Texas Incarceration, august 31

This morning I got the final confirmation that Bryonn and me can visit Nanon this saturday and sunday! Great!

I rented a bike this morning. 5 dollars, 24 hours, just swipe your creditcard on one of the bike-stations around the city. And I went to the swamps north of Houston. The lady who advised me to dio this warned me: keep your sack on your back and do not put it in de basket in the front: people could grab it and run. And be aware of alligators, she said. So, this Crocodile Dundee looked it up on the internet and this is what happened.: a guy was missing and they found remains of him in the stomach of the alligator they suspected.Of course they immediately killed the animal. Nobody knows, of course, if the guy died from a hart-attack or something else and if the alligator took a bite afterwards. The last time somebody was killed in Houston by an Alligator, before this incident, was two hundred years ago. I say: this is wildlife, Texan style: alligators are mean, kill the animal if there is any suspicion and put his sort on the long long list of Enemies of the State!

It was nice to leave the city by bike for a few hours and sweat a little bit, because it is very hot over here. I must say that the river is nice and the path too, but it all looks a little bit neglected and they love grey concrete over here: highways all over the place and mostly two or three levels above one another! And I did not see any alligators!

Coming back in the city for a late lunch and immediately falling into the crowd of homeless and mentally disturbed people, begging and hallucinating all over the place. On this monday you see all this modern buildings and skyscrapers and the working people in their need clothes passing by. Two worlds, separated bij an invisible but impervious wall. On one of the corners of main street I take my lunch, outside on an empty terrace. Police and security staff everywhere . Also three policeman on horses. They have caught a guy. They make him stand on the crossing with handcuffs on, for at least 45 minutes just in the middle of te public all staring at him. He tries to hide the handcuffs, but that is not so easy. A small, skinny afro-american guy with dirty clothes on and a tired face. What a misery and what a way of treating another human being. I wonder if I could give him a glass of coca cola but when I approach him one of the officers immediately reacts and points me back.

Last saturday I noticed a young lady, hired by the town, who walks the streets, asks everybody how they are doing and offers the help, advice and information. So strange to see that in this surrounding of neglect ion and disrespect there is an courtly approach towards “normal people”, probably to settle some balance. I met this girl again this afternoon. At least: I thought it was her, but the girl explained that it was her twin sister who worked last saturday! I asked her how it was to do this kind of work in this surrounding, explained why I am here and asked her if I could interview her. She agreed to do that after work and we will meet in half an hour! I will share the result of course.

And, by the way, I had some email exchange with bus bud about the fact they were not clear about the location of the busstop. And that I had to buy another ticket to San Antonio. In the end they emailed me that they give me a free ticket to any bustrip I want to make. I do not think I will find time for that during this trip, but I will certainly use it the next time. And it also feels like a victory too: one man fights a nation-wide system and wins. I become a real Texan, John Wayne in The Alamo kind of fellowhouston1 Houston2 Houston3 Houston4 Gumbo. “Make my day!”.

And my little plan did not work out, I could not interview the girl. A very nice and friendly older lady was waiting for me. She is the supervisor of the girls, telling me dat they cannot speak with people, other then in the line of duty, without explicit permission of their superiors. Who I, of course, could approach with a letter or email. She explained friendly to me that their task is to look for irregularities on the streets and report them to the police. Their other task is to give service to the public with maps and information. And that was it. No comment on other subjects, like the giant group of desperate people in the streets. “In Texas rules and regulations are incredibly important, is it not madam?”. “Yes they are, sir! Have a good one!”.

Tomorrow I will have lunch with Ray Hill, Citizen Provocateur. On his card it says: Writer, Activist, Actor, Raconteur. And tomorrow evening I will attend the monthly meeting of the abolishment movement. Wednesday I go to Austin and then four days in prison with Harvey Earvin and Nanon Mckewn Williams. And of course in the Prison Show again and meeting Gloria Rubac and her colleagues, and Bryonn Bain and others. And now I am going to try to finish my article on Greece, Ukraine and Holland…..

Texas incarceration, august 30


Yesterday, David and me planned to hang out together, but David had to call sick because of a terrible migraine (not a hangover: he is sober for a long time now :-)) so I used this free day to walk through Houston, do a lot of adminstration and start to prepare my article on the situation in Greece/Ukrain/Holland. If you wonder how that is possible: read it when it comes out. And learn Dutch, because I am writing t in Dutch! For me that still works a lot quicker!

I also had contact with my collegues at the prison in Heerhugowaard. An incarcerated person on the mental health unit stabbed another incarcerated person three times: two in the back, one in the belly. Staff took care of the situation i a very profeesional manner and cooperation with police and ambulance went well and quick. It looks like the victim will survive. the attack. For what we know now it is one of those incidents which you can hardly avoid: a guy has some fantasies about the other guy molesting children, borrows a small potato-knife from the staff and steps into the cell of the other guy……..

This morning I woke up very early to go to San Antonio and the Alamo! At the Greyhound Station there is a concentration of homeless and mentaly disturbed people. There must be thousands of them in Houston. People sleeping everywhere, asking for money. An old lady is not well at all and taken care off by the staff.  I have a coffee and a sandwich on the station and give a dollar to a guy asking for money for food. Two hispanic guys of my age talk to a girl from about 25 years old. She is slim and has long blond hair in a pony tail. Her face is pretty but you can see she had her nose broken. In her eys you see signs of a hard life. The guys talk with her and find out she works as a dancer in clubs. When she leaves for her bus one of the guys says: “I am sure you get a lot of tips at work!” Then another guy is asked to pay for a few food-items in his hands. He claims he already paid and refuses to put it back. In a moment he is surrounded by staff-members asking him to pay or to put the stuff back and leave. After ten minutes he seems to want to put the items back, when a policecar passes by. The guy I just gave a dollar runs outside and winks the policecar to come over. The guy in the shop sees that too and starts running, followed by several staffmembers and the homeless guy to the street and further around the corner. The policecar puts his sirene on and I feel like stepping into a movie scene.  But, you know, a hungry, skinny, homeless guy refusing to give back food costing about three dollars in total, hunted down like a notorious criminal……

And Murphy’s law rules this morning. I bought ticket for the six o’cock bus to San Antionio and found out that this Budbus does not leave at the busstation where Uber dropped me of. Bought tickets again for the greyhound wich acquires to step over in Austin on the bus to Sant Antonio.  After ten minutes driving the busdriver told us that we had to return due to technical problems. We went back and changed buses.  I tried very hard to get the insurance that I can catch te bus to Sant Antonio, which the manager gave in a way that did not feel very trustworthy: he just wanted to get the  bus on his way. So, right now I am on my way to Austin with a big chance to spent my day in buses not reaching San Antonio. Will find out soon enough!:-)

I catched the bus from Austin to Houston which at arrival left in thirty seconds. “You are lucky” the driver said, because I was the one with the problem. Not Greyhound with his broken bus or de manager in Houston who assured me I could get in time for  this bus. In the hurry the busdriver also took my return return ticket by accident.  So they refused to take me back to Houston and I had to speak to managers to get me in the bus where I am sitting in right now! People are friendly over here, but very strict on rules and regulations. People on the working floor (bus drivers, security-staff, guards, waiters etc.)do not have the competence to make any exception or act on their own judgement. Everybody seems to be fascinated by laws and rules and law enforcement. Bus-drivers tell you you cannot drink alcohol on the bus, because of the law and that you could get arrested, somebody not immediately responding to instructions is told he or she could be arrested, and a sign at the highway says: “drink, drive, go to jail”. And the public seems to be used to that and supports it, like there are dangers everywhere and we all have to fight with this enemy who, by the way, is just another citizen losing his temper, making a mistake, being poor and hungry or drunk.

In the bus from Austin I met a 67 years old guy who had been a teacher for thirty years and wanted to stop working when he was 58 years old. Wanted to travel but could not affort it. He found the ideal concept by driving trucks from Mexico,, where they construct these vehicles to about every place in the US and Canada. “I could travel all over the country and they payed me to do it!”. We talk about our children, Alaska, Canada and, of course, Texas. Peter was brought up in Houston.  The views of this guy showed me a more attracticve side of the Texan way of thinking. “Everybody is welcome to become an American as long as he pays his tax and when a person is disabled I do not mind taking care of him.” We talked about the business-climate, the enormous amount of un-developed territory in Texas an the beauty of cities like Sant Antonio, New Orleans and Austin. We shared our holistic view on the world:everything and everybody is interconnected, it is all about relations and people are all basically the same, also those from Holland and Texas. I confront Peter very gently with some statistics on poverty and incarceration. It is strange to experience that Peter thinks that the living standard for people from abroad is always better then where they came from and that poverty and incarceration happen to people who do not want to work while they and contribute to society. Peter had to admit that it is hard to find a job after doing jail time and that there are probably other causes why people get homeless. And that the immigrants and illegal workers are exploited. He is an intelligent guy, but it is also clear that he is rarely personally confronted with this way of thinking. I saw a Fox News broadcast about the latest cop-killing and I can imagine how people get poisoned with fear and prejudices.  When we split after a few nice hours he says:”It is great to meet someone who speaks from a total different perspective. Thank you very much!” I told him I am grateful too. And I am: Texas people are people too, like you and me.  They just happen to have  a pretty peculiar way of looking at things: life is great over here, as long as you are capable to take care of yourself.

The guy who serves my lunch (Gumbo: great food: thick soup with herbes, rice, vegetables, meat) finished school in Chicago and wants to see more of the world. He bought a cheap car and drive three days southward. He want to stay here for a year, but finally end up in Atlanta: “Everybody says that thats the city where you find the best cultural atmosphere of the US with music, theatre and other performances everywhere”. A real American story of exploring new territory: one does not know what is going to happen but you trust that everything will turn out okay!

I spent the day walking through San Antonio. Beautiful city with a lot of Mexican and Latin influence in buildings food and the majority of the population. I visit Alamo, of course and do the River Walk: by foot and also by boat. Great atmosphere with numerous restaurants and people enjoying themselves on a sunny Sunday! I end up in an Irish pub, attracted by the sound that come from inside: an old Irish singer and piano-player: great entertainment.alamo1 Alamo2 riverwalk1 riverwalk2 riverwalk3 riverwalk4

A nice, young Mexican looking couple ask me for fifty cents to buy water. Guy, 21 years old with girl, intelligent, polite. I give them some money we talk and walk up to the bus-station. I ask them why they are broke: “we spent our money on other things and became thirsty!” the boy says. They are both looking for work:”I have a job-interview tomorrow” the girl says. They dream about visiting New York and ask me all about it. They are living with their parents and leaving Texas for the first time seems to be lightyears away…..

The Greyhound busstation at 11.15 pm looks like a warzone. Hundreds of eople running, screaming evidently homeles, addicted, mentally disturbed. A few people approach me. The seem to be in such a horrible condition that I fear they could disease on the spot. My african UBER-driver confirms that there are thousands of people in a desperate state and that the situation is explosive.  Only the massive presence of security staff and police all over the place can control this situation.Doug told me before: care and treatment is not available for these people, only for some of them after being incarcerated. Repression, persecution and incarceration: thats the simple reaction of the administration…….

Texas incarceration 2015, august 29

It was a great trip to Houston. Holland is a little bit of a village: on my way to the airplane I met about eight former or present employees of the prison and in the plane I was seated next to a guy who is friends with one of our heads of departement.

   

  

  

  

 After my arrival, the guy who checked my passport asked what my profession is and told me he worked at the prison in Ferguson before:”a real bad place” he said and when looking in his eyes I realized that he really ment it: I congratulated him with is present job! The Ethiopian cab-driver remembered me where Houston is about: booming! Growing very fast, building and rebuilding, with lower housing-prices then in some other parts of the US and a good climat for entrepreneurs. Club Quarters Hotel is renovating too, but still comfortable, not to expensive and in the centre of Houston.

The amount of homeless people and psychiatric patients in the streets is incredibly high. In the neighborhood where my hotel is, they are the vast majority of te walking population. It seems everybody else is driving around in cars. People approach me very twenty meters or so and I start comparing the city-centre of Houston with some very poor, third world countries where I have been…..

My Uber brings me to at BB Coffee at Montrose Boulevard where I meet David Collingworth and Doug Smith. A pretty basic place with surprisingly very nice Gumbo with chicken and herbes! Doug and David are great guys, doing fantastic work. David is working as a facility-manager in 12 gyms, all over Houston, but he spends a lot of time on advocacy for his brothers and sisters who are still incarcerated. Het is the producer of the Prison Show and the first thing you see when David approaches is his big white cowboy-hat. David knows that drinking will bring him right behind the bars again so he is sober for a long time now. Doug has been a graduated social worker but was also an addiction-problem and he has been in prison for 6 years several robberies. Doug is working for an organization which works on alternatives for mass incarceration.I will visit Texas CJC in Austin  on wednesday and meet the people there.  The link to a small  interview with Doug is at the bottom of this page,

The atmosphere in the building of the prison show is unique. It is a big villa and there are al lot of people sitting and standing in the different rooms. On of them with a large table. A lot of the volunteers and vistors have been incarcerated and some of them are familie of incarcerated people, professionals somehow connected to the juridical system or active in organisations fighting injustice. Or just socially engaged. Everybody is equal here, it is a community in which you meet and support each other, join forces to promote human dignity and solidarity.

And it was a fantastic show yesterday. We were sitting in the recording room for two hours. Talking, with eachother, listening to music and other guests. Doug told about his work and gave a lot of relevant information, Pat Atwood came with news from death row and the execution-list for the next month, there was an old advocate with a lot of legal information who started with the quote:”the most difficult thing people have to learn after law-school is to act normal again! Law is about common sense and doing the right and honest thing!”. There was a guy who joined by telephone who is out of prison for three years now, trying to “keep my nose clean” and making music. Nice music too, I heard!

I gave a present from the guys from the metal shop in my prison: a key from srab-metal which can be used as an opener. Symbolizing that a key can lock people up but can also be used to open doors and help people to recover and return to society. In the show David described the key and the intention and I added the remark that this collectors-item was part of the a christmas-packet for every staff-ember of the Dutch prison system.

The most popular part of the Prison Show is the second hour. Loved ones from incarcerated people call in and speak out a message . Very emotional and it is difficult to keep your tears back when you listen. You feel that there are real people inside: fathers, brothers, husbands, sons, sisters. You feel the love for those who are inside and how cruel it is for people at home to miss them. Over here and everywhere in the world the most important thing when you are in prison is: family and other loved ones outside.

Here are some small interviews with people from yesterday night. More to come, because I will be back in the show again next friday for the fourth time. I once was interviewed at 3 PM sitting in my bed with my mobile phone. My wife sleeping and suddenly, after I hung up, a voice came from under the blanket-pile beside me:”Next time you want to give an interview you better put your teeth in!

You have to copy/paste  these links in your browser to watch the clips,  I think!

Texas 2015, august/september 28

7.30 am

Just jumping on the train in Hoorn and heading for Schiphol to fly to Houston. Aim of my visit: visiting my friends Harvey Earvin  on deathrow and Nanon Mckewn Williams in the Ramsey-unit, meeting other people like for example Gloria Rubac and my friend Bryonn Bain who comes over from LA to visit Nanon with me and to prepare the Annual Prison Dialogue and Action Day 2015. I will be in the Prison Show and building on the network wich tries to give a voice to people who suffer the most severe consequences of systems which excludes, supresses, diiscriminates and/or tortures them. Incarcerated people, their families, people who experienced violence and are traumatized which also includes prison staff, volunteers, professionals and society as a whole. I believe that empowering those who suffer the most severe consequence is the strongest way to move things in a more human directeion.
As a preparation for this trip I spoke toa few people. Of course I wrote with Nanon and Harvey and had email-contact with a fewothers. Our visit to New York in juin (see former posts on this Blog) was part of the “US-thing” too. A few wardens from the US for example who told me that the average warden in the US is aganst the death penalty and the present excessive practice of solitairy confinement. Their association made some statements on that before. The Texas section threatened to leave the organisation because of that “political” position and since then the association does not speak out anymore. I  also had a long skype section with Doug Drettke. He has been a Texas warden for many years and is head of the faculty of the Dallas university which trains higher level staff of policeforce and prisonstaff. He was friendly but did not make me very happy. Talking about my experiences he said things like:”Of course it is not perfect in Texas prisons, but we made an incredible progress.” and:”The execution of the deatch penalty is just a tiny little part of our huge prisonsystem and it is a mistake to include it in your general view on what happens here” and, with great disbelieve in his voice: ‘you do not want to try to change anyting, do you?”.  He was friendly inviting me to meetings of wardens ‘to get to know and trust eachother”, before we could start with exchanging knowledge.  I also tried to contact James Mossbarger, warden of the Ramsey Unit. Nanon adviced me to do that in order to try to get more  convenient visiting-days. I spoke quite a few times to James his secretary, introduced myself as a Dutch warden. He was alwys in a meeting, she promised me that he would call me back: never happened. I actually do not have a visiting time for Nanon yet. He only could put me on his visiting list on august 26 and a lady from Ramsey told me to call back on monday. Bryonn and me bought tickets, counting on visiting Nanon on september 5 and 6. I realy hope it will work when I call on monday.  Due to this planning problem I had tot extend my stay in the US. Gives me time to do networking, visit groups and organizations, vistit some interesting sites (Alamo-ranch, poor neighbourhoods etc) and hopefully do some workshops and lectures. People are already planning things, but it works a little bit like in Russia and Eastern Europe: organize things when you are actually there and physically meet people.

Just to inspire and probably fresh your memory these two links to Youtube: about Nanon and Prison Action and Dialogue Day, which you have to copy in your explorer/safari to watch them:

http://www.no-offence.org/news-item/832-2014-international-award-winner-nanon-mckewn-williams/

I am realy looking forward to be in Texas again and meet all these people. I am in a rather interesting phase of my life. I will stop as a prison warden on december 1 2015 and leave the system after almost forty years. A great opportunity to be free to work as an independent consultant and I already commited myself to work for different organisations and people in my network on lecturing, innovative projects and international knowledge exchange. Already enough work untill 2018!  In the last ten years  became more and more an acticvist andand innovator abd I am realy happy to make this stap. A very important (and most important) developpeement is that I will become grand-dad next februari and that I will participate in the care for this new world-citizen! Fantastic. At the other hand I suffer from love-greeve. I was involved in my work within the prison system so passionate and personal that leaving also feels like loosing my home with loved ones in it. It is a mourning-process I have to take seriously and I am happy that I have the changee to already spent time on the activities which will occupy me after december 1. I gave colleges on Nyenrode this year, did working visits to New York and the Ukrain and will also work in Lithuania, Dniepropetrovsk and Manchester in the next few month. I am very glad there is enough time to think, write and walk (I have my hike boots with me) during this tri. And I will post content on this blog every day until 8 september!