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General News    H2'ed 1/27/19

Prison Break: Inmate Escapes Through Art

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I mentioned the penalty and expense of stamps to mail artwork. The BOP Program Statement - the "rules" the prison employees are required to comply with - outlines the procedures for having art and craft works picked up by visiting family, as Gary and I and all the others have been doing. But with the decree by Moses that she was going to "get this straightened out," Gary and the others at FPC Montgomery have now been informed that the prison will no longer comply with the rules allowing visitors to pick up their work. And just like that, with no accountability, FPC Montgomery has announced their disregard and flaunting of federal rules, policies and laws. And for some reason, the warden - really the only warden we have encountered who had exhibited any level of competence and professionalism - seems to have let this newly arrived incompetent and unprofessional woman - Moses - take over.

JB: So much to talk about here. I'm confused. What are you saying? That inmates can no longer share their artwork with their families? Or that they will incur postage fees on top of the inflated art supplies. Years ago, I read about the prison 'surcharge' that inmates often face when wanting to connect by phone with family and friends. While we know that recidivism is reduced when families stay connected, it seems as if the BOP does everything in its power to isolate prisoners from their families.

JW: The BOP is infamous for finding ways to destroy families and erect obstacles to families being together or even keeping in touch by phone. I'll share about additional recent visitation craziness in a bit, but to respond to your question, you are correct, unfortunately. It has been long established that there are three factors that reduce recidivism: maintaining family relationships, religious connection, and job training and preparation. The BOP fails in all three categories. Truthfully, they do not want to reduce recidivism - prisoners mean money and jobs and benefits for them. They won't even release Gary, who should have been home before Christmas, as they do everything they can to keep prisoners as long as they can and keep them coming back.

Remember the management-level prison employee in Millington who taunted departing prisoners with "we'll leave the light on for you"? The BOP overcharges on everything, including phone calls, but what's worse is that prisoners are limited to 300 phone minutes per month, less than 10 minutes a day. And that's all. Not 300 minutes per family member per month but a total of 300 minutes no matter what. It has been especially hurtful during times of family crises, such as when Gary's mother and later my daddy passed away. We will never recover from Gary not being with family during those times or for the weddings of our son and daughter.

And back to sharing their art, FPC Montgomery has now imposed an additional financial barrier in conflict with federal written policy and rules. If prisoners are to share their art, they will be required to pay to mail it to their families rather than having their family pick it up following visitation. The cost of postage stamps is increasing on Jan. 27th, going up from 50 cents to 55 cents a stamp. For most people, that's not a big deal, but for hundreds of thousands of prisoners who are forced to use the mail to keep in touch with their families, and even more so did those who want to share their art, it makes it more difficult, keeping in mind that prisoners are paid only pennies per day for working for hours in their prison "jobs."

You may recall from our previous discussions that prison employees refused to provide accurate postal scales, postage charts or stamps in other that 1-ounce stamps, to maximize the expense to prisoners of mailing anything. There is also the risk of the art never being delivered or being damaged in transit, both of which we have experienced. It's all so bizarre and Kafkaesque, but visuals help, so I'm sharing this picture to make it clear.

Postage required to send artwork home so prison administrators can make a point
Postage required to send artwork home so prison administrators can make a point
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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This is an actual photograph showing the postage attached to the packaging of art Gary had sent to me. And yes, he was required to attach 42 stamps, at a cost of $21 to mail something I should have been allowed to pick up at visitation.

$21.00. Postage goes up on the 27th, at which point it would be $23.10. Keep in mind that both amounts are considerably more than what most prisoners "earn" for a month. Would you be able to spend more than your monthly income to mail home a painting you did? Especially after the grossly inflated costs to get the materials in the first place, it's just not doable. Adding insult to injury, I measured and weighed the package to determine what postage should have been, only to determine that Priority Mail postage for the package should have been $8.50, meaning FPC Montgomery defrauded us of $12.50.

JB: Mean, vindictive, as well as counterintuitive and ineffective. That leads me to conclude that you're probably right that they look at this prison population as a captive audience and milk it for every penny, to mix a few metaphors. Which piece of art was in that expensive package?

Bird in flight by Gary White, 2017, while in prison
Bird in flight by Gary White, 2017, while in prison
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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JW: I'm guessing based on the timeline but it would have been this one.

Show us another piece of Gary's work and tell us the story behind it, please.

Mother Duck with ducklings, Gary White, circa 2017, while in prison
Mother Duck with ducklings, Gary White, circa 2017, while in prison
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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The one featuring the mother duck with her ducklings may be his favorite, as he feels it expresses the love parents have for their children, regardless of species. He painted the duck in flight using more dramatic colors than he had previously used. I believe he loves the freedom it represents, to just be able to take flight. I felt they belonged together, as a reminder of "roots and wings" so that's how I have hung them. Gary grew up spending a lot of time at the beach and enjoyed boating, which inspired his painting of the ships.

White children on beach by Gary White, circa 2010
White children on beach by Gary White, circa 2010
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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