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Word Up: A jail-breakdown

December 2, 2009

Bake 'em away, toys.

The execution of the Beltway sniper in November triggered a few time-pegged stories about capital punishment — this, combined with some “Hey, let’s find out what’s going on in jail” stories that journalists are wont to pitch every now and again, led to an almost-meme that came and went quietly but that I think deserves a little more contemplation. And don’t worry, I left out all those stories about rappers taking the “T.I. and Vick vacation.”

Because you can’t expect much from anything called a ‘superjail’

Following one of the Star’s trademark social investigations, Diana Zlomisilic reports that B-Town’s Roy McMurty Youth Centre — a so-called “superjail” — isn’t the haven for youth rehabilitation it’s cracked out to be. Due to a grip of complaints, the centre was being investigated for excessive use of force and food deprivation. Although former chief justice Roy McMurty, for whom the centre was named, said the idea behind the facility was to “see youth as having a problem, not being one,” this apparently meant seeing youth as having hidden DVDs in their butts, as one particularly gruesome allegation says authorities cavity-searched youth in search of a missing disc. And don’t bother praying for better days — the centre’s touted multi-faith prayer room is out of service, too. [Superjail for youth raises troubling questions]

Crime and punishment and hipsters

Regularly pretty sharp, the Awl’s Natasha Vargas-Cooper pops up at The Daily Beast, where otherwise interesting writers often go to appear out-of-touch and/or humourless (is it the ughsly STOP sign-ish logo that does it?), to check in on the infamous hipster-grifter Kari Ferrel and see how she’s handling jail in Utah. For those who don’t know, Ferrell became infamous sorta for committing fraud and forgery and promising handjobs with her mouth and looking like a Suicide Girl. She’s maintaining, watching her carbs, masturbating, and reflecting on “the Orwelian nature of jail itself,” in case you too were wondering. [Catching Up With the Hipster Grifter]

Speaking of carbs…

Slate wonders if death row inmates really end up eating anything they want for their last meal (and you can make your own pun about just desserts, OK?). For the most part, as Christopher Beam discovers, prisoners can request pretty much whatever they want, but any dish is subject to budget concerns, local availability, and generally whether or not the on-site cook can muster it up with what they have on hand. Meaning fillet mignon often enters one ear and exits the other as hamburger. Also, the Unibomber had ice cream before his execution! [Can a prisoner request anything for his last meal?]

Between the rock and the hard place

In California, however — where the state animal is a grizzly bear and the governor is a hairless bear — death row has its upside. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cali’s slow appeals process and fastidiousness when faced with ending someone’s life has some convicts straight-up asking for the death penalty, knowing they’ll live long in limbo and the relative luxury of the row’s private, larger cells, television and telephone hookups (easier to call your lawyer), and “contact visit” privileges. Of course, no mention is made of just doing away with the penalty altogether. Eerily appropriate Google-generated ad? Check: “Electricity on the cheap? The amazing secret the electricity companies don’t want you to know!” (Cali is currently reviewing its flawed lethal injection procedures.) [Death penalty is considered a boon by some California inmates]

Closing the door on closure?

But of course, what about the victims? Naseem Rakha, author of the death penalty-themed The Crying Tree, tries to poke a hole in what she calls “perhaps the most emotionally compelling” argument in favour of capital punishment: the idea that execution provides closure for the families of victims. Rather than pouring so much money, time, pure bureuacracy and, she argues, false hope, into the death row system in the name of closure, she instead advocates for “counselors who will sit with, listen to and work with survivors; work environments flexible enough to accommodate counseling sessions and the down time that is a natural result of grief and stress; and victim assistance programs that make sure those things happen.” [Do executions bring closure?]

First-person narration

And while arguments and counter-arguments are necessary and valid, sometimes it’s best to just sit and quietly reflect on shit. Slate links to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s “Executed Offenders” page, where the last statements of death row inmates are kept for, I don’t know, Internet posterity I guess (among other legal and records-keeping obligations). They are whatever you make of them, but they certainly are something.

“Word Up”: the linkdump series that feels like homework.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Simon permalink*
    December 2, 2009 10:42 am

    That first person note makes me cringe. To me, that’s the one major argument I most have issues rationalizing — the fact that even one innocent person might not suffer just a destroyed life in prison but then execution and lifelong blame for a crime not committed? That’s too heavy to consider, and frankly not worth my tax or moral dollar.

    On the bright side of jail, Vans prison issue shoes are totally rad.

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