Human Rights

Case Studies on Prison Injustices


Watching The Watchers

April 11, 2010

Dr. Suess, in his book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, poses a worker bee in Hawtch-Hawtch that is suspected of not working very hard. A Bee Watcher is hired to keep an eye on the lazy worker bee under the assumption that a watched bee will work harder. Despite his being watched, the worker bee did not seem to work any harder, so it was decided to employ a Bee Watcher-Watcher to make certain that the Bee Watcher was doing his job. Time and bureaucracy lumbered on, leading to a whole line of Bee Watcher-Watchers, boosting the employment rolls and assuring that nothing would ever be done to upset the status quo.
LD1611, a bill that would have restricted the prolonged isolation of prisoners with diagnosed mental illness, disintegrated into a resolve that has the Maine Department of Corrections studying the problem with the objective of pointing out ways that prison officials can maintain security without harming the mental health of their charges. As a former legislator, I quickly recognized this soft pitch as a means of placating the growing number of the public that has an aversion to turning mentally ill prisoners directly out onto the streets or further exacerbating their stability through isolation. That growing public aversion was condemned in the House debate by distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety as an “insult” to hard working staff who “put their lives on the line every day.”
LD1611 follows suit behind such initiatives as the Visiting Committee, the Board of Corrections and other councils and committees so enmeshed in the Department of Corrections that you literally cannot find your way to the rest room without an escort. The Bee Watchers and the Bee Watcher-Watchers are now happily watching each other in mutual collaboration instead of initiating much-needed change.
In June, 2009, OPEGA, the legislative Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, submitted a report on the systemic staff culture at Maine State Prison. Having determined reluctance on the part of prison staff to report unethical or dangerous situations within the prison for fear of discrimination or reprisal, the report was moved to the jurisdiction of the Board of Corrections. The Board of Corrections, under the astute maneuvering of the legislative oversight committee, directed the Department of Corrections to continue its cultural change work and report back. Translation: “Bury this report in your cultural change file.”
In wondering how to confront the denial that seems entrenched in this addictive system, I have come up with a possible remedy. Submit a bevy of bills in this next legislative session that keep the Department of Corrections busy rounding up the troops to circle the wagons and watching each other watch each other. Keep them so busy on defense that the legislators on the committee will eventually come to the inevitable conclusion that the shroud of secrecy that envelopes the Department has to be pierced in order to drag Maine kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
Are you watching?

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Prisons Worlds Apart Connected By Attitude

stan-moody-forgiveness-project April 5, 2010
A common defense against criticism of the treatment of prisoners under the jurisdiction of Maine’s Department of Corrections is to say, “Prisons in Maine are nothing like other prisons in the United States.”  Yet, in response to my recent article on Maine’s Prison Secrets , I received an email from Mwalimu Johnson, an alumnus of what is considered to be the bloodiest prison in America – Louisiana State Prison at Angola:  “I could not help thinking of some of my personal experiences during my periods of incarceration,” he said, “especially my experiences while in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana.”
Could it be possible that there is a common culture shared by prisoners in the state with the lowest incarceration rate and those in the state with the highest?  I determined to meet Mwalimu Johnson to determine what I, as a white, privileged Yankee, could possibly know about conditions at dreaded Angola, one of the last refuges for Jim Crow.  Jim Crow laws, you will recall, legitimized anti-Black racism in the South. Officials at every level – church and state – believed that Blacks were intellectually and culturally inferior to Whites.   Angola’s 5,500 prisoners, 95% of whom are lifers; 80% of whom are black, are “employed” as farm workers, picking cotton at pennies an hour.
Yet, it isn’t the cotton picking or even the disproportion of blacks in LA prisons that is at the root of the common prison culture between Maine and Louisiana.  It is that we have created a class of inferior citizens.  Prisoners, black or white, are believed to be intellectually and culturally inferior to the rest of us.  Within every prison in the US, these living examples of our failures as a society, squirreled away from pubic view, are further divided into intellectual and cultural classes by crime, by race, by financial net worth, by sexual orientation, by physical bearing and by usefulness to staff. Talk with prison officials anywhere in the US, and you customarily will hear stories about process, policy and danger and rarely, if ever, about humanity.  That is our common prison heritage.
I invited Mwalimu and activist writer, Jordan Flaherty, to meet with me at the posh Roosevelt hotel in New Orleans where I was staying.  I was unprepared for the reality.  In Mwalimu, who is confined to a wheelchair as the result of being shot in his lower spine by FBI agents responding to a bank robbery in which he was not involved, there was a peace and tranquility and authority that transcended race, culture and education.  Mwalimu had somehow found Victor Frankl’s secret to “Man’s Search for Meaning” – that peace in this life is not in our circumstances but in our attitudes toward our circumstances.
To prison officials throughout the US, therefore, I would encourage them to stop dwelling on their circumstances (“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve Seen”) and begin charting a course toward raising human dignity wherever it can be found.
You can learn more about Mwalimu Johnson at the Forgiveness Project,  

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Are Maine Prisons Out Of Control

stan-moody-wagon_circle April 13, 2010
Maine, the State with the lowest incarceration rate in the nation, appears to be losing to suspicious death a disproportionate number of prisoners from within its segregation facilities.  This seems somewhat odd in view of the concerted effort that the Department of Corrections undertook over the past month to defend itself against legislative bill LD1611, an initiative intended to put reasonable restraints on the use and abuse of segregation within Maine’s prisons.  Under the time-worn idiom of circling the wagons, the Department pulled out all the stops in opposing the bill, succeeding in reducing it down to a resolve to study itself.  A highly respected Captain at Maine State Prison broke down sobbing at the hearing, accusing the sponsors of the bill of insulting the good people in Corrections, insisting that he had never maced anyone.  That theme was picked up by the Hon. Rep. Richard Sykes of Harrison, who was heard on the House floor to accuse supporters of the bill of insulting those good people at the prisons who “…put their lives on the line every day,” a debatable premise.
Not only did the Department call on scores of employees to testify against the bill, they corralled numerous others to wear protest stickers and lobby in the halls of the State House, an uncomfortable picture of the activities of our state employees.  On the day the House was first expected to debate the bill, employees reportedly were ordered that they were to put on the stickers and report to the 2nd floor of the Capital building, presumably taking the treasured “Comp Time” to avoid the lobbying restrictions imposed on government employees.
Yet, 3 people have died within the past year ... (Please click HERE to continue reading)

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I Just Dont Get It

stan-moody-question-mark April 3, 2010

As do all new employees, I had the good fortune of receiving 8 weeks of orientation before assuming my role as a prison chaplain at Maine State Prison in Warren. 
Sprinkled in among the good information was a litany of well-worn horror stories that have become common prison lore.  As these stories of guns, blood, feces and urine bore up under repetition, I began to wonder how many years had transpired between these events.  It is almost as though working in a prison involves waiting for the next shoe to drop while running through your head what you are supposed to do when it does. 
These stories are very familiar to the press, to the legislature and to staff, so much so that when something serious happens, like the hostage-taking incident in the library, the public just yawns, thinking that it is business as usual.  You cannot be heard to object to lack of press coverage if you create the impression that every day you go into the prison you take your life in your hands. 
The stories are decidedly one-sided.  They omit references to the kind of medical and security neglect that led to the death of Prisoner Weinstein and injuries to a parade of others over the years.
Somehow, we have created a fear culture of them vs. us.  Fear leads to playing defense instead of offense.  Playing defense leads to protecting yourself instead of those you have been hired to protect. 
Is it any wonder that morale among guards is rock bottom?  They have been indoctrinated with fear and put in uniform on their first day at work only to be coached by others taking great pride in having stayed the course while walking a gauntlet.  Does it not seem logical that if you do your job with respect for human dignity, are consistent and fair, are blind to a prisoner’s crime, are willing to listen, you can work miracles while assuring your own safety?  The problem is that respect for human dignity, fairness, objectivity and willingness to listen are in short supply from the top down and therefore are not characteristics well respected. 
The stories of trouble within school systems that have been making the news lately ... (to continue reading this, please follow the link to

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Piercing the Shroud of Secrecy

stan-moody-american-flag April 1, 2010

I have been accused from within the bowels of the Maine Department of Corrections of being a “conspiracist” – one who looks for secret agendas behind blood oaths taken in a back room somewhere in the dark of night.  That got me to thinking about institutional parallels to the shroud of secrecy that envelops every prison in the United States and stands as a defense against significant reform. 
Psychologist and best-selling author, Anne Wilson Schaef, wrote a blockbuster book some years ago entitled “When Society Becomes an Addict” (Harper Collins, 1988).  Her thesis was that defense of the institutional soul (in this case the prison culture) is not an overt, calculated strategy but is born out of the dysfunction of individuals who serve the institution.  Individual co-dependency, defined by some as a “progressive, degenerative, fatal disease,” is rendered noble through the strength of the institution.  The institution becomes the protector of the dysfunctional individual by giving power and voice and thereby legitimacy to its members.
There are very few blood oaths taken in support of dysfunctional systems.  They just evolve.
Lest I be accused of over-simplification, the parallels between the prison guard culture (from which virtually all prison administration derives) and the military culture are striking.
As a former member of the military, I cannot recall any with whom I served or have since known who enlisted for the noble purpose to “defend our nation.”  Yet, that is the agenda that is publicly marketed in reference to anyone in the military:  “He/she unselfishly served his country.”  Why do we join?  A number of reasons occur – getting away from home; boredom; ADHD; need for a job; vocational training; promises of college tuition; the draft (today referred to as calling up your National Guard unit).  Rarely in our national history has anyone enlisted for the noble purpose of defense of country.  Exceptions might be brief periods immediately following Fort Sumter, sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor and 9/1l, nobility quickly deflating when fired upon. 
“Defense of nation” becomes the noble rationale for military service, despite the evidence that most wars are political or economically motivated and are neither just nor actions against genuine threats to national security.
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Maines Prison Secrets

stan-moody-secret March 25, 2010
Having worked in industry, started and operated my own businesses, been a pastor, a state legislator and a prison chaplain and lived from Maine to California, there isn’t much that surprises me anymore.  I have to say, however, that I was taken aback when I received a call from a Deputy Warden at Maine State Prison at 9:30 am on Monday, April 27, 2009.
“Stan, the warden wishes to express his appreciation for your report on your conversation with Sheldon Weinstein last Friday.”
Weinstein died of a ruptured spleen on Friday, April 24, in cell B117 of Maine State Prison’s Special Management Unit within an hour or so of my request that he be given toilet paper.  He had been using his pillow case, but he had no pillow anyway.  That was all in my report.
“We are launching an investigation and are asking that you keep your report secret until the investigation is complete.”  Then, to punctuate the intrigue, she reiterated as a warning shot across my bow the point of her call, “Stan, we have to keep this secret for a long time.”  To establish a record of the conversation, I confirmed it with mutual emails minutes later.
What is it that we have to keep secret?  By that time, Weinstein’s death was a matter of public record.  I had had a robust conversation with Sheldon before requesting the toilet paper for him.  That he could die of “natural causes” within an hour or two of our conversation was puzzling.  That he was found sitting on his bed with his feet on his wheelchair, the exact opposite of his attitude when we talked, was even more puzzling.
What’s the secret here?  Was it lack of toilet paper or the implication of foul play or the implication of medical and security neglect?  Why would prison administration make a point of sending me a clear message that I was to keep quiet about this for “a long time”?
Here is it, 11 months later, and all we have heard from this investigation is that in mid June it was officially ruled by the Maine State Police as a homicide.  The Attorney General’s Office remains silent.  The Governor’s Office remains silent.  The Department of Corrections has raised a smoke screen in hiring a new warden and marshalling righteous indignation over the language of LD1611, a bill to tighten controls over abuse in segregation.  What are they trying to keep secret?
It is really not that complicated.
Everything in prison is a secret.  Prisons operate under a shroud of secrecy.  Maine State Prison is particularly easy to keep secret because it is an antiseptic environment that exudes the feeling of openness while protecting a veneer over the human element of incarceration – of both staff and prisoners.
The biggest secrets, however, are buried within the folds of personnel reports.  To become an administrator at the prison, you have to have put in your time in the trenches.  While you must carry out the dictates of a myriad of written policies handed down by the Department of Corrections, you cannot be caught operating strictly by the book.  “Get the job done, but don’t tell us how you did it.”  In other words, do what you can to maintain control and keep everything secret, including what you do and  how you do it, for “a long time” – long enough, hopefully, for the problem to go away.  The unwritten rule is CYA and ours.  The avalanche of prisoner lawsuits piling up in the AG’s office is testimony that not everyone is fooled by the façade of transparency.
Prison administrators lock into the 3-monkey defense – “see no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.” Prison guards are left with their heinies hanging out in the breeze.  The Department of Corrections, safely lodged far away in Augusta, can continue to churn out policies to cover every circumstance and feign surprise when something goes awry and talk about bad apples in the barrel. Guards, meanwhile, being the lowest on the food chain, always take the heat when something happens – usually with paid administrative leave and return to duty after a respectable period of unavailability for comment.
The “long blue line” of secrecy is amazingly impenetrable even among those who have left for greener pastures.
Sheldon Weinstein would have been 65 years old on Friday, March 26, exactly 4 weeks to the day from when he was found deceased in his cell, efficiently processed and bureaucratically dispatched. How do I know that?  I must keep that secret for “a long time.” 

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We Kill Sex Offenders Dont We

March 22, 2010
There are times when I come face-to-face with my own ignorance.  This may be one of those times.
Sheldon Weinstein, a confessed sex offender from New York State, had a brief exposure (albeit a poor choice of words) – about 6 months – to the Maine Department of Corrections hospitality.
During those 6 months, he “fell” from his top bunk at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, broke his leg and arm and suffered other injuries.  Wheelchair bound, he was sent to the Infirmary at Maine State Prison for physical therapy.  Next, he was classified Medium Custody and housed in a POD notorious for beating sex offenders and “rats,” those prisoners who inform on those who beat them or on those who assist them in “falling” from their top bunks or “hitting” themselves in the eye with a basketball.
On April 20, 2009, Weinstein was beaten in his cell.  On April 23, he was put into segregation for “his own protection.”  On April 24, he was found dead in that cell shortly after being given toilet paper for which I had to advocate.  Cause of death:  ruptured spleen.
Prison staff reacted – “good riddance; one less mouth to feed.”  Prisoners reacted – “good riddance.”  I was called by administration and told, “We have to keep this secret for a long time.”  The media in Maine reacted – “Won’t touch that with a ten-foot barge pole.”  Cowardly bloggers reacted – “One less scumbag.”  His widow, meanwhile, a highly successful executive for a prominent US corporation, was shipped his ashes with the explanation, “death by natural causes.”
Fast forward to the present, and we find the legislature and the Maine Department of Corrections quibbling over the wording of a bill, LD1611, that would restrict abuse in segregation, known in politically incorrect circles as “solitary confinement.”  Try to proffer Weinstein as the poster boy for medical and security abuse in segregation, and it is politely ignored on the grounds that certain criminals do not make good poster boys.
Too bad Weinstein was not a murderer who had managed to put a big hole in the lives of a family and leave them with nightmares.  Too bad he was not simply a drug dealer, who had ruined countless families by stringing their kids on drugs.  Too bad he hadn’t been a white color criminal who took the life savings from elderly citizens on fixed incomes or a drunk driver who killed some law-abiding citizen.
He was, unfortunately, a sex offender who had been sentenced to 2 years of incarceration and managed to struggle through the first 6 months before being subjected to the crematorium.
Sheldon Weinstein: brilliant; Jewish; sex offender; dead within 6 months of incarceration; who cares?
You can read his story here:

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A Pearl in the Desert

stan-moody-prison-reform-desert While it was my pleasure to serve for nearly 2 years as a Chaplain at Maine State Prison, I was forced to conclude that religious programming, while serving as an outlet for prisoners and as a strengthening force in their daily lives, has limited value in developing the kind of life skills that serve the public’s interest in rehabilitation of criminals.  The data offers little encouragement that religious programming in prisons reduces recidivism, defined by most as “re-arrest, re-conviction and re-incarceration” measured over a period of a minimum of 3 years.
Prisoners refer to religious programming as “Jesus in the lobby.”  You meet Him on the way in and say “goodbye” to Him on the way out with little evidence of life-altering faith.  There are, of course, notable exceptions not only through Christian faith but other faiths.
I turned my attention to a political concern – how to reduce recidivism and cut the enormous cost and human waste of incarceration.  I found that recidivism could be reduced from 60% down to around 10% with a 6-month re-entry program that included 4 elements:  housing, mentoring, job training and drug and alcohol treatment.  Two of those elements are very evident in Maine’s prison system – job training and drug and alcohol treatment.  Alone, however, such noble efforts cannot produce impressive results.

To read this document in its entirety, please go to

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Neighbor to Neighbor

stan-moody-prison-reform-neighborhood So the question lingers, “How do you keep your neighborhood safe when some of your neighbors have been victimized by other neighbors who are now being warehoused in larger and larger numbers by still other neighbors?”  How do victims become compensated by longer and harsher sentences that strip people of their last shred of decency and destroy their family units?  Off hand, it seems like a self-perpetuating system – a zero sum game.

To read this document in its entirety, please go to

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Was Weinstein Murdered

stan-moody-prison-reform-weinstein-wheelchair I have written an exhaustive narrative on the circumstances surrounding the death of Prisoner Weinstein but will hold that narrative until I sense that there is movement toward justice in this case.  There can be no rationalization for his crime.  Yet, he was not sentenced to the death to which he was consigned.  He had a surprising background that defies common stereotypes of sex offenders.  The way in which prison officials handled the matter with his surviving family speaks volumes about a profound failure of conscience.

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