Prison Talk

We firmly believe that even though a prisoner's body is locked up, their mind can always be free to travel the world and learn about anything they are interested through the magic or books.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ex-convict says his prison ministry is keeping inmates from becoming repeat offenders

Tim Terry looks for information on a JumpStart Inside program participant. JumpStart Ministries is a group that provides in-prison classes for prisoners, transitional housing for people who have been recently released from prison, and employment opportunities for ex-offenders. Tim Terry, executive director of the group, said one of the goals of the prison ministry is to seek to reduce recidivism rates in South Carolina.

Meet Timothy Lee Terry: age 47, a father, a Christian, a leader of a local, faith-based prison ministry program, and an ex-convict guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Sentenced to 30 years in 1987, Terry said his life changed when he found God in prison.

"For the first time in my life, I felt the weight lift off of my shoulders," he said of his experience in McCormick Correctional Institution. "I knew I was saved."

He was released on parole in 2002. Now he directs JumpStart Ministries, a prison ministries program for reforming inmates through God.

Terry thinks the problem is that the state's correctional system too often fails to correct behavior. There are 22,666 incarcerated men and women in South Carolina's prison system; one in three of these inmates would end up back in prison within three years if current trends continue.

"I have seen people come through the system that I've dealt with before, and obviously I'm not happy when I see them," said Barry Barnette, Seventh Circuit solicitor.

Taxpayers pay for them to return to prison again and again, at the cost of $16,000 a year.

Locally, Greenville and Spartanburg counties commit more people to prison than other counties in the state.

But Terry says almost no one who goes through his program goes back to prison.

When Terry talks about the night he killed his wife and his eventual journey to God, he tells prisoners that he was "tore up from the floor up."

"I tell people I used to be a dope dealer, now I'm a hope dealer," he says.

His story always addresses his youth. He often says that 99 percent of inmates are behind bars because of unresolved childhood issues.

For Terry, his problems began when he was a 14-year-old boy enrolled in a Christian school.

"I had a mama who loved God," he said. "And all of the sudden, out of the blue, this woman, she took my little .22 pistol and stuck it to her chest."

After his mother's suicide, he said he shook his fist at God and sought comfort in alcohol and drugs.

"That sent my life into a tailspin," he said. "It went from smoking marijuana to drinking liquor to doing an ounce of cocaine a night because of that raging monster inside of me."

Terry hears similar stories through JumpStart's 40-week in-prison program.

At the chapel inside Livesay Correctional Institute in Spartanburg in November, Terry's class was in its 39th week. Dozens of inmates listened to stories of bad childhoods and mistakes. Grown men broke down in tears, sang songs, read poetry.

After they told their stories and their reasons for being behind bars — most for stealing and dealing drugs — the room grew quiet when Terry revealed his voluntary manslaughter conviction.

Terry told the crowd that, following his mother's death, he dropped out of school, got married to his high school sweetheart and had a daughter and a son. Through it all, he said he kept using and selling cocaine and marijuana.
But his marriage soured, and he killed his wife one night in anger. He tried to overdose immediately after. His 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son were in a nearby bedroom.

"I didn't want to live anymore," he said.

He ended up with a 30-year sentence at McCormick Correctional.

In prison, he found lucrative ways to keep dealing marijuana.

Then he met Paul Gray.

Gray arrived at McCormick via Kairos Ministries — a national prison ministry — and took Terry to the prison library, where Terry collapsed in tears and reconciled with God.

"That event in the library took a 29-year-old man trapped in a 14-year-old's body and set him free," he said.

He got rid of the marijuana and cleaned up.

"At (the) expense of people calling me names, I said, ‘Listen, y'all, I've done this stuff for 29 years, and the best it's gotten me is 30 years in this penitentiary. I'm going to try things another way,' " he said.

From living in prison to living in Spartanburg

In 2002, Terry walked free, having served 15 years of a 30-year sentence.

In his 15 years, he'd seen inmates leave prison only to repeatedly return. He set out to change that through programs that help ex-offenders make a successful transition back to society.

Terry uses pastor Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven Life" as his lesson plan for the 40-week course for inmates who are up for parole or release within two years.

The duration helps "whittle out the riffraff," he said.

Tommy E. Timms Jr., 37, stuck with Terry's program and is now awaiting release next March. This is his third stint in prison. All of his charges are drug-related.

He says he's ready to make a change this time. He's now a team leader in Terry's in-prison program at Livesay Correctional Institution in Spartanburg.

"My real test is coming in just a few months," he said to the class. "So I ask that you all keep me in your prayers."

He's asked Terry to help him find a good church and a room in JumpStart's transitional housing, a strategy that prison officials support.

"It's very beneficial to have someone on the outside who is willing to mentor them and keep them accountable," said Lloyd Roberts, chief chaplain with the S.C. Department of Corrections.

JumpStart manages seven units of transitional housing in Spartanburg County and several other parts of the Upstate. After inmates serve their time, Terry shepherds them into JumpStart's housing, where they must abide by strict curfews and visitation limits.

Levonne Jamison, 34, served seven years for a lewd act on a minor and was released Sept. 30. He's living in one of the JumpStart houses in Spartanburg County and has recently found full-time employment.

Jamison said he grew up in the Midlands but chose to stay in Spartanburg because he knew he had to stay away from his childhood neighborhood.

"You have to leave the old behind," he said.

In prison, he said he saw people from his neighborhood get out and quickly return to prison.

"It's a revolving door," Jamison said. "They go right back to the same thing they did before. … They go and come back and get more time."

State corrections officials say Terry's program helps break that cycle.

"The product that Tim is putting out on the table is a very good product because what they do is very much needed," said Gary Boyd, director of inmate services for the corrections department.

Boyd said the state doesn't track the percentage of JumpStart's clients who end up back in prison, but he said that rate is very low for a similar program called Changing the Way.

Breaking the cycle

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prison guards shoot two inmates during Folsom riot

California prison guards Wednesday shot at least two inmates at a maximum-security facility near Sacramento as officers tried to quell a riot involving some 50 prisoners, officials said.

In all, at least nine inmates were taken to Sacramento-area hospitals for treatment of stab wounds, gunshot wounds and blunt-force trauma after the melee erupted at 12:30 p.m. at California State Prison-Sacramento in Folsom, about 20 miles east of the Capitol.

The condition of the injured inmates and the cause of the disturbance were not immediately known, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The cause of the disturbance is "under investigation," Thornton said.

Sgt. Lavance Quinn, another prison spokesperson, said the incident occurred at Folsom's main maximum-security exercise yard. It was quickly contained by guards using pepper spray, rubber projectiles and Mini-14 rifles, Thornton said.

Quinn said a couple of prison guards who responded to the incident suffered minor injuries. But "none of the injuries were as a result of an inmate-on-officer assault," he said.
Thornton said officers are allowed to use deadly force when it is required to prevent themselves or others from being physically harmed, but the shootings will be investigated to make sure they were justified.

The prison has been placed on a "modified program," which means that inmates have limited movement and are essentially confined to their cells, officials said.

The facility opened in 1986 and is primarily used to house about 2,800 maximum-security inmates serving long sentences and those who have proved to be difficult to manage at other institutions, officials said.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pa. prison visitor busted for drug possession

MERCER, Pa. - A western Pennsylvania man is charged with possessing marijuana and a pipe to smoke it...when he entered a state prison to visit his son.
State troopers from the Mercer barracks say 44-year-old David Fritz of Natrona Heights was charged Saturday morning while visiting his 27-year-old son at the State Correctional Institution-Mercer. Court records show the son is serving up to seven years in a sex abuse case there.

Police say a prison guard was searching visitors for contraband when a drug-sniffing dog alerted him that Fritz was carrying a pipe and a small amount of pot.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Treatment of mentally ill prisoners needs to be addressed

Recently there was an audit from Robert C. Lewis, director, Division of Prisons, describing horrific and abusive conditions at Central Prison Inpatient Mental Health Facility in Raleigh. The report gives details about inadequate staffing for nurses and clinicians (Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers); poor quality of medical records about distribution of psychotropic medications; concerns about patient safety, health, welfare, and dignity; lack of proper infection control; and concerns about safety of staff and inmates.

Reading the audit leaves one with the conclusion that there is a lack of effective management concern, at all levels, about the care of prisoners with a mental illness at Central Prison. It also raises questions about the treatment of people with mental illness throughout the jails and prisons in North Carolina. This combined with the failure of mental health reform implies that North Carolina government does not care about people who suffer from a brain disorder.

Individuals with a mental illness are vastly overrepresented in the prison population — in the U.S. approximately 24 percent of the prison population lives with a serious mental illness, while in the juvenile system that is up to about 70 percent. The statistics tell us there is a problem — we are arresting people sometimes for exhibiting symptoms of their illness, then they go downhill while in prison since they cannot follow the rules, don’t get necessary medication, or treatments, and are generally incapable of conforming due to their illness. So no, we don’t agree with comments made by various public figures that these are all criminals. Rather, there is a problem with our system not recognizing early on that some of these people in fact have a medical problem.

Recently the Commission on Mental Health passed rules to improve conditions in the prisons for those living with mental illness things like minimally adequate treatment, proper screening and identification, medication protocols, limits on seclusion and restraint, and most importantly lots of tightening up of discharge planning that may reduce the very high recidivism rate we have for those with mental illness coming out of the prisons. Yet these very rules have been languishing for eight months, awaiting the required fiscal note.

Let’s get our General Assembly and governor to move these rules along. Let’s fix this problem, now.

Love notes could land Dry Hill prison inmates in trouble

Two state inmates serving time in the Watertown Correctional Facility just wanted to let their sweethearts know they were thinking of them. Instead, they caused a hazardous-materials investigation at the Dry Hill prison Friday morning.

But the two inmates — Jafar Torkpour, formerly of Broome County, and Desmond McNeil, formerly of Queens — may have landed themselves in hot water with corrections officials after sending love notes to their significant others, said Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

To emphasize their feelings, the inmates put material inside the envelopes that turned out to be sugar and lemonade mix, but caused state police and fire and rescue units to respond about 7:40 a.m. Friday to the correctional facility, at 23147 Swan Road in the town of Watertown.

Mr. Torkpour, in prison on a conviction of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, placed sugar inside an envelope with a letter telling his lady he is still “sweet on” her, Mr. Cutler said. He said Mr. McNeil, in prison for third-degree robbery, put lemonade powder in his envelope with a letter telling the intended recipient he is “still sweet enough” on her.

The substances in the envelopes were later tested, Mr. Cutler said, adding the inmates could be disciplined.

The incident began when prison officials found the suspicious materials seeping out of the envelopes and called state police to investigate, a state police sergeant said.

Because the envelopes’ contents were not known, state police followed “protocol” for investigating potential Homeland Security threats, the sergeant said. She said she did not know whether such an incident had ever happened before at the prison.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Maryland prison reorganization designed to better help inmates transition into society

Maryland's prison chief said this week that a reorganization of the state prison system will reduce recidivism and improve the way inmates re-enter society upon their release. Gary D. Maynard, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Wednesday that part of the reorganization involves incarcerating prisoners in the same region where they committed their crimes.

"Offenders that come into the system stay in that region, and when they re-enter they stay in that region," Maynard said in a telephone interview. "At least 80, 85, 90 percent will be arrested in the region, sentenced in the region, incarcerated in the region and released in the region."

He said the only exceptions would be for death-row inmates and inmates who committed egregious crimes. Those prisoners will be incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison near Cumberland that houses the state's most serious offenders.

The reorganization emerged after officials from all state prison agencies met during four brainstorming retreats this year to come up with ideas that would improve public safety efforts across the department.