PAWS For Life (Original)

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.


A Commutation Support Letter

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,
L. McA."

Send your support letter to:
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814