Beat of the Street: The Idle American Part Two

Barb’d Wire

                                The Idle American–Part Two     by RJ Wordsmyth

…He relapsed the way addicts often due, and found himself back in prison. This had become part of a pattern that would continue on for many years. And so it did. Clean time in prison sometimes extended into clean time “out in the world” as the other inmates liked to call it. Sometimes he would stay clean for months at a time, but inevitably he would fall backwards, hit his head on something, and wake up in a cage.

    His family “out in the world” had all but given up on him. He received very few letters and almost no commissary, with the exception of twenty dollars from his mom every year on Christmas. Commissary is the store for inmates to get extra things that the state doesn’t provide, or doesn’t provide well. Commissary also cost money, the state allows it because they get a nice little piece of the action. On Christmas they come out with special items that are only available for a limited time, giving the state even more money around the holidays. Stuff like pre-cooked bacon, and Christmas tree shaped Little Debbies are only a sampling of the delicacies available for the man unlucky or deserving enough to be spending his holidays in one of the Dept. of Corrections specially designed cement suites.

    Our hero really could not afford such luxuries since he had no money coming in. Yet, still he was able to purchase them because he had discovered “a hustle.” Almost everyone in jail has a hustle. It is a way to survive, a way to get things you need; It is a job and a business. He had watched the others and so he knew what to do. He saw the artist, who would draw something truly amazing on an outgoing envelope, He saw the laundry worker who would charge you a small fee to fold your clothes, he saw the kitchen worker selling salt and pepper, and the tier man selling cleaning supplies or plastic bags, all with their own unique hustle. He knew what his hustle would be–he would write. Write poems, and letters to girlfriends and wives, and sometimes even the judge himself. By writing he thought “I will keep my mind sharp.”

    Soon his reputation as a man who could literally “put your thoughts into words” had spread throughout the entire dorm, and even into other dorms. On holidays like St. Valentine’s day he would be very busy writing custom poetry for the other inmates. Sometimes he would receive kites for work from the other side of the jail. Kites were messages that could go all the way from one end of the prison to the other end via the laundry or the kitchen workers. He would get some details about the little things everybody’s girls liked and incorporate them into his poems, giving them the idea that their boyfriend/husband wrote it specially just for them. He wrote convincing letters to the judges requesting leniency for any number of specific reasons. As time went on, he saved marriages, got men bonded out, saved people time on their sentences, convinced family or friends to send commissary money, and did custom request which included a whole myriad of other unique types of assorted random documentation.

    In doing so, had access to coffee (top priority), snacks, candy, cosmetics, and was able to contribute to group meals that would sometimes be prepared using food smuggled from the kitchen combined with food purchased on commissary.

…to be continued  

                           Read part three in next weeks edition of “Beat of the Street”                      


Barb’d Wire

Barb’d Wire                Wake Up and Smell the Justice

       Justice is defined as fairness, or quite simply doing what is correct. Another part of the definition includes the idea of equality, or treating everyone in the same manner, especially when referring to matters of the law. “The law” often referred to “the criminal justice system” is designed to provide a balanced and equal forum to define acceptable behavior in a civilized society. We all know American history well enough to know that all peoples have not been treated equally all the time; this is a fact; we can’t deny it. What we can do is try to improve, try to evolve, try to make tomorrow better than yesterday. One of the ways we accomplish that is through the use of our free press, our right to assemble, or our right to petition our government to apply the rules of fairness, the rules of justice, to all people, all the time, equally.

     There is in the Connecticut court system today, a policy that does not, and is not, equal in it’s treatment of drug offenders. I can testify to this injustice as a first hand witness to the execution of this policy. The policy in which I am referring has been in place for a very, very, long time. This is how it works:

     If a defendant is charged with the victimless crime of possession of narcotics in Hartford they are almost guaranteed to get a lesser sentence than if the same exact crime is committed in the suburbs. Let’s look at one true example: Three bags of heroin in Hartford court, 3rd offense, sentence–community service. One bag of heroin, Manchester court, 1st offense, sentence– two years–one probation, one suspended. Same defendant in both cases. This is not unusual, in fact it is the norm. Defendants in Manchester court routinely get sentences that are longer and stricter than defendants with the exact same cases in Hartford court. This is not by accident, it is by design.

      This policy is so prevalent that most of the minority population in prison refer to it as Clan-chester. The idea is to let the offender population know that if you choose to do something illegal, you should go do it in the city. I am not sure, but this policy seems an aweful lot like civil rights violations to me. What message is this policy really sending?  That the suburbs are somehow more important than the cities? That a crime committed in the suburbs is somehow worse than if the exact same crime were to be committed in the city? It is not just drug offenders, a vast majority of offenses are treated much harsher in the suburbs than in the cities. Maybe they are treating drug addicts like they are treating the homeless: it is more acceptable to be drug addicted or living on the street if you are in a city, “because we don’t want those kind of people messing up our perfect community.” or “If we lock them all up for a long time they will know not to come back here anytime soon.”  Somebody needs to wake up and realize that people are people, and you can’t escape the fact that towns are not safe havens from things like homelessness and addiction. Wake up suburbanite courts! You can’t scare them all back to Hartford.

                                  Coming soon  “Confessions of a Scrap Metal Junkie”  a memoir.

This article was reprinted from the July edition of “The Beat of the Street” newspaper. All opinions expressed are that of the author alone and do not in any way claim to represent the opinions of Charter Oak Cultural Center or it’s employees.

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Barb’d Wire: The Problem With Labels

Is it correct to call a person of color African American? Some say no, because not everyone “of color” has African roots. That makes sense. I am Caucasian and I don’t want someone speculating where my family tree originated, and then labeling me in such a way. European American ­­doesn’t even sound right. So how about “black”? To be perfectly honest, I always felt uncomfortable using that designation. The reason is, that I don’t call people of Indian descent “red” or people from the east “yellow” or even brown people “brown” so why call darker people black, when many of them are not black at all. This brings up another point. I do not like being called white. First of all, I am not white in the same way brown (using this just to make a point) people are not black. The only truly white people I’ve ever seen were Albino’s and they are sort of translucent. So if I’m not white, then what am I?­ off ­white, beige, tan, eggshell,­not too sure? My mother always told me she knew when I was using heavily because my skin turned gray. My poor mom.
In these days of political correctness which should be perhaps changed to “language awareness” everyone is supposed to be selective with their choice of labels. Let’s face it, if you need to describe someone in a hurry, and you don’t know that persons name, you are going to have to use some trait to describe them. Say they just committed a crime and you have to describe the suspect to police, how are you going to do that? Most likely you are going to go with the things you noticed first: Tall, short, male, female, white, black, etc. then maybe what he/she was wearing and so forth. It is highly unlikely, if you get to court that anyone is going to challenge your description because you said “the defendant was black” when clearly the defendant is brown. That won’t happen.
So the whole idea of labeling based on color may be wrong, but in some instances it is a necessary evil. Maybe all this media hype has just made us too damn sensitive? If you are like me, and are just plain lousy at remembering names, then the need to find accurate descriptions for people comes up often. I was always told that black and white were not colors at all. So who are these people of color? If they are darker people, then are lighter people, people of no color? People lacking in color? It’s enough to drive you crazy. Maybe a lot of people (of whatever) are getting sick and tired of all this nit-picking. Maybe the pendulum has swung too far in one direction and is now starting to swing back the other way. It sure seems that way–when you see how many people are supporting Donald Trump.

This was printed in the latest (June 2016) edition of “Beat of the Street” newspaper
Published by The Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford CT.