What Is the Prize


Model Prisoner

Our mistakes don't make or break us - if we're lucky.  Then, they simply reveal who we really are, what we're really made of.

- Donn Moomaw

Lucia Maria Costa de Silva, 27, lives in a Rio de Janeiro minimum security prison.  She is posing for  Du Loren Lingerie company's latest advertising campaign.  This Brazilian company went to the prison and also to a notorious slum to find women to model lacy undergarments for an ad campaign.  Du Loren president Roni Argalji said the company wanted to show an inmate trying to rehabilitate herself, and a single mother in the slum for the Mother's Day campaign in May.

Source: The Evening Post Tuesday 20 March 2001

Lucia Maria Costa de Silva's photo may fool you into thinking that prisons in Brazil aren't as bad as they are other places.  However, a few Brazilian prisoners might disagree with that assessment...

Tackling the Chaos in Brazil's Prisons

Prison gangs are a symptom, not a cause, of the appalling conditions in the country's jails

Sao Paulo - At least 20 prisoners killed - three of them beheaded - and about 80 people hurt, including a child hostage horribly burned by an exploding tear-gas capsule.  This was the toll of the simultaneous uprising by around 28,000 prisoners in 29 jails across Sao Paulo state, starting on February 18th.  Two days later the authorities had regained control, but they remained rattled.

The statewide rebellion was organised by the First Command of the Capital (PCC), one of several gangs that infest the jails.  Two days earlier, the authorities had tried to break the gang's grip on Carandiru jail in Sao Paulo city - Latin America's largest prison - by transferring ten of its leaders.  This, in turn, came a few days after a battle for control of the jail's drugs trade, in which 5 suspected members of a rival gang were killed.  At least this time there was no repeat of the bloodshed in 1992, when police invaded Carandiru and massacred 111 rioting prisoners.

The timing of the uprising took the authorities by surprise: it happened during Sunday visiting, allowing the ringleaders to hold thousands of inmates' wives and children hostage.  Clearly the authorities underestimated the gang's power, and not for the first time.  The gang is thought to have formed in 1993 in a top-security unit in the town of Taubate, and to have spread across the state, organising armed robberies and drug-dealing outside the prisons as well as trafficking and protection rackets within them.

At first, the authorities refused to believe the gang existed; later, they publicly denied its existence while trying to contain it.  In 1998 they secretly transferred 6 PCC leaders from Taubate to jails in the next-door state of Parana.  But other gangsters, in Carandiru, rose to take their places.  So last year, after admitting the gang's existence, the authorities had another go at breaking it up by shifting the new leaders from Carandiru to Taubate.  The leaders reacted by fomenting a riot in which the top-security unit was wrecked and nine prisoners died.  They were moved again - some back to Carandiru, where they stayed until being moved again this month, triggering the latest rebellion.

The authorities' failure shows that merely isolating the PCC'S current leaders will not do the trick.  Jose Vicente da Silva, a former police chief now at the Femand Braudel Institute, a think-tank, says the gang is "an organisation that is bigger than its leaders", and "if you take them away there are always other leaders who will take their place."  Or other gangs may takeover the prisons, such as the Satanic Sect and the Democratic Committee of Liberty, which are constantly trying to displace the PCC.

The gangs, says Mr Silva, are simply occupying the space left vacant by the legitimate authorities.  Prison staff fail, through corruption and incompetence, to impose any sort of code of conduct on the inmates; the gangs do so, by threats.  The authorities fail to offer prisoners protection from being attacked by others; joining the gang offers this protection.  And the authorities do nothing to improve the appalling conditions in the prisons, until protests organised by the gangs force them to.

So rather than just tackling the gangs, Sao Paulo's state government needs to treat the underlying causes: the lack of training and supervision of prison staff, and the overcrowding and poor facilities in jails.  The authorities are now promising to introduce metal-detectors and to conduct thorough searches of visitors who might be bringing in arms, drugs and the mobile phones that are used to co-ordinate rebellions.  But corruption sometimes goes up to the top level of prison management; and although the state government is busy building new jails, the number of prisoners has been growing faster, forcing the government to drop plans to shut Carandiru.

Prisons across much of Brazil suffer the same problems, and they are getting worse.  Since around 220,000 prisoners are squeezed into jails meant to hold 145,000, riots, gang warfare and mass escapes happen almost daily.  More non-custodial sentences, such as community work for non-violent offenders, might help matters; the federal government reckons the prison population could be cut by a fifth thereby.  But public opinion is against it, and most Brazilian cities are not organised to operate such schemes.

The federal government argues that prisons are the states' responsibility.  It is doing its bit, it says, by offering them prison-building grants: in the wake of this week's rebellion, it gave Sao Paulo 67In reais ($33m).  But the funds fall far short of what is needed.  In truth, there is no political will to tackle the issue.  The public tends to feel that if Brazil's prisons are hell, so much the better.  In fact, the jails serve as headquarters and training centres for the violent crime that afflicts the streets.  While this week's events are still fresh in the public mind, Brazil's leaders should try to point that out.

Source: The Economist 24 February 2001

Second Time a Winner for Scholarly Young Mother

The first article following is about a young mother given a "second chance" at a decent future.  By including it in this sections on Prisons, I don't mean to imply in any way that I feel having a child before you leave school is akin to a criminal act.  I mean to demonstrate that life brings us lots of consequences we don't intend, some quite significant/serious.  I feel course correction and reapplication of oneself to the task at hand works for many; more people, most prisoners and immigrants included, should be granted the opportunity for a second chance.  (I personally feel that should include a loosening of the bankruptcy laws as well.)

The second article is about a prisoner on death row in the US who was recently nominated for a Nobel prize.  Why?  He works with disadvantaged youth around the world via the internet and the books he's written.  He uses his own life as an example of what can go wrong.  Will he live long enough to collect the prize, even if he does win?

Mum at School: Salla Garam, 22, mother of Danielle, 2½,
won a mathematics and science award
at the He Huarahi Tamariki School at Cannons Creek

by Bernie Napp

When Titahi Bay teenager Salla Garam got pregnant 3 years ago, career and studies came to an abrupt end.

Until recently, she would have had no option but to stay at home on a benefit.  But thanks to a Cannons Creek school for young people with children, she sat School Certificate last year, and entered the 6th form this year.  He Huarahi Tamariki School celebrated its 6th year with a prizegiving.  Ms Garam, 22, was among the winners, taking home a mathematics and science award.  She said she would study Bursary French and biology and Latin next year.  "I started last year to get myself a few more opportunities...and for my daughter.  When she grows up, how am I going to say 'Get your education' when I haven't?"

Born in Finland, Ms Garam came to New Zealand when she was nine with her parents, who also live in Titahi Bay.  She left school with two School Certificate subjects, and later worked at a Whitby delicatessen and catering firm.  She said that when she gave birth to Danielle, her world was turned upside down.  After splitting with Danielle's father, she received Department of Work and Income support, and worked evenings at a Paremata takeaway.

Teacher-in-charge Sarah Baragwanath said He Huarahi Tamariki was New Zealand's first school for young parents with children.  Since its inception it had gone from strength to strength, and the school hoped to place a computer in each student's home by next year.

This year 42 women and eight men are enrolled at He Huarahi Tamariki (A Chance for Children). Twenty-one pre-school age children attend an associated pre-school creche, the Griggin School of Early Learning.  The majority of studentsare Maori and Pacific Island, the rest are of Chinese, Indian and European descent.  Last year the school's School Certificate pass rate was 42%.

Other prizewinners were Maryanne Morrison, 26, who received a tertiary education scholarship, and former student Sylvia Young, 22, $1000 to continue her studies towards a Bachelor of Nursing.  The most improved student in the opinion of the students was Carrie Trevathan, 20.

Source: The Evening Post 18 November 2000; Bernie Napp is a Porirua reporter

It is unclear at this point whether the following person would feel he's been given "a second chance" or not...

Death Row Inmate Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

by Ron Harris

San Francisco - Stanley Williams spends his days in his tiny cell on San Quentin's death row writing gritty children's books about his experiences as a leader of the street gang the Crips.

He also coordinates an international nonviolence effort for at-risk youth that has led to his nomination for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the Swiss Parliament.  "I think he has done extraordinary work," parliament member Mario Fehr told The Associated Press on Saturday.  "For these young kids that are in these street gangs, I think it is one of the only opportunities to get close to them.  To get them out of the street gangs."

Williams, now 46, and high school buddy Raymond Washington created the Crips in 1971 to fight rival gangs in east Los Angeles.  Washington was killed in 1979.  Williams - "Big Took" to his gang - was convicted of killing four people in 1981 and was sentenced to death.  He published the first of 8 children's books in 1996.  His latest, Life In Prison, tells of feeling homesick and humiliated by his experience.  Williams also created the Internet Project for Street Peace, which allows at-risk youths in California and South Africa to share their experiences through e-mail and chat rooms from community centers.

Williams was surprised by the nomination, said Barbara Becnel, a journalist who edits Williams' writings.  Becnel and Fehr are friends and both oppose the death penalty.  "He was positively stunned.  He was wide-eyed like a child and really excited and he was also very humbled by it."  Abdulahi Mohamud, who pushed for the nomination, called Williams "a great man."  Mohamud brought Williams' Internet Project for Street Peace to Switzerland for Somali youths living there to communicate with their counterparts in California and South Africa.

The Nobel Peace Prize's five-member awards committee gives no hints and never releases the names of peace prize nominees, only the number - a record 150 this year.  However, those nominating others for the award often divulge their choices in advance.  Members of national assemblies and governments, and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union are among those persons entitled to nominate candidates.  The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on 10 December 2001.  Fehr said Williams' violent past did not diminish his qualifications for the award.  "Everyone can change his life, no matter what mistakes someone has done," he said.

See his site at tookie.com

Source: © Nando Media from Associated Press 18 November 2000

Gang Founder Claimed Innocence Until the End

by Kim Curtis

San Quentin, California - Stanley Tookie Williams maintained his innocence right up until his death, even when an admission of guilt may have spared him execution.  Even after the courts and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected a flurry of Williams' last-ditch appeals before his execution early Tuesday, his supporters vowed to prove his innocence.  Williams, the Crips gang co-founder whose case stirred a national debate about capital punishment versus the possibility of redemption, was executed Tuesday morning for killing 4 people in 1979.  Williams, 51, died at 12:35am.  Officials at San Quentin State Prison seemed to have trouble injecting the lethal mixture into his muscular arm.  As they struggled to find a vein, Williams looked up repeatedly and appeared frustrated.  "You doing that right?" it sounded as if he asked one of the men with a needle.

Williams' case became one of the nation's biggest death-row cause celebres in decades, with Hollywood stars and capital punishment foes arguing that Williams' sentence should be commuted to life in prison because he had made amends by writing children's books about the dangers of gangs and violence.  In the days leading up to the execution, state and federal courts refused to reopen his case.  Monday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger denied Williams' request for clemency, suggesting that his supposed change of heart was not genuine because he had not shown any real remorse for the killings committed by the Crips.  "Is Williams' redemption complete and sincere, or is it just a hollow promise?" Schwarzenegger wrote.  "Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings, there can be no redemption."

Williams was condemned in 1981 for gunning down convenience store clerk Albert Owens, 26, at a 7-Eleven in Whittier and killing Yen-I Yang, 76, Tsai-Shai Chen Yang, 63, and the couple's daughter Yu-Chin Yang Lin, 43, at the Los Angeles motel they owned.  Williams claimed he was innocent.  Lora Owens, Owens' stepmother, watched Williams die.  In the days before the execution, she was one of the outspoken advocates who believed the execution should go forward.  She said her stepson was shot twice in the back, even though he begged Williams for his life.  "I believe it was a just punishment long overdue," she told ABC's Good Morning America.

Williams was led into the death chamber at midnight, shackled and handcuffed.  He declined to give a formal final statement.  He seemed frustrated by the length of time it took officials to insert the intravenous lines in his arms.  He repeatedly looked up, shaking his head at supporters, reporters and other witnesses whom officials did not identify.  In all, it took nearly a half-hour to prepare Williams for execution.  It took much less time to die; he appeared to stop breathing just moments after a prison official read the death warrant and said, "The execution shall now proceed."

Williams was described as "complacent, quiet and thoughtful," by Corrections Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton in the hours before the execution.  He declined to have a last meal as he waited in the holding cell, drinking milk instead.  Prison officials said he spent his last hours reading mail, watching tv and visiting with his lawyers and friends.  After watching her longtime friend die, Barbara Becnel told the crowd of hundreds gathered outside prison gates that she would prove Williams' innocence and that Schwarzenegger was a "cold-blooded murderer."  She said Williams "was brave and strong and he was everything we believed him to be."

Singer Joan Baez, M.A.S.H. actor Mike Farrell and the Reverend Jesse Jackson were among the celebrities who protested the execution.  "Tonight is planned, efficient, calculated, antiseptic, cold-blooded murder and I think everyone who is here is here to try to enlist the morality and soul of this country," said Baez, who sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot on a small plywood stage set up just outside the gates.

A contingent of 40 people who had walked the approximately 25 miles from San Francisco held signs calling for an end to "state-sponsored murder."  But others, including Debbie Lynch, 52, of Milpitas, said they wanted to honour the victims.  "If he admitted to it, the governor might have had a reason to spare his life," Lynch said.  Among the celebrities who took up Williams' cause were Jamie Foxx, who played the gang leader in a cable movie about Williams; rapper Snoop Dogg, himself a former Crip; Sister Helen Prejean, the nun depicted in Dead Man Walking; and Bianca Jagger.  During Williams' 24 years on death row, a Swiss legislator, college professors and others nominated him for the Nobel Prizes in peace and literature.

Williams founded the Crips gang with a friend in 1971 and managed stay out of trouble for years despite his claims that he was a drug-fueled thug who robbed, beat and shot at people.  Authorities say the gang is responsible for hundreds of deaths, many of them in battles with the rival Bloods for turf and control of the drug trade.  Whatever luck Williams found on the streets avoiding the law ended in 1979 after 4 people were killed in a pair of armed robberies that were connected to him and his pump-action shotgun.  Williams never wavered from his claim of innocence and said he refused to confess to crimes he did not commit, even if doing so would save his life.  He said he redeemed himself while in prison and apologised for starting the Crips.

"There is no part of me that existed then that exists now," Williams said recently during several hours of interviews with The Associated Press.  He said that while he wanted to live and continue his work with children, he was prepared to die.  "I haven't had a lot of joy in my life.  But in here," he says, pointing to his heart, "I'm happy.  I am peaceful in here.  I am joyful in here."

Source: apnews.myway.com Associated Press 13 December 2005

Williams' denials of committing the murders may have shown that he valued the opinion of his friends more than he valued life.  He nay have thought that confessing would disappoint them  Thus, if Schwarzenegger's refusal to commute the sentence was based solely on a "lack of remorse" he could've been completely mistaken.

Being Mis-Clued

bulletWe need ways to evaluate how we're doing and make judgments about how best to adapt to changing environments.  "How we're doing" means how we're doing relative to others in the same local environment but can also mean how we're doing relative to others in our age group (see Through a Glass Darkly on this) or how we're doing relative to our relatives ([See Why Living in a Rich Society Makes Us Feel Poor] "a woman in their sample was 16 to 25 times more likely to seek paid employment if her sister's husband earned more than her own").
bulletPoverty is defined as 60% of the median, and is therefore relative and will continue.
bulletIf you're poor, you're considered by many to be a social failure.  This goads the "successes" to further progress lest someone fall backward into the poverty group.
bulletWe're far more aware than we've ever been of the wealth that surrounds us.  ("On Sunday football telecasts, ads for Heineken and BMW have displaced those for Miller Lite and Ford pickups, even though the same people are watching").
bulletMiddle-income families are experiencing unprecedented levels of economic distress, largely because they're trying to keep up with a living standard they cannot afford.
bulletA professor at Cornell stated that he "could not live in" the same house in the US that he had lived comfortably in in Nepal "without experiencing a profound sense of humiliation.  If I had to go into debt to escape that experience, I'm certain I would."
bulletBanks have made credit cards absurdly easy to get.
bulletBankruptcy laws in New Zealand (and elsewhere) are designed to humiliate those who apply so as to keep the numbers as small as possible.

What happens to those who are caught in the middle, those who are desperate to avoid social and financial humiliation?  Unfortunately, all too often it can mean going one step too far: committing a criminal act.  This criminal act may be nothing more than taking a drug to enhance raw reality or it may mean white collar crime whereby one person secures an unfair advantage over another in a deal.

Prison can be a rude awakening.

I see prisons and drug laws as complementary means of social control.  If poverty is relative, then it's inescapable, and so are feelings of humiliation.  The anger engendered by the unfairness of progress (ALL progress is unfair to someone) is managed in all societies through a combination of prisons, drugs and men's groups (mainly military service and athletics).

Just as poverty is relative, so are the numbers of "criminals" at any given time; the law is used to turn up or down this number (far and away mostly male) based on current economic and social conditions.

Also see:

bulletOur Criminal Children (in the section on Lifestyles) - 25% of NZ youth have committed a criminal offence by the time they reach 19.

If you haven't navigated through this section, you may also wish to read:

bulletRetributive Justice (earlier in this section) - visiting the idea that "some people deserve  to be punished."

Also see:

bulletLawyer Has No Luck at All (in the section on Oddities) - for more thoughts on retributive "justice".

Virginia Postrel, 40, is a former Wall Street Journal and New York Times columnist.  She has written two books, The Future and Its Enemies and Free Minds and Free Markets.  She recently visited New Zealand at the invitation of the Business Roundtable.  (She has credibility, get it?)

Postrel (whose website is at dynamist.com) said she sees potential in people who make mistakes.  People should be able to shape their own future through experimentation.  She said, "Progress comes from trial and error - when we're free to try things and free to reject ideas that don't work.  People need to learn from their mistakes.  We don't know in advance how to do anything."

For articles on white collar and petty crimes, injustice, capital punishment, race, executioners, freedom of the press, cheating, private prisons, punishment, retribution, prison labour, appeals, instant justice, electronic tags, lepers and second chances click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index for this Prisons section.

Back Home Up