CULTURAL BAGGAGE 2/1/05
by Dean Becker
by Philip Guffy
Guests: Richard Watkins, warden of Holliday prison facility
(Audio Track) Intro – My name is Dean Becker; I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be the warden, Richard Watkins, of the Holliday prison facility here in Texas. Yes, sir, if you will, tell the folks a little bit about your work history.
Watkins: Well, I have been involved in the criminal justice system and the prison system, specifically, in Texas for over 20 years. Initially as a Curriculum Development Specialist, subsequent to the Ruiz lawsuit, and then as a prison warden for the last 10 years; so, primarily at prison administrative level.
Dean: We have a reporter who reported here – it’s been quite some time now – because he has been in prison, but just today he was released from the TDC, Texas Department of Corrections. And he said that as he was being released from the Walls Unit, another chain, as he stated, came through from the Holliday prison; and they indicated that it’s prison, but the fact is that the Holliday Unit treats people with dignity. And I wanted to pass that on to you, sir.
Watkins: Well, thank you. I certainly appreciate that feedback. We try very hard to provide a positive experience for those people who have been incarcerated in our facility.
Dean: We talked a couple of times about this fact, but there is a huge racial disparity involved in this drug war that sends many of these prisoners to your care. Do you want to talk on that, sir?
Watkins: Well, it goes far back to the Nixon administration where this illusion of this war on drugs was really brought to a level of popularity, and it was a feel-good kind of thing. The unfortunate thing is that so many minorities and unfortunately so many African-Americans fell victim to this war on drugs. It was designed primarily for that reason, and it has apparently worked really well based upon what those people who came up with that program meant it to do. But it is unfortunate for our nation because it has incarcerated so many young people and young African-Americans, and has taken them out of the real world and put them in a situation where they are a liability not only to the state and the nation, but to their families. And it is just a negative-negative.
Dean: It is indeed. Now think about this in a long-term scenario. What happens to the children of those who are thus incarcerated? Does it not perpetuate this cycle?
Watkins: It does. It’s really heartbreaking. I have an opportunity to work what we call “visitation,” where families are allowed to come in and visit those persons that they have incarcerated on Saturdays and Sundays. And it gives me an opportunity to see the destruction of a whole family unit. You see, many of these young men who have been convicted and sent to prison on drug charges are good working citizens, but then they are taken out of the family unit, which means that it is a hard economic burden on the remainder of the family and the most devastating effect occurs when those young people have that father image taken out of their lives and it just produces a vicious cycle. In other words, it prepares those young people to come and do time as well, unfortunately.
Dean: We spend untold billions – the government refuses to keep accurate count on this each year – to incarcerate all these people, and yet that money could be better served had it been spent at an earlier stage, for education or for treatment. Talk on that, if you would.
Watkins: Well, we have a dilemma in this state where, for a lot of years now, there has been competition between dollars for prisons and dollars for education of our young people. And the unfortunate thing is that the dollars for prisons has just taken priority. I think the prison has a $3 billion budget – $3 billion budget – and I would just suggest to you that if only half of that money was spent on the education of our young people, which includes a holistic kind of thing, that deals with the real life issues and reality of what’s going to happen in our society when it comes to these young folks. We won’t have a need for all these prisons, but unfortunately, the alarmists – those people who are not aware of the reality of what happens when you take young productive people out of society and you lock them up and you make them a liability to their society as opposed to an asset. You provide the kind of experience where in many times it will further perpetuate the criminal kind of consciousness and behavior. So those billions of dollars that are spent to lock people up, in my opinion, has just been “feel good” kind of money and unfortunately that feel-good money is just too expensive for our society. We can’t continue to do what we have done so far.
Dean: We are speaking of the long-term implications. For those who are released in this modern era with instant Google search and an ability to trace the history of the individual applying for a job, it makes it that much more difficult to get a job, to get credit, to get housing, and just further compounds the family’s problems.
Watkins: Well, it further compounds the family’s problem, but society’s problem as well. You see, when a person is convicted of a felony and incarcerated, an “X” is put on their back for the rest of their life. They lose so many rights and privileges. In the past they have had to petition to have an opportunity to vote again. You know, I visited with my brother who is a physician, talking about the drug situation and talking about those convicted felons who are veterans of this country, who served this country well. Those people are not provided the kind of care by the Veterans Administration that they would receive had they not – unfortunately, so many of these folks who are convicted veterans were convicted because of the kinds of experiences they had while serving this country in the military. So here we have a very vicious kind of situation that takes a person out of society, it puts them back in society with an “X” on their back, and they just can’t come out and provide for their families as they did previously. It just has not worked that way.
Dean: We have the – I don’t know – the ancillary problems. Like just a week ago here in Texas, a District Attorney was found to be a methamphetamine addict, was found – he had taken 2 pounds of evidence from a locker and was caught. He had just been reelected as a “tough on crime” attorney. Your thoughts on that – the hypocrisy.
Watkins: Well, that is exactly right. And this is the kind of situation that happens all over this state in particular. You know, there are cities like Tulia where over 40 people were convicted – trumped up charges from one person without any real evidence. Fortunately, the Governor pardoned a majority of those folks. But then there are other communities like Hearn, TX, and like Palestine, TX, where the same things are happening. And also we got a call just yesterday from another city in West Texas where 48 people had been sent to prison under the same kinds of conditions; and these were people where, in one of these communities in particular, the DA was known for his drug parties. So, I mean you talk about a contradiction and the reality of things. That’s a classic example.
Dean: There are stories – just a couple of days ago out of Chicago, they busted nine people, four of them cops dealing drugs, reselling them on the market, stealing money and jewels, using that position of authority and knowing that these drug users have no recourse to the law.
Watkins: That’s exactly what happens, you know. This nation has never learned from its previous experience. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. As an example, prohibition of alcohol did not work. All it did was generate a different kind of criminal environment where it’s very similar to what we have in the drug situation in this nation today. So it has to change. We can’t keep going the way we are right now. As long as there is a prohibition against drugs in this nation, we are going to continue to see the same kinds of problems for this nation, which is a lose-lose for everybody involved.
Dean: You know, you mentioned the 48 people arrested in that small town, and the thing that many people in the larger cities fail to realize – I know right here in Houston we arrest somewhere around 90 to 100 people every day of the week for drugs. But because of the size of the city, somehow that number gets lost in the mix. Many times in Houston – and it is the gulag city, my friends – we lock them up for empty pipes, empty bags, particles on the floorboard, any opportunity to put these people in prison.
Watkins: That is such a counterproductive kind of consciousness that allows that type of situation to occur. You know, I keep saying this over and over. We are shooting our ownselves in the foot. You see, every time – it has been my goal for 20 years, and especially the last 10 years, to try to work myself out of a job. And that is to try to provide the kind of environment where we don’t lock up people, not only for minor drug offenses but other minor offenses as well. That is probably the biggest drain on our resources and our society in this country. But in Texas in particular, last year there were over 77,000 human beings locked up in Texas prisons. Better than 24,000 of those persons were people who had their probation revoked. I can honestly say that apparently the system is being closely looked at right now, because of the economic impact. You know, we are talking about running out of prison space this year, you see. And what’s going to happen – I hope what happens is not the same thing that happened in previous years when education dollars went to build more prisons. Because that’s just an initial cost, but the real cost is in the toll of human lives. It’s not just that person who has been locked up in prison; it’s that whole family and especially those children.
Dean: It just repeats endlessly as long as we do this. I know that in California, the prison guards union is very powerful out there. They provide much of the contributions to get these politicians elected; and they want more money, they want more prisons, they want people in jail for longer. How do we buck that system? How do we break that repetition?
Watkins: Well, I have some suggestions. It has been my experience that if you provide an alternative to anybody, that is an opportunity he will take advantage of. You know, instead of providing more money for prisons to provide jobs for those persons, why don’t we provide more money for education and provide more opportunities in the field of education and vocational and academic kinds of situations. As an example, pie in the sky type of dream: it would be my dream – the Holliday unit houses 221,068 offenders. If that facility could be turned into a treatment facility and allow some of the companies that have gone to China or gone somewhere else outside this country because of the cheap labor situation, to build a facility. Give them a 50-year lease on the property adjacent to that facility and allow that company to provide an opportunity for two things. First of all, work experience. You see, training is critical but the ability to work is more critical. To be able to get up and to go to work and to work when you get there and be prepared – that type of thing. If those companies were allowed to do that, and say, pay the same thing they were going to pay in China. But at the same time, provide training to these folks who have not had an opportunity because they have fallen through the cracks and they have become members of our elite criminal justice country club, the prison system. So that’s a pie-in-the-sky kind of dream, but that could happen. It can happen if there are some people with courage who make decisions in this state to give those kinds of thoughts an opportunity to grow.
Dean: I know that Texas senator Lindsey and Texas senator Whitmire have both shown a little spark of creativity in that regard. Perhaps they can get something done this year. We have a few minutes left. I want to talk about the fact that you are a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; and your director Jack Cole, he’s the guy that I put on my distribution disc that I send out to the new stations. It is a powerful thing when a judge or a district attorney or a warden or a policeman speaks against this policy. Tell us about your experience, your speaking engagements, in that regard.
Watkins: Well, it was very gratifying to me to run into like minds like Jack Cole and those other folks, the many hundreds and now thousands of people who have teamed up to try to get the message across, that look – these are people who are law enforcement in some respect, who are in the criminal justice system, and these are the folks who can see first hand that what we are doing right now is not working. And I was really gratified to run into that kind of opportunity to be exposed to folks who recognize the reality of what is happening here in our country and world wide, really. So that has been a very positive experience, and I’m seeing more and more people stand up and say “No, the prohibition on drugs is not working, so we really need to try something else.” Like you, I’m not suggesting and I’m not supporting the use of drugs, both legal and illegal; but what I am saying is the way we handle the drug situation in this country is not working. So we’re going to have to do something, and I think we are getting more and more support every day.
Dean: I was really thrilled last week the King County Bar Association, which represents basically the people of Seattle, they and a coalition of ministers, a group of psychiatrists, physicians, all the stuffed shirts of their community banded together and they are now asking the state of Washington to control and regulate the distribution of these drugs. Many organizations have come out in a very similar fashion. I understand you are head of an NAACP chapter; and what has been y’alls experience in that regard?
Watkins: Well, we recognize that so many young people’s lives have been destroyed through the laws that we have in force today in the state of Texas in particular. So we recognize as an organization, that’s why the state conference of NAACP has joined with LULAC, ACLU, Criminal Justice Coalition, Breaking the Chains, and others, to come up with proposals, come up with recommendations to our legislature for them to take a hard look and make some changes in our laws.
Dean: That’s the only way to get it done is by people contacting those legislators and letting them know that a change is necessary. Now, I think about the fact that the people in California, they can grow in some counties 100 marijuana plants; whereas if I grew one plant here in Houston, I could go to prison for years. The disparity is not just focused on a general law. It’s varied and it’s at random and it’s very ugly in many scenarios.
Watkins: You know, it is. It is very ugly, which is just so destructive to our society. Disparity is always wrong. I mean any time there is that kind of difference as I see in sentencing. You know, people do the same crime and get 2 years and 20 years; so those are the kinds of things that are going to have to be dealt with I think on a national level. And good thinking folks like those people involved with the LEAP program, I applaud them and I hope to be able to continue to work with them until my final breath.
Dean: Very good, sir. Well, folks, we have been speaking with the warden Richard Watkins of the Holliday prison facility here in Texas. Thank you so much, warden.
Watkins: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Dean: It’s time to play “Name That Drug By Its Side Effects”: tachycardia, palpitations, headache, dizziness, nausea, fear, anxiety, restlessness, tremors, weakness, pallor, respiratory difficulty, dysuria, insomnia, hallucinations, convulsions, depression, arrhythmias, and cardiovascular collapse. Time’s up. The answer: Sudafed – another FDA-approved product; and despite its failings, it is said to make a first-class methamphetamine.
Poppygate – bizarre news about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway:
Afghanistan being the source of 90% of the world's heroin, the U.S. announced
this week that it has dropped its plans for the aerial eradication of Afghan
U.S.-occupied Afghanistan's income from opium is expected to reach seven billion dollars in 2005.
From Indiana to Scotland, Massachusetts to Moscow, Ohio to Iran, communities worldwide are reporting record levels of heroin availability and consumption.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the State Supreme Court has recently affirmed the life conviction of Richard Mahogany, who in 1975 sold $60 worth of heroin to an undercover policeman.
Mr. Mahogany is 66 and has been locked up for thirty years.
This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.”
Oscapella: Eugene Oscapella, I’m a lawyer here in Ottawa, Canada, the capitol of the country – a very cold capitol – and I’m a member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, which is a drug policy think tank and reform group here in Canada.
Dean: Eugene, you’ve written extensively on the nexus of the war on terror and the war on drugs.
Oscapella: Well, first of all, if you are really worried about a war on terror, you should stop financing the war on terror through the war on drugs. In know we have talked about this before, but it’s important for the listeners to understand that the link between drugs and the financing of terrorism is one caused by prohibition. In other words, prohibition makes drugs that would otherwise be very inexpensive or very – there would be very little profit from selling them in the absence of prohibition. Prohibition turns these drugs into fantastically profitable products for both organized crime and terrorist groups; so by prohibiting drugs, we create this fantastically profitable black market that is enriching organized crime and terrorists groups around the world. Our governments, by supporting drug prohibition, are worsening the problem of terrorism; and second, you know, when we try to impose our own drug policies on other countries, that gets – if you look at the country of Colombia, there’s a lot of damage being done to Colombia, and there is a lot of damage now probably being done in Afghanistan by some of these attempts to eradicate crops and to get farmers off of producing opium. That’s going to create hostility to countries that are pushing these policies, and so those are going to rebound and hurt Americans, hurt American citizens; so government policies are actually going to increase the risk of terrorism to American citizens.
Dean: Will we ever learn from the Marijuana Policy Project, mpp.org, this is our good friend Bruce Mirken.
Dean: Bruce I have seen a couple of stories in the last week or two about journalists being paid to promote government agenda, but not only do they seem to want it on their side, they also seem to want to limit our side. You want to talk about the recent ruling prohibiting display of marijuana reform ads?
Merkin: This goes back to last year when Congress passed a rider to one of these big spending bills that they pass every year forbidding any public transit system that gets Federal funds – which means basically any public transit system – from accepting even paid advertising in support of quote-unquote “legalization or medical use” of any drug listed in the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which of course includes marijuana. So basically, what they were trying to do is shut down our side of the debate from what is in many communities a very important forum. In a lot of cities, millions of people ride public transit every week. It’s a major way to get the word out. This is just blatantly unconstitutional discrimination based on viewpoint, since there was no restriction on ads giving the Government’s point of view on marijuana policy. So the Marijuana Policy Project joined with the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, and changed the climate to sue in Federal court, and we won last summer and got a ruling that this rider was unconstitutional. Because of that, the Washington, D.C., metro did accept a billboard that we put together advocating change in our marijuana laws.
Dean: Here to talk about the war on terror and the war on drugs and how they impact the American citizenry is the editor of Prison Legal News, Mr. Paul Wright.
Wright: As far as the Iraq thing goes, this is a standard U.S. counterinsurgency war which the U.S. fights with brutal means. They murdered tens of thousands of people in their counterinsurgency wars in Central America in the 1980s; 3-1/2 million people were killed in Southeast Asia. Police and prisons in this country are kind of the domestic face of that same coin. One of a lot of things that came out was when all the Abu Graib abuse started coming out. And the connection that Prison Legal News has made repeatedly is that while people were horrified by what was done to Iraqi prisoners, the reality is that this is what American prisoners are being subjected to every day here in the United States. And in our magazine we report on it; and, unfortunately, we are the only magazine in the United States that is dedicated to the human rights of people in detention facilities here in the U.S. One of the things that came out was Iraqi prisoners being attacked by prison guards using police dogs. Well, in Brazoria, Texas, there is videotaped footage of jail prisoners being subjected to the exact same treatment. As far as the sexual abuse of prisoners, unfortunately that is endemic around the country here in the United States. We are not seeing at least the Iraqi prisoners, as far as we know, being set up to fight each other for sport of the guards and the winner gets gunned down – which we have reported literally dozens of cases where exactly that happened in California.
Nolin: Welcome to America. Your papers, please. It looks like the British are going to pot after all. They started relaxing the cannabis laws last year and, lo and behold, according to the Independent News, the Home Office said the downgrading of cannabis from Class B to Class C drug exactly one year ago had made no difference to the levels of use. There were an estimated 43,000 arrests over the past year compared with 68,000 in the previous 12 months. It also goes on to say that they have saved about 200,000 hours of police time. According to details of the British Crime Survey, which was published by the Home Office yesterday, 10.8% of the adults reported taking cannabis over the past year compared to 10.9% in the previous 12 months. It also discovered that the proportion of 16 to 24 year olds using the drug had fallen from 28.2% to 24.8% over the past 5 years. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the cat’s out of the bag. This is Steve Nolin for the Drug Truth Network.
Dean: What will it take to motivate? Please visit drugtruth.net.
Dean: A couple of quick program notes. I want to welcome two new affiliates: CJAM in Windsor, Ontario, and broadcasting in Detroit, Michigan. I want to say “Hi” to all my Canadian friends. We also picked up this week KMEC in Ukiah, CA. And a quick thought: I once grew a plant, 26 feet tall here. Of course that was before I became a reporter. Took me 15 months and a unique growing scenario, but we got it done. Next week our guest here on Cultural Baggage will be Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy; that’s at csdp.org. And we’ll be bringing in Mr. Kay, our reporter who just got out of prison today, as soon as he wants to. Warden, I want to ask you, sir, what advice might you give to Governor Perry and to the legislators in Austin and in D.C.?
Watkins: Look at the reality of what is happening in our society in this so-called “War on Drugs,” and take a bold stand.
Dean: Indeed, sir, it’s going to take people willing to be a little bold, a little bit courageous in saying this truth.
Dean: We want you to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to hear from the listeners out there. But as always, because of drug prohibition, I must remind you – you don’t know what is in that bag, and I ask you to please be careful.
For the Drug Truth Network, and our affiliates in the U.S. and Canada, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage, the unvarnished truth. This show is produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston. Tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.