We Forgive You (Sort Of) by Jeff Jones

By Martin L. Lockett

When I came to prison nearly 15 years ago at the age of 24 for DUI manslaughter, I deemed my life an utter failure and, in my mind, had concluded my life was essentially over. Due to Oregon’s mandatory minimum laws, I wouldn’t be released until the age of 42. I would be starting a new career 20 years behind the rest of society and branded a felon with major convictions on my record. How could I have reached any other conclusion? 

It was nearly a year later, however, that my perspective radically changed. This was spurred by spending countless hours in deep meditation, searching of a way to ascertain how I was going to make sense of this tragedy and, perhaps more importantly, how I was going to spend the next 17.5 years of my young life behind bars.

This process of self-discovery led me to the keen conviction that the only way this tragedy would not be in vain was if I devoted the rest of my life to the important cause of preventing others from following in my footsteps; if I made a solemn commitment to honor my victims by doing everything in my power to help others through their addiction, thus lessening potential victimization in my community that could have otherwise been committed by someone who was active in their addiction.

Toward this effort, I have earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology, Master’s in Psychology, published two books, gotten state certified as a recovery mentor (CRM), and will become a state-certified drug and alcohol counselor by the end of this year. I work in this capacity for the substance abuse treatment program offered in the prison and volunteer to co-facilitate DUI victim impact panels on weekends. By all accounts, I would be deemed rehabilitated, highly unlikely to ever re-offend, and suitable to reintegrate back into the community as a full citizen. There’s only one major problem that precludes this from happening: I can’t vote. 

The right to vote in local, state, and federal elections as a US citizen is one of the fundamental hallmarks of our democratic republic. It’s what differentiates us from countless other dictatorial countries and is a central attraction for many around the world to abandon their homelands and renounce their citizenship for more equal rights on our soil. Yet, over two million of us “branded” citizens will never (or at least until laws change in many states) enjoy this coveted American right again. 

How is it that we claim to be a forgiving nation, one that espouses everyone is inherently deserving of a “second change,” yet we deny them the opportunity to fully reintegrate into our communities, and society at large, by stripping away their right to participate in our democratic process after they’ve made a costly decision? How can our state governments justify taking taxes from our hard-earned paychecks, while denying us the right to vote on issues that our tax dollars will be spent on? I believe we fought a war over this very issue in 1776. How is it we can proclaim to be a forgiving nation, one that deems someone’s “debt” to society to be paid in full when he or she has served their time, yet continue to punish them for the rest of their lives by forbidding them their right to fully participate in society through the American democratic process? 

In my estimation, it is exactly this discrimination—amongst others, such as housing, employment, educational funding, etc.—that conveys to the newly-released person that his or her life is never fully redeemable; that society will never view him or her as deserving the same rights and privileges as those who were never arrested and convicted for things they may have done as a reckless teen, young adult or, for many of us, while in our active addiction. It is this communal and societal exclusion that, sadly, ostracizes those without a strong support system to the point that they feel their lone option is to return to the only way of life they have ever known—regardless of how self-destructive and counterproductive it may be.

Prior to coming to prison, I had never given voting much of a thought. I assumed politics didn’t have any bearing on those of us who lived in the “hood.” As a now 39-year-old man who has paid close attention to politics and the political process since 2007—when the first person who looked like me stood a viable chance of being elected to the highest office in the land—I know it is vital for each and every citizen to be well informed of the local politics that affect local issues, state issues that obviously impact all citizens of the state, and federal elections that have even greater, more widespread consequences for all of us. It is, therefore, my position that all citizens of the United States must be allowed the opportunity to have their fundamental right to vote fully restored after they have completed their term of imprisonment—not after they have completed their post-prison supervision, but immediately upon their release from a state or federal facility. After all, don’t they become members of their communities immediately upon their release? Aren't they expected by their parole officers to find and maintain gainful employment immediately upon their release? Don’t we expect them to abide by all the laws of their respective states immediately upon their release? So why the prolonged wait in some states to fully reinstate their voting rights until after they have completed their parole, if at all? This is unacceptable; this is undemocratic; this is “un-American.”

Visitation Degradation by Jeff Jones

By Taj Mahon-Haft

Remember the “grosser than gross” jokes of childhood? Quickly, what’s gross? Wearing used underwear, ever. What’s grosser than gross? Wearing communal tighty-whities–they’re called “slingshots” here; not sure why–in prison. That is a highlight of what we’ve been recently subjected to in order to maintain our opportunities to spend time with family and friends.

Without a doubt, the best part of my existence in prison is visitation time. In a world of hyper-masculinity, where affection is prohibited and displays of joy perceived as weakness, that weekly connection with loved ones is like oxygen to a suffocating man.

We are allowed but one hug and kiss on the way in and one leaving, but they are electric and the comfort lingers for days. Unlimited, each smile beams like the first dawn.

I am very fortunate in that my support system is so incredible that I almost never miss a weekend, coasting through the beginning of most weeks on the winds of companionship. This may sound ephemeral, but there really is no way to fully express the power of connecting with those you love when living a life of designed isolation and deprevation.

Hence, it is not surprising that Virginia’s Department of Corrections claims commitment to maintaining strong ties between people behind bars–they reduce us to “offenders,” of course–and their families. Operating Procedure 851.1.IV.A.3 states, “visitation provides offenders with opportunities for involvement with family and participation in community activities before final release.”

In this era or purported reform, it is surprising that they recently instituted pointless statewide changes that directly attack those bonds and discourage visitation. Recently policies we–families and residents– have had to endure put lipstick on the lip service they offer about promoting familial bonds.

Until mid-2017, we were able to wear our “blues” to visits. Those are the institutional uniforms, and they were bad enough–elastic waisted male maternity jeans and rough chambray shirts. On the way in and on the way out we underwent full searches examining literally every inch of us, as did our visitors–not fully nude for them, though. This process could not have been any more secure already. Visitors even had to go through multiple scanners, more than airports.

However, they have now added the most demeaning possible attire to the process arbitrarily. We still have to submit to the full search on the way in and the way out, so the actual security procedure has not changed. Now, though, we must put on socks, t-shirts, and underwear from a communal supply. Yes, here, in prison.

My friends who work in the laundry area have assured me that, while they do get washed after every use, they find drawers with streaks, spots, and stains. The administration cannot let it be communal boxers like the boxers they have us wear at all other times. They choose this one time to force us to don the undies that get most personal. With the search, the switching of underwear is entirely redundant and only meant to inconvenience and dissuade.

Furthermore, during our visits, we are now forced to wear backwards onesie jumpsuits, shapeless, enormous, and beige, like a cross between a straight jacket, oversized infant attire, and a burlap sack. They are highly uncomfortable and unflattering, but more than that, they are degrading. We are grown men being forced without cause to clothe ourselves to see the people that matter most in something that requires us to ask for help zipping and unzipping. We are deliberately made to    look and feel ridiculous. Visual shaming and marking.

In addition, the recent rule changes also included a loss of eating privileges in the visitation room. If we are lucky enough to have a visit that lasts more than an hour or two, we likely miss an official meal–of what they claim as food.

Previously, the impact of this was mitigated by the opportunity to purchase overpriced gas station sandwiches and chips from vending machines. In fact, while far from Panera or Chipotle, those microwaveable snacks were the best thing we ever got here. More than that, they gave us and our visitors a chance to eat; nourishment being essential, and all. Now the new visitation rules include a ban on all food except the least nutritious and filling. Yup, now all we can have at visits are candy bars.

On what grounds did they make these changes? The official claim here is security, but that is simply not a legitimate justification. It’s a matter of making an easy scapegoat of those already behind bars and therefore allowed to be presumed guilty of everything.

Certainly, the opportunity to eat potato chips and sandwiches instead of candy did not create a greater risk of contraband. When the D.O.C. was questioned about this, they claimed it was necessary to stem the tide of drugs coming in through visits. Yes, that does rarely happen, but the numbers they quoted were minuscule, amounting to hundredths of a percent of the visits that occur, less than a couple dozen times a year throughout the whole state with nearly 40,000 people behind bars.

Everyone here will tell you that, yes, drugs are available. They will also tell you that the availability did not change at all with the new visitation rules because, frankly, the vast majority of drugs enter with employees, not residents. Having considerable second hand knowledge of the process, I would estimate 85-90% is coming in via guards and contract workers. Most of what arrives simply cannot make it in through visitation. The authorities know this and simply prefer to scapegoat us because it is an easier way to claim they are doing something when an incident occurs. It requires much more introspection and admission of a systemic problem to deal with the real sources of most contraband.

When the biggest contraband bust happened last year at the largest state penitentiary on the East Coast, thousands in cash, pounds of tobacco, nearly a pound of weed and a dozen cell phones in boxes were found. Where? In the guards break room ceiling, where we have no access, ever. They even arrested a contract employee in the process.

Certainly none of that could fit inside any body cavities during a visit! Seems fundamentally obvious that boxed phones or pounds of anything did not come in via the private parts railroad. Ouch! Yet they responded by locking us down for two weeks and canceling visits for a month, even with the outfits. Such is the extent of the scapegoat mentality.

What these changes really amount to is a public shaming of both us and our loved ones. It visually marks us and serves to remind them of  the judgement against us and the presumption of guilt against them by association. This is also entirely out of line with the claimed philosophical foundations of contemporary corrections. Furthermore, it is entirely out of line with the rubric of evidence-based practice. It is well established that shaming is a poor way to teach lessons of any sort. Instead, it creates trauma and emotional scars that lead to isolation from society and feelings of disengagement. It encourages future insecurities and secretive behavior.

The shaming of our loved ones extends beyond the visits too, serving as an ongoing reminder that we are deemed “untrustworthy” and “criminal.” It is hard enough on them to brave long drives, unpleasant guards, pat downs, and razor wire for limited time at a plastic table. Now all memories and our only photo ops look like a medieval Missy Elliott video.

Sadly, these dehumanizing rituals discouraging visitation are counterproductive for all. People behind bars do much better, both here and after release, the stronger their links with external support networks. My own experience here is emblematic. Without outside bonds when I began, I would have succumbed to depression following an unjust and unexpected incarceration. I would have either committed suicide or committed to chasing highs. Instead, the desire to maintain my standards for the sake of my son, my incredible fiancee, my parents, my friends motivated me past those darkest days. The interactions we shared pushed me to find hope and purpose in my existence here, leading to reinvigoration and self-motivation. Every hug and laugh during a visit helped save me.

I am not alone in this, either. One of the purposes I have found here has involved utilizing my unique intersection of sociologist and prisoner roles to conduct ethnographic research. My unprecedented access allowed me to learn a lot about the guys here doing the best despite the circumstances. One thing that stood out was how the positive leaders in these environs almost unanimously described family relationships as a primary motivating factor. Visitors are a common theme among the rare few who conquer context to be authors, organizers and teachers while being actively dehumanized.

This is a very focused window into a broader pattern, too.

Discouraging visits is a terrible idea for broader society because strong relationships with loved ones make up one of the two most clearly beneficial things for people behind bars–education being the other one. Those locked up are almost all going to be part of society again in the future, and all of us here are still living now, even if it doesn't always feel that way. The people that have strong bonds while here avoid

trouble best, feel the least discarded by society, and are most likely to remain positive members of their families–remember the millions of kids with incarcerated parents. They are also most likely to have the necessary hope, confidence, and support to succeed in a tough world full of stigma once released. That is safer and cheaper for everyone, along with being aligned with the stated rehabilitation and public safety mission of the D.O.C.

My partner, my family, and I continue to find all the joy possible from our visits. We will not allow administrative buffoonery to steal that from us. Plus, I have a pretty high gross tolerance when it comes to seeing that gorgeous woman. Many guys do not though. For many, these changes have made visits too much to bear. For others, it is too much to acquiesce to such mistreatment.

I have battled internally about this issue myself, and I’d like to join in if there were collective action against this. However, that is unlikely because there is actually a policy where if we organize any group movement, no matter how peaceful or small, it is considered “inciting a riot” and we will be sent to the hole, losing our meager 45¢/hour jobs and meager good time that this parole-less state allows us to earn.

In the mean time, I suffer the literal and figurative shit stains of this situation in order to share those precious moments of connections. Be it known, though, that they occur despite rather than because of the policies here.

By Aubrey Michael Berryman by Jeff Jones

Right now we are facing a major human rights issue, that for the most part is hidden in plain sight. Prisons are tucked away into the corners of our vast land for a reason, because out of sight means out of mind. In modern America's social economic landscape, prisons equate profits. Prisoners and their families should not be treated as a commodity. The economy built into and around prisons is vast. JPay charges for email and, alongside their other ventures, reports gains by hundreds of millions, the company worth billions. Keefe Commissary Network steadily increases prices, thereby altering the cost of living beyond the earned wage of prisoners. As of November of 2018, prices across the board are slated to increase 10%. But wages for Virginia offenders have been locked at a .45c max since the 1980s. Their family and friends often take up the slack. Many consider this an extra tax on the poor. Judges hold investments in the very jails they send people to.

While the rest of the free world has figured out more productive, cost efficient, and humane ways of dealing with criminals, our capitalist nation has commercialized incarceration. The modern industrial prison complex is real, and traded on every major stock exchange in the world.

We are creatures of habit and comfort. Change risks all of that. We don't want to change because it is frequently difficult. Change means a new plan, plans mean risk. Risk means money, money that we've all worked so hard for. This often translates to ideals taking a back seat to the bottom line. But when does the cost of stagnation become too high? How much money is human life worth?

How can we possibly fight something like that?

We fight it with tenacity, making each of our voices heard with each vote. Our laws need to change so that prisons become nonprofit. Any money that prisons generate should go to victims’ advocacy groups, education, and rehabilitation. Schools should not be a pipeline into prison. Yet the horror of it is very different.

It really all begins and ends with education. Educate the youth before they offend, and you solve two problems. They become productive citizens, paying taxes, buying and building for the next generation. For people that are already in the system, providing an alternative to crime through trade skills and/or higher education. This formula has worked time and time again in every other free loving country, and a few that aren't so free. Why should America, the country that exports freedom, try to stomp it out and halter progress when our motto says different? We need to be the change we want to see, to be; otherwise we are the worst kind of hypocrite.

Crime and punishment have been around since civilization began. Break the law, and you go to prison. The practice is old, and its method of implementation hasn't evolved nearly enough in this country. In our land of opportunity, of hope and second chances we are very hesitant to give anyone the hope of a second chance. I'm not saying we should be lenient on crime. However it is obvious that the current overpopulation of prisons demands review. The convention needs to evolve, to change if there is going to be any hope of making a difference. One thing that can be agreed on both sides is that the status quo isn't working. What we need is balance, or checks and balances, by no means any different than the rest of our government.

Law and policy is written by our elected officials. The very structure of our government is based upon various checks and balances. Yet there is no balance in American corrections, positions appointed by our government. Prison sentences, parole, and policy speak for themselves. Visitors in Virginia have had their civil rights challenged, or out right ignored with recent policies. Just ask yourself if they are willing to dictate to a woman what kind of feminine hygiene product she may use while at visitation, and reserve the "right" to strip search her to enforce their rule, what rights are ignored for those incarcerated?

If we mean to succeed with rehabilitation, to give offenders another chance, then the change needs to be real. Americans need to speak, at the ballot box. One by one we should decide together, what needs to change. To deny the least of America is to deny the ideals that make this country great. Silencing a voice, a vote, is undemocratic and spits in the face of our forefathers.

What I propose would cost little to nothing of taxpayer money. It would provide education and civic responsibility to those that need to be productive, tax paying, lawful members of society. Participating incarcerated students could prove through grading just how serious they are about contributing to a societal whole. Prisoners could earn back their right to vote upon graduation of their U.S. civic program. In our country the act of prisoners casting votes is not without precedent. Our incarcerated are still Americans. We are thinking and feeling people who should have the right to be heard. Those who have served time or are serving time are only growing in number. They are us. We are Americans, and have a right to be heard.

#Me too by Jeff Jones

By Zudaydah R. Blank

#me too Ms Hill, Ms. Ford.. can you afford
a few minutes..?
It’s hard to get into this
But I want you to know
You are not alone.
This is “me too”
Who am I ?
I am she
And what he did to me
No one wanted me to repeat... he said:
Not a word
You don’t have a say
I will take it anyway
They won’t hear
They won’t see
SHUT YOU up for eternity
My mask is on
Im a fraud
They all think
I am so good
Maybe you should
Tell the truth about me
Maybe I’m sick
Maybe I can trick
All of them to believe you wanted this
Maybe I can make them believe -I’m a narcissist
You won’t win
It’s a sin
Family tradition
This is my rendition
I will impose
What they did to me
I will give it to thee
I don’t care how you
I will say it’s a lie
Shut up
And give up
You’re weak
They left you alone
And no one cares
Don’t you dare
No one loves you
I can hurt you
They won’t care
They left you there
Just for me
All to me
I will devour
At any given hour
Im your worst nightmare
All your bad dreams
For the rest of your life
Will be about me...”
I said...
“Hold on!
Don’t touch me!
Leave me alone!
I do not condone!
Don’t touch me!
Don’t rape me...
He was right..

The Welcome by Jeff Jones

by David Joel Friedman

Do you wish to immigrate to my heart? Where are your

papers?  What are your purposes?

                Are you lost?  Are you broken?  Come to the chamber of

my heart for safety.  Remember the old country.  I was not there.  I was waiting for you here.

                Do you wish to be naturalized in my arms?  Let me instruct you in the new tongue.  Tread softly;

Death too first makes inquiry, then shows the way.

                Come, pledge allegiance to my tattered proud flag.  Here,

And here only, the streets are paved with gold.

David Joel Friedman (2006). The Welcome.  The National Poetry Series.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, p. 13.

ANGER by Jeff Jones

By Kamal Manilla




































Will it ever ?

My Two Homes by Jeff Jones

by Zac Huxford

I come from what I believe is a unique background and upbringing… to put things blatantly: my mother is black, and my father is white. My parents separated when I was very young, therefore my life has been split between two drastically different environments. I lived with my dad in a rural, mostly white, town and would often visit my mom in the city she lived on the weekends. This city’s population was much more diverse than the rural town that I resided in with my dad, with most people being black or brown.

As I grew up, it became very evident that my two homes were different, especially in the way that communities viewed law enforcement. At my dad’s, an interaction with the police was thought of as a nothing more than an unexpected inconvenience. Though people in town might not have loved each of their interactions with the police there was always a very positive view of the department. 

Yet, where my mom resided, this was not the case.  I can vividly remember the lively and vibrant block my mother lived, and the way that it would fall silent when an unexpected siren was heard or there was a police officer driving by. As a child, this confused me, so it wasn't until I was older until I could see that this wasn't caused by an overly sensitive block. This was a part of the culture of where my mother lived- it was a learned reaction caused by the regular, and majorly poor interactions experienced by those in the city when law enforcement was near. It was then I truly began to see how the police played a different role in the different communities that I was getting to be a part of.

In a general sense, most of the people in my father’s town truly believed the police were there to help, to keep people safe, and acted in response to this ideology. In the city, the culture expressed that the police were there to "keep order" and control the people of the community. Without the opportunity to experience both perspectives, I don’t think I would be able to understand both sides of the spectrum. And I truly believe that part of the problem: people from rural towns simply don’t understand this, because it is not their lived experience. They are unable to comprehend how other’s interactions with the police could be anything but minorly inconvenient.  With that in mind, I think it is important that people make efforts to interact with people from other walks of life.  It is so important to understand that just because you have experienced something and seen something a certain way that that might not be the case for others.   As I have grown up I have struggled at times to understand and make sense of the world because of the differences between these two environments that I called home. 

As a white male, in the rural town I grew up in, I would get let go after being pulled over for speeding, and similarly, I would get a warning from a broken tail light. Even on the 4th of July, my family would have the loudest and largest fireworks set off in our yard without any interaction with law enforcement. In the city, my personal experiences were quite similar- I’d be let off with warnings for not stopping completely at a stop sign and getting nods from officers as I walked around. I had to grapple with the fact that this was mostly due to my race when my family and friends from that area were not receiving the same kind of reaction from law enforcement.

In the same Fourth of July scenario, while in our rural white town we were able to avoid interactions with the police, the people in the city where my mother lived were being harassed over sparkers.  When actual fireworks were set off, it was only a matter of time before five or six police cars could be found on that block. If a group of three or more people was getting “too loud”, there was always someone coming to “check it out.”

Though these experiences have left me confused at times, they play an important role in who I am as a person. Being able to view things from both sides of the spectrum have allowed me to become the man that I am today. Even as a white person, who holds so much privilege, these experiences have led me to clearly see a man taking a knee on the football field, state his view of the problems in our country, and clearly understand his intentions and reasoning. It is because of these experiences that I can understand protests, marches and the frustration of communities. I only wish that those around me could also see with clarity that maybe it isn’t about the flag or the soldiers- it’s about something much deeper, and bigger than that.



Incarceration is the... by Jeff Jones

by Zudaydah R. Blank

Incarceration is the


And Isolation of families

which leads to the

interrogation of visitors that imposes the humiliation and Defamation of their characterization.

I’m not the one who is punished -but your assassination of my dignity when I go through the detector, Makes me feel lessor, all cause I have a loved one behind bars- You take this too far Check my background Check my pockets, Am I dressed right?

Did I violate

Your code

Of ethics?

this is just your method

To make sure we all see

What prison life really means.


tell one

tell all

How the incarcerated affects us all

We the people

are not at all

Equal as you all recall

Separation and segregation

We’re not united in this nation.

I visited my dad..

couldn’t sit on his lap

CO gave my dad a tap

That’s enough of that

Couldn’t give my dad an embrace

Without a CO all up in our face

4 years old I would never see

my dad be there for me

I was an orphan

just like Annie

Hard knock life for us

I used to ride the joint connection bus

From Newark to Trenton, NJ

State prison to see my daddy


Rafael Luciano, I am his daughter

Forever grateful

Never shameful

My maker

My strength

Comes from he

I am him and he is me..

Society can’t make me hate you

These laws are made to break you

And me apart

Because our skin is tan and dark

But I won’t let them make me think

Less of you daddy

Forever and ever you are father

I will cherish you like no other

They took you away from me

To make me struggle

To make our legacy buckle

As long as I’m conscience I will speak

Of all the injustice done to thee

It’s not right

It’s not fair

I’m 40 and you’re still in there.

As long as I live

I will always be

Daddy’s lil girl to my daddy...