems don’t teach people how to think (by controlling curriculum and hiring only instructors who will obey Republican propaganda), then they will have won. And they will have destroyed America for personal gain.

So will we voters allow Republicans to win, thereby making Lincoln and freedom irrelevant?

*****

Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at giganteescritor@hotmail.com.

 

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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