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General News    H2'ed 1/27/19

Prison Break: Inmate Escapes Through Art

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The Continuing Saga of Gary and Judy White

For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les's brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice.

Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship. According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. White is now serving ten years. During that time, he has been shunted from one federal facility to another. The recent passage and signing of the First Step Act was supposed to result in the release of Gary and 4,000 other inmates.Siegelman was released in February, 2017. Gary remains in prison, despite the recently promised governmental reprieve. This is installment #36 of our ongoing series*.

My guest today is Judy White, frequent OpEdNews contributor. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy.

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Joan Brunwasser: Last time, we talked about the artwork that Gary made for you and the trouble you had being able to take it home with you. This is just one of many pieces that Gary has made while in prison. Tell us a bit about how the process works, Judy.

Judy White: Gary has always been a creator of art. Sometimes I think he is too multi-talented. He sings, plays guitar and banjo. In addition to painting and drawing, he has created stained glass pieces. One of my favorites is interlocking hearts of roses and stems that Gary made for our 5th anniversary.

stained glass created by Gary White for Judy, on their 5th anniversary, 2001
stained glass created by Gary White for Judy, on their 5th anniversary, 2001
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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JB: Beautiful!

JW: And I love the pencil drawings he did in 2000 that hang in our bedroom. That was all pre-prison.

pencil drawings, circa 2000
pencil drawings, circa 2000
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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For over eight years now, we have had to deal with the oppression and abuse of prison. Years ago, you and I had discussed the Hello Kitty crochet patterns that were stolen by prison employees. Over the years, Gary has made beautiful leather pieces as well.

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Leather purse created by Gary White, while in prison, 2012
Leather purse created by Gary White, while in prison, 2012
(Image by courtesy of Judy White)
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More recently, he has been painting and drawing.

Here is how the process works - and how art is penalized in prison. First, prisoners have to apply and receive permission to do anything. You may recall that Gary had to obtain a written "permit" before he was allowed to crochet, and the permit expired and had to be renewed every six months. Crocheting without a permit or with an expired permit was a serious violation of the insane rules prison employees impose and enforce against prisoners.

Once they obtain the necessary permission, prisoners have to order supplies, but again, they have to pay penalties. The BOP has a contract with Dick Blick, an art and craft supply company. It is my understanding that under the federal contract, the BOP receives very large discounts on orders and there are no shipping fees charged. But those discounts are not passed along to the prisoners. Right now, you or I could go online and order products from dickblick.com at sale prices, apply coupons, and receive free shipping if the order is over $35.00. But not prisoners, who are "paid" pennies a day for working. Prisoners are charged full retail prices, even for items that are on sale, plus they are charged fake shipping fees, plus they are charged an additional 30% - grossly inflating what prisoners, most of whom are indigent, are required to pay the BOP for the privilege of artistic expression, a First Amendment right. After charging the prisoners excessively, the BOP orders at the discounted contract prices, pocketing the difference along with the shipping fees and the 30% markup. But before prisoners can order, their families must send money to the BOP, which also carries fees. And once they have completed the artwork, prisoners then have to purchase stamps and mail their work home. Rather than encouraging art and productivity, the BOP penalizes it to the extent that most prisoners can't participate.

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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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