have had my fill with the statements being made in the media about how
the overpaid state employees (prison guards) are draining the state's
budget, and how the poor inmates (convicted FELONS) are dropping like
flies due to substandard medical care and brutal living conditions.
Allow me to cast some light onto these shadowy areas with my ten plus
years of insight behind the walls.
California spends approximately $50,000 a year to house each of our
170,000 inmates. Roughly $12,500 of this is on their "substandard"
medical care. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
spends about $1,400 per veteran. You read that right. That's nine times
more money being spent on convicted felons than on our nation's
veterans. Texas, which ranks second in the nation in inmate population,
spends about $5,100 a year, per inmate, on health care. In California,
if an inmate has a health complaint, he fills out a form and may be
subject to a $5 co-pay, unless it is deemed an emergency by health care
staff. If that's the case, there is no co-pay and he is seen
immediately. If an inmate claims a pain level over a 6 (on a scale from
1 to 10), he must be seen immediately by a registered nurse, and
scheduled to see a doctor. I don't recall the last time I heard an
inmate claim less than a 6. I don't know about you, but the last time I
went to the ER it took me five hours to get in and cost me 50 BUCKS!
On the educational front, California ranks 29th in the nation on
funding per student, and 49th in "student per teacher" ratio. Over the
last two years, $11 BILLION has been cut from education. Add to that
more than $5 BILLION in proposed cuts over the next two years. I have
friends who have told me that their child's school had to cut the
library program due to budget cuts. My own child's school had to cut the
music program, although we still have a library. For now. And the few
athletic programs we still have are run by volunteer-coaches, as there
is no money to pay someone. The prison I work at has several paid
coaches, in addition to a "recreational coordinator". There is a staff
of who knows how many teachers, while my child's school had to lay-off
two. But let us get back to these poor, fragile creatures we lovingly
refer to as inmates.
The typical day in an inmate's life consists of being awoken at around
6:45am for chow. They walk to the dining hall, where they are served
coffee and/or juice and a FREE balanced breakfast, that would cost my
child $2 at school. They sit and eat breakfast, and socialize with their
brethren, for about 15-20 minutes, and on the way out receive their free
bag lunch. Then, if they have a job, off they go (the average workday
for an inmate is about six hours). If they aren't employed, they go back
to their housing unit until the yard opens at about 8:30 or so. Once out
to yard, they have a myriad of recreational choices in which to indulge.
Some inmates play basketball or run the track. Others prefer handball or
tennis. Less adventurous fellows may choose to throw around a Frisbee or
participate in a game of horseshoes. Some simply lay their blanket out o
n the grass and sunbathe. There are softball tournaments to compete in
for prizes (sodas, ice cream, etc.). This scenario is repeated three
times a day for a total of about 8.5 hours of daily recreational
opportunity, seven days a week. Wouldn't that be nice?
I have read numerous articles about the state prison guards making
outrageous amounts of money in overtime. While it's true that I did make
about ten thousand in overtime one year, what isn't known is that I
didn't volunteer for a single overtime shift. Due to a hiring freeze and
the usual attrition, ALL of my overtime was mandatory because of short
staffing. In other words, much like the inmates, I was not allowed to go
home after my shift those days. Unlike the inmates, I could not play
Up to this point, I have been "given" three furlough days for a total
pay cut of around 15%. That was roughly equivalent to my mortgage
payment. I am, however, no longer saddled with that burden as, due to
said cuts, the bank has relieved me of that responsibility by taking
back my house. The hardest part to swallow is the fact that while I'm
losing everything I've worked for, the inmates have not had one program
or privilege cut thus far. As a matter of fact, they gain new rights and
privileges with every new lawsuit. Speaking of lawsuits,
prisoner-initiated lawsuits have cost the state more than $ 191 million
over the past six years. How many homeless veterans would that feed?
I hope I've opened some eyes as to what really goes on inside the
walls of California's state prisons. Voters have made themselves heard
with the three-strikes law and other get tough on crime issues. The
people of this state demand justice when one person takes another's in
cold blood. The problem is, once that person is convicted and locked
away, he is portrayed as a victim of the system. Suddenly he is
guaranteed rights that neither you nor I enjoy. Like the right to
instant medical attention (despite what the media says); for free. The
right to three balanced meals a day.. The right to their own personal TV
and radios. The right to buy Ramen soups or Snickers bars or Dreyer's
ice cream. We, as the citizens of this state, need to pull our
collective heads out of the sand and see what is going on in this state.
We are taking money from our future, our children, to repair the damage
these inmates have caused to themselves over a lifetime of drug-abuse
and self-neglect. Instead of blaming Corrections staff and other state
employees for the budget problems this state faces, let's take a hard
look at what we're spending to care for and coddle the inmates in
California. I'm not denying that basic medical care is a basic human
right, but would you rather spend your $40,000 on a convicted child
molester's total knee replacement, or pay a teacher a year's salary to
educate 30 of our children?
So, in closing, let me just ask you this. If prison is such a
barbaric, inhumane, insufferable place, why do 80% of them come back
after their first term?