All posts by amberbattsblog

In 2014 I was charged for Sex Trafficking in Alaska. I was sentenced to 5.5 years and am still serving time. Sex trafficking is a horrible crime! In no way did I feel I was involved with Sex Trafficking. I myself was a sex worker, and all the women that I screened clients for and updated on my website were adult consensual workers. No only until I became aware of the personal consequences of unfair legislation did I want to stand up and say something. If I can assist in even one person not experiencing the loss of freedom, time with family and loss of personal self, then it will not all be for nothing.

Freedom

It has been 15 days since I have been released from the Department of Corrections Ankle Monitoring program.

EM, for short.

I did a short interview with Daniella Rivera with Channel 11 news the morning I was released. Finally, a news program that didn’t show me as some moral monster. I was able to tell my side of the story and discuss the issues that I have struggled with staying quiet about.

http://www.ktva.com/story/36892700/amber-batts-the-state-created-an-advocate-by-charging-me-with-sex-trafficking

Now, some may be thinking “Wouldn’t it be easier to just shrink into the background?”

That would be safer, rather than putting my face and voice out there. But I wouldn’t have to read comments like this, to brighten my day:

“I’m very very sorry to know that there is a young high school graduate entering adulthood who has a so-called “mother” that advocates and does such filthy, immoral, dangerous, self-deprecating so-called “work” and wants to be respected for it. Would she really encourage her daughter to be one of these prostitutes? I just can’t believe there truly are mothers like this in the world.”

or…

” I am sick of seeing the articles about these criminals with no remorse! Screw them. Just think of all the crime and violence connected to these idiots. The STDs, violence and dugs connected to the prostitution trade takes a huge toll on our communities and the children of these thugs. Have you ever spent time with the child of a pimp. They become way worse than the parent. Stop acting like pimp an ho are decent life choices.”

Said typos are their own.

Yes, it would be easier to just stay quiet. Let others fight this fight, lick my wounds (loss of home, time with kids and friends, independence) and just be grateful. Oh, so grateful, that I am free.

Well, I am doing both. I am grateful but I will not be quiet about what changes I see need to be made.

Freedom of speech. Freedom of thought.

Silence will not change anything. Targeting sex workers on the premise of combating sex trafficking will not end trafficking. Let me write that again.

Targeting sex workers on the premise of combating sex trafficking will not end trafficking.

It is time to examine our moral values and judgments. I would rather speak up for what I believe, the autonomy of life choices, then stay quiet and watch the criminalization of sex workers take place.

Alaska State Law lumps sex workers working together, for safety, for sanity, as sex trafficking. I’ve written much about my thoughts on this. I’ll spare you more at this juncture.

Federal law defines sex trafficking as:

Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years. FOR MORE INFO VISIT LINK HERE.

Sex workers are a marginalized group, further criminalized and targeted. Much of the violence many face comes from those framed as “rescuers”.

I wish I could respond to the myriad of comments on the Channel 11 news link. I am not willing to put my children in the line of fire of those who condemn me for my beliefs. I won’t use my blog as a war zone to respond to those comments, either.

If I could say one thing that could change something, it would be this:

Stand up and speak.

Silence does not change anything.

If you believe in making a change, in anything in your life, then don’t be afraid to speak your truth.

Thanks for reading today! I am now off to get ready for my minimum wage job.

 

 

 

My Upcoming Release

It is November 11th, 2017. Saturday morning. I will be released in less than 72 hours. Until recently I had thought my release date was May 27th, 2018. I felt grateful enough just to be spending my last few months on electronic monitoring. I could have just kept happily plugging along, knowing I was able to go home at night to my kids. Not too long ago I was lucky to have 10 minutes on the phone with my daughter for that day.

I don’t know who you are, reading this, but let me give a brief overview of my story. It won’t be as short as I’d like it, but I will try my hardest to not bore you.

My mom was 17 when I was born, my dad, 27. He had just been released from Lemon Creek Correctional. That’s in Juneau, where I am from. The marriage was short, and I have only one memory of seeing my mom and dad around each other. I was 4, we had just picked him up at the courthouse. I was in the backseat and my mom introduced him as Milton, My dad. I have other memories of Milton too, alone, age 5. I’ve worked hard at suppressing those memories. Later in life, I faced them, and in turn, faced many of the demons that kept me ensnared in my own dark places. In my late 20’s Milton OD’ed before I could face him with my forgiveness. He was my biggest cheerleader for my recovery from drugs and alcohol. He was found dead from an overdose. This was my first funeral. I didn’t stand up and say anything. Over time I have realized this as my only regret in life. I realized just how fearful I was in life at that time.

In my teens the State of Alaska raised me. Juneau Youth Services (Miller House), a few foster homes, and Johnson Youth Center (JYC) were my parents. I learned the serenity prayer behind a god-awful orange door at JYC. I experienced being a kid at Miller House. I learned that other families were just as screwed up in the foster homes I briefly stayed at. I was a runner. I would leave when things were going too good or when I didn’t get my way. I was a sad and hell-bent on ending my life as a teenager.

Fast forward a few years and seven treatment centers, and I am on a bench. Akeela. I was relocated to Anchorage Alaska by an adult probation officer that I have thanked a few times for saving me from myself. I am forever grateful for Akeela saving me from me.

I have had more clean time and recovery in my life than using at this point. I am grateful for that. My two kids, one actually an adult now, have seen my struggles, both when using and in recovery, and have had to deal with the brunt of this arrest and incarceration. They are loved and are stronger than I was at either of their ages. I didn’t give them up to the State and have been there as a parent every step of the way.

So what happened July 2014 didn’t devastate me. It knocked me down for a moment, but I am okay.

Sex Trafficking.

How did that happen? Oh, did I fail to mention that I answered an escort ad in The Press in 2004? I was 30 and was a burnt out drug & alcohol counselor, teaching water aerobics and youth yoga, barely making my mortgage. The final straw was an abusive husband. Escorting enabled me to leave an abusive situation that was harming my children and myself. I was able to pay my bills and provide for my children and myself. I worked for two different services and it was just a short time before I embarked on my own, with a few friends I had met on the way. One who taught me everything I know.

If we have met, you know my personality. I don’t know how to go halfway. I go full speed. Over the years, I have mellowed a bit, gained a few boundaries, insight over my actions, quit before it got too deep or said sorry when needed, but when I started on my own I was in the shadows of The Chateau, of Ravenite. I ran a business and was good at it. After a few years and a robbery at the incall location where a dear friend of mine was almost shot, I decided to close up shop and went to go work at the local paper.
I still worked as an independent for a short time before landing a whale (google if you don’t know). I took a break for several years, only to return to the business with a management role and as an occasional worker.

Not even 2 years later my daughter, while at her dads’ for the week, saw me on the news. I was arrested on 7 counts of Sex Trafficking. I won’t go into what Alaska’s definition of Sex Trafficking is, or how I see this as the new “War on Sex Workers” similar to the “War on Drugs”. I have written previous blogs focused on this.

I was arrested a few days before a long-awaited vacation to Knotts Berry Farm with my daughter. Tickets, hotel, everything bought and paid for. I watched planes in the sky from the plexiglass window at Hiland Mountain Correctional the night we were supposed to go. I was trying to bail out when I was charged with yet another felony. Class A Sex Trafficking. Someone I booked was 20. I was looking at 25 plus years. My life was over. I was able to bail out after 3 months, on GPS ankle monitor with an added live third party person who had to be with me 24/7, locked down at home, not allowed to be in possession of a phone or access the internet. Those were the darkest days in my life. I was sure my story would end in suicide or I was going to be on the run for the rest of my life. The only thing that stopped me from either of those choices were my two kids. I had felt I had done more than enough damage to them by the arrest.

My sister had been my live third party for about 2 months when she decided she couldn’t do it anymore. I went back to Hiland Mountain Correctional a week before my daughters 14th birthday. After two months I was able to bail out on GPS ankle monitor, sans the live third party, only if I took a plea deal. Plead guilty to a Class B Sex Trafficking charge, and I could stay out until July when I would be sentenced to 6 to 10 years. Open sentencing. Linked to this was my husband’s plea deal as well. He would only be convicted of a Class C Sex Trafficking charge and spend no time in jail. With him out, he could take care of my daughter and our home. I knew this was the best option.

Paying the $500 plus for my GPS ankle monitor every month I was out wasn’t easy. I had to depend on many others and on donations from a GoFundMe account a friend had set up. We didn’t have enough food to eat and I would dish my daughter up first. I really didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. I was able to volunteer at a food bank, along with my daughter, and we got the bulk of our food that way. Watching my daughter help others pick out food, how she cared and spoke to people from all walks of life, brought tears to my eyes. I had to be strong. I wasn’t a monster. How could I have such amazing, kind kids if I was such a horrible person?

I was still in shock that running an escort agency with consensual, of age women and men could send me to jail for that length of time. I knew my business may not have been completely kosher, but I had a business license, kept records, filed taxes, and had anyone who I worked with sign an independent contractor agreement that stated they wouldn’t trade sex for money and were working of their own volition. When I heard the term Sex Trafficking I thought of women being forced to have sex and kept locked away. I had no faith that I wouldn’t go away for years because everything was upside down.

My sentencing started on Friday and finished up on Monday a week after my 41st birthday. I had the weekend to make my peace with my life, I enjoyed those moments and held the ones I loved a little longer. A little tighter. I didn’t know why my life was the way it was, but I embraced it. I stood with courage as the court officers led me to the holding cells after I was sentenced to five and a half years.
Still, the transportation officer that moved me from the courthouse to the Anchorage Jail reminded me of how far I had yet to go. After trying to make some small talk with her on the short ride, she said: “Don’t even try to talk to me, you’re the lowest human there is, a bottom feeder, those poor women, you ruined their lives.” I was in shock. That is what a State Official thought of me and my charge. I could only imagine what the general public thought.

In jail, I read. I hoped I could get through it and not be emotionally scarred. I eventually lost the home I had raised my kids in. I lost all but a few boxes and most of my pictures. I had lost “Home” but was finding it within myself and the ones who I loved. I knew I would come back to the pieces of my life. All was not lost.
There were days in jail when the phone was off all day. When I couldn’t hear my loved one’s voices. I walked the yard a lot. Eventually, the husband disappeared. His friend, the roommate, didn’t pay rent to my son and the gas was turned off. My TV was stolen. The husband went to jail for a month on a PTRP and came out in time for Christmas and in time to clean out my bank account. I was denied by Electronic Monitoring because of the “sexual nature” of my offense. My custody level was increased for the same reason. I dug deep. I had finished a set of steps before I went in and sat a wrote.

What am I powerless over? I wrote a list and completed a moral inventory. I wrote and embraced whatever my day brought. I refused to live life on autopilot. This might have hurt but I wasn’t going to go through this for anything. This would not break me, I was determined to thrive and walk out of jail stronger. I would grow to know myself more than I ever had hoped to.

I fought the custody level decision and was put back on minimum. My in-house Probation Officer sympathized with me on the EM decision and put paperwork in for my furlough.
I was sent to the Glenwood Center on Groundhog Day. February 2nd, 2016. My recovery and patience were tested for a little more than a year there. After applying to EM twice while there, and denied twice, I applied one last time. I had nothing better to do that morning when an EM Probation Officer came into the facility and said EM was looking at people they had denied before. I filled out the paper haphazardly and turned it in, fully expecting another denial. I was on Level 4 and plugging along. I had another 16 months left and had already been about Glenwood about a year.

If what I was doing was Sex Trafficking, what happens in halfway houses is Labor Trafficking. I had more self-respect and voice when I was an escort. At Glenwood, you have to work a minimum of 32 hours a week, and if you aren’t working you have consequences. You cannot turn down any job. If you get fired or laid off, you lose whatever level you have earned. How life was at Glenwood has been a topic of several posts. I have a few more in me, but that will come after I am off paper. I will say this: Recently, they moved the women out and relocated them to a different halfway house, and I heard they lost their DOC contract and are closing their doors. Good.

On March 31st, 2017, I was given the opportunity to serve my time on EM. EM is a privilege, and being home with my daughter, with my son, was an absolute freedom I cherished, regardless of any EM guidelines. I was able to get online again. I was able to touch bases with those that wrote me from all over the world, thanks to SWOP Behind Bars. I was able to start this blog and tell parts of my story. I’ve been allowed to go participate in Criminal Justice Commission meetings, attended a few Human Trafficking Working Groups, and have spoken up at the Anchorage Assembly about SB91/54. I am able to give back to SWOP Behind Bars, updating their website with the countless names of others sex workers serving time.

I went before the parole board in September 2017. I was asked many questions about my “crime”. Those close to me were afraid I would be outspoken in my personal opinion of sex work. Somehow, I was able, to be honest with my beliefs and still say something that the parole board found redeeming because they approved my parole.

In less than 72 hours I will be released. Not much will change in my day to day life, but the emotional aspect of this cannot be discounted. I knew I had to sit down and write something, not to show others how far I’ve come, but to have some closure for myself. A record of this. I denied myself the words I needed to share at my dads funeral. I won’t do that to myself again.
What I would say at the end of this adventure has muddied my mind since my arrest. I had always hoped there would be an end to what in the beginning I could only describe as a nightmare. I had days where I didn’t think I would make it. I thought I would break.

Now it is coming to a close and I am looking thru my personal journals I have kept through this. I found one entry, written 2 years ago. On 11/14/2017 I will be on parole, but on 11/14/2015 I had just found out that my TV was stolen. This was during the darkest of my time before I found my strength. I was just starting to realize in order to get through something I actually had to go through it. Thankfully, I was willing to do the work. I knew I was worth the cost of the battle. Although I am not religious, I had a higher power. I wasn’t God.

“Things will be okay, God has this in his hands” are the last two lines from that journal entry.

I don’t know what my future holds, but I do have some goals in mind. I know now not to limit myself to what I can envision. So, here goes to a full, happy and free life. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, and continues to be. My life is beautiful.

For Rights, not rescue

Here we go with a new round of media coverage, touting rescue rather than victimization of sex workers. Once again, most will read the convoluted write ups straight from FBI announcements, without any follow up or fact checking. Why? Because, the government would never mismanage information, or slant it in any way other than the truth.

Right?

Uh, yeah. Sure.

The real victims of Operation Cross Country are the vulnerable women and men robbed, detained, maybe arrested, maybe incarcerated, but nonetheless treated by police and federal agents as pieces of meat for this funding puzzle game in a national campaign that claims to help them.

 

In Anchorage, a sex worker named “Alanna” said she was detained by a squad of FBI agents after meeting an undercover agent in a hotel room, denied medical care when she began having asthma and anxiety attacks, and had her phone seized. An agent “went in my bra” to pull out her cellphone. “I’m so confused why my phone was taken when I wasn’t even arrested.” There were pictures of her family and “sentimental stuff” on the phone that cannot be replaced, she said.

Alanna also alleges that the agents told her they had called for medical attention but didn’t actually do it until she also called 911 herself. Overall, the experience was “scary” and left her feeling “violated”; she did not get the impression that law enforcement saw her as a potential victim or even cared about her well-being.

In other news, past reports have been invalidated through thorough research completed by CUSP.

In June of 2014 Operation Cross Country had came to Alaska. Nationally, the FBI reported arresting 1.67 pimps for every victim rescued, but in Anchorage they reported arresting 3 pimps and rescuing 3 victims. However, records requests turned up no charges at the state, municipal, or federal level during the entire month of June, 2014.

In October of 2015 Operation Cross Country happened again in Anchorage. Although Alaska didn’t rate the FBI’s federal press release, it was reported locally that the FBI assisted 9 sex trafficking victims.

It appears the War on Sex Workers is alive and well in Alaska, replacing the War on Drugs maybe?

Why are Alaska policies criminalizing sex workers and not focusing on real issues, with real victims? Why does the local media find it necessary to feature the local Covenant House and ask for donations to a local church rescue group? Where does this money go? Who does it help?

For a more complete view of the problem at hand, read this.

swaay billboard

When we as a society confuse sex trafficking with sex worker, we reduce the real crime of sex trafficking. When the facts become blurred and the laws become broad, we all lose. It is true, those that fall through the already anemic safety nets do fall prey to exploitation. So, what can we do to combat this in the real world? That is the million dollar question, and still appears to be unanswered while law enforcement focuses on further marginalizing sex workers.

I didn’t begin in sex work until I was 30, but my first encounter with sex that had a monetary value to it was years before. I was born and raised in Juneau, Alaska. I was in state custody from age 14 and aged out at age 18. When I was almost 16 and me and two girlfriends had run off from the group home we were living in. A man had bought us beer and we went back to his place. Without going into too much detail, something happened to me in the back room of his trailer. Back at the group home a few days later when we had returned, the counselors got wind of this and contacted the Juneau Police Department.

JPD talked me into calling the man while they recorded me blackmailing him for $50 hush money. JPD’s idea, not mine. A few hours later, I am walking into the mall meeting with the man. As I walked out of the mall, the man was arrested and the money was given over to JPD. I was sent on my merry way. No counseling, no follow up, no victim notification when he was released. The man was later released and I bumped into him a few years later. To this date, he is still living in Juneau, Alaska. He is not, nor do I think he has ever been, on the sex offender registry. I was almost 16 at this time. I am 43 now.

When we as a society focus on marginalized groups, those lacking a voice, rather than the issue at hand, we lose sight of the big picture. We lose sight on what can be done, proactively, and instead focus on the reactive scenarios. It is true, those that fall through the already anemic safety nets do fall prey to exploitation. Much like the war on drugs, prevention, education and information is vital in combating sex trafficking. Sex work is not sex trafficking, just as sex trafficking is not sex work. It is rape, kidnapping, extortion and violence. To confuse the two belittles the cruelty of sex trafficking and ignores the consensual aspect of sex work.

Why we are the way we are

Freedom of expression and public opinion is democracy in action, and media can be the high traffic bridge that connects us, as individuals, with what is going on around us. Media shines a light on issues, both near and far from us. Media can also expose differences and actions that are not in the public interest.

On one hand, media shows us what “they” want us to see. It’s influence on an issue is not necessary the greater public beliefs, but rather a belief of what is being fed to the writer, to the news, or someones own personal view on the issue. If it lacks transparency, if it feeds us incorrect stats, it can be damaging. This undermines democracy and instead creates a witch hunt. Does this mean all media, journalism, news, Facebook, blogs are fed by an interest group? Not always, not usually, but sometimes.

On a local level, I have seen the news, online and televised, focused on issues that are easily sensationalized. I am talking about Senate Bill 91 here, and in full disclosure, I have a personal opinion to the positive aspects of what is can do for us, as Alaskans. Others have personal opinions regarding how its not working. Regardless, in order to understand an issue, I have always tried to see the other side. And the other side is angry. The other side is also confusing the Senate Bill 91 with homelessness, vagrancy, and what happened when “so and so was sentenced four years ago”. I have read the headlines of “spiraling crime” and am a part of some Facebook crime groups. Luckily, or unluckily for us, depending on who you ask, is a greater ability for shared information and how in turn it makes media and any spin accessable. Media and public opinion can be influential in policies that affect us, as Alaskans. People have a voice, even if its biased. Even if it is led by misinformation. Even if it is negligent.

Access to information is important for democracy and helps us make informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. There is a shortcoming, as there always is, being the issue of “how true the information is that is shared”.

Is the information slanted to one view?

Who does this benefit?

Where does the information come from?

So many questions to ask when looking at the validity of an article, newscast, debate, blog, Facebook post…the list goes on.

We believe what we want to believe, using our own lived experiences, what we have seen or heard before, and read before. If a newspaper prints something erroneously, the correction usually appears on a back page, near the bottom, in small print. The printed or broadcasted information is now the experience, not the correction.

Is democracy really a “government of the people, for the people, by the people”?

SB91 is a hot button topic for many Alaskans. Media serves as a means to convince an already frightened public that longer sentences are needed, that the old “nothing works” mentality from the 1970’s is needed again. Thus, a cycle of high incarceration rates, with few rehabilitative solutions, is seen by many as the only option. Remember, that is what we have had for years. And it wasn’t working.

Full disclosure, I am writing this with an ankle bracelet on. I have been incarcerated since I was arrested in 2014. I was granted parole and am due to be released in November, next month from the time of this writing. I am writing this in response to the public meeting I attended October 7th at the Anchorage Assembly. During the public testimony I heard many voices of concern, anger, and misinformation.

“Why can’t we use the criminals PFDs to pay for their incarceration?”

Per PFD website:

You are not eligible for a dividend if during the qualifying year you were:

  • sentenced as a result of a conviction of a felony;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a felony;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor if you were convicted of a prior felony after 12/31/96;
  • incarcerated as a result of a conviction of a misdemeanor and were convicted of two or more prior misdemeanors after 12/31/96.

Crimes before the SB91 was even enacted were brought up, one woman expressing frustration over her daughter’s killer not being sentenced, three years later.

This is a sentencing issue, and many are frustrated by this. And have been for years, far before SB91 was ever thought into existence.

According to one man, all homeless should be in jail, and it is SB91’s fault they are not.

Homelessness is not a crime.

Car theft has been on the uptick, and SB91 was to blame for this.

Another angry, misinformed Anchorage resident stated “If I burn this building down, it could be a Class B felony, but prosecuters would give me a plea deal, and it would be a Class C felony. Because I am not a felon, I wouldn’t have to do any jail time for it, thanks to SB91.”

No, you would likely be charged with a plethora of Class B charges, and a few Class C’s for good measure. A plea deal for a Class B would most likely be the scenario. See the statutes below, along with an updated sentencing chart. There are also things called “aggravators” and “mitigators”. That increases or decreases the sentence. Here is the link for those.

AS 11.46.400. Arson in the First Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the first degree if the person intentionally damages any property by starting a fire or causing an explosion and by that act recklessly places another person in danger of serious physical injury. For purposes of this section, “another person” includes but is not limited to fire and police service personnel or other public employees who respond to emergencies, regardless of rank, functions, or duties being performed.
(b) Arson in the first degree is a class A felony.

AS 11.46.410. Arson in the Second Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the second degree if the person intentionally damages a building by starting a fire or causing an explosion.
(b) In a prosecution under this section, it is an affirmative defense

(1) that no person other than the defendant had a possessory, proprietary, or security interest in the building or that all persons having such an interest consented to the defendant’s conduct; and
(2) that the sole intent of the defendant was to damage or destroy the building for a lawful purpose.
(c) Arson in the second degree is a class B felony.

AS 11.46.420. Arson in the Third Degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of arson in the third degree if the person intentionally damages a motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion while that vehicle is located on state or municipal land.
(b) Arson in the third degree is a class C felony.

See sentencing guidelines, past and present, 002_JU2016200423 .

Also, having an arson felony, you would be ineligible for electronic monitoring and doing time in a Community Residential Center.

 

One woman said SB91 had let someone fall through the cracks who was subsequently shot by police during a routine traffic stop. She was adamant that SB91 is at fault for the mans death, not the officer who shot him.

This is pointing to SB91 as the cause of the man being shot, not logical.

So what now? Viewing criminals within the retribution model, rather than the rehabilitation model, results in an increase of sentences, more parole and probation revocations and more arrests. These are associated with high recidivism rates as well (going back to jail once you leave, due to a parole violation, probation violation or a new charge). Parole/probation violations could be something as simple as interacting with another felon (maybe you met at a support group and went for coffee and fell in love), getting a dirty urinalysis, drinking at a bar, not having an address to list on you monthly probation report. There are many reasons to revoke.

The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that Alaska’s crime rate dropped in national rankings, yet Alaska was one of the top eight states in per capita prison population. Alaska Courts took notice and knew something needed to change.

Even in this report, dated Summer/Fall 2011, the efforts of the Alaska Prisoner Reentry Task Force of the Alaska Criminal Justice Working Group (CJWG) collaborated on ways to improve Alaska’s justice system. The CJWG was co-chaired by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti and Attorney General John Burns. The plan had recommended examining laws, rules, policies and practices that resulted in incarcerating individuals who posed no substantial risk to the community; increasing prosecutorial discretion; expanding use of halfway houses; and augmenting therapeutic courts and other problem-solving courts for misdemeanants.

Alaska Justice Forum 28(2–3), Summer_Fall 2011

So here we are. SB 91 hasn’t been fully enacted and we are ready to throw out the carefully researched information that took years to forumulate because of what some feel is an uptick in crime. But is that really what is going on? Or is it the ability to put anything and everything out in media, our slants, our opinions, our voices, and call it truth?

 

 

 

Is media hysteria blaming criminal justice reform SB 91?

Blaming Senate Bill 91 seems to be the easy catch all when crime appears to be spiraling and nothing is being done. I noticed this as I skimmed the Facebook group “Juneau Crime” and saw how crime in my home town has taken a twisted turn. I mean, no names to be used, but a member of one of the bad ass families in Juneau had something stolen and no one was beat up for it. Instead, JPD was called and nothing was done. Frustrating to say the least.

What does this mean?

Well, one of two things to me.

1 – That thinking a posse could and should be formed to beat down the person who took the item means I am thinking as a criminal myself, rationalizing that an injustice allows me to act as such.

I am working on that. Hey, they say awareness is the first step to changing.

2 – How did we get here? Is SB 91 really to blame?

To answer those questions I sat down and did some reading, some research and looked within and around me.

I attended the Recovery Summit held in Palmer last month, and I was thrilled. Addiction, recovery and reentry all within the same sentence. I think of those as the Release Triad.

The only other time those issues have been brought together was when I was incarcerated, during the Success Inside & Out Conference. Since 2006 the Success Inside and Out Conference has been held at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center each October. The conference was created as a pilot program by the National Association of Women Judges to ensure that women prisoners receive equal treatment.

Because of the smaller numbers of women in prison populations, the economies of scale can work against them, and they may not receive the same re-entry support services as men when they prepare to leave the institutions and return to their communities. As judges, we see first hand the need to stop the revolving door into our courtrooms, and we recognize that a woman prisoner’s simple desire to succeed upon release may not be enough. Full LINK here.

It had seemed that before SB 91 was passed, the conversation of the Release Triad was forgotten as the prison gates closed behind upon release.

What does SB 91 mean to those in the community?

I have read many remarks on social media about the frustration felt by the general public regarding thefts. SB 91 seems to be the easy blame for changing, when in fact, it isn’t much different than what we had before the criminal justice overhaul.

Theft Offenses  ak_practitioner_guide_2016-11-21

Sections 6-15, 8-23, 25, 93, eff. July 11, 2016
S.B. 91 increases the felony threshold value for theft offenses from $750 to $1,000 and requires the level to be adjusted every five years to account for inflation. The legislation also eliminates use of incarceration as a sanction for theft under $250 (first two offenses), and limits the use of incarceration to 5 days suspended imprisonment and six months of probation for third and subsequent shoplifting offenses. Before SB 91, theft was a 0-90 days sentence. (see additional details on page 12).

What does SB 91 mean to those incarcerated?

Resources. Plainly put, the availability of resources for change. For recovery, if needed and wanted. For hope. Recovery is connection to self, loved ones, society. Connecting to community resources, self-help resources, is where it begins. Addiction is disconnection. Recovery is only the starting point.

The long view of the Release Triad?

Everyone agrees on one thing.

Prevention.

Prevention of crime is the best deterrent. When I attended the Recovery Summit I saw and heard first hand of how over prescribing opioid medications went hand in hand with addiction. Propagated by Big Pharma. Some doctors have called bullshit on this practice and there is a call to responsibility being brought forth. The new trend? Responsible medication prescription by doctors who don’t prescribe for higher patient scores. The medical community is taking notice and now reprimanding doctors who over prescribe.

Not creating laws that further criminalize people.

I heard at the Recovery Summit the keys to this. So simple, yet so complex. Empower, educate, engage. Reducing recidivism must include peer support.

We do recover.

Community support can be found in various rooms. Celebrate Recovery meetings, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to name a few. Peer support was prevalent at the Recovery Summit. Hope dealers, those who know first hand the feelings of hopelessness, and many others who also understand the feeling of being forgotten as the prison gates close upon release.

With SB 91,  all seem to be held to a higher degree of action. From vivitrol shots to peer support, there are multiple tools the criminal justice system can put into place for both prevention and supervision to form a safety net.

SB 91 is still new. Plainly put, it is comparable to a young child, with boundless energy and good intentions. Only after time will we see how this develops into a mature and intelligent design of methods aimed at reducing crime and unnecessary incarceration rates, which honestly, we all pay for in one way or another.

Only after time will we see what the cost is. We know the cost of incarceration, lets give SB 91 a chance to show what the value of reform is.

 

Parenting Halfway House Style

One way to set someone up for failure is to pull them from their support network.

This is the last of my three blogs I have set out about Glenwood Center.

Social support network characteristics of incarcerated women with co-occurring major depressive and substance use disorders

Social support has been conceptualized as including three main components: strength of support, network characteristics, and the types of support offered. Strength of support reflects the perceived level of supportiveness provided by individuals in one’s social support networks (Groh, Jason & Keys 2008). Important social network characteristics include the size of the network as well as the types of the people comprising the network, such as the percentage of substance users within the network (Zywiak, Longabaugh & Wirtz 2002). The types of support provided by one’s social network can be tangible (e.g., exchange of physical items such as money, food, etc.) or intangible (e.g., through exchange of emotional support), or may be problem-specific, such as support for substance use treatment or attitudes of network members regarding a woman’s continued use of alcohol or drugs (Groh et al. 2007Groh, Jason & Keys 2008). Various kinds and sources of support may play different roles in an incarcerated woman’s depression course, substance use recovery, and her re-entry efforts (Bui & Morash 2010Harp, Oser & Leukefeld 2012Johnson et al. 2011aStaton-Tindall, Royse & Leukfeld 2007).

When I got to GWC I was told I could not have visits from ex-felons, which posed a variety of issues. I have been in recovery for multiple years, and let’s face it, the majority of us in recovery have had some issues with the law. Much of my support family has long term recovery, and are now law abiding citizens. One close friend, really family member, was practically a surrogate mom while I was at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center (HMCC), making sure things were taken care of at my home and with my two children. Once I got to the Glenwood Center I was denied any contact with her, although she was finishing up a degree working in the social services arena and was completing a practicum at a local residential treatment center. The issue? She had an SIS from years previously, and therefore I would be in violation of the GWC rules if I was to contact her.

At HMCC, she was able to visit and bring my daughter to see me. At HMCC my daughter was allowed to be dropped off on Friday nights for Girl Scout meetings that met weekly at the institution. HMCC is a correctional institution for women that actually had programs and activities available to decrease the likelihood of recidivism.

Glenwood Center seemed to be pulling me further and further away from communicating with my loved ones. Not only was physical contact difficult, phone contact was difficult as well. Women at GWC had two pay phones, .50 cents a call (more if it was a newer cell number, as it was $1.50 for 3 minutes to call my daughter on her cell phone) and one of the pay phones would not accept money, only calling cards. There were an average of 15 women where I was there at GWC.

 

 

Note from CRC Probation Officer regarding visitation.

Changed their minds, since  my daughters dad had a domestic violence charge , cannot go on passes after all.

Getting clarity: Good luck!

What happens when you put a grievance in. This is how I think it all started.

At first, the reasoning was that the Power of Attorney was invalid due to it being for Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, then after I had put in a request to update the POA, I was told Legal Guardianship is needed to bring my 15 year old daughter to visit. How was the stipulations and rules for visiting at a Community Residential Center more stringent than an official Correctional Facility?

Copy of the BUZZED (cancelled) Resident CIT to obtain an updated POA

Clear, concise, complete. This was handed to me by the Assistant Director at the time, John.

I was still married, so surely he could bring her in, he was, after all, her step-dad. I had gotten approval from my case manager, and after the one visit, this is what I came back to after work.

What happened?

 

I dealt with it as best I could. 14 months later, I got out on ankle monitor.

While there I used a lot of calling cards, thanks to the many who were very supportive and sent them to me. I worked as much as I could and stayed busy, and I stayed as possible reading, writing my pen pals (thank you SWOP Behind Bars) and focused on the day I would get out and how I would let others know that this happens.

I know first hand how being pulled from positive supportive people affects us that are incarcerated. How being separated from our loved ones affect not only our lives, but their lives as well.

We are more apt to act out in ways that hinder us.  Long term solutions for short term problems look reasonable. We use drugs, we run away from GWC, we act out in various ways while trying to make sense of the fears and uncertainties we hold in.

It is a set up for failure and makes no real sense why things are done in such a way. Policies and part of the CRC standards is the reasoning I was told. Something needs to change. Peoples lives are at stake, not only those incarcerated, but our children, who grow up to be adults. This impacts society as a whole, and needs to be addressed as part of the recidivism of incarceration.

What are some of your experiences with parenting in prison or at a CRC?

What are some of the barriers you may have faced with re-entry issues?

What could be changed or is changing?

A quick prisoner poll

I am on lock down today and started my day off with a list of to-do’s that I created last night while I binged watched The Mick with my 16 year old daughter.

My life is immensely better than what I dared to imagine one year ago. Two years ago, I would have thought being home with my daughter was impossible, three years ago I was paralyzed by too much fear to think of the future, and four years ago I would have laughed in your face and told you no way in hell would I find strength from my shattered life.

I don’t have much to write today. I have been searching for all the paperwork I saved from GWC to scan on my blog. Paperwork from when GWC wouldn’t allow my daughter to come visit me unless a guardian was with her. By Hiland Mountain Correctional Centers (HMCC) standards, I was able to get a notarized form signed and a close friend was able to bring my daughter to see me regularly. HMCC strives for family unification and has a conscience and a heart. Shortly after I got to GWC I was told that form wasn’t legal. Only a legal guardian, namely a parent, could bring my then 15 year old in to see me. I could not get something notarized by the court and have a friend bring my daughter. So, since I was still married I had my now ex husband bring her. He was nice enough to do it as often as possible, but then GWC said he wasn’t considered a legal guardian and I was threatened with a write up.

As you can imagine this whole ordeal became a stressful issue where I documented everything.

And that is what I am planning on writing about, as soon as I find those files.

But today, while I am on lock down, I get to spend the day with my daughter rather than being frustrated about visiting issues. I’ll save it for another day when she is at work or out with friends.

That being said, I wanted to add a poll to see what others felt was needed for prisoner related issues.

A pic of my disorganization when I read through all my old journals as I blog. This is just an assortment of loose papers in one of my many journals.

July and everything after

Anniversaries.

Personal holidays.

Everyone has a date or a few dates that impact their lives.

July 9th, 2014 is one of mine.

It was 3 years ago yesterday that I was arrested for Sex Trafficking. Never in my wildest dreams would I have seen that coming. Promoting prostitution, sure, but SEX TRAFFICKING. What the hell.

Anniversaries are stressful for me. They are personal holidays where I measure how far I’ve come or how much time I have wasted. I don’t know about you, but I never measure up to the standards I have in my mind. I am a perfectionist, and have high expectations of myself. Over the years, I’ve learned to not put those same expectations on others.  At almost 43 years old, I am attempting to give myself some slack in that area.

Not even a week after I was arrested was the big vacation my then 13 year old daughter and I had been planning. Her birthday is in January, and it was her birthday present. Universal Studios, Knottsberry Farm, just mom and daughter time in sunny California. Shopping, waterparks, ice cream. Memories that would carry us through the difficult moments of teenage rebellion that I knew where in my near future. Instead, I looked out the thick window of my two bunk cell, staring at the empty sky, when that plane we were supposed to be on was taking off.

I will forever owe her a vacation.

With this in mind, I am at home on electronic monitoring on lockdown today. I am still going through my paperwork I saved, and have plenty of journals from Hiland Mountain and  GWC.  This morning I stumbled upon something I wrote the day I got to GWC. I thought it would be a fitting way to celebrate not being in a closed wall jail, when only 3 short years ago I was uncertain of what the future would hold. With so many uncertainties, I quickly got used to not making plans.

It is taking me some time to think about the future. I have 10 months, and really in my mind, anything can happen to me between now and then.

The State owns me, so all my plans are for the long term.

Leave Alaska. Buy an RV. Travel. Blog. Write. Speak out without fear of being put back in jail.

Here are copies, forgive the many typos, as old fashioned typewriters are unforgiving!

EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image

I am now working at IHOP, after the job at The Bradley House ended when the summer season was over, I started as a cook at IHOP. After about 5 months I went to the FOH, and became a server. Much better money.

I am living in a cheap apartment about a 15 minute walk from my work. My now 16 year old daughter flew out on a plane last night to visit family. Not quite a California vacation, but I know that she knows that I know I owe her one.

My life is different than what I imagined it would be 3 years ago. I cannot wait to see how it changes in another 3 years.

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Rights of people with no voice

For many that are newly released, either on probation, parole, or electronic monitoring, the stress of being released from incarceration is felt on varying levels. Depending on the amount of support someone has from family, friends, support groups, resource agencies, probation officers, and employers, life can get complicated quickly. Yes, electronic monitoring is still incarceration, but thankfully there is the added bonus of being a responsible member of society. Rather than being incarcerated with walls surrounding the offender, electronic monitoring places clear and strict limitations on an incarcerated person, with the added bonus of less cost to the State of Alaska, along with many added bonuses to the offender on electronic monitoring.

Those are just the external issues that may impact someones choices.

Throw in the average internal issues such as anxiety, depression, fears of returning to incarceration, frustration over problems that arose over being incarcerated, and self esteem that may be lacking as the road to freedom is trekked (no car, no money, no clothes, health issues) life isn’t peachy keen just because someone is released.

I haven’t written in a few weeks because I was dealing with some of those issues.

I will finish the last of my Halfway Houses are halfway there series after I get this out.

What have I been up to, besides working two jobs? I have been going to the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission meetings, as well as a few Re-Entry Coalition meetings these last few months.

I have been out of Glenwood Center for a little over 3 months now, on electronic monitoring, living with my daughter and picking up the pieces of what happened almost 3 years ago to this very day. My arrest date is July 9th, 2014. Reflecting on this, I am amazed at how 3 years has gone by so quickly, yet on the same hand, everything that has happened within these last 3 years has seemed like an entirely different life than what I had lived before and am now living. It is safe to say that I have become a stronger person through the process, yet have some residual issues I will be likely dealing with the rest of my life because of 1) my charge and 2) the apparent discrepancy of how those with criminal convictions are treated.

What do I mean by this?

First, let me tell you how looking for a place to rent is difficult for a person with a criminal history. In Alaska, we have courtview, so any charges, whether dismissed, consolidated, or dropped entirely, are on the courtview website for any potential landlord to view. Landlords that don’t know any better can read what, lets use myself as an example, charges were brought forth. July 9th 2014 I was charged with 8 counts of Sex Trafficking. Courtview lists all 8 charges. All but 1 were dismissed, but all were damming in how someone could view me, a potential renter. I won’t even go into what Alaska deems Sex Trafficking as opposed to what the typical citizen views as Sex Trafficking. I know what I envision when I hear the term, and I know what the Alaska State Statute spells out. Read previous blogs if you are still unsure.

Or, how about the landlord that saw I had an Eviction Proceeding, not even bothering to notice I was the Plaintiff, evicting renters from the home I lived in and had a mortgage on before and while I was incarcerated?

Those with criminal convictions face many hurdles when seeking employment and housing. The screening out process is easy for landlords and employers when they have options of who to rent to or hire based on information that may be untrue or overblown by the way Alaska brings charges to those charged in criminal proceedings. From my experience, and countless others I have discussed the criminal justice system with, one charge equals multiple, only to be dropped as part of the bargaining process. This may not be justice, but this is how we as Americans have allowed the criminal justice system to be managed.

There is movement rectifying this issue within the Alaska Criminal Justice system. It is regarding the Sealing, Clemency and Expungement Options, a list of recommendations brought forth to the Barriers to Reentry Workgroup by Barbara Dunham. It discusses how other States have dealt with these issues, and shows options available, along with concerns that go along with those options.

Some argue that the more access is restricted to a record of conviction (courtview), the more like a pardon the restriction will be. This is not an issue in cases that did not result in a conviction. That STILL leaves the hanger on charges that were dismissed as part of a plea bargain.

Removing a case from courtview so any quick check wouldn’t further the misuse of information found on courtview would not hide information from background checks. A reliable background check from a landlord or employer would still show verifiable criminal charges.

In essence, once someone has a criminal charge, the sanctions of that crime does not end once incarceration is over, or even when probation is over. Thanks to courtview, those charges are visible for years to come, effectively impacting a citizens ability to live without collateral consequences, sadly being held accountable of choices made 10, 20 years ago although the price had been paid long ago for that crime. Life goes on, and sometimes what was illegal 5, 10 years ago isn’t a crime anymore, but still is on a persons record.

What does this mean for me? Well, not too much as long as I stay at the same minimum wage job I have been at for almost a year now, and don’t move from the apartment I am in.

Has discrimination based on criminal convictions affected you?  Or has it affected a decision you have had to make?

Do you think the proposed changes will impact Alaska citizens for the good, or do you think this will further confuse the justice being served?

What do you see as important changes that need to be made?

What does this mean for Alaskans? Depending on who you ask, it means the difference between breaking down a barrier that could, worse case scenario, lead someone to make poor choices and continue the cycle of incarceration that the difficulties placed them into already.

I hope that we, as humans, can make a change that will impact those to come and not just think of the here and now and what it means to only us.

Helpful links for more information

 

Wide array of resources listed here from the Alaska Criminal Justice Commission HERE

UAA Justice Center: Expungement and Limiting Public Access to Alaska Criminal Case Records in the Digital Age

Written on the fourth of July, so if you haven’t read this in awhile, read The Declaration of Independence.

 

Halfway Houses are halfway there: Part Two: Money

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This is my second blog about the halfway houses in Anchorage Alaska. Because I only have first hand knowledge of the Glenwood Center (GWC), ran by TJM Western, I will be focusing on the policies and procedures I know about.

What qualifies me?

I spent 14 months at the GWC and had countless conversations and many observations during that time. I will start out by saying the only reason an offender is there on furlough is to work. That is not an issue, believe me, 9.9 out of 10 of us want to get out of prison, where we are making anywhere from .35 to .65 an hour (some were paid $1 or more, but majority rules.) Going to a halfway house helped many save getting out of jail the necessary money for release, which is needed for obvious reasons.

But it isn’t that easy.

First things first. Being in compliance with furlough, which means following GWC policy.

Policy at GWC: You must have a job, working a minimum of 32 hours a week. If you do not have a job meeting the minimum requirements you are liable for an IR (incident report) and possibly a preliminary hearing.

What does that mean? An IR can cause residents to receive extra in-house duties, program demotions, and/or termination from the center. Easy fix, get a job washing dishes or working the drive through at a burger place.

That brings us to the funds request. You might say to yourself, “I won’t need money, they provide everything, right, so I will just bank my money!” Even if you didn’t ever need to take the bus, you still need to get submit one of these. You can get a write-up for not submitting a Resident Funds Request, because without doing so you are not paying for your court fines/restitution. Or, if required, child support. Also, you pay for your phone calls, .50 local, $1.50 for outside of the Anchorage area (the newer cell numbers would be this higher fee), laundry ($1.75 to wash and another $1.75 to dry) and your personal hygiene items as well.

Let’s say you gross $398.78, netting $307.00 from a pay check. $99.70 goes directly to GWC, while another $99.70 goes into a savings reserve you cannot touch until release. In order to pull out any funds to use, you must list your restitution on your funds request, whereas they figure the 20%. Another $79.75 gone. Well, you figure you still have $127 left, right. No, because that $99.70 is in savings, remember. You have $27. This happens each time you get paid, For this example I used my job at Denny’s. I got paid bi-weekly there. Needless to say I walked a lot. And I “threw in” with room mates to get my laundry done.

The short of it? They want their 25% before taxes. And yes, that includes any tips you may receive. Then 25% goes into forced savings, and 20% goes to any restitution an offender may have. Add that up, and 70% is gone before you can even think about pulling money out to do laundry or take the bus. Sure, you get that savings when you leave, but you don’t accrue any interest. You get what you put in.

You might be thinking, okay, interesting, but whats the point Amber?

Lets do the math. If am paying $99.70 twice a month (actually more because that was just from my check at minimum wage, my tips were turned in and divided up just like a check, but for the sake of this exercise we will keep it simple) that is $199 a month. There are about 70 residents at GWC, barring the new ones not working yet and a few short term confined misdemeanents. Even at minimum wage, GWC is getting approximately getting $13K a month (and that is a low estimate). Factor in what Alaska pays to house inmates there –  Alaska spends on average $44,000 a year per inmate  – and it makes me wonder, where is the money going and to what programs is it going to? Staff at GWC are paid $11.75 an hour.

The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Justice Reinvestment Report – December 2015 summarizes the findings of the Criminal Justice Commission, as a part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The Commission studied the criminal justice system in three areas – pretrial detention, post-conviction imprisonment, and community corrections. Many have heard about this report, but not until I started looking at how much money GWC was being paid to house residents did I stumble upon the actual report.

Recommendation 18: Improve treatment offerings in CRCs and focus use of CRC resources on high-need offenders. CRCs, otherwise known as halfway houses, have the potential to effectively support offenders who are transitioning back to the community from prison. However, the Commission found that CRCs are likely mixing low and high risk offenders, which research has shown can lead to increased recidivism for low risk offenders. Additionally, the Commission found that CRCs would be more effective at reducing recidivism if the facilities offered treatment for offenders in addition to supervision.

Specific Action Recommended: To reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for offenders placed in CRCs, the Commission recommends:
a. Requiring CRCs to provide treatment (cognitive-behavioral, substance abuse, after care and/or support services) designed to address offenders’ individual criminogenic needs.
b. Adopting quality assurance procedures to ensure CRCs are meeting contractual obligations with regard to safety and offender management.
c. Implementing admission criteria for CRCs that:
i. Prioritize placement in CRCs for people who would benefit most from more intensive supervision and treatment, using the results of a validated risk and needs assessment; and ii. Minimize the mixing of low and high risk offenders.

After reading that I am unsure of what programs the CRC was required to provide. I had to earn Level 2 status in order to go to 12 step meetings for my recovery. I signed myself up for MRT classes (interested in learning what this is? Click here) and was told that work was to come first. I asked repeatedly to be able to go to STAR (a non-profit organization providing options, support and information to Alaskans affected by sexual violence) and was almost given a write-up for bringing it up with a GWC casemanager after I questioned why I could not participate in STAR groups. Now, regarding my individual criminogenic needs, I would assume they would want me to address the underlying issues in my “crime”.

I don’t have any clever wrap up to this issue. I would like to have some strong closing argument, but in all truthfulness, this has just raised more questions regarding what can, what could and what should be done to assist the overall positive outcomes for those incarcerated and specifically, those in GWC.

Comments are welcome!