|prison assembly line- from an old pamphlet|
As I was finishing this letter a news report came on radio that the Republican candidate for governor was going after Govern Evers for paroling ANYONE . The baffling lies and misconstructions in this maneu ver and my outrage led me to decide to submit this as open letter. Forum for Understanding Prisons ( FFUP, a 501c3 Non profit)
OPEN LETTER TO THE NEW WISCONSIN PAROLE CHAIRMAN
To:Wi Parole Chairman Christopher Blythe/3099 E. Washington St. /
September 20, 2022
I have been part of a non-profit that works with prisoners and their families for over twenty years and have written lots of parole letters to the parole chairmen serving during that time. Each letter becomes more difficult. You are new and I write with renewed interest because I know nothing abut you and maybe you come to the job without entrenched political ideas.
I work with many of the prisoners in the adult system and the word spreads by mouth so I do see the whole picture and I ask you to look at this picture through my eyes for a minute as you consider the parole of Rufus West.
I met Rufus soon after I started this work, The Wisconsin Supermax had just opened and he was in what was called “behavior Management” . He was always in trouble, unable to follow the rules and in deep traima over the death of another prisoner. He has since learned the law and become a leader to many. He has healed himself through his activism as so many of us do- and tirelessly works for justice wherever he is. I admire him tremedously especially since he is retaliated against at every turn by the system and I believe his activism, as with many other Old Law prisoner litigators, is why he is still in Maximum. FFUP also has endured retailaition so I do know what I am talking about.
Rufus is long past the time he was eligible for parole,( which was set at a quarter of the sentence if behavior was good)and is now past his PMR( the time ,by law he was supposed to be release barring extrraordinary circustances) . He is one of thousands kept arbitarily in that they are given reasons over which they have no control.
Here is where I ask you to look broader . I am dealing with many young prsioners, TIS prisoners, who are by law released at their court mandated release date no matter their readiness. Many of these, I am finding, are in RHU ( restricted housing units), mentally ill and have spent months if not years in solitary confinement without treatment or training, Then they are literally dumped at release. This seems to work for the system because in WIsconsin, a prisoner can be reincarcerated for non felonies .So these ex-prisoners in the main are then swooped right back up into the system. As I work with many TIS prisoners, they call on me for help while in prison and then again after release- it is heartbreaking and we are working on a grant to help with immediate need for transitional housing as the system is absolutely inadequate to the need.
What is wrong with this picture? All studies show that people after the age of 30 commit almost no crimes- ALL OLD Law prisoners, every person you deal with - are over thirty , many if not most in their 50’s and above. They are very little risk to society an have much to give. I often say “We have Nelson Mandelas in our prisons” because we do- They have learned to focus in a way we out here, with too much social media and stimulation, cannot. They have learned self control in a way we never have to. And in the main they have a deep deep desire to give back, to repay society for the harms they have caused. Surprisingly, most prisoners although severely traumatized, are NOT bitter. They just want a chance to give back..Many have children they want to mentor and their deepest grief is seeing their children fall victim to the current inanities . Rufus lost his son in this way- and has had to deal with it isolated and alone.
It is these OLD Law prisoners the WI DOC holds on tenaciously giving the false reason that they are to great a “risk to society”, while TIS prisoners are let go usually with little or no support . There are wonderful non profit programs like OARS and DOES that help disabled prisoners with release but they have to be referred to these programs by social workers and this is hard to get for most of the most needy.
WHO benefits from this system? Certainly not the public. Our prisons are so overcrowded and understaffed, they are often on lockdown and programs are at a minimum;staff works 14 to 16 hour days. Overtime and lawsuits are all paid for by the taxpayer. AND because the system mines the poorer, mostly non white neighborhoods, many of the kids in these areas grow up without positive parental models and choose gangs as their families out of necessity. A study by the UW concluded that over incarceration CREATES CRIME and this is one of the reasons. *
WHO benefits from this system? It works by keeping the public in constant panic over crime. It works because the WI DOC policy of revoking prisoners at the slightest excuse keeps the public from ever seeing just who they are incarcerating . But it is excruciatingly harmful- When I went to college eons ago, I paid 200 dollars a semester, my husband went free in NY city, there were 7000 people in WI prisons. Now there are 22000 prisoners and college graduates reel under thousands and thousands of dollars in school loan debt , We used to support education and we believed in rehabilitation.
I ask you to consider this rant - help us to leave behind the easy politics of fear that is leads to disaster for the many , to real listening and discovery. Through openness we can find the path to healing.
We desperately need Rufus West out here- please okay his release- he has much to give .
Thankyou for your attention, Peg Swan, Founder and Co-director/
1)UNLOCKING AMERICA: a summary from JFA Institute/Summary by David Rhodes:http://www.prisonforum.org/2013/05/unlocking-america-summary-from-ffa.html
2)ACLU:AT AMERICA'S EXPENSE: THE MASS INCARCERATION OF THE ELDERLY
3) Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013
By: Employment and Training Institute University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2013