Greener Prisons: Part 2

I talked a little last time about how prison should be a horrid place. It should be a place that they never ever want to come back to no matter how difficult their lives get. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.

I’ve heard talk about the ‘inhumaneness’ of prisons. I don’t think ‘humane’ should be applied to prisons. Ever. Once you kill someone, once you rape someone, once you torture someone, you should be stripped of all your ‘rights’. Murder, rape, whatever other things that strip someone else of their basic right to live are things that are all, for the most part, universally unacceptable. I honestly have no idea how this would happen, but I guess there is a chance that this sense would skip some people and if it did then we have a serious, serious problem. Whether people really don’t know that these things are wrong or whether they just don’t care is a question that I don’t have the answer to. In any case, prison should be a place where serious thought is given to how a person could or should change their life.

Prison should be a punishment. It should be the worst place on Earth. It should give them a shock in their system and gives them a reason to think about the path they are on and give them a reason to change. Of course, none they can’t change if we as a society never give them a chance. Throughout their time in prison they should be able to work their way up through a reward system. They should be shown what it is like to have responsibility, to have some trust them and get rewarded when they show promise. Usually prisons have a system in place where they are rewarded with a job or into a lower security prison. Those are two good options I guess unless they want to be lazy and not work, but I don’t think they really give prisoners enough coping skills to prepare them for the outside world. That’s why I like prison programs. The programs teach them new skills that they can use when they get out, makes them work maybe even to the point that they’re so exhausted they don’t energy to fight, helps them learn about responsibility or teaches them to handle their emotions.

Green programs have an added bonus. Several of these articles say that the benefits of the programs are that environmental technology and products are becoming more popular. The programs give prisoners skills that will help them out of prison.

Washington and Oregon have pretty good programs. Oregon seems to have a pretty good general understanding of what works when reducing recidivism. They even have some of the lowest rates in the country. Belfair, Wash. has a butterfly research program. Selected prisoners raise rare butterflies and help the college with their research. The prisoners are co-authored on any published research. One prisoner even said that she found her purpose. That’s what it’s all about, people. Cedar Creek, the same one I mentioned yesterday, is raising bees and endangered frogs.

Cedar Creek

Italian honey at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in rural southwest, Wash.,

Ohio is also has some green programs in place. It saved over $13,000 in 201 by sorting waste into recycling and composting piles.

Some prisons have gardens (some prisons go as far as to make them organic gardens) Of these I think gardening is my favorite. There are actually studies done about the neurological effects of gardening. For inmates it would probably help even more. It would give them a feeling of control to be able to create something like that and be the owner of even a tiny patch of ground. It would give a feeling of accomplishment. Oftentimes, the prisons will sell the produce or give it homeless shelters. The fresher the produce the more nutrients it has. Sometimes negative feelings come from a lack of nutrients, so this could also help them once they get out of jail. Also, it would help them because they have to spend less money on food.


Inmates check on plants in one of the organic gardens at the Cedar Creek Corrections Center in Washington


If prisons have any kind of green policies in place, the usually include alternative energy, which they sometimes use to heat water, recycling and compost sorting, and some have rain water collection systems and use the water to flush toilets.

These prisons are doing better than some of us are. I say it may be time to step up our game.

One Man’s Quest to be Penniless

I hope to be like this man some day. Maybe not totally like him, but more like him than I am now.  This isn’t the first story like this that I’ve heard. It was a movie that watched, Into the Wild. I was hugely inspired. There a few things that I’m holding on too tightly to for that to happen, but since I have been doing this I have let go of somethings that I never thought I could and also there are a lot of things I still have to learn how to do.  It’s a process of being so tired of being under someone else’s control. One day that day will come when I am done, worn down. He’s a quite inspiring fellow and I found hope in this story. The original site I got this from said that 26% of the people that read this story found it inspiring,too. 11% found it depressing and 4% found it boring. Anyway, here’s his story.

Daniel Suelo is 51 years old and broke. Happily broke. Consciously, deliberately, blessedly broke.

Not only does he not have debt, a mortgage or rent, he does not earn a salary. Nor does he buy food or clothes, or own any product with a lower case “i” before it. Home is a cave on public land outside Moab, Utah. He scavenges for food from the garbage or off the land (fried grasshoppers, anyone?). He has been known to carve up and boil fresh road kill. He bathes, without soap, in the creek.

In the fall of 2000, Suelo (who changed his name from Shellabarger), decided to stop using money altogether. That meant no “conscious barter,” food stamps or other government handouts. His mission was to “use only what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running,” he wrote on his web site, Zero Currency.

The question many people wonder: Is he insane, or a mooch, or simply dedicated to leading a simple, honest, dare we say, Christ-like existence?

They’re good questions. And depending whom you ask, the answers vary.

Suelo wasn’t always a modern-day caveman. He went to the University of Colorado and studied anthropology, at one point considering medical school. He lived in a real house, with four walls, a window and a door, and shopped in stores, not their dumpsters.

But over time he says he grew depressed, clinically depressed, mainly with the focus on acquisition. “Every time I made a resume for a job, signed my name to a document, opened a bank account, or even bought a banana at the supermarket, I felt a tinge of dishonesty,” he said.

He was born into an Evangelical Christian home in Grand Junction, Colo., and took his religion seriously. Eventually, he started wondering why “professed Christians rarely followed the teachings of Jesus–namely the Sermon on the Mount, namely giving up possessions, living beyond credit and debt–freely giving and freely taking–giving, expecting nothing in return, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living beyond payback of either evil-for-evil or good-for-good, living and walking without guilt (debt), without grudge (debt), without judgment (credit & debt), living by Grace, by Gratis, not by our own works but by the works of the true Nature flowing through,” he said.

Although he considered himself a Christian, he discovered that the same principles applied to Taoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Mormonism, Shamanism, and Paganism.

One year he went to Alaska and worked on the docks. But that, too, he says, felt dishonest. Instead, he and a buddy decided to live off the land—spearing fish, foraging for mushrooms and berries. (Think Castaway, but with snow). Suelo (which means soil in Spanish) eventually hitch-hiked back to Moab with $50 in his pocket. By the time he arrived, his stash had dwindled to $25. He realized that he only needed money for things he really didn’t need, like snacks and booze.

He began toying with the idea of living full-time without money. He traveled to India, and became fascinated by Hindu Sadhus, who wandered without lucre and possessions. He considered joining them, but then he realized that “A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth, to return to the authenticity profound principles of spirituality hidden beneath our own religion of hypocrisy, and be a Sadhu there,” he said. “To be a vagabond, a bum, and make an art of it – this idea enchanted me.”

And soon, that’s exactly what he did. He says he left his life savings—a whopping $30—in a phone booth, and walked away.

But he didn’t do it in a vacuum; he maintained his blog for free from the Moab public library. Rather than just sitting on a mountain and gazing at his navel, he wanted to have an impact on others, to spread his gospel.

In 2009, Mark Sundeen, an old acquaintance he’d worked with at a Moab restaurant, heard about Suelo through mutual friends. At first, “I thought he must have lost his mind,” Sundeen, 42, said in a telephone conversation. But then he began reading his blog, and grew intrigued. Sundeen divides his time between Missoula, Mont., and Moab, where he was once a river guide, and he paid a visit to Suelo’s cave.

Gradually, he said he realized that much of what Suelo was saying made a whole lot of sense. This was right around the time the economy crashed, and “It felt like a lot of what he was saying was prophetic,” said Sundeen. “That money is an illusion, an addiction. That resonated with me after the collapse for the economy.”

Sundeen was so intrigued that he decided to write a book about Suelo, The Man Who Quit Money, which was published in March.

While the book reviews have been generally positive, Suelo has come under fire by some who say he’s a derelict, sponging off society without contributing. They are valid criticisms: This is a guy, after all, who has gotten a citation for train hopping (what would Jesus say about that?). And he’s not opposed to house sitting in winter–not exactly living off the land.

And besides: How is he actually helping others by going without? It’s not like he’s solving world hunger, or curing cancer.

Sundeen disputes these arguments. “He doesn’t accept any government programs—welfare, food stamps, Medicare,” he said. “The only ways in which he actually uses taxpayer funded derivatives is walking on roads and using the public library. So in that regard he’s a mooch–he’s using the roads and not paying taxes. But if you try to quantify the amount of money he’s taking from the system—it’s a couple of dollars a year, less than anyone’s ever used.”

Instead, he is actively promoting “his idea that money is an illusion,” Sundeen said. “The Fed just prints it up, it doesn’t mean anything and it’s going to lead us down the road to serfdom.” Suelo simply doesn’t want to contribute to that, and so he lives life on his own terms.

That said, Sundeen wouldn’t live the way Suelo does. “The appeal to me is the living outdoors part, but I feel like I got my feel of that working as an Outward Bound guide,” he said. “At this point I have other priorities.”

Suelo, for his part, has no plans to bring money back into his life. “I know it’s possible to live without money,” he said. “Abundantly.”

Former Governor Goes Undercover As Homeless Man

(Reuters) – A phony beard, a fake tattoo and clothes dragged through grass and stained with coffee were all it took to transform former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey into a homeless man looking for shelter on a frigid night this week.

His self-appointed undercover mission to spotlight what he calls discrimination against men by shelters took about three months of planning before Codey stood at the door of the Goodwill Rescue mission in Newark, New Jersey at 8 p.m. on Monday, asking to be let in.

Codey, 65, who is a state senator but disguised himself as a homeless man, had already been denied admission to about 25 other local shelters because he was not receiving welfare or other government assistance, he told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We called and I said, ‘My uncle, he’s homeless, we want to find him a place at night to sleep.’ Each time I was told, ‘Does he have SSI? Welfare? Disability?’ When we said ‘No,’ we were told there was no room at the inn.”

Codey, frequently mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, plans to take his findings to seek more federal money for the homeless. The National Alliance to End Homelessness said more than 636,000 people were homeless in the United States in 2011.

He is particularly concerned with single men and those with mental health issues, who he says are unfairly shut out of the shelter system. He said women and families have far greater access to emergency housing.

When Goodwill agreed to take him in, offering a thin bedroll, a blanket and a spot on a linoleum floor with 20 other men, he thought he’d finally found a haven.

Then came the shower call.

“I was terrified because I knew if I had a shower, my makeup was coming off,” said Codey, whose undercover team included a makeup artist who spent nearly an hour transforming him, painting tobacco stains on his teeth and drawing broken blood vessels and dirt on his skin.

By avoiding eye contact with the worker rounding men up for showers, he managed to slip by.

Sitting on the hard floor, he eyed chairs that were stacked nearby but declared off-limits to men in the shelter.

“No one is allowed to sit in them. You are strictly there to lay down,” Codey said.

WrestleMania blared on television for two hours until it was lights out at 10:30 p.m.

Codey said he drifted off for about an hour, his hip sore from sleeping on the uncomfortable floor. In the middle of the night, he struck up a conversation with another man and asked him what he would do when he left the shelter.

“He told me ‘I’m really lucky’ and explained that he had a bus pass so he could ride and keep warm,” Codey said.

The man, better dressed than Codey, said he was out of work and had hoped to stay with a friend but it didn’t pan out.

“I’m laying there, thinking about how good my life is and he says he’s lucky. Wow. That really puts it in perspective,” Codey said.

Codey, who served as acting governor of New Jersey for two years following the 2004 resignation of Gov. Jim McGreevey amid a sex scandal, has been a longtime advocate for the mentally ill. Government statistics show that a vast majority of homeless people suffer mental illness.

In 1987, in his early years in the state Senate, Codey went undercover to help expose flaws in care at a state-run psychiatric hospital.

This week, Codey said he was admitted to Goodwill shelter on the condition he register for federal assistance in the morning but he left early and avoided it.

Ron Schober, the shelter’s executive director, said help signing up for benefits is offered to shelter residents but not mandatory. He also said residents are welcome to use the chairs before the shelter closes at 6:30 p.m. but since Codey was taken in after hours, the room was being prepared for sleeping.

On a wintry Tuesday morning, Codey stepped out of the shelter and headed back to his work at the New Jersey statehouse. He rejected any suggestion that his undercover mission was politically motivated.

“My goal is to get homeless people a room at night and to speak with the federal government about getting the money to do that,” Codey said.

Asked whether he plans to run for governor, he said that was a decision he would make after the November presidential election. Political pundits say there could be a vacancy in the New Jersey governor’s mansion as Governor Chris Christie is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate.

(Although I find it tad hard to believe that this wasn’t politically motivated by some degree, this guy did an amazing thing. How many other government people are coming down to where the people are except to give us to their stupid speeches and false promises? I’m sure this guy has issue, but the fact that he cared enough to walk in the shoes of people considered the lowest on the totem pole in our society. I woke pretty tired and in a rather crabby mood, but now I’m feeling quite refreshed.)