If you are interested in doing a writing workshop with Spoon, write a letter and work out arrangements with him, how to set up phone calls to prison and/or how to arrange a visit. Spoon Jackson B92377 CSP - LAC, A5-105 P.O. Box 4430 Lancaster CA 93539-4430 USA
Spoon recently wrote the introduction for Fury Young's debut poetry book, "Meat & Milk." Young is the producer of "Die Jim Crow," a concept album about racism in the U.S. prison system, which Spoon is a contributing artist to. Read Spoon's introduction below and buy a copy of "Meat & Milk" here. I met this cat, this poet Fury Young, through my poetry mentor Judith Tannenbaum. I'd met Judith decades ago in a basement classroom at San Quentin State Prison. Judith taught poetry and inspired a whole new world and dimension to my doing time. Until then I was a prisoner who was beginning my journey as a student in life. I read, pondered, and studied books on almost every subject. I had come from the heart of the high desert and had only known small town desert life. I could leave the confines of incarceration for hours, even days, exploring the worlds that books had opened up to me. I could have continued my journey in silence, with the love of knowledge and growth. I thought poetry was beyond me. The philosophies I read of Emerson, Spinoza, Plato, and Aristotle would quote and refer to poets, but I had never really read or studied poetry until I found my niche in Judith's class as a bard. I thought poems must come from some hidden, magical place, a place heavy with knowledge and wisdom. Some spirit, muse, or magic moved me to create my first poem one Christmas Eve. Somehow I let go of my pre-conceived notions of what should and should not be. Some force, some sweet realness, engulfed me. The next Monday, I caught Judith in the hallway of the education building and handed her my poem. I had been in Judith's class, shades on day and night, in silence, for over a year. When she read the poem, all she could say – with tear-filled eyes – was “outrageous.” After I began to write, I gradually realized that all my letters back home had been poetry too, that all along I had been writing poems. My life was the melody that flowed like free verse. Poetry must touch the heart and soul, and later the mind. It takes you to a universal place – a spot inside that is personal and true. It must move the waters of your soul and travel to the mountaintop of your heart. Just like waves in the sea, and clouds in the sky. If poetry does not agitate or make you cry, mad, or warm your insides on a frosty day, then it must go deeper. Do enjoy the journey of “Meat and Milk” – it takes you deep down into the dumpsters, down staircases, dark alleys, lighted subways, and warm beaches. I close with this poem inspired by Fury's work. Crack Back then you had to have death in your eyes. Your voice must not crack but sound with fury. You had to have death in your walk Even if you didn't mean it. Swag that showed you knew what you were doing, and death was like breathing. Spoon Jackson
I just saw an ad on TV by supporters of Proposition 62
(Repeal of the Death Penalty).*
Mike Farrell, president of Death Penalty Focus,
claimed that a yes vote on Prop. 62 saves innocent lives on Death Row, by
giving them all a Life Without the possibility Of Parole death sentence
instead. What a myth and twist in thinking.
Would Mr Farrell be willing to debate any LWOP
prisoners he has demonized? Or is he afraid of the truth?
Prop. 62 does not save any innocent lives on Death Row
by re-condemning already condemned prisoners on Death Row to a LWOP death
A yes vote would garnish more tax payers funds with no
returns. Mr Farrell stated in his bill that he will charge prisoners and their
families and friends and take the pennies from prisoners slave wages.
Listen to the absurdity of this claim. He wants Prop.
62 to pass to save innocent lives on Death Row, when in fact innocent prisoners
are better off on Death Row, where a poor person of color can get a real
lawyer! Under Farrell’s bill, innocent LWOP’s will die in prison because they
will get no legal representation.
Prop. 62 does nothing to save money, but gives more
money to politicians, the prison industry, lobbyists and other companies that
survive like maggots on the victims and their families, prisoners and their
families and loved ones. A yes vote on Prop. 62 is a vote to continue on an
endless LWOP path equally as hideous as Death Row.
In civilized countries around the world LWOP and the
Death Penalty are considered barbaric, inhumane, cruel and unusual punishment.
So why does Mike Farrell and the Death Penalty Focus push so hard to keep
prisoners in limbo, and leave innocent, young, old, and first term offenders
with LWOP sentences without any hope or road to freedom? At least on Death Row,
death can free you from the fate of a LWOP sentence… I cannot grasp how anyone
who cares about humanity can support LWOP or DP sentences.
Has Mike Farrell ever sat in a group with LWOP or DP
prisoners to discuss the ramifications of LWOP sentences or discussed the human
aspects of the penal system of justice and reform. Claiming that innocent lives
will be spared by unbreakable, no hope LWOP sentences is myopic and absurd.
There is no humanity or reform in any of the statues
of the Prop. 62 bill, no savings. In fact, in the long run it will cost more,because the racist implementing of LWOP sentences
mainly target people of color and the poor and will keep prisons full of
inmates without hope.
Getting rid of the Death Penalty for its twin; Life
Without The Possibility Of Parole is not justice. There must be a path for
redemption and second chances - for the young, for the old, for first term
offenders, for the repented who messed up their lives and lost sight of what it
is to be human, only to discover their humanity while incarcerated.
We are all human and nothing human is alien to any of
us. Even those who have made huge mistakes, but have reformed. Some countries
embrace change and humanity and see prisoners in their society as their
brothers and sisters to one day be welcomed back to the society.
In Germany, Scandinavia, Jamaica and some countries in
Africa, in their prison system, even for life sentences, there are paths to
second chances, forgiveness and reform. American journalists have asked prison
officials in Germany; why do you allow such reform programs in your prisons?
The German officials said; these people in our penal system are our sisters and
brothers and fellow citizens, and must be welcomed back to the society when reformed.
For your family and fellow citizens, vote no on
Proposition 62, because it is the human and healing thing to do.
Nothing human is
alien to anyone of us, someone said. As human beings, we all walk one foot in
darkness, and one foot in light. Some people incarcerated strive for a balance
of shadow and sun, and sublimate the thoughts or actions of darkness into
transformation, awareness, and light—something positive.
When I came to the
California Department of Corrections in the late 1970’s, there were actually
good trades, self-help and educational programs. There was no point system, and
transfers and programs you were involved in were based on your in-prison
behavior. Your residence was determined by your choices. One was not as much
punished over and over again, just because you were a prisoner. There were
programs open to choices and change. Incarceration is inherently revenge and
punishment—if you don’t believe it, spend some hours or a night in a prison or
increased and became more politically attractive, most politicians abandoned
the efforts, and the cause of restorative justice. They piled onto the penal
system of punishment and inmate economics to win elections and line their
pockets. They wanted a prison in every county when they should have been
abolishing penal systems.
the noose of taking away any working programs in prisons throughout the 80’s,
90’s and most of the 2000’s. They paused in 2006 and brought the word
“rehabilitation” into the picture— California Department of Corrections and
“rehabilitation.” But, they have barely started to live up to that word.
Politicians feasted on the emotions and money of the public, victims on all
sides, and treated prisoners like prunes. No programs of change for decades. In
2006, when the state brought the word “rehabilitation” back, I had an op/ed
piece on self-rehabilitation published in the San Francisco Chronicle alongside
a text by the current Honorable State Attorney General Kamala Harris. Both
essays focused on rehabilitation.
When I came into
California prison system, there were only 12 prisons. In 1980 the state brought
in a point system based on some illusionary facts. A point system used to
enhance the punishment of all prisoners and particularly LWOPs and other
lifers. Although prisoners may not have broken any rules for years, their
punishment were enhanced.
I was in Soledad
prison at the time and they took me to classification committee and told me
that based on their point system, I can go only to Folsom or San Quentin. Back
then, both prisons were the last-stop prisons, before hell. I was under 21
years old, first time in prison and away from the heart of the high desert.
However, I wanted
to create or make amends for the social contract I had broken in this land. I
continuously strived to do and be the best, despite the lack of programs or
incentives. Not because I owed the state or penal system anything, but because
of love, truth, transformations inside myself that inspired me, and because it
was the realness thing to do.
I took full
advantage of any self-rehabilitative and educational programs available. It was
a tragedy that led to my incarceration—tragic on all levels. I wanted to make
amends, because my heart, soul and spirit were wounded by my actions, and had
wounded others. Only forgiveness, growth, restoration and love could heal the tear
I caused in the universe.
opens and blows out one’s heart and soul to do and be better. It awakens
you…why? I don’t know. I hope we all can continue to come together, instead of
looking at prisoners as the enemies, but as brothers and sisters in society who
have lost their way, humans who need to be restored and welcomed home.
Restorative justice and prison reform and sentencing reforms need to happen. It
has worked for the better in many countries, why not here? We all are human,
and of the same species, as long as we come from Mother Earth or this planet.
We are one collectively and we must embrace the endless pool of love inside all
I support the efforts of Geri Silva, Fair
Chance Project, Anti Recidivism Coalition and Barbara Brooks, Sentencing and
Justice Reform Advocacy. It’s about restorative justice, forgiveness, love,
peace and realness. We all are human, and as such we must share our journeys.
First published in
The Advocate, Volume 8 issue 3, Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy
This is parts of a documentary made at the set up of a theater production at San Quentin State Prison in California. The play was open to the public and premiered 1988.
Director John Reilly
Produced by John Reilly and Global Village for the Beckett Project
Theater director Jan Jonson
"Godot in San Quentin" (1987) documents the production of "Waiting for Godot" by a cast of inmates from San Quentin Prison. Producer and director John Reilly and a crew spent four weeks at the maximum-security facility; rehearsal and performance sequences are intercut with footage of daily prison life and discussions with the principal characters. Reilly has said that the inmates "do not `act' because they are not trained actors, but they feel the parts because they have lived the lives of Beckett's characters." The Chicago Tribune http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-06-19/entertainment/9406190331_1_godot-samuel-beckett-marx-brothers
When I came to prison in 1978,
ten days into 20 years old, a naive kid from the heart of the high desert, I
wanted to pay for the wrong I had done. I was given Life Without the
Possibility of Parole. I thought that could not mean forever and there must be
a route to a second chance.
I started to grow up and know
myself and evolve into a full human being with an understanding that all life
mattered. I was on my self-rehabilitation
journey. In 1990 the Deputy Commissioner
of the Board of Prison Terms complimented me my writing accomplishments. He
said I should write my way out of prison.
The present situation: Spoon and his attorney have appealed the
Habeas Corpus petition to the Federal court, the fact that the State Courts
refused to uphold the mandatory State law. At the time they did the State
petitions they had no way of knowing the State courts were not going to uphold
the mandatory law - because Spoon’s federal Due process rights hadn't been
violated until that moment.
Spoon’s attorney says “this would
be a horrific abuse of justice if Stanley (Spoon) isn't allowed his legal right
to have his LWOP (Life Without Parole sentence) reassessed simply because of a
ridiculous catch-22 situation in the state court system”.
received your letter and Traverse petition in response to the Attorney
General’s petition a few days ago.
already had a sinking feeling that something had happened; that the Attorney
General had come up with some trick to stall and forbid justice. A way to bar
justice based on some technicality or rule. When I did not hear back from you
in your timely manner I knew something had gone amiss.
deadline of April 22 passed and my heart sunk. The Attorney General’s response
and their ability to change colors and deny justice because a law favored the appellant was
like looking at the sun and deny it is shining. The courts and the Attorney
General get away with such injustice. This seems wrong and illegal.
I know they abolished slavery but continue to enslave for hundreds of years.
heartbroken. I hate that I must have forces like courts and Attorney Generals
decide my physical fate.
hope on hold for a while and go deep and dive and be in the moment. Read,
ponder and heal my injured spirit. I will rise again. If not in this life, then
was I supposed to know the State Courts, on all three levels, would deny me a
hearing and due process before it happened? As a poet perhaps I should have
known. Nevertheless, the injustice is happening again, now on a Federal level.
know it must be common practice for the Attorney General’s office and the
courts to lie, cheat and hide rules and tricks to get out of applying the law.
The courts sadly, turn a blind eye because they are a part of the tricks and
hidden agreements. They say ignorance of the law is no excuse. But, when the
court system and justice system have secret rules and laws that only they have
access to, they say, well you were ignorant.
but blessed. Bless the courts, Attorney Generals, prosecutors, lawyers and
you never know the pain of having hope stolen over and over again.
you never know the pain of having your life defined by one bad act.
all of your lives be blessed and fat on holidays and other special occasions.
you never know the pain of having an ocean, lake or trees only one hundred
yards away for nearly forty years and not be able to climb, smell, taste and
not now, choose one good thing in life I have done and define me by that.
I must speak loud quietly, so that the entire tier does not hear my conversation. I stand in the prison day room right next to the bone-crushing metal door, speaking on an old black-handed phone from the 1960s. This one is embedded in cement and steel.
I ask, “Judith, what makes a poem classic?” I am soaked in sweat from a non-desert sticky heat that bubbles up on the skin – and off the windowless foot-thick concrete walls – like moss. “No Beauty in Cell Bars” and “Beauty in Cell Bars” have been published and republished for over twenty years. Are my poems classics?
Silence fills the phone lines. Silence like watching the great Bill Irwin do one of his wordless skits on Broadway. Silence like the late Richard Pryor smiling after one of his jokes that shocked an audience at the Apollo Theatre.
Then I hear Judith's voice, one of the few voices that causes me to pause, ponder, listen, and sniff the air like a big cat. ”Spoon...” Judith's stuttering speech searches for the most lucid and wise words to impart her vision. I imagine the tickled look on her face. She's probably turning her head to the sky, eyes bright with drama, there in her apartment.
“I mean” I say “who decides what makes a piece of writing a classic? Is there a board or something?”
“Spoon...” Still giddy, Judith's voice flows up and down like a brook.
“Judith, I'm serious. You know I've been nowhere but Barstow and prison.”
More silence and then “Wow!” which caught me off guard. I was waiting for Judith's answer to my question about classics but instead she says, “Man, that would make a great country song title.”
“Nowhere but Barstow and prison.”
And there she goes again, sending me down another path that eventually only brings more questions. I put the phone down and stroll back to the cell, pondering how Judith seem able to inspire magic phrases that have me creating poems, essays, and songs.
My life had no meaning, no pulse, before prison. I was ignorant about all prison ways. I came from Barstow California, the heart of the high desert, the natural world – purple and red clay mountains, open spaces – and found nothing natural about cells. Even the air was tainted and twisted with unrealness, fleeting hope, and violent unrest. I was naïve and also unconnected to any inner spirit.
During my trial, my mom and dad came to visit me. I was twenty years old and sat across the table looking at my parents. The environment did not fit them any more than it suited cattle to live in trees. My dad said one of the longest sentences I'd ever heard him speak: “Boy, you better pray!”
My trial was quick for a death penalty trial and I was sentenced to life in prison. Trying to grasp a life without parole sentence at age twenty was like trying to hold a forest fire in my hands or an ocean in a tea cup.
Pre-prison, my life had never been one of words. I could barely read, add or subtract, and I spoke as my father did to me, in one word sentences. I sat stunned during my trial by all the words the DA, my lawyer, and the judge used. I had no idea what those words meant. I told myself then that I would never again let unknown words trap me and I started studying the dictionary.
Once at San Quentin, I checked out all the books I could get from the prison library and education department. In one notebook I wrote down definitions. I used my favorite words in sentences in another notebook. I became enraptured with words and reading. I said certain words aloud many times and pondered a word in the way I thought of the garden in front of the prison chapel, or a sparrow singing in the tree by the captain's porch. I learned a few words each day and each one brought a geyser erupting inside my mind and soul. The more words I read and studied, the clearer life became.
I became richer and deeper inside. I could see, taste, feel and touch the growth taking shape inside me and understood things I had never understood before. It was like I walked down an endless hallway full of dark rooms and each room I passed, a light came on and I learned something new. I had to choose to grow, which meant to get to know myself and find my niche, bliss, and myth in life. I had to till the endless gardens in my mind, heart and soul.
On a whim, I signed up for a poetry class. Judith was the teacher and her patience and belief in me, even before she knew me, inspired me. I sat for a year in her class in silence. Judith's trust in me, along with the power of art to heal, brought my silent desert life and world to paper like fresh rains in Death Valley.
Judith had known as a child that she would be a writer. I had no indication of my fate when I was a boy. As a kid, I failed all my classes. I did not believe I could learn anything. I had accepted that I would dwell and die in the heart of the high desert, on Crooks Street, surrounded by those purple and red clay mountains that appeared to be the whole world.
As a boy and a young man I mainly saw the destructive aspect of myself, but for eight years after I came to prison I read, studied, debunked, and peeled off layers of false history propaganda that had clogged my vision and dreams – those misguided histories I had been force-fed like a motherless lamb. For eight years I stayed to myself at San Quentin and avoided crowds. Although my heart, mind, and soul burned with thoughts, vibes and feelings, I let none surface and stepped over wounded, dying or dead bodies as everyone else did.
In the poetry class, I began to see the unconditional beauty and love in myself that mothers see in their sons. Judith inspired me to reach into the empty pockets inside myself to bring forth treasures of realness. She validated what I did not know I believed in: the magic of words to heal and free, like the sun validates a seed.
I began to see this magic shape my fate as my poems began to be published, as doors opened to other arts when I played Pozzo in the 1988 San Quentin production of Waiting for Godot, as I heard of miracles like Samuel Beckett reading my poems. Despite the fact that I'd been in prison for a decade at that point, this magic gave my life a purpose.
Now I've been behind bars for over three decades and I know all too well making a life of meaning can make being in prison harder or easier. Living with meaning is harder when I don't get to travel, meet people, sit out in nature, give poetry readings, promote the books or CD's I've been part of creating, or meet with other artists and publishers. A life of meaning is easier when I get to mentor young people, give back, and be of service to people. It is especially pleasing to be able to detour and inspire a youngster to stop and ponder a bad choice and not stroll down a dark path to prison. We always have choices and it's just that often we are not conscious of that fact. I think that being a bard allows me to touch young people in the way only poets can. I can relate to failing, being unloved, abused, lost, violent and biased on so many levels because I lived that life. I can assure youngsters that we are all eating from the same bowl of soup.
I know how sometimes, the older kids become, the more life can seem like a prison. Friendships that were once free, kind, fun and real become cruel, complicated, empty and heavy. All of a sudden reasons for not liking, and even hating, other people appear like new mountains. Color of skin issues arise. We find trouble outside and inside ourselves. It's like being chin deep in an endless pond, where you must keep your head up and not allow the water to seep into your nose and mouth.
But at some point in most of our journeys, we want to redeem or restore ourselves. Each of us must explore and restore our own inner heart and soul. Rehabilitation is always self-rehabilitation. My journey led me to Judith and her poetry class. I could have gone on serving this life sentence in silence, longing only for the deeper silence of a raindrop falling gently to earth, but Judith saved me from that fate. She helped introduce me to the voice inside me, wanting to come out. I learned how to poet and write mainly because Judith believed in me and trusted me, even in my silence. This is very important for teaching artists to understand: because Judith knew how to listen, the silent language of the soul gave my pen wings.
Yes, at first, I saw Judith as the good looking, splendidly weird woman coming into San Quentin. But after awhile, I saw the person, the poet, the teaching artist, the human, the brilliant light – a brave woman who came into our dungeon class room to teach poetry. A woman who became my mentor, my friend, and my big sis. I found out that I could share a relationship with a woman not based on sex, but on a deep, powerful, soulful, and enlightening friendship that can last lifetimes.
Despite the fact that Judith is a small, Jewish, white woman, and I am a sturdy black man over six feet tall and a decade younger than she is, some people may think: Oh Judith must be another one of those goody two-shoes liberal white women rescuing an ignorant black man from sinking further into the abyss of San Quentin. In fact, though, we both understood that human beings must rescue themselves. Still we can be there for each other and believe in each other, as Judith believed in me and I believed in her. Because we shared our two different lives and backgrounds – putting ourselves out there, heart first – we enriched each other and forged a friendship based on realness, respect, art, trust, uncommon and common ground, and love. My weakness may have been her strengths and my strengths her weaknesses. Like wolves that know they are howling at the moon in common, Judith and I have always known that we have humanity in common. This truth led me to my undiscovered self, to a heart of bonding with Judith, to finding that I am a writer and to the realness that can mend or heal all things wrong or wounded.
Ani DiFranco composed music to a poem by Spoon with the same name as this essay.
I imagine I’m the last person that should be speaking
on politics in America. Because when I came of voting age I was already in
I long to be part of other countries like Sweden,
Norway, Canada or France. Yet I have loved ones and family in USA that believe
in this country. If the Republicans are elected I hope folks will heed Ani Di
Franco’s tour to paint the Congress blue.
When I came
to prison in 1978, ten days into 20 years old, a naïve kid from the heart of
the high deseret, I wanted to pay for the wrong I had done. I was given Life
Without the Possibility of Parole. I thought that could not mean forever and
there must be a route to a second chance.
My paperwork said I would go to the Board after 12 years, so that would
be 1990, beause my time actually started in 1977. In the meantime, I started to grow up and
know myself and evolve into a full human being with an understanding that all
life mattered. I was on my
selfrehabilitation journey. The year
1990 came around and I went to the Board and the Deputy Commissioner of the
Board said the proceedings will be run like a regular board hearing. He
complimented me on my art work and in particular, my writing accomplishments.
He said the reason he is not recommending me for parole, pardon or clemency was
because I did not have enough time in yet. He also said I should write my way
out of prison. He said I would be summoned back to the Board oin 1993. The Board never called me and supposedly
repealed that LWOP Board law taking effect in 1994. By my not being summoned back to the Board as
contracted and by law, is a continuing violation of the 6th, 8th and 14th
amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Ex Post Facto laws. My crime happened in September, 1977, commencing July 1, 1977.
During 1981-1982, all life prisoners were entitled to annual hearings.
Watson,866F.2d@1094;p.c.§3041.5(b)(2). It should be duly noted that on July 1,
1977, the state legislature enacted the California Determinate Sentence Law (“DSL”).
Under this enactment, prisoners serving Life Without Possibility of Parole
(LWOP) were statutorily entitled t o p a r o l e c o n s i d e r a t i o n . C
h a t m a n , 7 5 4 F 2 d 1 5 3 1 33,p.c.§2100etseq.,2245-2292,2300. I am a LWOP, and likewise, I am entitled
(866F.2d1093,9thcir.1989). I therefore have a state created vested liberty
interest same ascertains. Stanworth@786-787;p.c.§3041(a). CDCR continues to ascertain that parole law
was repealed in 1994. There was no
legislative action to repeal that law. Furthermore, it should be noted that in
accordance to clearly established state and federal laws appertaining to this
matter, notwithstanding the 1993 repealer
Title15ccr§2817et.seq.,register93,no.52 or the revisions to BPT [BPH] rule2817,operative
date January 19, 1994, eliminating the requirement of the Board to schedule and
conduct LWOP reviews, I still have “a vested state created liberty interest”
which entitles me to parole considerations. In re Stanworth, 187 Cal.Rptr. 783,
786-787 (1982); per C§3041 (a); Weaver v Graham, 450 US 24 (1981). My crime was committed in 1977, therefore
under California Determinate Sentencing law (DSL). Under this enactment,
prisoners serving LWOP were statutorily entitled to parole consideration.
Chatman v Marquez, 754 F. 2d 1531-33 (9th Cir. 1985). To reduce prison population, sensible parole
for prisoners who have been incarcerated for decades should be considered.
Continuing violation of a prisoner’s 6th, 8th, and 14th amendments, U.S.
Constitution and Ex Post Facto is not justice, but is injustice.
The honorable California Governor Jerry Brown pardoned
91 people just before Christmas. We hoped he would include commuting my
sentence to “Life with Parole”. Still I doubt that his office and his people
ever allowed my commutation papers and all the support letters to reach the
My friend and amazing artist Ani Di Franco sent the
most recent support letter to the Governor in my behalf, which was splendid. I
doubt he received the letter.
The Governor’s office says LWOP’s must apply to the
Board of Prison Terms/Hearings for commutation, but the Board says LWOP’s must apply
directly to the Governor. They cancel eachother out, not taking responsibility
to hear or read commutation pleas.
I sit here with my heart and my art still full of
realness. I will continue the realness struggles.
Still waiting to hear from Federal Court on the California
Penal Code 1385 (Habeas Corpus) petition. I have awaited a yes or no answer from the court if
the California State Attorney General will be ordered to proceed and respond to
my petition to strike the special circumstances [of my sentence] based partly
on my in-custody behaviour. We have been waiting for that issue since August
2015. Apparently, the court feels that a prisoner isn’t going anywhere, so they
just set the appeal aside and have no time line. I have two other issues now in
the State courts and hope an attorney will take over those issues.
Dear Friends & Colleagues:
As you may already know, the CDCR has implemented a new screening system for visitors that includes the use of Ion Scanners and dogs. The upshot of this is visitors, and only visitors, if found positive by either of these highly inaccurate methods, are required to submit to a strip search in order to have a contact visit. (For the details of what constitutes a strip search, please see my opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-hartman-prison-strip-search-visitors-20150406-story.html), dated April 6, 2015.) Over the past few weeks, at this prison alone, a 77-year old woman with a recent knee replacement was ordered to squat naked, another woman who refused to submit to the humiliation of a strip search was denied contact visits, but when she reluctantly agreed the following weekend she was forced to strip search twice as punishment, and multiple other visitors were placed on noncontact visiting status for not surrendering their dignity.
The goal of all of this is clear. The CDCR wants to do away with contact visiting. They are heaping their own failure to control the drug problem in the prisons onto the backs of the visitors. It's a terrible thing we all have to fight back against now before it's too late, before we're all on noncontact visiting status forever.
As a starting point to this campaign, there's an online petition called "Stop Strip Searching My Mom." It's located at Change.org. (https://www.change.org/p/california-governor-stop-strip-searching-my-mom). I encourage all of you to sign the petition and get everyone you know to sign the petition. Further, please forward this to all your contacts and ask them to do the same thing. We need 100,000 signers before we send it to the governor. Let's get to work!
And there will be more to this campaign, so please get ready to participate again when we press for legislative help and seek legal help in the not too distant future.
Thank you in advance for your help in defeating these unreasonable policies.
Take the best of care and strive to be happy. Peace...
Kenneth E. Hartman
(This is being forwarded to you by one of our free world supporters, who has transcribed Ken's message from a phone call or a letter mailed out through regular mail. He does not have email access.)
Can you imagine a rope around your neck and a tree and
still have faith – hope? Where there is a dove or bird of any kind, even a
wounded one, there is always hope.
What is hope? Hope in a hopeless situation is what
LWOP is. Emily Dickinson spoke of Hope being a bird perched in the soul. Hope
is a thing that reveals itself on lockdown, hole time, Death Row or Life
Without Parole. Here all hope seems gone.
The bird pops up and you have no idea where it comes
from or why it’s even there in such hopeless situations. How hope found you and
keeps you alive and keeps the wonder and awe alive is a mystery. When death
seems more inviting and more logical.
The California prison system does everything it can to
kill hope, to shoot the condor in the heart or blast the ravens, sparrows, rock
doves from the trees.
Yet, where there are birds of any kind, even wounded
ones, there is always hope. Even though you cannot touch it or know how hope
works. Why hope when it seems like quicksand that sinks all that you are, were
or long to be? I don’t know where that bird of hope comes from. I only know it
keeps you alive when hope is hopeless.
Every prison I’ve been in I’ve always found out where
the birds are and commune with them on some level. Sometimes when on lockdown,
with no access to the birds, hope vanishes. I still have it, but won’t know it
because hope has become hopeless. I know sometimes things like hope can be hard
to grasp, when you have no way to be in that place or state of survival to
Can you imagine having a rope around your neck or a
ton of bricks chained around your ankle and still having hope? How does a seed
that has no eyes and no ears know which way is up? How does a root that has no
nose know which way the water flows.
This article was originally posted on SacBee after they had edited it. The original article contained a couple of numerical errors which the prison department pointed out as inaccurate. The article was rewritten to correct the errors, but other parts was also removed. Here is the original - with the necessary numerical corrections in Place.
Waking up to the smell, sound and sight of the dogs and their wagging tails in the morning, was like holding hands with a long time friend, walking down the dry Mojave river and being licked by sunshine on the face, after a long stay in solitary confinement. I could not believe it; they marched in five dogs under the barbed razor and electric fencing, across the prison yard and into cell block five which had been re-fitted for the hounds. Once the hole, I helped transform the cell block into mainline and dog building. There were freshly scrubbed floors, walls and doors; scented with new paint. I cleaned out the 20 play pens on the back of the cell block for the dogs. Each pen two times the size of a cell. We polished the bars and door handles, and revitalized the dead grasses in front of the building. Paws For Life, Karma Rescue have come into the prison to train inmates to care for once condemned hounds. I conversed with a prospective dog trainer weeks before the dogs arrived. “You are one of those dog people… the chosen few, huh?” I inquired. “Yeah that’s a good thing” he responded. My curiosity was not sated. “What were you doing at the work center?” “Making dog beds.” “Will the beds be in the cells?” “No” he states very matter of fact. “Why not?” “The SPCA, Peta… one of the animal rights groups said legally the cells are too small for the dogs.” Wow, don’t get me wrong, because I am not hating on the dogs. They must have the proper space to be a dog… to bark, wag and howl when needed. I grew up with dogs in the free world, and raised greyhounds for rabbit hunting. In the high desert, some semi wild dogs were my best friends. I ran with a pack of them up and down the dry river. We greeted like wolves at dawn and howled at the moon at dusk. They nurtured the poet and beast inside me, when I did not know I was a poet. They gave me purpose when I had none. You should have seen Campy, Buddy and Big Sister run down jack rabbits, no less elegant than cheetahs running down gazelles on the African plains; tragically beautiful. Sometimes the rabbits ran back towards me, sweaty long ears and fur soaked like it just hopped out of a foamy pool. I’d see the fear in the jack rabbit’s marble eyes. The catch was like when two stars clashed and melted into one, becoming a black hole; sorrowful and lovely at the same time. Some folks here are hating on the dog program, due to and all the love and pampering the hounds receive. Jealous of the huge play pens, cotton blankets and soft throw rugs. Hating on the high priced meat/vegetable logs, which are of a higher quality than the food prisoners eat. The high grade mackerel and other real meat products. The hounds do get a lot of wonderful treats, different kinds of cheese, jerky and peanut butter. The meat logs that are twice the size of frozen cookie dough look good enough to eat. The dogs were to live in the cells with the inmates that train them, but again the cells are too small for a dog, but okay for housing two human beings. I know the dogs have not broken any laws and are not lifers. Still, how can a space be large enough for two people, but not big enough for one dog, and not be an animal rights violation or cruel and unusual punishment or something animal rights activists would have a fit and picket governments, governors, prisons, wardens even God… if a dog was forced to live in a space too small and with other dogs that it did not get along with. The dogs have their own exercise yard and playpens outside and inside lounging. Inside the dog area they have large swamp cooler like fans to chill in. Some hounds roll over on their back, legs in air, head turned to the side. A lovely sight. I cleaned up the 24 play pens and scrubbed the toilets extra clean because I thought the hounds would drink from the little pool, no longer used as a toilet. Instead, each dog had its own water trough, next to a sleeping cot, and their own igloo and little swimming pool. They bathed in a bath tub big enough for a human. I watched the dogs and inmate trainers picking up steaming pooh. Something I am certain none of the trainers saw themselves doing when they were on the streets starting criminal or gangster careers. The dogs would dance around like little kids proud to have gone potty in the right spot. I am not hating on the dogs. Although, the dog food and treats looked and smelled way more tasty than the substance prisoners eat. I think the dogs deserve all the treats, high quality food and perks. It is paid for from an outside organization. The dogs are like rock stars and deservedly so. Yet, I was a bit reluctant to want to see my fellow dog beings locked up in cages. I had not been around dogs in decades. To save lives is always a worthy cause, and I support and believe in the dog program fully. The program reminds me of The Reading for the Blind program we had back in the days at San Quentin. If allowed to I would be the official flute player and poet for the hounds to help them rest and sleep. I think the PAWS for Life, Karma Rescue dog program, here at Lancaster State Prison, is a worthy cause. The dogs were days from death from being executed when rescued and sent to prison. The first batch of dogs has already graduated and was adopted out of prison. Stay free my friends.
As you may know Spoon has started legal process trying to get the "Special Cicumstances" removed from his life sentence. You may also be aware of the fundraising to pay his attorney.
Spoon has also sent a petition to the Governor of California requesting to have his sentence commuted. A number of support letters were sent in together with it.
Everyone who wants can still send support letters to the Governor on behalf of Spoon.
Here is a recent one that says it all (however very long for official use):
"Dear Governor Brown
I wanted to write you today on behalf of a man who has emerged in my life as a personal source of inspiration and a deeply admired friend, who I passionately believe deserves a second chance to contribute his gifts as an integrated member of society. From within the confines of the prison walls that have surrounded him for the majority of his life, he has unwaveringly continued to transmit a message of hope and redemption through his poetry, prose and letters, and despite being limited to the written word, his voice has been able to radiate as a beacon of positive energy for the many lives he has touched.
Stanley “Spoon” Jackson has been incarcerated since 1977, for an act of homicide he committed as a teenager. Although my belief is that he has earned the privilege and dignity of at least being considered for the possibility of a commuted sentence based solely on the merit of his behaviour and accomplishments over the course of his time served, I do feel it is pertinent to draw to life a few details surrounding his case. His sentence of Life Without Parole was originally passed down based upon the questionable assertion of Special Circumstances being involved in the context of criminal allegations, which implied evidence of attempted rape and attempted burglary, of which there was in fact none; with Mr Jackson firmly denying these additional accusations and never having pled guilty to them. However the inclusion of these assumed circumstances was the basis for the level of sentencing received, which prohibits him from ever appealing his case.
Yet even so, of Mr Jackson’s sentencing, there were in fact conditions in place that granted prisoners with his degree of life sentence the opportunity of parole hearings. He was even commended for his in custody behaviour before the Board of Prison Terms in 1990, but at that point lacked the number of years served to be considered for a possible commutation, and was scheduled to return for a follow-up hearing in 1993. But just before the date he was to appear, the legislation was changed so that those with life sentences could no longer be considered for any possibility of parole, and the conditions he was expressly sentenced under were no longer honoured. On top of this, compounding the frustration of losing the ability to have his case reviewed, has been his experience of watching other prisoners over the years, who in some cases were carrying multiple Life Without Parole sentences with less time served, being given the chance to have the Special Circumstances struck from their sentence on the basis of age, time served, custody behaviour, and program participation, and thus being granted commuted sentences that opened the door for their eventual release.
Despite these factors, which could have easily fostered hardened resentment and cynicism, he has done nothing but exhibit exemplary behaviour; taking the initiative to better himself, and growing to thrive as a writer, poet, actor, musician and teacher during his incarceration. He writes, “I had to change, which meant to get to know myself and find my niche, bliss and myth in life. I had to till the endless gardens I my mind, heart and soul. I had to become anew, despite being in prison.”
Arriving with no background or training in the arts, he discovered his voice as a writer after participating in a four-year poetry workshop, and has since published two acclaimed books, earning praise from the likes of Maya Angelou and Gloria Steinem. His poetry has won him four awards from PEN American Center and has been the basis of films (“At Night I Fly” and “Three Poems by Spoon Jackson” directed by Michel Wenzer) and a classical music suite (“Words of Realness” by Swedish composer Stefan Säfsten). In addition to the plays, poetry, novels, short stories, essays and memoir he has written, he received international attention for his acting work in the 1988 production of Waiting for Godot directed by Jan Jonson. He has seized every opportunity to constructively participate in the programs made available to him, and now offers his artistry and leadership as a poetry teacher and mentor for his fellow inmates, while continuing to independently write and reach out as a contributor to various prison advocacy programs and support networks.
With all due respect, I understand that the reality of presiding over a constituency numbering the millions probably makes your individual ability to directly address each of the countless requests submitted to your office next to impossible. Without casting any judgement, I acknowledge that you have an incredibly difficult job being asked to mitigate the numerous pressing issues constantly emerging across a state which has experienced more than its share of economic hardship and civil upheaval throughout the past decade , and I know that the fate of one prisoner whose future has been all but sealed on paper does not register as a very significant priority for your office, and in all likelihood this letter will probably never be read or taken into consideration by you personally. But in the possibility that it has reached your desk and its content been given a chance to be weighed with an open mind and heart, I hope you are able to recognize the unique opportunity that stands before you to exercise your voice toward the resolution of one man’s case, and in doing so make a singular action that would resonate positively far beyond its immediate effect. In opening the door for the commutation of Mr. Jackson’s sentence, not only would you be offering him the ability to enjoy the last few decades of his life as the reborn human being he is today, free to spread his message of hope, compassion and empowerment, at last unbound by the physical barriers and social isolation which he has gracefully endured for nearly four decades, but you would be allowing all those whose lives have been touched by prisons, both of internal and external construction, to benefit from the active, vocal presence of his uplifting spirit and healing message on a socially engaged and directly accessible level. He has already touched so many lives for the better, but has the potential to touch so many more.
If you harbour any question about what truly lies at the depth of his character, simply listen to his own words. Through a forum facilitated by Pain Of the Prison System, a school-based program for families coping with the absence of loved ones who are in prison, in response to the question of what the worst part about prison is for him, asked to single out one aspect from all the struggles he has experienced and described over the course of an entire adulthood spent in prison, he expressed, “(It) is not being able to go back and erase the pain and tears I caused people who loved me and the people I hurt”. This is a truly loving, penitent man, who only seeks to connect with and enliven the educational aspirations and courage of others. My sincere belief is that he will be more effectively able to continue paying the debt to society, which he will never cease to bear, through his undying dedication to empowerment and betterment of his fellow human, when it is allowed to thrive freely and take flight outside a prison cell.
With utmost appreciation for your time and consideration,
Send your support letter to:
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Spoon was overcharged in an error-ridden, racist trial in 1977. There was no evidence of the special circumstances he was charged with. Those charges were fabricated and added to the case by the court. Without them Spoon could not have been given a LWOP sentence. But there is no way to appeal such a sentence - only in custody behaviour.
The (Habeas Corpus) petitions have been denied in California State Courts. Spoon now has an attorney who has appealed to Federal Court. The first payment has also been sent to the attorney.
SJRA (Sentencing and Justice Reform Advocacy)
P.O. Box 71, Olivehurst, CA 95961
All checks or money orders must be made payable only to: SJRA.
YOU MUST WRITE: “Spoon Jackson” in the MEMO area located in lower left-hand corner of the check!
Donations are not tax deductible!
If you're in Sweden, read this:
Vänner i Sverige kan fortfarande skicka pengar till samma pg som tidigare. Kontot tillhör: Kista kyrkokör Järva Röster och heter Network of Realness, postgiro 432393-7 OBS! Skriv "Spoon" som meddelande.
Spoon is one of the contributors to this new anthology "Philosophy Imprisoned, The Love of Wisdom
in the Age of Mass Incarceration" edited by Sarah Tyson and Joshua M. Hall
"Western philosophy’s relationship with prisons stretches from Plato’s own incarceration to the modern era of mass incarceration. Philosophy Imprisoned: The Love of Wisdom in the Age of Mass Incarceration draws together a broad range of philosophical thinkers, from both inside and outside prison walls, in the United States and beyond, who draw on a variety of critical perspectives (including phenomenology, deconstruction, and feminist theory) and historical and contemporary figures in philosophy (including Kant, Hegel, Foucault, and Angela Davis) to think about prisons in this new historical era. All of these contributors have experiences within prison walls: some are or have been incarcerated, some have taught or are teaching in prisons, and all have been students of both philosophy and the carceral system. The powerful testimonials and theoretical arguments are appropriate reading not only for philosophers and prison theorists generally, but also for prison reformers and abolitionists." Read more
Spoon's latest article is published in The Sacramento Bee: "The dogs marched under the barbed razor and electric fencing, across the prison yard and into Cellblock Five. Paws for Life, a program of Karma Rescue and the state Department of Corrections..." Read the article here
First, there was a war on crime, then a war on drugs and then a war on war. Now there is a war on education, the poor, the hungry and the artists, a war against schools, colleges, uneducated, prisoners, musicians, poets, writers, actors, dancers, composers, painters and singers. There are wars against being real and living your truth. There is an unnatural desert being foraged across Mother Earth.
Yes, I am just a prisoner, a poet that has been locked up for decades, looking at the world from the inside out. But even I behind concrete and steel can see the devastating war being waged against the art world, the educational world and against teachers and peace makers. No matter how freeing, engaging, positive and growthful such programs have been, the programs are looked upon as a cancer, when such programs are life savers. Where will this war end? Mother Earth is calling us artists in individually and as collective consciousness to rise up and keep the peace and realness flowing. We must keep mentoring peace and creativity. We must push back with peace and release our collective energies as one. If I can feel this peace power through concrete and steel, surely you out there can feel it! We can meet in that collective space of solidarity that is beyond walls, governments and war makers. I am particularly speaking to teachers, you teaching artists and conductors. If you loose your jobs, you must continue to mentor and not loose your heart and soul, your spirit to love and create.
When your light is not shining bright, there is something clogged inside you that does not allow You to connect with Mother Earth. To re-connect may be as simple as smiling to a flower, a silent walk or a long look into the sky. Truly listening to bird song or seeing a flock in the sky. It may be as simple as dipping your toes in sweet waters or soft sands or feeding pigeons and sparrows from your hand. Stay Real!