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Letters From Readers

Approaching Agreement

I think [the letter from] "name withheld, TRCC" had a good point about stigmatizing sex offenders. I find it painfully ironic that the people in our society most victimized by stigmatization (i.e. prisoners) sometimes do the same thing to other inmates. If you include date rape, I wonder out of 100 men walking down the street how many haven' t committed an act that could be considered a "sexual offense" in a court of law. Of those that haven' t committed a sexual offense, how many would have if they weren't afraid of the legal consequences. Keep in mind that adultery, sodomy between consenting adults and other voluntary human behaviors are considered illegal in some states. In Texas up to a few years ago a man living with his wife legally could not rape her, in other words she was his sexual property. In a way we as a society are locking up our own "deviant" tendencies by putting sexual offenders away for a good long time.

I found Dan Pens' article informative. I have one emotional reservation about the issue of confidentiality [of statements made by sex offenders during treatment]. I keep remembering the sex offender that made drawings of his kiddy torture van that he hoped to build if he was ever released. As a father I'm tempted to say to hell with constitutional [protections] I want to protect my children.

The PLN should try to keep in mind that fear is a powerful force, when contrasted with constitutional questions in the minds of the great majority of the public.

Ken Hirschhorn, Vice President
South Seattle Crime Prevention Committee

Editorial Response: Fear is indeed a powerful force. When a society is assailed by fear it is extremely susceptible to authoritarianism. We can be easily led to accept the erosion of our constitutional protection in exchange for "protection" from the perceived fear of monsters hyped on us by the media. Fascist governments have shown how childishly simple it is to lead a society down this path.

It's a shame that we're fed a steady diet of fear by the press and politicians. But they have discovered another powerful characteristic of fear: it sells newspapers and it gets votes. This society doesn't need so much to "take back our streets from the drug pushers and sex criminals" as it does to "take back our interests from the media corporations and politicos who shove fear down our throats in their own self interests."

Dan Pens
PLN Contributing Editor


Needs Help

After reading the article "Habitual Criminal Case Up date" in the PLN, I am hopeful there may be some help for me.

I am serving a 25-50 year sentence in the Michigan DOC for Breaking and Entry and [the] Habitual [Criminal Act]. It's my second prison term and under current Michigan law, I get no good time or early release considerations. I've already got 11 years in and I'm not even half way through.

The Michigan courts make everything so difficult. I'd really like to attack this sentence but I don't know where to begin. Can you put me in touch with someone that can advise me?

Barry Conn #150595
4713 W. M-61
Standish, MI 48658

More Help Needed

I am a California prisoner housed at Pelican Bay state prison. I have trouble getting reading material in prison. However, now that I have received the PLN I would like to request that I be added to your mailing list. I would also like to request any information you might have that would help us prisoners to request reading materials.

F. Cortez #D55667
P.O. Box 7500, D5, 115
Crescent City, CA 95532


Editors Note: We get many letters from readers asking us for legal help in one form or another. Being prisoners ourselves, it is everything we can do to publish this paper each month, along with doing our own personal legal work and the prisoners' rights litigation at our respective prisons. AccordingIy, if you can give these readers any informational help, please do so.]


Kudos For PLN

The Humanists of Washington have been receiving Prisoners' Legal News since issue #2. We offer our congratulations on inspiring Rick Anderson to write about some of the issues you raise in two of his recent columns. We also saw Erwin Knell's editorial comments regarding PLN and your reports of prison brutality in the May Progressive magazine. This exposure is quite an accomplishment.

We continue to be more and more impressed with the depth of dedication and the quality of information conveyed in your publication. Your May edition is absolutely superb. Your work represents a groundbreaking concept and is the most significant new endeavor we've seen in the human rights movement for many years.

So, as you suggested, we asked ourselves, "If not now, when? If not us, who?" Please accept the enclosed donation along with our heartfelt support for the work you are doing and our great appreciation of your accomplishments in the face of a repressive, unjust, and brutal prison system. You are an inspiration to all of us who work for a more humanistic world where all people may live in peace and be with justice.

Barbara Dority, President
Humanists of Washington


Disagrees With Attorney's Article

I would like to make some observations about the article titled ".100 hearings; Opinions of an Attorney" by Barbetta Ralphs, Attorney. I believe I am qualified [to discuss her article] because I have served a total of over eleven years on parole. It is very significant that Ms. Ralphs would take the time and care to write a concerned article which contains a number of constructive and helpful suggestions for prisoners who have to deal with the I.S.R.B. [parole board] and the [RCW 9.95].100 hearings. I have met many prisoners who had no idea what to do or say, or how to organize some kind of presentation when going before the board. Then, after the hearing, all they could say was, "Man, I got screwed!" Part of the reason why people don't know how to act in their own best interests is due to the Unrealistic Expectation Propaganda which abounds on both sides of the fence in the criminal justice system. Some of this shows up in Ms. Ralph's article where she says, " other strong factor which mitigates against release, and this in the nature of what one inmates does to another, namely: many of the persons who are or have been released do not believe they need to follow the 'rules' set forth for them while on parole." To analyze this idea we need to ask a couple of questions: When did criminal law change from the precept that each case stands on its own merit to the idea that one case affects thousands of others? When did the process of law change from comparing the facts with the law and making a ruling, to public voting in the news media? Taking this "strong factor" to its logical extreme, we could just do away with courts and have each prisoner brought before the legislature, to vote on guilt and the length of sentence. Republican prisoners could be paroled by the legislature and vetoed back to prison by a democratic governor. Truly, no parolee ever sat down and reasoned with himself; hey, I'm in a bad mood so I think I'll just mess up two thousand prisoners' release dates and just not report to my parole officer. So the board relies on the unfortunate acts of a few to justify increasing the sentences of many who sit around in prison, not doing any crimes and hoping for release some time before social security eligibility. It is highly unlikely that sending the rest of the herd to a slaughterhouse would have any effect on the bull in the china shop.

D.H., Shelton, WA


Reality of Sexual Victimization Obscured by "Predator" Label

(Reprint of letter to the Seattle Times) Thomas Shapley in his column on sexual predators (Focus, April 7) does a disservice to the sexually abused and sexually assaulted. He reminds me of the man in the Mae West movie. When he offers to protect her, Mae West asks: "Who are you going to protect me from?" The fury directed at the tiny class of individuals we are inventing and calling "sexual predators" obscures the horrifying reality of sexual victimization in this culture. Children and women do not have sexual predators to fear most. The threat to our safety comes from our fathers, husbands, boyfriends, brothers, uncles. One in every group of four women knows this from experience and knows that locking up every so-called sexual predator will not protect us in a society where the sexual violation of women and mostly female children has been approved and tolerated.

In a recent case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled a teenage girl could not sue her father for repeatedly raping and sodomizing her because the traditional doctrine immunizing parents from suit by their children - a doctrine designed to protect the integrity of the family.

Only recently has rape of a spouse been declared criminal. The prosecution of individuals for sexual abuse of their children is a recent development. I know it's much more comfortable for Shapely and others to identify as the problem a tiny group of criminals to relegate monstrosities to monsters. To examine the reality and its causes requires participation in a real solution, which means we look to the pervasive sexism of our culture.

Sexual violation supports male dominance as much as foot-binding and other forms of physical mutilation. In our culture, the restraints are not so obvious, but they are as real.

Every woman in this society is shackled by fear. Every child grows up with an experience of power that offers two choices: be brutal or be brutalized.

The criminal justice system cannot remedy a problem so enormous and so endemic. The courts would collapse under the weight if we prosecuted every perpetrator of a sexual crime.

To suggest, as Shapely does, that locking up sexual predators will make children and women safe distracts our attention from the work that actually needs to be done. We have rather suddenly declared criminal what has been deemed customary. But we haven't changed the customs. If you want an end to sexual abuse, end sexism.

Scape goating "sexual predators" will only shield from scrutiny the far greater numbers of those who commit sex crimes.

Patricia Novotny


Bad Water, Backed Up Toilet States Claim

A prisoner filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the conditions in the housing unit in which he was confined violated his eighth and fourteenth amendment rights. The trial court refused to dismiss the claim that living conditions in the housing unit were a health hazard because water came out of the pipes rusted, there was a scent of bad smelling pipes, and he was exposed to human waste which backed up through the plumbing. While the defendant prison officials contended that these conditions were no more than "an inconvenience or discomfort," the court found that it could not "with assurance determine that the conditions" in the housing unit met an "essential" or "minimum" standard of sanitation. Buffington v. O'Leary, 748 F.Supp. 633 (N.D. Ill. 1990).

From: Jail & Prison Law Bulletin

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