A nation at-risk: A solitary life

(Photo credit: jmiller291)

(Photo credit: jmiller291)

You’re in a grave and you’re trying to live. That’s how to best describe it: trying to live in a grave. You’re trying to live ’cause you’re not dead yet, but nobody hears you when you call out, ‘Hey, I’m alive!

― Megan Sweeney, The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading

It is February in the land of homogenized milk and honey and all is disquieting on the western front. The U.S. sanctioned and taxpayer funded drones are flying fast and furious over Muslim skies and domestic law enforcement is doing it’s part to keep the homeland secure. Yet, there is still another level of barbarism spoken of only in impolite circles, whose members are not subservient to the corporate media juggernauts. It is in these furtive circles one hears whispers of a special circle of hell that even Dante could not have imagined, where cruelty is the theme and the state is the overseer of it’s minions. Here is where the doctrine of necessary evil meets the axiom of the slippery slope. Due to the American public’s willingness to allow pithy cliches to drive it’s criminal justice system, the “get tough on crime” and “zero tolerance” maxims espoused by officials at federal, state and local levels has morphed into a moral lawlessness recognizable to those familiar with the Soviet gulags. In this context, the rise in the use of solitary confinement is the logical outcome of such a punitive, arbitrary system.


(Photo credit: CEBImagery.com)

The use of ad seg, or administrative segregation, has become an increasingly utilized form of social control within the sprawling, labyrinthine U.S. prison system. While most are held for hours or even days for disciplinary reasons, the number of prisoners being placed in “the hole” for years or even decades is growing. The American Psychological Association has testified to the Senate Judicial Subcommittee that, “Segregation over prolonged periods of time may produce harmful psychological effects, including anxiety, anger, cognitive disturbance, perceptual distortion, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis.” Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the “cruel treatment and torture” of prisoners of war. Many of the inhabitants of the prison system could be deemed prisoners of the unyielding wars on drugs, poverty, minorities, immigrants and political expression. Chelsea Manning, the Army private who disclosed diplomatic cables and video footage of U.S. soldiers gunning down journalists and civilians in Iraq, was subjected to such conditions during his pre-trial detainment.

(Photo credit: ann harkness)

(Photo credit: ann harkness)

The case of the Angola Three offers a stunning indictment of the use of solitary confinement by prison officials on a number of levels. In 1972, three inmates were found guilty of the death of a prison guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana. These men spent a combined 112 years in solitary confinement before their conviction was overturned. Herman Wallace, who was in solitary for 41 years, died within days of his release due to liver cancer. Robert King was released after 29 years in solitary and continues to campaign for the release of fellow prisoner, Albert Woodfox. The Louisiana Attorney General is still fighting the release of Albert Woodfox, who was in solitary for 42 years. Woodfox holds the dubious distinction of being the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the U.S. It was surely a mere coincidence that the three prisoners had helped to organize one of the first Black Panther Party chapters in prison history. It is this common thread that has earned the Angola Three international recognition as political prisoners for their time served at the hands of an unmerciful state.

(Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

(Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

In the summer of 2013, California’s largest hunger strike ever was undertaken to protest the inhumane treatment and conditions at the hands of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The hunger strike began in Pelican Bay State Prison and the resistance spread to other prisons in California and even to other countries. The prisoners had five core demands including calling for an end to solitary confinement in the SHU (Special Housing Unit). One of the most telling aspects of the movement was the racial unity where rival gangs called truces in order to raise their collective voices in unity rather than as a fragmented whole. This is the ruling class’s worst nightmare come true as the policy of divide and conquer in the “national discourse” has been so devastatingly effective in neutralizing dissent outside of the prison walls. We have been thoroughly conditioned from the cradle to the grave to believe that the present structure is for our best interests and that we are shareholders and not sharecroppers. It is the prisoners who are finding their voices, despite the system’s best efforts.

(Photo credit: WFIU Public Radio)

(Photo credit: WFIU Public Radio)

For women in solitary confinement, the prospects are even more debilitating. It does, in fact, get worse…much worse. An American Civil Liberties Union report was released, in 2014, entitled “Worse Than Second-Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States”, that documents the degrading effects of solitary confinement on female prisoners. The findings include high rates of preexisting mental illness, physical and sexual abuse among the women who are often retraumatized as a result of their prior histories of abuse. The humiliation begins upon intake to solitary for women who are strip searched and videotaped by guards who are typically male. A federal, class action lawsuit was filed in 2009 by a group of female inmates. Suicides and attempted suicides are prevalent for women held in the SHU. In yet another cruel irony, when women are placed in solitary, the children who are unable to visit and communicate with their mothers end up serving time with them. Once again, the state reminds women, in no uncertain terms, who wears the pants in the family.

(Photo credit: Professor Bop)

(Photo credit: Professor Bop)

Elementary teachers have long known that context is everything. Torture is about the breaking of a person’s will through physical and psychological means, no more and no less. The recently released and ridiculously redacted Senate report on the use of torture by the CIA of foreign citizens was meant to put the homeland on notice that the state is both willing and able to break us by any means necessary. As long as we believe that solitary confinement is a tool solely reserved for those prisoners, it will be difficult to put our ourselves in their marginalized shoes. Police states around the world have been historically established to protect the elite from the people they rule. Eventually, the velvet glove must come off to reveal the iron fist. Solitary confinement is, by definition, cruel and unusual punishment and a violation of a prisoner’s Constitutional rights and internationally recognized human rights. Every voice counts and every voice is needed in the struggle to right these wrongs.

This is the fourth installment of the nation at-risk series. Peace and solidarity to all readers.


A nation at-risk series:

American hustle (Part 1)

The hardest lesson (Part 2)

They ain’t heavy (Part 3)

A solitary life (Part 4)

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Jeffster Awards #39

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

This is the next installment of an ongoing series at Deconstructing Myths…the Jeffster Awards! This award will be given on an ongoing basis to five outstanding blog posts that caught my wandering eye. There are no strings attached or requirements for reciprocation. I don’t have time to comment on other blogs as much I’d like to so the least I can do is direct readers to some of these outstanding writers, poets, and visual artists. Please direct all feedback (likes, comments, follows) to the blogs themselves. I hope you enjoy these exemplary posts as much as I did. So, without further ado, here are the recipients of this week’s Jeffster Awards…hot off the (Word)presses.

Through the Rear-View Window at Sanchismos

On Charlie Hebdo and Perspectives at anaïs charles

chains at Mad Catz

Dazed, Bloody Faces at Perception

Mixed Kids Cope Different by Maestro Gamin at Mixed American Life


Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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Mic check: DesertAbba

The Sad State of the Union

by DesertAbba

To say that our State of the Union is strong is like insisting that our marriage is strong because we’re sticking together for the kids. Most anyone can see through the facade of such marital union and recognize that something lurks behind the veil of normalcy. Such a union is not strong, it is sad.

Something is lurking behind a facade that we are not supposed to see when the President in his Address: insists that, for him, war is a last resort, when he has proven that it is not the last thing to which he resorts; says that combat in Afghanistan is over, when he knows full-well that 15,000 troops remain there and the new Afghan leader says publicly that he’ll need ‘troops on the ground.;’ asks for even more money to combat ISIS/ISIL when it has been demonstrated that broadening our killing capacity does not lessen threats to us or make us more friends. This list could continue but it should be obvious that something is lurking behind the veil that droops unseen behind President Obama’s dais.

The AP photo, by Mandon Ngan, of the President’s Address, displays plainly that something else is drooping just behind the President on the dais. It is the man who is third in line for the Presidency. There sits John Boehner, eyes closed in an apparent reverie of boredom, indifferent to the plight and promise of the nation.  If that is not sad, I do not understand so simple a three-lettered word.

It is sad to see, that so many years later, yet another President can take to his bully pulpit and announce without a quirk of conscience, “Mission Accomplished.” It is sad to see that two heart-beats away from having executive power sits a indifferent and bored legislator.

Perhaps they both, Boehner and his Presidential nemesis, know what we are so hesitant to recognize. Neither of them really represent power. They both recognize that countries, nations, are not the real centers of power. They know that behind the veil behind them are multi-national corporations. This is not an organized conspiracy that Obama and Boehner know has the better of them. Rather it is an economic dynamic guided by a vast horde of individuals, each with a simple ideology:

a.) that human society is, at heart, survival of the fittest and that society is advanced only through self-interested financial competition;

b.) that a person is acountable only to her/himself and the fellows on his/her side.

c.) that wealth is the measure of accomplishment, representation and worth;

Since none of the world’s religions espouses such an ideology, I can only conclude that these religions have been ineffective in having real impact on societal values. Such loss of soul is indeed a sad state.


DesertAbba can be found at his outstanding blog…Sanchismos. This work is part of the Mic check guest blogger series.

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How sweet the sound

Long time readers at Deconstructing Myths know that the arts have been a lifelong refuge for me during many of life’s struggles. Without music, poetry and books, I shudder to think where I might be now. May those of you going through hardships find that place of calm within the storm and may you know that you are not alone. The daily grind of making ends meet can sometimes cause us to forget that life was meant to be savored. So feel free to take a moment to kick back, relax and enjoy the smooth, laid back tones of BF&F’s interpretation of the gospel classic Amazing Grace. Victor Wooten is a virtuoso bass player and longtime member of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones. Amazing bass…how sweet the sound. This is one you want to crank up to 11.

Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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Longform: Jeb ‘Put Me Through Hell’

CLEARWATER, Fla.—Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

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We must still speak

Dr. King’s words are just as prescient today as they were when he first spoke them back in 1967. How many countries could take the place of Vietnam in this speech? How many more countries are yet to come?  -Jeff Nguyen

(Photo credit: Duke University Archives)

(Photo credit: Duke University Archives)

Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence

Delivered April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church, New York City

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, and some of the distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I’m in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

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Are you there God? It’s me, Jeff Nguyen

(Photo credit: mrehan)

(Photo credit: mrehan)

Well, that didn’t take long. Now that the perennial holiday based on the birth of a certain someone’s famous son is over, we can finally get back to The Global War On Terror™. The new year came in with a bang not a whimper as the unkempt masses were inundated with media reports of acts of terrorism in Europe. *The killings at Charlie Hebdo, a French newspaper of questionable integrity, resulted in an orgiastic display of solidarity unlike the world has ever seen. Thanks to the deaths of the journalists who ended up holding the butt end of the unfairness stick, the world was blessed to witness the linking of arms of leaders from Israel to Turkey to Bahrain, to name a few of the bastions of human rights who showed up in Paris. For one brief and glorious moment, it was as if all the shining cities occupied the same damn hill. Meanwhile, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate continued to bomb Muslims in Syria back into the Mesopotamian age. Clearly, it’s socially acceptable to be a raging neocon/neolib extremist douche but a raging Islamic extremist douche, not so much.

(Photo credit: Jake Ratner)

(Photo credit: Jake Ratner)

Speaking of the unfairness stick, a group of laborers that has long been familiar with it’s short side are the immigrant and migrant farmworkers who pick the amber waves of grain all across the fruited plain. A scathing report from the Los Angeles Times laid bare the modern day slavery and brutal conditions faced by Mexican farmworkers whose labors directly benefit major U.S. corporations. Stateside, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has managed to forge important alliances and landmark fair food programs on behalf of Florida tomato pickers with some of these same companies including, most recently, Fresh Market. The irony is not lost that a nation that esteems the Puritan work ethic and “pull yourselves up” bootstrap mentality, somehow is okey dokey with turning it’s back on some of the hardest working people on the planet. Who needs those lost and stolen wages anyway? Those farmworkers would have just spent it on beef jerky and lottery tickets anyway, am I right?

(Photo credit: EFF Photos)

(Photo credit: EFF Photos)

From farming to war, nothing is beyond the reach of globalization. However, it’s the shadow of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that looms largest over every man, woman and child not fortunate enough to be a citizen of a multinational corporation. Wikileaks has been at the forefront of making public the drafts of the top-secret, for your eyes only, double-dog-dare-you document. Somehow, I don’t think this is exactly the ‘world without borders’ that Howard Zinn imagined. Oh well, I guess this “free market” thing was fun while it lasted but real grownups know that neofuedalism is the only game in town. Soon, middle class white people everywhere will understand what every indigenous and minority person in the sweet land of liberty has known for generations. When one hears the words pact, treaty or agreement, someone is about to get legally screwed by burying them under 20,000 words of legalese. I wonder what the Latin is for I came, I saw, I mergered and acquisitioned?

(Photo credit: MTSOfan)

(Photo credit: MTSOfan)

In conclusion, I want to thank you, God, for not making me Muslim lest I think I deserve mass acts of solidarity and resistance on my behalf. Thank you also for not making me a migrant farmworker lest I think I have any of these self-evident and inalienable rights I keep hearing about. Finally, and most importantly, thank you for making me a mere person and not a corporation, lest I think I’ve become too big to fail my britches. One can only hope that the velveteen Muslims, farmworkers and serfs of the world become REALLY Real soon before all of their eyes drop out and their joints get too loose. May God have mercy upon all of our unwashed souls.


*Arthur Silber, a longtime critic of the affairs of the state, anticipated the arguments that would arise on cue following the deaths of the Charlie Hebdo employees. This is a good read if you have the time: http://bit.ly/1DP3MBL. The US/NATO powers have demonstrated repeatedly and unequivocally that when provoked, they will react swiftly and with disproportionate force. There is a difference between a tragedy and a genocide.

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Jeffster Awards #38

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

(Photo credit: skulzstudios)

This is the next installment of an ongoing series at Deconstructing Myths…the Jeffster Awards! This award will be given on an ongoing basis to five outstanding blog posts that caught my wandering eye. There are no strings attached or requirements for reciprocation. I don’t have time to comment on other blogs as much I’d like to so the least I can do is direct readers to some of these outstanding writers, poets, and visual artists. Please direct all feedback (likes, comments, follows) to the blogs themselves. I hope you enjoy these exemplary posts as much as I did. So, without further ado, here are the recipients of this week’s Jeffster Awards…hot off the (Word)presses.

Part One: Interview with Anishinabe Scholar Elder Carol A. Hand at lara

100 Days….Oh Gaza at Abu Yazan

When Beautiful Black Turns To Blue at Of Life and Art

Every Man for Himself at Shenandoah Breakdown

Adoptees are a part of the problem at Land of Gazillion Adoptees


Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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The bluest persuasion

(Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen)

(Photo credit: Jeff Nguyen)

Delve in to the ruins

of a once proud people

and you will find tales

woven in the finest silk

stitched into the very fabric

of their defiant being

for all the world

to gaze in wonderment

at garments cast aside

as if on a lonesome whim.


Wade into the days gone by

steeped in the knowledge

it is more better

to break bones than bread

more prudent to drop bombs

than rub salve on the wounds

of a fractured people

whose spirits rise

like wisps of smoke

above the tiresome fray.

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In gratitude

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In lieu of the Jeffster Awards this week, I would like to share the five most viewed posts of 2014…

1 The state knows what you did last summer
Mic check: Carol A. Hand
A nation at-risk: American hustle
The sequel and the damage done
Mic check: Peter Schreiner

Thank you to all readers and fellow bloggers for making this blog far more than I could make of it on my own. Peace and solidarity to all in the new year.

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