Thursday, September 27, 2018

Public perception of the institutionally challenged by Christopher Havens

Society at large has an opinion of the institutionally challenged. I believe that the public perception of us is slightly inaccurate. Indeed many inmates provide justification for the negative stigma. I do not think it's within my power to sway the public opinion into feeling differently. Instead, I would offer you a glimpse into the endeavors of one specific inmate.. myself. I am opposed to the convict mentality. As well, I am actively at war to bring forth the destruction of the convict code. We are not all alike.. 

This was an actual speech I gave to some of the prison administration.

The importance of open course ware and Panopto lectures in prisons.

Ladies.. Gentlemen. My name is Christopher Havens. Many of you already know me because of my involvement with the Prison Mathematics Project. But for those who don't know me, I'm an advocate for prison education, both unconventional and otherwise. I've chosen learning as a lifestyle. I'm an independent scholar, and I belong to a mathematical research group in Turin, Italy. 

I have the honor of sharing the playing fields with three incredible mathematicians. ..and sometimes I ask myself, "how do I fit into this puzzle?". How do I keep my mind at a place where I can keep up? Where I can maintain as a productive factor of a team who contributes little permanent bits of math to the next generation... I believe the question is analogous for any one inmate pursuing an education. How does one keep their head above water?? ...And IF we crest that water, how do we soar above? ... Think of that crest as the middle point, where below, recidivism is common, and above recidivism is contrary. 

I think the ability to keep ones head above water, and even to soar above comes from having not only the requisite educational material, but also enough material that should inspire the student to go one step further. As Elise and Bella explained, the Panopto lectures and the open course ware are strong tools in conjunction to any course, or even an independent study curriculum. For example, in any correspondence course currently available to us, we receive books as well as a study guide containing our assignments. We move through these with little or no interaction. But what happens when a conceptual question arises? How do we know when we've misunderstood some of the key concepts? ... This is a purpose of Panopto lectures. We hear and we see the illustrations and explanations of the lecture. ..AND in a setting where we have corresponding peer interaction. This gives us the option for discussions on the topic, and any misinterpretations can be weeded out before they've even had a chance to take root. 

As well, Bella described open course ware. This is a self contained lesson on a specific topic not far removed from the lecture. When the open course ware is used together with the lectures, we have a powerful tool.. because now I can not only study the same topic from a different point of view, but I can also sit on the material and let it sink in. Now I have the opportunity to reread it. What's nice about open course ware is that I can learn a subject that may be may be related to my field of study, yet not available in any of our degree programs. ? ...What about when it's time to submit a research paper for a final exam I have? ...An extra credit project? 

The lectures and the open course ware are important for any who are taking their education seriously while in prison. So again.. How do I keep my head above water? ... ... How do I soar above, past the line of recidivism? I gain a deeper understanding.. I research course ware, I submerse myself in my education .. and the extremes I go through just to sit in on a lecture would amaze you! But we're hungry.. And we need this. Ladies and gentlemen... birds don't learn to fly by flying. ... ... ... They learn to fly by falling. The wind is right. ...and we've fallen! And we ask you now for these tools.

Thank you.
Christopher Havens

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Confessions Of White Privilege by Jeff Utnage

White privilege is a term used to describe, usually unintended, racial bias. It is when more whites get into a school than other races. It is most Fortune 500 Board positions are white men, it is sitting in a Starbucks for a business meeting and the police not being called on you and the police not arresting you (yeah, still pissed that the policemen who decided to arrest those men still have jobs).

It took me several years to get one person I can call a mentor and it happens I have gotten two in one year. One is a woman named Elayne, the other a man named Jim. Both of whom are folks I look up to. I feel lucky to have them because I learn a great deal from these two, in fact, I get more from 2-20 minute phone calls a week then I do in 15 hours a week of college courses. But what if I was black?

None of my black friends have mentors even though they want them. To be fair, almost none of my white friends do either. But that is not because neither want them, they do, it is because not many want to mentor inmates except other inmates. Which, to be honest, most Lifer's want to be in a position as a mentor and rarely is it for altruistic reasoning. Usually it is some angle to try for clemency. On the compound they are as see through as glass, learning from them would be a shame. Now, let us be fair here, there are also many Lifer's who are doing things for the right reasons, and if a lifer came to me and said "I want to get out of prison by helping as many people as possible and making a real impact", that I can respect! Everyone knows lifer's want out of prison by clemency, why lie about it, you know?

Back on point, I feel lucky, like lightning struck me twice to get two mentors. I positioned myself correctly, admittedly. Something others have a hard time doing. I have to say, I do not think I would have two mentors if I was black. I think the two mentors I have would be my mentors if I was in the same position, however, I do not think I would have been able to be in that position to be found by them if I wasn't white.

It may have been hard to get where I am at, but it would have been harder if I was not white.

I say this because we, as people, need to name our countries fault's. It is called awareness.

My part is to help those around me position themselves into being helped. I promise to do just that, without bias.

With Love
Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Thoughts On Monogamy From A Polyamorous Believer by Jeff Utnage

I believe in polyamorous relationships. That is, relationships where 3 or more people love one another equally and have equal stakes in the relationship. This differs from polygamy greatly, which is there is a head with multiple spouses with some sort of ranking (usually) and the spouses have no intimate dealings (other than singularly sharing a spouse).

Example- There is a couple, we will call them Nolan and Sabrina, they develop a relationship with Brian. In a polyamorous relationship, Nolan would likely be bisexual (or pansexual or poly sexual) and the three would have equal parts with one another. Brian/Nolan/Sabrina, Sabrina/Brian, Sabrina Nolan, or Nolan/Brian. Whether that's sharing a glass of milk or a bed.

The hard part about these types of relationships is finding people that actually fit this lifestyle, which are those who are non jealous and who genuinely love the others involved. These are not for everyone.

The other factor is fidelity. The people involved in the relationship are monogamous to the others involved, straying outside of ones partners is still cheating. That's called an open relationship, or non-committal. Which is different than poly amorousness.

Now here's a question, if I am willing to be in a polyamorous relationship, does that mean I will not be in a traditional dual partnership? NO! All it means is that I CAN love more than one person simultaneously, not that I HAVE too. There's a difference.

It also means I don't mind if my partner flirts or even lightly dates other people. I am not a jealous person. I do not feel like restricting someone else is fair. However, it is common practice in our society, that means if I love the person I am with I will respect their wishes, fully. I wouldn't stray or look for others. I still wouldn't be upset if my partner did though.

I view marriage and relationships differently. Just because we are together does not mean I expect obedience or compliance...that's strange to me. Yet, if I make a commitment to someone by saying, I will be with you and only you. I should be honorable enough to fulfill my commitment, which means we have to speak about such things.

Healthy relationships are honest and communicative, sometimes requiring sacrifice. But if you actually love someone, the sacrifice isn't really a sacrifice now is it.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

We Can Travel To Space But We Cannot Master The Carafe? by Jeff Utnage

I have a hotpot, an electric water carafe that heats water up to a specified temperature. When I go to pour water out into my cup and make my mornings instant coffee, water inevitably drips down the side and onto the counter in the middle of my pour.

Since it is just water I do not fuss about it too much, I simply pour slower, usually to no avail. I end up resigning to pouring faster and cleaning the puddle up. This is not unique to prison, no, it is a carafe issue. One day while I was drying my shoes out from my cellmate dribbling water into them, the carafe no doubt, I got to thinking did we not send rovers to Mars?

Did we not send out a multi billion dollar camera that will communicate photos through space for years, and from hundreds of thousands of miles away? Did we not figure out how to make two of the smallest things collide Into one another in a particle accelerator?

Yet we can't invent a carafe that doesn't spill water?

Perhaps we should master the small things first...just sayin'.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

Monday, September 24, 2018

What Beautiful People by Jeff Utnage

Every now and then I get to witness the humanity that is in our DNA. Truthfully it is always present, I must set aside myself to see it properly.

I have people in my life who care deeply about me. They challenge themselves and the society around them to defy the notion that one must be isolated for life to atone for a crime. They see beyond ten years ago into today and recognize the human being within. These people are special.

What's interesting is the idea of Christianity is lived out in its most genuine form within these people and many Christians condemn them for both their lifestyles and their continued association with me. It is for this reason I believe in God, whomever They are, They knew precisely what love meant and it is openly displayed through these people. I wanted to take a moment and thank them..


There are more, but these people comprise the core of my mentors and those who have chosen to love instead hate, believe instead of ridicule, teach instead of isolate.

Thank you, your teaching has not fallen on deaf ears.

With Love
Jeff Jeffebelle Utnage

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Is Speaking Directly And To-The-Point A Negative Effect Of Confinement? by Jeff Utnage

Since I have been in prison I have developed a habit, speaking very pointedly. This has occurred for multiple reasons. One major reason is everyone says they are so busy. It's like the entire world is so busy they don't have five minutes to listen to anyone else and help them solve some "thing." The result is I learned to get to the point quickly so the other person understands immediately the nature of the conversation.

Another reason I developed this is because I don't like wading through lies. I have told so many lies over my life and been told so many lies. If not lies than the language is ambiguous, leaving room for argument later. We will take the word "maybe" for example. When someone says maybe they aren't sure and it leaves hope for the word "yes" when the party has zero intention of saying yes. I would rather learn to cope with the word "no" than cope with let downs. So I try to be as direct as possible so people understand exactly what I mean. No need to interpret or color the language, I understand the English language very well, I use words intentionally to deliver a pointed message.

Here's the problem - many people aren't equipped for that. We have spent our entire lives being babied and tip-toed around that when someone speaks directly and candidly to us, leaving no room for misinterpretation, we take it as being harsh or calloused. It's abrupt and takes us by surprise to have someone speak to us like an adult and with intention.

Now here's the question: Is this a result of incarceration? If it is, is it a de-evolution or an evolution?

I've noticed a trend, those in positions of leadership and who got their act together are unafraid to speak directly. CEO's, high-level administration, military officials, judges, and community leaders- are all able to give you direct and candid conversation that may not be colored with fancy admonishments and elegant ambiguity that tactfully disguises criticism as, they aren't afraid to tell you that you have made a mistake and tell you directly, without fluff.

I personally appreciate direct criticism. I abhor it when someone beats around the bush, tell me what I am doing wrong and do so without holding back so I understand holistically the impact of my mistake(s) because I want to be a source of happiness, community building, and positive impact. Tell me how to improve and I promise to do the same for you. Because helping someone improve, that's real love.

Real love is preparing each other for the world, not protecting from it. Helping one another thrive in reality. Those are the types of people I want around me.

What about you?

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What's My Role In This Relationship? A Gender Non-Conformists Questions On The Roles Of Men and Women by Jeff Utnage

I am not quite a woman. However, I am not exactly a man. Oh sure, I have male anatomy but is that all we are now, genitals? I am not confused about who I am, I know who I am, I am a mixed-gender person. But, in a relationship...well, this is where things get hard to define.

For instance, will a man expect me to be either male or female but not mixed-gendered? I mean for intimacy purposes? How do I explain that I am like fluid and sometimes I'll be one role but usually prefer the more feminine role. Because of this will it be expected I clean and do dishes? Not get buff, shave my body hair (not a fan anyway), be...what do you want me to be again?

Then there's women. Women are beautiful and when I think about women it is usually to compare myself to them. How do I measure up? However, this is not strictly the case. I would marry a woman again, only this time she would have to be really comfortable playing a more..."male role" in the bedroom, I think we can all figure out what that means.

I am just being honest here. No need to be coy now, right? That's what this is about, honest conversations. I think my real internal controversy is over whether or not a partner for me exists? They would have to be mixed-gendered like me and just as explorative and open and fluid and...beautiful, beautifully unique.

Is there a man who is confident enough to let me wear a dress and heels while not feeling emasculated. Is there a woman who is confident enough to love me in public, wearing whatever in the hell I want, and at the same time bending her own gender roles?

I don't know. I pray to God every night to send me a lover. Maybe that's why none have shown up, He doesn't know what to send? I wish I could help him out and narrow it down to a singular gender, at least, instead I just keep giving Him qualities.

"God, please find me a partner, I can't do it from in here without You. I need someone who is driven, happy, adventurous, nonjudgmental, willing to try and love the world, encouraging, and most of all willing to try. Amen"

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Not All Inmates Are The Same: Abolishment Of The "Convict Code" by Jeff Utnage

The "convict code" is a term used to describe expected behaviours of prisoners. It is universal and no matter what prison you go to there are basic rules you are expected to follow, here are the lion's share of them:

1. Don't talk to police
2. Stay within your race, on everything
3. You are not to walk away from a fight
4. Fight when you are called "punk" or "bitch", period, no exceptions
5. No making noise between the the hours 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. (known as 10 to 10)
6. If someone is being hurt, in any way, act as if it's not happening
7. Respect "shot callers" (prison gang "leaders")

There are other ones, but these are the important ones. All of them have some purpose to serve the prison hierarchy system. I do not know where they all came from, I have good ideas, like the 10 to 10 rule, this is both from open bar cell blocks where if you make a noise the whole tier hears it, remaining quiet during sleeping hours is a must. But how these became to be commandments is beyond me.

As you go to different custody levels, like going from maximum security to minimum, these become much more pliable. Like the punk/bitch rule, not nearly as offensive in minimum custody. What does remain of the convict code is the attitude. Its the signs of aggression that remain. Guys want to put on tough acts in a place filled with people who just don't want to fight.

I am on a special needs yard, which is for sex offenders and gang drop outs. This prison is unique because the levels of violence are extremely low in comparison to other prisons. This is due to the general humility of the inmates because coming here means you have gone against the convict code. Coming here means you reject the rules of engagement for prison and embrace normal societal behaviours. This is intolerable for those wrapped up in the classic inmate mentality.

This is the difference of inmates, one group practises normal societal behaviours while the other rejects it entirely to embrace a life of extreme violence. We are easy to spot, the difference is clear as day and night. It is so obvious that it boggles the mind why prison officials wouldn't do a better job of separating us. Those who want extreme violence should go to maximum security where they are handled efficiently and can learn to tire of such nonsense, while those who want to change now and are willing to work at it should go to prisons where this change is nurtured and fostered into full rehabilitation.

Ask yourself this: Of the two groups, which do you want back into society?

Now ask yourself this: Why isn't your government allowing that to take place? Why aren't prisons making this simple and obvious distinction and nurturing normal societal behaviours?

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

Monday, September 17, 2018

If I Built A Prison #2 (September 2018 Theme) by Jeff Utnage "Jeffebelle"

Would you consider imprisonment a crime against humanity? I would.

I committed a crime, yes. I knew the punishment was imprisonment, yes. Yet despite that, I still committed a crime. So has over 2 million other people who are currently incarcerated. I state that because if imprisonment in its current state was effective, then prisons would deter criminal behavior.

Prisons all over the United States have the option, at any time, to implement policies that would effectively eliminate recidivism rates. Since upwards of 60% of inmates are repeat offenders, I would think you as the general public would demand better results..seeing as how you're paying for this service. However, we are given labels by "experts" who have never spoken to most of us. Labels that deem us violent, or likely to re offend. However, it doesn't take an expert to know that 60 out of 100 inmates nationally will commit another crime and if you label the majority high-violent, you would be right more often than not.

The important element of the recidivism that goes unnoticed is the role of the prisons staff. I mean on all levels in all prisons. The theme is getting tough on crime, make this place terrible to be so people won't want to come here, deterrence. What is so hard to understand about this doesn't work?

How many times must you bash your head against a wall before you figure out your head is not a good wrecking ball? If prisons being scary as hell prevented violent acts, it would have been done already...wouldn't you think? We could say, let's make them tougher, scarier, add military regimentation etc. Make things even more psychologically disastrous. Hey, we've done that already. It didn't work then, it won't work now.

So what's the answer? First, hold prisons accountable, and by prisons I mean the people that operate them...and not just the governmental level. Often times a Senator comes through a prison and the local staff go through great lengths to make sure they seem altruistic. When in fact, most of these cats are your everyday, average Joe who just wants to come in and get paid. When they are having a bad day, we all know. Seems fair...

Until you understand that these "average Joe's" have limited interest in my psychological well-being and have almost no training in the long or short-term effects of abuses of authority... or what abuse of authority looks like. All they really know is make sure we follow the rules. Most of which are responses, extreme responses, to lawsuits or revenge for the action of one. Most of which wouldn't have been necessary if rehabilitation was the core motivating factor.

But its not. Keeping me within this razor wire is the core motivating factor and by doing so, the community is safer. But about when I get out? What resources are available to undo the damages and unnatural psychosocial behaviour prison produces? What did prison do to help?

There is so much that could be done that would save billions of tax dollars and millions of victims. But instead, prison staff has the country convinced we are not going to change and they have nothing to do with it. Wrong, prison staff have a 50% stake in every victimization that occurs from recidivism because everyone of them is a result of their inability to rehabilitate and manage the funds given to do so.

But hey, at least I learned that giving my neighbor a meal is a criminal offense...ahh, rehabilitation at work. You, the community are now safer because I cannot lend a single scoop of instant coffee to someone who could use one...because that's the focus of rehabilitation.

With Love
Jeff Utnage

Friday, September 14, 2018

If I Built A Prison: September 2018 Theme by Jeff Utnage

I have often pondered what would make prison a more effective rehabilitation tool. Let us be completely honest here, if prison effectively rehabilitated felons, then prisons would have worked themselves out of a need hundreds of years ago. So the logical conclusion is that prison administration is FAILING. So what would make it work? That is the topic of this particular writing indeed.

Here is a quick list of major points, expanded upon below:

1. Create more Special Needs Yards (SNY's)
2. Focus more on mental health
3. Eliminate "broken windows" tactics
4. Eliminate militarization
5. Educate
6. Utilize inmate designed rehabilitation programs

So there is a quick list of some things, there are many more though. However, if I built a prison, these things would be our focal point. With a few additions. First of all, I would drive home to all my employees that every year they have a job is another failure on their part. The number one goal is to eliminate victimization through recidivism and that 33% of that responsibility rests squarely on the backs of all DOC employees. The other 67% is divided between our communities and the offender themselves. Most importantly would be the role of staff, under no circumstances would they add to the psychological degradation of an inmate. More on that in a minute though. Let us expand upon our list.

If you were to tell an inmate they could go to a prison with no violence, most would choose to go there. Then, if you told them no one would hassle them over tucked in shirts, unmade beds, or when the rec areas are open that would definitely get their attention. Then if you went further and provided adequate mental health care using qualified mental health professionals...then we are getting somewhere.

Yes, folks who come here are damaged, but not beyond repair. Child molesters, rapists and murder are ingrained in our minds as the most offensive. They hurt our communities the most leaving untold amounts of pain behind, no doubt. But I know hundreds of perpetrators of all kinds of crimes and so many of them are entirely different people after the right kind of help is administered, myself included.

In order to understand why prisons in their current condition do not work, we must go back to the end of American slavery. Prisons began to be packed full of inmates when cotton farmers needed free laborers after slavery was abolished. To appease the agricultural community, which was our economic bread and butter at that time, laws were instituted to create a new free labor force for cotton farmers to choose from, inmates.

Those who made their living from controlling slaves needed jobs, where was their demand when slavery was abolished? Prisons. Since prisoners took slaves place the same problems with the same demographic occurred, mental control was still needed. So, make sure the prisoner feels that they have no power over authority and are in a lesser class (use of military-like persons and make sure the public deems the offender as less than) that way they are less likely to rebel. Anyway, I could write a book on this, and I just might, but for now let us move on.

Our current prison system is still using the tactics of the slave trade. Corrections Officers are nothing more than modernized slave keeps. Probation and Parole officers are nothing more than modernized runaway slave trackers and punishers. The exact same tactics used by these professions are interchangeable, mostly psychological in nature and designed to make a person feel incapable and powerless over themselves. Where the path to regain personal empowerment is complete and total submission unto the presented authorities. Staff eat it up like the ocean dissipates dye droplets because we are "deserving" of such treatment.

Lest I should make this unread ably long, I will end here for today. However, I have an entire month to talk about this and further distinguish my points.

I hope you decide to participate in this conversation.

With Love
Jeff "Jeffebelle" Utnage

To stand for something better By Christopher Havens

To stand for something better        By Christopher Havens

I believe that the prisons are essentially bad neighborhoods. To have a good neighborhood, where we can live in peace, we must stop with the facade of the convict code. This, I believe is a central contributor to the convict mentality, and thus, the cause of the bulk of bad living in prisons. Enjoy, The Convict Code.

In Prisons across the United States, there are two general types of prisoners. The convict, and the inmate. The convict lives by a code of sorts where a set of unspoken rules defines their daily life. The inmate is generally defined as such by not knowing those rules. 

To the convict: Your code has raped and murdered the meaning of respect. You have ostracized the decent folk who look odd and have peculiar personalities, by deeming them "Weirdo's" and now all of your little sycophants have jumped to follow suit. Lemmings. You have created the atmosphere that separates incarceration from rehabilitation. Usually, one by one, you're palatable, but as your numbers grow, your viewpoint changes to match that of the whole group.

He who lives by some convict code.. some creed, is obviously not able to make his own choices as to what's right and wrong. You, the convict, are everything I stand against. The convict code... you do realize that this is the a "code of conduct"... a "way to live" .. ...thought up by a bunch of guys who can't make good decisions!?? 

Anyone who feels that the respectful thing to do when using the facilities is to flush 600 times just to drop a quick deuce is not who I will be modeling my behaviors from. How respectful is for the guys on both sides of you, above and below, who have to listen to your toilet flushing for the next half an hour?? And look dude, it's very wasteful. STOP IT. 

Lemme ask you something.. Am I the only one here who thinks it's weird that a single word to the convict has such power, that should he be called that word, well then he is obligated to react in a violent way. You can call me what you want.. because first of all, I can decide if it was meant in play or otherwise. Now IF it was meant as an insult, then I'm an adult, I'll go associate with somebody who enjoys my company. That simple. You see, the convict code provides a social expectation to handle the situation in a violent way, otherwise you're a "punk"... woooo. bad word. need to react. And that's fine if you're a lemming. That sits wrong with me for several reasons. First, a word is a word. And I'm not a monkey who has to fight ever time another monkey sticks his chest out to me. Secondly, and more fundamentally, if a guy calls me a punk or a bitch, or wants to fight me, then there are real good chances that I don't like the guy in the first place. Now pay close attention, because here's the kicker. (slowly) Why would I go to the hole... ... ... for somebody I don't like? (point to your head)

If you're looking for the recipe for institutionalization, then you'll find it in the convict code. That us/them attitude is perfect if you're trying to cultivate the negative stigma that society already has on us. So for any of you who identify as being a convict, ...nobody's perfect. We still like you. But realize that we respect people who can live by their own good judgment, and not some code of falsity set forth by a bunch of idiots. You're an individual, not a lemming. Act like it. It's time we grew up, and started making decisions that aren't made for us by people who spend their time trying to become better criminals. You've made it this far. Baby steps right?

In conclusion, there are changes in the air. WE! The do-ers and free thinkers of this institution, are bringing down the convict code. You can stand with us or you can stand against us, but know this!! It's inevitable. It's already begun. You can't stop it. It's a new world, and if you want any chance of making it out there, I invite you... walk with us. For there is no more room for the convict. You are going extinct. Gentlemen, you all need to see something.. Please.. everyone who rejects the convict code, raise your hands up high. all of you. Now... this next part is important. Those of you who are actively working to abolish the convict code, stand up. ... ... ... Men, is there any wonder that these are the leaders in their respective communities throughout the prison? The do-ers and freethinkers. Give them a round of applause!! ............ please stay standing.

Today we recognize a paradigm shift. Today we dump a bucket of water on an otherwise dry plot of land. WE ARE THE SEEDS!!! And we invite you!