Tag Archives: jail

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!

 

 

Empowerment through Consequence

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I only became aware that I needed to stand up and voice my beliefs after realizing the personal consequences of unfair legislation.

I have been reading up on everything that I was unable to read about for the last three years. Binders, websites, resources. Luckily there is a lot out there.

A big BIG thank you to M. Dante.

I liken it very much to a baby taking her first steps, and peering up a huge stair case…the journey ahead. So, I will research, read, reach out, ponder and look within in order to learn how to continue on this very worthwhile journey before me.

It is easy enough because the way I have personally lived my life has been by a few rules:

Do the least harm to all I meet

I was raised that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, then keep your mouth shut. Over the years I have been able to generalize this. One of my fave quotes is “Even a fish could learn to stay out of trouble if it would keep its mouth shut.”  So very true.

I am usually the one sitting quietly on the side. I try not to say anything unless it brings some value to the conversation.

Disclaimer: If you are close friends or family this does not apply. I will continue to be a silly sing-a-song-that-I-hear-a-beat-to-and not know the words kinda chic.

Any positive moment is movement towards what is positive

Through my early readings I see many sex work advocates upset over legislation that doesn’t address exactly what they want. I keep in mind it is a process, and as long as we are going forward and not backwards, it is a step in the right direction.

This saved my ass when I was repeatedly denied requests I put in (mail with smudges, visits, passes, electronic monitoring, write up appeals…the list could go on). Although the outcome was not what I wanted (usually) I felt I was going forward just by requesting, questioning and trying to be heard, because I did get some answers that weren’t always “no’s”.

Standing together and not bickering amongst ourselves is a step towards change. Wasting time and energy against each other is what those who wish to dispel our cause wants. Ask some of the women I did time with, I was always talking about how we needed to support and be there for each other, not bicker, tell on or ostracize. That is what makes us weak, and by us, I mean women because it has been my personal experience that men call this b.s much sooner and work towards getting things done, not focusing on petty issues.

Tell my truth

Over time my truth has changed. I feel as if I have lived several lives, and you know what? I am okay with that. More than okay. I find my strength in that. It means I have a broader view of the world, of people and most importantly I am open to know myself. After all, I  see life as a journey towards who I authentically am as a person, woman, mother, friend and human. I define my journey, not any one else. I find empowerment through consequence.

Freedom of mind = Peace within

Freedom from fear. Such a simple statement yet it isn’t always been attainable. Like many others, I have struggled with fear. I have spent countless hours mulling over my fears,  spinning in my mind, writing and dissecting it in my brain.

I have been out on electronic ankle monitor (EM) for 18 days now. Today is my lock down day, which is a part of EM (one day a week has to be a lock down day) and I am going over some of my journals that I had both at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and at the Glenwood Center.

Here is an excerpt from 9/22/2016:

It will snow soon.

I can remember the first snow of certain years. 2007, when I got home and walking outside with Tracy. My body sore and beat up. 2014, walking to work in Education, (I was at Hiland Correctional) unsure of wereQuotefancy-299835-3840x2160 my life would go. 2015, walking the yard, looking at the mountains. Sentenced and wondering about EM. It’s 2016. Not yet for EM. I have 20 months left in less than a week. 20 months ago it was May 2014. I wasn’t arrested yet. It has gone by quickly. Time. I did it amidst so many uncertain
ties, chaos, sadness. I’ve been here 5 months and it seems like the blink of an eye some days.

I will write about all of this. Episodes. This IR (incident report) is a two-part episode. Elisa leaving, an episode. Trish. Mary’s health. My birthday. Laundry struggles. No quarters to be found. Karaoke queen. IHOP BLT”s (yes Ginger that’s where the $1000 I loaned you went so you could discreetly bring it to your car).  Garbage dates. Director John calling me at work to ask about money.

For the most part I read my journals now and see scattered notes, cryptic. I had been afraid of staff reading them and I would get into trouble somehow. But I am piecing them together, just as I am piecing this whole journey together for something whole.

 

Live Your Life

Just because I am out on electronic monitoring doesn’t mean that my life is butterflies and sparklers. First of all, butterflies scare the crap out of me. Fun fact: Check my walls and you will see a few butterflies though, dead and under glass or just plain not real.

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I have come far since July 2014. My life has changed, for the better. I have said countless times back at the halfway house that they didn’t break me. The joke was, at medication call, staff would ask if I had any meds I needed to take and I would reply “Not yet!”.

For those that have never been incarcerated, let me tell you it is a test in patience. It can make you confront your fears or drown in them, and worst yet, you have time to look back and think about what could have been different…what will be different…then finally, what is different.

I find the disparities between women and men in sentencing here in Alaska vastly discouraging, Countless women sit behind bars due to minor violations while men are usually handed far less severe consequences. Us women, on a whole, have a lot to lose. Typically we are mothers and employees, and being incarcerated means our children are the ones who pay, whether by foster care or loss of a parents love. It is not easy for the ones beyond the walls. Jobs aren’t held just because we are in, and finding another one can mean fast food or some other low paying employment. A necessity to remain in good standing with the probation officer as well as a legit way to pay bills.

At the halfway house where I was we were told to take the first job offered. I wasn’t allowed an office job. I had an amazing job offer at a small marketing firm but it was a no-no to have access to a phone or a computer at the halfway house.  My employment background is office and marketing/HR. I had no choice but to go the typical route: restaurant work. If I am guilty of sex trafficking, so be it, but I can honestly say that I have been subjected to labor trafficking just upon the basis of what it was like to find a job and keep a job while there. I have been called a retard and a bitch from my store manager and sent home and not given any option to quit without consequences. A job is money in the pocket to the halfway house, and I was only a number and a check.

I still find it hard to believe that I was sentenced to five and a half years for running a business. Yes, an illegal business, but I truly thought the independent contractor agreements covered me. Excuses and blame, according to the lawmakers. Either way, I carry on. Unbroken. Stronger. Left to gather my thoughts and put it all out there. So, now I can. Now I will. And I hope others follow suit.

Have a great day!

 

 

This is how we rise

I was released from a halfway house Friday morning. I had been there for 14 months, okay, four days shy from 14 months, but to me it felt like a lifetime.

Sleeping in was a joke even on my day off. Sadly, the staff were only paid $11 an hour and found the job on Craigslist . My morning alarms were someone yapping away on the intercom like it was karaoke hour. I would get write ups depending on how staff read the rules. I had emotional and close to physical battles over laundry. I dropped a lighter in front of the assistant director, helped women with responses to their write ups for hugging each other and have spent countless hours staring out the window when I lived on the second floor. There was never a dull moment yet each moment I was away from my children I felt pieces of my heart break off.

Each time I left the building I had to have a piece of paper approved by my case manager, turned in at least three business days in advance. These were called CIT’s, and no one knows what that stands. These needed to be complete with clear details on route, bus or walking, walking times (to the minute because they could google map it, as a resident of the halfway I was not allowed to just jump on a computer anytime to do that), location address and phone number, and purpose. Purpose was important. Job search was about it, unless you were a resident at or above Level 2, then you would do the same thing with a pass. Only those were to be turned in at least 8 days in advance, no later than 5pm on Monday, to be valid only for the next weeks Tuesday and beyond.

Thankfully I am good at paperwork. And patience. And ambiguity. And paperwork. And answers that just lead to more questions. Have a question? Put in a cop-out, now known as a communication form. Just more paperwork.

The main point of being in a halfway house is to work. YOU MUST WORK A MINIMUM OF 32 HOURS A WEEK. They take 25% off the top, and you are only allotted up to $100 a week…as long as your funds request was in by 5pm Friday. Money would be given the following Friday. Residents are told to take the first job that comes our way, and believe me, we want to, because job search can lead to a host of problems; write ups if you are early to your location, or late. Information needed (see above CIT) was a real bitch to find in our outdated phone books. If you didn’t find a job within 30 days there were preliminary hearings with the case manager and probation officer to look forward to. These would lead to loss of privileges, extra community service hours and/or going back to jail.

I made it. I made it out. So did many others, while I was there, so it may not seem like such a big deal to someone who doesn’t know the whole story. This is but a short blurb.

I am grateful and blessed and look forward to many more blogs and telling my story. After all, this is how we rise.