“In The Image Of God””

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

(Genesis 1:27 ESV)

The Central Union Mission, in Washington DC has been my home since my release from Oakdale FCI. It has been more than a home, really. It has been where I have attempted to put to use the relationship with God I had developed during my time in prison. Not only is it a place where I feel safe, secure, and stable on a personal level, it is also a place where I feel I can best follow the admonition of Jesus Christ when He said ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31 ESV)

The Mission is in an incredible location about 5 blocks north of the US Capitol. It sits between Union Station a couple of blocks to the east, where there is always a beehive of activity as tourists combine with commuters in a daily flurry of activity, and DC’s version of “Chinatown” which sits a couple of blocks to the west.

In my immature and unwise efforts to escape myself throughout the course of my life, I have lived in many different parts of the country including Maine, New York, California, Texas, and Florida. Those are all popular places to visit and could have been wildly interesting places to live had I not been so wrapped up in my sinful existence of willful disobedience to God and hell-bent on self-destruction. I also ‘lived’ for a little over 4 years in Louisiana, but I really didn’t see much of the state from behind the razor wire at Oakdale FCI.

None of those places is quite like Washington, though. I have been in DC for almost a year now, and an amazing year it has been. When I first arrived here, I spent hours and hours walking around seeing the sights, and there are many, many sights to see here. After all, this is the seat of power in the most powerful country in the world, and a place steeped in historical significance. I was fascinated and wandered almost daily through the streets of the city.

But then life settled in around me, I became more involved in the Mission, and I didn’t venture far from there. I guess I became complacent about my surroundings, but that changed a little bit this morning.

“This morning” was Monday, April 20, and I spent the early part of the day catching up on my Bible reading and devotions, emailing some pictures of volunteers I had taken over the weekend, finishing and posting an article for “The After-Oakdale Chronicles”, and doing my laundry. At around 11 AM, I looked out the window of my room and noticed how beautiful it was on the other side of the glass.

While there was much I wanted to accomplish sitting in front of this computer screen, I felt a ‘nudge’ and put on some shorts and headed towards Union Station. It was there that my eyes began to see things differently. As I took in the sheer enormity of scale of the structure,


I realized there was something more than a simple walk in store for me.

I turned to the south and headed to the US Capitol, taking care to give God praise for the abundant beauty of the spring that was in full bloom around me. Everywhere I looked, evidence of God’s handiwork was boldly displayed. Even in the city itself, the natural beauty of the world God created was all around me.

But Washington is home to something that speaks more clearly to God’s sovereignty and His power than ‘just’ the natural beauty that abounds. The man-made beauty of the city provides ample testimony to that fact. As I approached the US Capitol,


I was struck by exactly how much our ability to create comes as a result of those words found in Genesis: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

We were created ‘in His own image’, and that not only means that we reflect God’s character, but we reflect His ability to achieve spectacular things. Now mind you, we can not even come close to duplicating God’s ability, but He did give us the gifts that enable the man-made things we see all around us to be possible.

As I turned west on the National Mall, the Washington Monument came into view

Washington Monument

and I was further convinced that it was only by God’s design that we are capable of the things we achieve. If we were not created in His own image, our ability to reflect the creative skills of the Father of all creation – even if only on a very small scale – would not be possible.

As I walked along, I came to the National Art Gallery Sculpture Garden and was drawn to a ‘tree’ that was set apart from the rest. While the rest were all created by the hand of God, this particular tree was made of stainless steel and was created from the mind of a man, and with the hands God gave him. I had seen it before, but it looked particularly splendid sparkling brilliantly in the now-noonday sun.


I am not an art critic by any means, even though I am often critical of art, but this work struck me as being particularly thoughtful and demonstrative of the artist’s unique talents as given him by God.

I had lunch in a busy café just beyond that shining example of God’s handiwork and then turned north to wander back towards the Mission. I passed the old Farmer’s Insurance Building


and marveled again at the man-made evidence of God’s existence that surrounds us. Washington is full of beautiful old structures that testify to the fact that these things are possible only because God created us to be like Him. Not to BE Him, but to be LIKE Him.

While we will never be capable of everything that God is capable of, my walk through the streets of Washington found me thanking Him for making us the way we are. If only we would all realize that God is the source of our abilities. If only we would all give praise to God for the talents He gave us, and give Him thanks for creating us to be like Him.

Think about these things when you walk around your community.


“But everyone who denies Me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in Heaven.” Matthew 10:33 NLT

“Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain

To whom it may concern:

Contrary to what your editorial of Monday, February 24 claimed, Iowa State University did NOT properly handle “The Bible Complaint”, and I would like to explain why I believe this to be true.

Allow me to provide a little background for those who are not familiar with the story itself: There are hotel rooms located in the Iowa State University Memorial Union, and in those rooms, as in tens of thousands of hotel and motel rooms throughout the country, “Gideon International” placed copies of the Holy Bible in the drawers of nightstands next to the beds. This is a practice that has gone on for decades and anyone staying in a hotel or motel anywhere in this country would be hard-pressed to say they have not seen a copy of the Bible stamped “Placed By The Gideons” at some point or another. A study done many years ago showed that the Bibles provided by the Gideons were picked up in many instances by individuals who went to hotel rooms intending to commit suicide, and that the decision to end their life was altered as a result of the Bible’s availability. There has never been any ‘contract’ to sign stating occupancy of the room was tied to believing in God, being a Christian, or reading the Bible itself. It was simply provided as an act of service to those travelers who may find some comfort in its presence, and there have undoubtedly been millions who have been happy to see it there. Certainly there have also been millions of individuals who have simply ignored it; just left it untouched in the drawer, or never opened the drawer in the first place. This, too, is an individual choice.

Along comes a group calling itself the “Freedom From Religion Foundation”. Somehow the fact of the Bible’s presence in these rooms rankles them. The group postulates that as ISU is a state-funded institution of higher learning, there should be no display of religion at all since such displays are offensive to those who have no faith at all. The working theory is that simply having a Bible in the drawer so it is available to anyone who might desire to pick it up and read it, is favoring Christianity over all other faiths or over the “Freedom From Religion” belief in nothing at all; that it constitutes some sort of insidious state-sponsored support of Christianity. A continuum of that theory would be that having no Bible creates no such favoritism and promotes no particular belief. Therefore, the group demanded the removal of the offending material, and ISU complied, “to avoid litigation”.

Allow me to point out what should be painfully obvious: Not having any faith at all is a form of belief in and of itself. It is the belief that there IS no God. It is the belief that we are just an evolutionary occurrence or the result of some ‘accident’ of the universe. Nonetheless, it IS a belief, if only a belief in nothing at all. By capitulating to the threats of litigation and removing the ‘offending material’ ISU is, in fact, supporting one belief over another. There can be no other conclusion which can be drawn. You see, removing a donated text in favor of ‘nothing’ now forces UNbelief upon those who DO believe. The acceptance of the ‘nothing’ that this group insists be displayed demonstrates a preference over the ‘something’ the Gideons have placed there. It would be best to leave them displayed side by side, as they already lay in the drawer, and let people choose to pick up the Bible, or pick up the ‘nothing’ lying next to it. Removing my Bible and leaving THEIR ‘nothing’ rankles ME.

The Constitution of the United States of America offers no clearly stated freedom FROM religion, as this group seeks. However the Constitution DOES specifically guarantee the freedom OF religion. Furthermore, although ISU is a state-funded institution, no state funds were used to purchase those Bibles. The hotel, which is open to the public, merely provides the same amenities of thousands of hotels and motels throughout this country.

A book, no matter what the book is, should not create such a stir. Anyone who does not believe the Holy Bible is the Word of God does not have to read it, nor does ISU insist it BE read as a contractual condition of occupying one of its rooms. This is NOT school prayer we are talking about, which required active participation in a publically funded school. Still, it was a shameful moment in American history when the judicial system of this country supported the theory that encouraging children to pray was somehow bad. On the other hand, in this case we are talking about a book which is not in plain view and is simply there for the convenience of those who DO wish to read it. It should be a simple matter to just ignore it if it does not conform to your beliefs. The fact it would create such discomfort to anyone by its mere presence in a drawer in a room is disturbing in and of itself.

It is time for those who believe in God to stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” If we keep allowing those who choose to NOT believe in God to constantly push faith farther and farther from public view, it will be just a matter of time before it is illegal to display a symbol of ANY faith in the window of our home or car, or on a t-shirt or a piece of jewelry. Soon our places of worship – churches, mosques, and synagogues – will be denied the right to display any symbol of their religious faith on the exteriors of those buildings because someone walking by on a public sidewalk or driving by on a public street is offended by the mere sight of the symbol of faith. It is time for those who claim to be ‘experts’ at interpreting the Constitution and what was ‘intended’ by the words written, stop and think for a moment about life in the immediate aftermath of the document’s introduction into the American way of life: Prayer, and the Holy Bible, were everywhere one looked. Faith was a cornerstone of the founding of this country, not freedom FROM faith. Whether or not this country was founded as a Christian nation may be open for debate, but the people of this country’s overwhelming adherence to faith of some sort and use of the Bible in daily life at the time of the writing of the Constitution most certainly is not!

Those individuals who believe in nothing might find something more constructive to do with their time and money if they were to READ the Bible and see what it has to say about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and healing the sick. Perhaps they might see it as a source of guidance they can use to learn tolerance and love for others; to help them express their humanity; to help them find ways to focus on those things we have in common rather than on those things which differentiate us.

I am an inmate in a federal prison and I have learned that the ability to deal with the pain and the problems in my life which predicated the need for me to spend time here lies within the pages of the Holy Bible. I am convinced it can be used as a roadmap to salvation for anyone who is willing to take the time to read it. Lives can be changed for the better through its daily use, and lives can be saved by its wisdom and its Hope. Its use should be advocated and promoted, and attempts to suppress the beauty and value of its message should be fought with all available resources. The world needs less ‘nothing’ and more of what the pages of the Bible offer.

I read the Des Moines Register on a regular basis, courtesy of someone I know who is from there. I think it is a great newspaper and I have written with regularity, here in “The Oakdale Chronicles”, about articles and opinions I have seen there. I don’t often feel compelled to offer an opinion contrary to that of the editorial staff, but in this case I must. With all due respect, your opinion needs to be re-examined. Iowa State University and the Des Moines Register took the easy way out, and that is not always the right way.

Look in the Bible. That lesson is in there.

I thank everyone for their time. Be sure to check out my book of daily devotions, “TODAY IS… A Gift From God” at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HKKL1RE

And may God bless you all.

Tony Casson
91153-004 A-1
Box 5000
Federal Correctional Center
Oakdale, LA  71463

This Woman…A Gift From God

by Tony E. Casson

“Many will say they are loyal friends.
But who can find one who is truly reliable?” Proverbs 20:6 NLT

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anais Nin, The Diary Of Anais Nin

God rarely announces His gifts with a lot of fanfare, as evidenced by the gift of His Son, whom He sacrificed in order to offer Hope to the world.

Shortly after arriving here at Oakdale FCI, a friend of my sister – a person I had never heard of, let alone met – sent me a note of encouragement written on a card which had a verse taken from the Bible printed on the front. That card arrived quietly and without fanfare, and while it was appreciated, it certainly was not viewed at the time as being anything beyond a nice gesture which required me to remember my manners and send a note of thanks by return mail.

The name of the woman who sent that card is Diane Woodall, and while I did not view this unknown person as any sort of gift from God at the time, the relationship that was begun when Diane first put pen to paper and reached out to another human being has blossomed into the most beautiful friendship imaginable, and her placement into my life could ONLY have come as a gift from God as evidence of His grace and His indescribable ability to attend to even the minutest details of our lives if we only afford Him the opportunity.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.’ They are plans for good, and not for evil, for a future and a hope.'” This quote from the Holy Bible, Jeremiah 29:11, was the message on the front of that card. It has occupied space above the mirror in my cell since it was first received. It is my personal assurance from God that the insanity which precipitated this period of incarceration is over, and the future is at hand. They are words that have kept me focused on God and the task before me of building a relationship with Him that is enabling me to become the human being He intended me to be when He first gave me life.

The card itself was an introduction to the woman who would grow to become the best friend I have ever had. Quietly, unobtrusively, and totally devoid of fanfare, God gave me the gift of a stranger’s Christian love which has guided me, kept me company, and helped me to take confident steps toward His promise of a future and a hope.

I have written – and wadded up for the wastebasket – several attempts to continue beyond this point. There is so much to say about this person who has given so much of herself, her time, and her money to type, print, mail, copy, research, edit, redo, reprint, recopy, remail, advise, consult, console, and correct. Hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars spent lending support to a very, very broken man as God walked him through the process of healing, restoration, and renewal. And for what? Because God dumped me in her lap, and said, “You need to help this person.”

There is so much of what I have been able to accomplish that would have been extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, without her invaluable assistance and devotion. She took over the management of these “Chronicles” some time ago and she was utterly irreplaceable in completing “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” (my book of daily devotionals on Kindle, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention). I literally shudder to think how much less I would have achieved here without her friendship. I am leaving here eager, confident, and prepared to face the future, and a very large part of my ability to be that way is directly attributable to her.

When I expressed reservations about going back to the state of Florida, Diane quietly investigated a possibility which has recently become reality. In May, upon my release from this place, I will be heading to Washington, DC rather than the sunshine state of Florida. Some may view this as a step in the wrong direction, but I can only say the reasons why this is the greatest blessing I have ever received are numerous, and I am completely overjoyed! I humbly offer thanks to God and all of those who helped make it happen! I will be taking up residence in the Central Union Mission in downtown Washington (www.missiondc.org), and I will be participating in programs to help me continue to grow in my relationship with God, and I will be immersed in an environment of service to others. An environment I believe is one God Himself chose for me. Don Woodall (Diane’s husband), is very involved with the Mission and provided the link to Reverend David Howard, who is the director of the Spiritual Transformation program at the Mission. My sister Kathy spoke with the person who will be my new Probation Officer upon my release and was able to gain approval for the transfer, which will also serve to place me close to family members. Did I say I was blessed?

In making this move, I will be able to learn how to follow Christ OUTSIDE of this prison, and I will be able to focus on a life of service to other people. I have learned many valuable lessons while in prison. Some directly from God, through the Holy Bible; some from reading what others have written as daily inspiration in devotionals such as “Streams In The Desert”, “Our Daily Bread”, and “The Upper Room”; and I have learned many valuable lessons from the friendship of Diane, and the willingness of her husband and Reverend Howard to lend a hand to a stranger. I have prayed, meditated, walked and talked with God, and through it all, I have thanked Him for His gift to me of this person who is as important in my life as any person has ever been. Rising above all that I have learned is this: We can do the most to help ourselves, when we reach out to help another. You see, folks, this is what God intended all along. It’s not complicated or difficult.

Diane Woodall helped me to learn this, and other, valuable lessons and I am forever grateful. No one person has ever exhibited such kindness to me. It is an amazing thing to think about, and I do think about it often.

For those of you who think it is impossible for a severely broken human being to undergo a complete, and total, spiritual transformation, you simply do NOT know God! And for those of you who don’t believe that friendship, kindness, Christian love, generosity, and selflessness can contribute mightily to that transformation, you simply do NOT know Diane Woodall.

Diane, my dear, dear friend, may God bless each and every one of your days and show you the love, kindness, and compassion that you have shown me, increased 10, 20, 30…..a HUNDRED times!

Man Imprisoned, Man Freed.

We are steadily approaching what will hopefully be my dad’s release from Oakdale, and many days I consider the journey. I admit, I smile.

Many years ago there was a man who did what he could. He had a house, some work, a son and a growing relationship with a long-lost daughter. He had dreams of creating. He had many things that, when stacked against the idea of imprisonment, were considered highly favorable. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

Several years ago there was the same man. Still with a son, and a rocky but existent relationship with his daughter. He barely had a home, and he had recently lost his parents. He fixed and cleaned filthy objects and was once attacked by someone while working, but he had a job. He lived in a sunny environment, albeit amidst financial poverty. He had dreams of improvement and then of creating. And still, when stacked against the idea of longterm imprisonment, he had some favorable conditions. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

A few years ago there was the same man. But imprisoned. Cut in many ways from the world outside an institution built for punishment; a place that, when stacked against the outer world, had terrible conditions. But because of a release from delusions, these conditions were purified.

For those of you wonderful readers who have followed this story over the weeks, months, years, you see it too. For those of you new ones, you will see it soon. You will feel, “Which of the men were imprisoned, and which of the men were freed?”

When I consider my father, I am not disturbed by his situation as others may think I am — have thought I am. Ordinary appearance reveals a human being who had freedom and was then locked away; ordinary appearance reveals ugliness and sadness. And yet there is neither ugliness nor sadness.

There remains only beauty and joy and hope and inspiration. And internal freedom for a very worthy individual.


By Tony Casson

“…uphold the rights of the oppressed and destitute.” Psalm 82:3b NLT

“We did not dare to breathe a prayer
Or to give our anguish scope!
Something was dead in each of us
And what was dead was hope.”
Oscar Wilde “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

            For the typical individual facing freedom after years behind bars, the prospects – while not hopeless – are limited; the challenges are many and intimidating; the obstacles are numerous; and the odds of success seem to be stacked against them. Society looks down on those bad boys and girls who keep the wheels of “justice” turning and have appeared in its newspapers and on its television sets. The public is both titillated and repulsed by the tattooed tough guys and gals who create havoc on shows like “Cops.” They are inclined to think that this is just how some people are and have allowed themselves to be convinced that people who are broken cannot be fixed.

Perhaps to a degree, and for some, that is a true statement. But there is nothing that will guarantee failure as surely as doing nothing. To say that the criminal justice system as it exists today is focused on trying to rehabilitate, educate, restore and reintegrate those who have gone to prison is simply not true. Failing many of our children early in life; creating an industry in human misery where the profits are enormous; feeding that industry through the abject failure of half-hearted or non-existent rehabilitation and education programs; and dealing with those who have been newly re-introduced to society in a heavy-handed, oppressive way all contribute to the failure that is called “criminal justice” in America today.

With so much money at state, it is easy to hide behind the cynical stance of “they don’t want to change.” However, if the American public was aware of how many men and women desperately want to change, they might alter that stance. Unfortunately, these men and women are expected to change but do not have, nor are they given, the education, job skills, life skills, confidence, support and encouragement that are required to bring about those changes. When all that is done is to extend a hand to someone while standing on their chest, we can hardly be surprised at the negative result.

When I was young, we would occasionally engage in a cruel activity (hey, I was young!) called “piling on.” In the course of playing, one person would wind up on the ground and someone would yell “PILE ON!”, whereby all the rest would bury the unfortunate soul at the bottom of a pile of unyielding bodies. I have been that body at the bottom. I have known the suffocating, frightening sensation of being trapped. I have known what it was like to want to get out. But I have also known the helpless feeling of having absolutely no idea how to accomplish that. I struggled, but to no avail. I tried to get out from under the pile but I was dependent on the very people who had me trapped. How, then, was I to regain my freedom?

Now let’s pile on some more: In addition to all of the difficulties and obstacles facing felons that I have laid out for you, a convicted sex offender – regardless of the nature of the offense – has several oppressive, invasive and restrictive conditions that will make any effort at reintegration back into society so extremely difficult as to be almost impossible. For many, these conditions and restrictions create what is tantamount to a life sentence of suspicion and condemnation that very well should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. At the very least, the current methods used to monitor and control registered sex offenders are nothing more than tactics which bully and belittle American citizens and should be a clear violation of the civil rights of these individuals.

There is no denying that when a child is abused and/or killed by a predatory monster, it is a very natural response for all parents to share the pain of those who have lost a part of themselves that can never be replaced. But as I have tried to point out on these pages, the ones least likely to harm any child are the ones who draw the most attention. People are understandably angry, scared, ad confused; publicity-seeking politicians and a sensationalist media make certain of that.

But those who have had no contact with children and have served the time to which they were sentenced are angry, scared and confused as well; a length of time in prison deemed by many professionals as being excessive, reactionary counterintuitive. When these individuals are released, a whole array of separate, suffocating, demeaning and isolating rules and regulations await them. These are in addition to those that face other felons released from prison.

The single most daunting item facing sex offenders newly released from prison is the sex offender registry, on which they are required to be listed in all of our states. The astonishing number of repressive items, including polygraph testing, GPS ankle-bracelet monitoring, living restrictions and a host of other horrors is overwhelming. The subject of the registry is so dense and complex that it cannot be undertaken here and I will address it in a separate article at a later date.

The battles and debates over many of these “protective” rules and regulations rages in courtrooms across the country. But as they continue, those who fall under their purview have to deal with the consequences created by them.

Finding a place to live in increasingly more difficult – almost impossible in some cities. Some people are not allowed to live with their families. Some actually “live” in tents and “visit” their families during the day.

Some states issue driver’s licenses with “sex offender” stamped on them in red; an updated version of the scarlet letter. How does this protect children and what does it accomplish beyond embarrassing and humiliating the one required to produce it?

Sex therapy group sessions required on a weekly basis for years involve standing up at each session and reintroducing yourself as a sex offender, re-stating your offense and then proceeding to re-live your experiences and remain in the past for 60 minutes a week as a constant reminder of what you did, no matter what you have done to redefine who you are and making moving forward difficult at best.

The average person can simply not fathom how permanent and black is the mark on your life when you misplace your morals, your decency, your maturity and your common sense.

When a sex offender applies for a job and discloses his or her offense, that person is looked at by some with open disdain and distaste. An individual’s ability to earn a living and care for him or herself and those they are responsible for is severely hampered by that mistake that cannot be undone no matter how much they want to or how hard they try.

If you can find a place to live and you are unfortunate enough to have children, they will be subjected to uncomfortable stares and barely disguised whispers after your neighbors discover who you are by running to the computer. Once the “flag” pops up, the circumstances and your remorse will not matter. More innocent victims will be created beyond those who have already suffered as this hate directed toward you spills over onto your children unfairly and unkindly.

These statements can be taken as warnings to those who think child pornography and Internet fantasies are a game. A moment in the “privacy” of your home can cost you your freedom and net a lifetime in the public’s disapproving eye. It can, in fact, cost you more than you thought possible and surely more than anyone should be expected to pay. These statements are also a plea for reform and the upholding of the Constitution of the United States.

Will the situation be impossible for those leaving prison? Or course not; at least not for everyone. But for many, the American nightmare will continue long after the closing of prison gates behind them. The real horror and the real shame will only just be starting. For many, the rejection, isolation and harassment they experienced in prison will pale in comparison to life as a “free” citizen of this country.

If two wrongs can never make a right, then the tens of thousands of wrongs being perpetrated against citizens of this country can never be expected to make right what is so very wrong in America today.

The national embarrassment that constitutes post-prison “treatment” and monitoring of sex offenders – particularly those guilty of non-contact Internet crimes – is the most inexcusable abrogation of the basic rights afforded to Americans by our Constitution that we have ever allowed to occur.

More prejudicial, discriminatory and demeaning than the treatment of African Americans under the idiotic banner of “separate but equal”; as judgmental and blatantly anti-American as the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II; and more inflammatory and irresponsible than McCarthyism. In each and every case of those dark events in our nation’s history, America was wrong – and American is wrong now.

As the world watches, we move forward each day, branding those who have already paid the price. These exorbitant prices are demanded by a legislative body driven by political and financial self-interests. They are endorsed by an appellate court system, right on up to the Supreme Court itself, which should know better. They all lack the courage to stand up and say, “As much as we need to protect the children of this country, we must also protect the rights of those who have served the prison sentences demanded by law. We can never allow ourselves to put the seal of approval on the right to exact punishment for crimes that have not yet been committed or that we imagine they might have gotten away with.”

If this is not fixed by Congress or stopped by the Supreme Court, then the unlikelihood of books and films like “1984” and “Minority Report” is upon us – and shame on all of them.

God help this country.

I thank you for your time and attention to this series: AMERICA’S CULTURE OF INCARCERATION.


By Tony Casson

“Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement.” 2 Corinthians 2:7 NLT

“It is admirable to extend a hand to someone who has fallen and offer to help him up. The gesture lacks sincerity when made while standing on that person’s chest.”   Tony Casson

I pointed out in an earlier article that over 730,000 men and women are released from prison each year. So what becomes of those who have finally crossed the fine line that separates the total dependency of the prison environment from the independence found in the freedom that has awaited them for 5, 10, 20 – or even more years?

Should society care? What about business? Should politicians care? Most importantly, should you care? The collective view of society seems to be that ex-felons should get no breaks; it is the problem of the individual; he or she got themselves into the situation they are now facing.

It should be obvious to all of us by now that it is in the best financial interest of many businesses and individuals to actually anticipate the failure of those leaving prison. Failure and a return to prison contribute to the pressure being kept on the entire system to expand, thus ensuring greater profits. At the very least, a high failure – or recidivism – rate guarantees that the prisons we do have remain full. These same businesses are all owned or run by the cronies of the politicians. Millions of dollars are lavished upon these men and women by lobbyists whose sole objective is to push this nation’s status as the number one jailer in the world even higher. This places all of them at distinct odds with the concept of aggressively working towards a solution to reducing the rate at which men and women fail at freedom and return to the life that they had been conditioned to; a life of control, security and monitoring.

On the other hand, you should care because the cost of this political cronyism and corporate greed is borne by you. You should care because individuals who have been welcomed back into society and assisted, supported and encouraged will pose far less of a danger to society as a whole. You should care because the money that is wasted on this intentionally cultivated cycle of failure is money that could be put to better, more productive use.

The uphill climb for someone recently released from prison is daunting to even the most resourceful and determined individuals. Many people leave prison with medical and dental problems that have been ignored for years. While health and dental care in prison may be “free,” any notion that anything but the most immediate critical cases are dealt with must be dispelled. Avoidance is priority number one and only those cases that cannot be ignored are addressed. And you can forget about preventative medicine. If it exists at all, it is only on paper. For many people, this means they are in immediate need of assistance when they exit prison. For many, not only are they broken spiritually and emotionally, but physically as well. This is odd when you consider that many of these problems that will now be fixed at the expense of various public programs could have been taken care of while they were in an environment that had a full medical staff that was already paid for.

Most individuals are released to some sort of supervision through a parole or probation department, many of which are stretched to their limits financially and physically. This dramatically hinders any ability to really spend time getting to know how best to help each individual successfully deal with the many obstacles presented as they try to reintegrate back into a life of productive freedom. Many who supervise those who are released merely move those they are responsible for through a prescribed regimen of drug programs and testing, group therapy and other costly and questionably productive steps. These may look good on paper but they do little to actually help with the simple of act of living – having food to eat, clothes to wear or a place to sleep that is warm and dry.

Participation in programs that are usually accompanied by some sort of out-of-pocket expense only adds to the difficulty of re-entry. Court ordered back child support, fines and restitution that have remained dormant through years – even decades – of incarceration suddenly come due. All of these things are viewed as important to an individual’s ability to demonstrate that he or she is a responsible citizen. However, educational skills which were most likely weak to begin with did not improve in prison and in many cases were diminished by the environment itself. Job skills they may have possessed also have lain dormant or even been rendered obsolete.

People leaving prison are given little in the way of clothing and are then expected to go out and secure employment, all the while lacking the ability to make a good first impression. They are provided with little in the way of direction or assistance and many of them feel lost, hopeless and defeated before they ever get a chance.

These are all things that stack the deck against many who do not want to go back to prison. But the degree of difficulty presented by even simple things like interacting professionally with a prospective employer are almost impossible for someone who has languished in prison for years doing little more than playing cards, watching TV and working out because that part of the system failed them.

So now, in many cases, individuals were failed as children, were failed in prison and are about to be failed again because of a system that is designed so that only the exceptional succeed.

Leaving prison, for many, is more about how quickly prison life has prepared them to fail and return as opposed to how it had prepared them to take control of their lives and live productively in order that they never return. For many people, the fact that bad behavior is punished with a loss of freedom is a lesson learned. But where the system fails is in making the return from prison overly difficult.

Since the system failed to make personal growth, education and improvement a priority while it had control over people’s lives 24/7, how then can we expect them to re-enter society and perform like someone who has never been to prison? The roadblocks, restrictions and court-ordered payments, fines and restitution can often combine to overwhelm and defeat many well-intentioned people.

I am not suggesting that financial obligations be forgiven completely. But people in the “free world” who make bad decisions can often find assistance in order that they may keep a roof over their heads, maintain transportation for employment and keep food on the table. So, too, assistance should be provided for someone who has made bad choices and wound up in prison. In most cases, the cost of a return to a life of criminal activity and prison is far greater to society than forgiveness or a moratorium on certain financial obligations that will not be paid at all if the person returns to prison.

Many other things stack the deck against a person leaving prison including the disdain with which felons are often viewed; finding a job and obtaining housing can be difficult; in many states a former felon’s right to vote may never be reinstated. The right to vote has been shown to help individuals become pro-social and engenders active and positive interaction in society. Most states are recognizing this fact and have taken positive steps. Others have not acted at all. And at least one – Iowa – has decided that regression is the best route to follow. Progress had been made and voting rights been restored to almost 100,000 ex-felons. When Terry Branstad regained the governor’s mansion in 2010, he revoked those rights and plunged Iowa back into the restoration and rehabilitation dark ages. Branstad’s ignorant, unforgiving approach to those who run afoul of the law clearly demonstrates that shameless disregard for humanity that I have written of. In another example of Branstad’s total lack of humanity (not to mention what appears to be an arrogant position of superiority over the U.S. Supreme Court) Branstad totally subverted the intent of a ruling that addressed those incarcerated as juveniles. The Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without possibility of parole. California Governor Jerry Brown responded, as did many others, by setting forth the rule that the offenders be eligible to be heard by the parole board after 15 years. Granted, this is a long time, but better than never. In his omniscient wisdom, Branstad set that same requirement at 68 years.

Branstad is a classic example of how this country gained its auspicious top spot as the world’s most prolific jailer and is a big part of the culture of incarceration that exists today. He, and other sanctimonious bullies just like him, have the audacity to try to convince the public that it is better to continue to beat up those who have beaten themselves down than it is to provide education, tools, skills and support.

According to the Pew Center on the States, the recidivism rate of those returning to prison after only 9 months of freedom is an astonishing and totally unacceptable 43%. In a three-year period, up to 67% will return to the very places that failed them.

Society can choose to ostracize, criticize and demoralize convicted felons. But it would behoove everyone concerned if, prior to selecting that route – the harmful, hateful and unproductive way of Governor Branstad – that society stop and ponder not only the inhumanity of that line of thinking, but the exorbitant ultimate cost.

There is no way to discuss adequately all of the obstacles that face those who have ostensibly “paid their debt to society”. The point that must not be lost is that as long as there are incentives to keeping human being locked up, there can be no incentive to teach and help them remain free. As long as that unholy alliance of political cronyism, corporate greed and a shameless disregard for humanity exists, America will continue its very un-American Culture of Incarceration.

I thank you and invite you back tomorrow for the final installment in this series, “The Worst Nightmare of All.”

More tomorrow…


By Tony Casson 

“You will be change into a different person.”
1 Samuel 10:6b NLT

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” Harold Wilson

There will always be a need for places in which to lock up those who present a danger to society or feel that their freedoms and their individual rights supersede another’s, thereby entitling them to live any way they please and take whatever they may want whenever they may want it.

The fact that prisons and jails are needed is beyond debate. However, there are several issues that are debatable: whom should we lock up? What do we attempt to achieve with them – and for them – while we presumably can demand their undivided attention and exercise a high degree of control over their daily lives?

This segment of the series is going to address those who are incarcerated. For the moment, we will not debate the hows and whys that got them all there. The questions that I will try to address are these: What opportunities are we missing to help those who are behind bars? Why do we not improve them, empower them in a pro-social manner, educate them and prepare them for a return to society as productive members? There is much talk about various programs but why does it seem like the success rate is so incredibly low?

As with raising children, there is no guaranteed method of rehabilitating individuals who have found their way into the nation’s jails and prisons. But just as there is a guaranteed way to fail a child, there is certainly a guaranteed way to fail an inmate and that is to do nothing to change those who have demonstrated a distinct need to change. While it is very true that the major impetus for that change needs to come from within the individuals themselves, the philosophy, the structure and the rewards are the direct responsibility of those who are in control of the programs and the environment in which they are administered. Unfortunately, these things are lacking, leading to rehabilitative efforts that are half-hearted at best and non-existent at worst. The attitude of the inmates themselves plays a big part in all of this but the blame lands more squarely on those who formulate, execute and monitor the programs and control the inmates’ lives and environment.

In many of the more than 4,000 prisons in this country, wardens feel that the purpose of a correctional institution is not rehabilitation but custody and public safety. However, those who feel that way are dangerously shortchanging the very society that will have to deal with these graduates of “schools of bad behavior” when they are released. Unless there is a genuine effort made to provide those in custody with rehabilitation, restoration and rejuvenation – a new “3 R’s”, if you will – society’s risk will be even greater upon their release than it was when they entered the system.

I have what I think are the positive, practical and manageable ideas on how to provide those “3 R’s” in a manner that could have a very positive effect on not only those who are incarcerated but upon the society that will eventually have to deal with them. My approach could have the added benefit of helping to lessen the negative impact on the families of those incarcerated. These things will be outlined in detail in an entirely separate article. For now, I only hope to raise the public’s consciousness that current policies and attitudes are accomplishing little and are actually contributing to lost opportunities that do nothing more than foster our culture of incarceration.

Reports vary but many indicate that the number of offenders who are re-arrested within three years of release from prison is as high as 67%. One source for this statistic if Byron R. Johnson’s 2011 book “More God, Less Crime.” Johnson’s book also states that an average of 2,000 individuals per day are released from prisons across the country. That is a staggering 730,000 men and women each year being returned to society, many of whom have done little, if anything, to prepare themselves for freedom. But for many of them, it was simply not a choice. Many individuals would respond if the proper environment was available, but the philosophy of those who actually supervise those behind bars is often in direct conflict with the official philosophy of the state or federal department setting policy.

For example, the official public policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons leans strongly toward rehabilitation. Harvey Lapin, the BOP’s recently retired head, comes from this public culture of rehabilitation. But was that really where his efforts lay when he was the Director of BOP? Mr. Lapin’s history with the private prison industry speaks otherwise. The following realities of private prisons cannot be denied or ignored: They exist for profit; their product is human beings; they don’t make money if no one is in prison; regardless of public positions, privately, however, rehabilitation is the last thing they want if they are to encourage repeat business.

Immediately upon leaving his position with the BOP, Mr. Lapin went to work as an Executive Vice President for Correctional Corporation of America (CCA). In a bold public move, shortly after commencing work for CCA, Lapin sent a letter to every state offering to pay up to $250 million dollars for the right to operate their entire state prison systems. The state would then pay to manage their “property.” One critical caveat: the state must guarantee 90% occupancy.

This presents a serious quandary. If rehabilitation is important, effective and designed to succeed, prison populations should shrink. In fact, it should be a concrete goal to reduce prison populations by 50-75% nationally for myriad reasons, including humanitarian ones as well as for taxpayer relief.

How can a suggestion of a guaranteed level of incarceration of human beings be viewed as anything less than a shameless disregard for humanity; and any state that does business with companies that promote such disregard for humanity should have those responsible for approving the contracts investigated for political cronyism of the sort that contributes to corporate greed in a shameless business that should be unconstitutional in the first place.

Owing to the effectiveness of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the whole private prison industry and their lobbyists as well as unscrupulous, insensitive and politically driven office-holders, this nation’s prison system is bursting at the seams and is such a strain on state and federal resources that rehabilitation has slipped considerably in importance, even in those rare instances where genuine efforts can be acknowledged. For the most part, what was already an ineffective system of unenthusiastically administered programs is now in more danger than ever before.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report titled “Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff and Infrastructure.” Following the report, experts warned that “the ballooning incarcerated population puts inmates and guards at risk and holds back efforts to rehabilitate convicts.” Inimai Chettiar, a director at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said, “People will get out of prison, but they’re not being helped to re-enter society.”

I have demonstrated in past articles how the private prison industry arrives at its profit in part through the reduction in rehabilitation programs to lower recidivism. This has the added benefit to their bottom line of increased individuals returning to prison. There is no logical incentive for private companies to do anything that could potentially reduce prison populations. This should not be a difficult perspective for our politicians and our courts to understand and accept. We have already seen a case where the rehabilitation program consisted of daily crossword puzzles being slipped under the cell doors of inmates. We have also seen 52% of Louisiana’s state prison inmates languishing in parish jails for years with no rehabilitative programs available.

The concept of rehabilitation in this country is broken. Prison rehabilitation is more about lost opportunities than it is about working to transform individuals and give them an education, skills, self-respect, hope and a fresh start.

This is truly a tragedy since so much of a prison inmate’s daily existence is monitored, dictated, scheduled or controlled. With that much power being exerted over people, the taxpaying public has a right to demand better use of that opportunity to implement changes in the way inmates think and act. Can all of them be transformed into people who contribute positively to society? Of course not. But it often seems as if there has been a total collapse of effort to maximize the results.

Society has failed many of these men and women in their childhood. This calls into question our ability to call ourselves a civilized country should we fail them again.

We can do a much, much better job. But not until we eliminate this culture of incarcerating the highest number of people possible for the longest time we can, with the least amount of reason.

            More tomorrow…



By Tony Casson 

“…they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.”
1 Samuel 8:3 NLT

“A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
Senator Everett Dirksen

“He will get out with $10, a bus ticket and not much else. The chances are that he will resume his life of crime. And somewhere in Louisiana, a sheriff will smile.” Thus ended an article in the June 16, 2012, issue of the “The Economist” Magazine. It was titled “Sheriff’s Delight.” That declaration was followed by this subheading: “While local officials cash in, convicts lose out.”

Like millions of other Americans, I lived most of my life not giving this nation’s prison system much thought. I assumed that only bad people went to prison and if they were sent there for long periods of time, there must have been a reason for it. I never wasted a moment in consideration of the rationale for the lengths of sentences; how prisoners were treated while they were locked up; what caused them to wind up in prison in the first place; what steps were taken to educate and rehabilitate them; or what became of them after their release.

Times change. People change. Perspectives change. When I foolishly became a part of what I never had given much thought to, everything changed. Sometimes it takes unfortunate circumstances to bring important issues into focus.

So now, from the very bowels of that system I never gave much thought to, I find myself reading this article which is centered on the unique nature of the number of people who have been sentenced to state prisons but are being housed in parish jails run by local sheriffs. (In Louisiana, a county is called a “parish”.)

In the 1970s, faced with federal orders to relieve overcrowding and unwillingness on the part of the citizens of Louisiana to fund more prisons, parish sheriffs were convinced to expand their facilities to accommodate the overflow. They did this willingly, able to demonstrate to those who controlled the parish purse strings that this could prove to be a profitable venture for them. While the public could refuse to fund more prisons, the state government was free to contract with each parish to pay a daily fee to house the prisoners it didn’t have room for. The more prisoners from the state that a parish could house, the more money they could save on their own budgets because while the state paid $24.39 per day per inmate, the parish didn’t spend anywhere near that. The excess was used to ease the parish’s own cash crunch and to expand the sheriff’s departments.

According to “The Economist,” an astonishing 52% of Louisiana’s state prison inmates are being held in facilities designed to hold human beings for no more than one year. Many are held for 10 years and there is limited mobility, almost no outdoor activity and rehabilitation and re-entry programs are almost non-existent.

A similar situation is developing in California where federal judges have ordered state prison census levels to be reduced to eliminate overcrowding. The only available solution is to send the overflow to county jails. Cash-strapped local sheriffs will be only too eager to take them in and receive a daily amount to house each one. This will make the chaining of a human being less about justice, rehabilitation and positive re-integration into society and more about the big dollars local sheriffs will see contributed to their coffers. For example, since the practice began in Louisiana, a small parish in the north of the state, Richland Parish, has had the cash to expand its sheriff’s department from 60 deputies to over 160, with new cars, shotguns, radios and bullet proof gear, according to “The Economist.”

Louisiana is no stranger to making money from the chaining of human beings as its use of slave labor is well-documented. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that Angola State Prison was first known as Angola Plantation, named after the area from which the slaves who worked it came. When forced to accept the fact that slavery was soon to become nothing more than an unpleasant part of this nation’s history, Angola Plantation was converted to Angola State Prison. But always with an eye to profits at the expense of someone else’s misery, a thriving business in “rental convicts” began that resulted in profits for those both being paid for the rentals and those doing the renting. Unfortunately, the abusive treatment, poor quality of food and lack of health care resulted in the deaths of thousands who were easily replaced by an abundant supply of those who had the bad luck to be close at hand.

As our nation entered a period of prison reform, this practice was ended, but prison industries sprang up that were ordered by courts to pay prevailing wages but then were allowed to subtract most of it as reimbursement for the cost of incarceration, leaving the inmate pretty much where he was when he started.

In the mid-1970s, though, an awakening was occurring. The birth of America’s prison/industrial complex began in earnest as individuals and companies looked for ways to profit from the incarceration of more and more of America’s citizens. With the formation of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the declaration of wars on crime and drugs and the birth of the private prison industry, this nation was off and running on its way to incarcerating more individuals over the next 30 years than it had in the previous 200.

But many people have tapped a mother lode that has produced the American Dream for them while others live trapped within the American Nightmare. One example of the fortunes made since conscious efforts to lock up more and more people began lies with a company out of St. Louis, Missouri. Keefe Co. was begun in 1975 selling only two products to local jails: single use packages of Nescafe Instant Coffee and Tang drink mix. Today, Keefe is a multi-billion dollar company carrying over 5,000 national and private label products to supply local, state and federal institution commissaries. They have a huge website touting the services they offer which include computer software and inmate fund handling. Keefe Co. has numerous divisions, all privately owned, that produce and package a host of food items.

Keefe Co. is not alone, but they are definitely one of the larger success stories. Predictably, a huge array of companies and individuals jumped on the backs of those given up for lost in order to cash in and get their share of this huge pie. Bob Barker, of The Price Is Right fame, formed Bob Barker Company (BCC) and obtained contracts to provide institutions with an assortment of cheap clothing, footwear, and toiletry items. Poor quality is what you get when you see Bob’s name on something, but I guess that’s why the price is right.

Pro football Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf lent his name and likeness to a line of shaving products for institutional use. And school and office supply manufacturer Skilcraft obtained handicapped-hiring contract preference by printing an association with various “Lighthouse for the Blind” groups on their highlighters, markers and bags of pencils sold to institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Much has been written about companies that profit from other people’s pain; companies that lobby for longer prison sentences and then make profits off of those receiving those sentences. Joel Dyer wrote “The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits From Crime” in 2000. Mr. Dyer paints a very vivid picture of greed, manipulation of the public and exploitation of prison labor.

The companies that profit are numerous and diverse, from Tyson Foods, Kraft and Frito-Lay to Ben E. Keith and Sysco. Banks, toiletry manufacturers, various independent meat packers and food brokers, companies selling air conditioning systems and food preparation equipment – everyone has their fingers in the pie.

Politicians convince a trusting public that this is what it takes to be safe as increasing amounts of taxpayer money is used to fuel the voracious appetite of a hungry monster created and sustained not for the safety of the public but for the greed of unscrupulous businessmen who exhibit the same lack of concern for humanity as those willing to displace 160,000 refuges in order to get cheap land in Africa. (See The Iowa State Affair.”)

Let there be no mistake – fortunes ride on the backs of this nation’s prison inmates. If you think there is not big money at stake here, consider this: in 1982, the total local, state and federal expenditures for the entire criminal justice system (all police, courts, judges, jails and prisons in the country) was a little under $36 billion dollars. In comparison, those same expenditures in 2006 were over $214 billion dollars. In a different example, let’s look at the total in 2012 of just state and federal prison operations: those costs were over $77 billion dollars. In order to incarcerate American citizens, the United States spent more than France ($61 billion), the United Kingdom ($57 billion), Russia ($53 billion), and Saudi Arabia ($43 billion) spent on their entire national defense budgets in 2010.

Sadly, we have come to expect nothing less from a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than anywhere on the planet.

When it comes to the sound of a cell door slamming behind another incarcerated person in this country, sheriffs are not the only ones smiling.

We’ll look at the opportunities to salvage lives that are lost while people are serving their sentences in the next installment of “America’s Culture of Incarceration.”

            More tomorrow…


By Tony Casson 

“My future is in your hands.”  Psalm 31:14 NLT

“The hardest job kids have today is learning good manners without seeing any.”  Fred Astaire

Our children are the future of this country and that future has two faces: the bright, sunny faces of hope and the dark, cloudy faces of despair.

The faces of hope will yield our doctors, teachers, scientists, nurses, technicians, mechanics, farmers, spiritual leaders, inventors, factory workers, butchers, bakers and perhaps even a candle-maker or two. The faces of hope will also yield our lawyers, businessmen, civic leaders, legislators, police officers, judges, military personnel and those few who will rise to the presidency of the United States.

But America’s future will also yield those who will wear the faces of despair. Wearing that face will be the children who grow up to be drug addicts, alcoholics, rapists, murderers, liars, cheats, thieves and those who abuse and prey on the young, the weak and the elderly in all sorts of despicable ways.

Debates rage over the proper way to raise children to protect them from themselves, from bad influences and to help them grow up to be one of those who wear the face of hope. Regardless of the opinions offered, it is generally agreed upon that a two-parent home in which a child is shown love, receives a good education and proper nutrition and is given positive feedback, correction where necessary and opportunities to succeed would be considered a good place to start. In my opinion, adding a love of God and a basic understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and instilling a desire to serve humanity would also add to the potential to wear the face of hope.

No matter the nature of the “correct” environment, there are no guarantees. Sometimes human beings are simply wired wrong or are more susceptible to addictions or bad influences than others. We can never have all the answers, but we can be sure of this: children who are neglected, beaten, abused or live in poverty – those who receive inadequate nutrition and experience very little in the way of positive examples to follow have a decidedly poor chance of wearing anything but the face of despair. And these are the children of America who are being prepared – with no small measure of forethought by some who lead our country – to spend some portions of their lives in a prison or jail. Those born already wearing the face of despair stand a good chance of becoming fodder for the monster with the insatiable appetite created by “America’s Culture of Incarceration”.

In this, the richest, smartest, strongest and most advanced nation on earth, the only faces of despair should be the exceptional, unforeseeable ones and not those created by poverty, lack of education, neglect and abuse. Every child born in America should wear the face of hope. To allow conditions to exist which deny that face to any child is to say, “We are preparing this child for prison”. The notion that children are knowingly being prepared for prison may sound ludicrous to some, but there is an undeniable link between children born into conditions such as the ones I have stated and a life of criminal behavior that leads to incarceration. I propose that, for many, the American Dream is so far out of their reach at birth that they immediately begin experiencing the American Nightmare.

In a country where the richest 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined, 25,000 school-aged children should not be homeless… in one state. And yet that is the number of homeless children for whom radio station KAJN in Alexandria, Louisiana was trying to help obtain back-to-school backpacks recently. According to the U.S. Education Department, for the first time, the number of homeless students in America topped one million by the end of the 2010-2011 school year. To top it off this count doesn’t include homeless infants, children not enrolled in school and homeless students that schools simply failed to identify. Basically 1 in every 45 children are homeless! I don’t know how you feel, but I know that this is a horrific statistic for this great country and somehow we need to make these numbers go down to zero!

Children with no proper home, without adequate nutrition and without guidance are forced into a system that is designed to help them fail. If anyone disputes this, I will point out what should be obvious: any system that is not designed for complete success may as well be designed specifically for failure. Hundreds of thousands of kids in this country wake up each day convinced that the only things that loom in their future are prison or death. Does it make more sense to incarcerate them later because we failed them now? Does it make more sense to pay for their care behind bars when they are adults than it does to feed, clothe, house and educate them when they are young? Of course not. But the sad truth appears to be that, while it may not make more sense, it definitely makes more dollars later on for this monster that has been created, nurtured and groomed specifically to turn those we have failed as children into profit centers as adults.

According to data from www.kidscount.org the following is true in America today:

  • 22% of all children live in poverty.
  • 33% have parents who lack secure employment.
  • 68% of all 4th graders are not proficient in reading.
  • 34% live in single parent families.
  • 11% live in high poverty areas.
  • 24% of high school students fail to graduate on time.
  • And just so you know how many children we are talking about, in the 2008-2009 school year there were almost 49 million children enrolled in public schools.

It should be apparent that child welfare and education in this country take a backseat to many other issues. The United States is far from first in providing its children with a quality education and for this, there is no excuse. Claims of inadequate funds are laughable in light of the fact that we always have enough money to inject ourselves into the affairs of other nations; we always have enough money to fight other people’s battles; and we always have enough money to go in and rebuild what we have destroyed doing those two things. And we always have enough money to incarcerate the adults we didn’t have enough money for as children. We cannot find the funds to give every child the face of hope, but we can find the money to deal with them after they put on the face of despair that was avoidably thrust upon many of them. While we cannot find the money to feed, clothe and house at-risk children – and while we are constantly reading about cutbacks in education budgets – lawmakers continue to advocate harsher and more draconian prison sentences in the nation that has the longest prison sentences in the world along with the most people serving them.

In every instance where more money has been spent on education, the results have been positive: higher graduation levels; higher percentage go on to college. In Washington, D.C., KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools differentiate themselves from public schools in many ways:

In Washington, only 43% of students graduate high school and only 9% go on to get a college degree. KIPP claims a graduation rate of 93% and also claim that 80% go on to college.

What are the differences? Here are a few:

  • KIPP claims expenditures of $1,000 over public funding, raised through donations.
  • More time in the classroom: school until 5PM; school starts in July; Saturday classes 2-3 times per month.

This is just a rough idea of what can be done, but education must be a priority, along with addressing poverty and living conditions. These are real issues that our politicians avoid by focusing on things that sound good but do absolutely nothing but make a bad policy worse (such as Lamar Smith’s Child Protection Act That Doesn’t of 2012).

I earlier gave some disturbing numbers regarding children. Here are some equally alarming statistics regarding adults in one of the nation’s most infamous state prisons, The Louisiana State Prison at Angola:

  • There are 5,309 inmates.
  • 75%, or 3,982, are serving life sentences without parole.
  • The remaining 25% are serving an average of 93 years.
  • The average age at conviction is 35.
  • The average age now is 42.
  • 91% are in for committing violent crimes.
  • 55%, or 2,920, are in for homicide.
  • The most recent budget is $115 million.
  • The cost per inmate per year is $21,661.32.
  • There are almost 40,000 inmates in state prisons throughout Louisiana – the highest per capita prison population in the country, which makes it the highest in the world.

America’s lawmakers need to address this disturbing problem. It is easy to write bills that talk about protection from this group or from that threat. But when the only solution is to lock more people up for longer periods of time, then those lawmakers are actually the first part of the problem that must be solved.

The American people need leaders who are going to take a socio-economic approach to our problems on the front end and figure out what must be done to eliminate preventable faces of despair. We must stop preparing the children of this country for lives wasted as part of a shameful prison culture that is robbing the nation of human resources as well as financial ones.

We must also examine ways of reducing this nation’s prison population by 75% and using billions of dollars saved (about $58 billion) for educational programs, housing, clothing and other needs of the poor, including the use of child protective services. We have to identify parents who are not equipped to be positive influences on their children. Those parents should be required to participate in educational and training programs to help them become contributors to eliminating the despair from the faces of their children.

We reward our legislators – both state and federal – with handsome compensation and benefit packages. It is time they rolled up their sleeves and worked to solve problems and not just sponsor bills to help themselves get re-elected.

All it takes is a presidential election cycle to see where America’s problems lie. America’s problems do not lie with the individuals who break the laws. They lie with those who make the laws. American’s problems do not lie with those locked away behind bars. They lie with those whose political livelihoods rely upon the expansion of this nation’s prison system. America’s problems lie with allegedly mature, educated men and women who view themselves as Republican or Democrat as opposed to American. America’s problems are not solved by pointing fingers or dodging responsibility.

While America’s politicians wave banners like Texas Congressman Lamar Smith’s “Child Protection Act of 2012”, (see previous post titled The Child Protection Act That Doesn’t), more and more of America’s children wake up and see only a face of despair when they look in the mirror.

According to the World Almanac, in 2008 there were roughly 70 million Americans under the age of 18. How many of them wear the face of despair? How many of them are being prepared for a life in prison?

More tomorrow…



By Tony Casson

“The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive.”   Proverbs 20:27 NLT

“The greatest danger facing the United States is not a military lag but a slump in personal and public integrity.”  Robert J. McKracken

Summertime is state fair time across America. Hosted in Des Moines, the Iowa State Fair is known the world over as a model of what a state fair should be. The musical “State Fair” was based on the Iowa State Fair which is visited by over one million people each year. Resplendent with the usual sights, sounds and smells of corn dogs, Ferris wheels, livestock shows, live music and the laughter and delighted squeals of children of all ages, the fair evokes memories in the older crowd of simpler, slower times when life seemed a little gentler and the focus was more on the family.

In addition to its highly rated state fair, Iowa is known for being the nation’s number one producer of hogs. No fair in Iowa would be complete without the tantalizing aroma of grilling pork chops filling the air. Additionally, the state of Iowa is closely watched politically throughout the nation so the fair is always a gathering spot for those politicians wanting to demonstrate that they are just regular old folks like everybody else. The Des Moines Register almost always carries a photograph of a political heavyweight or two taking a turn behind the grill pretending to cook fat, juicy pieces of pork. Pork and politicians always manage to come together, don’t they?

No gathering of pork and politicians at the Iowa State Fair would be complete without an appearance by Terry Branstad, Iowa’s governor. Branstad has long been a familiar face in Iowa political circles, having served as a state legislator before becoming governor in 1982. He served an impressive four terms before bowing out in 1998, but was talked into running again in the 2010 election by Bruce Rastetter, who has close ties to Branstad and is viewed as a “political kingmaker” in Iowa.

Terry Branstad was very involved in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its formative years, so Branstad has exhibited his willingness to have a very close relationship with business leaders, corporations and wealthy individuals. But how close is too close? And what honors, rights and riches are bestowed upon one who makes kings?

After convincing Branstad to run for a fifth term following a twelve-year absence, Bruce Rastetter went on to donate $160,000 to Branstad’s campaign, making him the largest single donor. An associate of Rastetter’s, Nick Ryan, chipped in another $67,000 and Rastetter’s brother, Brent, added another $31,000. After the election was won, Branstad rewarded Brent Rastetter with an appointment to the Iowa Environmental Protection Association which monitors and regulates issues regarding pollution and contaminants. One of the major polluters in the state are its many hog producers. Bruce Rastetter, in 2004, merged his Heartland Pork Enterprises – ranked 13th in the state – with Christensen Farms, making the new company the 4th largest hog producer in Iowa. In a state with 20 million hogs, that means one of the state’s prominent producers of pig poop is monitored, in part, by his brother.

The direct reward bestowed upon by Bruce Rastetter for his generous assistance in getting Governor Branstad elected was an appointment to the Iowa Board of Regents. In that capacity, Rastetter has generated a flurry of newspaper reports for working with Iowa State University on a land development deal in Africa that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for him and his investors. Welcome to “The Iowa State Affair”. And you thought this was about corn dogs and pork chops, didn’t you?

Actually, this is all about the anatomy of America’s nightmare: Political Cronyism, corporate greed and a shameful disregard for humanity.

On August, 1, 2012, The Des Moines Register contained a column written by Ms. Rekha Basu about Bruce Rastetter, a company called AgriSol Energy and the African nation of Tanzania. Mr. Rastetter owns 30% of AgriSol and has recently spent considerable time trying to develop land in Tanzania. Iowa Citizens for Civic Involvement filed an ethics complaint calling for Rastetter’s removal from the Board of Regents for misusing his relationship with Iowa State in furtherance of that plan.

It is a complex issue, but the following are some of the high (or low) points of the story as illustrated in Ms. Basu’s column:

  • Mr. Rastetter and his investors stand to make $300 million dollars on the deal.
  • Tanzanian government officials would give AgriSol 99 year land rights for 320,000 hectares (145,800 acres) at 25 cents an acre.
  • AgriSol claims that it is the government that is setting the price for the land and that they have no control over that.
  • Approximately 160,000 Burundi refugees would be forced off the land in question.
  • AgriSol is paying Tanzanian officials, including one who was in charge of the refugee camps, to be “advisors” on the project.
  • Mr. Kimenyi of the Brookings Institute’s African Growth Initiative has said that such payments “can amount to outright corruption”.
  • Agreements are being made whereby what will eventually be produced will not ever have to be used domestically.
  • Jobs may not be created because AgriSol brings in its own labor and advanced technologies.
  • AgriSol has demanded “strategic investor status” from Tanzania, which would provide it with tax exemptions and a waiver of duties.

Recent reports indicate that public pressure is causing this exploitation of humanity for nothing more than personal profit, to be abandoned for something on a much smaller scale.

Regardless of the outcome of all this, the willingness of America’s politicians and their greedy businessmen cronies to consciously pursue plans to use a disregard for humanity for its economic potential has already been demonstrated quite clearly.

Although AgriSol, Bruce Rastetter and Tanzania have no direct effect on America’s Culture of Incarceration, I use the story to illustrate the mindset necessary to pursue a plan that trades people for profit, such as the one in Tanzania, which created the culture in the first place and continues to feed it voraciously.

While it was Bruce Rastetter who pursued the plan, it was Governor Branstad who – as a reward for Rastetter’s generous campaign support – appointed Rastetter to the position he is accused of abusing in order to pursue it. And if you recall, it was a young Terry Branstad, as a state legislator, who played an important role in the formation of ALEC, which has been more responsible for the American Nightmare that has resulted from America’s Culture of Incarceration than any entity in this country.

Countless business alliances have been forged and billions of dollars in what amounts to blood money has been divided among thousands of American companies and individuals willing to feed at the trough of human misery. Meanwhile, our nation has risen to occupy that inauspicious top spot as the world’s number one keeper of human beings behind bars.

Hundreds of pages could be written on the myriad companies that make money employing the same mindset as that demonstrated in “The Iowa State Affair”. Our public coffers are needlessly drained to commit more and more individuals to absolutely draconian periods of time in prisons and jails throughout this country. No amount of “spin” by our many ethically-compromised politicians should convince decent, hard-working citizens of this country that it is otherwise.

America has too many laws on the books and the penalties for violating them keep getting harsher and harsher with no justification. The senseless, unproductive, lengthy amounts of time spent behind bars does little more than take much needed money from education and other positive programs and put it in the pockets of individuals who are investing in criminal activity in a legal way and profiting from it at the expense of the American public.

For now, we shall say goodbye to Africa, Bruce Rastetter and Governor Branstad, but the governor will appear in a later part in this series that will discuss re-entry and re-integration back into society after being released from prison. But for now, I think Governor Branstad has done quite enough.

I invite you to return when I try to explain how we are “Preparing America’s Children for Prison” in order to keep our prisons filled in the future and keep the American Nightmare alive as we continue to explore “America’s Culture of Incarceration.”

            More tomorrow…