Even if the articles I’ve posted in the forum aren’t getting a lot of readers, I was able to get the Lincoln Journal Star to publish an op/ed piece of mine about NDCS miscalculating its overcrowding. *smile* And the director hasn’t had them send me to the hole…yet. *chuckle* The LJS op/ed editor was happy to get a thoughtful submission from someone who is incarcerated. Now that he knows me he might be open to future pieces. *cheer* It’s a big step in becoming a voice for us behind bars.
I’m also moving forward on filing a suit over NDCS’s misapplying 191 good time by not applying it to both discharge dates (TRDs) AND parole eligibility dates (PEDs). I’ve been doing quite extensive research (thanks to my dad) on the legislative intent behind the bill and relevant NE Sup. Court cases for the case. My biggest fear is that I make some filing mistake or miss some required argument and the case fails because I’m not a trained lawyer.
For instance, I wish to file for a declaratory judgement, which is just asking the court to declare that you have some right under the law. Thanks to my research though, I’ve found that you can’t ask for a declaratory judgement against the state because of the principle of “sovereign immunity” (you can’t sue the state unless the state agrees to be sued). There is a little exception in the APA (Administrative Procedures Act) which gives a court jurisdiction for a declaratory judgment IF you can make a constitutional claim. So I’ve had to wrack my brain to come up with constitutional grounds on which to bring my suit. After much thought I realized I could argue that NDCS’s misinterpretation of LB 191, which is contrary to the intent of the legislature, is a violation of separation of powers. NDCS, part of the executive branch, can not create laws, and by clearly going against the intent of the Legislature they are attempting to make a law different from the one passed. If they want to change the law, they need to go back to the Leg. and ask them to pass their change.
I’ve also found the NE Sup. Court cases that concluded that NDCS was miscalculating good time with mandatory minimums. Their miscalculation led to them releasing over 300 people earlier than they should and cause a huge media uproar in 2014-15. The Sup. Court decided that NDCS’s interpretation was contrary to the Legislature’s intent partly because their interpretation would allow people’s TRDs, or final release date, to be lower than their PEDs. The Sup. Court decided that was illogical and couldn’t have been the intent from the Leg., and that is part of my argument against the way NDCS applies 191 good time. If they only apply 191 good time only to TRDs it is possible to drop the TRD below the PED, which is illogical and obviously not what the Leg. intended. So I have NE Sup. Court precedent on my side too. *smile*
I have even done a Public Records request to find out that 1082 people in NDCS as of June had earned 191. That is about 1 in 5 people and gives clear grounds for asking for a class action to be declared. However, if class action is granted, I can’t continue pro se (representing myself, without a lawyer) because I am not allowed to represent others. For that reason, and to help prevent me from making any unforeseen mistake that ruins the case, I am trying to find legal representation that might take up the case from the start. I wrote to Amy Miller, the lead lawyer at the NE ACLU, to the UNL College of Law Civil Clinic and to Legal Aid of NE. So far UNL has written back saying they can’t take up my case at this time. I expect a similar response from Legal Aid of NE as they get funding from the state so I am told they can’t participate in a suit against the state. I am hopeful that the ACLU will be interested, as the case will have a direct impact on overcrowding in here and that is an issue they’ve already been suing over. If none of them are receptive then I’ll reach out to private lawyers who might be willing to work pro bono, but that’s a long shot.
On a lesser note, I am still having a couple of guys a month send letters to the Director asking that they put a 25% pay raise for incarcerated workers in their next budget proposal, which is due next year. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re being very receptive even though there hasn’t been an increase in what they pay us in over 25 years and most make $1.21/day. I am also doing a petition for TSCI to create a barber position for someone in housing unit 1 or PC. We used to cut each other’s hair in the gallery but recently they’ve been cracking down on that which means we have to go to one of the GP (general population) barbers. The one and only time I ever went to a GP barber was right after I arrived here. I gave the guy directions of how I wanted it cut and he just gave me a #4 cut all over. Plus, he dug the clippers into my neck so hard that I was bleeding when I left. I wont go back again. Hopefully the admin. will realize that PC needs their own barber as we are almost half the population here at TSCI.
I also finished my beaded memorial to Terry Berry (beaded cross, calla lillies, and picture frame for my poem about Terry) and sent it out with other art from a few guys for an inmate art show. My friend Jeri has a studio in Gallery 9 which is on the Art Walk on the 1st Friday of every month and she has generously agreed to display our pieces during the Art Walk on Sept. 6th. Unfortunately, there are only 4 contributing artists. I had 3-5 others lined up but they all procrastinated and didn’t give me anything for the show. Even in here people find ways to be too busy to meet deadlines. Ha!
Oh, the Nebraska Criminal Justice Review, a quarterly newsletter about the NE prison system, restarted this month after a nearly 2 year hiatus. I was able to get an announcement in it about the community forum on here so hopefully people join and start contributing. A community forum is only as good as the community that uses it. If you’re reading this, feel free to post something in the forum too. *smile*
Enough about my activism from behind bars. LOL!
Last month our Toastmasters club, the Excelorators, had our annual symposium. That is an event that every club in NDCS is allowed to have once a year where they can can invite up to 15 guys in from the outside. In addition to the Toastmasters volunteers we also invited all the state senators from the Judiciary Committee. We wanted to show them an example of positive programing but none of them came. *sigh* One of the teachers from the Education Dept. here came and brought her husband, which was a nice surprise. We also had one new volunteer attend so there were a total of 6 guests. Not as many as I had hoped as the VP of Public Relations, but it was more than a regular meeting.
In order to spice up the symposium, we held a speech competition with a theme of Tall Tales. One guy told an embellished version of a trip to Mexico he took as a kid where he swears he saw a herd of Jackalope. Another guy told a story he likened to a cross between Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Hunter S. Thompson. It involved a sex act with the carcase of a pig. LOL! The third person competing told a reinterpretation of the 3 little pigs and the big bad wolf…from the wolf’s perspective. He was just looking for medicine for his sick kids and those pigs were so rude to him. He didn’t have anything to do with the tornado that hit each of their houses but what was he to do, let all that good bacon go to waste? So of course he ate them. LOL! For my story I made up an Arthurian legend that I called Merlin’s Three Lessons. I won the competition. *cheer* I am also going to write the story out as a creative writing piece and post it here pretty soon.
I am doing well in A gallery. As I can socialize with people from both A and B galleries I have twice as many people to talk to as I did in F gallery so I spend more time out of my cell “conversating” (as they say in prison *sigh*). One person I chat with a lot is Michael McKenzie. He’s very happy to have me over here because he’s wanted someone with whom to have intelligent conversations. And he chose me? LOL! McKenzie and I get along because we are both very logical, analytical types though we are polar opposites when it comes to politics. In spite of our divergent views we are still able to have calm, rational, and polite conversations even about politics. Luckily, my cellie, Cleetus, and I hold almost identical political views so we get along great. I’ve even adjusted my daily routine to match his. He gets up at 5:30 AM every day to workout in the cell before breakfast so I’ve started doing my yin yoga workout at the same time. Some days I don’t quite finish before breakfast so I wrap up when we lock down for morning count at 10. If you are willing to change and adjust life becomes easier. *smile*
On the down side, I still have to put up with the vent blowing cold air on me 24/7. But I haven’t been written up for anything petty by CO Gilbert yet. Hopefully, next month I’ll be reclassified and sent to OCC so I can get away from both the vent and Gilbert. *smile* I have been trying to get classified for OCC ahead of my annual reclassification in Sept. but it took a month for my case manager, De La Cruz, to even respond to my first kite about moving and all she said was “noted.” A month to reply and that’s all she said. *sigh* Anyway, 2 more months and I expect to be in OCC. *cheer*
We are making progress on launching the Intentional Peer Support (IPS) program. I worked with another IPS specialist on the same gallery as me and we put together a slide for the institutional announcements on channel 14 doing the first announcement that IPS is now available if you get taken to holding. I am also going to meet with the clerk who does the computer work and make a pamphlet based on our groups discussion of it at our last meeting. I may not be around for much longer but I want to do as much as I can to contribute to the program before I go. I’ve even been unofficially meeting with at least one guy in B gallery. As the program hasn’t officially launched yet we can’t get a private room to meet in but we walk around the galleries talking so that prying ears can’t eavesdrop. Not ideal for a confidential session, but we make do in here.