A Holiday Recipe from the Big House ~ Repost from December 2010 By Tony Casson

(Note from Anthony: I don’t know what my dad does better than design recipes for good ol’ backyard cookin’. We chatted about a prison food series, and this looks like a start.)

A Holiday Recipe From The Big House To Your House

Tony’s “A Little Bit Of Fire From Inside The Wire” Special Sauce

Like the Mothers of my wonderful children – “Sweet, yet hot tempered”

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup Louisiana Hot Sauce

1/4 cup juice from jar of pickled jalapenos

1/4 cup minced pickled jalapenos

1/4 cup coarse ground red pepper (I used cayenne peppers I ‘found’ in the prison garden, dried and crumbled)

1/4 cup Lawry’s seasoned salt

1/8 cup Garlic powder

2 packets Sazon Goya Seasoning Con Azafran (1 packet = 1 tsp)

2 packets Splenda

Combine all ingredients in an empty 12 oz. jar and shake it, baby, shake it!

Best to let flavors cavort for 24 hrs before use.

Especially good mixed with prepared Ramen noodles and diced chicken!


Dear God,

I have an important task before me and I come to you for help. Since You are the One who orchestrated the situation in the first place, asking You for help dealing with the situation as it prepares to change seems appropriate. Although I am learning to come to You first in ALL things, I do so now with extremely acute sensitivity to what You will guide my heart to do.

The judge who sentenced me recommended Butner, N.C. as my destination, but You saw things differently. You placed me in Oakdale because You had important things You wanted me to learn, and special people You wanted me to meet and learn from them.

There were four men in particular who were placed into my life here to help You shape me into a human being who can hold his head up high; who can speak openly and with enthusiasm about his love for You; who can freely discuss the issues causing his incarceration with the intent of helping others; and who can state with confidence the direction the rest of his life will take. You used the five of us, broken men all, to act as mirrors for each other that we may see ourselves in a new light, and from a different angle. You helped us work on what we saw until we could clearly see YOU looking back at us, reflected in ourselves.

Three of those individuals have left Oakdale FCI already.

Alan Steen was the first to leave. His case was overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Alan has returned to his wife and other family members in west Texas. Alan was the first to help me understand that following You was never going to be easy, but the rewards would be great and would be well worth the effort. He was the first, besides You and I, to know there was a book inside me called “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, and he was the first to assure me that, with Your help, I would find the way to get it out. It is out, Alan, and for that, and many other reasons, I love you, my friend.

The second to leave was Rob from Virginia. I have never used his last name and there are reasons for that which do not need to be addressed here. They are his, and they all have to do with the tremendous services he performed for this country while in the Navy. Rob was the only one who lived in the same housing unit as I did, and we would meet a couple of times a week in my cell for one or two hours of the most amazing discussions about You, family, the things that brought us together, and ways of reaching beyond where we were when we came in here in order to become better men. Rob is back in Virginia finishing his sentence, but he is very close to home and he is in a Christian lifestyle program which I am certain is greatly enhanced by his presence. Robert, I love you, too, and I am happy you are close to your family now. I know you are all incredibly close and that speaks volumes about your character.

The third to leave did not go home either, but he is now in California, closer to HIS loved ones, and in an environment which seems to make him happy. This makes ME happy, because I love Steve Marshall, too, and when I leave here knowing he still has a couple of years to go, at least I will take with me the knowledge he is in a place better equipped to provide him with peace and some modicum of happiness. Steve is a man of incredible character in spite of the reasons he is incarcerated. He left here several months ago, but not before helping me to understand more about the art of writing (not that I have actually gotten better at it, but I do understand it…ha!). He also taught me about the ability of men to rise above others simply by being principled and honest. Our conversations were long and always insightful. He is an articulate, eloquent, deeply sensitive man with a lot to offer this world. He added a touch of dignity and class to our Toastmaster’s club and his presence and contributions are sorely missed. I consider Steve to be a lifelong friend, regardless of the fact we will likely never meet again.

This brings us to the fourth, and final individual and the important task I referenced when I began this letter to You, Lord. Richard Roy left Oakdale yesterday, and I ask You now to help me find the right words to convey exactly how important this man has been in my life. Richard is unique to our little ‘group’ in that he was the only one who was always close to home. As he was from Baton Rouge it was possible for him to have regular visits with his wife, daughters, mother, father, and other family members. I met Alan first, but Richard was in Alan’s housing unit and it was actually through Alan I met him.

Lord, I know in my heart this entire experience has been orchestrated by You from the beginning. Some of those reading these words may find my next statement quite odd, but by placing me in the middle of nowhere; by surrounding me with the men You did; and by paying attention to the tiniest of details, You have made this an unbelievably perfect prison experience. Add Diane Woodall to this Band of Broken Brothers and the result is simply astounding. There will be those who will be certain I have gone stark raving mad, but I stand by those words. We are all better people for the relationships YOU engineered. We all took FROM one another, and we all gave TO one another. This entire event could only have happened at Your direction and those who would laugh the entire thing off as coincidence simply do NOT know YOU!

I thank you, Lord, for the gift of each of these men. In particular, I humbly thank you for the gift of Richard Roy. Not too long ago, I wrote about how you had blessed me when you placed Diane Woodall in my life. I wrote that she had become the best friend I have ever had. I meant that with all of my heart, but she is going to have to share that distinction with Richard, and I doubt she will mind. The relationship with these two people is a miniscule example of the mind-boggling power You possess. It is proof of Your ability to love us in spite of ourselves, and give us exactly what we need, provided we have the sense to ask You to do that for us.

I listed a variety of functions Diane performed as the ‘cost’ of being a friend of mine. Richard’s list is long as well, and includes pushing me, prodding me, encouraging me, advising me, editing me, and critiquing me (I didn’t always handle that well, did I, my friend?). Richard talked to me about You, and he listened to me as I tested the waters of becoming bolder in the way I spoke about You. We shared tears of joy and tears of sorrow. We laughed and dreamed, and we shared fears, hopes, and deeply personal thoughts.

Contrary to what society as a whole may think, be told, or be led to believe, there are some great men residing in this nation’s prisons. While I certainly do not place myself in that category, I am humbly grateful to You, Lord, for enabling me to meet, and learn, from four of them. This country will probably shy away from the stain this experience will leave on their lives, but you and I know that is a tragedy in itself, because each and every one of them has tremendous value to offer. Rising above them all is Richard Roy. His voice should be heard for many reasons after he leaves here, and I pray You will use him to reach out and help others. There will be those who will scoff at the notion that people who have spent time in prison, particularly for ‘our’ crimes, can ever be viewed as ‘great’ men or used to achieve any purpose beneficial to society as a whole. To those who would consider themselves in that category, I will offer some startling examples of how You have done exactly that in the past.

Moses was a murderer, yet he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Why did You use him? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

King David coveted another’s wife and orchestrated the death of her husband so he could claim her as his own, yet You used him to become the greatest king the Israelites ever knew. He also taught the world how to rely upon You and praise You through the many Psalms he authored, and Jesus Christ was born of a woman married to a man who was a direct descendant of his. Why did You use this once greatly flawed man? Because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

You did the same thing with Jacob, who was a deceiver; Rahab, who was a prostitute; Paul, who persecuted Christians; and Matthew, who was a corrupt tax collector. These flawed individuals, and many more throughout history, have been used by You for great purposes because You are God and You saw what others could not see.

The world is missing out if it discounts Your ability to help once-broken men and women rise above their brokenness and emerge prepared to offer great things to the world. Richard Roy is a superb example of the work You can do in a person’s heart. His family and friends are not getting back someone they should be ashamed of. He is being returned to them as a man who has been greatly blessed by You; as a man who has found favor with You; a man You intend to use in other ways now that he has done all he can do for me. Richard, I love you. Thank you for giving of yourself so generously. I know I can be quite difficult. You gave me your friendship and it is a great gift! WE DID NOT WASTE OUR MISTAKES!

We may be the Disbanded Broken Brothers, but as Your children, Lord, we are brothers all. I have seen Your power at work in the human spirit and it is awesome. I thank You, Lord, for Alan, Rob, Steve, and Richard. I am thankful BEYOND words that You have returned Richard to his family!

I requested your help and you provided it, as You always do. Thank you for the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who died so that men like us can find new hope, new life, and an eternity in Your presence.



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…