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Investigative journalism — why this, why that, why not, why?

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(Most likely a photo of group therapy in a supermax setting.)

Investigative journalism is to discover the unknown, the information that escapes the public eye.  As adults, we seem to have lost the inquisitive nature of childhood — why this, why that, why not, why?  Instead, we engage in the comforts of social media where like-minded individuals support our stationary beliefs.  Perhaps we need to rediscover our scientific nature where we question, probe, and examine the meaning of “whatever.”

In the pursuit of my most recent book, “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” the available literature is focused on the negativity of the supermax prison.  While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope.  But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar.

One cannot explore the history of the supermax without asking if there is a better way. That’s when I discovered the 1935 writings of Frank C. Richmond, Director of the Wisconsin Psychiatric Field Service.  Sanford Bates, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, gave a challenge to his friend, Frank Richmond.  “How can we devise a system that will be at once a present protection and still comprehend a program of sound humanitarian rehabilitation?”  In time, Richmond combined his imagination, creativity, and scientific truths to develop a blueprint for the prison of the future.  “It would be a scientific laboratory where the bodies, minds, and souls of the inmates would be subjected to the utmost scrutiny, and where every step known to modern science be taken to prepare the inmates to resume their places in the world.”

In Supermax Prison, I combine the writings of Frank C. Richmond with current scientific findings to show an imaginary place — the prison of the future — for the incarceration of violent inmates.  For the doubters, I suggest going back to the inquisitive-nature of our childhood.  Why, why, why?  Why not?

An indepth discussion on the prison of the future can be found in “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals.

 

Book Titles, Subtitles, and Blurbs

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When I finished my manuscript and found a publisher willing to take a chance on me, I thought the journey was complete.  After all, I had written a 250-page manuscript and was proud of my accomplishment.  I even had a title — “Maxed Out:  The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.”  It’s time to rush the book to press and make some money.  Not so fast, my publisher said.  Marketing, the part authors don’t like, is the name of the game.  Without marketing no one will read your book.

Been there, done that.  What a devastating thought.

I can’t tell you how many titles and subtitles we explored.  In the end, the publisher suggested the obvious, Supermax Prison.  Of course we needed a subtitle for additional information on the book.  I told the publisher that “control” was the original reasoning for a supermax, and that prisons were out-of-control.  Hence, the subtitle was born.  Controlling the most dangerous criminals.

Next we needed book blurbs from people who are smarter and better writers than myself.  It helps if they are experts on the prison scene.  We have three blurbs from writers familiar with the incarceration of violent inmates.

As a member of the FBI Swat Team that put down the Atlanta prison riot in 1987, I recognized the need to separate the average inmate from the violent prisoners quick to instigate a prison uprising as the killing of a fellow inmate.  Supermax Prison does a remarkable job of informing the reading public of an important and little known subject. Highly recommended.
Jack Owens, Special Agent of the FBI (Ret.) Author Pock Trilogy

Rarely does a book come along that truly shows the final point in the life of a violent criminal. Supermax Prison does just that. It brings the reader into the lowest depths constructed for  human life in the United States: incarceration for the human being too violent to live with others, even other convicts. A must read for everyone interested in criminality, law and order and  well written books. 
Terry Turchie, Special Agent FBI (ret)Unit Dir. Unabomb Task Force
Supermax Prison is a splendid work. The authors have captured how civil authorities have managed to separate the bad from the very worst. This book captures the soul, if that is the right word, of a place in this world where those who inflict carnage on their fellow man are prevented from doing so again. To the authors, I say “well done.”
John Monaghan, Capt. NYPD (Ret.) Author, forthcoming novel :  Head On: NYPD Takes on ISIS.
In the meantime, I’ve received some nice reviews and will include a couple of them in the Foreword.  Others will appear in various outlets like Amazon when the book is released on August 1, 2017.  Good or bad, the reviews serve as a learning experience for me.  Please keep them coming.  Let me know if you are interested in receiving an advanced review copy of the manuscript.
Many thanks to those who support my writing.
Larry L Franklin

 

The writer crawls from his cocoon.

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My last blog was written on October 30, 2015 when I had recovered from two back surgeries and swallowed my last oxycodone.  The pain was gone, my swagger was back, and the creative juices were flowing.  It was time to take that glorious trip I had taken on three prior occasions.  It was time to write a book, and leave the seclusion of my cocoon.

Nineteen months later, I have a signed contract with History Publishing Company
for my latest book, “Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.” The projected release date is mid-June, 2017.  It seems appropriate to include the Prologue in this blog.  After all, this has been a major part of my life for the past nineteen months.

Prologue

Few residents can tell you that Illinois was granted statehood on December 3, 1818, or that the state animal is the white-tailed deer. Fewer still know that the bluegill is the state fish, or that the monarch butterfly, painted turtle, and pumpkin pie gained similar state recognition. But most people know about the place called Tamms.

In the mid 1990’s, Governor James Edgar and the Illinois legislature signed off on the construction of the Tamms supermax prison, built just a stone’s throw from the village of the same name. Small towns were sprinkled across the countryside with room for seasonal crops and native wildflowers that graced the picturesque bottomland of southern Illinois. Herds of cattle steadied themselves as they stood on the hilly terrain, and black vultures, sometimes called “shabby undertakers,” patrolled the two-lane highway just east of the prison gate, swooping down to devour the latest road-kill.

The Tamms’ supermax was the ultimate result of prison violence during the 1980s and early 1990s, when prison gangs mirrored the organizational structure and control of a big-city Mafia. Most inmates who entered the Illinois maximum-security prisons had to make a choice between joining a gang that offered protection, friendships, financial rewards, access to drugs and other contraband, or surviving as a lone inmate in a dangerous, even lethal world. Some of the more violent inmates eventually sent to Tamms included Henry Brisbon, the I-57 killer; William Cabrera, sentenced for the killing of correctional officer Lawrence Kush; Ike Easley who stabbed superintendent Robert Taylor to death; and Corey Fox, an inmate who strangled his cellmate. The Tamms supermax seemed to be the best way to reduce violence, protect the safety of staff and inmates, and improve the functioning of the four antiquated maximum-security prisons in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections, together with architects, construction workers, and outside advisors were determined to create a state-of-the-art facility that would provide safety for inmates and staff, with a special emphasis on the mental health needs of a unique population. In 1998, Tamms opened with the certainty of success, and the assurance of jobs in a county that labored under the weight of eighteen percent unemployment.

But time eroded public confidence in a facility that imposed long-term solitary confinement years beyond acceptable practice. What began as a high-tech facility became known as a hellhole of misery, a place where the sane became insane, the sickest turned crazier than before. News outlets, inmate lawsuits, scholarly exposes, and human rights groups contributed to the demise of Tamms some fifteen years later. Any counter arguments were like whispers in the crowded arena where gladiators ruled the day.

The strangulation of a seventy-three million dollar structure is a story that needs to be told. Rakesh Chandra and Larry L Franklin met at the Long Branch coffee shop in Carbondale, Illinois, to discuss the possibility of a book about the Tamms supermax. Chandra had been the Tamms’ psychiatrist over a seven-year period. Franklin had written two books on women sentenced to life in prison for murder, and had experience as an investigative journalist. Together they began a journey of twists and turns that eventually expanded beyond their preconceived expectations.

Human rights groups were passionate in their criticism of the supermax; politicians were unwilling to provide adequate funding; scholars sometimes picked their favorite statistic to prove a point; inmates told unimaginable stories sprinkled with a measure of truth; and families shared stories passed on by boys who became broken men. But the quieter voices spoke of inmates who improved while at Tamms; mental health workers who were able to practice their craft; correctional officers who lived beyond their life expectancy; the orderly function of lesser restricted facilities; local residents who spent a chunk of their life to bring the supermax to their area; and southern Illinois residents who brought home a paycheck every two weeks.

While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope. An abundance of literature addresses the perceived evils of Tamms. But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar. I discuss in some depth the treatment of mental illness in and out of a prison setting, the difficulty of providing correct diagnosis within a unique population, and society’s moral responsibility in caring for the mentally ill. It is the author’s desire to present the good and bad, the certain and unimaginable. The reader can choose sides on the issue, or embrace the broader story of Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.