Cruel and Unusual Prisioner Punishment

by Diane Dimond on August 27, 2012

Temps in Cell Blocks Can Reach 130 Degrees!

~Thousands of inmates across the country held in inhumane conditions~

If you are reading this anywhere in America you know firsthand that this summer has been a record-breaking sizzler. We could be living though the hottest summer season ever.

Think about what you’ve done to keep cool. You’ve turned on your air conditioner or (if you don’t have one) maybe you’ve gone to the movies to cool off. You probably drink lots of ice cold beverages or jump into a swimming pool or cool shower. Perhaps, like my friend Lester, you drench a kitchen towel, twist it into a U-shape and plop it in the freezer to hang around your neck when working outside.

Well, imagine you couldn’t do any of those things. Imagine you were isolated in a 10 foot by 12 foot space with no windows to open up to catch a cooling breeze. You had no fan, no relief and no escape.

Prisoners Die of Heat Exhaustion

That’s what countless prisoners in America have had to endure this long, hot summer. In the past their situation has proved deadly.

In Texas, a lawsuit was filed after ten inmates died from heat-related causes last summer. All were held in cell blocks without air-conditioning. The suit, filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project, focuses on what was called the “wrongful death” of inmate Larry McCollum.

Even though the federal courts have ruled that temperatures over 90 degrees violate the constitutional rights of an inmate, the Hutchins State jail in Dallas where McCollum died of heat stroke registered an indoor heat index of almost 130 degrees. After he collapsed last July and was taken to the hospital doctors found McCollum’s body temperature still registered over 109 degrees! The autopsy on the 58 year old prisoner listed his cause of death as living “in a hot environment without air conditioning.” One unnamed Texas corrections official was quoted saying about his prisoners, “I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells.”

Prison Guards Suffer in Stifling Cell Blocks Too

It’s not just Texas where inmates are suffering and, in my opinion, being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. In sunny Florida only ten of the 140 state-run prisons have air conditioning. But in those facilities with air the cool sections are limited to just a few sections. It is somehow ironic that in a state where they have prison classes to teach inmates how to install and maintain air conditioners there aren’t any in the vast majority of their oppressively hot cell blocks.

In Chicago, this summer’s life-threatening heat is the worst they’ve seen in more than a century. In the lock-ups that do have air conditioners the units are reported to be breaking down from almost constant use. Add to that an outbreak of bedbugs within the system this year and both inmates and prison personnel are left to face a duel threat – unsanitary conditions and heat exhaustion. The union representing prison guards says the situation has created a condition of, “Extreme fatigue and dangerous conditions … a recipe for disaster.” It’s a reminder that it is not just prisoners who are affected by the extreme heat it’s also prison personnel. (At a prison near Rosharon, Texas earlier this summer a 58 year old corrections official fainted and the hospital ruled it was from heat exhaustion.)

Trapped Like Animals in Hot Summer Temps

In Iowa, cooling systems have kept many of the 8,300 inmates comfortable this scorching summer but taken together the Mount Pleasant and Clarinda Correctional Facilities and the Anamosa State Prison has close to 1,900 inmates who have no air conditioning at all. In the prison at Mitchellville where another 547 inmates live there is no cool air in any of the older sections of the complex.

Imagine having to endure this summer trapped in a small, confined, almost airless space. We have strict laws against leaving a child or an animal in a hot, enclosed car. Put aside for a moment the crime committed that caused the prisoner to be incarcerated and ask yourself: Shouldn’t we also care about human beings confined in stifling, life-threatening conditions? Of course we should.

Officials in states across the nation say there simply isn’t enough money in their budgets to retrofit all prisons with central air conditioning. So for now, they combat the threat of possible death-by-heat by catering, first, to those inmates with health problems (like diabetes and high blood pressure) and, second, to those locked up in the hottest sections of the prison. Electric fans, ice and water are being handed out to prisoners across the nation much more frequently than in years gone by.

Its Too Expensive to Install Central Air

I couldn’t find a reported death of an inmate from heat-exhaustion so far this summer. But, that doesn’t mean some prisoners aren’t still being held in inhumane conditions. Who is out there taking the temperature inside every prison and making sure it doesn’t go over the court mandated ninety degrees? Nobody, that’s who.

Look, I understand there are some people who think that once a criminal is convicted they should lose all their constitutional rights. In other words, if life is tough on the inside, so be it. But it’s never been the American tradition to treat our own people worse than we would treat an animal. If climate change means every summer will be increasingly brutal we better figure out a way to fix this or there could be a flood of wrongful death suits to pay.
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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Facebook Friend Dick Farrel writes:

“OH, be still my bleeding heart….hey, if they don’t wanna be there…they shouldn’t have committed a crime…EZ FIX!!!! Joe Arpaio’s logic.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Ambrose Martinez writes:

“Ms. Dimond, After reading your article in Saturday’s Albuquerque Journal OP-Ed page, “Hot Enough for You?” I felt I had to respond.
The article got my attention because I am in a similar position in the summer months, not being in prison, thank goodness, but I spend 10 to 11 hours a day 5 days a week in a delivery truck. These trucks have no A/C although they do have fans to recirculate the hot air, they also reach temperatures of 130 plus degrees in the summer months. I’ve also had the experience of passing out and being taken to a hospital due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. The company I work for has no intention on installing A/C in any of their trucks any time soon. Would these conditions be considered “inhumane”? could I sue the company for having to work under such “inhumane” conditions? I think not. I have a choice, I could choose not to work here, not have a roof over my head, not have food to eat, not have medical care, and probably have to rely on the government to provide these services to me. Something prisoners are entitled to. I have a choice, just like the people in these prisons, they had choices. Their choices landed them in prison. I’ve read about the Duran Consent Decree, and I understand prisoners are still entitled to some rights. but I feel if I could be subjected to these ‘inhumane’ conditions, there shouldn’t be any reason why they can’t be subjected to the same. Sorry, I can’t sympathize. In my opinion too may people worry too much about what these prisoners go through and forget about the crimes they committed to land themselves in prison.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Facebook Friend Sharon Calcaterra Ellebrecht writes:

“AWWWWW….poor murderers, rapists,child abusers, thieves and so on and so on……..don’t want to do the time? Don’t do the crime. Sorry, as a law abiding citizen, I have no sympathy!”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Facebook Friend Danielle Stewart writes:

“I’m sorry, but I have no pity for them. Prisons need to be somewhere where you don’t want to go. Should not be a “spa getaway.””

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Facebook Friend Ted David writes:

“Joe Arpaio is a Neanderthal when it comes to corrections. I fully believe in locking people up for the crimes they commit, no plea bargains and no time off for good behavior. BUT there is such as thing as human rights and as Diane points out these people sweltering behind bars have NO human rights. Neither do the COs watching them. People who were sentenced to do time are now facing the ultimate penalty because of weather! Air condition the prisons, and then make the inmates do every last second of time they have coming to them. BUT we’re not in the business of murdering people. I believe it was Dostoevsky who said, a people is judged by how it treats it prisoners. We should remember that.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich TOO BAD………
If all those cretins didn’t do something heinous enough to be in prison in the FIRST PLACE, then they’d have no reason to bitch…….
Baretta ALWAYS said “If you CAN’T do the TIME, DON’T do the CRIME……..LET EM’ SUFFER. HUMAN RIGHTS?????? THAT’S A STINKING JOKE………..The ONLY ones that HAVE human rights, ironically enough are all the stinking animals that are locked up in those cages……NOT their victims.
Sorry, Henrietta, but those assholes GAVE UP their human rights when they comitted those crimes…….

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Facebook Friend Dylan Skriloff writes:

“While some of the prisoners may actually deserve torture, it’s not for us to judge. We cannot run a prison system like that. Hard labor is fair punishment, boiling people’s organs by making them sit in a 130 degree box is wrong. And all these types of people posting who get so self-righteous, it’s pathetic!! This country was not founded on torturing people, even ones who deserve it.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Facebook Friend David Townsend writes:

“I saw a brand new state of the art prison, at the time, turned into barely functional piece of trash within a few years. The inmates, made it the hell hole they complained about. I am very sympathetic person but believe me, spend a few years around inmates, prisons as part of your Job, you will walk away with little if any sympathy for them.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Facebook Friend Marti Castrenze writes:

” dont get locked up plain and simple.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm

ABQ Journal Reader RKarpe writes:

“Your article is another perfect example of why one should obey the laws and not become incarcerated.
However, please do not make the prisoners victims. Instead, how about writing an article praising our military and the inhumane conditions they endure to keep people as you and me free.
In remembrance of our military and the sacrifices they endure.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 4:50 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Alice writes:

NOTE: Alice ministers to prisoners and those newly released

“Thanks for a super article. Sorry you won’t be at our convention where folks will have endless stories on the conditions they or their loved ones have endured – Not only heat but bitter COLD, attacks from so-called officers, medical neglect, people left to die in solitary and the stories go on and on. You are right about more care for pets.
What wrongful death suits when often families have totally turned their backs on their family members? The media has long ago convinced them their family member is a total disgrace and they should run in the opposite direction. I have visited several (and I haven’t really visited many) who tell me I am the first visitor in 10 years. I don’t know the answer and the extreme selfishness being developed in this country seems not to know or care about the problem of prison inmates. I hate to say I am a Republican as I see them putting more and more emphasis on police power, as is being shown now by our Republican prosecutor governor.
I commend you for speaking up.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Facebook Friend William Drummond writes:

“”Distrust all those in whom the urge to punish is powerful.” — F.W. Nietsche.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Friend Patti Petow writes:

“Come on folks, where do you draw the line? These folks were sentenced to prison for committing crimes of some sort or another. They were not sentenced to die cruel and unusual punishments. Period.”

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Diane August 27, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Patti,

Very good point. Among those stricken in Texas were prisoners who were sentenced to just a few years for non-violent crimes – yet they died in prison. I guess it would be correct to say they REALLY got a life sentence. ~ DD

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Diane August 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

Twitter pal Rhu ?@RhuLaLa writes:

“@DiDimond boohoo! People have lived w/o AC for centuries and never committed a crime! I don’t want criminals comfortable. Great deterrent! “

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Diane August 28, 2012 at 8:31 am

Twitter pal Lynn ?@LynnKH12 writes:

“@DiDimond @sharethis Dont commit crimes and you too can have air conditioning..stupid they shouldnt have too many rights..IMO “

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disgusted August 28, 2012 at 8:49 pm

WOW! Some of the people on here should be in prison. Do you even realize you have evil in you. You speak as if every inmate should have a death sentence!! What does that make you???? I happen to have a wonderful son in prison. He has a heart of gold. He saved the life of his young sister and himself from a group of armed bullies. He should not even be in prison. His public pretender at the time was to busy enjoying the money the state gave him to defend my son and did not spend one red cent of it on his case. Did not call even one witness, and we had many. That public defender is just a legal crook. There are MANY innocent good people in prison. I can’t believe some of you people still believe in the justice system. If you ever have to go through it, maybe you will have a change of heart. My sons home was ambushed by thugs he did not even know. And now he sits in prison. And you are wishing this apon him? You should be incarcerated just for your thoughts.

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J November 13, 2012 at 2:56 am

I totally feel you here, people are so rude and quick to judge, well i guess im a judger too, but like i had said further down im in a situation now that i have more compassion. People are so awful. I hope that your son is either out or will be soon, all you can do is pray and hope that a wrong is righted.

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J November 13, 2012 at 2:58 am

I also hear the same about my fiances water, i dont think its arsenic but its something that can cause cancer if you drink it. My fiance has kidney issues so the water is no good for him anyhow.

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disgusted August 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm

And to ABQ Journal reader,
You may have no air cond. in your delivery truck and I am sorry for you. But atleast you can get a cold rag or some ice somewhere. Picture yourself in that truck with no way out and the doors are all locked from the outside, and nobody cares.
Atleast you have access to clean drinking water. The prison my son is in has UNSAFE LEVELS OF ARSENIC in the water!! He has no choice but to drink it. just google it. Kern Valley State Prison Calif. ARSENIC in the water! Many prisons have unsafe drinking water.

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Huffington Post Reader Iamamongus writes:

“Diane, I don’t have to imagine not having the lifestyle I have in the summer because I follow the rules set by society that keeps me out of prison. The fact that they get 3 meals a day, cable television, and gym equipment is more than many “free” citizens have. As a child, I remember punishments that included going to bed without dinner, no television, and revoked phone use. $60,000/year per inmate? Too much. More than most teachers make. They should’ve flown straight. I’ve never been to prison, but I’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s a place that sucks …. sucks enough to motivate me not to commit crimes. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Huffington Post Reader ok3apples writes:

“The punishment is being taken out of society for a marked period of time. The goal used to be to reform damaged lives and send productive people back into society. Now, because of the kow towing to sentiments like yours that demand eternal punishment for people (and you don’t know what these people are in jail for and you don’t know if they are even guilty of the crimes they’ve been convicted of) and no humanity shown prisons have become warehouses of festering lives where nothing is offered except brutality and then they are one day kicked to the curb and expected to function normally. I’m not proud frankly that my country bends so low and is without any form of humanity. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Huffington Post Reader Bellla writes:

“The american gulag is sucking our freedoms away. We now incarcerate a larger percentage of our own population than even China! This inhuman, unjust and corrupt system has no respect for human life and poisons everything touched by it. Am I surprised that prisoners are being confined in 130 degree cells and are dying of heatstroke? Sadly no.
However I am strongly of the opinion that Every Prisoner who dies in custody from being confined in deadly conditions should be a manslaughter charge against the wardens of those prisons responsible. They were supposed to be Jails, not Deathcamps! A warden is responsible for the lives of the prisoners in his custody, and if those people die because conditions within areuntenable for human life, He, the warden responsible has killed them and should be charged with their wanton deaths.
But the private for profit prison industry is largely a republican baby and we know for a fact that they care little for anyone’s life (post birth that is) but their own. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Huffington Post Reader Marcus01 writes:

“Crime pays. It pays the private prison companies. It pays the legislators who keep putting more and more crimes on the books in exchange for bribes, er, campaign contributions, from the prison companies who need their prisons to be filled to turn a profit. Way over half the federal crime statutes have been written since 1970. More crimes with harsh penalties have been created in the last forty years of our country than the first two hundred. That is the corruption inherent in a for-profit prison system.

Those of you who look upon criminals with disdain should think twice, because at the rate things are going we’ll all be criminals pretty soon. You could very easily be breaking laws you don’t even know exist.

“The more corrupt the state, the more laws.” – Tacitus, Roman senator and historian.”

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Huffington Post Reader Dan Stewart writes:

“The US has the highest per capita incarcerat­­­­­ion rate in the world – almost eight times that of any Western nation and higher than any national police state.

In addition, the US has the world’s largest prison population – with less than a quarter of China’s population­­, the US has almost twice as many prisoners­­­­.

Ironically­­­­­, nowhere on Earth is a person more likely to go to prison, and stay there longer, than in the Land of the Free!

Either the US is a nation of criminals or there’s something drasticall­­­­­y wrong with its criminal justice system. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm

RealityTrumpsBull writes”

“Well…not to be callous, but don’t we generally associate things like icy beverages and swimming pool romps and so forth with the Good Life, which presumably you’re able to enjoy, as a non-convicted-felon-person? Unfortunately, there’s a reason that some people are sweating it out in the Big House, one being that they did something blatantly, even violently criminal, in the past. Now, what constitutes cruel, and unusual punishment, and doesn’t the estimated 50k/yr/prisoner being spent currently nationwide, cover things like central air? I think that the first place you start, is with an audit. If there’s money being embezzled or just plain thrown away, that’s where you’re going to find it. Past that, it’s the governor’s office to ensure competency and due responsibility the inmates placed in the state’s care. But, beyond the 3 hots and a cot that the taxpaying public is required to provide convicts, there’s still that blunt and ugly fact of the causal factors that led to the person being put in the prison cell in the first place. The ACLU can scream their head off, or they can put their heads together, and figure out ways to hopefully improve the situation instead of just exacerbate it with media attention. If convicts were being brutalized, forced to fight, pitted against each other, or employed indirectly by the prison system to go out into the community and commit various forms of criminal activity, that would be one thing… “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Huff Po Bella responds:

“Yeah but they weren’t sentenced to be baked to death, they were sentenced to a period of incarceration that they should expect to survive!
No. This is wrong, very very wrong.
There should be manslaughter charges against any warden who allows those he has in custody to die of heatstroke, the warden is responsible for them and is expected to at least keep them alive if not comfortable.
But then the “party of personal responsibility” is hardly full of “responsible” men! “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Huffington Post Reader Ryvle writes:

“State budget crisis is real and serious. States should focus on schools, safety, the poor and infrastructure. If you believe in this cause, start a charity instead of demanding more tax payer funds. Also, summer time seems like a great time to run those Scared Straight camps for at risk youth. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Huffington Post Reader LordRocksavage writes:

“The most noble impulse of man is compassion for another life. “

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Diane August 30, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Huffington Post Reader StraightUpTalker writes:

“The most noble impulse of man is compassion for another life.

Obviously, many of those behind bars had no compassion for their victims and committed crimes against them, even taking their lives, not to mention heinous crimes involving children. No compassion here for violent criminals, they get what they deserve, and the punishment should fit the crime. However, since our prisons have been privatized, they’ve gotta make a profit, and providing air-conditioning to convicts is the last amenity they want to spend their profits on. “

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disgusted August 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I agree with Bella. The wardon should be held responsible. And still, so many of you just don’t see how crooked our justice system is. It is unjust. Sometimes they get the real criminal. But there are innocent human beings sitting in prisons. Many of them. The courts just want a body. They don’t care if it is the innocent one or the guilty one. As long as they have someone. I just went through the whole system for the last 5 years fighting for my innocent son. You would not believe the things I saw. All I can say is complete set ups and corruption.

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Diane September 6, 2012 at 9:23 am

Reader Donna Terry writes:

“This article was sent to me by my sister-in-law and after reading it I was wanting to open some eyes to some things that are actually done to these prisoners.

I will not send all the info to you but if you are interested you are welcome to contact me as my husband is serving 15 yrs for a crime that he has not committed and was pretty much force to plea out after several months of being given several defense attorney’s by the state and we ended up having to hire a lawyer that did not even try to help my husband. These lawyers are in this for money and not to help the person.

Prison is not like so many people think it is and maybe if people knew someone in they would open there eyes. THEY ARE TREATED AND FED LIKE ANIMALS.

They are given 3 min. to eat and it not even fit for a dog to eat. They are given no fruit at all and no ice as it said in the article. They are in a cell of at least 70 people and you may have the fan on you if you are lucky to blow hot air.

My husband has never had a record against him in his life and he is now 67 yrs old and according to law he will not even be able to get out till he serves 80% of his time.

They adv the prisoner that after they have been in a facility for 3 yrs they are able to put in to be moved closer to the family and it has been 3 ½ yrs that my husband has been in and I drive 3 hrs one way to see him once a month as that is all I can afford.

Did not mean to go on and on but the people need to know just how inhuman prisoners are treated and especially ones that are in for a first offense.”

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J November 13, 2012 at 2:54 am

Not everything is as it is cracked up to be. I have a fiance that is in a prison right now, he did some things as a teenager and i dont make excuses for him, whats done is done and he will be out soon. But for some of you people to go on about how they are treated “so” well you are very much mistaken. Sure they have exercise equipment, weights, basketball courts, tvs and stuff to that nature, but you are thinking that the state or even you pay for that? Nope its the inmates that pay for that, they have a fund that they put money into.

The institution may get 60 grand per inmate, but do you think that is actually going to the inmate? You are ignorant if you think that, my fiance gets paid 34 dollars a month and after taxes/fines its only 18, that is with his physical labor job and hes pretty much the manager in his area. And he does well over the 40 hours some of us do in a week. All you guys want to do is bust their balls about being poor inmates and so on. I dont think that a little air or heat for that matter is really gonna hurt them to have. We live in a cold state for weather in the winter, their heat doesnt even warm much, my fiance is in multiple clothing and a couple thin wool blankets, he doesnt have enough meat on him to keep him warm. But you people want to bash him because he is in a prison.

You people should be ashamed of yourselves, i honestly hope your not church goers or believers because it is definitely not your place to judge. I am far from it, but i do believe that people deserve second chances at life, i dont agree with why some of them are in there but i would never think to look down on somone else just because their life sucks just a little worse than mine does. I may not be perfect but at least i dont have to have your concious on my mind. You must live some very non fulfilling lives, to be as negative as you are. But to each his own as i always say. How would you feel if your spouse, child or sibling slipped and ended up in a prison? Would you disown them, not visit them? For their sake i would hope you take the high road. And they have to work for what they want, whomever mentioned that dogs get fed better than them are not far off.

And they have to pay to see a doctor, here i think its 3 dollars, but when you only get paid 18 a month that 3 dollars is alot. Not all the people that are in prison are there for violent crimes. Stupid stuff sometimes, but that is no reason for most of you to be so hateful. Probably being in my situation i have more compassion for others. Ive always been nice but its different now, you dont know their story and you guys wouldnt even give them the time of day.. I truly feel sorry for you. May your year bring blessings, even though you do not thing others deserve them.

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