Tag Archives: physical and sexual abuse

Prologue to “Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals

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The ebook will be released on August 1, 2017, followed by the paperback a couple of weeks later.  I am sharing the prologue to the book at this time.

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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 1990s, 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 roadkill.

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 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 advisers, 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 18 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 15 years later. Any counter arguments were like whispers in the crowded arena where gladiators ruled the day.

The strangulation of a $73 million 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 initial 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. We 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 authors’ 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 Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals.

 

 

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.

 

A phone call from a prison cell that houses the mentally ill.

IMG_0088Just talked with a friend who happens to be in prison for allegedly killing her five-year-old stepdaughter.  No, we weren’t talking over a cup of coffee at the local coffeehouse where we met and greeted each other with a hug, followed by a “how are you doing?”  It was another telephone call from a prison constructed with concrete and metal pipes.  God, it’s a cold, hard place where she has lived for the past fifteen years with some forty-five years to go.  I’m certain that a lot of you are thinking that it’s appropriate that she lives in such a place, and is left to suffer every second of the day after day, after day, after day….  After all, she killed God’s greatest creation, a precious child.  I have to admit that there was a time when I, for a minute or two, felt the same way.  It was the time when I saw the photos of the little girl taken by the pathologist.  Her face was smashed, bruised, and then I saw her swollen brain.  I nearly vomited.  I swallowed hard, pushing the vile matter further down into my stomach.  But I still remember the image.

Now I see things quite differently.  Becca is a friend of mine who suffers from a severe mental illness and just happened to do a very bad, unimaginable thing.  Now that Becca is on her medications and away from the violent men in her life, she is a different person: a good person, a loving person, who suffers everyday of her life.

Becca’s life was a combination of factors that we see quite often today.  It was a formula destined for tragedy.  Lets see if we can put the pieces together — a heavy dose of a severe mental illness, no medication, three abusive husbands who beat the shit out of her, and a mental health system that fell short.  Each time Becca went into a mental hospital, she received treatment for about seven days where she was put on medication and a few therapy sessions.  Oh, I almost forgot, she was in the hospital for thirty days one time.  But each time she came out of the hospital she went back to her family and friends, back to the things that had destroyed her.  We’ve heard the same song before, and the lyrics cry out for help.  It’s not in the top forty, but it’s still there for all to hear, if they would only listen.

I’m sorry if I had to rant over my lost cause.  But Becca is my friend and I had to write something.  God help the mentally ill.
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Becca was the character in my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Baren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”