Commentary: The Glaring Contradiction of the ‘R’ in the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation

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By Norman Williams

Life without the possibility of parole laws should be repealed, due to the fact that it leads to the hidden death or other death penalty by prolonging incarceration. While costing taxpayers billions of dollars to maintain the awaiting death. The death by prolonging incarceration is not compatible with a society that claims to be democratic and the founder of human rights. The “R” in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation truly means separate but equal.

In 1885, California’s first state prison was activated. It was named Waban; it was a 269-ton wooden ship anchored in the San Francisco Bay. It housed 30 inmates. One year later it gave birth to San Quentin, which opened with a population of 68 inmates. In 1912, the prison morphed into “California  State Employee,” which demonstrates the state intent of servitude. However, between that time and now various governors changed the name. Until 2005 the reorganization plan had no viable plans put into place; it was just a monopoly game with lives and public funds. The prison’s population reached 270,000 in 2005 if not more. And for decades the California Department of Correction business was warehousing human beings. The irredeemable and unsalvageable know that prior to the added “R” the original name California Department of Correction (CDC) was never in the business of correcting lives. The new logo does not mean that the CDCR is now in the business of transforming and rehabilitating lives. Neither does it mean that the CDCR departed from the previous motto of “lock them up and throw away the keys.” Let us not forget the CDCR was once a bloody battlefield with medieval  style staged gladiator fights between inmates (Whites and Mexicans against Blacks).

This new rhetorical rehabilitation slogan is a concept without any true reality of prison reform. There is this new social [in]justice trend that has been erected under the facade of a promised Rehabilitation (like 40 acres and a mule) but it is a pig-out on public funds and emotions. The beacon of Rehabilitation is an established institution of contradictory fallacy that will not change into the imaginary image that the CDCR presently depicts in their new bio. When the citizens of California reject this concept and doctrine of irredeemable men, then the CDCR will stop marching under its own archaic cultural script.

Now lets imagine for a second that there are two men. One is a career criminal with an extensive criminal record, long enough to write a short story and the other is a man with no infractions, not even a parking ticket. Both men get arrested and charged for the same crimes of felony murder robbery. The career criminal has financial security and his family can hire the best defense attorney for him. As a result of this security, the career criminal gets a plea deal that comes with all the perks to help him escape what comes with this felony murder. On the other hand, the man with no infraction is financially unstable and unable to afford the claim of “all men are created equal.” So he received a fresh out of law school lawyer (public pretender) by the same state who seeks his death. This inexperienced public defender sees an opportunity to make a back-door deal and trade the innocent to rise in his profession. So he threw the case like a prize fighter falls in the ring before he was even hit with a blow by his opponent. For this reason, the man with no infraction gets the kitchen sink thrown at him and he wins the awaiting death by prolonging incarceration. Life without the possibility of parole plus all the enhancements that come with special allegations.

In addition, may I add that the career criminal is white and the man with no infractions is Black. Both men arrive at the most dangerous crossroads in CDCR. Both are welcomed by the soulless men who man the gates of the tainted soil of the prison industrial complex. With the ugliness of death seeping and oozing through the dense and harshness of the colorless Gulag, the career criminal is on familiar grounds with the luxury of unrestricted movements attached to his plea deal; he can participate in every trade-training/vocational educations, rehabilitation program and family visits, etc. Lifers, especially LWOP inmates, envy this. On the other hand, the man with no infraction is terrified of the unknown that awaits him. His future is restricted to excessive count, limited movements, and kitchen job. The only slave labor assignments available to him are building porter and yard crew. After twenty years of this CDCR oppressive reality, he becomes bitter when appeal after appeal is denied by those who were charged to uphold the tenets of the law. He looks for comfort and finds none in the carceral system. The only thing he finds is the new CDCR layered over the notion of the old CDC era, two distinct classes, a two tier policy guideline that determines who the scales of rehabilitation and reform tilt towards and distribute resources to. CDCR nudges and pushes inmates, who have a greater chance of relapsing, into these image repairing programs to self build the CDCR own damage issues but all the while knowing that those inmates will be back.

The decision to exclude and deny lifers and LWOP inmates from getting a second chance at life through rehabilitation opportunities because of “VIO” or “P-code” status is a contradictory policy. Inmates excluded on the basis of their sentence are a miscarriage of justice and a contradiction to the “R’ in CDCR. The old era logo of CDC is layered underneath the CDCR new bio public persona with the old guideline policies which focus more on the low level offenders in the two tier system. They don’t focus on the “R” intention. There is no logic in the design of this carceral relic. Especially when it promotes reform and rehabilitation to the public, while actually operating a rigid systematic prison industrial complex, consisting of men who by chance have a release date and who research shows have the highest rate of potential recidivism tendencies than those who will die in incarceration.

The glaring contradiction of CDCR rehabilitation is woven in the fabric of the soul of this nation that borrowed its criminal [in]justice from its European forefathers founded on the same contradictions. The U.S. Constitution states “all men are created equal” while Article Two stated that “black people are three fifth (⅗) of a human being.” The founding fathers were and are the embodiment of this hypocrisy. In one breath, declaring all equal and the next others ⅗ of a human, justifying their infallibility and the bondage of Black people.

Tracing the American Constitution and Bill of Rights to the European Magna Carta, the latin words “Civiliter Mortuus” mean civil death in the European criminal justice system but in essence means the loss of all of one’s civil rights. Due to a felony or an act that the government disapproves of, a felon who lost all civil rights upon their conviction became civilly dead which often leads to actual death as anyone could kill a felon as they were outside the spectrum of the law. Under the Roman Empire, a person declared civilly dead was referred to as “vogelfrie,” meaning free as a bird, as anyone could kill this felon just as a bird, without consequence.

Historically, declaring a person as an outlaw was a common form of civil death. In the USA, it modernized this concept in the use of “fourth Branches of the Government.” The state media made the killings of young Black men appear to be justifiable until recent social unrest. In doing so, the media became complicitous in facilitating the state agenda of state sanctioned violence and murder by continuously criminalizing and dehumanizing a population of people who are disenfranchised.

Black people in America today are not truly free to walk, drive, or live anywhere they want when a Black man’s skin deems him an outlaw and a threat. Like the bird, they too can be shot down without impunity. The same archaic laws previously established in Europe and the Roman Empire manifested here in America under the guise of lawful lynching. America prides herself as the land of the free, while her disenfranchised remain in structural bondage. America is in a state of moral poverty, deeply rooted in a century of America’s broken treaties and promises. Between the Natives/First Nation and the United States, are more than 370 ratified broken treaties that assisted America in expanding her territory. The first is called Canandaigua also known as the Pickering treaty which was signed in 1794 by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This deal secured an ally for the U.S. right after the revolutionary war and returned more than a million acres of land to the Haudenosaunee. Yet, their territories were cut down over the years and the only part of the treaty kept was Article 6 which provided goods in the amount of $4,500. Another example, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments freed African Americans from slavery and gave them full citizenships but this was in effect only on paper.

In Dred Scott V. Sanford, the Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney held that the authors of the Constitution viewed all Blacks as being an inferior race and unfit to associate with the white race in either social or political relations. In an 1896 case, Plessy V. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional to have separate but equal facilities for Blacks and Whites, reasoning that “legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinction. In 1865, America promised the newly freed African Americans 40 acres and a mule for which they are still waiting to be fulfilled. Seventy-five years ago, the Supreme Court in Brown V. Board of Education ruled that racial segregation of children in schools was unconstitutional. Yet, we still see segregation in schools to this day or we would not see Black parents who don’t live in Brentwood, CA, going to jail for sending their kids there.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to curb the local and state barriers erected to prevent Blacks from voting in this country. Not long after Black people gained the right to vote, poll taxes, literacy tests & grandfather clauses were introduced to prevent them from accessing these rights. The archives of history detail the glaring contradictions between the actions and intentions of the state. America oppresses her people and this holds true for incarcerated individuals, mainly the LWOP inmates. Numerous laws are enacted by one branch of the government only for another to undermine it. Look at SB 1437 [1170.95] resentencing and 1170(d)(1).

Biko Agozino, author of Counter-Colonial-Criminology writes “ the enlightenment came about to challenge the privilege of divine right, as well as the ideology of the revealed knowledge amongst Europeans. While denying that the colonized (Native Americans and Africans) had the rational faculty to reason about what is just and what is cruel. In place of other divine rights.” Moral philosophers like Hobbs (1650), Locke (1690) and Rousseau (1762) and Kant  insisted that a social contract was the best possible foundation for civil democratic rule which must be informed by rational principles rather than unverified claims of revelations. Yet, under the slave trade and colonialism democracy was completely denied. Whole populations were treated as criminals without human rights, same as LWOP inmates. Barbara Jordan said “that what American people want is simple, America is as good as its promise.” The oppressed, disenfranchised, and irredeemable know that America displays good characteristics. Yet, she is not good at all, the same for the CDCR Gulag; they present in the same light as correction, yet they need to be corrected. CDCR claims to be in the business of reform and rehabilitation but forever remains in the shadows of who America is.

From all of this, the “R” has no place in CDCR. If its intended purposes are not met then it becomes false. CDCR failed to keep up with the pace of its rhetorical image that it presents. The “R” also has no transformative impact on the collective souls of LWOP inmates that reside in concrete jungles.

The rehabilitation policies are cosmetic in practice. The CDCR fled from the treasure of true reform and humanity for the older banner of inequality and dehumanization. They claim rehabilitation to all, yet the benefactors are the same inmates with recidivism potential tendency. The written and unspoken clause of the “R” failed to afford LWOP inmates with a rehabilitation identity. Instead, they are in between death as their prolonged incarceration and inhumanity is extended. CDCR erected a wall between LWOP and rehabilitation. They fail when it refuses to honor the values of rehabilitation or reform . LWOP inmates are classified as outlaws which makes them civilly dead.

Under what circumstances is death by prolonging incarceration humane? What constitutes life without the possibility of parole as an act correcting wrong or justice? Is death by prolonged incarceration different from the death penalty? Who decided that a slow death in incarceration is more applicable? Who decided the inequality of this two tiered system?

With LWOP men and women losing their human status, what grounds is this system of inclusion and exclusion of rehabilitation founded? How can the CDCR advocate for rehabilitation of some, reform for others and still leave LWOP inmates to walk in circles awaiting their dark future? Awaiting death on the narrow road of the hidden death penalty!

This system that CDC established and added the “R” into CDCR is devoted to punishment rather than rehabilitation, reform, and humanity. We see these policies everyday inside the prison, discrimination against LWOP inmates barred every turn from rehabilitation. The promise of reform/rehabilitation is tailor made for some while others, the irredeemable, left in the quicksand. No one should be outside the realm of hope!

If this new transformation of CDCR is more perfect and acceptable than the previous era of “lock them up and throw away the keys” then why the hidden death? When a fraction of the population does not benefit from this new CDCR, then the CDCR has empty ideals and steals LWOP inmates’ humanity. When will the “R” in CDCR stand up and demonstrate its intended purpose and aid the LWOP inmates in their reform goals? Shouldn’t reform and rehabilitation be consistent with every inmate? Or at least accessible?

Many Californians know that the “R” means rehabilitation but few know the undercut ideology of death by incarceration. The “R” has a non-existent element because it is invalid; it is absurd to deny the gravity of hope for the entire LWOP inmate population. The words California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation is a glaring contradiction; they man the gates of injustice and violate the humanity and liberty of LWOP inmates. Speaking the social justice reformist slogans, their actions are that of wolves under the guise of reform. By day, the police. By night, a judge and politician, lynching the vulnerable inmates in the public square with no changes in the horizon. How is it possible to live in a democratic society with people violating its own vital values and denying human rights? Is losing one’s liberty, losing humanity as well?

How can LWOP inmates escape the expected death traps that robbed them of their humanity? Is LWOP meant to transform inmates into a sub-human in a state of utter decay? Surviving while dreaming of a life they will not live. Is this existence living? The repetitive bureaucratic enactive theme of CDCR is outside the orbit of reform and rehabilitation and within the scope of long term injustice. In conclusion, no senate bills, propositions, or social justice prison reform should be enacted, without those it affects at the table! This is a true social contract; both victims and offenders’ families have a say because if justice is valuable then redemption is also valuable. So to those who care about those who were deemed irredeemable, the LWOP inmates call on your strength to cultivate endurance and to keep pushing ahead and fight on for humanity.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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